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Bible Commentaries

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture

1 Kings 19

 

 

Verses 1-8

1 Kings

ELIJAH’S WEAKNESS, AND ITS CUBE

1 Kings 19:1 - 1 Kings 19:18.

The miracle on Carmel cowed, if it did not convince, Ahab, so that he did not oppose the slaughter of the Baal prophets; but Jezebel was made of sterner stuff, and her passionate idolatry was proof against even a sign from heaven. Obstinacy in error is often a rebuke to tremulous faith in God. She fiercely puts her back to the wall, and defies Elijah and his God. Her threat to the prophet has a certain audacity of frankness almost approaching generosity. She will give her victim fair play. This woman is ‘magnificent in sin.’ The Septuagint prefixes to her oath, ‘As surely as thou art Elijah and I Jezebel,’ which adds force to it. It also reads, by a very slight change in the Hebrew, in 1 Kings 19:3, ‘he was afraid,’ for ‘he saw,’-which is possibly right, as giving his motive for escape more distinctly.

I. We may note, first, the prophet’s flight [1 Kings 19:3 - 1 Kings 19:8]. Beersheba, on the southern border of the kingdom of Judah, was eloquent of memories of the patriarchs, but though it was nearly a hundred miles from Jezreel, Jezebel’s arm was long enough to reach the fugitive there, and therefore he plunged deeper into the dreary southern desert. He left behind him his servant, his ‘young man,’ as the original has it, whom Rabbinical tradition identified with the miraculously resuscitated son of the widow of Zarephath, and supposed to become afterwards the prophet Jonah. Thus alone but for the company of his own gloomy thoughts, and wearied with toilsome travel in the sun-smitten waste, he took shelter under the shadow of a solitary shrub {the Hebrew emphatically calls it ‘one juniper,’ or rather ‘broom-plant’}, and there the waves of depression went over him.

His complaint is not to be wondered at, though it was wrong. The very overstrain of the scene on Carmel brought reaction. The height of the crest of one wave measures the depth of the trough of the next, and no mortal spirit can keep itself at the sublime elevation reached by Elijah when alone he fronted and converted a nation. The supposed necessity for flight, coming so immediately after apparent victory, showed him how hollow the change in the people was. What had become of all the fervency of their shout, ‘The Lord, He is the God!’ if they could leave Jezebel the power to carry out her threat? Solitude and the awful desert increased his gloom. The strong man had become weak, and it was ebb-tide with him. His prayer was petulant, impatient, presumptuous. What right had he to settle what was ‘enough’? If he really wished to die, he could have found death at Jezreel, and had no need to travel a hundred miles to seek a grave. He was weary of his work, and profoundly disappointed by what he hastily concluded was its failure, and in a fit of faithless despondency he forgot reverence, submission, and obedience.

If Elijah can become weak, and his courage die out, and his zeal become torpid apathy and cowardly wish to shuffle off responsibility and shirk work, who shall stand? The lessons of self-distrust, of the nearness to one another of the most opposite emotions in our weak natures, of the depth of gloom into which the boldest and brightest servant of God may fall as soon as he loses hold of God’s hand, never had a more striking instance to point them than that mighty prophet, sitting huddled together in utter despondency below the solitary retem bush, praying his foolish prayer for death.

The meal to which an angel twice waked him was God’s answer to his prayer, telling him both that his life was still needful and that God cared for him. Perhaps one of Elijah’s reasons for taking to the desert was the thought that he might starve there, and so find death. At all events, God for the third time miraculously provides his food. The ravens, the widow of Zarephath, an angel, were his caterers; and, instead of taking away his life, God Himself sends the bread and water to preserve it. The revelation of a watchful, tender Providence often rebukes gloomy unbelief and shames us back to faith. We are not told whether the journey to Horeb was commanded, or, like the flight from Jezreel, was Elijah’s own doing; but, in any case, he must have wandered in the desert, to have taken forty days to reach it.

II. The second stage is the vision at Horeb [1 Kings 19:9 - 1 Kings 19:14]. The history of Israel has never touched Horeb since Moses left it, and it is not without significance that we are once more on that sacred ground. The parallel between Moses and Elijah is very real. These two names stand out above all others in the history of the theocracy, the one as its founder, the other as its restorer; both distinguished by special revelations, both endowed with exceptional force of character and power of the Spirit; the one the lawgiver, the other the head of the prophetic order; both having something peculiar in their departure, and both standing together, in witness of their supremacy in the past, and of their inferiority in the future, by Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. The associations of the place are marked by the use of the definite article, which is missed in the Authorised Version,-’the cave,’ that same cleft in the rock where Moses had stood. Note, too, that the word rendered ‘lodged’ is literally ‘passed the night,’ and that therefore we may suppose that the vision came to Elijah in the darkness.

That question, ‘What doest thou here?’ can scarcely be freed from a tone of rebuke; but, like Christ’s to the travellers to Emmaus, and many another interrogation from God, it is also put in order to allow of the loaded heart’s relieving itself by pouring out all its griefs. God’s questions are the assurance of His listening ear and sympathising heart. This one is like a little key which opens a great sluice. Out gushes a full stream. His forty days’ solitude have done little for him. A true answer would have been, ‘I was afraid of Jezebel.’ He takes credit for zeal, and seems to insinuate that he had been more zealous for God than God had been for Himself. He forgets the national acknowledgment of Jehovah at Carmel, and the hundred prophets protected by good Obadiah. Despondency has the knack of picking its facts. It is colour-blind, and can only see dark tints. He accuses his countrymen, as if he would stir up God to take vengeance.

How different this weak and sinful wail over his solitude from the heroic mention of it on Carmel, when it only nerved his courage I {verse 22}. The divine manifestation which followed is evidently meant to recall that granted to Moses on the same spot. ‘The Lord passed by’ is all but verbally quoted from Exodus 34:6, and the truth that had been proclaimed in words to Moses was enforced by symbol to Elijah. If the vision was in the night, as 1 Kings 19:9 suggests, it becomes still more impressive. The fierce wind that roared among the savage peaks, the shock that made the mountains reel, and the flashing flames that lighted up the wild landscape, were all phenomena of one kind, and at once expressed God’s lordship over all destructive agencies of nature, and symbolised the more vehement and disturbing forms of energy, used by Him for the furtherance of His purposes in the field of history or of revelation. Elijah’s ministry was of such a sort, and he had now to learn the limitations of his work, and the superiority of another type, represented by the ‘sound of gentle stillness.’

It is the same lesson which Moses learned there, when he heard that the Lord is ‘a God full of compassion and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy and truth.’ It was exemplified in the gentle Elisha, the successor of Elijah. It reached far beyond the time then present, and was indeed a Messianic prophecy, declaring the inmost character of Him in whom ‘the Lord is,’ in an altogether special sense. Elijah as a prophet brought no new knowledge, and uttered no far-reaching predictions; but he received one of the deepest and clearest prophecies of the gentleness of God’s highest Messenger, and on Horeb saw afar off what he saw fulfilled on the Mountain of Transfiguration. Nor is his vision exhausted by its Messianic reference. It contains an eternal truth for all God’s servants. Storm, earthquake, and fire may be God’s precursors, and needed sometimes to prepare His way; but gentleness is ‘the habitation of His throne,’ and they serve Him best, and are nearest Him whom they serve, who are meek in heart and gentle among enemies, ‘as a nurse cherisheth her children.’ Love is the victor, and the sharpest weapons of the Christian are love and lowliness.

The lesson was not at first grasped by Elijah, as his repetition of his complaint, word for word, with almost dogged obstinacy, shows. The best of us are slow to learn God’s lessons, and a habit of faithless gloom is not soon overcome. It is much easier to get down into the pit than to struggle out of it.

III. The commission for further service, which closes the scene, is a further rebuke to the prophet. He is bidden to retrace his way and to take refuge in the desert lying to the south and east of Damascus, where he would be safe from Jezebel, and still not far from the scene of his activity. The instructions given to anoint a king of Syria and one of Israel were not fulfilled by Elijah, but by his successor; and we have to suppose that further commands were given to him on that subject. The third injunction, to anoint his successor, was obeyed at once on his journey, though Ahelmeholah, on Gilboa, was dangerously near Jezreel. The designation of these future instruments of God’s purpose was at once a sign to Elijah that his own task was drawing to a close {having reached its climax on Carmel}, and that God had great designs beyond him and his service. The true conception of our work is that we sire only links in a chain, and that we can be done without. ‘God removes the workers and carries on the work.’ To anoint our successor is often a bitter pill; but self-importance needs to be taken down, and it is blessed to lose ourselves in gazing into the future of God’s work, when we are gone from the field.

Further, the commissions met Elijah’s despondency in another way; for they assured him of the divine judgments on the house of Ahab, and of the use of the Syrian king as a rod to chastise Israel. He had thought God too slow in avenging His dishonoured name, and had been taught the might of gentleness; but now he also learns the certainty of punishment, while the enigmatical promise that Elisha should ‘slay’ those who escaped the swords of Hazael and Jehu dimly points to the merciful energy of that prophet’s word, his only sword, which shall slay but to revive, and wound to heal. ‘I have hewed them by the . . . words of my mouth.’

Finally, the revelation of the seven thousand-a round number, which expresses the sacredness as well as the numerousness of the elect, hidden ones-rebukes the hasty assumption of his being left alone, ‘faithful among the faithless.’ God has more servants than we know of. Let us beware of feeding either our self-righteousness or our narrowness or our faint-heartedness with the fancy that we have a monopoly of faithfulness, or are left alone to witness for God.


Verse 9

1 Samuel - 1 Kings

ELIJAH’S WEAKNESS, AND ITS CUBE

WHAT DOEST THOU HERE?

1 Samuel 29:3. - 1 Kings 19:9.

I have put these two verses together, not only because of their identity in form, though that is striking, but because they bear upon one and the same subject, as will appear, if, in a word or two, I set each of them in its setting. David was almost at the lowest point of his fortunes when he fled into foreign territory, and for awhile took service under one of the kings of the Philistines. He served him faithfully, and so, when the last great fight, in which Saul lost his life, was about to be waged between Philistia and Israel, David and his men came as a contingent to the army of the former. The Philistine commanders, very naturally, were suspicious of these allies, just as Englishmen would have been if, on the night before Waterloo, a brigade of Frenchmen had deserted and offered their help to fight Napoleon. So the question ‘What do these Hebrews here?’-amongst our ranks-was an extremely natural one, and it was answered in the only possible way, by the subsequent departure of David and his men from the unnatural and ill-omened alliance.

Now, that suggests to us that Christian people are out of their places, even in the eyes of worldly people, when they are fighting shoulder to shoulder with them in certain causes; and it suggests the propriety of keeping apart. ‘Come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord’ ‘What do these Hebrews here?’ is a question that Philistia often asks. But now turn to the other question. Elijah had fallen into the mood of depression which so often follows great nervous tension. He had just offered the sacrifice on Carmel, and brought all Israel back to the Lord, and Jezebel had flamed out and threatened his life. The usually undaunted prophet, in the reaction after his great effort, was fearful for his life and deserted his work, flung himself into solitude and shook the dust off his feet against Israel. Was that not just doing what I have been saying that Christian people ought to do-separating himself from the world? In a sense, yes, but the voice came, ‘What dost thou here, Elijah?’ ‘Go back to your work; to Ahab, to Jezebel. Go back to death if need be. Do not shirk your duty on the pretence of separating yourself from the world.’

So we put the two questions together. They limit one another, and they suggest the via media, the course between, and lead me to say one or two plain things about that duty of Christian separation from an evil world.

I. The first thing that I would suggest to you is the inevitable intermingling, which is the law of God, and therefore can never be broken with impunity.

Christ’s parable about the Kingdom of Heaven in the world being like a man that sowed good seed in his field, which sprung up intermingled with tares, contains the lesson, not so much of the purity or nonpurity of the Church as of the inseparable intertwining in the world of Christian people with others. The roots are matted together, and you cannot pull up a tare without danger of pulling up a wheat-stalk that has got interlaced with it. That is but to say that Society at present, and the earthly form of the Kingdom of God, are not organised on the basis of religious affinity, but upon a great many other things, such as family, kindred, business, a thousand ties of all sorts which mat men together, and make it undesirable, impossible, contrary to God’s intention, that the good people should club themselves together, and leave the bad ones to rot and stink. The two are meant to be in close contact. ‘Let both grow together till the harvest.’ If any Christian man were to do as the monks of old did, fly into solitude to look after his own soul, then the question which came to Elijah would be suitable to him, ‘What doest thou here?’ Is there not work enough for you out there, in that wicked world? Is that not the place for you? Where is the place for the ‘salt’? Where the meat is in danger of putrefaction. Rub it in! That is what it was meant for. ‘Ye are the light of the world.’ That suggests the picture of a lamp upon a pedestal that it may send out its rays, but itself remains apart. But the companion metaphor suggests the closest possible contact, and such contact is duty for us Christian people. Elijah ran away from his work. There are types of Christian life to-day unwholesomely self-engrossed, and too much occupied with their own spiritual condition, to realise and discharge the duty of witnessing in the world. Wherever you find a Christian man -whether he is a monk with bare foot, and a rope round his brown robe, and shaven head, or whether he is in the garb of modern Protestantism- that tries more to keep himself apart, in the enjoyment and cultivation of his own religious life, than to fling himself into the midst of the world’s worst evil, in order to fight and to cure it, you get a man who is sharing in Elijah’s transgression, and needs Elijah’s rebuke. The intermingling is inevitable in the present state of things; and family, kindred, business, social and political movements, all require that Christian people should work side by side with men who are not possessors of ‘like precious faith.’ If ever there have been individuals or communities that have tried to traverse that law, they have developed narrowness and bitterness and stunted growth, and a hundred evils that we all know.

II. And now let me say a word about the second thing, and that is-the imperative separation.

‘What do these Israelites here?’ is the question. Much of all our lives lies outside these necessary connections with the world, of which I have been speaking. And the question for each of us is, What do we do when we are left to do as we like? Where do we go? When the iron weight fastened by the bit of string is taken off the sapling, it starts back to its original uprightness. Is that what your Christianity does for you? When you are left to yourself, when you have done all the work that is required, and you are free, where do you turn naturally? It is of no use to lay down special regulations. There has been far too much regulation and red-tape in our Christianity all along. Do not let us put so much stress upon individual acts. Let us look at the spirit. Whither do I turn? What do I like to do? Who are my chosen companions? What are my recreations? Is my life of such a sort as that the world will point to me, and say, ‘What! you here I a professing Christian; what are you doing here?’

I remember that in the autobiography of Mr. Spurgeon, there is a story told about what he did when a child, and living with his grandfather, the pastor of a little country church. There was a very prominent member of that church who was in the habit of going into the public-house occasionally; and the small boy stepped into the sanded parlour where this inconsistent man was sitting, walked up to him, and said, ‘What doest thou here, Elijah?’ It was the turning-point of the man’s life. That is the question that I desire us all to ask ourselves-where do we go, and what sort of lives do we live in the moments when our own voluntary choice determines our action?

‘A man is known by the company he keeps,’ says an old Latin proverb, and I am bound to say that I do not think that it is a good sign of the depth of a Christian professor’s religion if he feels himself more at home in the company of people who do not share his religion than in the company of those that do. I do not wish to be strait-laced and narrow, but I do not wish, either, to be so broad as to obliterate altogether the distinction between Christian people and others. The fact of the case is this, dear friends; if we are Christ’s servants we have more in common with the most uncongenial Christians than we have with the most congenial man who is not a Christian. And if we were nearer our Master we should feel that it was so. ‘Being let go they went to their own company.’ Where do you go when you can make your choice?

I am not going to speak in detail about occupations or recreations. I can quite believe that the theatre might be made an instrument of morality. I can quite believe that a race-course might be a perfectly innocent place. I can quite believe that there may be no harm in a dance. All that I say is that there are two questions which every Christian professor ought to ask himself about such subjects. One is, Can I ask God to bless this thing, and my doing it? And the other is, Does this help or hinder my religion? If we will take these two questions with us as tests of conduct and companionship, I do not think that we shall go far wrong, either in the choice of our companions, or in the choice of our surroundings of any kind, or in the choice of our recreations and our occupations. But if we do not, then I am quite sure that we shall go wrong in them all. ‘What communion hath light with darkness?’ ‘What agreement hath the temple of God with idols? Come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord.’

The main question is, do I grasp the aim of life with clearness and decision as being to make myself by God’s help such a character as God has pleasure in? If I do I shall regulate all these things thereby.

III. Now there is one last suggestion that I wish to make, and that is the double questioning that we shall have to stand.

The lords of the Philistines said, ‘What do these Hebrews here?’ They saw the inconsistency, if David and his men did not. They were sharp to detect it, and David and his band did not rise in their opinion, but decidedly went down, when they saw them marching there, in such an unnatural place as ‘behind Achish,’ and ready to flesh their swords in the blood of their brethren. So let me tell you, you will neither recommend your religion nor yourselves to men of the world, by inconsistently trying to identify yourselves with them. There are a great many professing Christians nowadays whose mouths are full of the word ‘liberality,’ and who seem to try to show how absolutely identical with a godless man’s a God-fearing one’s life may be made. Do you think that the world respects that type of Christian, or regards his religion as the kind of thing to be admired? No; the question that they fling at such people is the question which David was humiliated by having pitched at his head-’What do these Hebrews here?’ ‘Let them go back to their mountains. This is no place for them.’ The world respects an out-and-out Christian; but neither God nor the world respects an inconsistent one.

But there is another question, and another Questioner-’What doest thou here, Elijah?’ God did not ask Elijah the question because he did not know the answer; but because he wished to make Elijah put his mood into words, since then Elijah would understand it a little better, and, when he found the tremendous difficulty of making a decent excuse, would begin to suspect that the conduct that wanted so much glozing was not exactly the conduct fit for a prophet. And so let us think that God is looking down upon us, in all our occupation of our free time, and that He is wishing us to put into words what we are about, and why we are where we are.

What do you think you would say if, in some of these moments of unnecessary intermingling with questionable things and doubtful people, you were brought suddenly to this, that you had to formulate into some kind of plausibility your reason for being there? I am afraid it would be a very lame and ragged set of reasons that many of us would have to give. Well! better that we should now have to answer the question ‘What doest thou here?’ than that we should have to fail in answering the future question, after we have done with the world: ‘What didst thou there?’

Dear brethren, let us cleave to Christ, and that will separate us from the world. If we cleave to the world, that will separate us from Christ. I do not insist on details of conduct, but I do beseech you, professing Christians, to recognise that you are set in the world in order to grow like your Master, and that their tendency to help you to that likeness is the one test of all occupations, recreations, and companionships, by which we may know whether we are in or out of the place that pleases Him. And if we are in it, that blessed hope which is held forth in the parable to which I have already referred, will come full of sweetness and of strength to us, that, yonder, men will be grouped according to their moral and religious character; that the tares will be taken away from the wheat, and, that as Christ says, ‘Then shall the righteous flame as the sun in their heavenly Father’s Kingdom.’


Verses 9-18

1 Kings

ELIJAH’S WEAKNESS, AND ITS CUBE

1 Kings 19:1 - 1 Kings 19:18.

The miracle on Carmel cowed, if it did not convince, Ahab, so that he did not oppose the slaughter of the Baal prophets; but Jezebel was made of sterner stuff, and her passionate idolatry was proof against even a sign from heaven. Obstinacy in error is often a rebuke to tremulous faith in God. She fiercely puts her back to the wall, and defies Elijah and his God. Her threat to the prophet has a certain audacity of frankness almost approaching generosity. She will give her victim fair play. This woman is ‘magnificent in sin.’ The Septuagint prefixes to her oath, ‘As surely as thou art Elijah and I Jezebel,’ which adds force to it. It also reads, by a very slight change in the Hebrew, in 1 Kings 19:3, ‘he was afraid,’ for ‘he saw,’-which is possibly right, as giving his motive for escape more distinctly.

I. We may note, first, the prophet’s flight [1 Kings 19:3 - 1 Kings 19:8]. Beersheba, on the southern border of the kingdom of Judah, was eloquent of memories of the patriarchs, but though it was nearly a hundred miles from Jezreel, Jezebel’s arm was long enough to reach the fugitive there, and therefore he plunged deeper into the dreary southern desert. He left behind him his servant, his ‘young man,’ as the original has it, whom Rabbinical tradition identified with the miraculously resuscitated son of the widow of Zarephath, and supposed to become afterwards the prophet Jonah. Thus alone but for the company of his own gloomy thoughts, and wearied with toilsome travel in the sun-smitten waste, he took shelter under the shadow of a solitary shrub {the Hebrew emphatically calls it ‘one juniper,’ or rather ‘broom-plant’}, and there the waves of depression went over him.

His complaint is not to be wondered at, though it was wrong. The very overstrain of the scene on Carmel brought reaction. The height of the crest of one wave measures the depth of the trough of the next, and no mortal spirit can keep itself at the sublime elevation reached by Elijah when alone he fronted and converted a nation. The supposed necessity for flight, coming so immediately after apparent victory, showed him how hollow the change in the people was. What had become of all the fervency of their shout, ‘The Lord, He is the God!’ if they could leave Jezebel the power to carry out her threat? Solitude and the awful desert increased his gloom. The strong man had become weak, and it was ebb-tide with him. His prayer was petulant, impatient, presumptuous. What right had he to settle what was ‘enough’? If he really wished to die, he could have found death at Jezreel, and had no need to travel a hundred miles to seek a grave. He was weary of his work, and profoundly disappointed by what he hastily concluded was its failure, and in a fit of faithless despondency he forgot reverence, submission, and obedience.

If Elijah can become weak, and his courage die out, and his zeal become torpid apathy and cowardly wish to shuffle off responsibility and shirk work, who shall stand? The lessons of self-distrust, of the nearness to one another of the most opposite emotions in our weak natures, of the depth of gloom into which the boldest and brightest servant of God may fall as soon as he loses hold of God’s hand, never had a more striking instance to point them than that mighty prophet, sitting huddled together in utter despondency below the solitary retem bush, praying his foolish prayer for death.

The meal to which an angel twice waked him was God’s answer to his prayer, telling him both that his life was still needful and that God cared for him. Perhaps one of Elijah’s reasons for taking to the desert was the thought that he might starve there, and so find death. At all events, God for the third time miraculously provides his food. The ravens, the widow of Zarephath, an angel, were his caterers; and, instead of taking away his life, God Himself sends the bread and water to preserve it. The revelation of a watchful, tender Providence often rebukes gloomy unbelief and shames us back to faith. We are not told whether the journey to Horeb was commanded, or, like the flight from Jezreel, was Elijah’s own doing; but, in any case, he must have wandered in the desert, to have taken forty days to reach it.

II. The second stage is the vision at Horeb [1 Kings 19:9 - 1 Kings 19:14]. The history of Israel has never touched Horeb since Moses left it, and it is not without significance that we are once more on that sacred ground. The parallel between Moses and Elijah is very real. These two names stand out above all others in the history of the theocracy, the one as its founder, the other as its restorer; both distinguished by special revelations, both endowed with exceptional force of character and power of the Spirit; the one the lawgiver, the other the head of the prophetic order; both having something peculiar in their departure, and both standing together, in witness of their supremacy in the past, and of their inferiority in the future, by Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. The associations of the place are marked by the use of the definite article, which is missed in the Authorised Version,-’the cave,’ that same cleft in the rock where Moses had stood. Note, too, that the word rendered ‘lodged’ is literally ‘passed the night,’ and that therefore we may suppose that the vision came to Elijah in the darkness.

That question, ‘What doest thou here?’ can scarcely be freed from a tone of rebuke; but, like Christ’s to the travellers to Emmaus, and many another interrogation from God, it is also put in order to allow of the loaded heart’s relieving itself by pouring out all its griefs. God’s questions are the assurance of His listening ear and sympathising heart. This one is like a little key which opens a great sluice. Out gushes a full stream. His forty days’ solitude have done little for him. A true answer would have been, ‘I was afraid of Jezebel.’ He takes credit for zeal, and seems to insinuate that he had been more zealous for God than God had been for Himself. He forgets the national acknowledgment of Jehovah at Carmel, and the hundred prophets protected by good Obadiah. Despondency has the knack of picking its facts. It is colour-blind, and can only see dark tints. He accuses his countrymen, as if he would stir up God to take vengeance.

How different this weak and sinful wail over his solitude from the heroic mention of it on Carmel, when it only nerved his courage I {verse 22}. The divine manifestation which followed is evidently meant to recall that granted to Moses on the same spot. ‘The Lord passed by’ is all but verbally quoted from Exodus 34:6, and the truth that had been proclaimed in words to Moses was enforced by symbol to Elijah. If the vision was in the night, as 1 Kings 19:9 suggests, it becomes still more impressive. The fierce wind that roared among the savage peaks, the shock that made the mountains reel, and the flashing flames that lighted up the wild landscape, were all phenomena of one kind, and at once expressed God’s lordship over all destructive agencies of nature, and symbolised the more vehement and disturbing forms of energy, used by Him for the furtherance of His purposes in the field of history or of revelation. Elijah’s ministry was of such a sort, and he had now to learn the limitations of his work, and the superiority of another type, represented by the ‘sound of gentle stillness.’

It is the same lesson which Moses learned there, when he heard that the Lord is ‘a God full of compassion and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy and truth.’ It was exemplified in the gentle Elisha, the successor of Elijah. It reached far beyond the time then present, and was indeed a Messianic prophecy, declaring the inmost character of Him in whom ‘the Lord is,’ in an altogether special sense. Elijah as a prophet brought no new knowledge, and uttered no far-reaching predictions; but he received one of the deepest and clearest prophecies of the gentleness of God’s highest Messenger, and on Horeb saw afar off what he saw fulfilled on the Mountain of Transfiguration. Nor is his vision exhausted by its Messianic reference. It contains an eternal truth for all God’s servants. Storm, earthquake, and fire may be God’s precursors, and needed sometimes to prepare His way; but gentleness is ‘the habitation of His throne,’ and they serve Him best, and are nearest Him whom they serve, who are meek in heart and gentle among enemies, ‘as a nurse cherisheth her children.’ Love is the victor, and the sharpest weapons of the Christian are love and lowliness.

The lesson was not at first grasped by Elijah, as his repetition of his complaint, word for word, with almost dogged obstinacy, shows. The best of us are slow to learn God’s lessons, and a habit of faithless gloom is not soon overcome. It is much easier to get down into the pit than to struggle out of it.

III. The commission for further service, which closes the scene, is a further rebuke to the prophet. He is bidden to retrace his way and to take refuge in the desert lying to the south and east of Damascus, where he would be safe from Jezebel, and still not far from the scene of his activity. The instructions given to anoint a king of Syria and one of Israel were not fulfilled by Elijah, but by his successor; and we have to suppose that further commands were given to him on that subject. The third injunction, to anoint his successor, was obeyed at once on his journey, though Ahelmeholah, on Gilboa, was dangerously near Jezreel. The designation of these future instruments of God’s purpose was at once a sign to Elijah that his own task was drawing to a close {having reached its climax on Carmel}, and that God had great designs beyond him and his service. The true conception of our work is that we sire only links in a chain, and that we can be done without. ‘God removes the workers and carries on the work.’ To anoint our successor is often a bitter pill; but self-importance needs to be taken down, and it is blessed to lose ourselves in gazing into the future of God’s work, when we are gone from the field.

Further, the commissions met Elijah’s despondency in another way; for they assured him of the divine judgments on the house of Ahab, and of the use of the Syrian king as a rod to chastise Israel. He had thought God too slow in avenging His dishonoured name, and had been taught the might of gentleness; but now he also learns the certainty of punishment, while the enigmatical promise that Elisha should ‘slay’ those who escaped the swords of Hazael and Jehu dimly points to the merciful energy of that prophet’s word, his only sword, which shall slay but to revive, and wound to heal. ‘I have hewed them by the . . . words of my mouth.’

Finally, the revelation of the seven thousand-a round number, which expresses the sacredness as well as the numerousness of the elect, hidden ones-rebukes the hasty assumption of his being left alone, ‘faithful among the faithless.’ God has more servants than we know of. Let us beware of feeding either our self-righteousness or our narrowness or our faint-heartedness with the fancy that we have a monopoly of faithfulness, or are left alone to witness for God.

 


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Bibliography Information
MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on 1 Kings 19:4". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/mac/1-kings-19.html.

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