The Messenger of Jehovah
1 Kings 17:1
And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand…

Stanley is justified in describing Elijah as "the grandest and moss romantic character that Israel ever produced" (S. &. P., p. 828). He appears suddenly, and disappears miraculously. Hence imagination has had scope. Some Rabbins believed that he was Phineas, the grandson of Aaron, and others that he was an angel from heaven. The impression his ministry made upon the mind of the people reappeared again and again after the lapse of centuries. When, for example, the miracles of our Lord aroused the wonder of the people, many said, "It is Elias." Such a character and work as were his deserve careful study. Describe the social and religious condition of the kingdom of Israel after Ahab's accession and marriage with the dauntless, fanatical, idolatrous Jezebel. Never was reformation more called for, and never were supernatural works more necessary as the credentials of a Heaven-sent ambassador. Our text presents for our consideration -

I. A messenger from a forsaken God, and

II. A message for an apostate people.

I. A MESSENGER FROM A FORSAKEN GOD. Ahab was congratulating himself on the success of his policy. It had been greater than he could have expected. The old faith and fervour of the people had died out so completely that they were quiet under the bold introduction of Baal and Ashtoreth. The Sidonians were linked with the kingdom of Israel against Syria. Scarcely a protest had been heard against these political and religious movements. Suddenly there appeared before the king and queen, perhaps as they were enthroned in their ivory palace, Elijah the Tishbite; rough in appearance, as he was bold in utterance. Above the ordinary height, of great physical strength, a girdle round his loins, and a sheepskin cloak over his brawny shoulders, his long thick hair streaming down his back, he was even in appearance a memorable man; and there was something very startling in this his sudden dash into the royal presence, to thunder out his curse, and the rebuke which no doubt preceded it. His appearance may be compared to the flash of lightning that for a moment makes everything which was before in darkness vividly distinct. Some points are worthy of note.

1. The obscurity of his origin. The Tishbite means the "converter," and would fitly describe his work. The endeavour to discover a town of such name in Palestine appears to have failed. The phrase, "from the residents of Gilead," does not necessarily imply that he was an Israelite. He may have been an Ishmaelite or a heathen by birth. It was designed that obscurity should thus hang over his origin. To the people he would seem to come all the more directly from God. The human element was overshadowed by the Divine. Show the mightiness of secret forces in nature, in thought, and in the kingdom of God.

2. The signs of his fitness. A rough man was needed to do rough work. The settler in the backwoods wants the strong sharp are to effect a clearing, before more delicate implements are required. Elijah had his constitutional strength and courage fostered by his surroundings. Gilead was a wild, unsettled country compared with Ephraim and Judah. Instead of stately palaces and flourishing towns, it boasted tent villages and mountain castles; and desperate and frequent were the fights with surrounding freebooters. (See 1 Chronicles 5:10, 19-22. Compare with it "Rob Roy," chap. 19.) The Gileadites were to Israel what the Highlanders, a century back, were to the Lowlands. Amid scenes of conflict, of loneliness, probably of poverty, this strong character was moulded. Compare with Moses in Midian, with John the Baptist in the wilderness. God gives each servant the right training for the service appointed for him both on earth and in heaven.

3. The secret of his strength? His name, Elijah, and his formula, "as the Lord God of Israel liveth," indicate it. An overpowering conviction that Jehovah lived, that He was near, that He was the God of this people, and that He would assert His supremacy over all false gods is implied in the verse. This is the secret of spiritual strength in all ages. The disciples were weak when Jesus was on the mount of transfiguration, strong when He returned; they were despondent after the crucifixion, exultant at Pentecost. The revelation of God's presence and power is what all Churches now need.

4. The completeness of his consecration. "Before whom I stand." This he said, not with a sense of God's nearness only, nor of His favour, but to express that he was the Lord's consecrated servant, through whom and by whom he might do what He willed. Standing is an attitude of attention, expectancy, readiness. So in ancient Scripture servants are represented as all standing looking towards the king, with loins girded, eyes intent, ready to do his will. Note: We cannot stand before the Lord until we have knelt before Him in penitence and humility and prayer. This Elijah had done in Gilead.

II. A MESSAGE FOR AN APOSTATE PEOPLE, "There shall not be rain nor dew these years, but according to my word." We assume here the credibility of miracles and content ourselves with indicating the suitability of this to its purpose.

1. This was revealed in prayer. Elijah had "prayed earnestly that it might not rain" (James 5.) He felt that such a chastisement would move the hearts of the people, and turn their thoughts towards God, as it ultimately did. The prayer was the offspring of God's Spirit. The human utterance was the echo of the Divine will. The mystery of prayer is revealed (1 John 5:14, 16).

2. This was a response to the challenge of Baal-worship. The productive powers of nature were adored under the idolatrous symbol. Here they were shown to be dependent on the unseen God. All natural laws are. They are the expressions of the Divine will. It was in vain to cry, "O Baal, hear us!"

3. This man would affect all classes of the people. They had shared the sin, and therefore must share the penalty. The loftiest are not beyond God's reach, the lowliest are not hidden from God's notice. The tiny garden of the peasant was cursed, as well as the splendid park of the king. National sin brings national calamities. The message, not to some, but to all, is, "Repent, and be converted."

4. This was associated with estrangement from God. It was to be "according to the word" of His servant. The change would be foreseen and foretold, not by the false priests, but by the praying prophet. The curse came because of sin, as had been proclaimed by the law. (See Leviticus 26:19; Deuteronomy 11:16; Deuteronomy 28:23.) It was removed on repentance (1 Kings 18.) Listen to the message God still sends to men, bidding them root out idolatry from every nation and from every heart. May the God of Israel, before whom they stand, prosper all His messengers! - A.R.

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

WEB: Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the foreigners of Gilead, said to Ahab, "As Yahweh, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word."

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