By J.R. Miller
1 Kings 19:1-16
It is little wonder that Jezebel was furious, when she learned from Ahab--of the slaughter of her priests. She vowed vengeance upon Elijah. "May the gods also kill me if by this time tomorrow I have failed to take your life like those whom you killed!" It was a trying hour for Elijah, and for once he flinched.
"So you intend to be a reformer, young man?" asked an old peer of young Wilberforce. "That is the end of reformers," he continued, pointing to a picture of Jesus on His cross. Those who would contend with error--must always expect opposition, possibly persecution, possibly death! To be a bold confessor anywhere is to face enmity, sneers, reproach. Even Christian boys at school or at work--will ofttimes have to endure petty persecutions if they remain true to their Master.
We have been accustomed to think of Elijah as a man who would flinch before nothing. But we are disappointed this time in our man. "Elijah was afraid and fled for his life!" Possibly he did right, We are not required always to face danger. There are times when it would be foolhardy to do so, when we would only be throwing away our life. Jesus said to His disciples, "When they persecute you in this city--flee into the next." On several occasions, in the earlier days of His ministry, Jesus Himself withdrew from danger, because His hour had not yet come. There are times, of course, when we must stand--and not flee. At the last, when His hour had come, Jesus made no effort to escape from His enemies--but quietly yielded Himself into their hands. There are times in every life--when to flee from danger would be cowardice and treason to the Master. But we have no right to sacrifice our life--unless it be clearly in obedience to the divine call. We cannot blame Elijah, therefore, for fleeing from the wrath of Jezebel.
In what followed, however, we cannot defend the prophet. Not only did he flee--but he became panic-stricken. "Then he went on alone into the desert, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD," he said. "Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors!" He was in a state of sad despondency. It was not fright that produced this condition of mind--it was discouragement. It seemed to him that all he had done, all the struggle at Mount Carmel, had come to nothing. There are few things we need to guard against more carefully, than discouragement. When once we allow ourselves to come under its influence, we are made weak. Our hope and courage fail.
In every line of life we find discouraged people, and the discouragement takes away much of their power for work. It surely is a sad picture--this greatest and bravest of all the old prophets, lying there under a little bush in the wilderness, begging to die!
There are many other illustrations of similar experience in godly men. John the Baptist, lying in prison in the castle of Machaerus, began to question whether, after all, Jesus, whom he had baptized and upon whom he had seen the Spirit descending, was indeed the promised Messiah. Luther, another Elijah in his bravery before rulers, once became so depressed that all joy left him. It is said that one morning, when he was in this mood, his wife came down to breakfast dressed in deep mourning. Luther looked up in amazement, and said, "Who is dead?" His wife answered: "Why, do you not know? God is dead." He reproved her for her words. "How can God die? He is eternal." "Yet," she replied, "from the way you are cast down--one would think God must be dead." Then Luther saw what a wise woman his wife was, and mastered his mood.
Elijah was a man of prayer. He is mentioned in the Epistle of James as an example of a righteous man, whose supplication availed much in its working. Here, however, his prayer for death was not answered. It was well for Elijah, too, that the prayer was not answered. If he had died there--what an inglorious ending of life it would have been! As it was, however, he lived to do further glorious work, to see great results, and instead of dying in the wilderness, missed death altogether.
It is never right to wish ourselves dead. People are sometimes heard expressing such a wish--but it is always wrong. Life is God's gift to us, a sacred trust for which we shall have to give account. As long as God keeps us living--He has something for us to do. Our prayers should be for grace to bear our burden and do our duty bravely unto the end.
Any discouraging experience, and the things we think have failed us--may cast down into despondency. But the things we think have failed us--are often only slowly ripening into rich success. Thus the night of discouragement passes away--and the day of blessing follows. We have but to be faithful and to wait--and in the end we shall always rejoice.
It was only a little bush under which Elijah crept, and its shadow furnished but scant protection from the heat. Yet a blessing came to him there. He slept. "He gives His beloved sleep," writes the psalmist. Sleep is a wonderful blessing. God hides us away in the darkness, and while we sleep, he brings gifts of life to us. He fills up again the wasted fountains of life, and we rise in the morning renewed and strong, ready for new service.
It was only a little juniper bush under which the prophet slept that day. There is another tree under which God's discouraged ones may find real and true comfort--the tree of Calvary. Angels come there, too, with their sweet refreshment and gentle ministry. There food is furnished to satisfy the soul's deepest craving. There all blessings of mercy and grace are dispensed. A story is told of one who fled from a gathering storm, taking refuge under a great tree. He was both hungry and thirsty. On the tree he found fruit for his hunger, at the tree's roots a spring of water gushed out, and there he quenched his thirst. Just so, under the cross we find not only shelter--but also food and drink. When we are in any trouble we should go and sit down in the shadow of the cross of Christ, and we will find there all we need of divine comfort and help.
When he had slept for a time, an angel came and touched him, and bade him arise and eat. Here, again, we see God's loving gentleness. First, sleep, with its refreshment; then food. God did not cast off His servant because he was so discouraged and depressed. He followed him in his flight and kept watch over him all the way. There is great comfort in this fact for us. God is very patient with us in our weakness and failure. He gave Elijah sleep, and then food, until his exhausted nature was refreshed. Very much spiritual depression is caused by the condition of the body. Ofttimes the best cure for despondency, is sleep and food until the nerves are quiet and the body is restored to healthy conditions.
The prophet was strengthened, and "went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights." When we have long journeys to take, God prepares us for them. When hard experiences lie before us, we are divinely fitted for meeting them. Whenever God sends us on any journey, into whatever desert it may be--He will make provision that we faint not by the way. Many people whose lot in life is hard--go through the days with cheerful, songful spirit because every morning, in prayer, God gives them food which makes them strong for the journey. Those who feed upon the Word of God are strengthened for the journey of life.
While Elijah was in the cave in the mountain, God came to him. This was still part of his work of restoration. Elijah was discouraged, and God would bring him back to his usual gladness and hope. He came to him in the stillness and asked him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" When we find our friends in great sorrow, the best thing we can do for them ofttimes is to give them an opportunity to open their hearts. That was what God did here--He asked this question that Elijah might unburden himself. Of course, God knew all about Elijah's discouragement; but it did the prophet good to tell it. We need never be afraid to open our heart to God, telling Him every anxiety, every care. He understands, and will never chide us. It will do us good to speak freely to Him, even if our fears are only imaginary.
Elijah had thought that he was alone in his loyalty and courage in standing for the Lord. He had thought himself the only loyal follower of Jehovah. No other one had had courage to come out and make himself known that day on Mount Carmel. This made it all the harder for Elijah. It is easy to fight in company with other men--but to face the enemy alone, is the sublimest test of a soldier's courage. The real test of a Christian life--is not in church services, nor in a Christian home--but where the believer must stand by himself. The young man who finds himself the only Christian clerk in the bank or the office, may find his duty hard. But this should only inspire him with fresh courage and strength. He is the only one Christ has in that place, and he dare not fail. Suppose Elijah had not stood for God that day, had flinched and fled, what would have been the consequence? We never know what may depend on our standing loyally and faithfully at our post, even in lowliest places.
The Lord continued to comfort His servant. He did it now in a wonderful parable in nature. A great wind tore the mountains--but the Lord was not in the wind. An earthquake followed--but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire--but the Lord was not in the fire. "And after the fire--a still small voice," a sound of gentle stillness--and that was God. Elijah had been discouraged by the failure of the startling work at Carmel, that it had not altogether crushed Baalism. The Lord shows him that noise is not the most stupendous quality of power, that it is not noise which makes the deepest impression. God works silently, without noise. It is the silent things, the unconscious influences of our lives, that make the deepest and most lasting impressions, and not the things which get advertised in the papers. Jesus was "a still small voice" in this world. He made no noise--He did not strive nor cry out, neither was His voice heard in the streets. He did not break a bruised reed, so gentle was He in His movements. Yet that one sweet, quiet life, pouring forth its spirit of love, wrought more than has been wrought by all the armies of conquerors since the world began.
The Lord then sent Elijah on to other duties. "Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat to succeed you as prophet." Elijah was thus assured that other men in their turn would come upon the field, each one doing his part for the destruction of this terrible system of idolatry. No man's work is complete in itself. Elijah did a part, and then Hazael and Jehu and Elisha, each coming in turn, did a part, until the destruction of Baalism was completed. All we have to do--is the little fragment of duty which God gives to us. Others have gone before us--and have done a part. Others will come after us--and do another part. If we simply do our little portion in our own day--we shall please God and bless the world.