We have in this chapter, for the first time, introduced to us, that eminent prophet and servant of God, Elijah. He comes to Israel, prophesying of a long season of drought. He is hidden of God, and fed by ravens. Afterwards he sojourneth with a widow, at Zarephath: works a miracle to supply her and household with food: and raiseth the widow's son, when dead.
(1) В¶ And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.
This eminent prophet of Jehovah, whose history forms so considerable a figure in the Bible, demands our attention the more closely. His name is most striking - Elijah; which is a compound word, doubly significant, and means, Eli, my God; Jail, Jehovah; most probably, so called because implying in whose name, and by whose authority he came. It is remarkable that he differs from all other prophets, in that no account is given of his genealogy. The Jews, in high veneration of Elijah, had a tradition that he came from heaven. But we have an authority to know better. The Holy Ghost, by his servant James, the apostle, tells the church that he was a man subject to like passions as we are. James 5:17. But what I would beg the Reader particularly to observe concerning Elijah, is his faithfulness, and boldness in the cause of God. Shutting up the heavens was considered as one of God's sore judgments. Therefore for Elijah to go boldly to the court of Israel and tell the impious monarch to his face, that this judgment should take place, was faithfulness indeed! The apostle James, under the blessed Spirit, carries the commendation of Elijah even a step higher than mere faithfulness. For he expressly saith, that his prayer of faith both shut and opened heaven. With an holy indignation against Israel's sin, he prayed that it might not rain. And when he found the Lord softening the hearts of the Israelites by repentance, he prayed, and the heavens gave rain. See Reader! the preciousness of faith in Jesus. James 5:17-18.
(2) And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, (3) Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. (4) And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there.
It should seem that this hiding of the prophet, was not so much by way of security to his person, as it was that the Lord might accomplish his purpose concerning Israel. A time was determined of famine, by way of punishment. And Elijah shall not be at hand to make intercession, to reverse the sentence. Reader! think of thy privileges: Jesus ever liveth, ever loveth; is ever at hand to make intercession for poor sinners; and by him the distressed soul may have access at all times, by one Spirit, unto the Father. What deeper designs were in this event, or what it might be intended to prefigure, I do not venture to say. But it is worthy of remark, that when the church, which is represented in the book of Revelations under the similitude of the woman, is said to have been driven into the wilderness, a place is said to be prepared of God for her, where they should feed her a thousand two hundred and threescore days. And in the same chapter, it is said, that she should be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. Which, if explained according to the usual terms of prophecy, would correspond (in this latter part, at least), to the three years and half of Elijah's concealment. See Revelation 12:14; Revelation 12:14.
(5) So he went and did according unto the word of the LORD: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. (6) And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook.
Besides the providence of God in this, as far as related to the supplying of the necessities of the body, there was much of a gracious, spiritual ordinance in it, if I mistake not. How doth the Lord Jesus hand his bread and flesh to his people in secret! How doth he give them to eat of the hidden manna! Whatever messengers he makes use of, as the ravens were here, ministering to his servant; yet, blessed be his name, it is he himself which gives to them of his flesh and blood, by which they live in him, and to him. John 6:51; Revelation 2:17. I must detain the Reader for one observation more, on this interesting passage. In all this gracious process for the maintenance and preservation of his servant, it is beautiful to remark how the Lord acted by the very contrary means to the common course of things; nay, even contrary to the common course of nature. Of all creatures in the creation, none so unpromising as ravens, to bring flesh to the prophet. For it is well known that ravens are carnivorous creatures; that is, I mean, they live on flesh and carrion. And, as they are very voracious; what but an overruling power, could have inclined those creatures to carry food, which they themselves would rather gorge upon forever, than desist from eating. Moreover: Ravens are said to neglect their own young. And hence the Lord himself demanded of Job; Who provideth for the raven his food, when his young ones cry unto God, they wander for lack of meat! Job 38:41 The Psalmist also expresseth the same, when be saith, He giveth to the young ravens when they cry. Psalms 147:9. Hence, therefore, to make creatures void of the natural instinct of affection to their own young, to carry flesh to the prophet; how supernatural was this act? And is there anyone, after this, disposed to cavil with the divine authority, and impiously enquire where those ravens could get their supplies for the prophet? Is not the earth the Lord's; and the fulness thereof! But, Reader! think what a strengthening this must have been to the faith of Elijah! Lord Jesus! art not thou daily supplying thy people with the sweet morsels of thy grace! And shall not our faith in thee, be equally strengthened as the prophet's! That a life of grace is kept and preserved in the souls of thy people, what, but thy seasonable supplies could accomplish it, amidst all our famine and need? And being thus kept and preserved, shall we any longer doubt? Oh! for faith, like the prophet, to live upon Jesus!
(7) And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land.
Perhaps this drying of the brook was for the exercise of Elijah. And when our friends, like Job's, deal deceitfully by us, as a brook, (Job 6:15) or when all creatures comfort fail; how sweet is it to live upon the full and never-ceasing fountain? Jesus is all this to his people! God the Father is a fountain, and the Holy Ghost also: See Zechariah 13:1; Jeremiah 2:13; John 7:37-39.
(8) В¶ And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, (9) Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee.
Observe, though all means of sustenance were over, at the brook Cherith; yet Elijah doth not move his quarters, until directed of God. It is sweet in all our movements, to wait the pillar of Cloud directing the way. There is a great beauty, as well as mercy, in this movement of the prophet to Zidon. This was among the Gentiles. Jezebel, Ahab's wife, the great advocate for idolatry, came from Zidon. Hath the Lord mercy for the inhabitants of this place! Yes! There is one of Jesus' seed there. His eye hath been upon her from everlasting. Thither Elijah must therefore go. It is worthy the Reader's remark, that it was the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, the Son of God particularly visited, and from whence he gathered that pearl of his Redemption crown so gloriously shining in the gospel. See Matthew 15:21-28. And it should seem, from what is said in this passage concerning Elijah, that the Lord had commanded this widow woman to sustain his servant, that she knew the Lord! Oh! precious distinguishing grace!
(10) So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink. (11) And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand. (12) And she said, As the LORD thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die. (13) And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son. (14) For thus saith the LORD God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth. (15) And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days.
What a most beautiful and interesting history this is, independent of the sacred and spiritual sense of it. See how the Lord in his providence overruled the events, that this widow should be coming to the gate of the city as Elijah entered it. See how graciously the Lord directed the mind of the prophet to speak to her. See how the same gracious God influenced the widow's mind, not only to attend to the call of the prophet, but, in the midst of such a pressing famine, to be ready to give to a stranger. And see what strong faith she had in the words of a stranger, as upon first sight to believe what Elijah said, that the Lord by a miracle would keep her stock undiminished. And only conceive what sweet living that must have been, kept up as it was daily by faith, both for Elijah, and the widow, and her whole house for many days, and which many days, as appears by the calculation of the time Elijah was there, could not have been less than two whole years. But when the Reader hath paid all due attention to those many interesting things in the account as an history, I beg of him to look at one feature of it in a spiritual sense, and then say, whether it is not in this point of view beautifully enhanced. Make me a little cake first (said the prophet) and after, for thyself and son. And doth not Jesus say the same to his people in the exercise of their faith and dependence upon him? Our stock is low, and all supplies are seemingly over. Nevertheless, faith, real, lively, active faith, like this widow, hears Jesus command, Let me be first supplied, and hastens to do it. For when brought down to the lowest state, and the soul casts herself, and all she hath upon Jesus; acting faith upon the naked promises of God in Christ: this is precious, precious faith. And every poor believer that is enabled to do this will find, like the widow's cruse, that seeking first Jesus and his righteousness, all other things necessary will be added thereto. Thus saith Jesus himself, and thus as the prophet here, the authority is backed in the name of the Lord God of Israel.
(16) And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Elijah. (17) В¶ And it came to pass after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick; and his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him.
Of this sickness, as it is proved by the issue, it may be said, as our Lord did of the sickness of Lazarus, it is not unto death but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. John 11:4. Let the Reader observe how, in the midst of all the smiles and favors of the Lord's providence, this apparently frowning dispensation is sent into the household of this woman. How sweet is that scripture, when received and truly believed in, by God's people. Hebrews 12:6.
(18) And she said unto Elijah, What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?
Reader, do not fail to remark, (and which is, indeed, the sweetest improvement of the passage) what a close connection there is in the mind, between the guilt of sin and the afflictions of life which are the consequences of sin. You see how the death of her child revived a sense and conviction of sin in her conscience. And this is the sting of all afflictions. For only suppose the sting of sin removed, though the affliction be not removed, the burden and pressure is gone, and the mind is at ease. Hence the prophet, speaking of gospel-times, and of the blessed effects of the sting of sin taken out by the blood and righteousness of Christ, makes this sweet observation: The inhabitants shall not say, I am sick: the people that dwell therein, shall be forgiven their iniquity. Isaiah 33:24 Not that the prophet meant by this, to say that mankind had discovered a climate where no sickness was known; for wherever sinners, even redeemed sinners, live, there must he sickness and death, the sure consequence of sin. See Romans 5:12. But the inhabitant of the Gospel Church of Jesus shall no longer complain of sickness; because he is forgiven all his iniquities in Jesus. The burden and sorrow of sickness is gone, because the guilt of sin is taken away. Hence David, under the assurance of pardoning mercy in Christ, calls upon all that is within him to bless the Lord, who hath forgiven all his iniquities, and healed all his diseases. Psalms 103:1-19.
(19) And he said unto her, Give me thy son. And he took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into a loft, where he abode, and laid him upon his own bed. (20) And he cried unto the LORD, and said, O LORD my God, hast thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son? (21) And he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the LORD, and said, O LORD my God, I pray thee, let this child's soul come into him again. (22) And the LORD heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. (23) And Elijah took the child, and brought him down out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him unto his mother: and Elijah said, See, thy son liveth.
What an interesting representation is here made of the prophet. He stops not to reason with the disconsolate mother: makes no reply to her angry expostulation: presumes to promise nothing; gives no encouragement; but takes the child and hastens with it to the Lord. Reader! oh! that you and I could learn from hence, where we are to have recourse in all our trials, difficulties, and discouragements. No doubt the mind of Elijah was distressed greatly at the event. It is probable, from long living with the widow and her child, he had conceived no small affection for him. But we hear nothing of this. He hastens to a throne of grace, there to pour out his soul before the Lord. But what were his views? Never to this period, was there any instance upon record, of a dead body raised to life again. And could Elijah hope that such a miracle would be granted? Yes! it is certain, from his prayer, that he looked for this mercy. For after having pleaded with the Lord, he makes this the one great desire of his petition; that the child's soul might come into him again. And the event answered his expectation. Oh! what cannot strong faith perform! One of the ancient fathers, in his observation on this passage, saith, that certainly such a return of the soul to the body, not only taught the early church the reality of the soul's existence when separated from the body; but also conveyed the further intimation, in the outlines of it, of that glorious doctrine of life and immortality, hereafter to be brought fully to light by the gospel. 2 Timothy 1:10.
(24) And the woman said to Elijah, Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in thy mouth is truth.
Poor woman! notwithstanding the long series of miracles, which she and her household were supported by, ought to have convinced her that Elijah was a man of God; yet, it should seem, the death of her child staggered her faith. Alas! what poor creatures the best of us are. It is only for Jesus to throw down one of our props, and like Jonah, we think we do well to be angry. Dearest Lord! increase our faith!
IN contemplating the character of Elijah, as represented to our view in this chapter, what an illustrious example doth he stand forward, of the noblest faith! With what confidence do we see him going in before the idolatrous king of Israel, to tell him, that for his impiety, God had shut up the heavens, and their influences! With what confidence in his God doth he proceed to hide himself by the brook, where there could be no sustenance, but what should be sent to him miraculously! With what cheerful resignation doth he remove to Zarephath, when the brook became dry; still depending for his daily supply from the same resource of faith! And while he knew, that Jezebel was feasting the false prophets with luxuries, at her table daily, how delightfully doth Elijah feast himself on the product of the barrel of meal, and the cruse of oil, under the favor and smiles of the Lord? And yet, if possible, still more, when by the alarming visitation of his hostess' son's death, the Lord seemed, for the moment, by this breach, to have made a breach in her affection to him, and all his peace and comfort; how truly glorious doth the man of God then appear, in the exercise of a faith almost unparallelled. And,
Reader! what shall be our improvement in this view of the prophet? What indeed, should it be, what ought it to be, but to look more stedfastly than ever we have yet done, unto all-precious Jesus, who is the Author and Giver of faith! Was it not the Spirit of Christ which was in the prophets, which did signify to them the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow? The Holy Ghost, by his servant the apostle Peter, hath graciously taught the church that this was the case! And may we not, from the same blessed authority, conclude that it must have been the same Spirit of Christ in the prophets, which led them on to such glorious deeds, as are recorded of them in his holy word? And shall we not then, under this precious assurance, look up to Jesus, all-gracious Jesus now, and beseech him to give us the like precious faith, through the righteousness of God our Saviour? Yes! thou Almighty Author and Finisher of our faith, to thee would I direct mine eyes, beseeching thee to grant me such measures of this blessed principle, in the view of thy servant the prophet here set forth, that when called upon in public, I may be bold for thy truth, and when retiring into private, I may live by faith upon thee, thou Son of God, when all creature comforts, like the brook, shall dry up. And, Lord Jesus! grant that I may be the follower of them, who now, through faith and patience, inherit the promises. And being compassed about with so great a cloud of wit nesses, may we lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset thy people, and run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus!