Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.1 Kings 17:1
This miracle of the drought is one of the few which have received the countersign and imprimatur of our Blessed Lord. The statement that 'The heaven was shut up three years and six months' 'in the days of Elias' (St. Luke 4:25) does not rest on the unsupported authority of the compiler of the books of Kings, or the unknown writer from whom he derived it. We are told that this history is largely fabulous, but this part of the 'fable' at any rate has been accepted by Him who is 'the Truth'. Of course this fact will count for nothing with the infidel or the Agnostic, but surely it should have some weight with the Christian. We cannot have 'Christianity without miracles'.
I. Man's Extremity is God's Opportunity.—It was in the fullness of time, when the Egyptian oppression had reached its very worst, that Moses, the founder of the Law, appeared. It was also in the fullness of time, when an altar was reared to Baal and an image to Astarte, and when the nation was rapidly drifting into idolatry, that Elijah, the restorer of the Law, came upon the scene. The darkness is greatest just before the dawn. 'The greatest prophet is reserved for the worst age. Israel had never such an impious king as Ahab, nor such a miraculous prophet as Elijah. The God of the spirits of all flesh knows how to proportion men to the occasion' (Bp. Hall).
II. The Weak Confound the Strong.—'God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty' (1 Corinthians 1:27). 'Elijah the Tishbite... of Gilead.' 'Can any good thing come out of Gilead?' the men of Israel might contemptuously ask. To the dwellers in courts and cities Gilead represented a rugged, unsettled uncivilized region, inhabited by an uncouth nomadic, unlettered people. Yet it was from those wild uplands, not from the Holy City, not from the schools of the prophets, that the greatest of the prophets came. How often are we taught this lesson, 'that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty are called!' The vessels of God are cast 'in the clay ground' (1 Kings 8:46). He took David from the sheepfolds, Amos from the farm, the Apostles from their ships, and the Lord Christ Himself went forth from Nazareth, from the carpenter's shop, to bless the world.
III. Those who Honour God, He will Honour.—For why is he, the Gileadite peasant, chosen to this high distinction? Was it not because he had chosen the Lord to be his God? Surely the name 'Elijahu,' 'My God, Jehovah is He,' is not without significance. His choice was made (cf. chap. 18:21). The cry he would wring from Israel, 'The Lord, He is the God' (v. 39) was the echo of his own heart's cry.
IV. The Dominion over Nature belongs to God.—It was claimed for Him by Elijah; it is everywhere claimed for Him in Scripture (see e.g. Leviticus 26:4; Deuteronomy 11:17; Psalm 147:8; Jeremiah 5:24; Acts 14:17). But there are those who tell us otherwise. Their science leaves no room for His working in the world. If they concede that He made it, they will not allow Him to interfere with it. 'No room for Him in the inn.'
The Brook That Dried Up
1 Kings 17:2-3; 1 Kings 17:7; 1 Kings 17:9
There is no stranger story in the lips of men than the story of God's providence. Sometimes very manifest in its workings, sometimes very obscure, always full of love, always working out the best, always right in the end. It is one thing to be in God's hands—as we all most surely are; it is another thing to know this is so. The sense of dependence is easily lost. God does not stamp all His gifts with the broad seal of heaven. The one Divine touch that testifies to the other-world origin of life's commonest bounty is sometimes like the hall-mark on precious metal-work—put where you won't see it unless you look for it. God is ever helping us to help ourselves, and ever weaving His ministries of help through and around our human efforts, till we cannot say where the one begins and the other ends. And often we say, 'I alone did it'.
I. 'The brook dried up.' This is an aspect of the Divine providence that sorely perplexes our minds and tries our faith. We can more easily recognize the love that gives than the love that takes away. 'How providential!' When do we say that? It is when Cherith is singing and babbling in our ears. We say it when a life is spared, a wish is granted, an undertaking is completed, a need is met. With some people providence is another word for getting what they ask for, and being able to complete their own plans. The education of our faith is incomplete if we have not learned that there is a providence of loss, a ministry of failing and of fading things, a gift of emptiness.
A desperate situation may prove a great and notable blessing. Before a man can say to the deep satisfaction of his soul, 'God is true,' he may have to find a good many things false. It is easier to trust the gift than the giver, easier to believe in Cherith than to believe in Jehovah.
II. Providence is a progressive thing. It is a development. There is nothing final in it. That dwindling stream by which Elijah sat and mused is a true picture of the life of each one of us. 'It came to pass that the brook dried up'—that is a history of our yesterdays, and a prophecy for our morrows. I do not mean that these words tell the whole story of life, or even a very large part of it, for any one of us; but in some way or other we all have to learn the difference between trusting in the gift and trusting in the Giver. The gift may be for a while, but the Giver is the Eternal Love. The abiding thing in life is that word of the Lord that comes afresh into our hearts day by day.
III. The providence of God leads us into some hard places, but it never leaves us there. Cherith is only a halting-place, it is not our destination. We need tomorrow to explain today. We must get to the end before we can interpret the beginning. The explanation of the hard words of life lies in the context. Elijah looked into the eyes of famine, and then upward into the face of God. And then was he brought from the brook that failed to the meal that failed not.
The ministry of all that passeth away is meant to beget in our hearts a growing confidence in all that endureth for ever. The lesson of all fading things is not the brevity of life, but the eternity of love. When the pleasant and comforting babble of some Cherith falls on silence, it is but that we may hear the low deep murmur of the river of God that is full of water. It is the note of uncertainty in the voices of time that sets our heart listening for the unfaltering message of the eternal.
—P. Ainsworth, The Pilgrim Church, p. 176.
References.—XVII. 1-7.—Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxx. p. 376. XVII. 2-4.—H. Banks, Thirty-one Revival Sermons, p. 15. XVII. 2-6.—W. M. Taylor, Elijah the Prophet, p. 20. XVII. 4-5.—H. Banks, Thirty-one Revival Sermons, p. 77. XVII. 6.—J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iii. p. 9.
The Failure of the Brook
1 Kings 17:7
Elijah was sent to the Brook Cherith by the express commandment of his God, and it must have been a strange and staggering thing for him when the waters of the brook began to fail. It was enough to crush an ordinary faith; but then the faith of Elijah was not ordinary. And I want to show you how that faith was justified. And how there was deep meaning in that discipline that so you and I may be a little stronger in those dark seasons when the brook dries up.
I. First, then, the failure of the waters was meant to deepen the prophet's sense of brotherhood. You must remember it was a time of drought. Everywhere drought and cruel pangs of thirst, and men and women entreating God for water—and all the time in the little vale of Cherith, the coolness and the murmuring of the stream. And so, that he might be a brother among brothers, and feel his kinship with his suffering nation, it came to pass that after a while the brook dried. In a thousand lives that is still the secret of the failing brook. It is not because God is angry that it fails, it is because our Father wants us to be brothers. There is no sympathy so deep and strong as that which springs out of common suffering. Exclude a man from what others have to bear, and you exclude him from his heritage of brotherhood.
II. Again Elijah was taught by this event that in certain matters God makes no exceptions. God has his chosen and peculiar people, but He never spares the rod to spoil His child. And one of the hardest lessons we must learn is that the name and nature of our God is love. Yet for the man who trusts and serves Him best there is to be no exception from the scourge.
III. The deepest lesson in our story is that the ceasing of the prophet's brook was the beginning of larger views of God. And as it was with Elijah long ago so I believe it often is today. There are the blessings we enjoy—our health, our prosperity, the love of those who love us. There are many people who never lose these blessings, moving beside still waters to the end. But there are others with whom it is not so. They have suffered terribly, or had sharp and sore remorse. I ask them, Has not God been nearer—has not religion been more to them since then? And if it has taken the failing of the stream to cast them utterly upon the arm of God; if they have risen from an empty brook to drink of an ocean that is ever full—perhaps it was not in anger, but in love that the waters ceased to be musical at Cherith.
—G. H. Morrison, The Wings of the Morning, p. 108.
References.—XVII. 12.—H. Banks, Thirty-one Revival Sermons, p. 69. XVII. 13.—J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iii. p. 24. Readings for the Aged (4th Series), p. 184. XVII. 14.—J. Keble, Sermons for Lent to Passiontide, p. 159; Sermons for Sunday after Trinity, part i. p. 363. XVII. 16.—H. Banks, Thirty-one Revival Sermons, p. 26. Bishop Bickersteth, Sermons, p. 219. XVII. 17.—H. Banks, Thirty-one Revival Sermons, pp. 7 and 51.
A Personalized Conscience
1 Kings 17:18
Elijah must have been surprised. He had come into this woman's home when she was in the direst misery and poverty. When he first saw her she was picking up sticks with which to kindle her fire for a meal preparatory to death. Nevertheless, she shares her scanty meal and oil with him, and he is her guest for many days. And all the while the miraculous is about her. The meal is never finished, the oil never fails. Then, as if to demonstrate that troubles never come singly, her son, her only child, sickened and died. A very anguish of despair possessed her. Then an extraordinary thing occurred. Her heart let out its secret. The sin she had guarded with vigilance and terror leaps to her lips. Elijah was a conscience to her. Remorse and terror held her in their sway. Elijah's presence was doomsday. In his presence she was conscious of sin.
I. The Tragedy of Sin is the callousness it produces. This woman had almost forgotten her sin. She had grown accustomed to its thought. That is the tragedy of guilt. It corrodes the heart. All the subtle and tender sensibilities are hardened. What a callous world we live in! We live on day by day hardly conscious, seldom seeing the evils that are, the shame of human life. We are callous to the liquor traffic. We pass the public-houses, we smell the odious fumes, we hear the ribald laughter, we see debased men, wretched women, pinched and shivering children. It is hateful, terrible, loathsome. But we have grown accustomed to it. We are callous to the miseries of the poor. We have seen the slums and hovels in which they herd. We admit that society, the great abstraction, is at fault, but familiarity has wrought callousness. We are callous to the pains and wrongs of children. We know that thousands are starved, famished, thrashed, exposed. We applaud the work of men like Dr. Barnardo, George Müller, and Dr. Stephenson, but we are really callous to it all. It is part of English life as we have always known it.
II. A Personalized Conscience is the Divine Exposure and rebuke of sin. History is the illustration of this. The prophets of Israel were consciences incarnate. God was in them. Luther was a conscience. Papal Europe crouched before him. The priests gnashed their teeth and hissed in wrath, but the people saw God in him and heard the word of Eternal Life. John Wesley was a conscience. He convicted the State Church of supineness, ineptitude, and throughout the length and breadth of the land he convicted tens of thousands of sin. A conscience personalized has ever been and always will be an exposure and condemnation of sin. No matter how callous men may be, their hearts will be pierced by the living God in a great man's conscience.
III. Godliness is the secret of this Ethical Authority. Godliness is the greatest power in human life. It is influence, authority, sovereignty. Every Church should be a conscience. The Church is a community of godly men and women, and their united influence should reflect the God they love and serve. Every Christian should be a conscience. We should be so full of God that everywhere our ethical influence should be felt. This is the need of the times. Better Christians, the best Christians. Let us go to God, let us keep near Him, and we will be consciences to others. The callous and the cynical will be shamed and saved.
—J. G. Bowran, The Christian World Pulpit, vol. LXXIV. 1908, p. 131.
References.—XVII. 18.—J. Keble, Sermons Preached in St. Saviour's, Leeds, p. 69. XVII. 19, 20.—H. Banks, Thirty-one Revival Sermons, pp. 23, 35, 60, 69, 104. C. O. Bell, Hills that Bring Peace, p. 203. XVII. 23, 24.—J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iii. p. 31; Readings for the Aged, (4th Series), p. 195. XVII. 24.—H. Banks, Thirty-one Revival Sermons, p. 69. J. O. Davies, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxviii. p. 269. XVII. 40.—H. Banks, Thirty-one Revival Sermons, p. 69. XVII. 44.—W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches, p. 222.
And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying,
Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan.
And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there.
So he went and did according unto the word of the LORD: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan.
And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook.
And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land.
And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying,
Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee.
So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.
And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand.
And she said, As the LORD thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.
And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son.
For thus saith the LORD God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth.
And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days.
And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Elijah.
And it came to pass after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick; and his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him.
And she said unto Elijah, What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?
And he said unto her, Give me thy son. And he took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into a loft, where he abode, and laid him upon his own bed.
And he cried unto the LORD, and said, O LORD my God, hast thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son?
And he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the LORD, and said, O LORD my God, I pray thee, let this child's soul come into him again.
And the LORD heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived.
And Elijah took the child, and brought him down out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him unto his mother: and Elijah said, See, thy son liveth.
And the woman said to Elijah, Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in thy mouth is truth.