Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. SOME CRIED FOR LIFE TO NATURE.
1. Such was the case with Ahab.
(1) He had worshipped Baal, the fire of nature. But Baal was now punishing his votaries. Such is the manner in which the "god of this world" repays his dupes.
(2) Yet did not Ahab repent of his folly. For, instead of seeking the living God, who was proving Himself the superior of Baal, he divides the land between himself and the governor of his house, to search for herbage.
(3) Note also the heartlessness of the idolater. He is more concerned for his stud than for his people. "Peradventure we may find grass to save the horses and mules alive, that we lose not all the beasts.'
2. He was a specimen of a class
(1) His queen was of the same way of thinking. She had been brought up to worship Baal. She had a masculine temper and swayed the mind of her husband.
(2) The courtiers and the majority of the nation, who thought more of court fashion than of the holy service of Jehovah, bowed the knee to Baal.
II. OTHERS CRIED FOR LIFE TO GOD.
1. Of this number was Elijah.
(1) He recognized God as above nature, when he announced that there would be a departure from the ordinary course of nature in the withholding of dew and rain for successive years. Still he recognizes this when he shows himself to Ahab, believing that God would now give rain (1 Kings 17:1; 1 Kings 18:1, 2).
(2) He recognized God as above nature before these assurances, for he received them in answer to faithful prayer (see James 5:17, 18). This is not mentioned in the history, but implied in his character as a man of God. Note: A man of God is a man of prayer.
2. Obadiah also was of this number.
(1) He "feared the Lord greatly." This arose from the strength of his faith. We cannot fear that in which we do not believe.
(2) His faith was fruitful in good works. He screened one hundred of the Lord's prophets from the violence of Jezebel, and sustained them. "Bread and water," like "daily bread" in the Lord's prayer, is an expression for things needful for the body. And in thus sheltering and nourishing the servants of God, Obadiah hazarded not only the loss of his situation, but also of his head.
(3) One who feared the Lord greatly after this fashion would pray to Him. Piety would move him to it. Patriotism also would move him at this juncture.
3. There were many more who cried to God.
(1) There were the "prophets of the Lord" preserved by Obadiah, and doubtless others also who escaped the vigilance of Jezebel. These would cry to God for life.
(2) And if there were so many prophets, or sons of the prophets, there would be a considerable number of devout persons in Israel notwithstanding the abounding apostasy (see 1 Kings 19:18). There is a great deal of goodness where men little expect to find it. God is the source of life, not only to the body, but also to the soul. Let us seek to Him for life. - J.A.M.
I. BY AN INWARD IMPULSE.
II. THROUGH HIS MEETING WITH THE YOUNG OBADIAH, the protector of the prophets, and the faithful servant of God in the midst of the impure court of Ahab. Let it be ours to seek such a twofold assurance of the will of God. Let us not rest satisfied with an inward impulse, lest we be led astray by an illusive mysticism; let us watch also the indications of Providence. The wisdom that cometh down from above is not a blind leading; it can give a reasonable explanation of its motives. It learns to read the will of God at once in the book of the heart and in that of Providence. In his decisive interview with Ahab, Elijah shows us how we are to contend with the idolatry which is always at the root of every doctrine hostile to God.
1. The first element of strength is his manly and indomitable courage. To the king's insolent question, "Art thou he that troubleth Israel?" he replies, "I have not troubled Israel, but thou and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim" (ver. 18). He only will be victorious in the battle for the right who does not fear to denounce, without flinching, the sin of his people, and to say, like John the Baptist to the mighty ones, whether in the realm of society or of science, "It is not lawful for thee" (Matthew 14.) Wherever sin is, the witness for truth and righteousness must first strike home to the conscience before attempting to convince the mind.
2. Everything in the language of Elijah breathes a full assurance of victory. He knows that he has on his side that strength of God which he has proved. To believe that we shall be victorious is already to have half won the battle.
3. Elijah's irresistible weapon is prayer. "Hear me, O Lord, hear me; that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again" (ver. 37). If we now look away from Elijah himself to the plan he proposed to pursue in his warfare against idolatry, we shall see that no better is possible for us today. He does not multiply arguments in dealing with his adversaries; he meets them on the common ground of experience. He gives practical rather than theoretical demonstration of the power of God. Here are the priests of Baal assembled on Mount Carmel. On their side are the people, the favour of the king, the confidence of the public. Elijah stands alone, and yet he feels he is not alone, for God is with him. The heaven, closed for long months against the fertilizing rain, in punishment of the perverseness of Israel, seems a vault of iron and brass. Will it ever melt again, and spread life in soft reviving showers over the land? In vain Ahab has sent his servants up and down throughout the country; the water springs have all failed. The one question in all hearts is, What intercession may avail to draw down the rain once more from heaven? Elijah offers a challenge full of bitter irony to the priests of Baal. May he not lawfully do so, as the messenger of Him of whom it is said that "He shall laugh at the mighty ones who exalt themselves against him'? (Psalm 2:4.) In vain the priests cry, and leap, and cut themselves with stones, in their savage rites; there comes no answering voice from their deaf and dumb idol. But at the prayer of Elijah the heavens re-open, and his God reveals Himself in the glory of His power. Champions of the true God, the God of the gospel, defend it, as Elijah did, against the insolent idolatry of materialism, or of the pantheism which sets up an idol as monstrous as the Baal of old. Be bold, like Elijah, in showing the idolaters how deeply they have fallen. Believe in the victory of your cause; use the invincible weapon of prayer; and to those who have vainly sought the living water in the broken cisterns of earth (Jeremiah 2:13), show the heavens opened and the gracious rain descending upon all broken hearts, and bringing the blessings of a full redemption. Give to our generation this conclusive practical evidence. Meet the positivism of the infidel with the positivism of the Christian. This is the surest means of casting down the idol into the dust, without having recourse to that exterminating sword which the prophet of the old covenant was commanded to draw upon the idolatrous priests. We live under another dispensation, and ours is that sword of the Spirit which only wounds to heal. - E. de P.
I. HE FEARED THE LORD FROM HIS YOUTH.
1. Piety is not natural.
(3) Life is only tolerable through the meliorating influences of the "gospel of the grace of God." To these must be attributed whatever seems good in unconverted men (Romans 1:28-32).
2. Grace is free.
(2) Some are indirectly specially favoured. Being surrounded by Christian influences. Being children of godly parents.
(3) These opportunities, if duly improved, will infallibly lead to salvation (Titus 2:11-14).
3. Those who fear God from their youth have great advantages.
(1) They have not given evil habits time to consolidate into rigidity. Time is necessary to this, for habits are strengthened by repetition. The hard crystallization of bad habits renders the conversion of old sinners very difficult. Therefore, how few are such conversions, comparatively!
(2) They have a splendid opportunity of founding a strong character of goodness. When the habit of resisting temptation is formed, it becomes more and more natural and easy to resist. Hence, like Obadiah, who "feared the Lord from his youth," they will come to fear Him "greatly."
II. HE FEARED THE LORD GREATLY. See the manifestation of this in his - I. Respect for the ambassador of God.
(1) He "knew Elijah." Probably he had been present when the prophet warned the king that his fire god would be made to punish his votaries in the absence of dew and rain (1 Kings 17:1). The godly, having sympathy with the ministers of God, are quick to recognize them.
(2) He "fell on his face before him." This was the form of a most respectful salutation. He honoured in him that God whose ambassador he was. Obadiah feared the Lord too greatly to give to any creature the homage due to God alone.
(3) He addressed him reverently, "My lord Elijah." And he spoke of himself as" thy servant." This was proper on his part; but we note how Elijah transferred the style to Ahab - "Go tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here."
2. Kindness to the servants of God.
(1) Through the sin of Jeroboam the priests and Levites went into Judah (see 2 Chronicles 11:18, 14). To supply their lack in Ephraim, prophets' colleges were established. The students in these colleges were called "sons of the prophets" (see 2 Kings 2:3, 5, 7).
(2) These, together with their masters, or "fathers," were probably the objects of Jezebel's resentment when Elijah could not be found. They are called "prophets of the Lord" (ver. 13; compare 1 Kings 22:85, 38, 41).
(3) At the time of that persecution Obadiah sheltered and fed one hundred of these. This he did at the hazard of his life. Because he feared the Lord greatly, he feared not the wrath of the king (compare Hebrews 11:23, 27).
3. Faith in the power of God.
(1) He believed that Jehovah might raise a wind that could carry Elijah away from the power of Ahab. He doubtless knew that Enoch had been translated into the heavens, and may have known of examples of translations from one locality to another, not recorded in the earlier Scriptures (compare 2 Kings 2:11-16; Ezekiel 3:14; Acts 8:89).
(3) But while God is of all enemies the most formidable, He is an Almighty Friend.
III. HE FAITHFULLY SERVED HIS KING.
1. God-fearing men make good citizens.
(1) Wicked as Ahab was, he preferred Obadiah to the courtiers of Jezebel in the high office of chamberlain.
(2) This is not a solitary case. Joseph over the house of Pharaoh. Daniel in the house of the kings of Babylon. Christians were in the household even of Nero.
2. God preserves them in their faithfulness.
(1) Service in a licentious court Obadiah would not have chosen. But he is in it and maintains his integrity. They that fear the Lord need not go out of the world.
(2) They have a testimony for God.
(3) They have opportunities of serving the servants of the Lord. Let us not murmur at our providential lot. God can change it if He see fit. If He does not change it, then He has a purpose in it which we should endeavor to fulfil. - J.A.M.
I. HIS FIDELITY. His name, Obadiah, "servant of Jehovah," is suggestive of the strength of his religious character. And it was probably no vain boast that he had always sustained it (ver. 12). It may seem strange that so good a man should have been willing to remain in the service of such a king, and of a state so demoralized and disorganized by the spirit of idolatry. But note -
1. Religious fidelity wins respect even from those whose own life is most at variance with it. Ahab must have known that his servant remained true to the God of his fathers, and his being continued in such a post was a testimony to his moral and practical worth. Like Joseph in the court of Pharaoh, and Daniel in Babylon, "the Spirit of God was in him," and the king could find none more worthy of his trust. The fear of God is after all one of the highest qualifications for the secular businesses and responsibilities of life, and "when a man's ways please the Lord he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him" (Proverbs 16:7).
2. It is often a noble thing to stand at the post of duty, however uncongenial the moral atmosphere may be. We have no reason to believe that Obadiah retained his position by any kind of moral laxity. He did not violate his conscience in maintaining his secular allegiance. Naaman the Syrian, in the zeal of his new devotion to the God of Israel, asked a dispensation of forgiveness if he should bow with his master in the house of Rimmon (2 Kings 5:18), but we have no evidence even of such a compromise as this in the case of Obadiah. There are times when religious principle itself dictates that men should refuse to relinquish positions of peculiar danger and difficulty; but when fidelity to an earthly master is absolutely incompatible with fidelity to God, an upright spirit will not long hesitate.
3. God may have some great purpose for His servant in such a case to fulfil. Obadiah's mission may have been to mitigate as far as possible the horrors of the famine, to save as he did the lives of the sons of the prophets (ver. 13); to exert, perhaps, some kind of restraining influence over the conduct of the king. At all events the presence of such a man in one of the high places of the land would be a standing proof that God had not utterly abandoned His people. Every situation in life has its grand opportunities; when there is no possible way of turning it to good account we may well forsake it.
II. HIS FEAR. "What have I sinned?" etc. Faithful as Obadiah was, there was an element of timidity in his nature. He shrank from the risk the commission of the prophet imposed on him. His timidity has two aspects.
1. So far as it meant distrust of Ahab it was natural. He knew only too well his capricious and despotic temper, and could not rely either on his justice or his clemency. "The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel" (Proverbs 12:10). "Let me not fall into the hands of man," etc. (2 Samuel 24:14).
2. So far as it meant distrust of Elijah or of the protective providence of God it was wrong. Could he think that the prophet would abuse his confidence, or that God would be unmindful of him, and after allowing him, for no fault of his own, to be involved in danger, would leave him to his fate? This shows weakness, and was unworthy of the character he bore. The best of men have their seasons of weakness, and fail sometimes under the pressure of unwonted circumstances to maintain the very virtues for which they are most distinguished. The meek spirited Moses is impetuous; the saintly David fails a prey to grovelling passion; the brave Peter proves a coward.
III. THE TRIUMPH OF HIS FIDELITY OVER HIS FEAR. The solemn asseveration of Elijah (ver. 15) rouses the braver spirit in him, and he responds to the call and goes to meet Ahab. When there is true nobility of character in a man, a word, a flash of light upon the realities of the situation, will often be enough to move him to put forth all his strength and shake off the spell of meaner feeling that may for a while have fallen upon him. - W.
I. THAT THE WICKED SEEK TO MALIGN THE GOOD.
1. Ahab accused Elijah.
(1) He assumed that all the horrors of the famine were the work of the prophet, and therefore sought to slay him. How many precious lives, in all ages, have been sacrificed to the theories of tyrants.
(2) This persecutor was terribly in earnest. He sought the prophet in Israel Then in neighbouring kingdoms. He even took an oath of the kingdoms that they did not shelter him. It were well for the world if men were as earnest in good as they are in evil.
(3) But God can hide His servants from the fury of their adversaries. In the solitudes of Cherith In the stir of Zarephath.
(4) Now Ahab accuses the prophet to his face. But see how his courage cools in the presence of the man of God. He frames his accusation mildly in the form of a question, "Art thou he that troubleth Israel?" Conscience makes tyrants tremble.
2. He found a pretext.
(1) Theorists can easily find pretexts for tyranny. Ahab seized upon Elijah's words (1 Kings 17:1), and drew his own inference.
(2) As these words were verified to the letter, the tyrant saw, or affected to see, his theory confirmed. This kind of reasoning is very common.
(3) Why did he not accuse God? Elijah acted as the servant of God. He feared to do this in form, though he did it in fact (see Proverbs 14:81; Matthew 10:40-42; Matthew 25:40, etc.; Acts 5:89; 9:1-15; Hebrews 6:10).
3. He had a motive.
(1) Why did not Ahab accuse himself? His conscience no doubt did this for him.
(2) But he could not afford publicly to bear the odium of having brought the miseries of the famine upon his people.
(3) Therefore he shifts the responsibility on to the shoulders of the prophet. How essentially does the spirit of the lie enter into all sin!
II. TRUTH COMES HOME IN DUE TIME.
1. Goodness will be vindicated.
(1) It may suffer long under the reproaches of liars. This is permitted because God is long suffering. He makes the trial a blessing to" those who are exercised thereby."
(2) But God is jealous for His servants. Therefore the triumphing of the wicked is but for a season. If the vindication takes not place in this world it certainly will in the next.
(3) Elijah had his opportunity. He repudiated the imputation of Ahab. Good men are true patriots. The trial on Carmel settled the question.
2. Sin will be shamed.
(1) Let it only be brought home, and it will cover the sinner with confusion.
(2) "Thou and thy father's house" have troubled Israel "in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord." Complicity in the sin of Jeroboam is specified here. This sin was a breach of the first and second commandments of the decalogue. It was also a forsaking of the Levitical law, which prescribed ceremonies that were but parodied in Ephraim. This offence was carried to its height in the statutes of the house of Ahab which were those of Omri (see Micah 6:16).
(3) "And thou hast followed Baalim." This was a sin introduced by Ahab himself, no doubt prompted by Jezebel The way of error is from bad to worse. Sin is the troubler of humanity. It invaded the tranquillity of Eden and broke it up. It brought down judgments of God upon individuals and communities. Upon Cain. Upon the antediluvians. Upon the cities of the plain. Upon Israel It has provoked wars, in whose wake came pestilences and famines. It troubles the abyss of hell. - J.A.M.
I. WHY HESITATE IN SEEKING HAPPINESS?
1. No joys can compare with the heavenly.
(1) There are, indeed, sad professors of the true religion.
(a) Some are constitutionally melancholy. This is a disease which certainly is not aggravated by the sense of the favour of God.
(b) Some have false views of religion. They caricature it into a sepulchral thing. They do it injustice.
(c) But the case most common is that sad professors do not experience what they profess. They halt between Jehovah and Baal - between Christ and Belial. In fashion. In friendships. In pursuits. So conscience stings them sore.
(2) When religion is true there is the best reason for joy.
(a) It brings emancipation from the slavery of sin.
(b) Deliverance from the tyranny of Satan.
(c) Adoption into the family of God.
(d) Heirship to everlasting life.
2. If sinners be not sad, the more shame.
(1) For sin degrades the man below the brute. As far below as the powers of a man are superior. The degradation of a devil would be impossible to a brute. If a man can be transformed into a compound of swine and devil and not be sad, this is the climax of depravity.
(2) Sin is perfidy to infinite love. Such ingratitude can only be reconciled with the absence of sadness upon the ground of the most shameful perversity.
(3) The sinner is befooled by Satan. In his reflective moods he must loathe himself; but Satan whirls him away from his reflections into some mad dance, and drowns the voice of his conscience in some boisterous laugh. So the fool still befooled exults in his folly. O shame!
II. WHY HESITATE IN SEEKING SALVATION?
1. Life is the determining period.
(1) It is the seed-time for the reaping in eternity. The yield then will be according to the sowing now. In quality: "After its kind." Also in quantity.
(2) Therefore the young have a splendid opportunity. They have time in their favour. "How long shall ye?"
2. Procrastination is precarious work.
(1) "How long (פסח) hop ye?" - this word denotes the passing over from one place to another - "between two opinions." It is used scornfully of the awkward leaping of the priests of Baal, in ver. 26. As the squirrel hopping from branch to branch may miss its footing and fall, so may the halting sinner hop into ruin.
(2) Consider the uncertainty of life. Read the gravestones. How enormous is the mortality amongst the young! Unroof heil!
(3) Consider the solemnities of eternity. The freshness and vividness of memory in the disembodied state. What a preparation for the day of judgment!
III. FOR INDECISION THERE IS NO DEFENCE. "The people answered him not a word." But there are motives to evil when there are no good reasons. Such are -
1. Conjugal influence.
(1) Ahab's heart was estranged from God by the influence of Jezebel His predecessors suffered from the same cause. Notably so Solomon.
(2) Beware of contracting ungodly matrimonial alliances. Remember the famine in Samaria. The same God still "ruleth in the kingdom of men."
2. The smile of favouor.
(1) Idolatry was favoured at court. The priests of Ashere feasted "at Jezebel's table." Mean-spirited Israelites sought court favour at the expense of the favour of God.
(3) True worshippers were persecuted. Elijah had to hide himself at Cherith and Zarephath. The sons of the prophets had to hide in the eaves of Obadiah. To keep a whole skin many hesitated. Will you encounter the frown of God to escape the sneer of an old companion?
3. The force of example.
(1) Elijah stood alone as the prophet of the Lord. He had with him a handful of laymen. Obadiah was conspicuous amongst them. If the prophets fed by Obadiah had issued from their caves, they did not stand forth on Carmel in their official character.
(2) The pronounced idolaters were a larger company. There were the prophets of Baal four hundred, and the prophets of Ashere four hundred and fifty, with a proportionate following.
(3) Still "the people" were vacillators. These were the majority. The power and influence of numbers were with the moderate people who would fain keep good terms with God and the devil. The halters are still the majority. How few amongst the multitude of the wicked have resolved in heart and soul that they will go to the devil! It is time you made up your mind one way or the other. How long halt ye? - J.A.M.
I. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF EVERY MAN AS REGARDS HIS OWN RELIGIOUS OPINIONS. That the people are rebuked for "halting between two" implies their power and obligation to decide. "Opinions," mental judgments, convictions (marg. "thoughts"), these are the root from which the fruits of all religious feeling and action grow. Here lies the secret guiding and formative power of a man's life. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." It is thought that inspires affection, moulds character, guides the will, determines conduct, rules the man. We cannot well exaggerate the importance of the relation thought bears to the highest interests of our being. But how are these "thoughts" of ours determined? Every man's religious ideas and beliefs, say some, are determined for him by a thousand influences over which he has no control - by early education, by the books that fall in his way, by human associations, native temperament, conformation of brain, etc. There is a measure of truth in this that we dare not ignore. These things have a great deal to do with the matter, and the fact should modify our judgment of the mental position of others in relation to religious truth, and teach us to watch carefully the bearing on ourselves of such influences. Many of us owe our Christian beliefs far more than we imagine to the force of favouring circumstances. We may well thank God that it is so; for as we mourn to think how many things there are that tend to distort the truth and hide it from man's eyes, so we rejoice that there should be so many channels through which the Light of Life may find its way into the soul. But however this may be, God holds every one of us under obligation to think for himself, judge for himself, believe for himself; to use with uprightness of spirit all the means within his reach for the formation of right opinions, to welcome and follow the light that shines from heaven upon his way.
II. THE DUTY OF A PRACTICAL CARRYING OUT OF ONE'S OWN HONEST CONVICTIONS. "If the Lord be God, follow him." The startling "sign" that was about to be given them was intended to decide this grave alternative. "The God that answereth by fire, let him be God." It was great condescension in Jehovah to suffer His claims to be thus put in seeming competition with those of Baal. But the prophet would have the decision of the people to spring from real conviction, and that conviction to be based on sufficient proof. And then let it be a practical decision - final, conclusive, manifest. Let there be an end to all this miserable vacillation, this shameful subserviency to the leading of Ahab and Jezebel and the Baal priesthood, this dark dishonour done to the God of Israel by the multiplication all over the land of heathen groves and altars. All true religious thoughts and opinions have reference to a true life. They are hollow and worthless unless consummated in tiffs. "Faith without works is dead being alone" (James 2:17). A heavy condemnation rests on those who "profess that they know God, but in works deny him" (Titus 1:16). It is a fatal inconsistency to believe in a God and yet not "follow Him." Have you true religious ideas and convictions? Translate your thinking into life.
III. THE URGENCY OF THE NEED FOR THIS PRACTICAL DECISION. "How long?" etc. We may suppose that the prophet was not only impressed with the tardiness of that generation in declaring once for all for the service of Jehovah, but with the memory of the weary provocation of the past, When will Israel be true and steadfast in her allegiance to her God and King? It is in every respect unreasonable, unmanly, and infinitely perilous to allow the question of your religious position to remain unsettled. - W.
The descent into national idolatry had been gradual. One step had made the next easy, and sometimes inevitable, till now the chosen nation was in the deepest degradation. Of this many of them were scarcely conscious. They had followed the example set by the court without remonstrance and without reflection. The opportunity for consideration had come at last. Elijah abruptly threw himself into the current of national life - like a gigantic rock in the stream, which cannot itself be stirred, but whose presence must make itself felt, and may divert the stream into another channel. The test he proposed to the people was obviously fair; indeed, it appeared to give every advantage to the worshippers of Baal. It was not fire but rain that the thirsty land required; but had he said, "The God that answereth by rain, let him be God," Baal's priests might argue that it was not water but fire that their God could rule. Elijah would fight the idol on his own chosen ground. Show how often advantage seems to be given to God's adversaries, as if they were allowed to make out the best cause they could, yet all to no effect. The wisdom of the world was left to the Church's foes. The people were not asked to do what was irrational, but were to have evidence, and this evidence was to be adapted to their sensuous character. Religion appeals to a man as to a rational being. The sin with which Elijah charged the people on Carmel was religious indecision, which we now consider.
I. THE CONDITION OF INDECISION.
1. It implies some enlightenment on religious subjects. Many heathen exist even in a Christian land. Living under the shadow of our sanctuaries, they are profoundly ignorant of God, of His claims, and of His gospel. They are not halting "between two opinions," for they have no opinion about a religious life, but are decided in their godlessness. Such was not the condition of Israel, nor of their modern representatives. There is no want of intellectual knowledge of scriptural truth complained of here.
2. It implies contradiction between theory and practice. The Israelites would not have denied the Divine interpositions of the past, and many would have admitted that the temple at Jerusalem was originally the true place for worship, etc. Like some in Crete, in Paul's days, "they profess that they know God, but in works they deny him."
3. It implies dissatisfaction with present condition. They were like men longing for something which they have not yet resolved to seek. So at Athens, some who heard Paul felt that his words were so wise and weighty that they exclaimed, "We will hear thee again of this matter." They were moved by transient feeling, like Felix (Acts 24:25) and Agrippa (Acts 26:28). To all such comes this protest against vacillation.
II. THE CAUSES OF INDECISION.
1. Want of thoughtful consideration. Many speculate about religion who have never yet cried, "What must I do to be saved?" A busy life diverts them from earnest thought, their powers being absorbed in worldly affairs. Or a frivolous habit of mind may prove their bane.
2. Deficiency of personal courage. It would require courage under Jezebel's rule to become worshippers of Jehovah. Give instances of the difficulties which beset earnest men in modern life, the necessity sometimes arising for true heroism on the part of those who would follow Christ.
3. Tendency to procrastination. Today is devoted to that which is evident to the senses, tomorrow to that which concerns the soul. Examples:
III. THE CONSEQUENCES OF INDECISION.
1. Increase of difficulties. Evil habits grow in strength. The simple spray of ivy can be gathered by a child's hand, but after the growth of years, though it is killing the tree, you cannot tear it off. A worldly man who is now impervious to good never meant to be what he is, but he expected that when the stress of making his position was over he would have time and inclination to attend to affairs of the soul. Imperceptibly God seems to have "given him over to a reprobate mind, because he did not choose to retain God in his knowledge."
2. Loss of opportunity. Even if it were easier to decide for God next year, it would be madness to delay. "Boast not thyself of tomorrow," etc. Read the parable of the Rich Fool - Luke 12:3. Irreparable ruin. If God's opportunity is lost, it will not be re-created after death. See how Christ spoke of Capernaum, of Chorazin, and of Jerusalem. "But now they are hid from thine eyes." "He that is filthy, let him be filthy still." In face of such penalties press home the question on the undecided, "How long halt ye between two opinions?" - A.R.
I. ISRAEL'S SIN (ver. 21).
1. Its nature: indecision, a want of whole-hearted devotion; "How long halt ye?" etc. They tried to combine both worships, bowing before Jehovah in secret, and publicly before Baal in the assemblies commanded by the court. There are two who contend today for our devotion and service - the world and God (1 John 2:15). The world has its rewards and demands; God has His.
2. Its folly. Both cannot be served. What we build in obedience to one we cast down in obedience to the other. "If the Lord be God, follow him," etc.
3. The necessity for its abandonment. The messenger sent to announce blessing (ver. 1) must first convince of sin and secure its removal. The blessings of God stand at the door, but they can enter only as our sins are cast out.
II. THE CHALLENGE (vers. 22-24).
1. A false test rejected. Baal seemed triumphant. Elijah stood alone, the prophets of Baal were many, and yet the cause had still to be decided. The pretensions of a faith are not established by numbering its adherents and weighing their influence. Truth has often stood alone, and may stand alone again.
2. The true test proposed. Baal's claims and Jehovah's are put to the proof. There is wrath against the land; which will remove the cause of it? By which will the sin offering laid upon the altar be accepted and the iniquity be removed? That test which alone met Israel's need could alone prove Israel's God.
3. The true test accepted. "And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken." Israel's answer will yet be the cry of all nations. The heart of the world will yet acknowledge the true God's work.
III. THE DECISION (vers. 25-39).
1. Baal tried and found wanting.
(1) The first choice was given to the priests of Baal. The world has had time enough to prove the truth of its pretensions, and to show whether it can meet man's need. The sacrifice has long lain upon its altar.
(2) The earnestness of the false prophets. The failure is not due to lack of effort on the part of the world's votaries. There is no path which has not been trod to find whether the world has aught to satisfy the cry of man's soul; there is no sacrifice it has called for that has been withheld.
(3) Their perseverance. Midday, the hour of the sun's might, was past, yet still they cried and cut themselves, etc. The boundless faith and unwearied efforts of the world's worshippers.
(4) The failure. The sacrifice lay unconsumed upon the altar, lay still there hastening to corruption, when the darkness fell and the priests lay weltering in their blood.
2. God tried and proved.
(1) God's altar built in the face of the world's discomfiture (vers. 29, 30). It was reared about the time of the evening sacrifice. "In the fulness of the times." "After that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased," etc. (1 Corinthians 1:21). The vanity of the world's way was proved ere Christ was manifested.
(2) The altar was one on which God had been served before ("He repaired the altar of the Lord which was broken down"). What was lost in the first is restored in the second Adam. The accepted sacrifice must be offered upon a perfect manhood.
(3) God proved to the uttermost (33-35). There is nothing where that sacrifice is set which the fire of God will not kindle and change into the glory into which that sacrifice itself is lifted.
(4) The answer. The fire fell; the accepted sacrifice went up in living flame which kindled all things round it - wood, stones, dust, water. We cannot test God in His own way without receiving an answer which will lift from the heart's depths the cry, "The Lord, he is God."
IV. THE JUDGMENT OF THE FALSE PROPHETS. The manifestation of God's glory is the hour of sin's overthrow. - J.U.
1. For Baal was the fire god.
(1) His name designates him as the lord or ruler. It comes from the verb (בעל) to own or possess, to be master of. But the sun, from its splendour and central position, accounted the visible lord in the material heavens, was their Baal. Sanchoniathon says the Phoenicians thought the sun to be the only lord of heaven, calling him Beelsamen, which in their language is lord of heaven. In "Beelsamen" we at once recognize the Hebrew בעל שׁמים.
(2) Baal was the fire or body of the sun, rather than its light. So in 2 Kings 23:5 we find Baal (בעל) distinguished from (שמש) the solar light. (See Parkhurst under שמש.) Parkhurst points out that the Runic or Islandic BAAL signifies fire, the Saxon BAEL, and BAEL-FYR, a burning pile, a pyre, a bonfire. Probably our bonfire is simply a corruption of Bael-fyr.
(3) The image of this idol was a bull. This animal was by the ancients regarded as the emblem of fire. The similitude seems to have been in its red colour, in the curled hair upon its forehead giving the idea of flame, in the horns budding from its head suggesting the darting of rays of light from the sun. In Tobit (1:5) we read of "the heifer called Baal." We have the name of this god still preserved in our English bull.
2. The controversy was whether Baal was independent of Jehovah.
(1) His worshippers claimed this for him.
(2) Elijah maintained the opposite. And with cogent reason, for during three years and six months Jehovah made Baal punish his votaries.
(3) Now the prophet proposes the further test of a sudden miracle. If Baal be god, if he be independent of Jehovah, let him come down and consume the sacrifice offered to him. If he cannot, then why should he be worshipped? If Jehovah can send fire on his sacrifice, then is He manifestly Lord of Baal, and should be so acknowledged.
(4) That suitable acknowledgment of God which such a miracle demands, implies -
(a) Recognition of His almighty providence and lordship over the material and moral universe.
(b) The engagement of all our powers in His worship and service.
II. SO WAS THE MANNER OF THE TEST.
1. The prophets of Baal had precedence.
(1) Not because Baal was entitled to it, for that would be a concession of the argument, but because they were many. Elijah stood alone the prophet of the Lord, while the idolatrous prophets were 850 men.
(2) They were to provide the sacrifices. They were wealthy. Elijah was poor. They could not object to the test when the sacrifices were of their own selection.
2. The experiment was to be fair.
(1) Not only might the priests of Baal choose their bullock, cut it in pieces after their approved method, lay it on the wood of the altar; but they must "put no fire under." Else where would be the proof of the ability of Baal? Under some heathen altars holes were dug in which fire was concealed, which communicating with the alter set the wood on fire to make the simple people believe that the sacrifice was consumed by miraculous fire. This Elijah would not permit.
(2) Ordinarily the sacrifices offered to Baal were offered in fire; and sometimes human sacrifices were so offered. "They built the high places of Baal to burn their sons with fire, for burnt offerings" (Jeremiah 19:5). The Phoenician Baal seems to have been identical with the Ammonite Molech. "They built the high places of Baal which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech (Jeremiah 32:35).
(3) Ashtaroth also were virtually the same as Baalim," under which plural term are included diversified Baals, as Baal Peor, etc.; and so in ver. 25 the prophets of Baal are said to have (אלהים) "gods," in the plural
(4) These had their various images, in some of which the man and bull came into union. The Assyrian man bull so conspicuous in the Nineveh marbles, is probably one of these. Let us bless God for our Christianity. It is pure light. Compared with it other systems are dark with ignorance, superstition, and error. It is supreme benevolence. Happy is its contrast to the characteristic cruelties of idolatry. - J.A.M.
I. THEIR PRAYER WAS EARNEST.
1. They began early.
(1) Everything seems to have been in readiness soon after daybreak; so that almost as soon as their Apollo looked out of the eyelids of the morning the cry arose, "O Baal, hear us!" (2) Worshippers of Jehovah should not be less zealous. The early morning was chosen by His devoted servants (see Genesis 19:27; Genesis 22:8; Exodus 24:4; Job 1:5; Psalm 5:3; Psalm 59:16; Psalm 88:13; Mark 1:35). Such exercises will be a noble preparation for the day. 2. They persisted. (1) They continued their supplications until noon. As the sun rolled upwards in the heavens their hopes rose. As it neared the zenith they felt it was now or never and 850 voices in full chorus cried, "O Baal, hear us!" (2) Even when the noon point was turned and their god was sinking in the west, still they urged their suit, adding to their entreaties frantic gestures and mingling their own blood with their sacrifice. (3) Idolatry is essentially cruel, and in this contrasts strongly with the service of Jehovah (see Leviticus 19:28; Deuteronomy 14:1). The cruel penances of Rome are kindred to those of Baal's servants. "The devil is a murderer." Of bodies. Of souls. (4) Persistency should mark the servants of God. Jacob wrestled all night with the angel at Penuel, and at daybreak prevailed. The parable of the importunate widow was given to impress this lesson. We should ask until we receive. (5) How blessedly has persistency been rewarded! Ministers have seen this; parents; Sunday school teachers; tract distributors. II. BUT IT WAS MISDIRECTED. 1. Their god was contemptible. (1) He was destitute of the attributes they ascribed to him. The sun, though a glorious body, is but matter. It has no more intelligence than a flint. How the intellects as well as the eyes of men are dazzled with splendour! (2) How different is the true God! He is a Spirit - invisible - omniscient - omnipresent - omnipotent - holy - just - good. He claims, and should receive, the homage of all our faculties. 2. Their worship, therefore, was ridiculous. (1) So Elijah thought when he stung them with mockery. "He is a god!" (כי אלהים הוא) he is a supreme god l Here is a fine stroke of irony. This weapon of rhetoric was used by our Lord" Art thou a master in Israel and knowest not these things?" (2) "He is talking." He is so stunned with the thunder of his own voice and with the voices of his associates in the pantheon that he cannot hear the ordinary voices of mortals. Therefore "cry aloud." Or "he is (שיח) meditating (margin) - in a brown study, in a reverie - and must be roused. (3) Or he is pursuing," or "hath a pursuit." He is so engaged with some other matter that he cannot hear your feeble voice. What sort of god is yours? (4) "Or he is in a journey" - so far away that your prayer will be useless unless you can cry aloud. (5) "Or peradventure he sleepeth and must be awaked." You must first raise a clamour about his ears to arouse him, or you pray in vain. How doubtful must be the success of any worship paid to such a god! 3. Ridicule was righteously applied. (1) It should never be substituted for reason, as too often it is. It is a favourite weapon with sceptics who are at a loss for an argument. (2) But where reason is wasted upon stupidity then it is fitting. Elijah was silent from sunrise till noon, when the experiment had a fair trial and failed. Then he rallied the idolaters with a ridicule that was full of argument. (3) When evening set in they gave up the contest in despair. There is an evening coming in which all contests with Jehovah shall so terminate. - J.A.M.
(2) Worshippers of Jehovah should not be less zealous. The early morning was chosen by His devoted servants (see Genesis 19:27; Genesis 22:8; Exodus 24:4; Job 1:5; Psalm 5:3; Psalm 59:16; Psalm 88:13; Mark 1:35). Such exercises will be a noble preparation for the day.
2. They persisted.
(1) They continued their supplications until noon. As the sun rolled upwards in the heavens their hopes rose. As it neared the zenith they felt it was now or never and 850 voices in full chorus cried, "O Baal, hear us!"
(2) Even when the noon point was turned and their god was sinking in the west, still they urged their suit, adding to their entreaties frantic gestures and mingling their own blood with their sacrifice.
(3) Idolatry is essentially cruel, and in this contrasts strongly with the service of Jehovah (see Leviticus 19:28; Deuteronomy 14:1). The cruel penances of Rome are kindred to those of Baal's servants. "The devil is a murderer." Of bodies. Of souls.
(4) Persistency should mark the servants of God. Jacob wrestled all night with the angel at Penuel, and at daybreak prevailed. The parable of the importunate widow was given to impress this lesson. We should ask until we receive.
(5) How blessedly has persistency been rewarded! Ministers have seen this; parents; Sunday school teachers; tract distributors.
II. BUT IT WAS MISDIRECTED.
1. Their god was contemptible.
(1) He was destitute of the attributes they ascribed to him. The sun, though a glorious body, is but matter. It has no more intelligence than a flint. How the intellects as well as the eyes of men are dazzled with splendour!
(2) How different is the true God! He is a Spirit - invisible - omniscient - omnipresent - omnipotent - holy - just - good. He claims, and should receive, the homage of all our faculties.
2. Their worship, therefore, was ridiculous.
(1) So Elijah thought when he stung them with mockery. "He is a god!" (כי אלהים הוא) he is a supreme god l Here is a fine stroke of irony. This weapon of rhetoric was used by our Lord" Art thou a master in Israel and knowest not these things?"
(2) "He is talking." He is so stunned with the thunder of his own voice and with the voices of his associates in the pantheon that he cannot hear the ordinary voices of mortals. Therefore "cry aloud." Or "he is (שיח) meditating (margin) - in a brown study, in a reverie - and must be roused.
(3) Or he is pursuing," or "hath a pursuit." He is so engaged with some other matter that he cannot hear your feeble voice. What sort of god is yours?
(4) "Or he is in a journey" - so far away that your prayer will be useless unless you can cry aloud.
(5) "Or peradventure he sleepeth and must be awaked." You must first raise a clamour about his ears to arouse him, or you pray in vain. How doubtful must be the success of any worship paid to such a god!
3. Ridicule was righteously applied.
(1) It should never be substituted for reason, as too often it is. It is a favourite weapon with sceptics who are at a loss for an argument.
(2) But where reason is wasted upon stupidity then it is fitting. Elijah was silent from sunrise till noon, when the experiment had a fair trial and failed. Then he rallied the idolaters with a ridicule that was full of argument.
(3) When evening set in they gave up the contest in despair. There is an evening coming in which all contests with Jehovah shall so terminate. - J.A.M.
Job 1:12, 16; Revelation 13:13, 14); but God restrained him. The people were now convinced that Baal was not able to hear his priests; so they drew round Elijah, and observed the order in which he proceeded with his preparation.
I. HE REPAIRED THE ALTAR OF THE LORD.
1. Then there had been an altar of the Lord on Carmel.
(1) Some great man, as Abraham or Samuel, had built an altar there. Its relies remained a memorial of the piety of earlier times. Influence for good or evil is posthumous.
(2) This mount was, in consequence, reputed as holy. Perhaps this determined Elijah in his choice. Holy places were formerly more important than they are under this spiritual dispensation (see Malachi 1:11; John 4:20-24; 1 Timothy 2:8).
2. But this altar had been "broken down."
(1) Not only had it fallen into decay, but it had suffered from the hand of violence. Probably this was one of the sad evidences of the wicked zeal of Jezebel It was significant of the apostasy of the times (see 1 Kings 19:14; Romans 11:2, 8). Idolatry was in favour at court; courtiers therefore favoured it; so did the multitude who followed the fashions.
(2) Such influences still are potent. Idolatrous fashions in dress. In furniture. Even in religion.
3. Elijah would not use the altar used by the priests of Baal.
(1) The service of Jehovah must be pure. It must not be contaminated by the remotest connection with idolatrous abominations. Let us search our hearts (see 2 Corinthians 6:15-18).
(2) In repairing the disused altar of Jehovah, Elijah showed that his was no new religion, but that of the fathers of the nation. So he significantly rebuked the apostasy.
4. Twelve stones were employed in the repairs.
(1) This was "according to the number of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the Lord came, saying, Israel shall be thy name." This was done to show that, though ten of the tribes had separated from the house of David, still, in worship there should be no division (see Genesis 32:28; Exodus 24:4; Joshua 4:5, 20).
(2) "The twelve stones being for the twelve tribes were the mystical body of Him who was their sacrifice and altar both, or who offered His own body, and suffered in it, and who was promised to be accepted in the name (ישראל) Israel, i.e. (ישר) pleasing to, right with, or upright before (אל) the Lord (see Matthew 3:17). But
(3) It was also prophetic of the healing of all schisms in the mystical body of Christ in the happy time to come (see Ezekiel 37:21, 22).
(4) All this the prophet did "in the name of the Lord" (ver. 32). By His direction; therefore with notable significance. For His glory. And since God so expressly authorized such a deviation from the Levitical law, does it not indicate that that law had its principal value in its typical teaching, and that when the antitypes came it should pass away? (See Colossians 2:22; Hebrews 8:18.)
II. HE PREPARED THE SACRIFICE.
1. "He put the wood in order."
(1) Why did he not dispense with the wood? The celestial fire certainly did not need it, for it fell upon the sacrifice before it touched the wood, and was so fervent that nothing could stand before it. Stones and dust could no more resist it than wood. Had the wood been intended for fuel, would the prophet have overflowed it with water?
(2) The order was usual in sacrifices. It was observed for typical purposes. The holocaust was a type of Christ, our Sacrifice, who, when consumed in the holy fires of the Godhead on the altar of Calvary, was laid on the wood of the Cross.
2. He poured writer upon the sacrifice.
(1) He poured it in great quantity and with much deliberation, for in preparing the altar he dug a trench to receive the overflow (vers. 32-35). The water probably came from a deep well-spring in the mountain side rather than from the Kishon. The Mediterranean seems out of the question. Josephus states the well to have been the source (Ant. 8:13).
(2) It was conveyed in four barrels, and these were filled and emptied three times, thus making twelve. Here again we meet with the number of the tribes of Israel. The order, viz., in sets of four three times repeated, was that of the stones in the high priest's breastplate, upon which were engraven the names of the tribes.
(3) Could this sign be intended to show that a plentiful rain would shortly come upon all Israel? And further, that it should come through the repentance of the people for whose sin it had been withholden? That it should come through the return of the people from the altar of Baal to that of Jehovah? If so, then in this sign the gospel also is preached to us. We too must be saved from spiritual drought and death through repentance towards God and faith in Christ. - J.A.M.
Genesis 4:5; Leviticus 9:24; Judges 6:21; 1 Chronicles 21:26.) About a century before this that fire came from heaven which was still kept burning upon the altar at Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 7:1). But Carmel is not Jerusalem; and Jehovah has not promised to record His name here. And, should Elijah fail, then would they fall upon him and destroy him. Yet, on the other hand, he is an extraordinary servant of Jehovah; his word concerning the rain and dew has come true; so may his confidence respecting this answer of fire be honoured. Such thoughts flashed through their minds; but the moment has arrived; the preparations are complete. Now observe -
I. THE PRAYER.
1. It is offered at the time of the evening sacrifice.
(1) The stated evening sacrifice is now on the temple altar. Elijah holds communion with that altar. He, too, though on Carmel, is a true worshipper of the God of David. There are differences in religious worship sanctioned by God which must not be accounted schism. Protestant Nonconformists are not necessarily schismatics.
(2) It is the "hour of prayer." Prayer should ascend with the sacrifice; Christ should be in an our supplications. The hour of prayer was the "ninth hour" (Acts 3:1), that hour in which Jesus "cried with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit" (Matthew 27:50). So in submission must we yield up our spirits with his in prayer to God.
2. It pleads for the honour of God.
(1) It reminds Him of His covenant. "Jehovah Elohim of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel." With these patriarchs He had established His covenant. They knew nothing of Baal's covenants.
(2) "Let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel." Let those who will not acknowledge Thee be confounded. (See Joshua 2:11.) Let those who repent be reconciled to Thy favour.
(3) "Let it be known this day in Israel that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word." Else to have so acted would have been the height of presumption. But with the authority of God mistrust would have been presumption. We are bound to believe the promises of God.
3. It sues for mercy to the penitent.
(1) "Hear me, O Jehovah, hear me, that this people may know that thou art Jehovah Elohim;" that Thou art the self existent, covenant keeping God.
(2) "And that thou hast turned their heart back again." The blessings of the covenant are conditioned upon faith. Without repentance there is no tame faith.
(3) How few are the words of this prayer! No vain repetitions. How wide the contrast with the clamour of Baal's priests!
II. THE RESPONSE.
1. Then the fire of the Lord fell.
(1) There was no mistake about it. It was indeed the "fire of Jehovah" - miraculous fire; for it worked downwards, contrary to the ordinary operation of fire, which works upwards. The sacrifice was soon consumed. Then the wood. The water was licked up. The very stones and dust were vitrified and volatilized.
(2) The destruction of the altar pointed to the pleasure of God that patriarchal high places should be removed, and that all Israel should henceforth worship at the Levitical altar of the temple at Jerusalem. This is the last instance on record in which God accepted a sacrifice offered on a patriarchal altar.
(3) But where now is Baal? Is not that celestial fire which was worshipped as a god completely in the hands of Jehovah?
2. The demonstration was irresistible.
(1) "When all the people saw it they fell upon their faces." Here was an act of reverence towards God. It was the sign also of their renunciation of Baal.
(2) This confession in symbol was accompanied by a corresponding confession in words. "And they said, Jehovah, he is the Elohim; Jehovah, he is the Elohim." Words are signs of a fuller expression.
(3) But words must be followed up by deeds. The prophets of Baal have now to be sacrificed. The law required this. (See Deuteronomy 13:1-11.) They were accordingly slaughtered by the brook Kishon. Thus was returned upon their heads the slaughter of the prophets of the Lord. (See vers. 4, 18.)
(4) The retribution was complete. Some are of opinion, because the "prophets of Baal" only are mentioned, that the 400 prophets of Ashere were absent and escaped. But this does not follow, for the prophets of Ashere might be included under the designation "prophets of Baal," as Saul's sons are included in his name. (See 1 Samuel 31:8-18; 2 Samuel 21:13.) The prophets of Ashere certainly were present. (See vers. 19, 20; also 1 Kings 19:1.) Let us confess the Lord. In signs: observing His sacraments and ordinances of worship public and private. In words: confessing Him before men upon all fitting occasions. In deeds: bringing forth the fruits of good living, and sacrificing the idolatries that would lead us astray. - J.A.M.
I. THIS WAS THE SOUND OF SALVATION.
1. Rain was salvation to the nation.
(1) Three years and six months of drought brought it to the point of extinction. The heavens were brazen; the earth was scorched. The people were blackened with excessive heat, and worn with want. Their numbers were thinned by death; survivors moved like skeletons on the edges of their graves.
(2) To such the sound of rain is tidings of life. Let it come, and soon, in such a climate as Palestine, vegetation will burst into verdure. There will be "seed for the sower and bread tot the eater."
2. It was a sign of spiritual blessings.
(1) The kingdom of nature was constituted to furnish apt similes of the kingdom of grace. The blooming of the desert after rain is a familiar figure of spiritual revival. (See Isaiah 35.;55:10-18.)
(2) The descent of rain is a figure of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the receptive soul (Isaiah 32:15). Water, a purifier, refresher, vitalizer, fittingly sets forth His energies; and as these are active, so in baptism the element should come upon the person as rain upon the passive earth. (See Acts 2:8, 4, 17, 82; 10:44-48.)
3. Revivals have their premonitions.
(1) The sound comes before the rain. It is heard in the branches of trees, and in the waves of seas and lakes. So is a coming revival discerned in the Church by emotion under the word, interest in religious services public and private, and increased evangelistic activity.
(2) This is first heard by the spiritual. Elijah was the first to hear the sound of the coming rain. It begins in the higher heavens before it reaches the earth. Those who are much in prayer have the sensitive ear to hear "afar off." (Compare 2 Peter 1:9.)
II. THE CONDITIONS HAD BEEN FULFILLED.
1. Sin was repented.
(1) The people saw the impotence of Baal. He could not answer for himself. They were now convinced of their folly in submitting to such a delusion. So it must be with every sinner whose eyes are opened.
(2) They destroyed the authors of their delusion. They slew the prophets of Bash Not one escaped. So in the most complete manner must our evil lusts be slain. No power must be left to them to lure us from the truth again.
2. Christ was accepted.
(1) Elijah must show himself to Ahab as a condition of rain (ver. 1). Ahab so far accepted him as to submit to his directions. But Elijah was a type of Christ, without whose revelation of Himself to us we can have no spiritual grace. (See 1 Kings 17:1.)
(2) Elijah was a type of Christ in his persn. His name (אליה and אליהו) is "My God Jehovah," or, "Whose God is he," expresses the union of God and man in Christ.
(3) He was a type of Christ also in his office. All prophets were types of the One Great Prophet. Elijah, who was remarkable amongst the number, eminently so.
(4) He, too, united with his office of prophet the functions of the priest. He offered up the sacrifice on Carmel. In this sacrifice the people accepted Jehovah as their covenant God. So must we likewise accept God in Christ. In token of their communion with Jehovah they appear to have feasted on the sacrifices. With the burnt offering there were doubtless peace offerings, for these were usual accompaniments, upon which the worshippers feasted. This was the eating and drinking to which Elijah moved Ahab (ver. 42).
(5) Elijah also was a type of Christ in his character of Intercessor. While Ahab and his people were partaking of the peace-offerings, "Elijah went up to the top of Carmel, and cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees." He bowed reverently in prayer with his head towards the ground - an attitude still observed in the East. So Christ, in the heights, makes intercession for us.
3. The blessing came.
(1) While Elijah interceded he sent his servant to look for the signs of the coming blessing. In this parable, in which the prophet is still the type of Christ, his servant stands for the Church, whose duty it is to look for the fruits of the Redeemer's pleadings. Are we thus looking?
(2) The servant went, and went again and again before he witnessed any sign, in which the lesson to us is that while Christ pleads we must never be discouraged, but "hope to the end."
(3) At the seventh time the promise appeared in a cloud as of a man's hand rising out of the sea, which was to be followed by others in rapid succession until the heavens were "black with clouds and wind," and the thirsty earth was visited with copious showers of refreshing rain. This was prophetic of that seventh time, or "fulness of time," when the hand of God shall act in the sea, or among all nations, and raise that "plentiful shower "which shall refresh His weary inheritance (Psalm 68:9). Meanwhile Elijah sent his servant to Ahab, saying, "Harness the horses, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not."
(4) Now the parable is changed. Ahab, the king of Israel, after the destruction of the prophets of Baal, riding as in triumph, and attended by the blessings of heaven, is the type of Christ. So Elijah runs before him in the spirit and power of God. The Baptist accordingly came "in the spirit and power of Elias," as the forerunner of Christ, in His first advent, to establish His spiritual kingdom. But Elias, in person, will be His harbinger when He comes again, in the fulness of His blessing, to establish a visible and everlasting kingdom (Malachi 4:5). - J.A.M.
I. ELIJAH'S ASSURANCE OF GOD'S MERCY. "There is a sound of abundance of rain," but it was only as yet a sound in the prophet's ear.
1. The ground of the assurance.
(1) God had promised (per. 1), He would therefore fulfil His word.
(2) The preliminary work which He had sent him to do was accomplished. The people's heart was turned. Their sin was washed away. The curse would surely, then, be also removed. We build a still mightier trust on God's consistency. "tie that spared not his own son," etc.
2. The use he made of it. "He said unto Ahab," and through him to all Israel, "Get thee up," etc. The work of the believer is to comfort God's people, and strengthen their expectation of good.
II. HIS PREVAILING WITH GOD.
1. The assurance of God's mercy does not exclude prayer. "Ahab went up to eat and drink," but "Elijah went up to the top of Carmel." The worldling may expect good and know nothing of supplication; not so with the man of God. Expectation is but encouragement to prayer. The desire that the blessing might come at once and cause the seed of faith to spring up in the people's hearts, made earnest prayer more necessary to Elijah than the refreshment which his body craved.
2. The utter lowliness of the true worshipper. "He cast himself down upon the earth." His face was hid. The man who stands nearest God is the lowliest of all God's worshippers.
3. His importunity. He did not cease till his prayer was granted. Again and again was the servant sent till the small cloud was seen.
III. HIS ATTEMPT TO PREVAIL WITH MAN.
1. His message to Ahab ("Prepare," etc.) showed his care for the king. He was a foe to the sin, but not to the man.
2. He honoured him. He "ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel." The mighty prophet became the erring king's servant. The ministers of God must seek to win the sinful as well as to smite their sin. Hatred and contempt will neither advance God's cause nor man's well being. - J.U.
I. THE SPIRITUAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BLESSING SOUGHT. The New Testament justifies us in regarding the rain which Elijah prayed for as a type of the Holy Spirit, without whom our hearts are barren, and the moral world is dead. See, for instance, how boldly the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews evolves from the tabernacle what those who constructed it little imagined. Take as another example the allusion which Paul makes to the rock in the wilderness, in which he says emphatically, "That rock was Christ." Recall passages in which the descent of the Spirit is likened to the failing of rain and the distilling of dew. Points of analogy: the grounds on which the heavenly blessing is withheld; the misery that follows its absence; the preparation and prayer for its coming; the subsequent fertility of the barren land, etc. The sins of our age are not unlike those of Elijah's time, though they are less gross in form. The enervating luxuries of civilization, the indifference of many to the decline of religion, the deification of force and of lust, are examples. There has been a forsaking of the Lord on the part of His people, and hence this barrenness of good, in spite of all our toil; because there is a withholding of the gracious influences of the Divine Spirit. May He "come down as rain upon the mown grass, and as showers that water the earth."
II. THE SPIRITUAL PREPARATION FOR THE BLESSING PROMISED.
1. Self forgetfulness. Elijah was personally provided for, and would lack nothing. His heart bled, however, for the suffering people. For them he prayed. We want more of such soul burdening on the part of parents and pastors.
2. Reformation. By the execution of the false prophets, Elijah had done all that in him lay to put away evil. Sins are obstacles in the way of descending blessings. We cannot win the Holy Spirit by good conduct, but we may hinder His work by our sin. Sin is a bar across the sluice gates of benediction, and must be removed or broken before the dry channel can be flooded.
3. Prayer. It is in the Epistle of James that we are told that Elijah's prayers brought both the drought and the rainfall. The fact that the prophet heard the sound of abundance of rain stimulated his supplication, and did not prevent it. He did not argue that God would send the storm whether he prayed or not, but believed that the reception of blessing was inseparably connected with the offering of prayer. Similarly the Holy Spirit was promised to the disciples, but they met to pray till He came. "Ask, and you shall receive."
4. Watchfulness. Elijah was so sure of God's fidelity and goodness that he sent his servant seven times to look for the faintest sign of rain. We need watchfulness for the following reasons:
(1) The answer to prayer does not always come when and how we expect it. E.g., we ask for holiness, and God sends an illness, in which our murmuring closes our heart against the very blessing that is then nearing us. Or we pray for spirituality, and have the possibility of it presented to us in some unexpected joy, which too often makes us more worldly than grateful. Or we entreat God for the salvation of our child; and because we do not watch, we fail to recognize the sign and pledge of the Holy Spirit's work in the child's eager questioning and simple prayer.
(2) The answer to prayer may be long delayed. Elijah was not discouraged even by the sixth repetition of the despairing phrase, "There is nothing." Yet on that very day his one earnest cry had instantaneously brought down fire from heaven. How often like the Psalmist we say," Hath God forgotten to be gracious? .... Wait on the Lord, wait patiently for him."
(3) The answer to prayer may begin in what seems trifling. A cloud the size of a man's hand, hardly describable on the horizon, was enough to transfer Elijah's prayer into praise. Little in itself, it was the beginning of a glorious blessing. The baptism of the Holy Spirit will not suddenly fill the world with worshippers; but it will be seen, perhaps, in the turning to God of one lad, who shall prove the Elijah of his age; or in the new light given to one who has long been under the shadow of doubt; or in some holy resolve, some noble thought that shall presage blessing to the world. Slight and insignificant as it may seem, gratefully welcome it, and still hope, and wait, and pray, till He "come and rain righteousness upon us." - A.R.