The Life of Elijah
by A.W. Pink
The Confidence of Faith
"And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the Lord came, saying, Israel shall be thy name" ( Kings 18:31). This was striking and blessed, for it was taking the place of faith against the evidence of sight. There were present in that assembly only the subjects of Ahab, and consequently, members of none but the ten tribes. But Elijah took twelve stones to build the altar with, intimating that he was about to offer sacrifice in the name of the whole nation (cf. Josh. 4:20; Ezra 6:17). Thereby he testified to their unity, the union existing between Judah and the ten tribes. The Object of their worship had originally been one and the same and must be so now. Thus Elijah viewed Israel from the Divine standpoint. In the mind of God the nation had appeared before Him as one from all eternity. Outwardly they were now two. But the prophet ignored that division: he walked not by sight, but by faith (2 Cor. 5:7). This is what God delights in. Faith is that which honours Him, and therefore does He ever own and honour faith wherever it is found. He did so here on Carmel, and He does so today. "Lord, increase our faith.
And what is the grand truth that was symbolized by this incident? Is it not obvious? Must we not look beyond the typical and natural Israel unto the antitypical and spiritual Israel, the Church which is the Body of Christ? Surely! Then what? This: amid the widespread dispersion which now obtains—the "children of God" which are "scattered abroad" (John 11:52)—amid the various denominations, we must not lose sight of the mystical and essential oneness of all the people of God. Here too we must walk by faith and not by sight. We should view things from the divine standpoint: we should contemplate that Church which Christ loved and for which He gave Himself as it exists in the eternal purpose and everlasting counsels of the blessed Trinity. We shall never see the unity of the Bride, the Lamb’s wife, visibly manifested before our outward eyes until we behold her descending out of Heaven "having the glory of God." But meanwhile it is both our duty and privilege to enter into God’s ideal, to perceive the spiritual unity of His saints, and to own that unity be receiving into our affections all who manifest something of the image of Christ. Such is the truth inculcated by the "twelve stones" used by Elijah.
"And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob." Let us also take notice how Elijah was regulated here by the Law of the Lord. God had given express directions about His altar: "If thou wilt make Me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it. Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto Mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon" (Ex. 20: 25, 26). In strict accordance with that Divine statute, Elijah did not send for stones that had been quarried and polished by human art, but used rough and unhewn stones which lay upon the mountain side. He took what God had provided and not what man had made. He acted according to the Divine pattern furnished him in the Holy Scriptures, for God’s work must be done in the manner and method appointed by God.
This too is written for our learning. Each several act on this occasion, every detail of Elijah’s procedure, needs to be noted and pondered if we would discover what is required from us if the Lord is to show Himself strong on our behalf. In connection with His service God has not left things to our discretion nor to the dictates of either human wisdom or expediency. He has supplied us with a "pattern" (compare Heb. 8:5), and He is very jealous of that pattern and requires us to be ordered by the same. Everything must be done as God has appointed. The moment we depart from God’s pattern, that is, the moment we fail to act in strict conformity to a "thus saith the Lord," we are acting in self-will, and can no longer count upon His blessing. We must not expect "the fire of God" until we have fully met His requirements.
In view of what has just been pointed out, need we have any difficulty in discovering why the blessing of God has departed from the churches, why His miracle-working power is no longer seen working in their midst? It is because there has been such woeful departure from His "pattern," because so many innovations have come in, because they have employed carnal weapons in their spiritual warfare, because they have wickedly brought in worldly means and methods. In consequence, the Holy Spirit is grieved and quenched. Not only must the occupant of the pulpit heed the Divine injunction and preach "the preaching that I bid thee" (Jonah 3.2), but the whole service, discipline and life of the church must be regulated by the directions God has given. The path of obedience is the path of spiritual prosperity and blessing, but the way of self-will and self-seeking is one of impotency and disaster.
"And with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed" (v. 32). Ah, take note of that: "He built and altar in the name of the Lord": that is, by His authority, for His glory. And thus should it ever be with us: "Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Col. 3.17). This is one of the basic rules for the governance of all our actions. O what a difference it would make if professing Christians were regulated thereby. How many difficulties would be removed and how many problems solved. The young believer often wonders whether this or that practice is right or wrong. Let it be brought in this touchstone: Can I ask God’s blessing upon it? Can I do it in the name of the Lord? If not, then it is sinful. Alas, how much in Christendom is now being done under the Holy Name of Christ which He has never authorized, which is grievously dishonoring to Him, which is a stench in His nostrils. "Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity" (2 Tim. 2:19).
"And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood" (v. 33). And here again observe how strictly Elijah kept to the "pattern" furnished him in the Scriptures. Through Moses the Lord had given orders in connection with the burnt offering that, "he shall flay the burnt offering, and cut it into his pieces. And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar, and lay the wood in order upon the fire: and the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood" (Lev. 1:6-8). Those details in the conduct of Elijah are the more noteworthy because of what is recorded of the prophets of Baal on this occasion: nothing is said of their "putting the wood in order" or of "cutting the bullock in pieces and laying him on the wood," but merely that they "dressed it and called on the name of Baal" (v. 26). Ah, it is in these "little things" as men term them, that we see the difference between the true and false servants of God.
"And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood," And is there not here also important instruction for us? The work of the Lord is not to be performed carelessly and hurriedly, but with great precision and reverence. Think of whose service we are engaged in if we be the ministers of Christ. Is He not richly entitled to our best? How we need to "study to show ourselves approved unto God" if we are to be "workmen that needeth not to be ashamed" (2 Tim. 2:15). What a fearful word is that in Jeremiah 48:10 [margin]: "Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord negligently": then let us seek grace to heed this malediction in the preparing of our sermons (or articles) or whatsoever we undertake in the name of our Master. Searching indeed is that declaration of Christ’s, "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much" (Luke 16:10). Not only is the glory of God immediately concerned, but the everlasting weal or woe of immortal souls is involved when we engage in the work of the Lord.
"And he made a trench . . . and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood. And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time. And the water ran round about the alter; and he filled the trench also with water" (vv. 32-35). How calm and dignified was his manner! There was no haste, no confusion: everything was done "decently and in order." He did not labour under the fear of failure, but was certain of the outcome. Some have wondered where so much water could be obtained after three years" drought, but it must be remembered that the sea was near by, and doubtless it was from it the water was brought—twelve barrels in all, again corresponding to the number of Israel’s tribes!
Ere passing on, let us pause and behold here the strength of the prophet’s faith in the power and goodness of his God. The pouring of so much water upon the altar, the flooding of the offering and the wood beneath it, would make it appear utterly impracticable and unlikely for any fire to consume it. Elijah was determined that the Divine interposition should be the more convincing and illustrious. He was so sure of God that he feared not to heap difficulties in His way, knowing that there can be no difficulty unto One who is omniscient and omnipotent. The more unlikely the answer was, the more glorified therein would be his Master. O wondrous faith which can laugh at impossibilities, which can even increase them so as to have the joy of seeing God vanquish them! It is the bold and venturesome faith which He delights to honour. Alas, how little of this we now behold. Truly this is a day of "small things." Yea, it is a day when unbelief abounds. Unbelief is appalled by difficulties, and schemes to remove them, as though God needed any help from us!
"And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near" (v. 36). By waiting until the hour when "the evening sacrifice" was offered (in the temple), Elijah acknowledged his fellowship with the worshippers at Jerusalem. And is there not a lesson in this for many of the Lord’s people in this dark day? Living in isolated places, cut off from the means of grace, yet they should recall the hour of the weekly preaching-service, and the prayer-meeting, and at the same hour draw near unto the Throne of Grace and mingle their petitions with those of their brethren away yonder in the church of their youth. It is our holy privilege to have and maintain spiritual communion with saints when bodily contact with them is no longer possible. So, too, may the sick and the aged, though deprived of public ordinances, thus join the general chorus of praise and thanksgiving. Especially should we attend to this duty and enjoy this privilege during the hours of the Lord’s Day.
"And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near." But something else, something deeper, something more precious was denoted by Elijah’s waiting until that particular time. That "evening sacrifice" which was offered every day in the temple at Jerusalem, three hours before sunset, pointed forward to the antitypical burnt offering, which was to be slain when the fulness of time should come. Relying on that great sacrifice for the sins of God’s people which the Messiah would offer at His appearing on earth, his servant now took his place by an altar which pointed forward to the Cross. Elijah, as well as Moses, had an intense interest in that great sacrifice, as was clear from the fact that they "spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem" when they appeared and talked with Christ on the mount of transfiguration (Luke 9.30, 31). It was his faith depending upon, not the blood of a bullock, but the blood of Christ, that Elijah now presented his petitions unto God.
"And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near": that is, unto the altar which he had built and on which he had laid the sacrifice. Yea, "came near," though expecting an answer by fire! yet not in the least afraid. Again we say, what holy confidence in God! Elijah was fully assured that the One whom he served, whom he was now honoring, would not hurt him. Ah, his long sojourn at the brook Cherith and the lengthy days spent in his upper room in the widow’s house at Zarephath had not been wasted. He had improved the time by spending it in the secret place of the Most High, abiding under the shadow of the Almighty, and there he had learned precious lessons which none of the schools of men can impart. Fellow minister, suffer us to point out that power from God in public ordinances can only be acquired by drawing upon the power of God in private. Holy boldness before the people must be obtained by prostration of soul at the footstool of mercy in the secret place.
"And said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel" (v. 36). This was far more than a reference to the ancestors of his people or the founders of his nation. It was something more than either a patriotic or sentimental utterance. It gave further evidence of the strength of his faith and made manifest the ground upon which it rested. It was the owning of Jehovah as the covenant God of His people, and who as such had promised never to forsake them. The Lord had entered into solemn covenant with Abraham (Gen. 17:7, 8), which he had renewed with Isaac and Jacob. To that covenant the Lord made reference when He appeared unto Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3:6 and cf. 2:24). When Israel was oppressed by the Syrians in the days of Jehoahaz we are told that, "The Lord was gracious unto them, and had compassion upon them, and had respect unto them, because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" (2 Kings 13:23). Elijah’s acting faith on the covenant in the hearing of the people reminded them of the foundation of their hope and blessing. O what a difference it makes when we are able to plead "the blood of the everlasting covenant" (Heb. 13:20).
"Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that Thou are God in Israel" (v. 36). This was Elijah’s first petition, and mark well the nature of it, for it makes clearly manifest his own character. The heart of the prophet was filled with a burning zeal for the glory of God. He could not bear to think of those wrecked altars and martyred prophets. He could not tolerate the land being defiled with the God-insulting and soul-destroying idolatry of the heathen. It was not himself that he cared about, but the horrible fact that the people of Israel were entertaining the idea that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had abdicated in favour of Baal. His spirit was stirred to its depths as he contemplated how blatantly and grievously Jehovah was dishonored. O that we were more deeply moved by the languishing state of Christ’s cause upon earth today, by the inroads of the enemy and the awful desolation he has wrought in Zion! alas that a spirit of indifference, or at least of fatalistic stoicism, is freezing so many of us.
The chief burden of Elijah’s prayer was that God should vindicate Himself that day, that He would make known His mighty power, that He would turn the people’s heart back unto Himself. It is only when we can look beyond personal interests and plead for the glory of God that we reach the place where He will not deny us. Alas, we are so anxious about the success of our work, the prosperity of our church or denomination, that we lose sight of the infinitely more wonderful matter of the vindication and honour of our Master. Is it any wonder that our circle enjoys so little of God’s blessing? Our blessed Redeemer has set us a better example: "I seek not Mine own glory" (John 8: 50), declared that One who was "meek and lowly in heart." "Father, glorify Thy name" (John 12:28), was the controlling desire of His heart. When longing for His disciples to bear fruit, it was that "herein is My Father glorified" (John 15:8). "I have glorified Thee on the earth" (John 17:4), said the Son at the completion of His mission. And now He declares, "whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son" (John 14:13).
"Let it be known this day that Thou art God in Israel, and that I am Thy servant," How blessed to behold this man, by whose word the windows of heaven were closed, at whose prayers the dead was restored to life, before whom even the king quailed—how blessed, we say, to see him taking such a place before God. "Let it be known . . . that I am thy servant." It was the subordinate place, the lowly place, the place where he was under orders. A "servant" is one whose will is entirely surrendered to another, whose personal interests are completely subservient to those of his master, whose desire and joy it is to please and honour the one who employs him. And this was the attitude and habitude of Elijah: he was completely yielded unto God, seeking His glory and not his own. "Christian service" is not doing something for Christ, it is doing those things which He has appointed and assigned us.
Fellow ministers, is this our character? Are our wills so surrendered to God that we can truly say, "I am Thy servant?" But note another thing here. "Let it be known that . . . I am Thy servant": own me as much by the manifestation of Thy power. It is not enough that the minister of the Gospel be God’s servant, it must be made manifest that he is such. How? by his separation from the world, by his devotedness to his Master, by his love for and care of souls, by his untiring labours, his self-denial and self-sacrifice, by spending himself and being spent in ministering to others; and, by the Lord’s seal on his ministry. "By their fruits ye shall know them": by the holiness of their character and conduct, by the working of God’s Spirit in and through them, by the walk of those who sit under their ministry. How we need to pray, "let it be known that I am The servant.