The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword.Elijah At Horeb
1 Kings 19
We have seen how Elijah treated the prophets of Baal; he laid them under arrest, brought them down to the brook Kishon and slew them there. It was the Old Testament way of expressing religious indignation. We do not read that the Lord had commanded this slaughter, nor are we informed that he approved it. Still, we may not blame Elijah, for We do not know under what inspiration he proceeded in making this onslaught. It is not so that false prophets are to be treated now. We have learned that error cannot be put down by force; and that even religion itself is not to be upheld by the infliction of pains and penalties on unbelievers.
Observe the action of Ahab as confirming the view we have taken of his character. We have regarded him as a man of speculation rather than as a man of action,—a kind of religious Hamlet. Instead of taking immediate vengeance upon Elijah, he went and told Jezebel! He turned it (as Hamlet would have done) into poetry, or into romance, for the hearing of Jezebel his wife. Observe carefully what he did. He told Jezebel all that Elijah had done; all about the challenge, the gathering of the prophets, the building of the altars, the useless cries of the Baalites, the prayer of Elijah, the sudden answer of fire, and the loud cry of the astounded people—"The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God." What effect had this narration upon Jezebel? None whatever. Her prejudices were too inveterate to be touched by such romance. She curled the lip of indignant scorn as her speculative Hamlet raved in poetic frenzy; but when Ahab turned from the purely religious and speculative side, and told how Elijah had "slain all the prophets with the sword," then Jezebel was stung to madness, and she sent a messenger in hot haste to Elijah saying—"So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time." Now let us see what Elijah did:—
"And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there" (1Kings 19:3).
There is wonderful excitement in this verse. The action of Elijah is the action of a man who is suddenly stung, and who, feeling the maddening pain, springs to his feet, and runs with eager speed from the scene of danger. There is no deliberation in this movement. Elijah fled, as we should flee from fire. There is no consulting of personal dignity; no regard for appearances; he who confronted Ahab ran away from the threat of a priest's daughter and a king's wife, a woman in whom seemed to burn the fire and brimstone of perdition.
Elijah wanted to die, yet was unwilling to be murdered. There is all the difference between the two states of mind. To be taken away by the Lord is one thing, to consent to be killed is another. This request on the part of Elijah suggests: (1) The frailty of the greatest human strength; (2) The utter inability of human power to eradicate the corruption of the heart; (3) The superhuman grandeur of Christ in coming to do what could not be done by Moses, by Elijah, by Jonah.—Elijah did not die, except the temporary death of sleep. Gracious sleep!—"Tired nature's sweet restorer." "If he sleep, he shall do well." God "giveth his beloved sleep." In his sleep an angel touched him. In our sleep we are somewhere between two worlds. We cannot tell where we are! It is a hint of the infinite. It is the beginning of immortality! Our hearing is then at its best—so is our seeing; we are close to God—close to liberty.
The angel came to Elijah, and made ready food for him, and bade him arise and eat. Elijah was about to wander in the desert forty days, and he needed strengthening. Elijah had his food before he entered the wilderness, Christ had it after he had been there forty days. An angel brought food to Elijah, the devil tempted Christ to make bread. Thus our experiences are realised in different ways. We begin at opposite points. But we all have, in some degree, and with various faculty, to struggle with the same difficulties, ponder the same problems, face the same mysteries, and press forward (if in earnest) towards "the mount of God."
Having arrived at Horeb, the prophet hid himself in a cave,—possibly in the cleft of the rock where Moses stood to see the intolerable splendour. (Exodus 33:22.) As he tarried there, the word of the Lord came to him in a vision during the night, saying, What doest thou here, Elijah? And to this inquiry the prophet answered:—
"I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life to take it away" (1Kings 19:10).
Was this cowardice? No. Was it want of faith? No. What was it, then? It was re-action. Remember the strain to which Elijah had been put. There are prayers which leave us weak. There are victories so complete as to touch the point of defeat. Elijah was not sure that he had done right in slaying the prophets. Was it because he had slain the prophets that God did not answer the prayer for rain as immediately as he had answered the prayer for fire? With a woman's instinct Jezebel had touched the only weak point in the whole case; before receiving her message he was accusing himself as to the slaughter; her message came just at the critical moment, and the word was too much for the strength that had been so strained.
Observe the marvellous working of divine providence, even here. Why does Jezebel send warning? Why does she delay for a whole day? Why not take instant revenge? It is thus that God puts his hook into the leviathan, and turns to confusion the counsel of the ungodly. He "restrains the wrath of man." "With every trial he makes a way of escape." He draws a line beyond which our weak fury cannot pass. Jezebel takes a day for perfecting her plans, and in that day Elijah escapes beyond the bounds of her power. God has made a way of escape for us, did we but know it! A city of refuge—from temptation, fear, peril, sin—is at hand. Let us flee into it, and defy the pursuer!
"But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness [southward, beyond the territory of Judah], and came and sat down under a juniper tree [a species of broom which grows to a very large size]; and he requested for himself that he might die [as Moses did (Numbers 11:15); as Jonah did (Jonah 4:3)], and said: It is enough. Now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers [I am a mere weak man, and I can make nothing better of a perverse and irreclaimable world]" (1Kings 19:4).
In this answer Elijah does two things: (1) He exaggerates his own importance by his jealousy. The Lord is independent of the best of his servants; his kingdom is not a creation of ours. (2) He puts himself into a false position by his ignorance. He speaks of himself as the only living prophet, forgetting the hundred saved by Obadiah, and not knowing the resources of God.—Poor soul, he needed rest. He was strife-worn; the day of contest had strained him, and he needed the slumber which is re-creation. Surely the Lord will speak to him as a tired man. He will bow the heavens gently over the prophet's head, and attune his voice to the man's weariness.
"And he said, Go forth and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And behold the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?" (1Kings 19:11-13).
Let us note: (1) The Lord's resources: Wind, thunder, fire, tempest, earthquake, pestilence,—terrible are the hosts of the Lord!
(2) The Lord's considerateness: He did not smite, or dazzle, or confound; he whispered as one would whisper to a child affrighted in sleep. "He tempers the wind to the shorn lamb." The Lord is very pitiful. "A bruised reed will he not break." "He knoweth our frame, he remembereth that we are dust."
(3) The Lord's method of judgment: he makes the man who is judged state his own case in his own words. This is more severe than it may at first appear. The answer may be in some sort a self-justification, but the Lord turns it against the pleader and condemns him out of his own mouth.
But Elijah was not to die ignominiously. He was called to farther service, even to anoint kings and prophets! And he who supposed himself to be alone was to hear of seven thousand men—a symbolical number vaster than itself—a very army of soldiers mighty in the cause which Elijah was abandoning as forlorn!
No incident, perhaps, has fastened itself more strongly on the memory and imagination of Christians than that recorded in this wonderful history; and we, through light thrown upon it by the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, can see further into its spiritual meaning than Elijah could.
The narrative, read by the help of the New Testament, tells us more than sensible impressions of mind, earthquake, and fire could, even when followed by "a still small voice"—"a sound of soft stillness," as the original signifies, Elijah was a prophet of truth, but of sternness and terror. He lived in a tempestuous atmosphere. Lightning seems to play around his temples, and his voice was as thunder. Fire consumed his very soul, as the fire brought down from heaven did his sacrifice on the altar, and the dust and water of the trench; and also the fifty threatening messengers of Samaria's king, as the prophet "sat on the top of the hill."
The preceding manifestations indicated wrath and punishment; but the inspired penman of the story had authority to say that the Lord was not in that wind, that earthquake, that fire; that he did not come to Elijah in a spirit, like that which he had shown before, but as "a sound of soft stillness"—a whisper, like an evening breeze—like an Æolian harp. "The acted parable," it has been said, "is in fact an anticipation of the evangelical rule—a condemnation of that "zeal" which Elijah had gloried in, a zeal exhibiting itself in fierce and terrible vengeances, and an exaltation and recommendation of that mild and gospel temper which heareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Yet it must be remembered that what is inappropriate at one time or place is needed at another. The Church wants Elijahs as well as Elishas, Boanerges as well as Barnabas, Luther as well as Melanchthon. Nor should it be forgotten that, even after "the still small voice" suited to soothe a troubled soul, to quench the disappointment and murmuring of the disappointed servant of God, he had a message given of mingled tones. He was to anoint Elisha in his own room—a man of gentle mien after a son of thunder; but his own mission includes the anointing of an Hazael and a Jehu, both out of harmony with "a still small voice;" and room is left for a sweep of the sword of Hazael, and the sword of a Jehu.
We must take the Bible as we find it, and study the progress and development of revelation. God, who at sundry times and in divers manners, spake in times past unto the fathers, by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son. "Hear ye him," said the voice on the Mount of Transfiguration, when Moses and Elijah had vanished, and the disciples saw Jesus only. "Hear ye him," not Moses and Elijah, whose revelations had prepared for, but had been swallowed up in, his. The great and strong wind which rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord, "the earthquake and the fire," were typical of much which Elijah had to do; but "the still small voice" is typical of the dispensation under which we live. And so, as it quells our fears and kindles our hopes, and sheds down upon us the calmest joys, like fine rain on the mown grass, it should also breathe on us its own loving spirit, and move us to the cultivation of a charity, such as Paul so exquisitely describes in his first letter to the Corinthians.—John Stoughton, D.D.
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, whence cometh my help; my help cometh from the Lord of hosts, which made heaven and earth. The tender mercies of the Lord are over all his work; his mercy endureth for ever. There is no place on all the earth on which his smile doth not alight. Thou fillest the earth with morning; thou blessest the land with the benediction of noonday; thou dost curtain the earth with darkness and give all its people rest. The Lord is gracious, full of compassion, most tender in pity; he weeps over the cities which reject him; he mingles his tears with those who shed their sorrow over the open grave. The Lord is good and pitiful, looking upon us through his tears, and showing mercy upon us, upon the scale of an infinite compassion. Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. Thou wilt not quench the smoking flax; thou wilt not break the bruised reed. Thou dost stoop to lift up the little child; thou art merciful beyond all our dreams of pity: God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life,—astounding love! marvellous beyond all imagining! We must die to know its meaning: we must read the entirety of its purpose in the cloudless light and everlasting time of heaven. Give us thy peace, thou peaceful One; make us quiet with the rest of God; drive away all torments, anxieties, and fears, that would trouble the depth of our tranquillity; let there be Sabbath in the heart—a holy eventide, with all its mystery of light, in the innermost recesses of the spirit. Hold thou thy cross before our eyes in the nighttime, and let it be a light above the brightness of the sun at noonday, and all the while may our hearts gaze upon it, and beholding its meaning, our life shall take comfort and be young again, and strong with eternal energy. Let us enter into the meaning of thy peace; it is a peace which passeth understanding: no words can follow it with adequate expressiveness; it is the mystery of the universe. May we enter into it by the wide open door of Christ's priesthood and Christ's atonement. Amen.