The Life of Elijah
by A.W. Pink
To one filled with such zeal for the Lord and love for His people the prolonged inactivity to which he was forced to submit must have proved a severe trail to Elijah. So energetic and courageous a prophet would naturally be anxious to take advantage of the present distress of his countrymen: he would desire to awaken them to a sense of their grievous sins and urge them to return unto the Lord. Instead—so different are God’s ways from ours—he was required to remain in complete seclusion month after month and year after year. Nevertheless, his Master had a wise and gracious design in this trying discipline of His servant. Throughout his long stay by the brook Cherith, Elijah proved the faithfulness and sufficiency of the Lord, and he gained not a little from his protracted sojourn at Zarephath. As the apostle reveals, both in 2 Corinthians 6:4 and 12:12, the first mark of an approved servant of Christ is the grace of spiritual "patience," and this is developed by the trials of faith, (Jas. 1:3).
The years spent by Elijah at Zarephath, were far from being wasted, for during his stay in the widow’s home he obtained confirmation of his Divine call, by the remarkable seal which was there given to his ministry. Thereby he approved himself to the conscience of his hostess: "Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth," (17:24). It was highly important that the prophet should have such a testimony to the Divine source of his mission before entering upon the more difficult and dangerous part of it which yet lay before him. His own heart was blessedly confirmed and he was enabled to start afresh upon his public career with the assurance that he was a servant of Jehovah and that the Word of the Lord was indeed in his mouth. Such a seal to his ministry (the quickening of the dead child) and the approving of himself in the conscience of the mother was a grand encouragement for him as he set out to face the great crisis and conflict at Carmel.
What a message is there here for any ardent ministers of Christ whom Providence may fro a season have laid by from public service! They are so desirous of doing good and promoting the glory of their Master in the salvation of sinners and the building up of their Master in the salvation of sinners and the building up of His saints, that they feel their enforced inactivity to be a severe trial. But let them rest assured that the Lord had some good reason for laying this restraint upon them, and therefore they should earnestly seek grace that they may not be fretful under it, nor take matters into their own hands in seeking to force a way out of it. Ponder the case of Elijah! He uttered no complaints nor did he venture out of the retirement into which God had sent him. He waited patiently for the Lord to direct him, to set him at liberty, and to enlarge his sphere of usefulness. Meanwhile, by fervent intercession, he was made a great blessing unto those in the home.
"And it came to pass after many days," (1 Kings 18:1). Let us attend to this expression of the blessed Spirit’s. It is not "after three years" (as was indeed the case), but "after many days." There is here an important lesson for our hearts if we will heed it: we should live a day at a time, and count our lives by days. "Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down," (Job. 14:1,2). Such was the view of life taken by the aged Jacob: for when pharaoh asked the patriarch, "How old are thou?" he answered "the days of the years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty years," (Gen. 47:9). Happy are they whose constant prayer is "so teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom," (Ps. 90:12). Yet how prone we are to count by years. Let us endeavour to live each day as though we knew it was our last.
"And it came to pass": that is, the predetermined counsel of Jehovah was now actualized. The fulfillment of the Divine purpose can neither be retarded nor forced by us. God will not be hurried either by our petulance or our prayers. We have to wait His appointed hour, and when it strikes, He acts—it "comes to pass" just as He had foreordained. The precise length of time His servant is to remain in a certain place was predestined by Him from all eternity. "It came to pass after many days": that is, over a thousand since the drought had commenced, "that the word of the Lord came to Elijah." God had not forgotten His servant. The Lord never forgets any of His people, for has He not said, "Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands; thy walls are continually before Me." Isa. 49.16? O that we might never forget Him, but "set the Lord always before us," (Ps. 16.8)!
The word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year, saying, Go, shew thyself unto Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth," (1 Kings 18:1). So that we may better understand the tremendous test of the prophet’s courage which this command involved, let us seek to obtain some idea of what must now have been that state of that wicked king’s mind. We commenced this study of the life of Elijah by pondering the words, "And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word," (17:1). Now we are to consider the sequel to this. We have seen how it fared with Elijah during the lengthy interval, we must now ascertain how things were going with Ahab, his court, and his subjects. Dreadful indeed must be the state of things on earth when the heavens are shut up and no moisture is given for three years. "There was a sore famine in Samaria," (18:2).
"And Ahab said unto Obadiah, Go into the land, unto all fountains of water and unto all brooks: peradventure we may find grass to save the horses and mules alive, that we lose not all the beasts," (v. 5). The barest possible outline is here presented, but it is not difficult to fill in the details. Israel had sinned grievously against the Lord, and so they were made to feel the weight of the rod of His righteous anger. What a humbling picture of God’s favored people, to behold their king going forth to seek grass, if perchance he could find a little somewhere so that the lives of those beasts which remained might be saved. What a contrast with the abundance and glory of Solomon’s days! but Jehovah had been grossly dishonored, His truth had been rejected. The vile Jezebel had defiled the land by the pestilential influence of her false prophets and priests. The altars of Baal had supplanted that of the Lord, and therefore, as Israel had sown the wind, they must now be made to reap the whirlwind.
And what effect had the severe judgment of Heaven produced upon Ahab and his subjects? "And Ahab said unto Obadiah, Go into the land unto all fountains of water and unto all brooks: peradventure we may find grass to save the horses and mules alive, that we lose not all the beasts." There is not a single syllable here about God! not a word about the awful sins which had called down His displeasure upon the land! Fountains, brooks and grass were all that occupied Ahab’s thoughts—relief from the divine affliction was all he cared about. It is ever thus with the reprobate. It was so with Pharaoh: as each fresh plague descended upon Egypt he sent for Moses and begged him to pray for its removal, and as soon as it was removed he hardened his heart and continue to defy the most High. Unless God is pleased to sanctify directly to our souls His chastisements, they profit us not. No matter how severe His judgments or how long they be protracted, man is never softened thereby unless God performs a work of grace within him. "And they gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds," (Rev. 16:10,11).
Nowhere is the awful depravity of human nature more grievously displayed than at this very point. First, men look upon a prolonged dry season as a freak of nature which must be endured, refusing to see the hand of God in it. Later, if it be borne in upon them that they are under a divine judgment, they assume a spirit of defiance, and brazen things out. A later prophet in Israel complained of the people in his day for manifesting this vile temper: "O Lord, are not Thine eyes upon the truth? Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; Thou has consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock," (Jer. 5:3). From this we may see how utterly absurd and erroneous are the teachings of Romanists on purgatory and of Universalists on hell. "The imagined fire of purgatory or the real torments of Hell possess no purifying effect, and the sinner under the anguish of his sufferings will continually increase in wickedness and accumulate wrath to all eternity" (Thomas Scott).
"And Ahab said unto Obadiah, Go into the land, unto all fountains of water, and unto all brooks: peradventure we may find grass to save the horses and mules alive, that we lose not all the beasts. So they divided the land between them to pass throughout it: Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself," (vv. 5, 6). What a picture do these words present! Not only had the Lord no place in his thoughts, but Ahab says nothing about his people, who next to God should have been his chief concern. His evil heart seemed incapable of rising higher than horses and mules: such was what concerned him in the day of Israel’s dire calamity. What a contrast between the low groveling selfishness of this wretch and the noble spirit of the man after God’s own heart. "And David spake unto the Lord when he saw the angel that smote the people, and said, Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done? let Thine hand, I pray Thee, be against me, and against my father’s house," (2 Sam. 24:17): that was the language of a regenerate king when his land was trembling beneath God’s chastening rod because of his sin.
As the drought continued and the distressing effects thereof became more and more acute we can well imagine the bitter resentment and hot indignation borne by Ahab and his vile consort against the one who had pronounced the terrible interdict of no dew nor rain. So incensed was Jezebel that she had "cut off (slain) the prophets of the Lord," (v. 4), and so infuriated was the king that he had sought diligently for Elijah in all the surrounding nations, requiring an oath from their rulers that they were not providing asylum for the man whom he regarded as his worst enemy, and cause of all his trouble. and now the Word of the Lord came to Elijah saying, "Go, show thyself unto Ahab!" If much boldness had been required when he was called upon to announce the awful drought, what intrepidation was needed for him now to face the one who sought him with merciless rage.
It came to pass after many days that the word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year, saying go, show thyself to Ahab." The movements of Elijah were all ordered of God: he was "not his own" but the servant of another. When the Lord bade him "hide thyself," (17:3), he must retire at His orders, and when He said "Go, show thyself" he must comply with the divine will. Elijah’s courage did not fail him, for "the righteous are bold as a lion," (Prov. 28:1). He declined not the present commission but went forth without murmur or delay. Humanly speaking, it was highly dangerous for the prophet to return unto Samaria, for he could not expect any welcome from the people who were in such sore straits nor any mercy from the king. But with the same unhesitating obedience as had previously characterized him, so now he complied with his Master’s orders. Like the Apostle Paul he counted not his life dear unto himself, but was ready to be tortured and slain if that was the Lord’s will for him.
"And as Obadiah was in the way, behold, Elijah met him," (v. 7). A few extremists ("separatists") have grossly traduced the character of Obadiah, denouncing him as an unfaithful compromiser, as one who sought to serve two masters. But the Holy Spirit has not state he did wrong in remaining in Ahab’s employ, nor intimated that his spiritual life suffered in consequence: instead, He has expressly told us that "Obadiah feared the Lord greatly," (v. 3), which is one of the highest encomiums which could be paid him. God has often given His people favour in the sight of heathen masters (as Joseph and Daniel), and has magnified the sufficiency of His grace by preserving their souls in the midst of the most unpromising environments. His saints are found in very unlikely places—as in "Caesar’s household," (Phil. 4:22).
There is nothing wrong in a child of God holding a position of influence if he can do so without the sacrifice of principle. And indeed, it may enable him to render valuable service to the cause of God. Where would Luther and the Reformation have been, humanly speaking, had it not been for the Elector of Saxony? And what would have been the fate of our own Wycliffe if John of Gaunt had not constituted him his ward? As the governor of Ahab’s household Obadiah was undoubtedly in a most difficult and dangerous position, yet so far from bowing his knee to Baal he was instrumental in saving the lives of many of God’s servants. Though surrounded by so many temptations he preserved his integrity. It is also to be carefully noted that when Elijah met him he uttered no word of reproach unto Obadiah. Let us not be too hasty in changing our situation, for the Devil can assail us in one place just as easily as in another.
As Elijah was on his way to confront Ahab, he met the pious governor of the king’s household, "And as Obadiah was in the way, behold, Elijah met him: and he knew him, and fell on his face, and said, Art thou that my lord Elijah?"(v. 7). Obadiah recognized Elijah, yet he could scarcely believe his eyes. It was remarkable that the prophet had survived the merciless onslaught of Jezebel on the servants of Jehovah: it was still more incredible to see him here, alone, journeying into Samaria. Most diligent search had long been made for him, but in vain, and now he comes unexpectedly upon him. who can conceive the mixed feelings of awe and delight as Obadiah gazed upon the man of God, by whose word the awful drought and sore famine had almost completely desolated the land? Obadiah at once showed the greatest respect for him and did obeisance to him. "As he had showed the tenderness of a father to the sons of the prophets, so he showed the reverence of a son to the father of the prophets, and by this made it appear he did indeed fear the Lord greatly" (Matthew Henry).
"And he answered him, I am: go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here," (v. 8). The prophet’s courage did not fail him. He had received orders from God to "show himself unto Ahab," and therefore he made no attempt to conceal his identity when interrogated by the governor: let us shrink not boldly to declare our Christian discipleship when challenged by those who meet us. It is also to be duly notes that Elijah honored Ahab, wicked though he was, by speaking of him to Obadiah as "thy lord," It is the duty of inferior to show respect to their superiors: of subjects concerning their sovereign, of servants concerning their master. We must render to all, that to which their office or station entitles them. It is no mark of spirituality to be vulgar in our conduct or brusque in our speech. God commands us to "Honour the king," (1 Pet. 2.17) —because of his office—even if he be an Ahab or a Nero.
"And he answered him, I am: go tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here. And he said, What have I sinned, that thou wouldest deliver thy servant into the hand of Ahab, to slay me?" (vv. 8, 9). It was only natural that Obadiah should wished to be excused from so perilous an errand. First, he asks wherein he had offended either the Lord or His prophet that he should be asked to be the messenger of such distasteful tidings to the king—sure proof that his own conscience was clear! Second, he lets Elijah know of the great pains which his royal master had taken in endeavoring to track down the prophet and discover his hiding place: "As the Lord thy God liveth, there is no nation or kingdom, whither my lord hath not sent to seek thee," (v. 10.). Yet in spite of all their diligence they were not able to discover him: so effectually did God secure him from their malice. Utterly futile is it for man to attempt to hid when the Lord seeks him out: equally useless is it for him to seek when God hides anything from him.
"And now thou sayest, go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here," (v. 11.). Surely you are not serious in making such a request. Do you not know the consequences will be fatal to me if I am unable to make good such a declaration! "And it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from thee, that the Spirit of the Lord shall carry thee whither I know not ; and so when I come and tell Ahab, and he cannot find thee, he shall slay me: but I thy servant fear the Lord from my youth," (v. 12). He was afraid that Elijah would again mysteriously disappear, and then his master would likely be enraged because he had not arrested the prophet, and certainly he would be furious if he found himself imposed upon by discovering no trace of him when he duly arrived at this spot. Finally, he asks, "Was it not told my lord what I did when Jezebel slew the prophets of the Lord, how I hid a hundred men of the Lord’s prophets by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water? (v. 13). Obadiah made reference to these noble and daring deeds of his, not in any boastful spirit, but for the purpose of attesting his sincerity. Elijah reassured him in God’s name, and Obadiah obediently complied with his request: "And Elijah said, As the Lord of hosts liveth, before whom I stand, I will surely shew myself unto him today. So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him: and Ahab went to meet Elijah," (vv. 15, 16).