Handfuls on Purpose
by James Smith, 1943
ADONIJAH; or, THE CONQUERED REBEL. 1 Kings 1:5-9, 41-53.
"On the verge of never-ending woe
Man doubting stands. Yet plumed with pride the while,
Folding his arms in self-admired repose,
Cased in self-confidence."—Williams.
Adonijah was a man with a beautiful name, "My Lord is Jehovah," but with a heart stuffed with grace-withering pride. David's stormy life was about to close. The winsome Absalom had been suddenly cut off in the midst of his vain-glorious career. Now the handsome-looking Adonijah aspires to the throne of his father. Like many another child of beauty, he had evidently been half spoiled through a father's indulgence (v. 6; Proverbs 29:15).
I. See him Exalted. "He exalted himself, saying, I will be king" (v. 5). "He who exalts himself shall be abased" (Luke 18:14). Satan's lie, "You shall be as gods" (Genesis 3:5), is ever a tempting bait to the proud heart. He prepared him chariots and horsemen, and spread his great bribery feast, but "Solomon he called not." Yet he who was allowed no part in all his plans and purposes was the one chosen of God to prevail. It is ever the sinner's way to exalt himself, to the exclusion of Him whom God has sent to bless (Acts 3:26). "Pride goes before a fall."
II. See him Ignored. David said, "Assuredly Solomon shall reign after me" (v. 30). "And they blew the trumpets and said, God save King Solomon" (v. 39). While Adonijah was exalting himself, Solomon, the despised and rejected, was being exalted, and anointed by both priest and prophet (v. 45). There is another King, one Jesus, whose right it is to reign, and whom God has exalted Lord over all, blessed forever. All who exalt themselves against Him will find that their claims and pretensions will be as utterly disregarded by God as were those of Adonijah by David. Those who, in the pride and self-confidence, exalt themselves against the Christ of God will assuredly waken up in the end to find themselves rebels and liars, deceived and defeated. Let the would-be independent remember that there is Another who is quite independent of their independence.
III. See him Awakened. It must have been a terrible shock to Adonijah when Jonathan came hastily with the news that, "Truly our lord King David has made Solomon king, and that he sits on the throne of the kingdom" (vv. 42-46). Jonathan was a faithful messenger. He told the whole truth, keeping back nothing. And if his message cut the young Pretender to the heart, proving him to be a self-deceived rebel, be was not to blame for that. The Gospel that was a savor of life to the followers of Solomon was a savor of death to Adonijah and his adherents (v. 49). The moral is plain. Jesus sits on the Throne of His Father. All who exalt themselves against Him are rebels. The message is, "He who believes not is condemned already." Saul, on the way to Damascus, had quite as sudden an awakening as Adonijah (Acts 9:3-5).
IV. See him Saved. Here we might note—
1. The Constraining Cause. "Adonijah feared because of Solomon" (v. 50). Why should he not fear? The man who has been made to see himself an alien to the good purposes of God has surely great cause for fear. There is no living creature under Heaven that will not seek safety through the feeling of fear. Those who sneer at the thought of being saved through fear have usually no objections to put up their umbrellas through fear of getting wet when overtaken by a shower. Where there is a true sense of danger there will be fear. "Noah, moved with fear, built the Ark" (Hebrews 11:7).
2. The Place of Refuge. "He caught hold on the horns of the altar" (v. 50). Neither the altar not its horns would have much attraction for him before the fear of death laid hold on him. It requires a sense of sin and guilt to make the place of atonement desirable and precious. "The preaching of the Cross is, to them that perish,
foolishness, but to the sin-convicted soul it is the saving "power of God." In laying hold of the horns of the altar he was binding himself, as it were, a sacrifice unto God (Psalm 118:27).
"Other Refuge have I none,
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee."
3. The Changed Life. "He came and bowed himself to King Solomon" (v. 53). In verse 5 we see him "exalting himself," but now he "bowed himself." The rebel is suddenly transformed into a servant. Solomon, the king of peace, bids him go in peace. He has found peace with the king through the altar of sacrifice. The life that was forfeited because of sin has now been saved by grace, that it might become the servant of righteousness (Luke 1:74, 75).
SOLOMON'S CHOICE; or, FULLNESS OF BLESSING. 1 Kings 3:1-16.
"True wisdom is not gotten, but is given;
Not dug out of the earth, but dropped from Heaven:
Heavenly, not earthly, is the brightness of it."—Lytton.
It was said of Solomon that "the Lord loved him" (2 Samuel 12:24). How fitting it is to find it stated now that "Solomon loved the Lord" (v. 3). Surely the love of God for us should awaken in our hearts love to Him. It was a very exceptional opportunity that came to Solomon when God said to him, "Ask what I shall give you." Such special privileges, laden with Almighty and eternal possibilities, don't usually come within the reach of any of God's servants without some unusually solemn preparation. It was certainly so with Solomon.
He had gone to Gibeon, a journey of seven miles, and had a long and solemn time of great sacrificing. "One thousand burnt-offerings" he has seen laid on the altar. His whole mind and heart were filled with thoughts of the holiness of God, the horribleness of sin, and the great holocaust atonement. As Solomon lay down that night to sleep, with a deep sense of his own weakness and unworthiness, God appeared to him in a dream, with such an offer of grace as was sufficient for all his needs. If we would be honored of God, then our souls and in our substance we must honor him. We shall consider—
I. The Divine Offer. "God said, Ask what I shall give you" (v. 5). Let us pause and think of who it is that makes this offer. This "I" is the I that fills eternity. It is the offer of Him who is the Creator and Possessor of all, whose Name is Holy, and whose nature is Love. Think again of the abounding generosity of the offer. "What I shall give you." Only one chance like this is needed to enrich a soul for time and eternity. In making this offer God was as it were laying all the wealth of His Divine Character and Kingdom at the feet of Solomon, that he might be filled out of all the fullness of God. But does the Lord come to us with an offer like this? Yes, He has done more, for in the gift of His Son the whole wealth of "His unsearchable riches" lie continually before us for our daily appropriation. Even without our asking, yes, while we were yet sinners, He gives His all in dying for us.
II. The Wise Choice. "Give Your servant an understanding heart" (v. 9). It was not enough that he should have the opportunity of choosing; he must make up his mind and speak out his request. Every Gospel hearer has the opportunity of making such a choice, but how few like Solomon seek the hearing heart (margin). It was a wise choice, because it—
1. Covered all his Need (vv. 7, 8). A heart quick to hear the guiding, comforting words of God would strengthen and sustain him, as a "little child" set by the grace of God "in the midst of a great people." If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God (James 1:5). "Christ is made of God unto us wisdom," etc. In choosing Him we choose that which covers all our need.
2. Pleased God (v. 10). It pleased God, because what he asked was not for any mere selfish advantage, but for His honor and the good of His people. We always ask amiss when we would consume it on our own pleasures (James 4:3, margin). Are not our prayers often choked with the cares and anxieties of self-interest?
III. The Abundant Answer.
1. He Got what he Asked. "I have given you a wise and an understanding heart" (v. 12). God alone can work in us such a gift as this. This is eternal life to know Him. The promises of God are meant to be claimed and definitely fulfilled in the experience of the believer. Ask and you shall receive.
2. He Got More than he Asked. "I have also given you that which you have not asked, both riches and honor" (v. 13). He sought first the Kingdom of God, and all other things were added, and added in such plentitude that Solomon exceeded all the kings of the earth for riches (1 Kings 10:23). He who finds Christ finds wisdom, and happy is that man, for riches and honor, and length of days are his (Proverbs 3:13, 16). "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you." Lord, give me the "hearing heart," that Your will may be done in me, and that the people may be blessed through me.
A ROYAL INQUIRER. SOLOMON AND THE QUEEN OF SHEBA; 1 Kings 10:1-13.
"You are not guilty because you are ignorant, but you are guilty when you resign yourself to ignorance." —Mazzini.
The coming of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon may be a fore-glimmering of that time when a "Greater than Solomon" shall reign, and when kings shall come to the brightness of His rising (Isaiah 60:1-3). The wisdom of Solomon was the wisdom of God, from whom every good and perfect gift comes (chapter 3:12). There would be more anxious inquirers everywhere if there were more of God's servants in possession of this rare gift— a "hearing heart" (chap, 3:9, margin). The Queen of Sheba is mentioned by our Lord and Savior, as a warning and example to those who, after, should hear of the wisdom of Him who is the wisdom of God (Matthew 12:42).
I. She Heard. "The Queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon" (v. 1). It should be specially noted that this fame was "concerning the Name of the Lord." In the report which came to the ears of the "Queen of the South " the wisdom of Solomon was vitally connected with the Name of Jehovah. Is it not so also with the Gospel which has been brought to our ears? There is a oneness between the wisdom and power of Jesus Christ, and the Name or character of the Eternal God and Father. The secret of His fame was concerning the Name of His Father. Blessed are the ears that so hear (Matthew 13:16).
II. She Inquired. "She came to prove him with hard questions" (v. 1). She did not make light of it (Matthew 22:5). She felt that this Heaven-born wisdom of Solomon's might bring light and comfort to her own beclouded mind; and although she hardly believed all that she heard she would satisfy herself with a personal inquiry. So she came Just as she was, with a "Very great train" of camels and servants, and "communed with him of all that was in her heart" (v. 2). She was both an anxious and an honest inquirer. Go you and do likewise. You have heard of the saving fame of Jesus. Go and prove Him by telling Him all that is in your heart. You have more encouragement than this queen had, for you have a pressing invitation (Matthew 11:28).
III. She Received. "Solomon told her all her questions" (v. 3). There was nothing hid from the king that she required to know. We cannot believe that her questions were in the nature of puzzles. Suck trifles would be entirely beneath the dignity of the wisdom of God. We believe that her riddles contained real intellectual difficulties, and that the darkness in her mind was dispelled by the light of Heaven. Oh, how she would marvel as her difficulties one after another disappeared in the dawning of the truth of God as revealed by the Lord's anointed! So shall it be when a troubled soul communes with Jesus. He is the Truth. He knows what is in man, and all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid in Him.
IV. She was Humbled. "When the Queen of Sheba had seen all there was no more spirit in her" (vv. 4, 5). When she contrasted Solomon's wisdom, his house, his table, his servants, and his way up with her own, all her pride and self-esteem withered up within her. There was no room for boasting left; it was excluded by the law of heavenly grace and wisdom. When the self-righteous Saul of Tarsus met the Lord of Life on the way to Damascus, and was made to see His power and glory, there was no more spirit in him to think of himself more highly than he ought to think. It will ever be a humbling to us when our own wisdom and righteousness is brought into contrast with His.
V. She Confessed. "She said to the king, It was a true report that I heard... Howbeit I believed not the words, until I came, and mine eyes had seen it; and, behold, the half was not told me" (vv. 6, 7). Who has believed our report? The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, concerning His wisdom, power, and glory, is true, whether men believe it or not. Like the Queen of Sheba, we cannot understand or share personally in this heavenly wisdom until we come. But if we have come and got our own eyes opened, let us not be ashamed or afraid to make full confession to the honor of His glorious Name.
VI. She Testified. "Happy are these your servants, which stand continually before you, and hear your wisdom" (v. 8). "The enlightened soul covets earnestly the best gifts. The servants of Solomon had a privilege that none others had on the face of the earth. So also has the servants of King Jesus. They see and hear things which many prophets and righteous men desire to see, but did not (Matthew 13:16, 17). But are there not many to whom this high honor is conferred who are not happy in their close relationship to the King of kings? Worldly Christians who have but a poor appreciation of the written Word, which is the wisdom of our God. The happy servant hears the words of wisdom from the King's own lips.
VII. She Praised. "Blessed be the Lord your God, which delighted in you" (v. 9). It is a lovely thing for those who have tasted that the Lord is gracious to render praise and thanks unto His holy Name. Yes, blessed be the Lord our God, who delighted in Jesus Christ as our Atoning Sacrifice, and set Him on the throne, "because He loved us forever." Every manifestation of His grace and wisdom should awaken every faculty within us to praise and adoration. Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.
VIII. She was Abundantly Satisfied. "Solomon gave her all her desire, whatever she asked" (v. 13). He supplied all her need. But the grace of the "Greater than Solomon" is greater, for He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask. No seeking soul will ever go hungry away from Him. He satisfies with good. "He, every one, Hearken diligently unto Me, and eat you that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in His fullness (Isaiah 55:2).
A MAN-MADE RELIGION. 1 Kings 12:26-33.
"Hope of every sort—whatever sect,
Esteem them, sow them, rear them, and protect,
If wild in nature and not duly found,
Gethsemane! in your dear, hallowed ground—
That cannot bear the blaze of Scripture light,
Nor cheer the spirit, nor refresh the sight,
Nor animate the soul to Christ-like deeds,
(Oh, cast them from you!) are weeds, arrant weeds."—Cowper.
Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, although of the race of Joshua, he became a ringleader in sin. Seeds of thought sprang up in his heart and mind rank and wild, but instead of treating them as "arrant weeds" he nurtured and protected them, as if they belonged to the Garden of the Lord. So the seeds of evil spread like thistle down. This religion of Jeroboam is like every other Christless religion.
I. It had its Origin in the Human Heart. "Jeroboam said in his heart" (v. 26). There are only, virtually, two religions in the world—the one has its origin in the "I will" of God, the other has its source in the "I think" of man. "My thoughts are not your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8), says the Lord. The heart of man is deceitful and wicked, out of it there can never come a system of worship that meets the claims of God and the needs of the soul. A revelation is needed; a revelation has been given. Anything opposed to this, or a substitute for it, is gross presumption and rebellion.
II. It was for his own Selfish Ends. He set up his golden calves—one in Bethel and the other in Dan—lest the people should go to Jerusalem to worship and the hearts of the people be turned from himself (vv. 27-29). It was a religion that centered on his own personal honor and aggrandizement. Self is forever the center of every godless religion. The pride of life lies at the root of all mere human schemes. The religion of the scribes and Pharisees was just another form of the sin of Jeroboam (Romans 10:3).
III. It was Ostensibly for the Good of Others. "It is too much for you to go to Jerusalem" (v. 28). He pretended that it was for their convenience and advantage that these golden gods were set up. The religion that is born in the carnal heart can only make hypocrites. The great scheme of godless socialists are not one whit better than the devices of Jeroboam, they set up calves of gold, saying, "These be your gods, O people." It was a religion of selfish expediency and not of sacrifice. The thought of self-denial was carefully excluded.
IV. It was Contrary to the Word of God. "The king said unto them, Behold your gods, O Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt" (v. 28). "Thus they changed their glory into the similitude of an ox" (Psalm 106:20). The command of God was plain, "You shall not make unto them any graven image" (Exod. 20:4). The desire of the carnal mind is to walk by sight, and not by faith. The inventions of the unrenewed heart are sure to be in opposition to the revelation of the mind of God. "I thought," said Naaman, but his thought was not at all in harmony with the manner and purpose of the man of God. Saul was quite in earnest when he thought that he should do many things contrary to the Name of Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 26:9) The ladder to Heaven must come from Heaven (John 14:6).
V. It Became a Snare to Others. "This thing became a sin" (v. 30). The thing set up became the object of worship instead of a means to help the thoughts to God. Man is always prone to be more taken up with his own works than the works of God. The little ornamental cross or the prayer-book becomes more precious than the things which are invisible and eternal. The products of men's own imaginations are exalted to the throne of the affections, and the presence of God usurped. That thing, whatever it is, that takes the place of God "becomes a sin."
VI. It has no Regard for Purity. "He made priests of the lowest of the people" (v. 31). This is characteristic of all man-made religion; there is no value set on inward holiness of life. Outward conformity and parade are enough to meet all its requirements. The consecrated sons of Aaron were not the kind of ministers Jeroboam wanted (Numbers 3:6). Their strict adherence to the Word of God would not suit his purpose. It is so still with those who are satisfied with the form of godliness and deny the power. They wish their own will and ways carried out, so they prefer the "lowest" motives as their governing principles; the pure light of God's Word would only reprove and rebuke.
VII. It has the Appearance of Being Right. There was the altar, the priests, and the ordained feast, "Like unto the feast that is in Judah" (vv. 32, 33). But the whole thing was a sham and a mockery, a lifeless image of the real. There was all the outward semblance of the true, but it had no foundation in the sight of God. "No authority from Him," no power to bless its votaries with pardon, peace, or hope. It was a thing destined to bring disappointment and the curse of God (chapter 13:2). Examine yourselves whether you be in the faith. "Without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).
"ALAS, MY BROTHER!" Or, THE DECEIVED PROPHET SLAIN. 1 Kings 13.
This is a melancholy story. It is always infinitely sad to see those who were once mightily used of God tripped up in the end through temptation, and falling a prey to him who goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. But although the lion slew this prophet of God he was not permitted to devour him (v. 25). There are seven things about this unfortunate man that we would like to point out.
I. He was a True Believer. He is called "A man of God" (v. 1). He was not a mere "man of the world" whose portion is in this life, but one who has personal dealings with God, and who in heart and life belonged to Him. Not a mere professor or time-server, but a true servant of the Most High.
II. He was a Man with a Message. "He came by the Word of the Lord unto Bethel" (v. 1). He was not a commentator, but he was an ambassador. He had a ministry committed to him by the Lord, a ministry of warning and condemnation. No evangelist was ever more surely called of God than this man. "A man of God" is one whom God has lifted up and fitted as a vessel for His own use, committing to him His own precious treasure (2 Corinthians 4:7).
III. He was a Man of Courage. "He cried against the altar in the Word of the Lord" (v. 2). He testified with a loud voice against this altar built by Jeroboam as a rival of Jehovah's, even while the king "stood by." The Word of God burned in his bones, and he could not but speak the things which he had heard from Him. It was so also with Peter and John (Acts 4:20).
IV. He was a Man of Power. God bore witness to his testimony by signs and wonders in the stiffening of the king's arm and hand which was stretched out to "lay hold on him," and also in the "rending of the altar" and the spilling of the ashes. "Signs following" are always an evidence that the man is not serving God in his own strength. He had power for service because he spoke in the Name of the Lord. When God works through His servants it is as a wonder -worker. We may well question whether God is working through us if signs and wonders are not being wrought (Mark 16:17).
V. He was a Man of Self-Denial. After praying for the restoration of the king's hand (for he had also power in prayer), the king asked him to "come and refresh himself and take a reward," but he would not (vv. 6-9). Like Elijah, he would "receive none" (2 Kings 5:16). He was no hireling in the work of the Lord. He knew what it was to deny himself and take up his cross and follow Him who had called him. Surely such a mighty man as this will never fail! But, alas!
VI. He Fell through a False Professor. This old liar pretended that an angel had spoken to him, saying, "Bring him back" (vv. 11-18). At first he refused, but being tired and hungry (the Devil seemed to take advantage of his physical weakness) he was finally persuaded to turn aside from the revealed will of God and to obey the invention of man. The temptation was sore, but his way was perfectly clear. He had a revelation from God, and so ought not to be turned aside by any private interpretation of man. In obeying the false prophet he must have been quite conscious that in his conduct he was contradicting the deeper conviction of his soul. If our hearts condemn us not then have we confidence toward God. Hearken not to those prophets who would "make you vain" by ministering to the lusts of the flesh, "they speak a vision of their own heart" (Jeremiah 23:16). Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God, because there are many false prophets gone out into the world (1 John 4:1). There is one mark by which you may know them, and that is "lightness" (Jeremiah 23:32). They have little reverence for the "Word of God" or the atoning blood of His Son; they try if possible to "deceive the very elect" (Matthew 24:24). This man went back and, it cost him his life, for a lion met him and slew him (v. 24). It was the end of his testimony for God. The influence of false teachers makes men less faithful to God and His Word. By their fruits you shall know them.
VII. He was Mourned over by the One who Deceived Him. "He laid his body in his own grave, saying, "Alas, my brother" (v. 30). Yes, well may he mourn, after tempting him into the net of destruction. Even being buried in the same grave will not atone for the sin of deception. How will he face him in the resurrection whom he had lured from the will of God by the substituting of his own thoughts for God's? How shall it fare with the false teachers (higher critics) of our day when in the presence of God they are face to face with the faith, withering fruits of their self-created visions? "Alas, my brother," take heed how you hear, stand fast in the truth.
PRAYING IN DISGUISE. 1 Kings 14:1-17.
The more deeply we are imbued with the spirit of prayer the more simple and child-like shall we become. "Sublimity always is simple," is how Longfellow puts it. Eloquent prayers may only be the haughtiness of the human heart in disguise. The wife of Jeroboam is not the only one who has put on the mask while making their requests known unto God. Purity of worship was at a very low ebb while King Jeroboam made the "lowest of the people priests" and consecrated "whoever would" (chapter 13:33), "I want to" is by no means the only qualification for the service of God. The Lord had sent a warning cry against this unholy altar (chapter 13:2). Now the jealous God of Israel visits the iniquity with judgment. This attempt to outwit and delude the prophet of the Lord has its lessons for us. There was a—
I. Knowledge of God. Jeroboam could not be a stranger to the great things Jehovah had wrought for His people Israel; and had not the prophet of the Lord foretold him that he should be "king over this people?" (chapter 5:2). But the revealed will of God had been set aside. His acts of worship were now according to his own thoughts and convenience, so he made Israel to sin by the substituting of his own ways for the ways of the Lord (chapter 12:33). There may be a knowledge of the ways and will of God, while the daily life is a presumptuous denial of the divine revelation.
II. Feeling a Need. "Abijah the son of Jeroboam fell sick" (v. 1). They were very anxious to know "what shall become of the child" (v. 3). Our dearest and our best are never beyond the withering touch of God's finger. Every sorrow and disappointment may be to us as goads to drive us nearer our God if our hearts are right with Him. There is bitterness of heart that cannot be spoken into the ears of ordinary mortals; that needs the touch of the Eternal. The yearning of the soul at such times is to know what the will of God is concerning us.
III. Disguising of Character. The wife of Jeroboam changed her appearance and went to inquire of the man of God, "feigning herself to be another woman" (vv. 2-5). Perhaps the king knew that the old prophet Ahijah was blind by reason of age, but both he and his wife seemed to forget that God was not blind. It is utterly needless for any one to come to God feigning themselves to be different from what they are; and yet this disguising of the true character, while making requests known unto God, is a common pious fraud. On our knees we may pretend to believe all that the Lord has spoken, then among our fellow men we put on our self-magnifying glasses, and forget the Lord that bought us. God looks on the heart, and as a man thinks in his heart so is he before Him.
IV. Complete Failure. As soon as she came to the door of the prophet she heard these mask-scathing words, "Come in you wife of Jeroboam, why pretend you yourself to be another" (v. 6). The veil of her disguise was rent from the top to the bottom, and the light of God's presence shone in upon her. Saul had his disguise torn off him while on the way to Damascus. The Pharisee that went up to the temple to pray feigned himself a righteous man, but he went away as he came, with his mask untouched and his soul unblessed (Luke 18:14). Jeroboam and his wife were desirous of knowing the mind of the Lord about their child, but they were afraid to face the will of God concerning themselves and their ungodly lives. The disguise was evidently an attempt to avoid the dreaded prediction of the "man of God" in the preceding chapter. Is there anything in the background of our lives that we are afraid God should deal with, things which make us put on a mask when we venture to seek for divine light or guidance? It will not improve matters to hide them, God will deal with us according to our daily life before Him. Therefore come to the light that the evil deeds may be reproved, confessed, and cleansed (John 3:19-21), for be sure your sin will find you out.
ELIJAH, THE SEPARATED ONE. 1 Kings 17:1.
Ahab, the haughty king of Israel, had taken Jezebel, the pretty but wicked Zidonian to wife. Through her influence the prophets of God are slain, and the worship of Baal is established in the land as the national religion. Only seven thousand among all the thousands of Israel remain true in heart to God, and these, through fear of the king, hid themselves and their testimony. The whole nation seems overwhelmed with this flood-tide of idolatry. But away in the village of Tishbe, among the uplands of Gilead, there is a man, perhaps a poor peasant, whose heart has become hot with indignation, and whose jealousy for the honor of Jehovah burns with holy zeal. We fancy we hear him in secret pleading with God for His own Name's sake to rebuke the iniquity of His people and bring Israel to its knees by sending some arresting judgment upon the land (James 5:17). God answers the earnest cry of the Tishbite, and there and then chooses him to be the instrument in His hand, to turn the nation back to the worship of their Divine King. To accomplish this great work he is invested with all authority. "There shall not be dew nor rain these years but according to my word." The interests and the power of God are committed to this servant, because he is wholly devoted to Him. Having been equipped with power, he goes forth to Samaria to declare the message of God in the ears of Ahab. No man will ever accomplish much for God who has not had in some respects a similar training. Note—
His Standing. "The Lord God of Israel, before whom I stand." He stood as one—
1. Who Believed in God. His faith gave him the victory over all fear of Ahab. Those who have set God before them will not play the coward in the presence of any earthly monarch. It was this consciousness of the presence of God that stiffened the moral backbone of Luther and John Knox. After Pentecost Peter and John were filled with the same holy boldness as Elijah (Acts 4:19, 20).
2. Accepted by God. Elijah had yielded Himself unto God that he might be a channel through which His words might come to the hearts of the ungodly, and through whom the power of God might be manifested. The Lord accepted his offer, and filled him as an earthen vessel with His divine treasure (2 Corinthians 4:6, 7). He had got the victory with his God in secret, now he is rewarded openly. Many of God's notable servants have come suddenly out of unexpected places.
3. In Fellowship with God. The whole force of Elijah's moral and spiritual being was on the side of the God of Israel. There was a oneness of purpose between them. All idea of self-seeking was withered up by the fire of Jehovah's presence. Those who would serve the Lord will have very unpleasant work to do if they are careful about their own personal interests and honor. The secret of courage and power in the work of Christ lies in knowing His will and delighting to do it.
4. Who Waited on God. As the eye of the maid is turned to her mistress, watching for the next indication of her will, so stood the life of Elijah before the Lord God of Israel. So may our souls wait on Him. The Moravian motto is most suggestive with the ox standing between an altar and a plough, "Ready for either." Ready for either sacrifice or service, as the Lord may appoint. But Elijah's standing before God was not in idleness, but in the fearless attitude of one whose life was a protest against the popular sin of the nation—idolatry. "Let your light so shine"' (Matthew 5:16).
5. Who had the Authority of God. He speaks as if the power of God and the resources of Heaven were at his disposal. "There shall not be dew nor rain these years but according to my word." The keys of Heaven had been given to him, and the treasures of dew and rain would only be poured out when he was pleased to open the door. This was a terrible and most effective weapon which God had put into the hand of His faithful servant. Those who fight the battles of the Lord are never sent to warfare on their own charges. Is not the gift of the Holy Spirit equally effective now for the carrying out of God's purposes in the reclaiming of men to the fellowship of His Son? Elijah, like Jesus Christ, spoke as one having authority, because he had the authority of God for that which he spoke. Elijah was a man "subject to like passions as we are." But have we the faith of Elijah? (Mark 9:23).
Some Other Lessons.
1. That God can easily find the man He needs.
2. That the man chosen of God is often prepared in secret.
3. That great men often come out of unexpected places.
4. That those sent by God have always a definite mission.
5. That the secret of holy boldness is, "Standing before God."
6. That judgment is sure to overtake those who defy God.
ELIJAH, THE HIDDEN ONE. 1 Kings 17:2-6.
When Elijah had delivered his God-given message to the idolatrous king of Israel it would seem as if he did not know which way to turn next. Perhaps it was in answer to a prayer for guidance and protection that God said, "Get you hence, and hide yourself by the brook Cherith." He who had slain so many of the Lord's servants was not likely to spare a man like Elijah. The servants of Christ still find it a testing time after the delivery of some unwelcome death or life message in the Name of God. How sweet it is at such times to find the Lord Himself a refuge and a hiding-place to the troubled soul! We observe that Elijah's hiding-place was a place of—
I. Divine Appointment. The Lord said, "Hide yourself by the brook Cherith." How could he feel safe or satisfied hiding in a place of his own choosing or making? What a sigh of relief would escape the heart of the obedient prophet as he sought and found the God-appointed place of rest, such a feeling of relief as the sinner knows, when in obedience to God's Word he flees for refuge to that appointed place called "Calvary." It matters not where the man-slayer ran for safety, he could have no assurance of it until he ran into the God-appointed city of refuge. Are we resting where God has bid us rest, in Jesus Christ, His beloved Son?
II. Perfect Seclusion. He was completely hid in the secret of the Lord's presence from the pride of Ahab and the strife of Jezebel's tongue (Psalm 31:20). The place of God's salvation is a place of separation and seclusion. Your life is hid with Christ in God. What an honor to belong to "Your hidden ones" (Psalm 83:3). All such hidden ones abide under the shadow of the Almighty (Psalm 91:1). They are saved from the fear of man, from the slavery of fashion, and from the harassing anxieties of the ordinary worldly life. "You are my hiding-place" (Psalm 32:7).
III. Assuring Promise. "You shall drink of the brook: and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there" (v. 4). God never sends us a warfare on our own charges. This promise could not be separated from that hallowed place "Cherith." All the promises of God are in Christ Jesus Yes and Amen. To know that His Command had gone forth was enough to allay every doubt and fear as to all his needs being supplied. All things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to His purpose. We are saved by His grace and assured by His Word.
IV. Wonderful Experience. "The ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning and in the evening" (v. 6). The prophet could not have such a manifestation of the loving-kindness of God anywhere else; being in God's way He met him and blessed him. So is it at the Cross of Christ. The provision was—
1. Plentiful. Not only had he "bread and water," but flesh also. The life of faith will always be met with His "exceeding abundance." The young lions in the full vigor of their own strength do suffer lack; but they that trust the Lord shall not want any good. At that holy place appointed by God, the Cross, there is sufficient for all.
2. Regular. "Morning and evening," as long as it was needed. He who has begun the good work is able to carry it on. He who gave you the first mouthful of grace is able to make His grace sufficient for you all the way (Exod. 16:35). In the secret place of His presence you may have "day by day your daily bread."
3. Miraculous. Every morsel of Elijah's food while here came to him in a supernatural fashion. "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God." The life that has been begotten by the Word of God must also grow thereby. Miracles are an everyday occurrence to the man who lives by faith in the Son of God. When Jesus asked those who had gone out in His Name, "Lacked you anything?" they said, "Nothing" (Luke 22:35). God's ravens are everywhere, and His command is enough to make them the ministers of mercy and blessing to any of His hidden ones.
ELIJAH, THE FAITHFUL. 1 Kings 17:7-16.
"Reason unstrung the harp to see
Wherein the music dwells;
Faith pours a hallelujah song,
And heavenly rapture swells.
While Reason strives to count the drops
That lave our narrow strand,
Faith launches o'er the mighty deep
To seek a better land."—Havergal.
We walk by faith, not by sight. Elijah had a long rest beside the secret brook—perhaps about twelve months. This would serve as a test both to his faith and his patience. We must learn to wait on God if we would do exploits for Him. Moses waited in the Midian desert forty years before the divine call came. But what could he have done to save Israel before that? The man who had to face the testing ordeal of Carmel must be a man approved of God. Precious faith, like precious gold, must needs pass through the refining fires. The prophet now receives another call.
I. The Time of this Call. "After the brook dried up" (v. 7). We may be perfectly assured of this, that when God in His providence closes one door against His servants He will open another. It will be a trying time to witness in the channel of our present comforts being gradually narrowed and the stream slowly drying up. It may be the drying up of the brook of worldly prosperity, but especially when the much-loved brook of self-confidence has dried up do we feel how utterly helpless we are. But man's extremity is God's opportunity.
II. The Command Given. "Arise, get you to Zarephath" (v. 9). When the brook became silent then God spoke. When the mountains of our boasted strength shall depart and the hills of our carnal hopes be removed the kindness of the Lord shall not depart, neither shall the covenant of His peace be removed (Isaiah 54:10). Zarephath means a smelting-house, a place of fiery trials. It was meet that the prophet of fire should pass through the refining furnace. All who would live godly must suffer persecution. Elijah's journey of one hundred miles through a famine-stricken country would afford him ample opportunities for faith. Away from the shady brook, this must have been to him as a baptism of fire. Did not the New Testament Elijah say of Christ that He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire?
III. The Promise Made. "I have commanded a widow to sustain you" (v. 9). Perhaps the prophet thought that she must surely be a wealthy widow that was to supply his need during the remaining time of the famine. In any case, God's "commands to the ravens" had not failed him, neither would His Word to the widow. How the message came to this poor widow we don't know, but doubtless this Zidonian was prepared in some way; it may have been through earnest prayer, like Cornelius (Acts 10). He is faithful that has promised.
IV. The Test of Circumstances. This widow, as we suppose, with some secret God-given premonition that all her wants would be supplied, is now face to face with starvation. As far as her reason could go there was only "an handful of meal" between her and death. She went out with a heavy heart to gather fuel to cook her last meal when the crisis came (vv. 10-12). Her circumstances seemed to belie the "command of God." Abraham was similarly tried when commanded to offer up his son Isaac, the child of promise. But see, Elijah comes, looking for the wealthy widow with whom he was to lodge. He meets her gathering sticks, and when he asks "a morsel of bread" he is told that all she possesses for her and her son is "an handful of meal and a little oil." Here, again, circumstances seem to make the Word of God of none effect. But, like Abraham, "he staggered not at the promise of God, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God, being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform" (Romans 4:20). He shows his faith in the divine promise by persisting in having the first share of the little store, and saying to the half-bewildered woman, "Fear not." Did not our Lord ask a drink of the woman of Samaria, knowing that He had something better to give her, even that blessing which, like the Widow's meal, "shall not waste?"
V. The Obedience of Faith. "She went and did according to the saying of Elijah" (vv. 14, 15). The prophet gave her the promise of the Lord God of Israel, that the meal in that barrel would not waste nor the cruse of oil fail until the famine would cease. She believed the Word, and took what seemed her last handful of meal, and even with a hungry soul prepared it for Elijah. She practically gave away, at God's bidding, all that she had, and cast herself entirely upon His promise. She had neither precedent nor example for such an act and for such a hope, but she had faith in the Word and power of God. Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.
VI. The Fulfillment of Promise. "The barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the Word of the Lord" (v. 16). Thus for a full year (v. 15, margin) did they eat bread, day by day, that was miraculously given them. Truly theirs was a life of faith on the promise of God. If the meal was always at the bottom of the barrel, yet was it never awanting. They who trust Him wholly will find Him wholly true. "Said I not unto you, that, if you would believe, you should see the glory of God?" (John 11:40).
ELIJAH, THE REVIVER. 1 Kings 17:17-24.
There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, but unto none of them was he sent, but unto this widow in a city of Sidon. Why did our Lord refer to this at the time He did (Luke 4:25) if it were not just to show them that salvation is through the grace of God, delighting to lift up the despised among men, and the unworthy in the sight of God. It was a marvelous work the God of Israel had wrought for this poor lonely widow, not only in supplying her daily need, but in raising her son from the dead. Truly might she sing, "Oh! to grace, how great a debtor!" What has the grace of God that brings salvation to all men taught us? (Titus 2:11, 12). Now we see in this highly favored home—
I. A Severe Trial. "The son of the woman fell sick, and there was no breath left in him" (v. 17). The light of her eyes, the joy of her heart, and the hope of her future life has been suddenly cut off. She sits with the dead boy "in her bosom" (v. 19), but the natural warmth even of a mother's heart is utterly unavailing to bring back to these vacant eyes the light of a living soul. No more can we, by the strength of natural affection, nurse back to life those of our loved ones who are dead in their sins. "Without Me you can do nothing."
II. A Bitter Complaint. "She said, What have I to do with you, O you man of God? Are you come to call my sin to remembrance?" (v. 18). The death of the child had awakened within her some sad memories of the past. What this sin was we cannot positively say. It may have been connected with the birth of the child. Anyway, her soul was deeply moved. The presence of the "man of God," the manifestation of the power and goodness of God in the daily multiplying of the handful of meal, and this vivid remembrance of her own sin filled her soul with the deepest anguish. It is an awful sight to see one's sinfulness in the light of the great goodness of God. When Simon Peter saw it, he cried, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:8). It is infinitely worse to remember one's sins, like the rich man, where there is no "man of God" to help, or message of hope for a self-ruined soul (Luke 16:25).
III. A Gracious Request. He said unto her, "Give me your son" (v. 19). Although the sharp words of the afflicted and sin-wounded woman must have deeply stung the sensitive heart of the "man of God," yet he betrays no impatience. He utters no complaint, but with the tenderness of a father, and with the faith of a Heaven-born giant, he says, "Give me your son," and he took the dead boy "out of her bosom." Oh, man of God, what can you do with the dead? A man of God will always act differently from an ordinary mundane mortal, by facing difficulties that seem unsurmountable and tasks that are impossible with men.
IV. A Place of Blessing. "He carried him up into a loft where he abode, and laid him upon his own bed" (v. 19). The loft must have been a very humble place in appearance, but to this prophet, priest, and prince it was the "Holy of holies," the audience chamber of the Prince of Life and Glory. The little window of this "closet" looked right into the throne-room of the Eternal. Blessed is that man whose "closet" is filled with the warmth of the breath of God. "When you pray, enter into your closet and shut the door. Your Father sees in secret" (Matthew 6:6).
V. A Prevailing Prayer. "The Lord heard the voice of Elijah, and the soul of the child came into him again" (vv. 21, 22). In asking that the "child's soul might come into him again," he was surely asking a great thing. But men who claim to "stand before God" must expect great things from God. The life of faith cannot be limited to the natural, and circumscribed by precedent. Above what we ask or think, God is able to do. But not only did he ask, he also "stretched himself upon the child three times." With the faith of his heart he gave also the whole warmth of his physical body. His body, soul, and spirit were all consecrated to this great work of reviving. There are many who pray for reviving who would not stretch their little finger to lift a soul out of the ditch of sin. In "stretching himself" he gave himself wholly to the work. When Paul wished to recover Eutychus he embraced him (Acts 20:10). There be many who stretch themselves without the prayer of faith, but it is as vain as when Samson "shook himself" without the power of the Holy Spirit (Judges 16:20).
VI. A God-honoring Confession. When Elijah had brought down the child and delivered him unto his mother, she said, "Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the Word of the Lord in your mouth is truth" (v. 24). The miracle in the barrel did not convince her like the miracle in her son. The overwhelming evidence of the truthfulness of the "Word of the Lord" is, that by it souls pass from death unto life, born again by the incorruptible seed of the Word. The death and reviving of her son was the means in the hand of God of bringing her into the knowledge and love of God; so out of our deepest trials there may come our highest blessings, and when they do come let us honestly and joyfully confess them.
ELIJAH, THE FAITHFUL WITNESS. 1 Kings 18:1-39.
The third year of the famine was now running its course. All this time Elijah, as the mouthpiece of God, had no message for the guilty nation. Jehovah Himself was speaking through those barren fields and sealed-up heavens, calling for confession and repentance. There are times when God's servants have to be silent, when He is speaking loudly by some crushing providence. Elijah had a long silence before he made that bold and tragic declaration on Carmel. In this chapter we get a fuller view of the faithfulness of this prophet of fire in his—
I. Readiness to Obey. When the call came, "Go, show yourself unto Ahab," immediately "Elijah went to show himself" (vv. 1, 2), He had been commanded to hide himself (chapter 17:3). Now he is to show himself. He was equally ready for the one or the other. The man who is set on witnessing for God, as Elijah was, and is willing to hide himself, is sure to be lifted up, brought out, and set before the people as one having authority. To show himself to Ahab was to show himself to one who had been eagerly hunting for his life (v. 12). But the righteous are bold as a lion (Proverbs 28:1).
II. Boldness to Rebuke. When Ahab found Elijah he seemed as if he had found a "pestilent fellow." But was there not a tremor of fear in that question so awkwardly put, "Are you he who troubles Israel?" How could he trouble Israel by shutting up the heavens when the king was utterly helpless? The prophet's answer was straight and piercing as an arrow to his heart from the quiver of the Almighty. "I have not troubled Israel, but you... in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord" (v. 18). What constitutes a troubler? "Forsaking the Word of the Lord." Every backslider is a troubler in the Church of God. Achan's secret sin brought trouble into the whole camp of Israel. What should be said of those infidel "critics" who pose as religious teachers and are troubling the whole land with their soul-damning heresies? The need of the age is Elijahs.
III. Call for Decision. The prophet commands the king, and his eight hundred and fifty false prophets are summoned, with the nation, to meet Elijah on Mount Carmel. It was a big order, but the man who "stands before God" will go in for great things. "How long halt you between two opinions?" is the pointed question rang out as soon as the people had gathered themselves together. This solitary man of God was intensely practical. Well he knew that "no man can serve two masters," and that indecision about the service of God was ruinous. Their decision for God or Baal was to be evidenced by their "following Him." The outward life must declare the inward purposes of the heart.
IV. Desire to put God to the Test. "Let them choose one bullock, and I will dress the other,... and the God that answers by fire, let Him be God" (vv. 23, 24). Better test our theories and principles in time than to have them breaking down on the border of eternity. The man of faith is never afraid to risk his all on the honor of God (Hebrews 11:17). An "answer by fire" was quite a reasonable test for them, as they worshiped Baal, the God of fire. Surely the great "sun God" would not fail such a multitude of prophets. At midday, when the sun was at its hottest, they got frantic, and "leaped upon the altar" as if they themselves were ready to be sacrificed for their faith, but there was "neither voice, nor any to answer." Their God was the voiceless myth of their own imagination. The "two opinions" between which they halted were man's and God's. "My thoughts are not your thoughts, says the Lord." Prove your own selves.
V. Believing Prayer. There is no fuss, no excitement betrayed by the man of God, as he calmly builds the altar and drenches the sacrifice and the wood with "barrels" of water from the sea (Jeremiah 46:18). He does not seek to make it easy for God to answer by fire, but to make it sure that the fire is from God. His prayer is simple, because it is the prayer of faith. "Let it be known this day that You are God in Israel," etc. (vv. 36, 37). The prophet urges a fourfold reason for this special miraculous manifestation of His power.
1. That it might be known that You are God.
2. That I am Your servant.
3. That I have done all these things at Your Word.
4. That the heart of the people might be turned back. It was a cry for the vindication of God's own honor, a cry that was immediately answered, for "Then the fire of the Lord fell" (v. 38). This was a Pentecostal day for Israel. Those who are truly faithful to God must expect great things from Him, that His own Name may be glorified in them and by them. It is because of our unbelief that signs and wonders are not still being wrought among us. "Command you me."
VI. Bringing Others to Confession. "When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, The Lord, He is God" (v. 39). It was such a revelation as Thomas had when he said, "My Lord and my God." There is nothing like the down-coming of the fire of God— the Holy Ghost—to burn off the masks from the faces of self-deceived religionists. The "one man ministry" of Elijah was an overwhelming force in the kingdom of Israel. The man that "stands before God" has always God to stand by Him. There is no other way to bring deluded sinners to their knees but by the power of God in answer to the daring faith of His believing servants.
ELIJAH, THE INTERCESSOR. 1 Kings 18:41-46.
The falling of the fire of the Lord from Heaven, and the cutting off of the prophets of Baal, had effectually arrested the rising flood-tide of idolatry that threatened to overwhelm the whole land. Now that the people were on their faces confessing that "the Lord He is God" (v. 39) showers of blessing are at hand. The quick ear of the man of God is the first to hear the "sound of abundance of rain." The heavens will soon be opened to pour out its treasures upon thirsty souls when they bow in humble confession before Him (Isaiah 44:3). It was a welcomed Gospel that Elijah preached to Ahab when he said, "Get you up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of abundance of rain." There are those to whom times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord mean nothing more than eating and drinking—personal enjoyment. It was far otherwise with Elijah. To him the sound of coming blessing was an urgent call to prayer. He—
I. Prayed Believingly. He heard the "sound of abundance of rain" (v. 41). The sound may have been that of the assuring promise of God ringing in his soul (v. 1). So faith comes by such hearing. The secret of a bold, courageous life lies in the hearing of faith. When the ear of faith is dull, the feet of service will be tardy and the tongue of testimony will stammer. To prevail in prayer, "hear you the Word of the Lord."
II. Prayed Humbly. "He cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees" (v. 42). The believer who is the boldest before men will be the humblest before God. To cast ourselves down is the best way of preparing ourselves for the fulfillment of the promise of God. The greatest in the kingdom of Heaven may be the littlest in the eyes of men (Matthew 18:4). The greatest of all masters was the humblest of all servants. It was the man who could not lift up his face that received the blessing of God (Luke 18:13).
III. Prayed Perseveringly. "There is nothing. And he said, Go again" (v. 43). Elijah had heard the sound of a coming abundance, but his servant could see nothing. It is not easy seeing that which as yet can only be apprehended by faith. But although nothing could be seen that did in no way discourage the prophet, he said, "Go again, seven times." He had the sure Word of God's promise, and he kept believing and pleading although appearances were all against him. Like Jacob, he will not let go until the blessing come (Genesis 32:26). Elijah walked by faith, while his servant walked by sight. The importunate pleadings of faith will never be sent empty away (Luke 18).
IV. Prayed Definitely. He prayed for rain (James 5:17, 18). This mighty man of God seemed never to have more than one arrow in his quiver at a time. Prevailing prayers have always been definite. David said, "In the morning will I direct (set in order an arrow in the bow) my prayer unto You, and will look up," confidently expecting the answer (Psalm 5:3). The general prayer is generally powerless. Who would come into the presence of an earthly king with a string of generalities, not one of which was immediately wanted or expected? Prayer meetings are often strangled to death by the numberless petitions offered which are never expected to be answered. As a rule the prayer that prevails with God and is answered by floods of blessing springs out of some definite promise of God, received by faith, and perseveringly pleaded before His throne of grace (Ezekiel 36:37).
V. Prayed Successfully. "Behold there arises a little cloud, . . . and there was a great rain" (v. 44, 45). Let us take heed when the little cloud appears that we do not despise the day of small things (Zechariah 4:10). God's "little cloud" can be made broad enough to cover the whole sky and to meet all our need. The few loaves and small fishes are sufficient in His hands to satisfy the cravings of a multitude. Elijah asked, believing that he would receive, and he did have (Mark 11:24), and God was glorified In so answering. "Whatever you shall ask in My Name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son" (John 14:15). Seeing that it is the chief desire of the Son to glorify the Father in answering our prayers, surely this is one of the most powerful of all reasons why we should ask in prayer.
ELIJAH, THE DOWNCAST. 1 Kings 19:1-8.
"Great men are not always wise." Elijah failed just at that point where we would have expected him to take an unflinching stand. Yet it may be good for us to know that God's greatest servants were men of "like passions with ourselves." As they, like our Lord and Savior, were made sharers of our infirmities, so we might be made partakers of their virtues and glories. All things are possible to him that believes. We observe here a—
I. Cowardly Flight. "When he saw that, he arose, and went for his life" (v. 3). When he saw that Jezebel's pride and hatred were unsubdued after all that he had done—in proving his authority on Carmel by calling fire from Heaven and praying floods of rain upon the parched land, and showing his loyalty to King Ahab by running as a herald before the royal chariot all those eighteen miles through the drenching storm. As he waits outside the gate all the reward he gets is a message that because he had slain the prophets of Baal his life would be taken "by tomorrow about this time." So he "went for his life." Exhausted and disappointed he forgets God and the present need of Israel for a spiritual teacher, and takes to preserving his own life. By faith he boldly stood before Ahab and all the prophets of Baal; by fear he fled before the vain threats of an unprincipled woman. How are the mighty fallen! "Let him that stands take heed. "
II. Despairing Cry. "He requested for himself that he might die" (v. 4). He found it a very unprofitable business that of seeking merely to save his own life. A self-centered life is sure to come to grief. When one steps out of the current of God's will and purpose concerning us our chariot wheels are sure to "drive heavily." Jonah prayed the same prayer while he was in a bad mood (chapter 4:3). Paul was animated by a different spirit when he wrote, "Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you" (Philippians 1:24). At that moment the kingdom of Israel was in desperate need of that very man who was counting his life a worthless thing. Has the cause of Christ no need of you?
III. Gracious Touch. "As he lay and slept; behold, an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat" (v. 5). Elijah's merciful Master did not send a messenger to thrash him, or even to rebuke him for his fearfulness. His loving heavenly Father knew best what his tired and weary child needed. "Arise and eat." The terrible strain of Carmel, the wearisome run before Ahab, the long journey into the wilderness had no doubt brought upon him complete physical and nervous prostration. The remedy provided by God was "a cake baked on the coals and a cruse of water." He knows the frailty of our frame (John 21:9-12). How long he slept before the angel touched him we cannot know, but perhaps he was, through utter weakness, in danger of sleeping the sleep of death had not the angel wakened him up to eat. Are we not reminded here of that other angel of His presence, the Holy Spirit, whose gentle touch awakens many of God's downcast ones, and whose tender voice bids them arise and eat of Him who is the Living Bread. That angel may be touching you even now.
IV. Wonderful Discovery. "He looked, and, behold, there was cake baked on the coals; . . . and he did eat and drink, and laid him down again" (v. 6), It is not for naught that the angel of God touches any one. For every Spirit-awakened soul there is a much-needed miraculous feast awaiting them. He was not disobedient to the heavenly touch. "He looked," and seeing the divine provision he appropriated it. It must have been a very palatable breakfast, cooked by an angel, and all for himself. But God's provision is always suitable to the needs of the soul. It did not concern Elijah how the cake was formed or the coals kindled. It was enough for him that this was God's gift to him, and that he needed it and was invited to take it. So it is with the salvation that is in Christ Jesus.
V. Second Blessing. "The angel of the Lord came a second time, and touched him" (v. 7). He had already got as much of the gift of God as to save his life, but not so much as would strengthen him for the journey that lay before him. So in mercy he was called again to "arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you." Are there not many who have received of the Lord Jesus Christ as the gift of God that which has saved their souls from death, but who, like Elijah, have "lain down again" in selfish ease, and who need a second awakening that they might arise and so partake of Christ, that they may be able to go on in a life of suffering and testimony? Some people don't believe in a second blessing, but Elijah did.
VI. Supernatural Power. "He went on the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb, the mount of God" (v. 8). Elijah's first meal saved his soul, but the second enabled him to witness for God. That forty days' journey was not accomplished in his own strength, but in the strength of the gift of God. This grace ministered to him was sufficient to bring him unto the mount of God (a journey of about two hundred miles). All this is most suggestive of what the gift of His grace is able to do for all who will obey the call to "arise and eat" (2 Corinthians 12:9). Who has ever yet found out the full "strength of that meat" which is within the reach of every child of God in His blessed Word? Downcast and discouraged soul, this call is for you. "Arise and eat." "Your words were found, and I did eat them," etc. (Jeremiah 15:16; Psalm 119:111).
ELIJAH REBUKED. 1 Kings 19:9-16.
On the strength of the Heaven-sent meat, Elijah reached "Horeb, the mount of God." "They that wait on the Lord shall... walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:31). Horeb was pre-eminently the mount of the revelation of God, because here the unconsumed bush was seen ablaze with a divine fire; here the law was given with its terrible accompaniments, and perhaps it was in this very cave that Moses stood while the glory of God's goodness passed by (Exod. 33). It must have been with mingled and solemn feelings that Elijah found himself in the midst of surroundings crowded with such striking and holy memories. Will there be any such manifestation of the divine presence to him? Surely he has come here to meet with God! Will those who seek Him not find Him? If men would go to the "house of God" as Elijah went to the "mount of God" what signs and wonders would be wrought!
I. A Searching Question. "What do you here, Elijah?" (v. 9). By this question was the Lord sternly demanding of the prophet why he was here, instead of encouraging the nation to stand firm for the God who had answered by fire on Carmel, or was it a question full of grace and tenderness seeking to call out the needs and fears of his heart that He might in mercy satisfy and comfort? In any case, it is always God's method to go to the root of the matter and deal with the motives of the life. Throughout the Scriptures divine questions are frequently accompanied by marvelous revelations (Genesis 32:27; Exod. 4:2).
II. An Honest Answer. "I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts; . . . I only am left, and they seek my life" (v. 10). All those who would faithfully serve the Lord will have many heart-searching questions to answer. As a defense, Elijah's reply was a very poor one, but as a confession it was simple and sincere. He had been very jealous for the Lord, now he was afraid of his own life. All Israel had gone astray, he only was left. Perplexed and despondent he had come here partly through fear and partly to hear what God the Lord would speak to his soul. Any one who truly loves the Lord, but who, through unusual temptation and bodily infirmities, has given way to fear, can easily understand the feelings of this man of God at this particular time.
III. A Wonderful Manifestation. There came now the divine call to "Go forth and stand before the Lord" (v. 11). Is he not reminded by this that through unbelief he had lost his standing (chapter 17:1). Let us keep on the whole armor of God that we may be able to stand (Ephesians 6:13). The prophet is now made a witness to the marvelous power of the Lord in a fourfold manner. He sees it in the wind, the earthquake, the fire, and the still small voice. But in the rending wind, the shaking earthquake, or the melting fire there was no message from the Lord for the trembling servant. "The Lord was not in them." The Lord would teach us as well as Elijah that there is something more needed to bring men to Himself than a mere display of natural powers. The strong wind of words, the earthquake of argument, and the fire of enthusiasm may do mighty and terrible things, yet if the still small voice of the Lord, the Spirit, is not in them there is no message from God to the souls of men. It is "not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord" (Zechariah 4:6). The mightiest of all the forces that are at work in this world is that "still small voice" of the Holy Spirit that whispers God's Word of truth and life into the listening heart. A voice is something more than a sound or an influence, it is an assurance of the presence of a living Personality (Song of Sol. 2:8). "My sheep hear My voice" (John 10:27).
IV. A Powerful Effect. "When Elijah heard it he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out" (v. 13). The terrific effects of the wind, the earthquake, or the fire had evidently driven him back into the depths of the cave (v. 11); but the sweet wooing voice lured him from his dismal hiding-place, with his face hid in his mantle because it was burning with shame. Men will be all the more likely to be constrained by the sweet voice of love after they have heard the thunderings and felt the burnings of that law which is holy, just, and good. The terrible trumpet of Sinai made men stand "afar off," while the voice of Calvary constrains men to draw near with a shame-mantled face.
Here, but in very altered circumstances, the same question is again put, "What do you here, Elijah?" And, alas, the very same answer is given. Has he profited nothing by all those revelations of divine resources that he adds no petition for grace or strength to go on overcoming in the Name of Him who does wondrously? It would seem as if this repeated question was his last chance of getting fully restored to the power and authority of the prophetic office, but he failed to take advantage of it. He is not allowed to become a castaway, but it would seem that from this time the purposes of God concerning him are changed, and another is chosen to take his place. Has he now become a marred vessel in the hands of the Great Potter? Let us take heed lest we should come short. How shall we escape the same failure if we neglect the great opportunities that God in His infinite mercy brings within our reach?
V. A Humbling Confession. "Go, return, . . . and Elisha shall you anoint to be prophet in your room" (vv. 15, 16). When Elijah persisted in saying "I, even I, only am left," it was an evidence that he had climbed down from his walk of faith and was now walking by sight. Was the Lord not rebuking his unbelief when he said to him, "I have left Me seven thousand in Israel which have not bowed unto Baal" (v. 18). God could easily have made Elijah sufficient to do the work of the three men whom he was now sent to anoint. Who can tell all that the Lord is able to do through one life that has been entirely and continuously yielded to His will? It was surely a self-humbling work to go and call a man to take his own place so soon after accomplishing such a mighty work for God as was witnessed on Mount Carmel. "Let him that stands take heed lest he fall." "Let no man take your crown" (Rev. 3:11).
THE CALL OF ELISHA. 1 Kings 19:16-21.
"Jesus calls us from the worship
Of the vain world's golden store;
From each idol that would keep us,
Saying, 'Christian, love Me more.' "—C. F. Alexander.
There is a self-evident vein of irony in these words of C. Kingsley:
"I was not good enough for man,
And so was given to God."
How ready we are to think and act as if the prime of our days was too valuable for us to be given to God, and that the fag end of our life is best suited for surrendering to the will of God. Where in all the Bible do we find any one called of God to do service for Him when infirm with age? Were not the Levites disqualified for the work of God at the age of fifty? (Numbers 8:25). Are there not now comparatively few being saved beyond that age? Elisha was undoubtedly a young man, whom Elijah, at the bidding of God, came without a murmur to anoint him as prophet "in his own room." Observe the—
I. Significance of his Name. Elisha means God is Salvation. This was a name well suited for the man who was to take the lead at this time of national crisis. While in a despondent mood Elijah said, "I, even I, only am left," but the Lord rebuked his pessimism by saying, "I have left Me seven thousand," and Elisha was one of them. The after life of Elisha shows him to be strong where Elijah was inclined to be weak—in being faithful and careful down to the smallest events in life. Elijah's faith was mighty in Mount Carmel, but it failed him under the juniper tree. The man who knows that the presence of God is Salvation will surely be steadfast and immovable in the work of the Lord.
II. Time of his Call. It was while he was "ploughing" (v. 19). He was only a ploughman. Yes, but who can tell what depth of soul exercise and heart agony he may have had over backsliding Israel while following the oxen across the fields. There was One who did know, and who answered the secret longings of his heart by calling him out as a witness for Himself. The Lord knows where and when to lay "His hand on that hidden one who has in secret been prepared for a more honored place in His service." The divine call came to Moses while he kept the flock of Jethro (Exod. 3:1); to Gideon while he thrashed wheat (Judges 6:11); to David when in the sheepfold (Psalm 78:70); to Amos while a herdsman (chapter 7:14). All Christ's disciples were called from very common occupations. He found Bunyan among the pots and pans. "If any man hear My voice" (Rev. 3:20).
III. Manner of his Call. "Elijah, passed by him, and cast his mantle upon him" (v. 19). It came suddenly, although Elisha's preparation may have been going on for several years. It came unmistakably. The mantle or spirit of the prophet had now fallen upon him. This was to him a holy anointing from the Lord (v. 16). The mantle of Elijah was the symbol of the Spirit of power. Elisha could do no mighty works for God without this definite baptism. No more can we. "Tarry until you be endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49). The sudden encircling of the prophetic mantle about him was an experience he could not possibly forget or ignore (Acts 19:1).
IV. Effects of this Call. It was followed by—
1. An Instant Response. "He left his oxen and ran after Elijah" (v. 20). He did not wait for a more convenient season, or he too might have been startled some day with the question, "What do you here, Elisha?" His call, like ours, is a passing one. The prophetic power will not abide with him unless he follows and keeps, as it were, in touch with that mantle which, in grace, had fallen upon him. So if we would abide in the power of His anointing we must be willing and ready to be led by the Spirit, and to walk in Him and with Him. An instant recognition of God's call, by the coming upon us of the Holy Spirit, should be made. "Set your heart upon all that I shall show you" (Ezekiel 40:4).
2. A Revelation of Filial Tenderness. "Let me, I pray you, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you" (v. 20). These words, we think, do not in any way betray the spirit of that man who said, "Suffer me first to go and bury my father" (Matthew 8:21). The call came to Elisha in the form of an offer instead of a command. An offer which he instantly accepted. Perhaps his love for his father and mother was one of the chief evidences of his righteousness with God and fitness for service. Those who would feel it no sacrifice whatever to leave home, even for the service of God, are not likely to be sent by Him (Matthew 19:27-29).
3. A Willing and Definite Testimony. "He took a yoke of oxen and slew them... and gave unto the people" (v. 21). What would the people think of such an act? Killing the useful oxen and making a fire of the agricultural instruments! It was an indication to them that he was now done with this business, as he had deliberately accepted the gracious offer of the prophetic office at the hand of Elijah. All that Elijah said to him was, "Go back again, for what have I done to you?" As much as to say, If there is no correspondence in your heart to this outward call then go back. But there was, and he fearlessly obeyed.
4. A Personal Separation and Service. "Then he arose and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him" (v. 21). As a vessel he has been cleansed, and made meet for the Master's use. He forsook all and followed Him. He began his great life's work in a very humble fashion, by "pouring water in the hands of Elijah" (2 Kings 3:11). He sought not great things for himself, but only to please and help his Master. Oh, that the words of our gracious Master might be true in our lips when face to face with the needs of men! "I am among you as he who serves." "Whatever He says unto you, do it" (John 2:5).
ELIJAH, THE REPROVER. 1 Kings 21:15-29.
If spotless angels fell through the sin of ambition, how can a sinful man hope to succeed by it? The scheming Jezebel had brought the honest Naboth to an untimely death, that her weak but ambitious husband might get possession of his inheritance. The greed of gain has driven others than Jezebel into terrible deeds of darkness. The love of the world is as cruel as the grave. It is as the nursing of a beautiful serpent that will one day send its poisonous fang into the soul. There was a—
I. Seeming Success. "When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he rose up to take possession of the vineyard" (v. 16). It was nothing to him how Naboth had died as long as he was now out of his way to the taking possession of his valuable garden. "Get, get," by hook or by crook, is the creed of iron-heeled selfishness. What better are those drink-dealers, who by their craft and cunning have enticed multitudes to ruin and death that they might get possession of their money, which was their only vineyard?
II. Forgotten Factor. The Lord said unto Elijah, "Behold, Ahab is gone down to possess the vineyard of Naboth" (vv. 17:18). That secret chamber has never yet been built where a plot can be formed without the eye-witnessing of God. The forgotten factor in the schemes of worldly men and women is God. God is not in all their thoughts. Such may succeed for a time, like Ahab and the Babel builders, but all man's works, to be a final success, must pass muster with a righteous God (Genesis 11:5; 1 Corinthians 3:13).
III. Stern Command. "Go down to meet Ahab, and speak unto him, saying, Have you killed, and also taken possession? In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your blood, even your" (vv. 17:19). This was a terrible message that Elijah got from the Lord Almighty, who is so infinite in love and compassion. God is love. Yes; but while he "keeps mercy for thousands" (Exod. 34:7) He will by no means clear the guilty impenitent. The prophet might have preferred to have taken a more gracious message to the king, but to tone down the solemn warnings of Jehovah would be to prove himself a traitor to God and a deceiver of souls (Acts 20:20-27).
IV. Startling Question. "Ahab said to Elijah, Have you found me, O mine enemy?" (v. 20). The messenger of God found out Ahab, as the writing on the wall found out the profane Belshazzar. Sudden surprises are sure to overtake the secret sinner (Luke 12:20). "Be sure your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23). But why was the prophet of God his enemy? Just because he was living at enmity with God. Was Elijah His enemy because he told Him the truth? (Galatians 4:16). If the sinner is not found by the servant of God he will one day be found by God Himself. Will it then be as an enemy? Light is always the enemy of darkness.
V. Straight Answer. "I have found you; because you have sold yourself to work evil in the sight of the Lord" (v. 20). When a man has sold himself to the work of the Devil it is surely high time that he was "found out," and what a mercy it is to be arrested in such a fatal course. Ahab, in selling himself, like every other such sinner, had stifled his conscience and deliberately become the abject slave of lust and pride. To sell one's self "to work evil in the sight of the Lord" is one of the most culpable and dastardly transactions of which a human soul is capable. Yet for greed of gain and love of the world how many there be who are daily doing it.
VI. Terrible Prospect. "The dogs shall lick your blood;. .. evil upon you and upon your posterity;... the dogs shall eat Jezebel" (vv. 21-24). What a dismal outlook for wealthy royal sinners! The woe that slumbers not against the covetous has come (Habakkuk 2:9). "With what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again" (Matthew 7:2). These judgments were of God's appointment, not the prophet's. All workers of iniquity have a fearful future, which sooner or later will reveal itself in awful reality (Rev. 21:8). "The hope of the wicked shall be cut off" (Proverbs 2:22).
VII. Merciful Deliverance. "When Ahab heard those words he rent his clothes, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly. Then when the Lord saw that Ahab humbled himself before Him, He promised not to bring the evil in his days" (vv. 27-29). Repentance and humility before God is the only way whereby the guilty may hope to escape Holy and fiery indignation. There is nothing like a discovery of our sinfulness before Him to make us go softly. Here is another proof of God's readiness to forgive the penitent. He delights in mercy; judgment is His strange work. The great outstanding and unfailing testimony to God's willingness to save is the Cross of Christ (Isaiah 57:7).
BEN-HADAD'S FALL AND RESTORATION. 1 Kings 20:30-34.
"Jesus, who to Your Father prayed
For those who all Your love repaid
With this dread cup of woes,
Teach me to conquer, Lord, like Thee,
By patience and benignity.
The thwarting of my foes."—Faber.
The cause of the defeat of the great host of Syrians was a denial of God. They did not believe that the God of Israel had any power in the valleys (v. 28). An imperfect and false idea of God has been, and is still, the source of ruin to many. "They that know their God shall be strong" (Daniel 11:32). To the believer God is the God of every hill and valley of their daily life. We do not attempt here an exposition of the above Scripture, but wish to use it only as an illustration or historical picture of the great salvation. Notice then a—
I. Fearful Condition. "Ben-hadad fled into an inner chamber" (v. 30). The marginal reading of the Revised Version is "from chamber to chamber," as one convicted of danger and seeking safety, but finding no place to rest. How like this is to an awakened sinner, running as it were from place to place, from sin to sin, and from pleasure to pleasure, seeking rest and relief to his troubled soul, but never getting any assurance of salvation. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done."
II. Hopeful Proclamation. "We have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings" (v. 31). These servants who had heard this good news did not hide the tidings from the anxious Ben-hadad, but carried them at once to him. Have we not heard that the King of Heaven is merciful, and that He "delights in mercy," and is "ready to pardon?" Are we hiding the good news, like the lepers of Samaria, from those timid and fearful souls who, like Ben-hadad, have been crushed and defeated in the battles of life, and who run to and fro secretly seeking a place of rest?
III. Self-humbling Intercession. "They put sackcloth on their loins, and ropes on their heads, and came to the king of Israel, and prayed for him" (v. 32). In praying for Ben-hadad they were praying for one who had forfeited his life through open rebellion. These intercessors identified themselves with the guilty one for whom they prayed. The sackcloth and the ropes spoke of repentance and a readiness to die for his sake. The way to pray for others is to put ourselves in their position and circumstances. Did our Lord Jesus Christ not do this? Where is our sackcloth and ropes when we make intercession for transgressors before our merciful King? Is our sympathy manifested?
IV. Heartening Revelation. "He is my brother" (v. 32). When the king of Israel deigned to call him, who had been his enemy, his "brother," it was the throwing open of the door of grace and mercy to the petitioners. They were quick to catch it, and take advantage of it, by saying, "Your brother." What an encouragement we have in praying for others when we know that He loves His enemies and is prepared to receive them and treat them as brothers 1
V. Peaceful Reconciliation. "He caused him to come up into the chariot" (v. 33). A little while ago he was fighting against the king of Israel, now he is reconciled to him, and having fellowship with him in his own chariot. Once we were enemies to the Son of God by our wicked works, but now, through grace and a mighty intercession, we have been brought near, and lifted up, and made to sit with Him in heavenly places. Our fellowship is now with the Son in the chariot of His salvation.
VI. Voluntary Restitution. "Ben-hadad said, The cities which my father took from your father I will restore" (v. 34). Now that he had been "saved by grace" he was prepared to yield up to him all that beforetime had been taken from him. Should not the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ constrain us to yield up to Him that life which was beforetime taken from His service and spent in opposition to His will? (Romans 12:1). "You have loosed my bonds... What shall I render unto the Lord?" (Psalm 116:12, 16, 17).
VII. Blessed Consummation. "So he made a covenant with him" (v. 34). They made a mutual agreement to seek one another's welfare in time to come. Surely all self-seeking should end when we have been forgiven and reconciled unto God through the death of His Son. Is there not also a mutual understanding between the saved sinner and the Son of God, that while He looks after our interests in Heaven we should look after His interests on earth? As He has brought us into sonship shall we not agree to be His bond-slaves? "I determined not to know nothing among men save Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). So said Paul, whose whole soul had been captivated by the covenanting grace of God.
MICAIAH, THE FAITHFUL. 1 Kings 22.
"When gathering clouds around I view,
And days are dark and friends are few,
On Him I lean, who, not in vain,
Experienced every human pain;
He sees my wants, allays my fears,
And counts and treasures up my tears,"—Gran
Union is not always strength, for an unequal yoke with unbelievers is shown in this chapter to be utter weakness. God is willing to use weak things, but not unclean things. The godless Ahab was quite pleased to have the help of the God-fearing Jehoshaphat, but such compromising on his part could only end in shame and defeat. However, he was anxious that some true prophet might be consulted, and at last Micaiah was called. Micaiah is a noble man, with some of the daring of Elijah about him. Let us ask—
I. Who was he?
1. He was a Holy Man, a man who knew the mind of the Lord (v. 8). The meaning of his name is "Who is like Jehovah?" In his character he was like God, and in his testimony there are none like God. He was Jehovah's mouthpiece and representative, a light to shine in a dark place. All who have been called of God into the fellowship of His Son have been called to a like life and work.
2. He was Tempted. The messenger that was sent from the king to call him tried to persuade him to speak words pleasing to the king, as the other prophets had done (v. 13). The temptation was to please man rather than God. Paul said, "If I yet pleased men, I would not be the servant of Christ." The king's four hundred false prophets had all spoken smooth things, but the man who stands in God's stead must be prepared to stand alone. The workers of iniquity always like to hear good said concerning them, and men-pleasers are always found speaking smooth things.
3. He was Faithful. "Micaiah said, What the Lord says unto me, that will I speak" (v. 14). When Luther was told that all the world was against him, his answer was, "Then I am against the whole world." The faithful preacher will never shun to declare the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). "He who has My Word let him speak My Word faithfully, says the Lord, for what is the chaff to the wheat?" (Jeremiah 23:28). A man handles the Word of God deceitfully when he turns its sharp edge away from the hearts of the people (see v. 17).
II. How was he Treated?
1. He was Hated. "There is yet one man, Micaiah: but I hate him" (v. 8). Why did the king hate him? Because of this faithfulness to God. "He does not prophecy good concerning me." His words were not smooth enough for the royal ear. Christ and His disciples were hated for the same cause. The carnal mind is enmity against God. It is quite clear that if Ahab had loved God he would not have hated His servant because he spoke the truth. "Every one that does evil hates the light" (John 3:20).
2. He was Mocked. "Zedekiah smote him on the cheek, and said, Which way went the Spirit of the Lord from me to speak unto you?" (v. 24). What does false prophets or men-pleasing professors know about the Spirit of God? He has no place in their ministry. They are always ready to smite with the tongue when grace has not been poured into their lips. But smiting the speaker does not break the teeth of the truth. In our testimony for Christ we need never forget that our position is outside the camp of worldly-mindedness, bearing His reproach.
3. He was Imprisoned. "Put this fellow in the prison" (v. 27). He became the enemy of the self-seeking because he spoke the truth. It is easy to bind the servant of God, but the Word of God is not to be bound; its Spirit, like the wind, blows where it wills. When they imprisoned John Bunyan "The Pilgrim's Progress" came out of the jail, and has been wandering through the world ever since.
III. What Became of his Prophecy? (v. 17).
1. It was Fulfilled, although some Believed it not. The king had ordered him to be shut up until he would return from the battle in peace. He was peaceful enough when he came back, for he was carried back dead (v. 37) according to the word of Micaiah (v. 28). The unbelief of some could never make the Word of God of none effect.
2. It was Fulfilled, although the Unbeliever Disguised Himself to Escape it (vv. 30, 34). No man has ever yet been able to disguise himself so that God could not find him out. The "bow at a venture" became the divine detective to apprehend Ahab. God's arrows never miss the mark. There are many ways by which unbelievers disguise themselves, with the hope of escaping the judgment of God. Be sure your sin will find you out. The cloak of morality or religion will never hide from God the sin of an unbelieving heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
3. It was Fulfilled, because it was God's Word (v. 14). His Word shall not return void, as an empty, fruitless thing. Every Word of God is pure, incorruptible, and unfailing. He never speculates. There is no shadow of doubt about God's shalls. The prophet who speaks in the Name of the Lord and whose word does not come to pass is a fraud (Deuteronomy 18:21, 22). It is impossible for God to lie. "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?" (Hebrews 2:3).