By J.R. Miller
1 Kings 17:1-16
"Now Elijah, who was from Tishbe in Gilead, told King Ahab,--As surely as the LORD, the God of Israel, lives--before whom I stand--there will be no dew or rain during the next few years--unless I give the word!"
ELIJAH was a remarkable man. His heroic and single-handed contest with Ahab and the Baal religion, gave him prominence and power. He was the greatest man of his nation at the time. The fact that he was 'taken up to heaven in a whirlwind' also sets him apart among men. Then the still further fact that he appeared nine hundred years after this, still living and active in the service of God, on the Mount of Transfiguration, gives to his name an interest which attaches to almost no other one of the Old Testament prophets.
His first appearance was sudden--he broke in upon Ahab, unheard of before, so far as we know, with a startling message. His origin is not clearly known. Probably he was a native of the mountain region of Gilead. If so, he grew up in solitude, amid wild mountain crags and rushing torrents. He was a sort of Bedouin in his dress, habits, and manner. He was startling in his movements. He knew no Master but God. He waited for the divine bidding, and then went, as swift as the wind, to obey it. He was a man of strong faith. He took God's Word literally, believing that God meant just what He said. He never doubted, never questioned, never feared. To him God was intensely real. To many of us, God seems little more than a dim, pale, far-away vision; but to Elijah no other being was so actual. We need more of the sense of God's reality to give us sturdier faith and more heroic consecration.
Elijah defines his relation to God in the phrase, "As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand." He meant that he was God's messenger, always standing before God's face, ready to go instantly on His errands. He never sat down in God's presence--but always stood, girded and sandaled, ready for immediate running. Too many of us are slow in obeying. It takes us a long while to get ready to start on an errand on which God bids us go, and then we loiter or move languidly, as if scarcely half awake.
In His commission to the seventy our Lord commanded that they should greet no man along the way. He meant that there was not a moment to be lost, that His business required instant haste. Too many of us not only delay in starting--but dally on the road. Then when we come to the place of need--we find the time has passed by, for the duty which we were sent to do.
The announcement which Elijah made to Ahab, was a startling and dismaying one. There should be neither dew nor rain in the land--but according to the prophet's word. This one man seemed to have power to shut up the heavens, until he chose to call again for rain. This was because he lived with God and always did His will. We are told by James, that it was in answer to Elijah's prayer--that no rain fell during those three and a half years.
Elijah was sent into retirement, while the penalty for the king's sin should be visited upon the land. He was hidden from human sight and divinely cared for. God is never at a loss to find a way of providing for His children. All things are His servants. The brooks, the water, the birds, the beasts of the field, the wings of ravens, the waves of the sea--all creatures, all things, animate and inanimate, belong to Him--and are ready to serve Him at His call.
Some people trouble themselves much about miracles, asking how God can interrupt the regular order of nature to do any special favor for a child of His. If we understand how completely all things are in God's hands, it will not be hard for us to believe that God can do what He will--in His own world. He cannot be the slave of His own laws. Perhaps none of us ever have been fed by ravens, as Elijah was fed beside the brook Cherith; but in other ways, no less marvelous, God brings our daily bread to us continually. Railroad trains carry it across continents, or ships bear it round the globe, to bring it to our tables. We are too wise in these days, know too much science, to get the most perfect comfort from the promises of God.
Who ordained nature's laws? What is nature's fixed order, but God's regular way of doing things? If our faith were but more simple, and if we let the Bible words enter our hearts without worrying about how God can keep His promises, we would have less anxiety and deeper peace.
Elijah, at least, had no trouble with his question of miracles. When he heard the divine command, "he went and did according unto the Word of Jehovah." He did not say he could see no way of getting food down in that deep, dark gorge. That was not his business at all--that was God's matter. All the prophet had to do was to obey the divine command; God would look after the rest. We say we have faith--but when we read a promise, we cannot quite trust it unless we can see how it is going to be fulfilled. That is not faith--that is walking by sight. Faith is resting our head where we can see no arm; walking where we can see no path--but confident the path will be opened; trusting for bread when there is no visible supply--yet never doubting that the bread will be ready for us when we need it.
Elijah was cared for, for some time in his first hiding place. But by and by, in the drought, the brook dried up. That is the way this world's brooks always do. At first they flow full and fresh; then they begin to waste, and soon they are dry altogether. This is a picture, too, of all earthly joys. But when the brook dried up, God had another place ready. "Arise, and go to Zarephath." God did not send Elijah to Zarephath while the brook had water in it. There was no need that He should do so then. It was a test of Elijah's faith--to watch the stream growing smaller and smaller every day. "What shall I do when this brook runs dry?" he might have asked; at least, many of us would have asked this question quite anxiously, as we saw the water run lower and lower. But probably Elijah did not ask the question at all, for he knew that God would have something else ready--when this supply was exhausted.
One morning, however, there was no water at all in the brook, and the prophet had to eat a dry breakfast--only bread and meat. Still he did not worry. After his breakfast the Lord told him to move on. We should never doubt God's care. No matter how low the supply gets, though we have to come down to the last mouthful of bread and the last cupful of water, and still see no new provision ready--we are to take the last loaf and cup with gratitude, believing that God will have something else in time for our next meal.
Elijah did not find the prospect very bright either, when he came to Zarephath. He met there a very kindly woman--but one whose resources were almost entirely exhausted. Although a Gentile, she seems to have known Elijah's God. Then she had a generous thought for the stranger who came to her gate. She had faith also, for when Elijah told her that if she would provide for him, that her small supplies should not grow less until the famine had ceased, "she went and did according to the saying of Elijah." That is, she took the little handful of flour she had, and the little oil, and made a cake for her hungry guest, and then another for herself and her son. It is only when we do God's bidding, that He blesses us with His help. Until we fulfill our part--God's part will not be supplied. Had this woman not believed and obeyed, the wonderful two or three years' miracle in her house, would not have been wrought.
We must notice also the woman's generosity. She showed hospitality to a stranger. Blessings do not come to selfishness. If she had prepared a meal for herself and her son, and had left the hungry stranger outside unfed, there would have been no miracle of increase. We must be ready to share our little with others who need--if we would receive blessings on ourselves.
The woman was well rewarded for her faith and kindness. She and her son were fed until the end of the drought. If the prophet had not come to her door that morning, she and her household might have perished in the famine. Or, if she had refused the prophet's request, saying she could not possibly spare anything for a stranger, when she had so little for herself--she and her household would have starved before the rain came. The meal and the oil wasted not, because she shared it with another.
There is withholding that brings poverty; there is scattering that brings increase; there is giving that makes rich. The way to get blessing--is to be a blessing. If your love is growing cold, go and help somebody that is in need--and your heart will be warm again. In human needs that appeal to us--are folded up blessings which we can get, only by ministering to those needs.
"The jar of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail." God did not prepare enough oil the day the famine began, to last through the famine. Indeed, there never was more than a little handful of meal and a little oil, always on hand. But the supply never grew less. After each day's food had been taken out--there was always another day's food left. Thus the lesson went on all the while--each day faith had to be exercised, for the next day's supply. God wants us to learn to live by the day. Our Lord teaches us to pray, "Give us this day--our daily bread." Enough for the day--is all we are to ask for. If we have only one day's provision, and are doing our duty faithfully; we may trust God for tomorrow's food--and it will come when tomorrow comes.