The Life of Elijah
by A.W. Pink
The Sound of Abundance of Rain
Not a little is said in the Scriptures about rain, yet is such teaching quite unknown today even to the vast majority of people in Christendom. In this atheistic and materialistic age God is not only not accorded his proper place in the hearts and lives of the people, but He is banished from their thoughts and virtually excluded from the world which He has made. His ordering of the seasons, His control of the elements, His regulating of the weather, is now believed by none save an insignificant remnant who are regarded as fools and fanatics. There is need then for the servants of Jehovah to set forth the relation which the living God sustains to His creation and His superintendence of and government over all the affairs of earth, to point out first that the Most High foreordained in eternity past all which comes to pass here below, and then to declare that He is now executing His predetermination and working "all things after the counsel of His own will."
That God’s foreordination reaches to material things as well as spiritual, that it embraces the elements of earth as well as the souls of men, is clearly revealed in Holy Writ. "He made a decree (the same Hebrew word as in Ps. 2:7) for the rain" (Job 28:26)—predestinating when, where and how little or how much it should rain: just as "he gave to the sea His decree, that the waters should not pass His commandment," (Prov. 8:29), and He hath "placed the sand for the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it: and though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet can they not prevail" (Jer. 5:22). The precise number, duration and quantity of the showers have been eternally and unalterably fixed by the Divine will, and the exact bounds of each ocean and river expressly determined by the fiat of the Ruler of heaven and earth. In accordance with His foreordination we read the God "prepareth rain for the earth" (Ps. 147:8). "I will cause it to rain" (Gen. 7:4), says the King of the firmament, nor can any of His creatures say Him nay. "I will give you rain in due season" (Lev. 26:4), is His gracious promise, yet how little is its fulfillment recognized or appreciated. On the other hand, He declares "I have withholden the rain from you . . . I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered" (Amos 4:7 and cf. Deut. 11:17); and again, "I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain" (Isa. 5:6), and all the scientists in the world are powerless to reverse it. And therefore does He require of us, "Ask ye of the Lord rain" (Zech. 10:1), that our dependence upon Him may be acknowledged.
What has been pointed out above receives striking and convincing demonstration in the part of Israel’s history which we have been considering. For the space of three and a half years there had been no rain or dew upon the land of Samaria, and that was the result neither of chance nor blind fate, but a Divine judgment upon a people who had forsaken Jehovah for false gods. In surveying the drought-stricken country from the heights of Carmel it would have been difficult to recognize that garden of the Lord which had been depicted as "a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees; a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack anything in it" (Deut. 8:7-9). but it had also been announced, And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron. The Lord shall make the rain of thy land power and dust" (Deut. 28:23, 24). That terrible curse had been literally inflicted, and therein we may behold the horrible consequences of sin. God endures with much longsuffering the waywardness of a nation as He does of an individual, but when both leaders and people apostatize and set up idols in the place which belongs to Himself alone, sooner or later He makes it unmistakably evident that He will not be mocked with impunity, and "indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish" become their portion.
Alas that those nations which are favored with the light of God’s Word are so slow to learn this salutary lesson: it seems that the hard school of experience is the only teacher. The Lord had fulfilled His awful threat by Moses and had made good His word through Elijah (1 Kings 17:1). Nor could that fearful judgment be removed till the people at least avowedly owned Jehovah as the true God. As we pointed out at the close of a previous chapter, till the people were brought back into their allegiance to God no favour could be expected from Him; and in another chapter, neither Ahab nor his subjects were yet in any fit state of soul to be made the recipients of his blessings and mercies. God had been dealing with them in judgment for their awful sins, and thus far His rod had not been acknowledged, nor had the occasion of His displeasure been removed.
But the wonderful miracle wrought on Carmel had entirely changed the face of things. When the fire fell from heaven in answer to Elijah’s prayer, all the people "fell on their faces, and they said, The Lord, He is the God; the Lord, He is the God," And when Elijah ordered them to arrest the false prophets of Baal and to let not one of them escape, they promptly complied with his orders, nor did they or the king offer any resistance when the Tishbite brought them down to the brook Kishon and slew them there (1 Kings 18:39, 40). Thus was the evil put away from them and the way opened for God’s outward blessing. He graciously accepted this as their reformation and accordingly removed His scourge from them. This is ever the order: judgment prepares the way for blessing; the awful fire is followed by the welcome rain. Once a people take their place on their faces and render to God the homage which is His due, it will not be long ere refreshing showers are sent down from heaven.
As Elijah acted the part of executioner to the prophets of Baal who had been the principal agents in the national revolt against God, Ahab must have stood by, a most unwilling spectator of that fearful deed of vengeance, not daring to resist the popular outburst of indignation or attempting to protect the men whom he had introduced and supported. And now their bodies lay in ghastly death before his eyes on the banks of the Kishon. When the last of Baal’s prophets had bitten the dust, the intrepid Tishbite turned to the king and said, "Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain" (1 Kings 18:41). What a load would his words lift from the heart of the guilty king! He must have been greatly alarmed as he stood helplessly by, watching the slaughter of his prophets, tremblingly expecting some terrible sentence to be pronounced upon him by the One whom he had so openly despised and blatantly insulted. Instead, he is allowed to depart unharmed from the place of execution; nay, bidden to go and refresh himself.
How well Elijah knew the man he was dealing with! He did not bid him humble himself beneath the mighty hand of God, and publicly confess his wickedness, still less did he invite the king to join him in returning thanks for the wondrous and gracious miracle which he had witnessed. Eating and drinking was all this Satan-blinded sot cared about. As another has pointed out, it was as though the servant of the Lord had said, "Get thee up to where thy tents are pitched on yon broad upland sweep. The feast is spread in thy gilded pavilion, thy lackeys await thee; go, feast on thy dainties. But "be quick" for now that the land is rid of those traitor priests and God is once more enthroned in His rightful place, the showers of rain cannot be longer delayed. Be quick then! Or the rain my interrupt thy carouse." The appointed hour for sealing the king’s doom had not yet arrived: meanwhile he is suffered, as a beast, to fatten himself for the slaughter. It is useless to expostulate with apostates; compare John 13:27.
"For there is a sound of abundance of rain." It should scarcely need pointing out that Elijah was not here referring to a natural phenomenon. At the time when he spoke, a cloudless sky appeared as far as the eye could reach, for when the prophet’s servant looked out towards the sea for any portent of approaching rain, he declared "there is nothing" (v. 43), and later when he looked a seventh time all that could be seen was "a little cloud." When we are told that Moses "endured as seeing Him who is invisible" (Heb. 11:27), it was not because he beheld God with the natural eye, and when Elijah announced "there is a sound of abundance of rain," that sound was not audible to the outward ear. It was by "the hearing of faith" (Gal. 3:2), that the Tishbite knew the welcome rain was nigh at hand. "The Lord God will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7), and the Divine revelation now made known to him was received by faith.
While Elijah yet abode with the widow at Zarephath the Lord had said to him, "Go show thyself to Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth" (18:1), and the prophet believed that God would do as He had said, and in the verse we are considering he speaks accordingly as if it were now being done, so certain was he that his Master would not fail to make good His word. It is thus that a spiritual and supernatural faith ever works: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1). It is the nature of this God-given grace to bring distant things close to us: faith looks upon things promised as though they were actually fulfilled. Faith gives a present subsistence to things that are yet future: that is, it realizes them to the mind, giving a reality and substantiality to them. Of the patriarchs it is written, "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off" (Heb. 11:13): though the Divine promises were not fulfilled in their lifetime, yet the eagle eyes of faith saw them, and it is added they "were persuaded of them and embraced them"—one cannot "embrace" distant objects, true, but faith being so sure of their verity makes them nigh.
"There is a sound of abundance of rain." Does not the reader now perceive the spiritual purport of this language? That "sound" was certainly not heard by Ahab, nor even by any other person in the vast concourse on Mount Carmel. The clouds were not then gathered, yet Elijah hears that which shall be. Ah, if we were more separated from the din of this world, if we were in closer communion with God, our ears would be attuned to his softest whispers: if the Divine Word dwelt in us more richly, and faith was exercised more upon it, we should hear that which is inaudible to the dull comprehension of the carnal mind. Elijah was as sure that promised rain would come as if he now heard its first drops splashing on the rocks or as if he saw it descending in torrents. O that writer and reader may be fully assured of God’s promises and embrace them: living on them, walking by faith in them, rejoicing over them, for He is faithful who has promised. Heaven and earth shall pass away before one word of His shall fail.
"So Ahab went up to eat and to drink"(v. 42). The views expressed by the commentators on this statement strike us as being either carnal or forced. Some regard the king’s action as being both logical and prudent: having had neither food nor drink since early morning, and the day being now far advanced, he naturally and wisely made for home, that he might break his long fast. But there is a time for everything, and immediately following a most remarkable manifestation of God’s power was surely not the season for indulging the flesh. Elijah, too, had had nothing to eat that day, yet he was far from looking after his bodily needs at this moment. Others see in this notice the evidence of a subdued spirit in Ahab: that he was now meekly obeying the prophet’s orders. Strange indeed is such a concept: the last thing which characterized the apostate king was submission to God or His servant. The reason why he acquiesced so readily on this occasion was because compliance suited his fleshly appetites and enabled him to gratify his lusts.
"So Ahab went up to eat and to drink." Has not the Holy Spirit rather recorded this detail so as to show us the hardness and insensibility of the king’s heart? For three and a half years drought had blighted his dominions and a fearful famine had ensued. Now that he knew rain was about to fall, surely he would turn unto God and return thanks for His mercy. Alas! he had seen the utter vanity of his idols, he had witnessed the exposure of Baal, he had beheld the awful judgment upon his prophets, but no impression was made upon him: he remained obdurate in his sin. God was not in his thoughts: his one idea was, the rain is coming, so I can enjoy myself without hindrance; therefore, he goes to make merry. While his subjects were suffering the extremities of the Divine scourge he cared only to find grass enough to save his stud (18:5), and now that his devoted priests have been slain by the hundreds, he thought only of the banquet which awaited him in his pavilion. Gross and sensual to the last degree, though clad with the royal robes of Israel!
Let is not be supposed that Ahab was exceptional in his sottishness, but rather regard his conduct on this occasion as an illustration and exemplification of the spiritual deadness that is common to all the unregenerate - devoid of any serious thoughts of God, unaffected by the most solemn of His providences or the most wondrous of His works, caring only for the things of time and sense. We have read of Belshazzar and his nobles feasting at the very hour that the deadly Persians were entering the gates of Babylon. We have heard of Nero fiddling while Rome was burning, and even of the royal apartment of Whitehall being filled with a giddy crowd that gave itself up to frivolity while William of Orange was landing at Tor Bay. And we have lived to behold the pleasure-intoxicated masses dancing and carousing while enemy planes were raining death and destruction upon them. Such is fallen human nature in every age: if only they can eat and drink, people act regardless of the judgments of God and are indifferent to their eternal destiny. Is it otherwise with you, my reader? Though preserved outwardly, is there any difference within?
"And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees" (v. 42). Does not this unmistakably confirm what has been said above? How striking the contrast here presented: so far from the prophet desiring the convivial company of the world, he longed to get alone with God; so far from thinking of the needs of his body, he gave himself up to spiritual exercises. The contrast between Elijah and Ahab was not merely one of personal temperament and taste, but was the difference there is between life and death, light and darkness. But that radical antithesis is not always apparent to the eye of man: the regenerate may walk carnally, and the unregenerate can be very respectable and religious. It is the crises of life which reveal the secrets of our hearts and make it manifest whether we are really new creatures in Christ or merely white-washed worldlings. It is our reaction to the interpositions and judgments of God which brings out what is within us. The children of this world will spend their days in feasting and their nights in revelry though the world be hastening to destruction; but the children of God will betake themselves to the secret place of the Most High and abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
"And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees." There are some important lessons here for ministers of the Gospel to take to heart. Elijah did not hang around that he might receive the congratulations of the people upon the successful outcome of his contest with the false prophets, but retired from man to get alone with God. Ahab hastens to his carnal feast, but the Tishbite, like his Lord, has "meat to eat" which others knew not of (John 4:32). Again, Elijah did not conclude that he might relax and take his ease following upon his public ministrations, but desired to thank his Master for His sovereign grace in the miracle He had wrought. The preacher must not think his work is done when the congregation is dismissed: he needs to seek further communion with God, to ask His blessing upon his labours, to praise Him for what He has wrought, and to supplicate Him for further manifestations of His love and mercy.