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CHAPTER XLI.

HOW GOD DEALS WITH DESPONDENCY.

1 Kings xix. 5-8.

"Why art thou so vexed, O my soul? and why art thou so disquieted within me? O put thy trust in God; for I will yet praise Him who is the health of my countenance, and my God."—Psalm xlii. 11.

"It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers."

The despondency was deeper than personal. It was despair of the world; despair of the fate of the true worship; despair about the future of faith and righteousness; despair of everything. Elijah, in his condition of pitiable weariness, felt himself reduced to entire uncertainty about all God's dealings with him and with mankind. "I am not better than my fathers": they failed one by one, and died, and entered the darkness; and I have failed likewise. To what end did Moses lead this people through the wilderness? Why did the Judges fight and deliver them? Of what use was the wise guidance of Samuel? What has come of David's harp, and Solomon's temple and magnificence, and Jeroboam's heaven-directed rebellion? It ends, and my work ends, in the despotism of Jezebel, and a nation of apostates!

God pitied His poor suffering servant, and gently425 led him back to hope and happiness, and restored him to his true self, and to the natural elasticity of his free spirit.

1. First, he gave His beloved sleep. Elijah lay down and slept. Perhaps this was what he needed most of all. When we lose that dear oblivion of "nature's soft nurse, and sweet restorer, balmy sleep," then nerve and brain give way. So God sent him

"The innocent sleep,

Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care,

Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,

Chief nourisher in life's feast."

And doubtless, while he slept, "his sleeping mind," as the Greek tragedian says, "was bright with eyes," and He, who had thus "steeped his senses in forgetfulness," spoke peace to his troubled heart, or breathed into it the rest over which hope might brood with her halcyon wings.

2. Next, God provided him with food. When he awoke he saw that at his head, under the rhotem-plant, God had spread him a table in the wilderness. It was a provision, simple indeed, but for his moderate wants more than sufficient—a cake baked on the coals679679   The coals (reshaphim) for the cake (LXX., ἔγκρυφίας ὀλυρίτης; Vulg., subcinericius panis) were the dry twigs of the broom plant, still sold for that purpose in the markets of Cairo. Comp. Psalm cxx. 4; "coals of juniper." and a cruse of water. A Maleakh—a "messenger"—"some one," as the Septuagint and as Josephus both render it,680680   1 Kings xix. 5. מַלְאָךְ means "a messenger," and in verse 2 is used of the messenger of Jezebel. some one who was, to him at any rate, an angel of God—touched him, and said, "Arise and eat." He ate and drank, and thus refreshed lay down again to426 make up, perhaps, for long arrears of unrest. And again God's messenger, human or angelic, touched him, and bade him rise and eat once more, or his strength would fail in the journey which lay before him. For he meant to plunge yet farther into the wilderness. In the language of the narrator, "He arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights."

3. Next God sent him on a hallowed pilgrimage to bathe his weary spirit in the memories of a brighter past.

It does not require forty days and forty nights, nor anything like so long a period, to get from one day's journey in the wilderness to Horeb, the Mount of God, which was Elijah's destination. The distance does not exceed one hundred and eighty miles even from Beersheba. But, as in the case of Moses and of our Lord, "forty days"—a number connected by many associations with the idea of penance and temptation—symbolises the period of Elijah's retirement and wanderings. No doubt, too, the number has an allusive significance, pointing back to the forty years' wanderings of Israel in the wilderness. The Septuagint omits the words "of God," but there can be little doubt that Sinai was selected for the goal of Elijah's pilgrimage with reference to the awful scenes connected with the promulgation of the law. It is well known that the Mount of the Commandments is as a rule called Sinai in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, though the name Horeb occurs in Exod. iii. 1, xxxiii. 6. To account for the double usage there have been, since the Middle Ages, two theories: (1) that Horeb is the name of the range, and Sinai of the mountain; (2) that Horeb properly means the northern part of the range, and Sinai427 the southern, especially Jebel Mousa. Horeb is the prevalent name for the mountain in Deuteronomy; Sinai is the ordinary name, and occurs thirty-one times in the Old Testament.

After his wanderings Elijah reached Mount Sinai, and came to "the cave," and took shelter there. The use of the article shows that a particular cave is meant, and there can be little reason to discredit the almost immemorial tradition that it is the hollow still pointed out to hundreds of pilgrims as the scene of the theophany which was here granted to Elijah. Perhaps in the same cave the vision had been granted to Moses, in the scene to which this narrative looks back. It is not so much a cave as, what it is called in Exodus, a "cleft of the rock."681681   Exod. xxxiii. 22. From the foot of the mountain, the level space on which now stands the monastery of Saint Katherine, a steep and narrow pathway through the rocks leads up to Jebel Mousa, the southernmost peak of Sinai, which is seven thousand feet high. Half-way up this mountain is a little secluded plain in the inmost heart of the granite precipice, in which is an enclosed garden, and a solitary cypress, and a spring and pool of water, and a little chapel. Inside the chapel is shown a hole, barely large enough to contain the body of a man. "It is," says Dr. Allon, "a temple not made with hands, into which, through a stupendous granite screen, which shuts out even the Bedouin world, God's priests may enter to commune with Him."682682   Bible Educator, iii. 135.


If, indeed, Elijah had heard by tradition the vision of Moses of which this was the scene, he must have been filled with awful thoughts as he rested in the same428 narrow fissure, and recalled what had been handed down respecting the manifestation of Jehovah to his mighty predecessor.

4. And as God had pointed out to him the way to restore his bodily strength by sleep and food, so now He opened before the Prophet the remedy of renewed activity. The question of the Lord came to him—it was re-echoed by the voice of his own conscience—"What doest thou here, Elijah?"

"What doest thou?" He was doing nothing! He had, indeed, fled for his life; but was all the rest of his life to be so different from its beginning? Was there, indeed, no more work to be done in Israel or in Judah, and was he tamely to allow Jezebel to be the final mistress of the situation? Was one alien and idolatrous woman to overawe God's people Israel, and to snatch from God's prophet all the fruits of his righteous labours? "What doest thou here, Elijah?" Is not the very significance of thy name "Jehovah, He is my God"? Is He to be the God but of one fugitive? "What doest thou here?" This is the wilderness. There are no idolaters or murderers, or breakers of God's commandments here; but are there not multitudes in the crowded cities where Baal's temple towers over Samaria, and his sun-pillars cast their offensive shadows? Are there not multitudes in Jezreel, where the queen's Asherah-shrine amid its guilt-shrouding trees flings its dark protection over unhallowed orgies committed in the name of religion? Should there not have been inspiration as well as reproof in the mere question? Should it not mean to him, "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou so disquieted within me? Put thy trust in God, for I will yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God"?

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5. The question stirred the heart of Elijah, but did not yet dispel his sense of hopelessness and frustration, nor did it restore his confidence that God would govern the world aright. As yet it only called forth the heavy murmur of his grief. "I have been very jealous for Jehovah the God of Hosts": I, alone among my people; "for the children of Israel"—not the wicked queen only, with her abominations and witchcrafts, but the renegade people with her—"have forsaken Thy covenant," which forbids them to have any God but Thee, and have "thrown down Thine altars,683683   The use of the plural, and the absence of any objections to an uncentralised worship, are proofs of the northern origin of the Elijah-episode. and slain Thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away." It was as it were an appeal to Jehovah before whom he stood, if not almost a reproach to Him. It was as though he said, "I have done my utmost; I have failed: wilt not Thou put forth Thy power and reign? I am but one poor hunted prophet alone against the world. There is no prophet more: not one is there among them that understandeth any more. I can do no more. Of what use is my life? Carest Thou not that Thy people have revolted from Thee? Behold they perish; they perish, they all perish! Of what use is my life? My work has failed: let me die!"

6. God dealt with this mood as He has done in all ages, as He had done before to Jacob, as He did afterwards to David and to Hezekiah, and to Isaiah and Jeremiah; and as the Son of God did to the antitype of Elijah—the great forerunner—when his faith failed him. He let the conviction steal into his mind that the ways of God are wider than men, and His thoughts430 greater than men's. He unteaches His prophet the delusion that everything depends on him. He shows him that though He works for men by men, and though

"God cannot make best man's best

Without best men to help Him,"

still no living man is necessary, nor can any man, however great, either hasten or understand the purposes of God.

Elijah had need to be taught that man is nothing—that God is all in all. Instead of answering his complaint, the voice said to him: "Go forth to-morrow, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. Behold, the Lord is passing by."684684   LXX., αὔριον; Josephus, Antt., VIII. xiii. 7; Comp. Exod. xxxiv. 2. It is hardly likely that the stupendous vision would follow instantly and without a moment's preparation.


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