The Life of Elijah
by A.W. Pink
"There hath no temptation (trial: whether in the form of seductions or afflictions, solicitations to sin, or hardships) taken you but such as is common to man" (1 Cor. 10:13). There hath no trial come upon you but such as human nature is liable unto and has often been subject to: you have not been called upon to experience any super-human or unprecedented temptation. But how generally is this fact lost sight of when the dark clouds of adversity come our way! Then we are inclined to think, none was ever so severely tried as I am. It is well at such a moment to remind ourselves of this truth and ponder the records of those who have gone before us. Is it excruciating suffering of body which causes you to suppose your anguish is beyond that of any other? Then recall the case of Job "with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown"! Is it bereavement, the unexpected snatching away of loved ones? Then remember also that Job lost all his sons and daughters in a single day. Is it a succession of hardships and persecutions encountered in the Lord’s service? Then read 2 Corinthians 2:24-27 and note the multiplied and painful experiences through which the chief of the apostles was called upon to pass.
But perhaps that which most overwhelms some reader is the shame he feels over his breakdown under trials. He knows that others have been tried as severely as he has, yea, much more severely, yet they bore them with courage and composure, whereas he has been crushed by them: instead of drawing comfort from the Divine promises, he has given way to a spirit of despair; instead of bearing the rod meekly and patiently, he has rebelled and murmured; instead of plodding along the path of duty, he has deserted it. Was there ever such a sorry failure as I am? Is now his lament. Rightly should we be humbled and mourn over such failures to quit ourselves "like men" (1 Cor. 16:13) contritely should we confess such sins unto God. Yet we must not imagine that all is now lost. Even this experience is not unparalleled in the lives of others. Though Job cursed not God, yet he did the day of his birth. So, too, did Jeremiah, (20:14). Elijah deserted his post of duty, lay down under the juniper tree and prayed for death. What a mirror is Scripture in which we may see ourselves!
"But God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Cor. 10:13). Yes, God is faithful even if we are faithless: He is true to His covenant engagements, and though He visits our iniquities with stripes, yet His loving kindness will He never utterly take from one of His own (Ps. 89:32, 33). It is in the hour of trial, just when the clouds are blackest and a spirit of dejection has seized us, that God’s faithfulness appears most conspicuously. He knows our frame and will not suffer us to be unduly tried, but will "with the temptation also make a way to escape." That is to say, He will either lighten the burden or give increased strength to bear it, so that we shall not be utterly overwhelmed by it. "God is faithful": not that He is engaged to secure us if we deliberately plunge into temptations. No, but rather, if we seek to resist temptation, if we call upon Him in the day of trouble, if we plead His promises and count upon Him to undertake for us, He most certainly will not fail us. Thus, though on the one hand we must not presume and be reckless, on the other hand we should not despair and give up the fight.—Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.
How strikingly and how blessedly was 1 Corinthians 10:13, illustrated and exemplified in the case of Elijah! It was a sore temptation or trial, when after all his fidelity in the Lord’s service his life should be threatened by the wicked Jezebel, and when all his efforts to bring back Israel to the worship of the true God seemed to be entirely in vain. It was more than he could bear: he was weary of such a one-sided and losing fight, and he prayed to be removed from the arena. But God was faithful and with the sore temptation "also made a way to escape" that he might be able to bear it. In Elijah’s experience, as is so often the case with us, God did not remove the burden, but He gave fresh supplies of grace so that the prophet could bear it. He neither took away Jezebel nor wrought a mighty work of grace in the hearts of Israel, but He renewed the strength of His overwrought servant. Though Elijah had fled from his post of duty, the Lord did not now desert the prophet in his hour of need. "If we believe not, yet He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself" (2 Tim. 2:13). O what a God is ours! No mere fair-weather friend is the One who shed his blood to redeem us, but a Brother "born for adversity" (Prov. 17:17). He has solemnly sworn "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee," and therefore may we triumphantly declare, "The Lord is my Helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me" (Heb. 13:5, 6).
As we pointed out in our last chapter, the first thing which the Lord did in renewing the strength of Elijah was to give His beloved sleep, thereby refreshing his weary and travel-worn body. How inadequately do we value this Divine blessing, not only for the rest it brings to our physical frames but for the relief it affords to a worried mind! What a mercy it is for many harassed souls that they are not awake the full twenty-four hours! Those who are healthy and ambitious may begrudge the hours spent in slumber as so much "necessary waste of time," but others who are wracked with pain or who are distressed must regard a few hours of unconsciousness each night as a great boon. None of us are as grateful as we should be for this constantly recurring privilege, nor as hearty in returning thanks unto its Bestower. That this is one of the Creator’s gifts unto us is seen from the very first occurrence of the word in Scripture: "The Lord caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam" (Gen. 2:21).
"And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then, an angel touched him" (1 Kings 19:5). Here was the second proof of the Lord’s tender care for His servant and an inexpressibly blessed one was it. Each separate word calls for devout attention. "Behold:" a note of wonderment to stimulate our interest and stir us to reverent amazement. "Behold" what? Some token of the Lord’s displeasure, as we might well expect: a drenching rain for example, to add to the prophet’s discomfort? No, far otherwise. Behold a grand demonstration of that truth, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:8, 9). These verses are often quoted, yet few of the Lord’s people are familiar with the words which immediately precede them and of which they are an amplification: "Let us return to the Lord and He will have mercy upon us, and to our God for He will abundantly pardon." Thus it is not the loftiness of his wisdom but the infinitude of his mercy which is there in view.
"Behold then." This time-mark gives additional emphasis to the amazing phenomenon which is here spread before our eyes. It was not on the summit of Carmel, but here in the wilderness that Elijah received this touching proof of his Master’s care. It was not immediately after his conflict with the prophets of Baal, but following upon his flight from Jezreel that he received this distinguishing favour. It was not while he was engaged in importunate prayer, begging God to supply his need, but when he had petulantly asked that his life should be taken from him, that provision was now made to preserve it. How often God is better to us than our fears. We look for judgment, and behold mercy! Has there not been just such a "then" in our lives? Certainly there has been—more than once in the writer’s experience; and we doubt not in each of our Christian reader’s. Well, then, may we unite together in acknowledging, "He hath not dealt with us after our sins, not rewarded us according to our iniquities" (Ps. 103:10). Rather has He dealt with us after His covenant faithfulness and according to His knowledge-passing love.
"Behold, then an angel touched him." It was not a fellow-traveler whose steps God now directed toward the juniper tree and whose heart He moved to have compassion unto the exhausted one who lay beneath it. That had been a signal mercy, but here we gaze upon something far more amazing. God dispatched one of those celestial creatures who surround His throne on high to comfort the dejected prophet and supply his wants. Verily this was not "after the manner of men," but blessed be His name it was after the manner of Him who is "the God of all grace" (1 Pet. 5:10). And grace, my reader, takes no account of our worthiness or unworthiness, of our undeservedness, or ill-deservedness. No, grace is free and sovereign and looks not outside itself for the motive of its exercise. Man often deals harshly with his fellows, ignoring their frailty and forgetting that he is liable to fall by the wayside as they are, and therefore he frequently acts hurriedly, inconsistently, and unkindly towards them. But not so did God: He ever deals patiently with His erring children, and shows the deepest pity and tenderness.
"Behold, then an angel touched him," gently rousing him from his sleep, that he might see and partake of the refreshment which had been provided for him. How this reminds us of that word, "are they not all (the holy angels) ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" (Heb. 1:14). This is something about which we hear little in this materialistic and skeptical age, but concerning which the Scriptures reveal much for our comfort. It was an angel who came and delivered Lot from Sodom ere that city was destroyed by fire and brimstone (Gen. 19:15, 16). It was an angel which "shut the lions" mouths" when Daniel was cast into their den (6:22). It was angels who conveyed the soul of the beggar into "Abraham’s bosom" (Luke 16:22). It was an angel which visited Peter in the prison, smote the chains from his hands, caused the iron gate of the city to "open of his own accord" (Act 12:7, 10), and thus delivered him from his enemies. It was an angel who assured Paul that none on the ship should perish (Acts. 27:23). Nor do we believe for a moment that the ministry of angels is a thing of the past, though they no longer manifest themselves in visible form as in Old Testament times—Hebrews 1:14, precludes such an idea.
"Then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. And he looked, and behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head" (vv. 5, 6). Here was the third provision which the Lord so graciously made for the refreshment of His exhausted servant. Once more we note the thought-provoking "behold." And well may we ponder this sight and be moved to wonderment at it—wonderment at the amazing grace of Elijah’s God, and our God. Twice before, the Lord provided sustenance for the prophet in a miraculous manner; by the ravens at the brook Cherith, by the widow woman at Zarephath; but here none less than an angel ministered to him! Behold the constancy of God’s love, which all Christians profess to believe in but few seem to realize in moments of depression and darkness. As another has said, "It is not difficult to believe that God loves us when we go with the multitude to the house of God with joy and praise and stand in the sunlit circle: but it is hard for us to believe that He feels as much love for us when, exiled by our sin to the land of Jordan and of the Hermonites our soul is cast down within us, and deep calls to deep and His waves and billows surge around.
"It is not difficult to believe that God loves us when, like Elijah at Cherith and Carmel, we do his commandments hearkening unto the voice of His Word; but it is not so easy when, like Elijah in the desert, we lie stranded, or as dismantled and rudderless vessels roll in the trough of the waves. It is not difficult to believe in God’s love when, like Peter, we stand on the mount of glory and in the rapture of joy propose to share a tabernacle with Christ for evermore; but it is well-nigh impossible when, with the same apostle, we deny our Master with oaths, and are abashed by a look in which grief masters rebuke." Most necessary is it for our peace and comfort to know and believe that the love of God abides unchanging as Himself. What proof did Elijah here receive of the same! Not only was he not forsaken by the Lord, but there was no upbraiding of him nor word of reproach upon his conduct. Ah, who can fathom, yea even understand, the amazing grace of our God: the more sin abounds the more does His grace superabound!
Not only did Elijah receive unmistakable proof of the constancy of God’s love at this time, but it was manifested in a specially tender manner. He had drunk of the brook Cherith, but never of water drawn by angelic hands from the river of God. He had eaten of bread foraged for him by ravens and of meal multiplied by a miracle, but never of cakes manufactured by celestial fingers. And why these special proofs of tenderness? Certainly not because God condoned His servant, but because a special manifestation of love was needed to assure the prophet that he was still the object of Divine love, to soften his spirit and lead him to repentance. How this reminds us of that scene portrayed in John 21, where we behold a breakfast prepared by the risen Saviour and a fire of coals to warm the wet seamen; and He did this for the very men who, on the night of His betrayal, all forsook Him and fled, and who refused to believe in His triumph when the women told them of the empty tomb and of His appearing unto them in tangible form!
"And he looked, and behold, there was a cake baken on the coals and a cruse of water at his head." Not only does this "behold" emphasize the riches of God’s grace in ministering to His wayward servant, but it also calls attention to a marvel of His power. In their petulance and unbelief, Israel of old had asked, "Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?" (Ps. 78:19); yea, they affirmed, "It had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness" (Ex. 14:12). And here was Elijah, not merely on the fringe of this desolate and barren wilderness but "a day’s journey" into its interior. Nothing grew there save a few shrubs, and no stream moistened its parched sands. But adverse circumstances and unpropitious conditions present no obstacles to the Almighty. Though means be wanting to us, the lack of them presents no difficulty to the Creator; He can produce water from the flinty rock and turn stones into bread. Therefore no good thing shall they lack whom the Lord God has engaged to provide for: His mercy and His power are equally pledged on their behalf. Remember then, O doubting one, the God of Elijah still lives and whether thy lot be cast in a time of war or famine, thy bread and thy water are sure.
"And he looked, and behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head." There is yet another direction to which this "behold" points us, which seems to have escaped the notice of the commentators, namely, the kind of service which the angel here performed. What an amazing thing that so dignified a creature should be engaged in such a lowly task: that the fingers of a celestial being should be employed in preparing and baking a cake! It would appear a degrading task for one of those exalted beings which surround the throne of the Most High to minister unto one who belonged to an inferior and fallen race, who was undutiful and out of temper: to leave a spiritual occupation to prepare food for Elijah’s body - how abasing! Well may we marvel at such a sight, and admire the angel’s obedience in complying with his Master’s order. But more, it should encourage us to heed that precept and "condescend to men of low estate" (Rom. 12:16), to regard no employment beneath us by which we may benefit a fellow creature who is dejected in mind and whose spirit is overwhelmed within him. Despise not the most menial duty when an angel disdained not to cook food for a sinful man.
"And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again" (v. 6). Once again it is evident that these narratives of Holy Writ are drawn by an impartial hand and are painted in the colors of truth and reality. The Holy Spirit has depicted the conduct of men, even of the most eminent, not as it should have been but as it actually was. That is why we find our own path and experiences therein so accurately depicted. Had some religious idealist invented the story, how had he portrayed Elijah’s response to this amazing display of the Lord’s grace, of the constancy of His love, and of the special tenderness now shown him? Why obviously he would have pictured the prophet as overwhelmed by such Divine favour, thoroughly melted by such loving kindness, and prostrated before Him in adoring worship. How different the Spirit’s description of fact! There is no intimation that the petulant prophet was moved at heart, no mention of his bowing in worship, not so much as a word that he returned thanks: merely that he ate and drank and laid himself down again.
Alas, what is man? What is the best of men looked at apart from Christ? How does the maturest saint act the moment the Holy Spirit suspends His operations and ceases to work in and through him? Not differently from the unregenerate, for the flesh is no better in him than in the former. When he is out of communion with God, when his will has been crossed, he is as peevish as a spoiled child. He is no longer capable of appreciating Divine mercies, because he considers himself hardly dealt with, and instead of expressing gratitude for temporal favors he accepts them as a matter of course. If the reader feels we are putting an unwarranted construction on this silence of the narrative, that we should not assume Elijah failed to return thanks, we would ask him to read the sequel and ascertain whether or not it shows that the prophet continued in a fretful mood. The omission of Elijah’s worship and giving thanks for the refreshment is only too sadly true to life. How this should rebuke us for similar omissions! How this absence of praise should remind us of our ingratitude at Divine favors when our wills are crossed, and humble us at the recollection thereof.