The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.Elijah
1 Kings 17
Elijah means "Jehovah is my God."—There is often much in a name. It is a history, sometimes,—the summing up of generations; it is sometimes an inspiration, recalling memories that stir the soul to high daring. In Christ we are called to a new name. Have you yet received it? Behold, what manner of love hath the Father bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.
"Tishbite."—There are two places called Tishbi, one in Gilead and the other in Galilee. Elijah belonged to the former. Sometimes character is mysteriously and very deeply affected by country. Gilead was a wild and mountainous district, bordering on Arabia, and consequently half Arab in its customs. There was a wonderful similarity between the man and the region; stern, bleak, grand, majestic, and awful, were they both. John the Baptist seemed to bring the wilderness with him when he came into the city. Children born in luxury are apt to be themselves luxurious. Children born in slavery will hardly ever be free, though slavery has been abolished. To the end of life we carry the colour which first impressed itself on our vision.
"Elijah the Tishbite said unto Ahab."—All revelations seem to us to be sudden. Look at the suddenness of the appearance of Ahijah to Jeroboam, and look at the instance before us. The total apostasy of the ten tribes (Israel) was now almost accomplished, yet a faithful prophet of the Lord stands up in the degenerate land, and declares that Jehovah is his God, and in sacred solitariness protests against the abominations of Israel and her king. No mild man would have been equal to the occasion. God adapts his ministry to circumstances. He sends a nurse to the sick room; a soldier to the battlefield. The son of consolation and the son of thunder cannot change places. You are right when you say that the dew and the light and the soft breeze are God's; but you must not therefore suppose that the thunder and the hurricane and the floods belong to a meaner lord.
"As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand."—We must realise very clearly the circumstances of the case before we can set a proper value on these words. To us they are but part of a general music. Our land is full of churches, and the wind of Christendom is charged with psalms. But in Ahab's wicked day—Ahab who did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him (1Kings 16:33)—the words meant something which it is hardly possible for us to realise.
Imagine the two men standing face to face: Ahab the dissolute king and Elijah the faithful prophet, and probably there is no finer picture in ancient history. Terrible indeed is the national crisis when king and prophet come into collision. There is not a combat between two men. Mark that very closely. It is Right against Wrong, Faithfulness against Treachery, Purity against Corruption. Look at them, Ahab and Elijah, as they face one another!—Consider the boldness of the prophet. Religion is never to be ashamed of its own testimony. As we look at the scene, not wanting in the elements of the highest tragedy, we see (1) The value of one noble witness in the midst of public corruption and decay, and (2) The grandeur as well as necessity of a distinct personal profession of godliness. It is not enough to be godly, we must avow it in open conduct and articulate confession.
Let us now observe how Elijah proceeds to deal with Ahab.
"There shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word."—Here is physical punishment for moral transgression. So it is; and that is exactly what a parent does when he uses the rod upon his child for falsehood. You can only punish people according to their nature. The garrotter can submit to any number of censures and lectures, but he dreads the cat-o'-ninetails. Physical punishment for moral transgression is the law of society.—So the liar is thrown out of his situation; the ill-tempered child is whipped.; the dishonourable man is expelled from social confidence.—With regard to the particular punishment denounced against Ahab it is to be remembered that drought is one of the punishments threatened by the law if Israel forsook Jehovah and turned after other gods (Deuteronomy 11:17; Leviticus 26:18). The law would apply to England were there no praying men within our borders.—Ten righteous men still save a city.—Paul still saves the ship.—The interceding husbandman saves the barren tree.
This, then, was the brief communication which the prophet addressed to the king. God's threatenings are terrible in their conciseness. He leaves no room in a multitude of words for ambiguity and verbal wriggling: "the soul that sinneth it shall die;" "the wages of sin is death;" "there is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked." And as he can be concise in threatening, so he can be concise in promise,—"I will give you rest;" "I will give you living water;" "he that believeth shall be saved;" "ask, and it shall be given you." Thus great things can be said in few words—"God is light;" "God is love;" "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved";" "Ye must be born again."
"I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there."—At the bidding of the word of the Lord, Elijah turned eastward and hid himself by the brook Cherith, a place nowhere else mentioned in the Bible, and "no name like it has as yet been discovered in Palestine." It was a torrent-course facing the Jordan; "but whether it was one of those which seam Mount Ephraim, or of those on the opposite side of Jordan, in the prophet's own country, is uncertain." But what is the meaning of the extraordinary expression—"I have commanded the ravens to feed thee"? By omitting the points, which are generally allowed to have no authority, the Hebrew letters may signify Arabians; then the passage would read, "I have commanded the Arabians to feed thee." Or, if we retain the present pointing the word may be translated "merchants," according to "The Speaker's Commentary." But it is better to allow the word "ravens" to stand. It implies a miracle; but the whole Bible is a miracle, and so is our own daily life, could we but see the inner movement and look beyond all symbols to the spiritual reality.
But Elijah's brook dried up. Prophets may be overtaken by the operation of their own prophecies. The great laws are impartial, yet wonderful is the scope within which exceptions may be established. This incident gives an instance in point.
"Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee."—This place is called Sarepta in the New Testament (Luke 4:26). It lay upon the great public road which connected the two towns. A little village called Sarafend now occupies the situation. But how did it come about that Elijah was sent to a place so near the city of Jezebel's father? It has been suggested that it would be the last place that he would be suspected of having chosen as a retreat. When Elijah came to the gate of the city the widow woman was there gathering sticks, and he asked her for a little water in a vessel that he might drink; and as she was going to fetch it, he asked her to bring also a morsel of bread in her hand. But she had no bread! Not so much as a cake, only a handful of meal in a barrel and a little oil in a cruse. She was just going to dress this little food for herself and her son, "that we may eat it and die." But Elijah claimed it in the name of the Lord, and gave her in return the gracious promise, "The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth." We may here admire (imitate!) one of the finest instances of ancient faith. The woman was asked for all she had, and she gave it! But mark, she was put in possession of a promise. This is God's law; he gives the promise first, and then asks for the faith of man. It was so in the case of Abraham. It is so with ourselves today.
"And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail."—This is the continual miracle of nature. This is the security of life. We are puzzled by it; but what of that? Are possibilities to be determined by our weakness or by God's strength? We could have increased the flour had we sown the seed, reaped the grain, and called in the aid of the miller; now let us venture upon the supposition that Almighty God is able to do just a little more than we can do, and the whole difficulty is gone! The air wastes not, nor the light, nor the force of nature; what if God can touch points which happen to lie beyond the range of our short fingers? We must allow something for Deity.
And now sorrow fell upon the poor woman's house; her only child died, and her heart was lacerated even to torment and agony. But the Lord was merciful. Elijah took the dead child away into a loft—the upper chamber, which was often the best part of an eastern house—and cried unto the Lord, and stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried again and again unto the Lord, and the child's life returned. Then the glad mother hailed Elijah as a man, and one in whose mouth was the word of the Lord. It is thus that Christianity proves itself, even by its miracles and its ever-growing, ever-blessing wonders. It finds the lost, and gives life to the dead, and makes the wilderness blossom as the rose, and thus it constrains men to hail it as the great power of God. "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men to me."
Elijah had put himself beyond the reach of Ahab, not because he feared him or distrusted the power of God in critical circumstances, but because God's providence or government is a great scheme with innumerable sides, and requires time for its full disclosure and accomplishment. We are not to hasten the march of God. To everything there is a season. Everywhere we see this idea of time observed and honoured. Though there is famine in the land we cannot urge the seasons forward. The child, too, must have years of growth, though his father be disabled and there be none to earn the household bread but himself. So in the case before us. Ahab must be wearied out with searching for Elijah. He must be made to see how fruitless may be the efforts even of a king. And at last when success does come, it must come not from his side at all.
Mark this as a real law in life. It is thus that God baffles and humbles men. He gives them to feel that all searching is useless when he has determined that they shall not succeed in their search. The thing they want may lie within their own shadow, but they cannot find it! It may be under their foot, yet practically it may be miles away! Is not this our own experience? And when success does come, it comes after pursuit has been given up; after we have done our utmost and have failed, then there is the very thing we wanted standing before us as if it had sprung up out of our path! There is quite a mocking spirit in the world. A spirit that watches us working and failing, and then says, What you have been seeking for is here! And in this very mockery there is often solid and useful teaching. It says, He that would save his life shall lose it, and he that would lose his life shall find it. We toil all night and take nothing, and then the Spirit says, Let down the net here, and lo! it is filled with fish. Thus God is always breaking our straight lines into curves, showing us that our arm is just an inch too short to reach the ripest fruits, and that we cannot run backwards except with humbling ungainliness and to the great risk of our limbs. Ahab searched everywhere for Elijah, and though he was a king he could not find the poor prophet who lodged with the still poorer widow. Whom God conceals are well hidden!