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.
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
And Elijah was to be that voice!
“Go, return on thy way” (v.
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.