[04 1863 267] The place which Elijah occupied in God's dealing with His people lends a peculiar interest to his character and history. The nature of the services required of him during that remarkable time necessarily developed the quality of the grace that was in him, and at the same time subjected him to the discipline which would mould and fashion him for those services. God, in every stage of His counsel, appoints the servant suited to sustain His will; but though that servant be endowed by Him with power to do so, yet, unless he be controlled and disciplined directly by the hand of God, he will be continually rushing into devisings of his nature, no matter how godly and divine may be his intent. For we greatly err if we think that to have the divine thought is all that is necessary as to our service; our bodies and minds must truly and efficiently become instrumental in expressing the thought; and this subjects us, as servants of God, to discipline which we often cannot understand. Discipline for known faults or shortcomings we can easily comprehend; but when it is that peculiar order of training which fits a man to be God's instrument for witnessing His name, we can no more understand it than the plants of the earth can understand why they must pass through all the vicissitudes of winter in order to bring forth a more abundant harvest.

The first notice we have of Elijah is in 1 Kings 17, when he appears as a herald of judgment to Ahab. But though his public career commenced here, it was by no means the beginning of his private exercises, for we learn from James 5:17 that the judgment here so confidently announced was granted in direct answer to his own prayer. "As the Lord liveth," says Elijah, "before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word." And why had he prayed for this? Ahab's wickedness had, in the sight of the Lord, surpassed all who had preceded him. He had married Jezebel, the daughter of the King of the Zidonians, and had reared up an altar to Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. Elijah, "a man of like passions with us," but a righteous man, and one whose dependence was on God, could not witness these abominations in the midst of God's people with indifference; and he earnestly entreats that God would thus speak to the nation in judgment, and vindicate His own name. His trust was in God, and he looked to Him to correct His people, and lead them to understand that dependence which he himself had learnt. Suspension of usual mercies was the way of all others to effect this: the loss of dew and rain for three years and a half was fitted to make them feel and remember the source from which their blessings flowed. The deprivation of natural mercies by superhuman means has always the effect of impressing man with a sense that he must look to the Creator. The course of nature has been suspended by a power unknown to him; and though, while he enjoyed the usual blessings, he little thought of God, the moment they are suspended, he is made to feel that he has no remedy but in appealing to Him whom heretofore he had abandoned and disobeyed. Elijah, grieved and oppressed by the apostasy of Israel, finds relief for his heart in prayer, and thus obtains from God the remedy for recalling His people, and Ahab their king, to a sense of how they owed every mercy they had to the will of God. What a striking and interesting light is this in which his history opens to our view! Having prayed in secret, he comes forth for the first time to declare the result of it, and is thus a blessed and prepared witness for such evil and disastrous times, and a witness, too (as the Holy Ghost, ages afterwards, testified), that every soul thus disciplined to wait on God in any emergency will obtain the same result. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." What peculiar dignity and assured power does the man taught of God stand forth to testify against the corruption of his day! Witness his first meeting with Ahab. (1 Kings 17:1.) How instructive to see a lone and hitherto obscure man rise up in the power of God, and tell the king of Israel, "Thus saith the Lord, There shall not be rain or dew these years, but according to my word!" Elijah takes the supreme place which Ahab had forfeited; for Israel's king ought to have been God's most distinguished servant; but having so grievously departed from God's way, the Lord now sends His own servant, disciplined in secret, to deliver a message and testimony which asserted His supreme control of everything. The rain, on which depended the fruits of the earth, should not fall but according to His servant's word.

And now, having delivered this message on behalf of God, this same servant is to be dealt with individually. "Get thee hence," says the Lord, "and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith. And it shall be that thou shalt drink of the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there." He is not to be outside the afflictions and judgments with which God visits His people; but he is, through dependence on God, to be above them. So is it with every true servant; so was it with Elijah. The period, which is one of unmitigated affliction to the wilful, becomes a peculiarly profitable season to the man of faith. If his prayer has been signally answered, he must learn that for that very reason he must live more in dependence than ever; and also, that the afflictions which he had prayed for must fall on him too, unless he adheres strictly to the path of faith. Very often when our petitions are graciously answered, we are less careful to retain the place of dependence, whereas the very benefit we have reaped therefrom should make us the more so. It is faith in God which sets His servant above the afflictions of God's people, and not any ordinary set of circumstances especially preserved for him. Elijah must "hide;" but, like the blessed One whom he foreshadowed, he is to linger in Israel to the very last, though hidden and unknown, for it is within the precincts of the land that God first provides for him. With His own hand, as it were, He feeds and nourishes him; the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning and evening; birds, so voracious that they neglect to feed their own offspring, are transformed by God into ministers for His servant's need; "and he drank of the brook Cherith."

But after a while, he is made to feel still more keenly the drought and parching dearth of Israel; the brook dried up because there was no rain in the land;" he was sensibly to feel the sufferings of God's people even though they had not been incurred by his own wilfulness, but at the same time to reckon on God and say, "The Lord is my helper." This was our blessed Lord's experience, only in the perfection, which always characterized Him; and to this very scene He refers when, in Luke 4, He felt the rejection of Israel, and how dried up and parched were their hearts towards Himself, and makes use of it to illustrate to His audience, that He was not without resource. If acceptance failed in Israel as water had in time past, the same blessed God who had provided a Gentile widow to be the hostess of Elijah, would provide hospitality and reception for the Lord of the earth in the hearts of the desolate Gentiles outside Israel.

Elijah there, having been taught to wait on the Lord for daily support in the land of promise, is now to hear the word, "Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there; behold, I have commanded a widow woman to sustain thee." This was a hard line of discipline, and service is therein opened to him. He, an Israelite, has to leave the land of promise, dwell with a Gentile widow and be supported by her just as the Lord during His rejection by Israel, is now dwelling with the Gentile widow; and blessed it is to see that every subordinate is to be led by a path in one way similar to His. Elijah obeys; and, like Him, there serves in the wondrous history of God's grace to man. At the gate he met the widow. When faith is simple (and it is always simple when generated exclusively by the Word of God), we find the right thing in the right place. He might have passed by the widow who was to support him, because she was poor, and have sought one better off; but his eye was fixed on God, and nothing daunted by the extremity of her poverty (for faith is always confirmed by its own activities), he without embarrassment or questioning, says to her, "Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink." A soul led of God, always, I may say, feels its way; it does not doubt its way, but at first only asks for the least; and by the way that compliance is rendered, it is emboldened to pursue its full requirement. So here with Elijah, when he found that she willingly discontinued her own work, forgetting the claims her necessity had on her, he is emboldened to ask more, and becomes assured too, that this is the widow to whom God has sent him. She was willing to share with him all she could, but when the prophet solicits from her what she had not, she is compelled to disclose the full tale of her poverty; and then it is that Elijah rises up in all the greatness of Him whose servant he was. How bright is that moment to the soul which has been carefully and stealthily threading its way, following the ray of divine light, clear to itself but as yet shedding no light beyond, when it is suddenly launched into full consciousness of God's purpose by the demonstration of His power! Thus it was with Elijah. The Word of the Lord had now reached him, and he declares it to the widow, and forthwith takes up his abode in her house; and for a full year was supported in this remarkable way by the Lord. We often fail to receive the Word of God, because we do not advance where it can reach us, i.e., we do not come to the point where the Lord can use us to set forth His name; but when we do, we are able to declare it in full power; and not only so, but we are sustained in the enjoyment of the blessing into which it has introduced us. Must it not have been enjoyment to Elijah to learn day by day how God could sustain him in that poor, desolate home? Must not the bread and oil, which he ate there day by day, have been sweet, while his soul realized that it came directly from the hand of God? for I do not believe that there was one grain of flour more in the barrel at the end than there was at the beginning.

But he was not to leave that roof without entering on another line of discipline. The widow's son dies, and Elijah, though not without resource, passes through deep exercises of soul before he appropriates the grace that is in God to meet the need. (1 Kings 17:17-24.) But how fully is that need met! What blessed and momentous revelations were vouchsafed to the soul of Elijah in that widow's house! He was there carried experimentally into the full range of God's blessing to man; he had communion, though at a distance, with the scope and circle of the achievements of the Son of God. He learned how God could preserve from death, how He could meet the distress in averting the evil on the earth; in a word, he learnt the range of all temporal blessing known or enjoyed on the earth. And more than this, he is now conducted into the deepest of all mysteries, even that of resurrection from among the dead; he had seen death arrested and its terrors assuaged; but now being brought in contact with the depth of sorrow (for a widow losing her only son, her last link to earth, is the most penetrating illustration of human sorrow and bereavement), he is used of God to display His power and grace in overcoming death and introducing life anew: and thus in a pre-eminent way is educated in the mightiest work of God. The exercises of his soul at this time, because of death charged on himself by the sorrowing widow (1 Kings 17:18), and the experiences of his soul because of the power of God in giving life from the dead, must have been peculiar and wonderful, and very grateful must have been the testimony of the widow after the resurrection of her son. "Now by this I know that thou art a man of God and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth." God was honoured and His servant vindicated in the great work of resurrection. Elijah having learned these deep lessons of the grace and power of God in the house of the Gentile — all of them foreshadowing the glorious disclosures of that same grace and power which have been made in the Gentile home here on earth, during the dry day of blessing to Israel, is now directed to go and show himself to Ahab and testify that "the Lord will send rain upon the earth." (1 Kings 18:1.) He had been hid to Israel, and Ahab had sought him in every nation and kingdom but in vain; but now at this juncture, when the king had arranged with Obadiah to divide the land in search of grass, he comes forth to present himself. His first meeting is with Obadiah.

The faithful remnant is ever the foremost to recognize the prophet of God; and though the faith of the remnant may waver, it is finally reassured and able to announce to the ungodly one the approach of him in whose hand was the blessing. Ahab on encountering Elijah charges him thus, "Art thou he that troubleth Israel," on which Elijah denounces the king and his father's house as the guilty cause. The man who has learned grace, and comes before the ungodly as the witness and minister of it, gives a strength and point to his denunciations which the man of law never could give. The one comes to rectify and repair every defect which he may expose, the other exposes with the feeling that he has no remedy for what he deprecates. The prophets of Baal are now challenged to open competition with the Lord of hosts, and the most glorious moment in any servant's life is Elijah's, when he stands forth alone to maintain the truth of God against all the assumptions of pretenders. He proposes a test and God answers by fire. (1 Kings 18:21-39.) Let me say in passing that the highest evidence of our God and of His truth is accorded by the acceptance which He certifies to each soul who knows Him in atonement; that is to say, who has been received by Him. God answers by fire. Now in this mode of answer, figuratively expressed by fire, the accepted soul has the sense that while God receives, He does so in all the strength and terribleness of holiness; so that the reception is not, so to speak, a matter of impulse, but established in the stern holiness of His nature, which assures that soul, that while he receives it as a sinner, he has pure and holy ground for doing so; and thus not only is the divinity of the acceptance authenticated, but the perpetuity and perfectness of it is incontrovertibly assured. God always testifies of His acceptance by the holiness of His presence — by fire. The soul who knows acceptance has a sense of the holiness of Him who accepts, and this is the best evidence of divinity.

What a season of strength and education was this when, confounding and confuting the pretenders of his day by one simple test, a test well understood by the people of God, he stood forth alone, valiant for God and waiting on Him! How his soul must have been enlarged while he held counsel with God, confronting the king and all the people of Israel! What calmness the sense of competence gives! He can patiently allow the pretenders to make full trial of all their powers, and when they have exhausted themselves and proved their powerlessness, he comes forward to repair the altar of the Lord, after the divine order. He is acting for God and with God. He will not only repair the altar, but he will show how bountifully God can display His power to His forgetful people. What deep and happy conceptions of God Elijah must have had when he ministered thus for Him! He had so learned God at Cherith and Sarepta that he is prepared for those public demonstrations, and can enter on them with calmness and dignity.

But now the people having acknowledged their evil and again turned to the Lord, and Elijah having vindicated the truth by the execution of the pretenders, the judgment will be removed. The people were afflicted with drought in order that they might learn that the God whom they slighted was alone the source and fountain of all their blessings. Having learned this, in God's gracious way, the affliction will cease, for God always removes chastisement when it has accomplished the purpose for which it was sent; and the servant who has been faithful in maintaining the truth in the face of the opponents, is proportionately used as a channel of God's mercies to His people. Elijah can now say to Ahab, "Get thee up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of abundance of rain." But what does he do himself? He goes to the top of Carmel, casts himself down upon the earth, and puts his face between his knees. The strength and power with which God furnishes His servant for public testimony never supplies the place of the deep exercise which the soul must pass through when made a channel of His grace. After a day's work in supreme, mighty power, the Lord spent His night in prayer, in order, if I may so say, to commune with His Father touching the result. Active demonstrations of power hence supersede that close engrossing communion with God which the real servant seeks and values all the more for having acted publicly for God, in order to know His mind and follow out His purpose. Elijah is waiting on God; and very instructive it is to us to note how a man, who a moment before could use so much power as to call fire down from heaven, must with intense earnestness, wait on God for the manifestation of His mercies. Seven times does Elijah send his servant to see whether there was any indication of the coming and promised blessing. At length there was the very smallest token, "a little cloud like a man's hand." It is enough for faith. The prophet not only announces to Ahab that this insignificant token was the very blessing prayed and waited for, "but the hand of the Lord being upon him, he girded his loins," and sees Ahab safe to the very gate of his city.

What a height of success had Elijah now reached through his faith and labour! Could anything, we might ask, henceforth move him after such signal honour and power being vouchsafed to him by God? One who knows little of the human heart might say, it could not but, alas! it is no rare page in the history of God's servants for discouragement and withering to set in, from the very point of their greatest success. So was it with David. After a marked deliverance from Saul, he exclaims, "I shall one day perish at the hands of Saul," and he retreats to Achish. So was it with Jonah. When his preaching produced such an effect that God's judgment was averted, he was so angry that he would do nothing more. So is it with Elijah. After the signal instances and proofs he had known of that God's power and present help, when he heard of Jezebel's intentions against him, "he went for his life, and came to Beersheba, and left his servant there, but he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper-tree, and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am no better than my fathers." (1 Kings 19:4.) What a contrast between a man of faith and a man of unbelief! Who would have thought that Elijah under the juniper-tree was the Elijah of Carmel but a day or two before! How feeble and weak is the most notable of God's servants without faith! But such reverses and hours of darkness are necessary* for such a servant; aye, as necessary in God's discipline as are his brightest moments, for then it is that he learns for himself the power of the Invisible. This was the secret of Moses' strength. He endured as seeing Him who is invisible. And when a soul has been much engaged with the external marks and evidences of God's workings, it needs all the more that education which will establish it in that which faith pre-eminently seeks and rests on, even the peculiar, private, unseen education of God to itself.

[* Query. — Ed. B. T.]

Elijah leaves the land and wanders alone into the wilderness, seeking isolation apart from his fellow men. What a journey! trusting in none, attended by none. What living death, when a man feels only safe when entirely separated from his kind! Our blessed Lord could not "commit Himself to man," because He knew what was in man; but Elijah shunned the company of men in fear and bitterness of soul, and sought his death at the hand of God. Blessed God! thy compassion fails not; thou wilt save the afflicted soul. "He remembereth our frame." The first relief which his weary spirit has is in unconsciousness: "he lay and slept under the juniper-tree." And there the angel touched him and said, "Arise and eat." "And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again." This was a deeper and a closer token of God's interest and care for him than the supply of the ravens or the widow's barrel. 'The cake baken on the coals and the cruise of water at his head, intimate to him how God provides for him; but the presence of the angel to point out and urge him to partake of them, displays the Lord's own personal interest in him. Solitary as he was, he was not left alone or unattended. An angel is sent as his companion and servant; and a second time he touches him, after watching him doubtless as he slept, and with increasing solicitude for him, says, "Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for thee." Whither was that journey to be? To Horeb, the Mount of God.

I have no doubt that this twofold eating had a deeply mystical meaning, and illustrates to us the peculiar supplies which the Lord vouchsafes to our souls as preparatory to a season of deep exercise. Such a time forty days in the wilderness typify, when the sensible connection between all things of human interest and support are palpably suspended. Moses and our Lord went through this experience, but without the previous preparation accorded to Elijah; but the latter represents to us the way common to man. At the outset, supplied and strengthened, he went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights. These forty days in the wilderness without food or human sustenance is the path that must be traversed by the soul that would learn God in His great reality to ourselves and His purposes on earth. At Horeb, the Mount of God, all things are naked and open; and the soul of Elijah has to do with God, and God alone. These individual communications are opened on the part of the Lord by the searching question, "What doest thou here, Elijah?" He was then instructed to "go forth" from the cave where he had retreated, and "stand on the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by." Elijah's own true state is now brought out. The Lord is not in the whirlwind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire. These were the demonstrations of God; but for Elijah there was something deeper, holier, more personal; he learns the superiority of the still small voice of God to all the outward demonstrations; a lesson which he needed much, for doubtless the wondrous scene at Carmel had unduly filled his vision at the expense of that personal link which would have sustained him under subsequent disappointment. To re-establish this link was the interesting scene under the juniper tree and the ministry of the angel; and to lay bare his soul, was the forty days' journey to Horeb, apart from the region of humanity, terminating in this blessed instruction, which brought God Himself so very nigh to his soul. Well might he wrap his face in his mantle and listen. And if he could not satisfactorily reply to the question, again repeated, "What doest thou here?" he is instructed to "go, return," and execute his Lord's counsels. Wilful as he had been, now, brought to Horeb, the still small voice of God will unfold to him His purposes on earth: the wicked king was to be replaced, and the sword was to be drawn in Israel; but seven thousand souls, a faithful remnant, were still left to testify for God. This was to silence all Elijah's self-consequence: he had said, "I, only I, am left." But the Lord now shows him that He had seven thousand more witnesses, and, still further, another prophet was to be anointed in his room. Great as had been his services, God's truth and power did not depend on him; but though his earthly testimony was to close, God was purposing a higher and more blessed portion for His servant, which, however, is not disclosed to him here, as far as we see. What wonderful education was all this! With what different ideas of God towards himself and towards man must he have departed from that sacred mount! Truly humbled he was, truly interested for God, truly linked to Him in his secret soul, and esteeming others better than himself.

The first fruits of this instruction at Horeb are seen in his first act, being the call of Elisha; and to him, it appears, he, committed the anointing of both Hazael and Jehu. (See 2 Kings 8, 9) That he had profited by the discipline, his whole subsequent course evidences. In 1 Kings 21:17, etc., he encounters Ahab at Naboth's vineyard, and fearlessly denouncing him, declares the judgment of God against him and against Jezebel also. He is used by the blessed God to pronounce how grievous it is in His sight for any one, much more the eminent, to deprive any of His people of their divine portion and inheritance, and how such an act will draw down the severest judgment: a fine service for one who had hitherto but partially comprehended the heart of God towards His people. Elijah now fears not to be the exponent of this Magna Charta, viz., that God will not suffer any one to deprive or divert His gift from any of his own, without terrible and summary judgments. "He that defiles the temple of God, him will God defile." "I would that they were cut off who trouble you." "Woe unto him by whom the offence cometh." All these Scriptures breathe the same principle. Ahab humbles himself, and God in His never-failing grace intimates to His servant a respite of the sentence he had pronounced on the king. Unlike Jonah, whose education being less complete, had rebelled against the goodness of God, thwarting his own predictions; Elijah is content, and fully accords with God's mind. He who has learned grace for himself can understand the ways of grace for others.

We now come to Elijah's last act of public testimony, (2 Kings 1,) when he comes forth to rebuke the king of Israel for sending to Baal-zebub to enquire about his sickness, as if there were no God in Israel. The apostasy had become so fearful and abandoned that the existence of Jehovah is ignored, and, in the very centre of it, Elijah is to stand up to declare that death must vindicate the truth and existence of God when unbelief disowns and disallows all other evidence. "Thou shalt not come down from that bed on which thou art gone up: thou shalt surely die." If we do not believe that God is, what awaits us but death? The mission of an Elijah is to announce this deeply-solemn truth, and then to depart from the guilty scene. Thus did this honoured servant, and retired and sat on the top of an hill, unassailable and in the conscious power of moral separation and elevation. Is this the same man who had fled for his life into the wilderness? Captains and their hosts are as nothing to him now. The fire of God (though, as he learned at Horeb, it contained not the voice to his individual soul) is now at his disposal for the destruction of his enemies. Twice God thus miraculously certifies the authority of His servant, and then tells him to go down and complete his mission. Apparently his life would be at their mercy, but in the power of God he was as unassailable in the king's court as on the top of the hill. Elijah obeys, and in the presence of the king reiterates God's solemn judgment, fearlessly vindicating the name of God in the very centre of the apostasy, where its power and evil were most dominant: a fit finale this to his blessed and honourable career of public service. When we transport ourselves into such a scene, while we must be filled with admiration of the man and of his work, we are still more compelled to lay our hands on our hearts and say to our God, "How dost thou fashion thy servants for thine own glory and purposes!"

But though Elijah's public career is now over, his personal history as to earth has yet to close, and that in a flood of glory, far beyond anything that had been vouchsafed to him in his earthly service. "The Lord would now take him into heaven," to Himself, and in a way above and beyond the common lot of man. Like Enoch, he was to be "translated that he should not see death." Doubtless he knew what was about to happen; for the way in which he spends his last hours on earth is deeply significant and blessedly instructive, when we think what a prospect was before him in his exit from earth, and the nature of that exit. In these his last hours he connects himself personally, and by personal toil with all those places in Israel most commemorative of God's way's with his people. Gilgal was where the reproach of Egypt was rolled off; Bethel where Jacob saw the ladder of God reaching from earth to heaven; Jericho where God would make His grace rise above all man's rebellion and evil; and lastly, Jordan, which was his point of exit, the crossing of which, while it recalled Israel's glorious entry into the land, told of death the end of man in the flesh. In prospect of being conveyed by a chariot of glory far away from those scenes of slighted mercy and apostasy, Elijah's heart, like that of his great prototype, is still true to God's interests on earth, and he must visit them once more, though at great personal costs (for he must have travelled many miles to do so). The fact of his own personal lot being so glorious does not detach his heart from the interests and glory as to earthly testimony of that Lord for whom he had been so faithful a witness. As to himself, it was at that spot where in type the waters of death had closed over the old man in his corrupt and fallen nature, that the chariot of fire awaited him to bear him away to the glory in which he has since appeared in close converse with his Lord upon the Holy Mount, and in which he shall again appear when He comes for the deliverance of the faithful remnant which are morally identified with that seven thousand of whom Elijah was told in the days of his discouragement, and who after purging the land of its defilement and apostasy, will share with all His redeemed ones the joy of His kingdom.

What a course was thine, Elijah! — fraught with trials and death-struggles, but still more fraught with instruction in the heart of Him whom to serve was thy joy and glory; a course entered on in secret prayer and waiting on God, and ended in a chariot of fire to bear thee to Himself!