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CONTEMPLATION VIII.- ELIJAH RUNNING
1 KINGS XVIII., XIX. I HEAR no news of the four hundred prophets of the groves. They lie close under the wing of Jezebel, under their pleasing shades ; neither will be suffered to undergo the danger of this trial. The carcasses of their fellows help to fill up the half-dry channel of Kishon.
Justice is no sooner done, than Ahab hears news of mercy from Elijah ; Get thee up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of abundance of rain. Their meeting was not more harsh, than their parting was friendly. It seems Ahab had spent all that day fasting, in an eager attendance of those conflicting prophets. It must needs be late, ere the execution could be done. Elijah's part began not till the evening. So far must the king of Israel be, from taking thought for the massacre of those four hundred and fifty Baalites; that now, he may go eat his bread with joy, and drink his wine with a cheerful heart; for God accepteth this work, and testifies it in the noise of much rain. Every drop of that idolatrous blood was answered, with a shower of rain, with a stream of water; and plenty poured down in every shower. A sensible blessing follows the impartial strokes of severe justice. Nothing is more cruel, than an unjust piety.
No ears but Elijah's could as yet perceive a sound of rain. The clouds were not yet gathered, the vapours were not yet risen, yet Elijah hears that which shall be. Those that are of God's counsel can discern either favours or judgments afar off. The slack apprehensions of carnal hearts make them hard to believe that, as future, which the quick and refined senses of the faithful receive, as present.
Ahab goes up to his repast : Elijah goes up to his prayers. That day had been painful to him : the vehemency of his spirit draws him to a neglect of his body. The holy man climbs up to the top of Carmel, that now he may talk with his God alone ; neither is he sooner ascended, than he casts himself down upon the earth. He bows his knees to God, and bows his face down to his knees; by this humble posture acknowledging his awful respects to that Majesty, which he implored. We cannot prostrate our bodies or souls too low, to that infinitely glorious Deity, who is the Creator of both.
His thoughts were more high, than his body was low. What he said, we know not; we know that what he said opened the heavens, that for three years and a half had been shut up.
God had said before, I will send rain upon the earth ; yet Elijah must pray for what God did promise. The promises of the
Almighty do not discharge our prayers, but suppose them. He will do what he undertakes, but we must sue for that, which we would have him do. Our petitions are included in the decrees, in the engagements of God.
The prophet had newly seen, and caused, the fire to descend immediately out of heaven: he doth not look the water should do so. He knew that the rain must come from the clouds, and that the clouds must arise from vapours, and those vapours from the sea : thence doth he expect them. But, as not willing that the thoughts of his fixed devotion should be distracted, he doth not go himself, only sends his servant to bring him the news of his success.
At the first sight, nothing appears. Seven times must he walk to that prospect; and not till his last view can discern ought. All that while is the prophet in his prayers ; neither is any whit daunted with that delay. Hope holds up the head of our holy desires, and perseverance crowns it. If we receive not an answer to our suits at the sixth motion, we may not be out of countenance, but must try the seventh.
At last, a little cloud arises out of the sea, of a hand-breadth. So many, so fervent prayers cannot but pull water out of heaven, as well as fire. Those sighs reflect upon the earth, and from the earth reflect upon heaven, from heaven rebound upon the sea, and raise vapours up thence to heaven again.
If we find that our prayers are heard for the substance, we may not cavil at the quantity. Even a hand-broad cloud contents Elijah; and fills his heart full of joy and thankfulness. He knew well this meteor was not at the biggest : it was newly born of the womb of the waters ; and, in some minutes of age, must grow to a large stature: stay but a while, and heaven is covered with it. From how small beginnings, have greater matters risen! It is no otherwise, in all the gracious proceedings of God with the soul. Scarce sensible are those first works of his Spirit in the heart, which grow up at last, to the wonder of men and applause of angels.
Well did Elijah know, that God, who is perfection itself, would not defile his hand, with an inchoate and scanted favour ; as one therefore, that foresaw the face of heaven overspread with this cloudy spot, he sends to Ahab, to hasten his chariot, that the rain stop him not. It is long, since Ahab feared this let. Never was the news of a danger more welcome. Doubtless, the king of Israel, while he was at his diet, looked long for Elijah's promised showers. " Where is the rain, whose sound the prophet heard? How is it, that his ears were so much quicker, than our eyes? We saw his fire to our terror: how gladly would we see his waters !" When now, the servant of Elijah brings him news from heaven, that the clouds were setting forward, and, if he hastened not, would be before him.
The wind arises ; the clouds gather; the sky thickens; Ahab betakes him to his chariot ; Elijah girds up his loins, and runs before him. Surely, the prophet could not want the offer of more ease in his passage ; but he will be, for the time, Ahab's lacquey, that the king and all Israel may see his humility no less than his power, and may confess that the glory of those miracles hath not made him insolent. He knew, that his very sight was monitory ; neither could Ahab's mind be beside the miraculous works of God, while his eye was upon Elijah ; neither could the king's heart be otherwise than well affected towards the prophet, while he saw that himself and all Israel had received a new life by his procurement. But what news
was here for Jezebel ! Certainly, Ahab minced nothing of the report of all those astonishing accidents. If but to salve up his own honour, in the death of those Baalites, he made the best of Elijah's merits ; he told of his challenge, conflict, victory, of the fire that fell down from heaven, of the conviction of Israel, of the unavoidable execution of the prophets, of the prediction and fall of those happy showers, and lastly of Elijah's officious attendance.
Who would not have expected, that Jezebel should have said ; “ It is no striving, no dallying, with the Almighty. No reasonable creature can doubt, after so prodigious a decision. God hath won us from heaven ; he must possess us. Justly are our seducers perished. None but the God, that can command fire and water, shall be ours: there is no prophet, but his.”
But she, contrarily, instead of relenting, rageth ; and sends a message of death to Elijah, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to-morrow, about this time. Neither
scourges nor favours can work any thing, with the obstinately wicked.
All evil hearts are not equally disaffected to good. Ahab and Jezebel were both bad enough, yet Ahab yields to that work of God, which Jezebel stubbornly opposeth ; Ahab melts with that water, with that fire, wherewith Jezebel is hardened; Ahab was bashfully, Jezebel audaciously impious. The weaker sex is ever most commonly stronger in passion, and more vehemently carried with the sway of their desires, whether to good or evil. She swears and stamps at that, whereat she should have trembled. She swears by those gods of hers, which were not able to save their prophets, that she will kill the prophet of God, who had scorned her gods, and slain her prophets.
It is well, that Jezebel could not keep counsel. Her threat preserved him, whom she had meant to kill. The wisdom and power of God could have found evasions for his prophet, in her greatest secresy; but now, he needs no other means of rescue, but her own lips.
She is no less vain, than the gods she swears by. In spite of
her fury, and her oath, and her gods, Elijah shall live. At once, shall she find herself frustrate and forsworn. She is now ready to bite her tongue, to eat her heart, for anger, at the disappointment of her cruel vow. It were no living for godly men, if the hands of tyrants were allowed to be as bloody as their hearts. Men and devils are under the restraint of the Almighty; neither are their designs more lavish, than their executions short.
Holy Elijah flees for his life. We hear not of the command of God, but we would willingly presuppose it. So divine a prophet should do nothing without God. His heels were no new refuge. As no where safe within the ten tribes, he flees to Beersheba, in the territories of Judah. As not there safe from the machinations of Jezebel, he flees alone, one day's journey, into the wilderness. There he sits him down, under a juniper tree; and, as weary of life no less than of his way, wishes to rise no more : It is enough now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am not better than
O strange and uncouth mutation! What is this we hear? Elijah fainting and giving up! That heroical spirit dejected and prostrate! He, that durst say to Ahab's face, It is thou, and thy father's house, that troubleth Israel; he, that could raise the dead, open and shut the heavens, fetch down both fire and water, with his prayers; he, that durst chide and contest with all Israel, that durst kill the four hundred and fifty Baalites with the sword; doth he shrink at the frowns and threats of a woman? doth he wish to be rid of his life, because he feared to lose it? Who can expect an undaunted constancy from flesh and blood, when Elijah fails? The strongest and holiest saint upon earth, is subject to some qualms of fear and infirmity. To be always and unchangeably good, is proper only to the glorious spirits in heaven. Thus the wise and holy God will have his power perfected in our weakness. It is in vain for us, while we carry this flesh about us, to hope for so exact health, as not to be cast down sometimes with fits of spiritual distemper.
It is no new thing, for holy men to wish for death. Who can either marvel at or blame the desire of advantage? For the weary traveller to long for rest, the prisoner for liberty, the banished for home, it is so natural, that the contrary disposition were monstrous. The benefit of the change is a just motive to our appetition ; but to call for death out of a satiety of life, out of an impatience of suffering, is a weakness unbeseeming a saint. It is not enough, O Elijah. God hath more work yet for thee. Thy God hath more honoured thee than thy fathers, and thou shalt live to honour him.
Toil and sorrow have lulled the prophet asleep, under his juniper tree. That wholesome shade was well chosen for his
While death was called for, the cousin of death comes, unbidden.
The angel of God waits on him, in that hard lodging. No wilderness is too solitary, for the attendance of those blessed spirits. As he is guarded, so is he awaked, by that messenger of God; and stirred up from his rest, to his repast. While he slept, his breakfast is made ready for him by those spiritual hands; there was a cake baked on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. Oh the never-ceasing care and providence of the Almighty ; not to be barred by any place, by any condition ! When means are wanting to us, when we are wanting to ourselves, when to God, even then doth he follow us with his mercy, and cast favours upon us, beyond, against expectation.
What variety of purveyance doth he make for his servant ! One while the ravens, then the Sareptan, now the angel shall be his caterer: none of them without a miracle.
Those other provided for him waking; this, sleeping. O God, the eye of thy providence is not dimmer, the hand of thy power is not shorter: only teach thou us to serve thee, to trust thee.
Needs must the prophet eat, and drink, and sleep with much comfort, while he saw that he had such a guardian, attendance, purveyor; and now, the second time, is he raised, by that happy touch, to his meal and his way: Arise, and eat ; because the journey is too great for thee. What needed he to travel further, since that divine power could as well protect him in the wilderness, as in Horeb? What needed he to eat, since he, that meant to sustain him forty days with one meal, might as well have sustained him without it? God is a most free agent ; neither will he be tied to the terms of human regularities : it is enough, that he knows and approves the reasons of his own choice and commands.
Once in forty days and nights shall Elijah eat, to teach us what God can do with little means ; and but once, to teach us what he can do without means : once shall the prophet eat, Man lives by bread ; and but once, Man lives not by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
Moses, Elijah, our Saviour, fasted each of them forty days and forty nights; the three great fasters met gloriously in Tabor. I do not find where God ever honoured any man for feasting. It is abstinence, not fulness, that makes a man capable of heavenly visions, of divine glory.
The journey was not, of itself, so long : the prophet took those ways, those hours, which his heart gave him.
In the very same mount, where - Moses first saw God, shall Elijah see him. One and the same cave, as is very probable, was the receptacle to both. It could not be but a great confirmation of Elijah, to renew the sight of those sensible monuments