1 Kings 17-20.
J. N. Darby.
These chapters set before us several important principles; and we see there pointed out several very different characters; we learn in them also the ways of God.
Ahab and Jezebel appear on the scene; Elijah prophesies; Obadiah is seen and the seven thousand men of God mentioned in 1 Kings 19:18.
The character of Ahab is presented to us in 1 Kings 16:29-33. Ahab, Jezebel, and the four hundred and fifty prophets were at the head of the apostates of Israel, who at that time worshipped Baal. And Obadiah and the seven thousand were mixed up with the people (1 Kings 18); not that they served the idol, but they were friends of Ahab. As for Elijah, he was the friend of God, and, separated entirely from the apostasy, he was the only witness of the truth in the midst of all the evil.
Let us distinguish then these three different classes of persons: Ahab and Israel, apostates on one side; Elijah, on the other, the faithful servant of God and again, somewhat different, Obadiah and the seven thousand connected always with the evil. Now let us examine the different characters of these persons.
What were the circumstances of Elijah? This feeble and poor man had no force and strength save what he found in the Lord, his only support (1 Kings 17:1-9). He was a man of faith and prayer; and, keeping before the Lord, he could boldly testify against the apostasy of Israel and announce the judgments of God.
It is said to him (1 Kings 17:3), "Get thee hence and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith that is before Jordan"; then in verse 5 we read that he obeyed this command. We see already then that Elijah had no power, but had faith in God and knew that all blessing is in obedience. Also from the moment that the word was addressed to him, he submitted to it and went to the brook Cherith where he learnt to depend on God.
Ahab and all Israel were the enemies of Elijah (1 Kings 18:10); but God was his friend, and in each step that he took in fidelity to the Lord he learnt the fidelity of the Lord to him. By this means he was more and more strengthened for the mission on which he was about to be employed (1 Kings 18:1). God sent him to be with a poor widow who entertained him during the famine, after he was fed by the ravens at Cherith. During all the time that he was cared for by the ravens at the brook, and by the widow at Sarepta, he learnt to know the riches of the love and grace of God. It is there precisely that we learn to know ourselves also in all the circumstances in which we are placed by the Lord.
2 We see then in 1 Kings 17 the simple and entire obedience of Elijah. Whether the Lord sent him to a brook to be fed by ravens; whether he was sent to a widow during the famine; whether he was sent before his real enemy Ahab (1 Kings 18), he made no objection, but counting on the Lord he did that which he was ordered. He was nevertheless a man subject to the same passions and to the same infirmities as ourselves (James 5:17, 18); but he had much of that faith the power of which is infinite. By it he could say that there should be no rain, and there was none; by it he could raise the son of the widow, and overcome Ahab the king and the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal. These circumstances shew us clearly that Elijah was in the place where one is blessed, namely, in that of obedience. Men were his enemies; Ahab had sent everywhere persons to find him out: but the Lord was his refuge, and he had learnt to trust in Him.
Let us examine now what concerns Obadiah (1 Kings 18:3, etc.). He feared the Lord greatly, but, spite of this, he was in the service of Ahab's house and did not bear testimony against its evil. He did not suffer the reproach of Christ. He was not like Elijah, pursued and chased from country to country. He did not know what it was to be fed by the ravens or the widow; that is to say, he lived little by faith, and knew little of the ways of God. He lived at his ease in the world. Ahab was his lord. But who was Elijah's? Jehovah. Compare 1 Kings 18:10 and 15. Oh what a difference! Obadiah knew the good things of the earth; Elijah, the good things of heaven.
Let us read now verses 7-11. All the thoughts of Obadiah were about his master, whom he dreaded; but all the thoughts of Elijah were centred on the Lord, his only Master. The superiority of his position to that of Obadiah is further indicated by this circumstance, that the latter fell on his face before Elijah when he met him (v. 7). And when Elijah tells him to go and announce to Ahab, Obadiah is all frightened. Yet Obadiah was a child of God; he had even hid the prophets; but he had no strength whatever to bear testimony to the Lord, because he was associated with evil. As to Elijah, he could say fearlessly to Ahab and to all the people, "If the Lord be God, follow him," v. 21. Whence did, therefore, this boldness and power come, as seen in Elijah, a poor and weak man, who had been straitened to this point, that he depended upon ravens and upon a widow for his food? From the fact that he stood aloof from the apostasy, that he lived by faith and had a single eye fixed upon his God. Oh how far better his position was than that of Obadiah!
3 There is in these things an application for us to make to ourselves. Let us gather from them this lesson, that since the Lord is God, it is He whom we must serve, and that, in order to be faithful to Him, we have to separate ourselves from all the principles of the apostasy by which we are surrounded.
We know how Elijah triumphed over his enemies: there is therefore no need of repeating the issue of the scene on Carmel. But let us observe that, when Elijah prayed the Lord that He might give him the victory, what he asked was, that it might be known that the Lord was God (v. 37). All the desire of his heart consisted in these two things, that the Lord might be glorified, and that His people might know Him. There was not in him the least desire to lift himself up, to exalt himself; it mattered not to him if he was nothing, provided that God might be glorified and His people brought to know Him. Oh that the same desire may be in us, and that all thought of vainglory may be cast far, far away!
Let us now read 1 Kings 19. Poor Elijah! he had a lesson to learn, which we ourselves, weak and poor as we are, need to learn also. When Elijah stood before the Lord, he could by the Lord's power stop or send rain to the earth, raise up the widow's son, etc. But when he stood, not now before the Lord, but before Jezebel, he was then without strength, and this ungodly woman was able to cause him to fear. Downcast, Elijah therefore goes into the wilderness, sits down under a juniper-tree and asks the Lord to take away his life (v. 4). How different he is here from what he was in the chapter before! How little did he remember what the Lord had done for him; how little did he enter into the mind of God, and expect that chariot of fire which would shortly take him up to heaven! (2 Kings 2:11).
So is it with us. We are downcast, discouraged and weak in ourselves as soon as we fail to live in faith and prayer, and then we cannot say, as Elijah in chapter 18, "The Lord before whom I stand."
4 In 1 Kings 17 Elijah by faith could make the widow's oil and meal last; but here he is weak, and needs that an angel come to strengthen him and give him some food. (Read 1 Kings 19:5-8.) He eats, drinks, and like a man without strength lies down. But the Lord sends the angel back again, for He is plentiful in grace and mercy; He watches over all our ways and feeds our souls according to a our wants and according to all our circumstances. The Lord therefore bore with Elijah and succoured him, and it is also what He is with respect to us. As He was afflicted in all the affliction of His people (Isa. 63:9), so is He with us in ours now.
In 1 Kings 17 God was leading Elijah and telling him where to go, and Elijah obeyed. But in 1 Kings 19 Elijah, fearing Jezebel, flees away and does not wait for the Lord's commandment to go into the wilderness. See therefore what a sad message is sent to him, as recorded in verse 13, "What doest thou here, Elijah?" In verses 11 and 12 we read that a wind, an earthquake, and a fire are sent; but Elijah did not find. the Lord in these things, and they could not bring comfort nor strength to his soul. God was appearing in His grandeur and power; but what Elijah needed was the still small voice, what he wanted was the manifestation of grace and communion with his God. When, therefore, Elijah had heard the still small voice, he wrapped his face in his mantle and stood ready to obey the Lord. By the power and strength that he had found in this voice he was once again enabled to obey the commandment of the Lord.
What we have said on these chapters is very incomplete but we believe that the chief thing is to bring out of them the principles calculated to give the intelligence of what the chapters contain. Let us therefore be mindful of avoiding the position of Obadiah and the seven thousand, who were taking their ease in the midst of apostasy, but who were without strength to bear testimony against evil. Let us also remember that, though Elijah was despised and rejected of men, he was nevertheless in the place of blessing. And if like himself we are brought to realise our weakness, let us remember that communion with the Lord can alone give us afresh zeal and devotedness and joy.