Elijah the Tishbite
mountains of Gilead, east of the Jordan, there dwelt in the days of Ahab a
man of faith and prayer whose fearless ministry was destined to check the
rapid spread of apostasy in Israel. Far removed from any city of renown,
and occupying no high station in life, Elijah the Tishbite nevertheless
entered upon his mission confident in God's purpose to prepare the way
before him and to give him abundant success. The word of faith and power
was upon his lips, and his whole life was devoted to the work of reform.
His was the voice of one crying in the wilderness to rebuke sin and press
back the tide of evil. And while he came to the people as a reprover of
sin, his message offered the balm of Gilead to the sin-sick souls of all
who desired to be healed.
As Elijah saw
Israel going deeper and deeper into idolatry, his soul was distressed and
his indignation aroused. God had done great things for His people. He had
bondage and given them "the lands of the heathen, . . . that they
might observe His statutes, and keep His laws." Psalm 105:44, 45. But
the beneficent designs of Jehovah were now well-nigh forgotten. Unbelief
was fast separating the chosen nation from the Source of their strength.
Viewing this apostasy from his mountain retreat, Elijah was overwhelmed
with sorrow. In anguish of soul he besought God to arrest the once-favored
people in their wicked course, to visit them with judgments, if need be,
that they might be led to see in its true light their departure from
Heaven. He longed to see them brought to repentance before they should go
to such lengths in evil-doing as to provoke the Lord to destroy them
prayer was answered. Oft-repeated appeals, remonstrances, and warnings had
failed to bring Israel to repentance. The time had come when God must
speak to them by means of judgments. Inasmuch as the worshipers of Baal
claimed that the treasures of heaven, the dew and the rain, came not from
Jehovah, but from the ruling forces of nature, and that it was through the
creative energy of the sun that the earth was enriched and made to bring
forth abundantly, the curse of God was to rest heavily upon the polluted
land. The apostate tribes of Israel were to be shown the folly of trusting
to the power of Baal for temporal blessings. Until they should turn to God
with repentance, and acknowledge Him as the source of all blessing, there
should fall upon the land neither dew nor rain.
To Elijah was
entrusted the mission of delivering to Ahab Heaven's message of judgment.
He did not seek to
be the Lord's
messenger; the word of the Lord came to him. And jealous for the honor of
God's cause, he did not hesitate to obey the divine summons, though to
obey seemed to invite swift destruction at the hand of the wicked king.
The prophet set out at once and traveled night and day until he reached
Samaria. At the palace he solicited no admission, nor waited to be
formally announced. Clad in the coarse garments usually worn by the
prophets of that time, he passed the guards, apparently unnoticed, and
stood for a moment before the astonished king.
no apology for his abrupt appearance. A Greater than the ruler of Israel
had commissioned him to speak; and, lifting his hand toward heaven, he
solemnly affirmed by the living God that the judgments of the Most High
were about to fall upon Israel. "As the Lord God of Israel liveth,
before whom I stand," he declared, "there shall not be dew nor
rain these years, but according to my word."
It was only
by the exercise of strong faith in the unfailing power of God's word that
Elijah delivered his message. Had he not possessed implicit confidence in
the One whom he served, he would never have appeared before Ahab. On his
way to Samaria, Elijah had passed by ever-flowing streams, hills covered
with verdure, and stately forests that seemed beyond the reach of drought.
Everything on which the eye rested was clothed with beauty. The prophet
might have wondered how the streams that had never ceased their flow could
become dry, or how those hills and valleys could be burned with drought.
But he gave no place to
fully believed that God would humble apostate Israel, and that through
judgments they would be brought to repentance. The fiat of Heaven had gone
forth; God's word could not fail; and at the peril of his life Elijah
fearlessly fulfilled his commission. Like a thunderbolt from a clear sky,
the message of impending judgment fell upon the ears of the wicked king;
but before Ahab could recover from his astonishment, or frame a reply,
Elijah disappeared as abruptly as he had come, without waiting to witness
the effect of his message. And the Lord went before him,
the way. "Turn thee eastward," the prophet was bidden, "and
hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And it shall be,
that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to
The king made
diligent inquiry, but the prophet was not to be found. Queen Jezebel,
angered over the message that had locked up the treasures of heaven, lost
no time in conferring with the priests of Baal, who united with her in
cursing the prophet and in defying the wrath of Jehovah. But
notwithstanding their desire to find him who had uttered the word of woe,
they were destined to meet with disappointment. Nor could they conceal
from others a knowledge of the judgment pronounced in consequence of the
prevailing apostasy. Tidings of Elijah's denunciation of the sins of
Israel, and of his prophecy of swift-coming punishment, quickly spread
throughout the land. The fears of some were aroused, but in general the
heavenly message was received with scorn and ridicule.
words went into immediate effect. Those who were at first inclined to
scoff at the thought of calamity, soon had occasion for serious
reflection; for after a few months the earth, unrefreshed by dew or rain,
became dry, and vegetation withered. As time passed, streams that had
never been known to fail began to decrease, and brooks began to dry up.
Yet the people were urged by their leaders to have confidence in the power
of Baal and to set aside as idle words the prophecy of Elijah. The priests
still insisted that it was through the power of Baal that the showers of
rain fell. Fear not the God of Elijah, nor tremble at
they urged, it is Baal that brings forth the harvest in its season and
provides for man and beast.
to Ahab gave Jezebel and her priests and all the followers of Baal and
Ashtoreth opportunity to test the power of their gods, and, if possible,
to prove the word of Elijah false. Against the assurances of hundreds of
idolatrous priests, the prophecy of Elijah stood alone. If,
notwithstanding the prophet's declaration, Baal could still give dew and
rain, causing the streams to continue to flow and vegetation to flourish,
then let the king of Israel worship him and the people say that he is God.
keep the people in deception, the priests of Baal continue to offer
sacrifices to their gods and to call upon them night and day to refresh
the earth. With costly offerings the priests attempt to appease the anger
of their gods; with a zeal and a perseverance worthy of a better cause
they linger round their pagan altars and pray earnestly for rain. Night
after night, throughout the doomed land, their cries and entreaties arise.
But no clouds appear in the heavens by day to hide the burning rays of the
sun. No dew or rain refreshes the thirsty earth. The word of Jehovah
stands unchanged by anything the priests of Baal can do.
passes, and yet there is no rain. The earth is parched as if with fire.
The scorching heat of the sun destroys what little vegetation has
survived. Streams dry up, and lowing herds and bleating flocks wander
hither and thither in distress. Once-flourishing fields have become like
burning desert sands, a desolate waste. The groves dedicated to idol
worship are leafless; the forest trees, gaunt skeletons
afford no shade. The air is dry and suffocating; dust storms blind the
eyes and nearly stop the breath. Once-prosperous cities and villages have
become places of mourning. Hunger and thirst are telling upon man and
beast with fearful mortality. Famine, with all its horror, comes closer
and still closer.
notwithstanding these evidences of God's power, Israel repented not, nor
learned the lesson that God would have them learn. They did not see that
He who created nature controls her laws, and can make of them instruments
of blessing or of destruction. Proudhearted, enamored of
worship, they were unwilling to humble themselves under the mighty hand of
God, and they began to cast about for some other cause to which to
attribute their sufferings.
utterly refused to recognize the drought as a judgment from Jehovah.
Unyielding in her determination to defy the God of heaven, she, with
nearly the whole of Israel, united in denouncing Elijah as the cause of
all their misery. Had he not borne testimony against their forms of
worship? If only he could be put out of the way, she argued, the anger of
their gods would be appeased, and their troubles would end.
Urged on by
the queen, Ahab instituted a most diligent search for the hiding place of
the prophet. To the surrounding nations, far and near, he sent messengers
to seek for the man whom he hated, yet feared; and in his anxiety to make
the search as thorough as possible, he required of these kingdoms and
nations an oath that they knew nothing of the whereabouts of the prophet.
But the search was in vain. The prophet was safe from the malice of the
king whose sins had brought upon the land the denunciation of an offended
her efforts against Elijah, Jezebel determined to avenge herself by
slaying all the prophets of Jehovah in Israel. Not one should be left
alive. The infuriated woman carried out her purpose in the massacre of
many of God's servants. Not all, however, perished. Obadiah, the governor
of Ahab's house, yet faithful to God, "took an hundred
prophets," and at the risk of his own life, "hid them by fifty
in a cave, and fed them with bread and water." 1 Kings 18:4.
year of famine passed, and still the pitiless heavens gave no sign of
rain. Drought and famine continued their devastation throughout the
kingdom. Fathers and mothers, powerless to relieve the sufferings of their
children, were forced to see them die. Yet still apostate Israel refused
to humble their hearts before God and continued to murmur against the man
by whose word these terrible judgments had been brought upon them. They
seemed unable to discern in their suffering and distress a call to
repentance, a divine interposition to save them from taking the fatal step
beyond the boundary of Heaven's forgiveness.
of Israel was an evil more dreadful than all the multiplied horrors of
famine. God was seeking to free the people from their delusion and lead
them to understand their accountability to the One to whom they owed their
life and all things. He was trying to help them to recover their lost
faith, and He must needs bring upon them great affliction.
any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and
not that he should return from his ways, and live?" "Cast away
from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make
you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God:
wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye." "Turn ye, turn ye from
your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" Ezekiel
18:23, 31, 32; 33:11.
God had sent
messengers to Israel, with appeals to return to their allegiance. Had they
heeded these appeals, had
from Baal to the living God, Elijah's message of judgment would never have
been given. But the warnings that might have been a savor of life unto
life had proved to them a savor of death unto death. Their pride had been
wounded, their anger had been aroused against the messengers, and now they
regarded with intense hatred the prophet Elijah. If only he should fall
into their hands, gladly they would deliver him to Jezebel--as if by
silencing his voice they could stay the fulfillment of his words! In the
face of calamity they continued to stand firm in their idolatry. Thus they
were adding to the guilt that had brought the judgments of Heaven upon the
Israel there was but one remedy--a turning away from the sins that had
brought upon them the chastening hand of the Almighty, and a turning to
the Lord with full purpose of heart. To them had been given the assurance,
"If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the
locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people; if My
people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray,
and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from
heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." 2
Chronicles 7:13, 14. It was to bring to pass this blessed result that God
continued to withhold from them the dew and the rain until a decided
reformation should take place.