26. Elijah on Horeb (1 Kings 19)
James calls Elijah “a man of life nature with
ourselves” (5:17, RSV), and nowhere is this more evident than in
Elijah’s confrontation with God on mount Horeb. This austere prophet had
just been instrumental in a great victory for the honor of the Lord over Baal,
on mount Carmel (1 Kings 18). But from the heights of spiritual exaltation
Elijah was plunged into the depths of despair when he realized that his great
accomplishments had not softened the heart of Ahab, and had served only to
intensify Jezebel’s hatred for himself. Fleeing for his life, and yet in
his despondency losing all desire to live, he came into the wilderness, to Horeb
(19:8). In a pathetic prayer Elijah reveals that he has given up on Israel, and
that he sees himself as the only true believer remaining:
“I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts:
for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thy altars,
and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and
they seek my life, to take it away” (v. 10).
We have all heard such laments as this, generally for much
less reason than Elijah’s. In the circumstances we may understand his
pessimism, but God saw fit to dispel the mistaken notions that led to his
negative state of mind. A contemplation of this incident might also cure the
state of mind of any brother who, more or less self-righteously, isolates
himself from ‘less worthy’ brethren.
God called Elijah forth from his cave, and paraded before him
a tremendous panorama of His power — strong winds, earthquake, and fire.
But the Lord was not in these; Elijah saw that something was missing. At last
came a still small voice, and Elijah, bracing himself, came out of the cave
where he had fled for fear at the previous manifestations. The soft voice had a
soothing effect; now at last the frightened prophet felt, when he heard it, the
presence of God. Thus was the message driven home to him: God is best known, not
in works of judgment, but in the still small voice which calls His people, when
properly prepared by adversity, to repentance.
And Elijah was to be that voice!
“Go, return on thy way” (v. 15).
Like Samuel before him, Elijah was carefully taught that
wickedness is primarily an affront against God, not against any individual (1
Sam. 8:7); and consequently no man (no matter how “righteous”) has
any prerogative to turn his back on his brethren. Elijah must minister to the
remnant that remains in Israel; in the midst of gross apostasy he is not to flee
in fear, but rather to stand firm for God and provide a rallying point for the
sheep of Israel.
“Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the
knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed
him” (v. 18).
How seriously wrong had been Elijah’s estimation that
there were no righteous ones remaining in Israel. He had let his despair get the
better of his judgment and he had forgotten his responsibility. It was one thing
to stand strong against entrenched error on Carmel, but he had not been
perceptive enough to see his duty afterward, to strengthen those who remained
faithful against the evil in the midst of the nation.
This verse is cited by Paul in his letter to the Romans, with
the comment that “God hath not cast away his people” (Rom. 11:2). It
is a thought worth remembering for all time: God knows in every age who His
“seven thousand” are. In many Scriptural lessons He directs those
who would flee in despair from troubles to turn around, to “go, return on
thy way”, to find their brethren and strengthen them. Those who would hold
firmly to the Truth in the midst of trials must combine their forces,
strengthening and building up one another in God’s service, sharing in
good times and bad the fellowship of the saints.