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Sermon Bible Commentary

1 Kings 19



Verse 4

1 Kings 19:4

I. The wish for death, the weariness of life, is a phenomenon extremely common, and common because it arises from a multitude of causes; but those causes all run up into this, that, as Scripture expresses it, "man is born to sorrow, as the sparks fly upward." Rebuke this feeling as you will, you must deal with it as a fact, and as an experience of human life. The sense of failure, the conviction that the evils around us are stronger than we can grapple with, the apparent non-atonement for the intolerable wrong—there are hours when, under the incidents of these trials, even the noblest Christian finds it hard to keep his faith strong and his hope unclouded. Take any man who has spoken words of burning faithfulness, or done deeds of high courage in a mean and lying world, and the chances are that his life's story was clouded by failure or closed in martyrdom.

II. In this chapter we have God's own gracious way of dealing with this sad but far from uncommon despondency. Elijah had fled into the wilderness, flung himself down under a juniper-tree, and requested that he might die. How gently and with what Divine compassion did God deal with his despair! He spread for Elijah a table in the wilderness, and helped him forward on his way; only then, when his bodily powers had been renewed, when his faith had been strengthened, does the question come, "What doest thou here, Elijah?" The vision and the still small voice may have brought home to the heart of Elijah one reason at least why he had failed. He had tried taunts and violence in the cause of God; he had seized Heaven's sword of retribution, and made it red with human blood. He had not learned that violence is hateful to God; he had to be taught that Elijah's spirit is very different from Christ's spirit. And when God has taught him this lesson, He then gives him His message and His consolation. The message is "Go, do My work again;" the consolation is "Things are not so bad as to human eyes they seem."

III. Those who suffer from despondency should: (1) look well to see whether the causes of their failure and their sorrow arc not removable; (2) embrace the truth that when they have honestly done their best, then the success or the failure of their work is not in their own hands. Work is man's; results are God's.

F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvi., p. 305.

I. Elijah's despondency was partly physical; it was his bodily weariness and discomfort that reacted upon his soul. The practical lesson from this is, that a believer ought, for his soul's comfort and profit, to obey God's material laws; that, for our soul's sakes, it becomes us to care for our bodies. We are to glorify God with our bodies and our spirits, which are His.

II. A second cause of Elijah's despondency doubtless was that his occupation was gone. The same cause tends to much of the religious despondency that exists among ourselves. It is wonderful how hard work will cheer and brighten all our thoughts and views.

III. A third cause which conduced to Elijah's despondency, and which conduces to the despondency of Christians still, is the sense of failure, the feeling that, having done our very best, we have failed in our work after all.

IV. A fourth cause of despondency peculiar to the Christian is the sense of backsliding, the feeling that he is going further from God, and that the graces of the Spirit are languishing and dying. The real reason of the disquiet and depression of many hearts is that they are not right with God; they have never truly and heartily believed in Jesus Christ. Get the great central stay made firm and strong, and all will be well; but if the key-stone of the arch be wrong, or even doubtful, then all is amiss. The great step towards trusting all to God as your Father is to be really persuaded that God is your Father, and that you are of their number to whom He has promised that "all things shall work together" for their true good.

A. K. H. B., Sunday Afternoons at the Parish Church, p. 259.

References: 1 Kings 19:4.—Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, 3rd series, p. 63; F. W. Robertson, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 73; E. Monro, Practical Sermons on the Old Testament, vol. 1., p. 503; G. Calthrop, Temptation of Christ, p. 162; Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes: Genesis to Proverbs, p. 79; Ibid., Evening by Evening, p. 140; J. Van Oosterzee, The Year of Salvation, vol. ii., p. 476; G. Bainton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 334. 1 Kings 19:5.—Ibid., vol. xxxi.,p. 36. 1 Kings 19:5-9.—J. R. Macduff, The Prophet of Fire, p. 159. 1 Kings 19:7.—J. Keble, Sermons for the Christian Year: Lent to Passiontide, p. 149.

Verse 8

1 Kings 19:8

I. It was no wonder that after such a day as that on Carmel, so glorious and so exciting, there should be a violent reaction affecting the whole system of a man. It was no wonder that the mind of Elijah should be greatly discouraged because the instant result of the miraculous fire had not been the conversion, if not of the whole nation, yet at least of thousands of the people, to the true God. He was in circumstances the most depressing; he was alone, many miles away by himself, in the great white desert. His own conscience was reproving him for what he had done and was doing, and it may be that he was harassed and tempted by evil spirits. We have all felt the parallel in our own hearts. The very best men, the most earnest and most useful Christians, are liable to such times of deep depression.

II. The spiritual food which God gave Elijah answers to truth, the true and real in everything. It is a strange alchemy, but it is a literal fact, that the grace of God in the heart can turn stones to bread. There is an idea, a lesson, a picture, a caution, a comfort everywhere.

III. God has enshrined all truth in Christ. He is the true and living Bread, which is the "life of the world." We must appropriate this food, and we shall go in the strength of it many days.

J. Vaughan, Sermons, 15th series, p. 77.

References: 1 Kings 19:8.—Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 279; E. Monro, Practical Sermons, vol. iii., p. 261. 1 Kings 19:9.—W. Drake, Sermons for Sundays, Festivals, and Fasts, 2nd series, vol. iii., p. 81; A. Mursell, Lights and Landmarks, p. 147; R. W. Evans, Parochial Sermons, p. 52; S. Martin, Westminster Chapel Pulpit, 1st series, No. x. 1 Kings 19:9-13.—J. R. Macduff, The Prophet of Fire, p. 171. 1 Kings 19:10.—J. Keble, Sermons for the Christian Year: Sundays after Trinity, Part I., p. 373; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 87. 1 Kings 19:11.—G. Bainton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. viii., p. 362.

Verse 11-12

1 Kings 19:11-12

In the wilderness God taught Elijah a lesson which was quite new to him, and which is a lesson for all time. He taught him that if it were His good pleasure to restore His worship among the apostate Israelites, it would not be by earthquake or fire, but by the gentle influence of His Spirit, and by that voice of His which gently, but so that all can hear who will, speaks to every man born into the world.

I. It is almost necessarily incident to the human mind to take views of things and to plan schemes different from those which God's wisdom approves. At the first blush of the thing the dealings of God with mankind, as we read them in the Old Testament, are very different from what we should have expected them to be. God is not in the wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire, but in the still small voice, and that voice which spoke so gently in the time of our Saviour has been far more powerful than any wind, or earthquake, or fire could have been; the birth, and life, and death of our Saviour speak now as distinctly as ever. His Church which He founded has flourished, and now we thankfully acknowledge that God's ways are best, although His ways are not as ours, nor His thoughts like ours.

II. In the lesser dealings of God with His Church and with ourselves the same rule is found true. Man's ways are noisy, blustering, rude; those of God are quiet, gentle, still. In the Sacraments, in slight afflictions, in conscience, God speaks to man in His still small voice; our duty is to listen to its warnings, and see that we obey it. If we will not follow the guidance of His voice, the storm, the earthquake, and the fire may frighten us, but they can never make us holy.

Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, 1st series, p. 178.

References: 1 Kings 19:11, 1 Kings 19:12.—J. H. Newman, Sermons on Subjects of the Day, p. 367; A. Mursell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xx., p. 314; H. Thompson, Concionalia: Outlines of Sermons for Parochial Use, vol. i., p. 363; J. W. Burgon, Ninety-one Short Sermons, Nos. 69 and 70; W. Nicholson, Redeeming the Time, p. 198.

Verses 11-13

1 Kings 19:11-13

I. It was a strange work to which Elijah was called when he was bidden to defy the king of his land, to mock the priests of Baal in their high places, and finally to destroy four hundred of them. The glory of the service consisted in this, that it was the victory of weakness over strength, a sign how poor and trumpery all visible power is when it comes into conflict with the invisible. But he who has a commission to declare this truth to the world may be himself in the greatest danger of forgetting it; nay, the very power which has been given him for this end may tempt him to forget it. And therefore it is mercifully ordained that after such efforts, and before the pride which succeeds them is ripened, there should come a kind of stupor over the spirit of the man who was lately lifted so high. Elijah finds how little the recollection of a great achievement can sustain him; he is no better than his fathers, though the fire has come down at his call, and though he has slain four hundred priests.

II. His discipline is a most gracious one. He is taught what power is not, and what it is; he is cured of his craving for that power which shall rend rocks in pieces, and he is taught to prize his weakness; he is shown what kind of strength it is which might come forth through that weakness to move his fellow-men. We also need to have this truth driven home to our hearts. Christ's servants must be taught to hear the still small voice saying to them, "This is the way; walk ye in it," by the experience of their own ignorance, and confusion, and self-will; they must learn that the quietest means are the mightiest, that gentle and loving acts are the best witnesses for the God of love.

F. D. Maurice, Practical Sermons, p. 447.

Elijah is a true type of the heroes of the theocracy. In a time of degradation, of universal idolatry, he was possessed with the thought of the glory of God. His temptation was the temptation of great souls—souls whom the thirst for righteousness and holiness consumes. Like all ardent men, Elijah passes from one extreme to the other; discouragement seizes him; his faith is obscured; God forsakes him, the ways of the Almighty are incomprehensible to him, and he charges God with forgetting His cause. The storm, the earthquake, the fire-was it not this that Elijah had asked when he reproached the Lord for His inaction and His incomprehensible silence? He sees the storm, he trembles, and the Lord is not there. In the soft, low sound he recognises the presence of God; and covering his head with his mantle, he bows himself and worships. From this scene we may draw the following instructions:—

I. Let us learn not to judge the Almighty. Often the delays of God astonish us. His silence appears to us inexplicable. Let us remember that the anger of man does not accomplish the justice of God; and to overcome evil, let us imitate that Divine Providence which, while able to subdue by force, aims above all to triumph by love.

II. We have here also a thought of consolation. Love is the final and supreme explanation of all that God has done in the history of humanity and in our own history, love and not anger, love and not vengeance, however our heart at times may have thought it.

III. Elijah was told to return to the post and the mission which he should never have deserted. Let us also return to the post of duty, bringing to it a revived faith, a brighter hope, a stronger and more persevering love.

E. Bersier, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 244.

Verse 12

1 Kings 19:12

Most of us make a mistake as to the way in which we expect God to speak to us. We look to find it in something great and magnificent. We should like to be spoken to by a prodigy.

But God is too great to do that. He does all His works in the simplest manner possible; therefore He speaks to us by the "still small voice."

I. It very often pleases God to make use of external displays of His power to make way for the working of His grace; only He is jealous to show that these external circumstances are never themselves the grace. We would not underrate the wild prelude that ushers in the harmony. God delights to write out His love in the background of His terrors.

II. We speak of men as being "converted by a sermon." We speak of men being "changed by affliction." Yet the sermon or affliction was no more than the outward scaffolding. It was the "still small voice" of the Holy Spirit's influence that brought the men to God. Without that all is silent as the winds of yesterday.

III. Jesus Christ was God's "still small voice" when, in His human garb, He walked the plains of Galilee, and declared His Father's glory and His Father's will. Despised in His littleness, that "voice" was, nevertheless, the great power of Jehovah'; and calm as were those loving lips, they uttered the mandates that all worlds obeyed.

IV. Whenever the question arises in our minds, "Is God speaking to me?" we may be perfectly sure by that sign that the "still small voice" is at work. Such a voice is not very likely to be heard in the din and noise of life. In secret places, tranquil hours, such visits may be expected. When Elijah heard the voice, he "wrapped his face in his mantle"—confession of sin—and "went out and stood in the entering in of the cave"—a position of expectation.

J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 2nd series, p. 143.

There are three respects in which the lesson of this passage may be helpful to us in these days.

I. It reminds us that in the order of God's government the quietest influence is often the most powerful.

II. It reminds us that the force of love is always greater than that of sternness.

III. It reminds us that the apparently insignificant is oftentimes really the most important.

W. M. Taylor, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 105.

References: 1 Kings 19:12.—J. Macnaught, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 122; D. G. Watt, Ibid., vol. xviii., p. 267. 1 Kings 19:12, 1 Kings 19:13.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii., No. 1668.

Verses 12-16

1 Kings 19:12-16

I. Consider the character of Elisha. He is not a dwarfed and flaccid Elijah. The "still small voice" of which we read just before his call is the emblem of the younger prophet. Gentleness is his characteristic help, and deliverance and salvation are his work. His very name signifies "God's salvation." He is no cloistered ascetic, no head of the Carmelite brothers, no monk of the Old Testament. In Elisha the practical and the contemplative are most exquisitely balanced. He pauses in the Shunammite's house, as if he loved to hear the stream of family life rippling beside him and to feel its spray upon his face. His character is full of the most refined humanity.

II. Consider the messages to this age which are conveyed in Elisha's message to his own age. (1) The first, and not the least important, of these is directly connected with his prophetic office. The prophet is the interpreter of God, the solemn witness against wrong, the remembrancer of right. The modern statesman claims to be the exponent of the popular will, and thus to enjoy the privilege of being always on the winning side.

But the prophet of old is the stern opponent of popular or royal will, and is always for a time on the losing side. (2) The other lessons which Elisha teaches are: (a) a warning against the spirit of mockery so prevalent among the young; (b) a warning against the spirit of irregularity in religion; (c) a warning against the opposite spirit of formality; (d) a warning against overaddition to old modes of conveying religious truth; (e) a warning against trusting in new and sublimated forms of Christian thought.

III. No single type fully represents Christ. But all these isolated types of moral beauty, of king, or priest, or prophet, find their centre in the incarnate God.

Bishop Alexander, Oxford Lent Sermons, 1869, p. 137.

Verse 13

1 Kings 19:13

It has been more than once observed that some of the men who, as we say, most distinctly leave a mark on their age, are liable to great changes of spirits, alternating between buoyant enthusiasm and something like despair. The great effort which rivets the attention of the world, which perhaps gives an impression of extraordinary strength and capacity, is often dearly purchased by succeeding hours of depression and weakness. So great was Elijah's power both over man and nature, that in after-ages his countrymen came to regard him as an almost preternatural personage, whose conduct was not a precedent for, or an example of, that of ordinary men. St. James prefaces his argument by what might seem to us a very obvious and trite remark, but it was a remark which was by no means unneeded by St. James's first readers. He says that "Elias was a man subject to like passions with ourselves." Elijah, he means, had his share of impulse and of weakness, and therefore the power of his prayers is an encouragement to others than himself.

I. In deep depression, after a journey of forty days, Elijah reached the sacred mountain, the very scene of the great revelation of Moses. There the word of the Lord came to him, and the Lord said to him, "What doest thou here, Elijah?" To the question Elijah could not but reply. It was, so it seemed to the prophet, his zeal for the cause of God, it was his tragic despair, it was his isolation, it was his crushing sense of impotence and failure, which had brought him thus to Horeb. His answer is neither accepted nor rejected; it is passed by significantly without a word of approval or rebuke.

II. "The Lord passed by" before Elijah on the mountainside. In physical impulse, in convulsive terror, in the white heat of emotion dealing with sacred things, we may ask for God in vain, but when conscience speaks clearly we may be sure of His presence. Conscience is His inward message, and in its quiet whisper we listen to an echo from the Infinite and the Unseen.

III. Conscience then repeated the question, "What doest thou here, Elijah?" Observe that the motive of Elijah's despondency was beyond all question unselfish and noble, but in itself his despondency was wrong. He might have remembered that what passes for the moment on earth is no measure of what is determined in heaven; he might have reflected that, while duties are ours, events are God's. For the moment he had set aside the claim of duty in favour of the indulgence of sentiment.

IV. The directions whispered by the still small voice to the conscience of Elijah involved two principles, (1) Elijah was not to dwell on the abstract aspects of evil; he was to address himself to the practical duties that lay around his path. (2) He was to begin his work with individuals; he was to deal with men one by one. "Anoint Hazael" (the heathen monarch, heathen though he be, has a place in the Divine government of the world). "Make Elisha prophet in thy room. That shall be thy first concern, thy most sacred and imperative duty."

H. P. Liddon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiv., p. 97.

References: 1 Kings 19:13.—F. W. Farrar, In the Days of thy Youth, p. 189; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. vii., p. 86, and vol. x., p. 342. 1 Kings 19:13-18.—J. R. Macduff, The Prophet of Fire, p. 187. 1 Kings 19:14.—J. Keble, Sermons for the Christian Year: Sundays after Trinity, Part II., pp. 52, 63. 1 Kings 19:15-17.—J. R. Macduff, The Prophet of Fire, p. 201. 1 Kings 19:15-21.—A. Edersheim, Elisha the Prophet, p. 1; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 97. 1 Kings 19:18.—F. W. Aveling, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 36. 1 Kings 19:19-21.—W. M. Taylor, Elijah the Prophet, p. 149; J. R. Macduff, The Prophet of Fire, p. 215 H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 593, also Church Sermons, vol. ii., p. 353, and Old Testament Outlines, p. 79. 1 Kings 19:20.—G. T. Coster, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 396. 1Ki 19—Parker, vol. viii., p. 41.


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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Kings 19:4". "Sermon Bible Commentary".

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