1 Kings 18:44
And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, Behold, there rises a little cloud out of the sea, like a man's hand…
The wonders which accompanied the ministry of Elijah were not meaningless prodigies. Those who question the wisdom of miracles should remember that the condition of those for whom they were intended rendered them necessary. Sensuous men must learn through their senses, and worshippers of material force must be met by physical displays of power. We do not try to instruct a child by an essay, or to convince a savage by a syllogism. God could speak directly to the devout patriarchs; but when the worshippers of Baal were to know that there was a living God, they saw the fire from heaven, and heard the bursting of a storm after years of drought. Idolatry had just been swept away by a whirlwind of popular execration. The time had therefore come for the curse to be removed. Elijah with a premonition of the distant rain bade king and people eat of the sacrificial feast, while he went up the mountain to pray. Six times his servant ascended the loftiest peak of Carmel, and came back to say that there was no sign of change; but the seventh time, gazing over the blue expanse of the Mediterranean, he saw a cloud tiny as a man's hand, which was the pledge of answered prayer, for soon the heavens were "black with clouds," and over the thirsty land there was "a great rain." In dealing with events of Old Testament history, we must guard ourselves against giving a fanciful interpretation which cannot be reasonably justified; but we must not forget, on the other hand, that such incidents reveal great principles which run through the whole economy of God, in the moral as well as in the physical world.
I. THE SPIRITUAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BLESSING SOUGHT. The New Testament justifies us in regarding the rain which Elijah prayed for as a type of the Holy Spirit, without whom our hearts are barren, and the moral world is dead. See, for instance, how boldly the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews evolves from the tabernacle what those who constructed it little imagined. Take as another example the allusion which Paul makes to the rock in the wilderness, in which he says emphatically, "That rock was Christ." Recall passages in which the descent of the Spirit is likened to the failing of rain and the distilling of dew. Points of analogy: the grounds on which the heavenly blessing is withheld; the misery that follows its absence; the preparation and prayer for its coming; the subsequent fertility of the barren land, etc. The sins of our age are not unlike those of Elijah's time, though they are less gross in form. The enervating luxuries of civilization, the indifference of many to the decline of religion, the deification of force and of lust, are examples. There has been a forsaking of the Lord on the part of His people, and hence this barrenness of good, in spite of all our toil; because there is a withholding of the gracious influences of the Divine Spirit. May He "come down as rain upon the mown grass, and as showers that water the earth."
II. THE SPIRITUAL PREPARATION FOR THE BLESSING PROMISED.
1. Self forgetfulness. Elijah was personally provided for, and would lack nothing. His heart bled, however, for the suffering people. For them he prayed. We want more of such soul burdening on the part of parents and pastors.
2. Reformation. By the execution of the false prophets, Elijah had done all that in him lay to put away evil. Sins are obstacles in the way of descending blessings. We cannot win the Holy Spirit by good conduct, but we may hinder His work by our sin. Sin is a bar across the sluice gates of benediction, and must be removed or broken before the dry channel can be flooded.
3. Prayer. It is in the Epistle of James that we are told that Elijah's prayers brought both the drought and the rainfall. The fact that the prophet heard the sound of abundance of rain stimulated his supplication, and did not prevent it. He did not argue that God would send the storm whether he prayed or not, but believed that the reception of blessing was inseparably connected with the offering of prayer. Similarly the Holy Spirit was promised to the disciples, but they met to pray till He came. "Ask, and you shall receive."
4. Watchfulness. Elijah was so sure of God's fidelity and goodness that he sent his servant seven times to look for the faintest sign of rain. We need watchfulness for the following reasons:
(1) The answer to prayer does not always come when and how we expect it. E.g., we ask for holiness, and God sends an illness, in which our murmuring closes our heart against the very blessing that is then nearing us. Or we pray for spirituality, and have the possibility of it presented to us in some unexpected joy, which too often makes us more worldly than grateful. Or we entreat God for the salvation of our child; and because we do not watch, we fail to recognize the sign and pledge of the Holy Spirit's work in the child's eager questioning and simple prayer.
(2) The answer to prayer may be long delayed. Elijah was not discouraged even by the sixth repetition of the despairing phrase, "There is nothing." Yet on that very day his one earnest cry had instantaneously brought down fire from heaven. How often like the Psalmist we say," Hath God forgotten to be gracious? .... Wait on the Lord, wait patiently for him."
(3) The answer to prayer may begin in what seems trifling. A cloud the size of a man's hand, hardly describable on the horizon, was enough to transfer Elijah's prayer into praise. Little in itself, it was the beginning of a glorious blessing. The baptism of the Holy Spirit will not suddenly fill the world with worshippers; but it will be seen, perhaps, in the turning to God of one lad, who shall prove the Elijah of his age; or in the new light given to one who has long been under the shadow of doubt; or in some holy resolve, some noble thought that shall presage blessing to the world. Slight and insignificant as it may seem, gratefully welcome it, and still hope, and wait, and pray, till He "come and rain righteousness upon us." - A.R.
Parallel VersesKJV: And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man's hand. And he said, Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not.
WEB: It happened at the seventh time, that he said, "Behold, a small cloud, like a man's hand, is rising out of the sea." He said, "Go up, tell Ahab, 'Get ready and go down, so that the rain doesn't stop you.'"