1 Kings 19.
A greater contrast between Elijah in the preceding chapter and Elijah in this can scarcely be imagined. It affords a striking illustration of the possible contradictions and inconsistencies in the life and walk of a believer. In chapter 18 the prophet, borne along by power from on high, boldly challenged and overthrew the whole array of Baal and his followers. Undaunted by the fact that he stood alone, and with the indomitable courage which only confidence in God can impart, he had fearlessly defied the power of Satan in his own stronghold; and for the moment he had rescued the people from his influence and thraldom. In this chapter he flees at the threat of wicked Jezebel, filled with fear lest he should lose his life! The strong man of yesterday is today possessed with the spirit of cowardice; and consequently he retires from his post of duty, and seeks to hide himself in the wilderness.
How can this strange spectacle be explained? It must be remembered that the time of greatest danger to a servant is the moment after conflict. The channel of the Spirit's energy while before the foe, the prophet, exhausted by the strain, prostrated by the sense of his own weakness and solitude, began to measure his difficulties by himself, instead of by what God was on his behalf. Moreover, it is often the case that in the stress of conflict a servant is led out beyond his spiritual power. Reaction follows, and then comes, what is the servant's greatest snare, ungirdedness; and the companion of ungirdedness is weakness. The armour is off, and without the divine panoply it is impossible to meet the smallest of Satan's emissaries. We thus learn that the man of power today, because walking in dependence, may become the laughing-stock of his enemies tomorrow, because he is no longer drawing from the source of all his sustainment and strength.
Turning now to the other side, it is beautiful to see the Lord's tender care over His servant in his despondency, and the way in which He dealt with him to prepare him for further service. Elijah had now but one desire, and that was to die. With darkness within and without, he moaned out his request, "It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers." Not yet will the Lord reply to the prophet's prayer; but rather, in His infinite tenderness and compassion, He will minister to the needs of His poor servant to enable him to receive His correction and instruction. An angelic messenger came where Elijah was sleeping for very sorrow, "under a juniper tree," and "touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat." In like manner the Lord Jesus, when about to probe the heart of Peter, said to him, and to the other disciples with him, "Come and dine." He would give him a proof of His tender love before He laid bare the cause of his failure. So here; and when Elijah, after haying eaten and drunk, laid him down again, the angel of the Lord came the second time, and touched him, and said, "Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee." The prophet, obedient to the heavenly voice, arose, and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God.
So far we have the preparation of the prophet for what was to follow. Having arrived at Horeb, and taken up his lodging in a cave, he is instantly encountered by the word of the Lord, putting the searching question, "What doest thou here, Elijah?" There are seasons when the Lord says to His servants, "Come . . . apart into a desert place, and rest a while"; but if they betake themselves into the desert, without a word of command from their Master, they must expect to be challenged. The whole question raised is this: Is apparent want of success a justification for abandoning the post of duty? The answer is: The Lord alone has the title to determine the place of service and the time of the servant's withdrawal. It is helpful to remember this, as it aids in keeping the eye of the servant "unto the hand" of his Lord. Elijah, no longer "standing before" the Lord God of Israel, had forgotten this principle, and consequently he pleaded his failure in service, as sufficiently accounting for his presence at Horeb. He had been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts; the children of Israel were all transgressors, had cast down Jehovah's altars and slain His prophets, and Elijah only was left, and his life was now in danger! What a picture of despondency and unbelief! In his darkness of soul he had forgotten that the mighty power of God had so wrought with him that he had slain Baal's prophets, and that the people, awed if not convinced, had confessed that Jehovah was the God. When doubt and fear master the soul every ray of light is extinguished, and difficulties are magnified a thousandfold.
The Lord alone knew how to reach the root of His servant's failure and state. He therefore commanded him, first of all, to "go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord." Then, "behold, Jehovah 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"; nor, as we read, in the earthquake and the fire which followed. All these three things - the strong wind, the earthquake, and the fire - are symbols of the power of God displayed in devouring and destructive judgment; and they were evidently exhibited before Elijah because he had been longing for the interposition of God in this judicial way in the midst of Israel, to back up his own mission and to vindicate the name and authority of Jehovah. But he was now to learn that the Lord was not in these things, and thus that he in his zeal (which so easily becomes carnal) had drifted away from communion with the Lord's mind and heart. The moment this happens (and how often it does!) the servant becomes totally disqualified for his work.
But this is more fully brought out by the "still small voice" which came after the fire. It does not say that the Lord was not in it; on the other hand, the effect on Elijah proved that the Lord was there, and that the still small voice was His. When Elijah heard it, "he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave." Unmoved in the presence of the displays of God's mighty power, because they were in harmony with his own mood of soul, he was evidently touched by, and brought under the constraint of, the grace exemplified in the tender and gentle voice he had heard. Again, therefore, the question is borne in upon his inmost soul, "What doest thou here, Elijah?" Once more he was thus invited to challenge the cause of his flight, and to discover the root of his desertion of his field of service. True, he answers the question in the same words as before, but assuredly not in the same tone, for light from God had entered and disclosed to him the unbelieving workings of his own heart. He could scarcely have failed to learn from what had passed before him, that instead of counting upon God for His people, and of understanding that grace was still waiting upon them in longsuffering mercy, he had been looking for some fiery judgment to consume his adversaries. He knew now that he had been out of communion with God's mind and heart.
The proof of this is seen in the fact that the Lord recommissions him for service. Having restored His servant's soul He sends him back to his work. His new directions are very precise: he was, first of all, to anoint Hazael to be king over Syria; then Jehu, the son of Nimshi, to be king over Israel; and, lastly, he was to anoint Elisha, the son of Shaphat, of Abel-meholah, to be prophet in his room. It is not here necessary to remark upon these commissions, further than to point out, that they had reference to judgment, which, if delayed in the Lord's tender consideration for His people, would surely fall upon the backslidden nation. But if judgment must come, it would be in the Lord's time, and His servant must not anticipate it. Finally, the Lord adds, "Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him." Elijah was further to learn, that there was still an election of grace, that the Lord had not left Himself without a testimony in the midst of apostate Israel, and that if he, the prophet, had been dwelling in the sanctuary, in the secret of the Lord's mind and counsel, he would also have known of this hidden remnant, and at the same time have been preserved from his foolish apprehensions and forebodings. How gracious of the Lord to cause His beloved servant's failure to be recorded for our guidance, admonition, and instruction