The Life of Elijah
by A.W. Pink
The departure of Elijah from this world was even more striking and remarkable than had been his entrance upon the stage of public action, yet the supernatural character of his exit was but the fitting finale to such a meteoric course. No ordinary career was his, and no commonplace end to it would have seemed suitable. Miracle had attended him wherever he had gone, and a miracle brought about his departure from this scene. He had ministered during stormy times; again and again did he call down Divine judgments upon the heads of evil-doers, and at the last a "whirlwind" carried him away from this earth. In answer to his prayer "the fire of the Lord" had fallen upon Mount Carmel, and again on those who sought to take his life, (2 Kings 1:12), and at the close "a chariot of fire and horses of fire" parted him asunder from Elisha. At the beginning of his dramatic career he declared, "The Lord God of Israel, before whom I stand" (1 Kings 17:1), and at its conclusion he was mysteriously rapt into His immediate presence without passing through the portals of death. Before looking more closely at that startling exit, let us briefly review his life, summarize its principal features, and seek to mark its leading lessons.
The life of Elijah was not the career of some supernatural being who tabernacled among men for a brief season: he was no angelic creature in human form. It is true that nothing is recorded of his parentage, his birth or early life, but the concept of any super human origin is entirely excluded by that expression of the Holy Spirit’s, "Elijah was a man, subject to like passions as we are" (Jas. 5:17). He, too, was a fallen descendant of Adam harassed by the same depraved inclinations, subject to the same temptations, annoyed by the same devil, meeting with the same trials and oppositions as both writer and reader experience. Yet did he trust in the same Saviour, walk by the same faith, and have all his needs supplied by the same gracious and faithful God as it is our privilege to do. A study of his life is particularly pertinent today, for our lot is cast in times which closely resemble those which he encountered. Varied and valuable are the lessons which his life illustrated and exemplified, the chief of which we have sought to point out in this book. Our present task is to summarize the leading points among them.
1. Elijah was a man who walked by faith and not by sight, and walking by faith is not a mystical or nebulous thing but an intensely practical experience. Faith does more than rest upon the bare letter of Scripture: it brings the living God into a scene of death, and enables its possessor to endure by "seeing Him who is invisible." Where faith is really in exercise, it looks beyond distressing and distracting circumstances and is occupied with Him who regulates all circumstances. It was faith in God which enabled Elijah to sojourn by the brook Cherish, there to be fed by the ravens. The skeptic supposes that faith is mere credulity or a species of religious fanaticism, for he knows not of the sure foundation on which it rests. The Lord had told His servant, "I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there," and the prophet "judged Him faithful who had promised," and therefore he was not put to confusion. And that is recorded for our encouragement. Faith looks beyond the promise to the Promiser, and God never fails those who trust alone in Him and rely fully upon Him.
It was faith which had moved Elijah to sojourn with the desolate widow of Zarephath, when she and her son were at the point of starvation. To natural instincts it seemed cruel to impose himself upon her, to carnal reason it appeared a suicidal policy. But Jehovah had said "I have commanded a widow woman to sustain thee there" and the prophet "staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief." An, faith looks to and counts upon the living God with whom nothing is too hard. Nothing, my reader, honours God so much as faith in Himself, and nothing so dishonors Him as our unbelief. It was by faith that Elijah returned to Jezreel and bearded the lion in his den, telling Ahab to his face his impending doom, and announcing the awful judgment which would surely seize upon his wife. "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:57): Elijah heard, believed and acted. Yes, acted, for a faith without works is but a dead and worthless one. Obedience is nothing but faith in exercise, directed by the Divine authority, responding to the Divine will.
2. Elijah was a man who walked in manifest separation from the evil around him. Alas, the policy prevailing in Christendom today is to walk arm in arm with the world, to be a "goodmixer" if you wish to win the young people. It is argued that we cannot expect them to ascend to the spiritual plane, so the only way for the Christian to reach and help them is by descending to theirs. But such reasoning as "Let us do evil that good may come" finds no support in the Word of God, but rather emphatic refutation and condemnation. "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers" (2 Cor. 6:14), "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness" (Eph. 5:11), are the peremptory demands. "Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (Jas. 4:4)—as true in this twentieth century as in the first, for it is never right to do wrong. God has not called His people to "win the world to Christ": rather does He require them, by their lives, to witness against it.
Nothing is more marked about Elijah than his uncompromising separation from the abounding evil all around him. We never find him fraternizing with the people of his degenerate day, but constantly reproving them. He was indeed a "stranger and pilgrim" here. No doubt many considered him selfish and unsociable, and probably charged him with assuming an "l am holier than thou" attitude. Ah, Christian reader, you must not expect mere religionists, empty professors, to appreciate your motives or understand your ways: "the world knoweth us not" (1 John 3:1). God leaves His people here to witness for Christ, and the only way to do that is to walk with Christ. Thus we are bidden to "go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach" (Heb. 13:13): we cannot walk with Christ except we be where His Spirit is—outside the apostate mass, apart from all that dishonors and disowns the Lord Jesus; and that inevitably involves "bearing His reproach."
3. Elijah was a man of marked elevation of spirit. Possibly that expression is a new one to some of our readers, yet its meaning is more or less obvious. That which we make reference to was symbolized by the fact that the prophet is seen again and again "on the mount." The first mention of him (1 Kings 17:1), tells us that he was "of the inhabitants of Gilead," which was a hilly section of the country. His memorable victory over the false prophets of Baal was upon mount Carmel. After his slaughter of them at the brook Kishon, and his brief word to the king, we are told that "Ahab went up to eat and drink" whereas Elijah "went up to the top of Carmel" (18:42)—which at once revealed their respective characters. When the Lord recovered him from his lapse we read that he "went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God" (1 Kings 19:8). After he had delivered his message to Ahaziah, it is recorded, "behold, he sat on the top of a hill" (2 Kings 1:9). Thus Elijah was markedly the man of the mount. Now there is a mystical or spiritual significance in that, apparent unto an anointed eye, which we have termed elevation of spirit.
By elevation of spirit we mean heavenly-mindedness, the heart being raised above the poor things of this world, the affections being set upon things above. This is ever one of the effects or fruits of walking by faith, for faith has God for its object, and He dwells on high. The more our hearts are occupied with Him whose throne is in heaven, the more are our spirits elevated above the earth. The more our minds are engaged with the perfections of Him who is altogether lovely, the less will the things of time and sense have power to attract us. The more we dwell in the secret place of the Most High, the less will the baubles of men charm us. The same feature comes out prominently in the life of Christ: He was pre eminently the Man of the Mount. His first sermon was delivered from one. He spent whole nights there. He was transfigured upon "the holy mount." He ascended from the mount of Olives. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles" (Isa. 40:31)—their bodies on earth, their hearts in heaven.
4. Elijah was a mighty intercessor. Let it be pointed out that none but one who walks by faith, who is in marked separation from evil around him, and who is characterized by elevation of spirit or heavenly-mindedness, is qualified for such holy work. The prevalency of Elijah’s intercession is recorded not only for our admiration but emulation. Nothing is more calculated to encourage and embolden the Christian in his approaches to the throne of grace than to mark and recall how frail mortals like himself, unworthy and unprofitable sinners, supplicated God in the hour of need and obtained miraculous supplies from Him. God delights for us to put Him to the test, and therefore has He said, "All things are possible to him that believeth" (Mark 9:23). Wondrously was that exemplified in the life of Elijah, and so should it be in ours too. But we shall never have power in prayer while we give way to an evil heart of unbelief, or fraternize with religious hypocrites, or while we are absorbed with the things of time and sense. Faith, fidelity and spirituality are necessary qualifications.
In answer to the intercession of Elijah the heavens were shut up for three years and a half, so that it rained not at all. This teaches us that the supreme motive behind all our supplications must be the glory of God and the good of His people—the chief lessons inculcated by Christ in the family prayer. It also teaches that there are times when the servant of God may request his Master to deal in judgment with his enemies. Drastic diseases call for drastic remedies. There are times when it is both right and necessary for a Christian to ask God to bring down His chastening rod on His backslidden and wayward people. We read that Paul delivered unto Satan certain ones who had made shipwreck of the faith that they might learn not to blaspheme (1 Tim. 1:20). Jeremiah called on the Lord to "Pour out Thy fury upon the heathen that know Thee not, and upon the families that call not on Thy name" (10:25).The Lord Jesus interceded not only for "His own," but also against Judas and his family (Ps. 109).
But there is a brighter side to the efficacy of Elijah’s intercession than the one contemplated in the preceding paragraph. It was in answer to his prayer that the widow’s son was restored to life (1 Kings 17:19, 22). What a proof was that that nothing is too hard for the Lord: that in response to believing supplication He is able and willing to reverse what unto sight seems the most hopeless situation. What possibilities to trustful and importunate prayer does that present! Man’s extremity is indeed God’s opportunity—to show Himself strong on our behalf. But let it not be forgotten that behind the prophet’s intercession there was a higher motive than the comforting of the widow’s heart: it was that his Master might be glorified—vindicated in the claims made by His servant. Ah, that is so important, though generally overlooked. Christian parents reading this chapter are most desirous that their children should be saved, and pray daily for that end. Why? Is it only that they may have the comforting assurance their loved ones have been delivered from the wrath to come? Or, is it that God may be honored by their regeneration?
It was in response to Elijah’s intercession that the fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice. Here, too, his petition was based on the plea for the Lord to vindicate His great and holy name before the vast assembly of His vacillating people and the heathen idolaters: "let it be known this day that Thou art God in Israel" (1 Kings 18:36). As we pointed out in an earlier chapter, that "fire of the Lord" was not only a solemn type of the Divine wrath smiting Christ when bearing the sins of His people, but it was also a dispensational foreshadowing of the public descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost attesting God’s acceptance of the sacrifice of His Son. Thus the practical lesson for us is believingly to pray for more of the Spirit’s power and blessing, that we may be favored with further manifestations of His presence with and in us. That we are warranted in so making request is evidenced by that word of our Lord, "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?" (Luke 11:13). Pray for faith to lay hold of that promise.
So, too, it was in answer to the prophet’s intercession that the terrible drought was ended: "He prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit" (Jas. 5:18). The spiritual meaning and application of that is obvious. For many years past the churches have been in a parched and languishing condition. This was evident from the varied expedients they resorted to in the attempt to "revive" and strengthen them. Even where carnal means were not employed with the object of attracting outsiders, religious "specialists" in the form of "successful evangelists" or "renowned Bible teachers" were called in to aid in extra meetings—as sure a sign of the churches" ill-health as the summoning of a doctor. But artificial stimulants soon lose their efficacy, and unless his health is restored by ordinary means, leave the patient worse than before. So it has been with the churches, until their dry and dead condition is apparent even to themselves. Yet, unless the end of the world be upon us, showers of blessing will yet descend (though possibly in different parts of the earth than formerly), and they will come (at their appointed time) in answer to some Elijah’s prayer!
5. Elijah was a man of intrepid courage, by which we mean not a natural bravery but spiritual boldness. That distinction is an important one, yet it is rarely recognized. Few today seem capacitated to discriminate between what is of the flesh and what is wrought by the Spirit. No doubt the prevailing habit of defining Bible terms by the dictionary rather than from their usage in Holy Writ, adds much to the confusion. Take for example the grace of spiritual patience: how often is it confounded with an even and placid temperament, and because they possess not such a natural disposition, many of the Lord’s people imagine they have no patience at all. The patience of which the Holy Spirit is the Author is not a calm equanimity which never gets irritated by delays, nor is it that gentle graciousness which bears insults and injuries with out retaliation or even murmuring—rather is that much closer akin to meekness. How many have been puzzled by those words, "Let us run with patience the race set before us" (Heb. 21:1)? They create their own difficulty by assuming that "patience" is a passive rather than an active grace.
The "patience" of Christians is not a passive virtue but an active grace, not a natural endowment but a supernatural fruit. It signifies endurance: it is that which enables the saints to persevere in the face of discouragements, to hold on his way despite all opposition. In like manner, Christian "courage" is not a constitutional endowment but a heavenly enduement: it is not a natural quality but a supernatural thing. "The wicked flee when no man pursueth (a guilty conscience filling them with terror), but the righteous are bold as a lion" (Prov. 28:1). He who truly fears God is fearless of man. That spiritual courage or boldness has shone forth in many a weak, timid, shrinking woman. Those who would have trembled at the prospect of walking alone through a cemetery on a dark night, shrank not from confessing Christ when a fiery death was the certain sequel. The boldness of Elijah in denouncing Ahab to his face, and in confronting single-handed his army of false prophets, must not be attributed to his natural constitution but ascribed to the operations of the Holy Spirit.
6. Elijah was a man who experienced a sad fall, and this also is recorded for our instruction: not as an excuse for us to shelter behind, but as a solemn warning to take to heart. Few indeed are the recorded blemishes in Elijah’s character, yet he did not attain to perfection in this world. Remarkably as he was honored by his yet sin had not been eradicated from his being. Glorious was the "treasure" which he bore about, nevertheless God saw fit to make it manifest that an "earthen vessel" carried the same. Strikingly, it was in his faith and courage he failed, for he took his eye off the Lord for a brief season and then fled in terror from a woman. What force does that give to the exhortation, "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12)! We are just as dependent upon God for the maintenance of our spiritual graces as we are for the bestowment of them. But though he fell, Elijah was not utterly cast down. Divine grace sought him, delivered him from his despondency, restored him to the paths of righteousness, and so renewed him in the inner man that he was as faithful and courageous afterward as he had been formerly.
7. Elijah was a man who had a supernatural exit from this world. As this will be the subject of the closing chapter, we will not now anticipate our remarks thereon.