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399

CHAPTER XXXVIII.

THE RAIN.

1 Kings xviii. 41-46.

"Are there any of the vanities of the nations that can cause rain?"—Jer. xiv. 22.

But the terrible excitement of the day was not yet over, nor was the victory completely won. The fire had flashed from heaven, but the long-desired rain on which depended the salvation of land and people still showed no signs of falling. And Elijah was pledged to this result. Not until the drought ended could he reach the culmination of his victory over the Sun-god of Jezebel's worship.

But his faith did not fail him. "Get thee up," he said to Ahab, "eat and drink, for there is a sound of the feet of the rain-storm."660660   LXX., ὅτι φωνὴ τῶν ποδῶν τοῦ ὑετοῦ. Perhaps, with reference to this reading, Josephus afterwards describes "the little cloud" as "no bigger than a human footstep" (οὐ πλέον ἴχνους ἀνθρωπίνου). Doubtless through all that day of feverish anxiety, neither king, nor people, nor prophet had eaten. As for the Prophet, but little sufficed him at any time, and the slaughter of the defeated priests would not prevent either king or people from breaking their long fast. Doubtless the king's tent was pitched on one of the slopes over the plain.400 But Elijah did not join him. He heard, indeed, with prophetic ear the rush of the coming rain, but he had still to wrestle in prayer with Jehovah for the fulfilment of His promise. So he ascended towards the summit of the promontory where the purple peak of Carmel—still called Jebel Mar Elias ("the hill of Lord Elijah")—overlooks the sea, and there he crouched low on the ground in intense prayer, putting his face between his knees. After his first intensity of supplication had spent itself, he said to his boy attendant,661661   LXX., τῷ παιδαρίῳ αὐτοῦ. traditionally believed to have been the son of the widow of Zarephath whom he had plucked from death:—

"Go up now, look towards the sea."

The youth went up, and gazed out long and intently, for he well knew that if rain came it would sweep inland from the waters of the Mediterranean, and to an experienced eye the signals of coming storm are patent long before they are noticed by others. But all was as it had been for so many weary and dreadful months. The sea a sheet of unruffled gold glared under the setting sun, which still sank through an unclouded sky. Can we not imagine the accent of misgiving and disappointment with which he brought back the one word:—

"Nothing."

Once more the Prophet bowed his face between his knees in prayer, and sent the youth; and again, and yet again, seven times. And each time had come to him the chilling answer, "Nothing." But the seventh time he called out from the mountain summit his joyous cry: "Behold, there ariseth a cloud out of the sea, as small as a man's hand."

401

And now, indeed, Elijah knew that his triumph was completed. He bade his servant fly with winged speed to Ahab, and tell him to make ready his chariot at once, lest the burst of the coming rain should flood the river and the road, and prevent him from getting over the rough ground which lay between him and his palace at Jezreel.

Then the blessed storm burst on the parched soil with a sense of infinite refreshfulness which only an Eastern in a thirsty land can fully comprehend. And Ahab mounted his chariot. He had not driven far before the heaven, which had for so long been like brass over an iron globe, was one black mass of clouds driven by the wind, and the drenching rain poured down in sheets. And through the storm the chariot swept, and Elijah girded up his loins, and, filled with a Divine impulse of exultation, ran before it, keeping pace with the king's steeds for all those fifteen miles, even after the overwhelming strain of all he had gone through, apparently without food, that day. And as through the rifts of rain the king saw his wild dark figure outrunning his swift steeds, and seeming "to dilate and conspire" with the rushing storm, can we wonder that the tears of remorse and gratitude streamed down his face?662662   LXX., 1 Kings xviii. 45, Καὶ ἔκλαιε καὶ ἐπορεύετο Ἀχαὰβ ἕως Ιεζράελ.

The chariot reached Jezreel, and at the city gate Elijah stopped. Like his antitype, the great forerunner, Elijah was a voice in the wilderness; like his Lord that was to be, he loved not cities. The instinct of the Bedawin kept him far from the abodes of men, and his home was never among them. He needed no roof to shelter him, nor change of raiment. The hollows of Mount Gilboa were his sufficient resting-place, and he402 could find a sleeping-place in the caves near its abundant Eastern spring. Nor was he secure of safety. He knew, in spite of his superhuman victory, that a dark hour awaited Ahab when he would have to tell Jezebel that the people had repudiated her idol, and that Elijah had slain her four hundred and fifty priests. He knew "that axe-like edge unturnable" which always smote and feared not. Ahab was but as plastic clay in the strong hands of his queen, and for her there existed neither mystery nor miracle except in the worship of the insulted Baal. Was not Baal, she said, the real sender of the rain, on whose priests this fanatic from rude Gilead had wrought his dreadful sacrifice? Oh that she could have been for one hour on Carmel in the place of her vacillating and easily daunted husband! For was she not convinced, and did not the pagan historian afterwards relate, that the ending of the drought was due to the prayers and sacrifices, not of Elijah, but of her own father who was Baal's priest and king?663663   Menander of Ephesus (Josephus, Antt., VIII. xiii. 2). Yet, for all her spirit of defiance, we can hardly doubt that the feelings of Jezebel towards Elijah had much of dread mingled with her hatred. She must have felt towards him much as Mary Queen of Scots felt towards John Knox—of whom she said that she feared his prayers more than an army of one hundred thousand men.664664   Eisenlohr, Das Volk Israel, p. 162.

"May we really venture," asks Canon Cheyne, "to look out for answer to prayer? Did not Elijah live in the heroic ages of faith? No; God still works miracles. Take an instance from the early history of Christian Europe. You know the terror excited by the Huns, who in the sixth century after Christ penetrated403 into the very heart of Christian France. Already they had occupied the suburbs of Orleans, and the people who were incapable of bearing arms lay prostrate in prayer. The governor sent a message to observe from the ramparts. Twice he looked in vain, but the third time he reported a small cloud on the horizon. 'It is the aid of God,' cried the Bishop of Orleans. It was the dust raised by the advancing squadrons of Christian troops."665665   He refers to Gibbon, iv. 232.

A much nearer parallel, and that a very remarkable one, may be quoted.666666   See Mrs. Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Brönte. It records—and the fact itself, explain it how men will, seems to be unquestionable—how a storm of rain came to answer the prayer of a good leader of the Evangelical Revival—Grimshaw, rector of Haworth. Distressed at the horrible immoralities introduced among his parishioners by some local races, and wholly failing to get them stopped, he went to the racecourse, and, flinging himself on his knees in an agony of supplication, entreated God to interpose and save his people from their moral danger. He had scarcely ceased his prayer when down rushed a storm of rain so violent as to turn the racecourse into a swamp, and render the projected races a matter of impossibility.


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