1 Kings 18:7-22
As Obadiah was walking along, he saw Elijah coming toward
him. Obadiah recognized him at once and fell to the ground before him. "Is
it really you, my lord Elijah?" he asked.
"Yes, it is," Elijah replied. "Now go and tell your master I am here."
"Oh, sir," Obadiah protested, "what harm have I done to you that you are
sending me to my death at the hands of Ahab? For I swear by the Lord your
God that the king has searched every nation and kingdom on earth from end to
end to find you. And each time when he was told, 'Elijah isn't here,' King
Ahab forced the king of that nation to swear to the truth of his claim. And
now you say, 'Go and tell your master that Elijah is here'! But as soon as I
leave you, the Spirit of the Lord will carry you away to who knows where.
When Ahab comes and cannot find you, he will kill me. Yet I have been a true
servant of the Lord all my life. Has no one told you, my lord, about the
time when Jezebel was trying to kill the Lord's prophets? I hid a hundred of
them in two caves and supplied them with food and water. And now you say,
'Go and tell your master that Elijah is here'! Sir, if I do that, I'm as
good as dead!"
But Elijah said, "I swear by the Lord Almighty, in whose presence I stand,
that I will present myself to Ahab today."
So Obadiah went to tell Ahab that Elijah had come, and Ahab went out to meet
him. "So it's you, is it—Israel's troublemaker?" Ahab asked when he saw him.
"I have made no trouble for Israel," Elijah replied. "You and your family
are the troublemakers, for you have refused to obey the commands of the Lord
and have worshiped the images of Baal instead. Now bring all the people of
Israel to Mount Carmel, with all 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets
of Asherah, who are supported by Jezebel."
So Ahab summoned all the people and the prophets to Mount Carmel. Then
Elijah stood in front of them and said, "How long are you going to waver
between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God,
then follow him!" But the people were completely silent.
Then Elijah said to them, "I am the only prophet of the Lord who is left,
but Baal has 450 prophets."
"And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from
God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell
upon those who saw them."--Rev. 11:11
For three and a half years, a price had been set on the
head of Elijah. The bloodhounds of Ahab had been on his track, but had
failed to discover his lurking-place. Obadiah, in search of provender for
the cattle belonging to his royal master, had taken the westerly direction
from Jezreel, along the great plain of Esdraelon. At some turn of the
highway, on this great battle-ground of Hebrew history, all at once he
confronts the strange figure of the missing prophet, with his mantle and
staff. The royal Chamberlain, startled at the unexpected apparition,
prostrates himself to the earth, and exclaims, in half-doubting
bewilderment, "Are you my lord Elijah?" He had perhaps supposed, like many,
that with the announcement of the drought, Elijah's prophetic work and
mission had been finished; and that he had either retired to his native
Gilead, or had possibly been taken to heaven to receive a prophet's reward.
High in rank and position as Obadiah was, it shows the blended reverence and
awe with which he regarded the prophet, when he falls down "on his face
before him," addressing him as "my lord," and speaking of himself as
"your servant"--the subservient language of a slave to his master.
Elijah's command is to go forthwith to Ahab--"Go, tell
your master, Behold, Elijah is here." Obadiah, at first, with what in the
circumstances, perhaps, was not altogether, as has been supposed, a
blameworthy or cowardly hesitation, remonstrates. He knows the dark purposes
of hate and revenge in his master's bosom towards the Prophet; that the
people, also, maddened with the horrors of famine, would be eager to support
the vengeance of their king. If Elijah fell into their hands, his head would
to a certainty be hung that night on the gate of Jezreel. If, therefore, in
obedience to the prophet's wish, he proceeded to inform the king that the
troubler is found; he concludes either that Elijah will forfeit his life, or
else that the God of Elijah, to defeat the king's purpose, will transport
his servant miraculously to some other Cherith or Sarepta, and shelter him
there. On the latter supposition, Obadiah dreads the consequences to his own
person. The monarch would wreak upon him his disappointed revenge. He
would charge him as being in secret league with his enemy, and deal with him
as a traitor to the throne. The Tishbite relieves his apprehension. He gives
him the promise, that that very day, before the sun set over the brow of
Carmel, he would show himself to his royal master. Obadiah is reassured, and
assents to Elijah's directions.
The message is delivered. The king in hot haste sets out
from his palace, and soon the prophet and he stand face to face. How
strangely diverse the two characters! The prophet of Jehovah, and the
champion of Baal; the upholder of the true religion, and the abettor of
lies--Light confronting darkness--Truth confronting error. They meet like
two charged thunder-clouds, and we watch, with bated breath, the bursting of
When the impetuous monarch finds that the prey he has
been seeking for years, is at last within his grasp--could we wonder should
the instigations of the queen and his own uncontrollable passion drive him
to cruel extremities, and the dust of the highway be stained with the
Tishbite's blood? When Ahab reins up his horse, he is the first to speak.
But the very sight of that commanding figure--the brave heroic
prophet--seems at once to unman him. His narrow soul shrivels in his
presence. Instead of summary vengeance--instead of the order we expected to
hear given to his armed soldiers, "Let the traitor die!" and their swords at
the summons leaping from their sheathes--his rage expends itself in the
feeble challenge--"Are you he that troubles Israel?"
The God of Elijah has the heart of that king in his hand,
and turns it "even as He turns the rivers of water;" He has said to the
proud waves, "Thus far shall you go, and no farther." "Are you he that
troubles Israel?" How does Elijah meet the charge? He imagines himself alone
loyal to the God of his fathers, amid the thousands of an apostate kingdom;
with the full consciousness that monarch, queen, princes, courtiers,
priests, people, were leagued against him. Do we find him cowering in abject
terror at Ahab's feet, imploring on any terms for life; or else, endeavoring
to disarm the king's wrath, by telling him that the occasion of it is now at
an end--that he has Divine authority for commanding that the windows of
heaven be opened, and for unbarring the long-closed gates of famine; so
that, if the accusation has been hitherto correct as to his being a 'troubler
in Israel,' he will prove to be so no more? No! his are no such coward lips.
The eye of 'the Prophet of Fire' flashes--and he returns in a voice of
thunder--"I have not troubled Israel; but you and your
father's house, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and
followed the Baals."
Brave, undaunted man!--noble type of every faithful
minister of God--boldly speaking out the truth; uninfluenced either by fear
or by flattery--scorning all compromise, all unworthy servility, and taking
as a guiding principle the words of the great Apostle--"If I please men, I
am not the servant of Christ." Many there are who will listen long enough,
and patiently enough, to general discourses on the truth--to
general denunciations of sin, or eloquent expositions of virtue and
holiness--but who resent closer personal remonstrance--the faithful charging
home of the darling sin. Herod bore with the stern Preacher of the desert,
so long as he kept to his general theme--Repentance. But when he came
to speak plainly of Herodias, "It is not lawful for you to have her"--then
the frown gathered on his countenance, and the outspoken reprover was sent
in chains from his presence. Would that we had more Elijahs among
us--fearless rebukers of all vice and wrongdoing--who, unmoved and
undeterred by the world's fashion and opinion, would unsparingly lash the
conventional follies and sins of the times, whatever these may be.
But to return--What is to be done? Elijah, as master of
the occasion, dictates to his sovereign what the urgent nature of the crisis
imperiously demands. In the name of his God, he proposes to gather together
"all Israel" to Mount Carmel. A mighty throng it is to be, and the place
selected is befitting convocation-ground. Such was the theater for "a
conflict more momentous than any which their ancestors had fought in the
It was a momentous question which was to be decided--"Who
is the Lord? Jehovah or Baal?" Is the God of the Patriarchs to be
re-enthroned on His altars and in the hearts of the children of Abraham? Are
the silver trumpets to gather a willing people in the day of His power? Or
are these heirs of the old covenant to barter their birthright for a base
superstition? By a worse than Philistine invasion, is the bitter cry of "Ichabod!"
to ascend from the broken heart of the solitary Prophet, the last ray and
relic of the departing glory?
Imagine the vast concourse gathering. The flanks of the
mountain teem with the living mass. As they are assembling, perhaps at
sunset, and pitching their tents on the varied slopes of the elongated hill,
so as to be ready for the great scenes of the morrow, let us note the
three parties of which the multitude is composed--for that crowd on
Carmel is a typical picture of the Church and the world to this hour.
Our eye first falls on the ROYAL TENT, with the spear in
the ground and the rich Tyrian banners floating overhead. An hour ago,
deafening plaudits rose from the throng, as the prancing coursers swept
past, bearing there the monarch with his courtiers. Close by them are those
most deeply concerned in the issues of the day--rank on rank of Phoenician
priests, flaming in gorgeous vestments of purple bespangled with gold. There
are eight hundred and fifty of them altogether; four hundred and fifty of
these are Baal's ministers; you may know them by the sun-symbol on
their embroidered dress; and these four hundred with the symbol of the
crescent moon, are the priests of the goddess Astarte, who have been housed
in the royal palaces of Israel, and have places assigned them at Jezebel's
table; these again, supported by thousands around, who, in blindfold
ignorance, had followed the creed of their atheist king. Such constitute one
of the companies in that heterogeneous crowd. They have that adjunct which
impiety and irreligion often have upon their side--human power and
influence. They have sold themselves to work iniquity. They have publicly
dethroned Jehovah, and espoused idols, saying, 'Who is the Lord Jehovah,
that he should reign over us?'
The second class or company was small indeed. For
anything we can tell, there may have been several composing it. Obadiah's
faithful hundreds may have come out from their caves, those rocky caverns
which are still shown in the gorges of Carmel as their supposed
hiding-places. But ELIJAH is the only representative of this second group
who is mentioned in the sacred narrative. Though there is nothing imposing
about him externally--though he wears the roughest garb--though he has been
living for years in cave or lowly hamlet, dependent for his daily meals, now
on the birds of the forest, now on the charity of a poor Gentile widow; yet
there is something truly royal about that solitary man as he stands like a
lone rock towering amid the chafing waves! He has One on his side (and he is
conscious of it) 'mightier than the mightiest.' He knows that as a prince he
has power with God, and is about to prevail. He is there the delegate of
true, believing, loyal-hearted Israelites, worshipers of the living
Jehovah--those who are still steadfast in their allegiance to their fathers'
God--uninfluenced by court-intrigues or by the fear of man--who had wept
many a secret tear over the grievous national apostasy--and in cave and
lonely forest, "faithful among the faithless," had often breathed the
ancestral prayer, "Arise, O God, and let your enemies be scattered."
But there was still a third, and by far the most numerous
class, to which adhered the bulk of the people. It was made up of those who
were swayed between opposing views--divided in opinion, hesitating upon
which side to declare; conscience, perhaps, pointing one way, and
self-interest another--a false feeling of deference to the king--blind,
slavishly loyalty, leading them to adopt the idolatrous court-faith--on the
other hand, all the sacred memories of their history, and the recorded
kindness of the God of Israel, rebuking them for the baseness of their
apostasy. It was for them--this fickle, undecided rabble, but who
really constituted the numerical strength of the kingdom--it was for their
sakes Elijah demanded the convocation--"Gather to me," he says, all
Israel." Again, it is "the people" whom he addresses with the
startling words, "How long halt you between two opinions?" He saw they were
laboring under a ruinous delusion--ruinous to themselves, and most insulting
to the God he served.
They evidently imagined they could compromise
matters; that they could amalgamate the worship of Jehovah and Baal. They
were not willing to forget that they were the historical descendants of
those who had seen the Divine Majesty shining gloriously on Teman and Paran--for
whose sakes the waves of the Red Sea had been rebuked, and Jordan driven
back. They were not disposed altogether to discard their ancestral
traditional creed; but they desired to incorporate it with the licentious
rites of the idols of Tyre. If persecution threatened to descend against
those who refused thus to blend the Phoenician with the Hebrew ritual, they
were not so wedded to the latter in its integrity, as to be ready to suffer
or to die for it. They could not dream of undergoing the martyr-life of
those who were hiding in the mountain-caves of Samaria, fed on bread and
water. They would appease Ahab, and absolve their own consciences, by
espousing both creeds. They would retain that of their fathers, but
blend with it the impurities of the Phoenician worship.
Have we not here a vivid and truthful picture of the
professing Christian world in every age? It, also, has ever had its three
distinct classes. The BAAL-WORSHIPERS--the atheist class--whose virtual
religious creed is "no God." Speak to them of the God of Elijah, and their
secret retort is, "Who is the Lord, that he should reign over us?"--"Depart
from us, for we desire not a knowledge of your ways." Such are the slaves of
custom in religion as in everything else--who have no conscience of their
own--no settled convictions of duty. They do as Ahab does. Their miserable
religious theory is, that all creeds are alike; or rather, if their feelings
were analyzed, that all religion is a pretense and delusion--the lie which
superstition has palmed off, and which ignorance has perpetuated. Having
overthrown the altar of God, they are sacrificing daily incense at the
Baal-shrines of self, pleasure, lust, and sin!
A second class are the TRUE WORSHIPERS of God--(and,
blessed be His name, there has never yet been an age, and never shall be,
when these are not found.) The thousands, or the ten thousands; or, it may
be, only the units, who have "not bowed the knee to Baal." His true
Israel--the salt of the earth--pillars which prevent the fabric of society
from tottering to its base. Those who love His name, and do His
commandments, and seek to promote His glory. Those who, like Elijah, would
sooner die than be unfaithful to Him, or do homage at an unhallowed shrine.
The Enochs and Noahs of patriarchal times. The Lots amid the iniquity and
worldliness of Sodom. The Daniels amid the snares of Babylon. The "few
names," even amid the grievous indifference of Sardis, who have "not defiled
their garments." The hundreds around us, who, amid manifold temptations--the
ridicule of evil companions--the power of degrading worldliness--the
enticing snares of vice--are faithful to their God and Savior. In one word,
those who are Christians indeed--who know holiness to be happiness, who have
confessed the Lord to be their God, and would not barter the joys of true
religion for all the gains and gold of earth, and all the painted baubles of
One other class still remains; and we fear, as in
Elijah's time, by far the most numerous. It is the mass--the vast
mass of the vast of UNDECIDED. Those who are half-hearted
Christians--"borderers"--hovering on the confines of light and darkness--of
truth and error--who have not repudiated religion--no, who nominally profess
to be on God's side; but who, in reality, are on the side of Satan. Waverers,
like the waves of the unstable sea, "driven by the wind and tossed!" They
have the wish to die happy and go to heaven at last; but they cannot make up
their minds, as yet, to renounce their favorite sins. They wish to flee to
Christ as their Savior--but not yet. They wish to give up the world's
follies and sins--but not yet. They wish to shake themselves free of
their enslaving lusts--but not yet.
Their immortal interests are all this while trembling in
the balance. They have had their convictions, their impressions, their
serious thoughts, their hours of penitence; the tear of remorse has stood in
their eye, and a trembling prayer has faltered on their tongue--but they
have never yet had courage or resolution to make the great decision, to cast
in their lot unmistakably on the side of God. They are living for both
worlds, and losing both. They have enough of religion to make them unhappy,
but not enough to save their souls! A little religion is the most miserable
of all states. It becomes an accuser, not a comforter. It is the thorn in
the flesh--the lash of the scorpion. Better remain at Jezebel's table, than
come feeble, irresolute, half-hearted, to Carmel--to hear the thunder tones
of the Prophet--to see the fire of God descending. Yet scorning it all.
Look at the effect of Elijah's bold remonstrance. The
people were awestruck. He had touched their consciences. They felt his
appeal and rebuke to be only too true. They stood silent and self-condemned!
And the same feeling of self-condemnation must come home to multitudes
still--that they have for years, and that, also, while enjoying many
religious privileges, been living on in guilty uncertainty as to their
soul's everlasting salvation--attempting to unite
impossibilities--attempting to join what Heaven has divorced--to serve God
and Mammon--Jehovah and Baal--holiness and sin!
Nothing is so displeasing to God as this divided
heart--this attempting to blend and incorporate what can as little be
blended, as oil can commingle with water, or darkness with light. "I would,"
he says, "that you were either cold or hot." He demands the whole heart or
nothing. There can be no middle ground and no intermediate ground. The
saying is solemnly explicit, "He that is not with me is against me."
Are there some among us, who, like the multitudes on
Carmel, are silent under the question?--who feel that theirs has been worse
than indecision--the hollow name to live, while they are spiritually dead?
God is not willing that you should perish. He is ready to meet you on Cannel
with His overtures of mercy--the remonstrances of His own unwearying love!
Listen to His voice and admonition, 'O you sons of men, how long will you
love vanity? How long barter the finite for the infinite, the temporal for
the imperishable? O Israel, you have destroyed yourself, but in me is your
help found!' He sets before you life and death, salvation or destruction,
heaven or hell. Listen to the great gospel declaration--the alternative is
for you to select--"If you seek Him, He will be found of you; but if you
forsake, Him, He will cast you off forever!"