Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. HIS PRESENCE.
1. It is awful in its vagueness.
(1) It was of the inhabitants of Gilead - "The hard, stony region," south of the river Jabbok. This was one of the wildest parts of the Holy Land. The awful scenery of that district harmonized well with the ruggedness of the spirit of this prophet. John the Baptist first appeared in a wilderness. Out of a wilderness Jesus came up when He entered upon His public ministry (Matthew 3:1; Luke 4:1, 14, 15).
(2) He is distinguished as the Tishbite. Calmer says Tishbe was a city beyond Jordan in the tribe of Gad, and in the land of Gilead. Gesenius, from Relandi, mentions Tishbe as "a town of Napthali." Could there have been two Tishbes; and were the words "Of the inhabitants of Gilead" added to distinguish?
(3) "The Tishbite," we incline to think, was a name of office or commission. It designates Elijah as the Converter (תשבי from נרעת ות שב). In this he resembled John the Baptist, whose commission also was to preach repentance. (See Matthew 11:13, 14; Matthew 17:12; Luke 1:17.) When Elijah comes again "before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord," it will be in his character of Tishbite or Converter, viz., "to turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers." (See Matthew 4:5, 6),
2. It is awful also in its intensity,
(1) His name (אליהו) some interpret to be, "My God Jehovah is he," others, "God is my strength." In either case it reminds us of God, and God is the very centre of all reality.
(2) Elijah brings us into the very presence of God also by the manner in which he announces himself. "As Jehovah liveth, before whom I stand." In this way also the angel Gabriel announced himself to Zacharias, and that too when he revealed the coming of the Baptist. (See Luke 1:19.) It is probable Elijah, like John the Baptist, also was a priest, and the expression under review may intimate this. (Compare Deuteronomy 10:8.) About 940 years after this, Elijah, with Moses, in a remarkable manner stood, in the presence of Jehovah, in the mount of transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-3).
(3) This declaration of the living God was appropriately timed. For the calves or young bulls of Jeroboam, and the bulls and goats of Sidon established through the influence of Jezebel, had so occupied public attention that He was forgotten. Lamentable is the substitution of death for life! HIS FAITH.
1. It is bold in its assertion.
(1) "There shall be neither dew nor rain." The material elements which mechanically produce dew and lain were worshipped by the Phoenicians, and now by the Israelites, while the God that made them was forgotten. Is not this the very error of modern atheistic physicists? They worship Baal, Ashtoreth, and Ashere under other names, and ridicule faith and prayer. But Elijah asserts the living God as superior to nature, who will restrain both dew and rain, and so make the gods to worship him. (See Deuteronomy 11:16, 17; Jeremiah 14:22.)
(2) "There shall be neither dew nor rain these years." Dew and rain, according to the course of nature, may be withholden for days, for weeks, even, in rare cases, for months; but not for years. When therefore for "three years and six months" these meteors were awanting, the phenomenon was supernatural.
2. The qualification is no less remarkable - "But according to my word."
(1) Unless divinely authorized to say this, such a declaration would be most presumptuous. And the inevitable failure of the prediction would cover the pseudo-prophet with ridicule and confusion.
(2) But Elijah was a genuine man. He spoke under the inspiration of Jehovah before whom he stood. Such inspiration makes all the difference between presumption and faith. This is just the distinction made by James, who describes Elijah's faith as (ἐνεργουμεν) inwrought persuasion of a righteous man (James 5:16). Faith is the gift of God.
3. The directness is admirable.
(1) This address is to Ahab. It comes not to him as a hearsay, but with the highest authenticity. The inspired messenger of God is above kings. (See Jeremiah 1:10.)
(2) It is fearlessly delivered. When a man is conscious that he stands before Jehovah he may use great freedom of speech. The courage of the lion is in the heart of faith. Elijah was a man of faith because he was a man of prayer. It is an encouragement to our faith to know that "Elias was a man of like passions as we are" (James 5:17). - J.A.M.
I. A messenger from a forsaken God, and
II. A message for an apostate people.
I. A MESSENGER FROM A FORSAKEN GOD. Ahab was congratulating himself on the success of his policy. It had been greater than he could have expected. The old faith and fervour of the people had died out so completely that they were quiet under the bold introduction of Baal and Ashtoreth. The Sidonians were linked with the kingdom of Israel against Syria. Scarcely a protest had been heard against these political and religious movements. Suddenly there appeared before the king and queen, perhaps as they were enthroned in their ivory palace, Elijah the Tishbite; rough in appearance, as he was bold in utterance. Above the ordinary height, of great physical strength, a girdle round his loins, and a sheepskin cloak over his brawny shoulders, his long thick hair streaming down his back, he was even in appearance a memorable man; and there was something very startling in this his sudden dash into the royal presence, to thunder out his curse, and the rebuke which no doubt preceded it. His appearance may be compared to the flash of lightning that for a moment makes everything which was before in darkness vividly distinct. Some points are worthy of note.
1. The obscurity of his origin. The Tishbite means the "converter," and would fitly describe his work. The endeavour to discover a town of such name in Palestine appears to have failed. The phrase, "from the residents of Gilead," does not necessarily imply that he was an Israelite. He may have been an Ishmaelite or a heathen by birth. It was designed that obscurity should thus hang over his origin. To the people he would seem to come all the more directly from God. The human element was overshadowed by the Divine. Show the mightiness of secret forces in nature, in thought, and in the kingdom of God.
2. The signs of his fitness. A rough man was needed to do rough work. The settler in the backwoods wants the strong sharp are to effect a clearing, before more delicate implements are required. Elijah had his constitutional strength and courage fostered by his surroundings. Gilead was a wild, unsettled country compared with Ephraim and Judah. Instead of stately palaces and flourishing towns, it boasted tent villages and mountain castles; and desperate and frequent were the fights with surrounding freebooters. (See 1 Chronicles 5:10, 19-22. Compare with it "Rob Roy," chap. 19.) The Gileadites were to Israel what the Highlanders, a century back, were to the Lowlands. Amid scenes of conflict, of loneliness, probably of poverty, this strong character was moulded. Compare with Moses in Midian, with John the Baptist in the wilderness. God gives each servant the right training for the service appointed for him both on earth and in heaven.
3. The secret of his strength? His name, Elijah, and his formula, "as the Lord God of Israel liveth," indicate it. An overpowering conviction that Jehovah lived, that He was near, that He was the God of this people, and that He would assert His supremacy over all false gods is implied in the verse. This is the secret of spiritual strength in all ages. The disciples were weak when Jesus was on the mount of transfiguration, strong when He returned; they were despondent after the crucifixion, exultant at Pentecost. The revelation of God's presence and power is what all Churches now need.
4. The completeness of his consecration. "Before whom I stand." This he said, not with a sense of God's nearness only, nor of His favour, but to express that he was the Lord's consecrated servant, through whom and by whom he might do what He willed. Standing is an attitude of attention, expectancy, readiness. So in ancient Scripture servants are represented as all standing looking towards the king, with loins girded, eyes intent, ready to do his will. Note: We cannot stand before the Lord until we have knelt before Him in penitence and humility and prayer. This Elijah had done in Gilead.
II. A MESSAGE FOR AN APOSTATE PEOPLE, "There shall not be rain nor dew these years, but according to my word." We assume here the credibility of miracles and content ourselves with indicating the suitability of this to its purpose.
1. This was revealed in prayer. Elijah had "prayed earnestly that it might not rain" (James 5.) He felt that such a chastisement would move the hearts of the people, and turn their thoughts towards God, as it ultimately did. The prayer was the offspring of God's Spirit. The human utterance was the echo of the Divine will. The mystery of prayer is revealed (1 John 5:14, 16).
2. This was a response to the challenge of Baal-worship. The productive powers of nature were adored under the idolatrous symbol. Here they were shown to be dependent on the unseen God. All natural laws are. They are the expressions of the Divine will. It was in vain to cry, "O Baal, hear us!"
3. This man would affect all classes of the people. They had shared the sin, and therefore must share the penalty. The loftiest are not beyond God's reach, the lowliest are not hidden from God's notice. The tiny garden of the peasant was cursed, as well as the splendid park of the king. National sin brings national calamities. The message, not to some, but to all, is, "Repent, and be converted."
4. This was associated with estrangement from God. It was to be "according to the word" of His servant. The change would be foreseen and foretold, not by the false priests, but by the praying prophet. The curse came because of sin, as had been proclaimed by the law. (See Leviticus 26:19; Deuteronomy 11:16; Deuteronomy 28:23.) It was removed on repentance (1 Kings 18.) Listen to the message God still sends to men, bidding them root out idolatry from every nation and from every heart. May the God of Israel, before whom they stand, prosper all His messengers! - A.R.
I. HIS ABRUPT APPEARANCE. There is nothing actually unique in this. Other prophets of the age are introduced thus suddenly (Ahijah, Jehu, Shemaiah, etc.) But considering the circumstances of the time it is remarkable.
1. It proclaims God's continued interest in, and sovereignty over Israel as well as Judah. The revolt of the ten tribes had not broken the bond between Him and them, or altered the fact of His supremacy, Nor had their religious defection nullified His purpose of mercy.
2. It is called forth by a dread moral crisis. The seed sown by Jeroboam was fast developing its most deadly fruits. The Baal worship brought in by Ahab and Jezebel was a far worse "abomination" than the worship of the calves. A cruel persecution was raging, the prophets of the Lord were being slain, and it seemed as if the true religion would perish out of the land.
3. It was a revelation of irresistible power. The worship of Baal was essentially the worship of power; probably the productive power of nature. Here is the messenger of Him "to whom all power belongeth," that great unseen Power that can arrest the order of nature, seal up the fountains of heaven, wither those resources of earth on which the life alike of man and beast depends. We are reminded of the various ways in which God may see fit to fulfil His sovereign purposes. All powers, human and material, are at His command. "All things serve his might." In the darkest hour in the history of church or nation, let us believe that still "the Lord reigneth." Let us trust Him to "plead his own cause," and vindicate the claims of truth and righteousness.
II. HIS PERSONAL DIGNITY. It is the dignity of one who sustains a special relation towards "the living God." His name implies this: "Jehovah is my God." And this solemn asseveration, "As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand," is suggestive of the dignity
(1) of personal fellowship;
(2) face to face vision; and
(3) Divine proprietorship;
(4) consecrated servitude.
One would think the old Jewish tradition were true. It sounds like the voice of an angel. But lofty as this utterance is. majestic as is the relation towards the Divine Being which it indicates, it has its Christian counterpart. Think of St. Paul's words: "There stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am and whom I serve (Acts 27:23). This is not an exclusive, exceptional dignity. We may all in our measure share it. And as no earthly position sheds any real glory upon a man except so far as he recognizes a Divine element in it, fills it as before God with holy fear; so there is no work or office of common life which may not be ennobled by this feeling. We stand there before God as His servants to do that very thing. Such honour have all his saints."
III. HIS COURAGE. It is the courage of one who knows that God is with him, that he is the messenger of the Divine will, the instrument of a Divine purpose, the channel of Divine strength. He boldly confronts Ahab, "not fearing the wrath of the king," bearding the lion in his den. Does not mingle with the people, antedating their sufferings by spreading among them the evil tidings, but goes straight to him who is the fountainhead of the mischief and can avert the calamity by his repentance. Such is the brave spirit with which God fills his heroes. Whether in the defiance of danger, or the endurance of suffering, it is the sense of God - a Divine inspiration, Divine support - that has ever been the spring of the noblest form of courage. "Greater is he that is in you," etc. "If God be for us," etc. "Be not afraid of their terror, but sanctify the Lord God in your heart," etc. This is the principle - the solemn fear of God taking possession of a man casts out all other fear; in the sense of the sovereignty of a Divine claim, he fears nothing but the dread of being unfaithful to it. Now this brave spirit was not kindled in the breast of Elijah all at once. Such a moral phenomenon is not the birth of an hour or a day. We may believe that it was developed in him gradually among the mountains of Gilead - a fitting scene for the nurture of such a moral constitution as his. The fire burned within him as he mused on the degradation of his country. St. James speaks of the fervency of Elijah's prayer: "He prayed earnestly that it might not rain," etc. (James 5:17). No doubt the withholding of the rain was given as a "sign" in answer to his prayer; but after all, may we not regard his prayer most as the means of preparing him to be the prophet and minister of this great "sign"? Not that the order of nature was placed at the caprice of a poor, frail mortal; but that he, "a man of like passions with us," was able in the fervour of his faith and prayer to rise up and lay hold on the strength of God, to read the purpose of God, reckoned worthy to become the agent in the execution of that purpose. The historic incident is not so far removed as it may seem to be from the range and level of our common life. Heaven gives back its answer to suppliant faith. As regards the fellowship of the human soul with the mind and with the power of God, it must ever be true that "the effectual fervent prayer of the righteous man availeth much."
IV. HIS EXTRAORDINARY PRESERVATION. A type of the providential care that God will ever exercise over those who are faithful to Him in the path of duty and of trial. Whether "ravens" or "wandering Arabians were the instruments in his preservation, it little signifies, so that we recognize the positive Divine interposition. And what is the supply of our daily wants but the fruit of a perpetual Divine interposition? "Give us this day our daily bread." Walk uprightly before God, be true to Him in all the sacred responsibilities of life, and trust in Him to provide (Matthew 6:33). - W.
I. THE GREAT PROPHET.
1. His name: Elijah, my God (is) Jehovah. It was a symbol of his spirit. It expressed his judgment of Israel's idolatry and the choice which with his soul's whole strength he had made of God. Light and fidelity are the only foundations of any true work for God or man.
2. His origin. The words ("of the inhabitants," etc.) seemed to indicate that he belonged to none of the tribes of Israel
(1) His mission was prophetic of that of the Gentiles. Israel, forsaking God, were to feel that God was also forsaking them (Genesis 10:19). The very meanness of the origin of God's faithful ones lends power to their testimony.
(2) It proved the infinitude of God's resources. Ahab and Jezebel might slay His prophets; they could not arrest the progress of His work. From the most unthought-of quarter there arises a mightier than all whose lives had been taken. The power of a devoted life to make the world feel the impossibility of its prevailing in its contest with God.
3. His attitude toward God. "Before whom I stand." He was the Lord's servant. He lived for Him. His eye rested on Him. The whole man stood girded for prompt, unquestioning obedience. This is the spirit of all true service. Is God as real to us? Do we thus stand before Him?
II. HIS MESSAGE.
1. The judger. It was that predicted from of old as the chastisement of Israel's idolatry (Deuteronomy 11:17). The land was to be consumed by drought. The blessings which God withholds from the soul that forsakes Him are imaged in those withheld from the land. There is "neither dew nor rain." The refreshment, the rich consolation, once imparted by the word or found in prayer, are no longer known. The stimulating of loving zeal meter what is nobler and purer has ceased.
2. Through whom it fell: "According to my word." Those who reject God will be judged by man. God will still confront them in their fellows. God is magnified in His servants. The kingly power and priesthood of believers in their relation to the world.
III. HIS RETIREMENT.
1. It served God. Ahab and Israel were left face to face with Him. Man disappeared that the eye might rest on God alone. There are times when He is best served by silence. Many words often undo the effect of the homethrust dealt by a few.
2. It was his safety. He was shielded from Ahab's anger. We may be hid by affliction from the power of our great foe. Temptation and danger may have been darkening the path that lay before us when God led us aside and made us rest awhile with Him.
3. It prepared him for after service. He was taught God's unfailing power and care. His wants were provided for though no man knew of his dwelling place; and that by the most unlikely instruments. He learned how fully he might trust God. He to whom God is thus revealed will not fear the face of man. - U.
1. The preparation of the desert.
2. The lonely life of the prophet in the house of the widow of Sarepta. The Desert was, from the time of Moses to the days of John the Baptist, the great school of the prophets. These men of God were trained for their work:
1. By being brought face to face with their sacred mission in all its greatness, and free from the prejudices and petty influences of human society. There they could steadfastly contemplate the Divine ideal, undistracted by the rude realities of man's fallen condition.
2. There they were also cut off from all human aid, left to test their own strength, or rather to prove their own utter wetness, and, overwhelmed with the sense of it, to cast themselves wholly on Divine strength. Thus they received directly from God, as did Elijah, the supplies by which they lived, and realized the conditions of absolute and immediate trust in Him. Coming forth from this discipline of the desert, they were enabled to say with Paul, "When I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10).
3. This loving converse of the prophets with their God brought them into closer fellowship, more intimate union, with Him. Thus they came forth from the desert, like Moses from the Mount of Sinai, bearing unconsciously upon them the reflection of His glory. As St. Paul says," We, beholding as with open face the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18). Considerations like these have a fit application to the pastor, who ought to be much in solitary communion with God, in order to be raised above the compromises of principle so common in society, and to get his whole nature permeated with Divine strength. Every Christian soul has in like manner a prophet's mission, and ought therefore often to seek the desert solitude, in which the Invisible is brought near, and to frequent those sacred mountain tops of prayer, where the disciple, like the Master, renews his strength (Luke 5:16). - E. de P.
I. HE HAS RESOURCES FOR THE PROTECTION OF HIS SERVANTS.
1. He could defend Elijah in the midst of his enemies.
(1) The power that had shut up the heavens could surely do this. The elemental fire which now scorched the earth, He could cause to fall upon the heads of any who would threaten his servant. (See 2 Kings 1:10-15.)
(2) Without recourse to violence, he could dispose the hearts of men to respect His messenger, as afterwards He did. (See chap. 18.) But this was not now His way.
2. He has also places of refuge for His servants.
(1) If there be a valley secluded from human intrusion God knows it. In the courses traversed by the brook Cherith Elijah may safely hide. These recesses lay "eastward" from Samaria, where probably the prophet had encountered the king; and eastward from the Jordan, for this is the import of the phrase "before Jordan." Probably this seclusion was in his own wild district of Gilead.
(2) Ahab will not suspect that Elijah is here; for how could he possibly subsist in such a desolate region. Water he might find in the streams of the mountains; but where can he get bread from bald rocks in time of drought? (Matthew 13:5, 6.)
3. Into such asylums He can guide His saints.
(1) "The word of the Lord" came to Elijah. Christ is that Word (John 1:1-14). He was the MEMRA of the Targums - that personal Word, who "appeared" to patriarchs and prophets. See Genesis 15:1; Genesis 28:20.) He will be ever with his people guiding them into safety.
(2) "The word of the Lord came unto him saying.," or expressing His wisdom in human vocables. To Elijah the direction was, "Get thee hence," etc. To all He comes in the promises and precepts of holy Scripture.
(3) Those who believe and obey God's Word, as Elijah did, are in safe keeping. They need never fear the combinations of wickedness against them.
II. HE HAS RESOURCES ALSO FOR THEIR SUPPORT.
1. Their water is sure. "Thou shalt drink of the brook."
(1) There was refreshment for the body. The stream of that brook continued to flow for a whole year. Such is supposed to be the import of (ימים) days, when there is nothing to limit it (as in ver. 7, marg.; see also ver. 15, marg.; Genesis 4:8).
2. Their bread shall be given. "I have commanded ravens to feed thee there.
(2) Yet God could do it; for the instincts of all creatures are in His hands. He restrained hungry lions from harming Daniel; instructed a fish how to behave to Jonah; and another to lift a piece of silver from the bottom of a lake and then fasten upon a hook. "Is anything too hard for the Lord?"
(3) But would He do it? Would He employ an unclean creature to feed His servant? He might have His own reasons even for this. Elijah sustained for three years and a half in the wilderness was a type of the Christian Church nourished by the word of God for three and a half prophetic years (Revelation 12:6, 14). Babylon the great, from whose face the Church had to fly, was the mystical Jezebel, as the true Church was the mystical Elijah. But in this Church the destruction of clean and unclean creatures had no place. (See Acts 10:15, 28; Acts 15:7-11.) Might not this gospel have been foreshadowed in the manner in which Elijah was fed?
3. But is it certain that ravens were employed?
(1) He might have been fed by Arabians! For the word (ערבים) translated "ravens" also denotes Arabians. (See it so used in the singular, Isaiah 13:30; Jeremiah 3:2; Nehemiah 2:19; and in the plural as here, 2 Chronicles 21:16: 22:1.) And Gilead bordered upon that tract of country more especially described in Scripture as Arabia.
(2) Or he might have been fed by merchants. For this word also designates merchants. (See Ezekiel 27:9, 27.) If Israelitish merchants supplied the prophet's needs, then probably would they be of the seven thousand who scorned to bow the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18), and so would not discover his hiding place to Ahab.
(3) Or he might have been sustained by certain inhabitants of Oreb, a rocky place beyond Jordan. (See Judges 7:22; Isaiah 10:26.) This opinion is favoured by Jerome, who says, "The Orbim, inhabitants of a town on the confines of the Arabs, gave nourishment to Elijah." (See more in A. Clarke.)
(4) Whether by ravens, Arabians, merchants, or people of Oreb or Orbo, matters little; God can spread a table in the wilderness. He can give us the bread of the day in the day - "bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening." Necessary things are sure; luxuries we may dispense with. The greatest luxury to the wise and good is the feast upon the spiritual food which accompanies faithful obedience to God (John 4:32-34) - J.A.M.
I. Silent suffering.
II. Divine deliverance.
III. Restful retreat.
Each of which points we will consider.
I. SILENT SUFFERING is implied by all that we know of the prophet's circumstances. The famine he had foretold had come; and he shared the privations of the people. Others might have kindness shown them, but there was none for this man. Regarded as the cause of the calamity, he was an accursed outcast. Upon such a temperament the steady persistent pressure of hunger and hatred would tell severely. He would feel pity for others - for the poor dumb beasts, for the innocent children - and would be tempted to ask, "Was I right in praying for this, and bringing this woe on the people?" Meantime he was himself suffering the rigours of famine, and no chariot of fire came to bear him away from the desolated land. Like Samson, it seemed as if he had shaken the house, and was bringing destruction on himself as well as on the idolaters. Yet not a word of complaint. He was sustained by the conviction that he had done fright, and that God would see to the issues. Apply the teaching from this to occasions on which men are still called upon to do God's will, to utter God's truth, regardless of consequences. Sometimes we are able to "count the cost," and then we should do so. But often this is impossible. The love of Christ may constrain us to do, or to say, something which will place us in unexpected difficulties. Illustrate by Peter's zeal, which prompted him to step out of the boat upon the sea. He was terrified at a result he had not taken into calculation; but he was perfectly safe, for he was going towards Christ. Exemplify by instances from ordinary life - e.g., an assistant in business refuses to tell a lie, or to act one, and loses his situation. A daughter confesses her love to Christ, and finds her home a place of torment, etc. The one thing that can support us in such circumstances is the humble, yet confident, conviction that we have done what God willed, And often from those straits He delivers us in the most unexpected way, before we ask Him, as He delivered Elijah.
II. DIVER DELIVERANCE.
1. It was unexpected. No one would have imagined, and some cannot now credit the means adopted. The ravens have been a sore offence to critics. Discuss some of their theories - that they were merchants, Arabians, etc. The difficulties are not removed by the interpretations suggested, nor do they seem warranted by the text. Had men brought food to the hidden prophet, Ahab would soon have discovered his whereabouts; nor would they be likely to bring food twice daily, when a store might have been conveyed with only one risk. The supernatural is always startling, but to those who reject materialism it is not incredible. If God notices a sparrow fall, and if diseases obey Him, as soldiers obey their general (Matthew 8:8-10), this feeding by the ravens might well be. God often uses strange instruments to effect His purposes. Give examples from Scripture and history. Even the plans and the deeds of the wicked are under His control. All things work His will.
2. It was revealed. "The word of the Lord came to him." It comes to us. Sometimes the inward impulse after prayer impels us to take God's way; and sometimes all other paths are closed, and of the one left open Providence says, "This is the way, walk in it." Are we seeking to know God's will about ourselves? Are we concerned that our way should be His choice, and not our own? "In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."
III. RESTFUL RETREAT. Describe the wild ravine of the Kelt, which Robinson and Stanley identify, with some probability, as the Cherith. The precipitous rocks, in places 500 feet high, the caverns in the limestone, in one of which the prophet hid, etc. Such a man needed quiet. He had it afforded to him again in Horeb. No great activity for God can be worthily sustained without much waiting on Him. In this retreat Elijah had two sorts of provision.
1. Daily bread. It is only that which we are taught to expect, and pray for. The daily reception of blessing teaches us our constant dependence. The manna fell every morning, and could not be hoarded for the future. Daily strength, too, is given for daily duties.
2. Quiet communion. All nature would speak to Elijah of his God. The brook would whisper of the water of life; the birds would celebrate the care of God, etc. In the world around him, in secret converse with his own heart, and in earnest prayer to the God of Israel, before whom he stood, Elijah would get refreshment and strength for coming conflict and conquest. Refer to the invalid, to the aged, to the little children, as those to whom God gives a time of quiet, to prepare them for the future service.
1. Expect God's deliverance whenever you are in the path of duty.
2. Be content that God should work in His own way.
3. Seek to have a spirit of contentment, and a heart that is "quiet from the fear of evil." - A.R.
Psalm 37:19). Let us meditate upon -
I. THE COMMAND OF GOD TO THE WIDOW.
1. She is to sustain the prophet of the Lord.
(1) What an honour is this! For two years and a half to entertain the man that "stands before Jehovah," at whose word the clouds are sealed or the windows of heaven opened! (See ver. 1 and 1 Kings 18:41.) The man whose prayer was to bring fire down upon the sacrifice on Carmel to the confusion of idolatry! (ch. 18:38.) Who was to bring the same element down upon the soldiers of Ahaziah I (2 Kings 1:10-12). Who was destined to ride alive into the heavens in a chariot of fire! (2 Kings 2:11). Who was destined, many centuries later, to appear in glory with Messiah on the mount of transfiguration! (Matthew 17:8). And who is yet to come before the great day of judgment to gather back the children of Israel from their dispersion! (Malachi 4:5, 6).
(2) How could she hope for such distinction? A poor widow, so poor that she has no servant and no fuel in her house! A widow with her son, both at the point of death! A stranger, and a stranger of Zidon too - the land of Baal - and the land of the wicked Jezebel! Note: God's ways are not as our ways. He brings unlikely things to pass. How little do we know what may be the thoughts of His heart concerning us!
2. But how is she to accomplish this?
(1) Unbelief might murmur at such a requisition. It might charge God foolishly as a tyrant requiring brick where he had not supplied straw. Those who shrink from Church work because of fancied incompetence fall into this error, neglecting to trust God.
(2) It is enough that God has commanded. His commands are promises. (See Exodus 3:10-12; Judges 6:14.) See how the meal and oil are multiplied in the hands of the widow. The more difficult (humanly considered) the undertaking, the more gloriously will the excellency of the power of God appear. (See 2 Corinthians 12:9.) Attempt great things for God. Expect great things from God.
II. THE REASONS OF THE COMMAND. I. Elijah needed succour.
(1) The brook is dried up. Now is the time to test the prophet's faith. But he is a man of prayer, so is familiar with God. Those who best know God have most confidence in Him. Let us be much in prayer.
(2) Then "the word of the Lord came." Man's extremity is God's opportunity. In no strait let us despair of help while we keep a single heart. God knows all things. He can do whatever He will
2. The woman needed succour.
(1) She too had come to extremity - to the last handful of meal. What a touching spectacle is that widow at the gate of Zarephath gathering a few sticks to prepare the last meal for herself and her son!
(2) Had she not prayed? No doubt; and most sincerely. She was evidently a believer in the God of Israel. Jehovah was not unknown in the land of that Hiram who "was ever a lover of David," and so materially aided Solomon in building the temple (1 Kings 5.)
(3) But then she was not an Israelite to whom "were the promises." So in addressing Elijah her words are, "As the Lord thy God liveth." She believes in the "living God," but cannot presume to call Him her God. (See Romans 9:4.) What right had a poor stranger of Zidon to lock for any special consideration from the Lord?
(4) "He giveth grace unto the humble." He that reads the heart saw that she would believe if only she had a promise to authorize her faith. He accordingly gave her the opportunity which she seized and improved. (See Acts 10:1-6.) Let us act up to our light, and God will guide us into all the truth.
3. But were thee no widows in Israel?
(1) Upon the best authority we know that there were "many," and as needy as this Zidonian. In the severity of such a famine deaths from starvation were no rare occurrence.
(2) But the same authority informs us that there were none so worthy as this widow of Sarepta (Leviticus 4:24-26). No widow in Israel would have received the prophet as this widow received him. The moral is that if we would have special favour of God we must have special faith to receive it. Let us ever be in that attitude of wholehearted consecration to God which will make us eligible for any service he may be pleased to promote us to. To be permitted to do anything for God is an unspeakable honour. - J.A.M.
I. THE ENDLESSNESS OF GOD'S RESOURCES.
1. The brook failed; and one essential of life could no more be had there. But it was only that this wondrous provision might give place to greater marvels. When means are threatened, the heart sinks; but He who has provided these for a season knows of the failure; and He who sent go Cherith can send elsewhere. One channel of help fails only that the soul may be quickened by a fresh revelation of God's kindness.
2. He was sent to what seemed to be the most dangerous of all places - to the territory of Jezebel's father. And yet the very unlikelihood of his seeking shelter there increased his safety. God's path can only be trod by faith, but that faith is soon changed to praise.
3. He was sent to a most unlikely quarter. The hostess whom the Lord had chosen was a widow and one who possessed sufficient to furnish only one more meal for herself and her child. But here again faith was to break forth into praise. God's power is infinite, and the meanest as well as the mightiest may be used to glorify Him.
II. THE REWARD OF OBEDIENT FAITH.
1. For Elijah. He went undoubting; he sought the city, and lo, at the gate (ver. 10) he met his hostess. Those who act on God's promises will meet with the revelation of His truth and graciousness.
2. For the woman (vers. 11-16). It was her last meal Love of her child and her own hunger must have made it hard to obey, but the seed she sowed in faith yielded a thousandfold. God's call to sacrifice for His service, for honesty and truth, is the path to plenty not to loss.
3. For both. The woman entered a new world. The unseen was unveiled; she knew God. Elijah found in a heathen land a home which God had sanctified. The communion of faith glorifies all human relationship. - U.
Matthew 4:1); and throughout His whole course He recognized the same unfailing guidance. The purpose of God in sending Elijah to the poor widow was to show him, before he entered on the great conflict with idolatry, that he had at his disposal a Divine power which nothing would be able to resist. Elijah was, so to speak, to prove his arms, far from human observation, BY A PASSAGE OF DEEP PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. Hence the double miracle of the barrel of meal and the cruse of oil always full. Hence, yet more distinctly, that glorious miracle of the raising of the widow's son by the prophet. This miracle had no witnesses; nor must we marvel at this. God does not perform miracles to fascinate onlookers; He does not make a spectacle of His marvellous working. His glory is sufficiently magnified in the deliverance of a humble believer like the widow of Sarepta, and in the qualification of the prophet for his mission. Jesus Christ refused to work any miracles for show, and the power were reserved for humble hearts and lowly dwellings. Elijah has learnt to know the strength of God which is in him; he has proved it in the secresy of his soul. He has a full assurance that it will be manifested in him when he stands before Ahab, no less mightily than in the obscurity of the widow's house. This intimate personal experience of the grace of God is of incomparable value to His servants. If we would have Divine strength to use in the great conflict with sin around us, we must prove its miraculous energy in our private life. And let us remember also that our homes may be the scene of the mightiest manifestations of the grace of God, and of the most signal providential deliverances, if only our hearts be open to Him in humility and love, like the heart of the widow of Sarepta. - E. de P.
כד) was one of these vessels. The store in this case was run low; there was but a "handful" left; yet this was so multiplied by the power of God that three persons found at least in it sufficient provision for two and a half years. Let us inquire -
I. HOW ITS CONDITION BECAME KNOWN.
1. Elijah came to Zarephath in quest of the widow.
(1) Such were his instructions (vers. 8, 9). But was there only one widow in this city of "smelting furnaces" (comp. 1 Kings 7:14), this hive of industry, this centre of population? How, then, is he to discover the right one?
(2) God knows her, and that is enough for the prophet. The Word of the Lord who came to him at Samaria and at Cherith will now guide him. (See Isaiah 42:16.)
(3) Let us follow the light we have and God will give us more. So was Abraham's faithful servant guided to Rebecca (Genesis 24.)
2. He found her at the gate of the city.
(1) She was there on an errand of her own, viz., to gather a few dry sticks to kindle a fire to cook her last meal in this world.
(2) She was there also, though unknown to herself, on an errand from God. She was commanded to sustain the prophet of Israel
(3) Yet these two errands harmonize. God uses man's purposes to work out His own. Man proposeth; God disposeth.
3. He readily identified her.
(1) He asked her for water, which, with admirable promptitude, she went to fetch. This was the sign by which Abraham's servant identified Rebecca (Genesis 24:14). The cup of cold water has its promise of reward (Matthew 10:42).
(2) Then he asked for bread, which further request opened the way for the whole truth, "As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but," etc. (ver. 12). From these words it is evident that she recognized Elijah, at least as an Israelite, and probably as the prophet of Israel; for he was a person of pronounced individuality. His profusion of hair, probably, placed Elisha in such contrast to him that Elisha was mocked as a "bald head." (Comp. 2 Kings 1:8, and 2 Kings 2:23.)
II. How ITS RESOURCES WERE MAINTAINED.
1. By the miracle-working power of God.
(1) "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." This supplied not only the guest but the widow and her son for two years and a half. As Bp. Hall remarks, "Never did corn or olive so increase in the growing as these did in the using."
(2) This miracle was similar to that of the manna. The off was used as butter for the meal, and the taste of the manna was like fresh oil (Numbers 11:8). Also to Christ's miracles of the loaves.
(3) The lessons are the same. The miracles all teach that "man lives not by bread alone, but by the word of God." That this spiritual food is the gift of God. That it differs essentially from the bread that perishes. Not only is it imperishable, but it multiplies in the using, grows as it is dispensed. How delightful were the spiritual feasts of that two years and a half in the widow's dwelling [(See Revelation 3:20.)
2. Through the faith of the widow.
(1) She was predisposed to believe. God saw this, else He had not honoured her with His command to sustain his prophet. (See Luke 4:24-26.) Let us ever live in that moral fitness to be employed by God.
(2) This disposition was encouraged. She waited for something to justify her faith in God, and she got it: "And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said," de. (vers. 13, 14). She knew that the word of the Lord was with Elijah And this instruction to make first a little cake for the prophet was according to God's order. (See Numbers 15:20, 21.)
(3) She proved the genuineness of her faith by her works. "She did according to the saying of Elijah." By works faith is perfected, And God justified the faith that justified him. - J.A.M.
1. It was a means of blessing to himself. He found a true worshipper of Jehovah even in the coasts of Tyre, where, under the rule of Jezebel's father, one was least to be expected. This would strengthen his faith, and it would keep alive his hope that his work in Israel would "not be in vain in the Lord." We may sometimes assure ourselves of the vitality of Christianity by witnessing its effects among the heathen. A visit to the South Sea islands would prove a tonic to debilitated faith.
2. It was a means of blessing to the widow. Not only was she kept alive in famine for the prophet's sake, but she received spiritual blessing. Christ refers to Elijah's visit as a sign of the care God had, even under the old dispensation, for the heathen peoples, where He left not Himself without witness. (Compare Luke 4:25.) Show that as Elijah turned from Israel to Zidon, so the apostles turned to the Gentiles (Acts 18:6). Learn from the story the following general lessons: -
I. THAT GOD PROVIDES FOR THE NECESSITIES OF HIS SERVANTS. In the famine He had already made provision for Elijah at Cherith, and now that the supply there had failed, other resources were opened. Not always in our way, but in some way, He answers the prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread." He does not promise luxuries or wealth, but our "bread shall be given to us, and our water shall be sure." We are not to be anxious about our future, but are to remember that it is in the hands of God. It is said of our food and raiment, that our "heavenly father knoweth that we have need of these things." When a child is at home he learns his lessons, obeys the rules of his parents, etc., but he has no care about the food he will want on the morrow. He never dreams but that it will be provided. Such should be our spirit, whatever may be our powers of productive work. We are diligently and earnestly to do whatsoever our hands find to do, feeling certain that "they who seek the Lord shall not want any good thing." The Israelites followed the cloud, though it led them into the wilderness, with the conviction that God was leading them; and when it was necessary He provided manna in proportion to their wants. If God does not ignore our temporal necessities, He will certainly not fail to supply our spiritual wants. In the Father's house there is bread enough and to spare. This we may prove on earth, but its highest fulfilment will be seen in heaven, where the Lamb, who is in the midst of the throne, shall feed us.
II. THAT GOD USES WHAT MEN WOULD DESPISE. With limitless resources, we should have imagined that God would miraculously create what was required, disregarding "the handful of meal" and the little oil left in a cruse. Not so, however. There is no waste in the Divine economy. The breath of men, the exhalations of plants, the refuse cast into the field, or into the sea, the rising mist, the falling shower, are all accounted for, and have a purpose to fulfil, a work to do. There is no physical force which becomes utterly extinct, though it passes from one form of manifestation to another. Motion passes into heat, heat into electricity, etc., in an endless cycle. The economy of force asserts itself everywhere under the rule of God. This, which is proclaimed by science, is constantly illustrated in Scripture. It is the same God who worketh all in all. If manna is given to the Israelites, it ceases directly the people can eat of the corn of the country. The supernatural rises out of the natural. The miraculous provision for Elijah was not a new creation, but an increase of what already existed; and in the use of this there was no prodigality or waste. Compare with Christ's miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. After showing that He had infinite resources, He said to His disciples, "Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost."
III. THAT GOD REVEALS OUR WAY STEP BY STEP. Picture Elijah sitting by the brook Cherith, watching its waters becoming shallower day by day under the drought. He knew not what he should do next, but he waited, and trusted, and prayed; and when the brook was dried up, "the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath," etc. God does not reveal the future to us, but draws across it an impenetrable, or at most a semi-transparent veil. We know not with absolute certainty what a day may bring forth. The advantages of this are evident -
1. It saves us from sorrow and from sin.
(1) From sorrow, because if we foresaw all that we should have to endure, if we knew the day of our death, the extent of our losses, etc., our burden would be greater than we could bear. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."
(2) From sin, because we should grow absorbed in worldly occupations it we were certain life would be long; or become despondent and spiritless in work if we knew it would be short.
2. It fosters in us the graces of trust and prayer. If we know nothing of the future ourselves, and cannot feel confident about our own plans, we are led to confide in Him who foresees what is before us, and to ask Him in prayer for daily guidance and support.
IV. THAT GOD REWARDS OUR CONSECRATION OF WHAT WE HAVE TO HIM. It was a generous act towards a stranger, a pious act towards a servant of Jehovah, to fetch for Elijah the water which was now so costly, and to be willing to share with him what appeared to be her last meal. "There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth." Even in temporal affairs this is true. Hoard seed in the springtime, and you cannot be enriched; scatter it, and the harvest will come. Give to the poor in the name of their Lord, and you will not fail of reward - either here or hereafter. We are to give, however, not for the sake of applause or recompense, but "as unto the Lord," to whom we owe all that we have. This woman not only gave to the prophet, but gave to him in the name of a prophet, and therefore "received a prophet's reward" (Matthew 10:40-42). May He who commended the widow when she gave her two mites so accept our gifts and services, and so approve our motives, as at last to say, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me!" (Matthew 25:40.) - A.R.
Luke 4:25, 26). The prophet was not "accepted in his own country," but found a confiding welcome and generous hospitality at the hands of an alien. God rebuked the proud unbelief of His own people by making this poor lone widow, in the midst of her idolatrous associations, the instrument of His purposes. And thus that early age had its foreshadowings of the grace that should hereafter be bestowed on the Gentiles. The lessons of the narrative lie upon the surface.
I. GOD'S SURE GUARDIANSHIP OVER HIS SERVANTS. Elijah is perfectly safe under the shield of Divine protection, as safe in the region of Sidon as he was by the brook Cherith. He who commanded the ravens to feed him can put it into the heart and into the power of the Phoenician woman to do the same. When one resort fails He can provide another. He causes one and another to fail that He may show how boundless His resources are. There is absolutely no limit to the possibilities of God's sustaining and protective power. "He shall give his angels charge concerning thee." The angels of God are many and various. There is nothing which He cannot make to be the instrument of His purpose, the vehicle of His power. And He causes them to wait in duteous ministry on those whom He has called to high and holy service in His kingdom. God has a grand mission for Elijah to accomplish in Israel and will take care that he shall be able to fulfil it. "Man is immortal till his work be done."
II. THE HONOUR GOD PUTS ON THE LOWLY. We see here not only the Divine preservation of Elijah, but a special act of grace towards the woman of Zarephath. It was a signal honour to have been thus singled out from the crowd for such a Divine visitation, to be used as an important link in the chain of great public events, to have her name handed down to future ages as the "woman of Sarepta," whose glory it was to "entertain a prophet in the name of a prophet and receive a prophet's reward." And in this there was not merely a providential arrangement of outward circumstances, but a gracious influence exerted on her own soul; for God lays His sovereign hand not only on the course of external events, but on the secret springs of moral life. Her readiness to respond to the prophet's appeal was from Him. Poor and humble as she was His eye was upon her for good. "He regarded the low estate of his handmaiden." Thus has God often put distinction upon those who might least have expected it. Let none think themselves beneath His notice, or too insignificant to be made by Him the instrument of some high and holy purpose. "Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly" (Psalm 138:6).
"He hears the uncomplaining moan III. THE REWARD OF TRUSTFUL AND OBEDIENT FAITH. The poor widow "showed her faith by her works, and by works was her faith made perfect." At the prophet's word she drew freely from her scanty store, and "the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail." The reward of her faith came in the form of a miracle similar to that of Christ's multiplication of the loaves and fishes to feed the hungry multitude. It surpasses our comprehension, but is not more wonderful than the mysterious process that is ever going on in the building up of the tissue of plants and of the animal frame. Shall not the Power that is perpetually changing the elements of earth and air and water into nourishing food for man and beast be able to increase "the meal and the oil" as it pleases? The true life of faith is one of patient continuance in well doing, coupled with calm dependence on that ever active power. Of the righteous God says, "Bread shall be given him," etc. (Isaiah 33:16). "In the day of famine they shall be satisfied" (Psalm 37:19). Christ. did not mock us when He taught us to pray to our Father in heaven, "Give us this day our daily bread." Tread faithfully the path of duty, and "He that ministereth seed to the sower will both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness" (2 Corinthians 9:10). - W.
III. THE REWARD OF TRUSTFUL AND OBEDIENT FAITH. The poor widow "showed her faith by her works, and by works was her faith made perfect." At the prophet's word she drew freely from her scanty store, and "the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail." The reward of her faith came in the form of a miracle similar to that of Christ's multiplication of the loaves and fishes to feed the hungry multitude. It surpasses our comprehension, but is not more wonderful than the mysterious process that is ever going on in the building up of the tissue of plants and of the animal frame. Shall not the Power that is perpetually changing the elements of earth and air and water into nourishing food for man and beast be able to increase "the meal and the oil" as it pleases? The true life of faith is one of patient continuance in well doing, coupled with calm dependence on that ever active power. Of the righteous God says, "Bread shall be given him," etc. (Isaiah 33:16). "In the day of famine they shall be satisfied" (Psalm 37:19). Christ. did not mock us when He taught us to pray to our Father in heaven, "Give us this day our daily bread." Tread faithfully the path of duty, and "He that ministereth seed to the sower will both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness" (2 Corinthians 9:10). - W.
days (ימים), a term which is by some Hebraists understood, when used without qualification, to denote a year. So the phrase with which the text opens, "And it came to pass after these things," imports that the miracle of raising the widow's son occurred "after" Elijah had been one year in her house. The "things" to which this miracle succeeded were the earlier signs of the presence of God with the prophet, meanwhile the widow read the bereavement her own way.
I. SHE SAW THE HAND OF GOD IN IT.
1. She attributed it to Elijah. "Art thou come unto me, to slay my son."
(1) Not, however, under any notion of unkind. ness to her in the heart of the prophet. For
(a) had she not, and her son with her, been saved from death by famine in connexion with his sojourn in her house?
(b) The heavenly conversation they must have had during the year would preclude such an idea.
(2) Yet here is the fact; and it is written for our learning. The incidents in Scripture, given under Divine inspiration, are therefore to be very particularly noted. They cannot be too carefully or too prayerfully studied.
2. She attributed it to him as a "man of God."
(1) This was not, in her estimation, an ordinary case of death. The circumstances surrounding it were all extraordinary,
(2) At least she saw that it was intended by God for some high purpose. She was right. We should not be wrong so to regard ordinary providences. All God's purposes are high. All His providences are important. His providence is in everything. Life therefore is no stale thing
II. SHE READ HIS REPROACHES IN IT. "Art thou come to call my sin to my remembrance?"
1. We should newer forget that we are sinners.
(2) Death especially should remind us of God, before whose tribunal it conducts us. So it should especially remind us of sin, for it is its wages appointed by God.
2. The remembrance, however, will affect us variously according to our moral state.
(1) Sin, in the first instance, is called to the remembrance of all that they may hate it and forsake it.
(2) To those who have endeavoured to do this, it is still called to remembrance, that they may trust in Christ for forgiveness and salvation.
III. SHE CONNECTED THESE REPROACHES WITH THE PRESENCE OF ELIJAH. "What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God?" etc.
1. Why did she do this?
(1) Prophets were sent usually to reprove, and denounce judgments. Hence the coming of Samuel to Bethlehem inspired the magistrates and people with alarm. (See 1 Samuel 16:4.) This bereavement, therefore, might suggest to the widow her sin in general, or some particular sin, though not clearly defined to her as yet.
(2) Or it might have brought home to her some imperfection in the service of God which she had not previously sufficiently considered. Had she adequately appreciated the great privilege of having such a guest?
(3) Was there not in this a confession that she was unworthy of such an honour, and a desire implied that she should be made worthy, lest otherwise his continued presence must become an occasion of judgments? Was not the expression of Peter, with whom Jesus lodged, of similar import when the divinity of the Master was brought vividly before him by the miraculous draught of fishes, and he exclaimed, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord?" (Luke 5:8).
2. Did she not here recognize a great truth?
(1) What sanctifications and consecrations Levites, and more especially sons of Aaron, needed, who had to draw near to God; and how perilous to them, even then, were their approaches to that sacred presence! (Exodus 28:43; Leviticus 8:35; Leviticus 15:31; Leviticus 16:2, 18; Leviticus 22:9; Numbers 4:15; Numbers 17:18).
(2) How clean should they be who bear now the vessels of the Lord! How careful unsanctified persons should be not to tamper with holy things! Witness the judgments upon Uzzah and Uzziah. (See 1 Samuel 6:19; 2 Samuel 6:7; 2 Chronicles 26:19, 20.) The sanctification now required is moral, of which the ceremonial was the type.
(3) All shall have to appear in the very presence of the Judge. How shall we stand then? Let us now prepare for that solemnity. - J.A.M.
(1) the sadness of death and
(2) the joy of restoration.
I. THE SADNESS OF DEATH. That the child was really dead we cannot doubt. "There was no breath left in him." The gleam of hope in the poor widow's condition was suddenly beclouded, and a strange, yet not altogether unnatural, revulsion of feeling took possession of her breast. Thus does an unexpected calamity, especially perhaps when it takes the form of personal bereavement, often work for a while a sad change in the attitude of the soul
1. It darkens the whole horizon of life - quenches the light of other joys. The abundance of meal and oil, and the honour of the prophet's presence are as nothing while the child lies dead in the house. There are sorrows which seem utterly to blot out the sunshine of one's existence, and to be aggravated rather than relieved by the joys that accompany them.
2. It creates resentment against the supposed, or perhaps the real, author of it. "What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God?" The prophet, who had proved himself so beneficent a friend, is regarded as an enemy.
3. It's a severe test of one's faith in God. This woman, it may be, was in an intermediate state of mind between blind devotion to the old idolatries and the full acceptance of the faith of Israel How rude a check did this event seem to give to her progress into clearer light! Thus is the faith of men often sorely tried by the adversities of life. This is part of their Divine purpose. The "fiery trial" seems "strange at first, but the meaning and reason of it are revealed afterwards." Happy they whose faith, in spite of the severe strain put upon it, holds fast to the living God - too deeply rooted in the soul to be torn up by any sudden sweeping blast.
4. It awakens the sense of sin. "Art thou come to me to bring my sin to remembrance?" It is significant that the thought of her own sin should be her first thought. The calamity brought this to her remembrance because it seemed to her a sign of God's remembrance of it. Learn that though particular afflictions are not always to be connected with any particular transgression as their cause (John 9:2, 8), yet all sorrow must be traced ultimately to its source in moral evil. It is a true instinct that leads us to think of our sins in times of adversity. Whenever affliction comes to us it should produce tenderness of conscience and call forth the prayer, "Show me wherefore thou contendest with me," in order that if there be any secret wrong in ourselves that demands this severe discipline we may have grace to fight against it and cast it out.
II. THE JOY OF RESTORATION. The behaviour of Elijah is beautifully expressive of his deep human sympathy, and also of the intimacy of the relation between himself and God as a man of prayer and the instrument of the Divine energy. Having special regard to the nature and effect of this miracle of restoration, observe that -
1. It is typical of the beneficent ministry of Christ. In Him the power of God came, as it never had before, into healing contact with the flame of our diseased and dying humanity. He took our nature upon Him that He might effectually cure its infirmities and sicknesses. "Virtue" continually went forth from Him. He was the great health-restorer and life giver; and as all the healing ministries of former ages had anticipated His coming, so all true philanthropy since has caught its highest inspiration from the constraint of His love and the force of His example.
2. It is prophetic of the future glorious resurrection. We see here one of the many witnesses that gleam out amid the obscurity of the olden times to the truth that God would surely one day "bring life and immortality to Light," while it points us on to the time when, "at the voice of the son of God, all that are in their graves shall come forth." "Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory" (Isaiah 25:8; 1 Corinthians 15:54).
3. It illustrates the joy of a soul that for the first time is made fully conscious of the gracious presence and power of God. "Now by this I know that thou art a man of God," etc. There is a tone of deep satisfaction in these words. It is the satisfaction that springs from the discovery of Divine truth and the vivid sense of God. There is no satisfaction of which the soul of man is capable that can be compared with this. The end of all forms of Divine manifestation - prophetic visitations, miracles, providences, etc. - is this. We reach the highest joy possible to us upon earth when we can say with St. John, "We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is tame, and we are in him that is true, even in his son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life" (1 John 4:20). - W.
I. THE DISCIPLINE OF TRIAL.
1. It is no proof of God's anger. Sorrow darkens the homes of God's beloved. This was a home of faith and ministering love. Affliction is no more proof of wrath than is the farmer's ploughing of his field. To him, with his eye upon the future harvest, it is only the needful preparation of the soil. And the great Husbandman, with His eye upon the eternal glory, must open up a bed within the soul's depths for the seed of life.
2. God's blow may be very heavy. Her son, her only child, is taken. God's plough sinks deep that His work may be rightly done. The very greatness of our anguish is a measure by which we may gauge the greatness of the Lord's purpose and of the love which will not suffer us to miss the blessing.
II. THE FRUITS IT YIELDS.
1. It reveals our need. She may have been conscious daily of the goodness of God and yet been blind to the fact that she needed more than she had yet received. God now awakens her
(1) to the sense of her unworthiness: "What have I to do with thee?"
(2) to the remembrance of her transgressions: "Art thou come to call my sins to remembrance?" The darkness of trouble is the shadow of guilt. There is discipline because there is need of salvation. Sins may be pardoned, but God must open up a gulf between the soul and them. The time of trouble is meant to be a time of heart searching and of confession.
2. It stirs up to prayer. Elijah's heart was poured out in bold expostulation and earnest entreaty (vers. 20, 21). In the sharpness of our need our cry gains strength; we press, in our urgency, into the Divine presence. These times open up a way to God by which we find ready access ever after.
3. It leads to the vision of God's glory. "And the Lord heard," etc. (ver. 22). The prayer was followed by a revelation of God's power such as till then man had never seen: the dead was raised. "Ask and ye shall receive." The soul that asks will see God's salvation and be filled with the light of the Divine glory.
4. It deepens trust. "Now by this I know," etc. (ver. 24). When man's need meets God's help, the soul is bound to Him by the strongest ties. - U.
I. AN EXAMPLE OF THE POWER OF FAITH. Behold here -
1. The spirit of faith.
(1) He had confidence in God before he prayed. This is evident from the manner in which he asked the widow for the corpse. He did not tell her what he intended; but, on the other hand, neither did he express any hesitation as in the comfort she might expect.
(2) This confidence must have been divinely authorized, else it would have been presumption which, instead of conciliating the favour, would have awakened the displeasure of God
(3) This was what Elisha and the sons of the prophets called "the Spirit of Elijah," i.e., the. Spirit of God abiding with him. (See 2 Kings 2:9, 15.)
2. The prayer of faith.
(1) He recognized the hand of God in the bereavement: "Hast thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn by slaying her son?" He calls it "evil," yet attributes it to God. Moral evil God cannot perpetrate, but evil which comes in the form of affliction or punishment is a very different thing. (See Job 2:10; Isaiah 45:7; Amos 3:6; John 9:1-8.)
(2) He entreated God to restore the child's life. "He cried unto the Lord." Here is the "fervency" which characterizes "effectual" prayer.
(3) He entreated Him confidingly: "O Lord my God." This appealing to God in the possessive expresses a loving trust in a Covenant Friend. (See Leviticus 26:12; Jeremiah 31:33; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Hebrews 11:16; Revelation 21:3.)
(4) Hence his success. "The Lord heard the voice of Elijah." He saw in Elijah those moral qualifications which make it fitting that He should answer prayer. So the prophet was able to restore the child alive to his mother.
3. But what example is this for us?
(1) Elijah's success in prayer was not because he was a prophet. James replies to this objection when he assures us that "Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are." For this is the ground on which he proceeds to lay down the broad principle, viz., that "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16; see also Acts 11:24).
(2) Therefore we also may be moved by the Holy Ghost; and we must be so moved if we would pray effectually. True faith is "of the operation of God" (Luther's prayer for the recovery of Myconius instanced in Krummacher).
(3) But how may we know that we are so influenced? God will make it plain as one of the secrets of holy communion with Him (Psalm 25:14; John 7:17; John 15:15). When we are free from selfish desire, and above all things seek God's glory, there is little danger of being led astray.
(4) The widow was no prophetess, but she also was an example of faith. (See Hebrews 11:35.) Witness her recognition of God, and the readiness with which she gave her son from her bosom at the prophet's request. Her faith was honoured as well as his.
II. A PROPHETIC SIGN.
1. So the widow interpreted it (ver. 24).
(1) It authenticated Elijah as a "man of God." Not only that he was a good man, but that he was a prophet of the Lord.
(2) Consequently "that the word of the Lord in his mouth" was no sham. (Comp. ch. 22.) Spurious prophets could not give miraculous signs.
2. Such signs were parables. The question, then, is, what did this parable teach?
(1) Could it be a sign that the drought would be removed which had now lasted two years, working fearful ravages, and must, if continued long, destroy the nations visited? For the "word of the Lord in the mouth of Elijah" did encourage the hope that rain should come upon the earth (ver. 14). The coming of rain would be a national resurrection.
(2) Could it be a pledge of the resurrection of the dead at the last day? The gospel has thrown floods of illustration upon this subject, but in old times it was obscure. This miracle taught the separate existence of the soul. Also that the disembodied spirit may and shall be reunited to its organic companion.
(3) Why did Elijah stretch himself upon the child? He was a type of Christ. So he made himself like the dead to foreshow that Christ by dying in our room should give us life. This He does morally. Also physically, viz., in the resurrection of the body. (Comp. 2 Kings 4:34; John 11:43-45; Acts 20:10.) Is there any correspondence between the "three times" mentioned in the text and the "three times" in which our Lord prayed for the removal of the cup of His suffering? (Matthew 26:44). - J.A.M.
Acts 28:4.) See also our Lord's teaching, Luke 13:4. The death of this child is to be explained on the principle which asserted itself in the blindness of the man whom Jesus cured (John 9:3), or in the illness of Lazarus, concerning which our Lord said, "This sickness is not unto death, but for glory of God" (John 11:4). Rembrandt has depicted the scene brought before us in this chapter. In a roughly built upper room the dead child lies upon the bed; one hand rests upon his breast, while the other has fallen heavily at his side, giving a wonderful idea of the weight of death. Elijah stands on the further side of the bed with his rugged, earnest face upturned towards heaven and his hands clasped in an agony of supplication as he says, "O Lord my God, I pray thee let this child's soul come into him again!" This event was not intended to be wondered at as a prodigy, nor was it merely to benefit the widow, but for all time has spiritual significance. With this belief we see in it -
I. AN EMBLEM OF SPIRITUAL DEATH. The child had died suddenly, Or Elijah would have been told of his illness. His death was real, and was more than the insensibility of Eutychus (Acts 20:10). We say that a thing, susceptible of life, is dead when it cannot receive what is essential to its growth and well being; e.g., a tree is dead when it is no longer able to absorb the nutriment without which it must fade, and ultimately fall. An animal is dead which can no longer breath air or assimilate food. The mind is dead - as is that of an idiot - when it receives no true mental impressions. The soul is dead which is insensible to spiritual influence. As it is possible to have physical without mental life, so it is possible to have mental without spiritual life. "Spiritual death" is not a mere figure of speech. It may be illustrated by the condition of this child. The food provided for him was useless now, the tenderest words of his mother were unheeded, and the voice that so lately was musical with laughter was silent. Similarly the spiritually dead are indifferent to God's provision, unconscious of their own possibilities, irresponsive to the Father's voice. "Except a man be born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God." "He that hath not the Son hath not life." "Dead in trespasses and sins." "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain that they may live."
II. AN EXAMPLE OF INTERCESSORY PRAYER. A man of Elijah's strong nature would have strong affections, and we can imagine how intensely he had come to love this child. On hearing of his death he could only say to the distracted mother, "Give me thy son," and then carried him up to his own room, and cried to God in an agony of prayer.
1. It was offered in solitude. Not even the mother was there. Such intense crises in life must be met alone. Jesus Christ was wont to "depart into a solitary place" to pray. Understanding our needs He said, "When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and shut to the door, and pray to thy Father which seeth in secret." "Jacob was left alone" when he wrestled with the angel. Compare Elijah's miracle with that of the Lord, who, when He went into the room where Jairus' daughter lay dead, "suffered no man to go in," beyond those who were one with Him in sympathy and prayer.
2. It was peculiarly definite. There was one want in his heart, one cry on his lips. Our prayers too often are meditations on the Divine attributes, or general confessions, and thanksgivings. If our King asked "What is thy petition?" we should sometimes be at a logs for an answer. Pray for one grace, for one unbelieving friend, etc.
3. It was intensely earnest. Elijah could not be denied. His was not a speech, but a cry. He looked for the awakening, and flung himself on the dead in an agony of earnestness as if he would infuse his own warmth and life. The touch was similar to that of Peter, when he took the cripple by the hand (Acts 3:7) - not the cause of blessing, but the medium of blessing. The Divine power works through the human agency.
III. AN EARNEST OF TRUE RESURRECTION. Elijah could not give life, but he could ask God for it. Nor can we arouse to new life by preaching, though God can do so through preaching. Our words are only the media through which the Holy Spirit works. The Atlantic cable is useless except as the message is flashed forth by mysterious unseen power. This distinguishes the miracles of our Lord Jesus from those of His servants. (Compare Luke 7:14 with Acts 3:12-16.) There is a resurrection wherein saints shall be raised by the power of God to a life of immortality, the promise and pledge of which we have in the resurrection of Christ, who is the "firstfruits of them that sleep." There is also a spiritual resurrection, to which Paul refers when he appeals to Christians as those "risen with Christ; and of this, as well as of that, is there an illustration in our text. Raised to newness of life we, like the child Elijah prayed for, have to live for awhile in the old sphere. The prophet gave the child to his mother. Jesus restored Lazarus to his sisters, the young man at Nain to his mother, and the ruler's daughter to her parents; and so to us, who have "passed from death unto life," He says, "Return to thine own house, and show how great things God hath done for thee." This miracle constrained the widow to accept as God's truth the declaration of His servant (ver. 24). How much more reason have we, who believe in the supernatural works of His Son, to say, "We know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him!" - A.R.