“The crouching coward of the wilderness.”
J.R. Mac Duff, D.D. “The Prophet of Fire”, 1864.
“Elijah at his worst ... his mind no longer stayed upon Jehovah ... he thought only of self … he lost sight of the Lord...” A.W. Pink, “Elijah”, 1956
The almost universal fashion of condemning the prophet Elijah for his flight from the threats of Jezebel, is one of the most shameful things in the history of evangelical exposition. It betrays a fundamental fault in the approach to the Divine Word.
The fashion of denigrating the acts of the Patriarchs and prophets - and even the New Testament apostles, with Paul at the head of the list of victims - is of growing concern to those few who keep their heads in these days of expository nonsense, yet struggle against it we must if preaching is ever to be restored to its appointed fulness and authority.
We ask our readers to be patient with us if they think our language over-vigorous and uncharitable. This is the last of the ages which has any right to claim a character for sobriety and delicacy in the expression of opinion, and for ourselves, though painfully aware of many failings, we do assert that one thing the Lord never saw fit to teach us was that form of moderation which puts the feelings of individuals above the interests of truth. If we expressed ourselves in the apologetic terms affected by so many preachers and writers no-one would bother to listen to us, for it would appear that we were not dealing with fearful and vital issues at all, but mere opinions.
We would rather go down with all our guns blazing, than stay afloat among the pleasure yachts of evangelical mediocrity.
Men who preach in public and who write books for the whole world to see and read, have no ground for complaint when their writings are subjected to criticism, provided they are fairly quoted.
The serious nature of the attacks made upon Bible characters makes it a sin against God to remain silent.
Accept the vigour, therefore, O reader. The arrow which penetrates must needs be sharp if it is to strike home. Be more concerned with truth than other men’s feelings, and wait for the end of the battle to see the strategy of the whole field and where the issue lies.
It may help to rouse some of our dormant feeling for Divine Truth if we consider the true source of so many of the errors and misconceptions propagated by preachers and writers whose mercies when it comes to dealing with the lives of men and women greater in faith and piety than themselves, are, very deficient, and certainly much less than ours in dealing with THEM.
To show what we mean we first of all expand a little the verdicts of the two writers quoted at the head of this paper, and set against them the opinion of one who is still revered after 1500 years - if we may say so, a period of time with which the relevance of those with whom we now contend hardly merits comparison.
Dr. Mac Duff, a Scot with a vary vigorous and flamboyant style, writes;
“A craven and a coward … unworthy renegade … paralysed with terror … drifting on he knows not where … demoralised and panic-stricken … lost all confidence in God and trust in man … the CROUCHING COWARD OF THE WILDERNESS”.
Mr. Pink writes;
“We see Elijah at his worst … he flees panic-stricken from the threat of one woman … his mind was no longer stayed upon Jehovah, and therefore fear took possession of him … he thought only of self … he lost sight of the Lord—he acts on hasty impulse, deserts his post of duty, and flees”.
Who now, dear reader, shows restraint and charity - the critics of Elijah, or the lone defender of God’s great prophet who now pens these lines?
Against these shameful denunciations (typical indeed of the invective launched against the great Bible characters by almost every writer, preacher and commentator of modern times) we set the following by that towering giant in divine knowledge, Augustine of North Africa (354-430 A.D.):
“The patriarchs and prophets whom you cry out against are not the men we honour, but men whose characters are drawn from your fancy, prompted by ill-will”.
Augustine might have newly risen from a drowsy convention setting in England in the Twentieth century, but it was far otherwise: the people against whom he was contending 1500 years ago were not a pious company of evangelical devotionalists, but one of the most dangerous sects ever to arise to destroy faith in God’s Word - the Manichaean’s of the 4th and 5th centuries.
It is a matter of very solemn concern to us that Augustine was answering the slanders, not of an evangelical sect, but of the Manichaean champion Faustus, arch-heretic and despiser of the Word of God. Those evangelical preachers and writers who in our day have taken upon themselves to sit in judgment upon the histories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and a long succession of other of the great men and women of God whose noble histories illumine the pages of Holy Scripture, might be justly disturbed if they knew the defiled origin of their theories.
THE PROPHETIC NATURE OF BIBLE NARRATIVES
The narratives of Holy Scripture are prophetic in their nature and are not to be understood or used according to human judgment. We did not know, when we first used the term “prophetic” to describe the nature of the total and absolute divine inspiration of the Sacred Records, that we had been anticipated in this by the greatest light it pleased God to send into the Church since the days of the apostles, and we are humbly indebted to a valued friend of most extensive reading who drew our attention to the fact after he had read our last Broadsheet entitled “Heroes and Hawks; A Defence of the Great Bible Characters".
For it was none other than Augustine who first used the term “prophetic” to define the peculiar quality of Holy Scripture in all its parts - a quality extending not only to direct doctrinal disquisitions but to the annals of the Twelve Tribes of Israel and the recorded acts of patriarchs, prophets, priests and. kings. This is what Augustine writes in his “Reply to Faustus the Manichaean” (Schaff’s Select Library of the Fathers, vol. 4. pace 287, paragraph 38):
“A pleasure which all must feel is obtained from this narrative so faithfully recorded in Holy Scripture (i.e., the acts of Abraham and Sarah, etc.) when we examine into THE PROPHETIC CHARACTER OF THE ACTION and knock with pious faith and diligence at the door of this mystery.”
Those who consider the writer of this Broadsheet to be mistaken in his defence of the patriarchs may now perceive it is with Augustine they have to do, and to that gigantic figure we have pleasure in politely referring them.
The recorded acts of the great men and women of Holy Scripture are to be understood prophetically and are not to be held up for criticism except in so far as the Bible itself criticises them - as in the case of David’s two great sins, the outcome of which, despite his guilt, was prophetic too, the one producing the 51st psalm and the other the sacred Temple site.
In the case of Elijah’s flight from Jezebel, no shadow of guilt is attributed to Elijah anywhere in Holy Scripture but rather, as we shall see, his flight was divinely ordained to prepare the way prophetically for the Coming of the Saviour.
It is ignorance of this prophetic principle of the Inspired Word that enables those against whom we contend to write popular books and preach sermons which may commend them to an unthinking public but do nothing to advance the cause of God and truth in days which are black with the clouds of unbelief and sin.
Our vindication of Elijah is built upon the premise that all the circumstances of his flight and his subsequent experience at Horeb were PART OF HIS PROPIETIC MISSION, and that he was guided throughout by that same unerring inspiration which first launched him like a meteor into the dark night of Israel’s apostasy.
MR. PINK’S NAIVETE
Some elementary study of the laws of evidence and logical reasoning would help to avoid many pitfalls. Mr. Pink makes a succession of logical lapses in the course of a few pages.
He takes it as proof of Bible impartiality that the writer who reports the escapade of Elijah does not spare the prophet in telling ‘the truth’ about him.
A moment’s reflection might have told him that the ‘writer’ in this case was none other than Elijah himself. He was the only source of the information about himself. For there was no-one with Elijah after he left his servant behind at Beer-sheba and set out on his lonely desert journey to Horeb. There was no-one to record the details of his journey and the words which passed between him and. the angel, save himself. He was the sole recorder of his own history, whether at Horeb, Cherith or Zarephath.
Though this may prove no more than that Mr. Pink and others are simply careless thinkers, at least it casts a colour of suspicion on the validity of their other conclusions.
Another example of Mr. Pink’s illogical methods is his imaginative excursion into the mind of Jezebel who, he suggests, might have given the 24 hours notice of her intention to execute the prophet on the conviction that he was a brave man and would not run away! This, says Mr. Pink, showed the over-ruling hand of God.
Whatever does Mr. Pink mean? His whole thesis is that Elijah should have stood his ground and God would have delivered him. Now his suggestion is that God ‘over-ruled’ the incautious Jezebel into giving prior notice of her intentions, thus allowing him to escape. Now either the Lord wished His servant to escape and so compelled the Queen to show her hand prematurely, or God was deliberately tempting His servant. Mr. Pink does not tell us which of these he has in mind, but his argument would lead any reader to suppose that Jezebel was so over-ruled in order that Elijah might have time to escape. With so many possibilities it seems curious that the writer should come down so heavily against the prophet’s personal integrity. What would Mr. Pink have done anyway if the choice had been his - or Dr. Mac Duff (a heroic name in Scottish history!)?
Mr. Pink even commits the indiscretion of equating the action of Jezebel with that of Herod whose delay in slaying the babes of Bethlehem enabled Joseph and Mary to make good their escape with the Holy Infant. Did Mr. Pink not perceive his own embarrassment when he thus recognised that God was authorising the escape from Bethlehem but (according to him) was not authorising the escape of Elijah in similar circumstances?
God could have saved the Infant of Bethlehem without flight into Egypt, just as well as He could have saved Elijah without flight to Horeb, but He decreed otherwise. It is Mr. Pink who introduces the analogy and he must therefore abide by the consequences of his error. He does not have the boldness to say that the message to Joseph ought to have been disobeyed, but he asks us to believe that Elijah after receiving a similar warning should have sat quietly at home and waited for his throat to be cut.
But as the flight of the Holy Infant into Egypt was ordained by God and foretold eight centuries before (see Matthew 2:15) for a distinct prophetic purpose, so was the flight of Elijah ordained by God, not merely to preserve the prophet’s life, but to fulfil a prophetic purpose of the most profound importance.
GOD’S PEOPLE ALWAYS FLEEING
What is wrong with flight, anyway? The people of God have always been fleeing before their foes, and if we mistake not we shall have more examples of this before long in the lifetime of those who read these lines.
Jacob, in whom was preserved the promise of Christ, fled from his brother Esau in the early part of his life, and at the end thereof he fled again from the famine to take up his abode in Egypt under the care of his son Joseph whom God by strange providence had sent there in advance “to preserve much people alive”.
David fled from the face of Saul, though there was enshrined in him too the promise of redemption in Christ and the assurance of the eternal stability of that throne which, up to then, he had not occupied. The world would be the poorer for the lack of the afflictive psalms of David written when he was being hunted down like a partridge by his implacable foe.
The Church in Revelation 12 is taught to flee, for to her were given two wings of a great eagle - the wings of that great God who, like an eagle watching over its young, watches over the welfare of His people. With those eagle wings the Church took her flight into the wilderness of history where she had a place prepared for her by God, to be nourished during the course of prophetic time from the face of the hostile Dragon (Revelation 12.14).
Tyndale fled from England so as to be able to complete his task of translating the Scriptures into the language of the common people. The Covenanters fled to the hills and to the bogs to escape the wrath of ecclesiastical and royal tyranny. Christ taught His disciples to flee from city to city to escape their persecuting oppressors.
And Elijah had a long and honourable history of flight. Most of his prophetical life was taken up with flight. He fled first to the brook Cherith to be fed by the ravens, and later, when the brook dried up, he fled from the land of Israel altogether and lay hidden in the widow’s house at Zarephath till the day when God told him to reveal himself to Ahab. In each case God showed His providential care and approval by miraculously providing far the prophet’s support - and, the flight to Horeb was no exception.
Mr. Pink gives us a curious analysis of the mind of Elijah after the prophet had received the message of the Queen’s intentions. Where Mr. Pink obtained this analysis he does not tell us, but no doubt his readers will not mind, for Mr. Pink’s narrative moves along conventional lines, following the long succession of Elijah-critics whom he appears to have read only too well, for there is not a single original statement in his book.
He tells us (as though he has it on unimpeachable authority):
“Instead of taking his case to God he takes matters into his own hands: he acts on hasty impulse and deserts his post of duty. His eyes were fixed on the wicked and furious Queen. His mind was occupied with her fury and therefore his heart was filled with terror”. Mr. Pink suggests that faith in God would have kept Elijah’s mind in perfect peace.
Alas that Elijah’s critics have not been given the opportunity in this world to exemplify their own professed boldness. We too, have a curious mind, and without hazarding a verdict we wonder what these critics would have done if they received 24 hours’ notice of execution - and the door was still open wide. And we should always remember that the true author of Elijah’s life is Elijah, who throughout gives no hint of his own supposed sin, as we should expect a man would give after the experience of Horeb, if sin there were.
The prophets were wont to record their own sins and indiscretions when these had bearing upon their prophetic testimony. Jonah was the only witness of his own experiences, and faithfully recorded his own personal failure when that failure had a direct bearing upon his prophetic mission.
Moses, “the Man of God”, was the author of his own Life and Works, and faithfully records his sin in the smiting of the rock at Kadesh. Elijah might have been expected therefore to put into the record any blameworthiness of which he might have been considered guilty. We find it not, however, in the story he has bequeathed to posterity. His “offence” is something which exists only in the minds of his traducers, and is something they have read into the account, not something taken from the account.
“GOD DOES NOT TRANSLATE COWARDS”
Moses was forbidden to enter the Promised Land as a consequence of his lapse. But God translated Elijah into heaven that he might not see death. As a close friend once remarked, “God does not translate cowards - he buries them”.
The traducers of the prophets make another elementary error in comparing Elijah’s flight with that of Moses when the latter forsook Egypt after the slaying of the Egyptian. How many wretched sermons have been preached upon the alleged folly of Moses in ‘taking matters into his own hand’ and ‘running before the Lord’ when he delivered one of his fellow-countrymen from the hands of a cruel Egyptian taskmaster! The critics of Moses would no doubt have left the poor Hebrew to be beaten nigh to death, making the pious excuse that the Lord would deliver in His own good time. We seem to remember a parable about a man who fell among thieves and whom certain unworthy characters abandoned to his fate.
But Moses was a man of authority in Egypt, and was prepared even then to assert his identification with his enslaved nation - esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt (Hebrews 11:25-26), choosing rather to suffer with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.
Moses was no murderer. He possessed the judicial power of life and death in Egypt; and more, he was showing beforehand what God had determined in terrible judgment to do 40 years later - to destroy not just one man who was wickedly and cruelly ill-treating a child of the Covenant, but an entire nation, involving the death of all the firstborn in one dreadful night, and the swallowing up of the finest army on the earth in the awful deathtrap of the Red Sea.
The act of Moses was prophetic - a fact which our pathetically superficial theologians are incapable of seeing. The slaying of the Egyptian asserted the God-given commission of Moses to be the Mediator and Deliverer of his people under the Old Covenant, and the divine commentary upon his act is in the words of Stephen the martyr, “He supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not” (Acts 7:22-29). Neither do the critics of Moses and Elijah understand.
Moses did not act for himself, and this the inspired Stephen plainly shows. He acted a prophetic part which prepared the way for the coming of the Redeemer; for as the Israelites repudiated the leadership of Moses (“Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?” Acts 7:27), so they repudiated all the prophets (“Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers” Acts 7:25).
Stephen’s address is a vindication of the divinely appointed act of the great prophet Moses in the slaying of the Egyptian. But as long as superficial sermon points can be made to bolster up theories which sound well on platforms, so Moses and the prophets will continue to be vilified and slandered and their great prophetic acts misconstrued, to the increase of evangelical darkness and the rendering powerless of the preaching of the Word.
AND NOW DR. ALLIS
The rot has gone far indeed, and it is with profound sorrow that we have to include such a man as Dr. Oswald T. Allis of Westminster Seminary, U.S.A., in this criticism. We quote the following appalling lines from Dr. Allis’s pen:
“At the age of forty Moses makes a high-handed and futile attempt to help his people...Who was this man? One of the conspicuous failures of history. Born of a slave people, raised to high position, well educated, capable of great things, Moses had slain an Egyptian, for smiting a Hebrew. He had tried to make peace between two Hebrews. With what result? Career ruined, flight, exile, an unknown and forgotten man for forty years - forty years to repent of having assumed the role of deliverer....”
Had Dr. Allis never read the seventh of Acts? Had he never sat at the martyr feet of Stephen, that most enlightened of New Testament prophets? We think not. Dr. Allis had been too long among the Elijah critics to see clearly. For this was not Dr. Allis’s only lapse.
Commenting upon the life of Joseph, Dr. Allis accuses the purest and most transparent young man in all history of “youthful braggadocio” for relating his dreams to the family and trailing his coat of many colours in front of his envious brethren!
Dear reader, what thinkest thou? Art thou now convinced that evangelical and even Calvinistic theologians, have fallen into the same ditch of vain and humanistic mishandling of the Word of God? And is it not time that someone spoke out in the name of sanity and truth to arrest the wholesale decline of knowledge and power and reverence in the exposition of Holy Scripture?
Did it not occur to Dr. Allis that if Joseph had not related his dreams there would not have been any warning to the evil brethren of things to come and therefore no purpose in the prophetic visions? In any case it was not Joseph but his father Jacob who interpreted the lad’s dreams, and the Patriarch certainly did not award the coat of many colours to Joseph to be concealed in a wardrobe as a hostage to moths, but as a prophetic oracle to prepare the way against the record of wicked men in many generations of Israel, for the coming of Him who was cast out by His brethren. Youthful braggadocio! May heaven defend us from this kind of theology!
A TERRIBLE INDICTMENT
We resume our examination of Mr. Pink’s criticisms. He comes to the words “Elijah rose and went for his life” and makes the altogether unwarranted comment, “Not for God, not for the good of his people; but because he thought only of himself.”
The surmise which lies behind this terrible indictment is that the writer is competent to analyse the intentions of Elijah and put upon the plain and simple words of the text a construction which no fair-minded man would approve.
By these methods anyone can prove anything from any text of Holy Scripture - which is exactly what is happening today in thousands of Pulpits and classrooms.
ELIJAH & JOHN THE BAPTIST
We turn with relief from these vague and puerile exercises, to spread before our readers the true and most glorious exhibition of the divine purpose which lies in the story of Elijah’s flight.
The contest with Ahab and the prophets of Baal was anticipatory of that infinitely greater contest which began with John the Baptist in the New Testament. Throughout his prophetic life, Elijah was exhibited to Israel as the typical John the Baptist. “I will send Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers, lost I come and smite the earth with a curse”. This was the last prophecy of the Old Testament (Malachi 4:5-6).
This was well-known by the Jews of Christ’s day who asked John the Baptist, “Art thou Elias?” (John 1:21). John’s disavowal did not mean that he was NOT the “Elias who was to come” but was a repudiation of the Jewish literalist notion that the translated prophet was actually to come back to earth in person to introduce the Messiah - an idea which is prominent in the minds of our dispensationalists and futurists today, who get their literalist ideas not from the Word of God, but from the Rabbis.
The Jews of John's day were incapable of understanding the spiritual import of the prophecies and it is because the evangelical world in most of its official and recognised spokesmen is in the same condition of mental and spiritual blight when it comes to interpreting the Word of God, that we have set ourselves resolutely to the task Of exposing their errors and endeavouring to restore to the Church the lost art of expounding the Scriptures.
Christ showed that the significance of the prophet Elijah could only be understood by those of spiritual mind, when he declared of John the Baptist, “If ye will receive it, this is Elias which was for to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:14-15). We can only conclude that most of our friends today have not ears to hear. It is our earnest prayer that our poor efforts may serve in some degree to enlighten them and destroy in them the false Jewish notions of prophecy and the pathetic attempt to explain Revelation 11:3-12 (the testimony of the Two. Witnesses) in terms of the sending to earth again of the two translated saints - Enoch and Elijah.
We have said that the coming of John the Baptist was the fulfillment of the last prophecy of the 0.T.: “I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord”, Malachi 4:5-6. Scofield heads these verses, “Elijah to come again before the day of the Lord - Cf. Rev. 11:3-6”.
The evangelical world has followed the false lead given by Scofield and fails to see that the prophecy relates to the first coming of Christ, not the second - an error which runs right through the prophetical notions which it is our solemn duty to overthrow. The “great and dreadful day of the Lord” is not the Day of Judgment, but, as Peter declares on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21) it is the day of the rejection of the gospel by the Jew and their consequent loss of the inheritance and the destruction of their blind and infatuated nation by the judgment of God in the subsequent Roman war.
Elijah was raised up to portray in advance this awful judgment upon a nation which already in his day had repudiated their God and given only too sure a sign that they would in due time repudiate that Just One of whom they became the betrayers and murderers.
Elijah was translated that he should not see death, solely to enforce upon the nation the warning that his ministry was by no means ended, but would be resumed with even greater significance by one who was to come “in the spirit and power of Elijah” preparing the way for the glorious Saviour and Redeemer, our Lord Christ, Emmanuel.
In all things Elijah therefore was acting a prophetic part. His mission to Israel was outwardly unsuccessful. There was but a brief respite in the nation’s idolatry. Only a very small elect remnant heard the Word and received it. They were obscure people for the most part.
There is not the slightest reason to believe that the flight to Horeb was other than one more of the prophetic acts of Elijah’s great career. It was recorded for one purpose only - to prepare the way far in advance for the coming of the gospel and to illustrate its secret nature and power.
Elijah would have stood his ground if God had commanded him to do so, but he had no such command. His critics take the side of Satan in this matter. They would urge him as Satan urged the Saviour, “Cast thyself down - God will send angels to look after thee....”
THOU SHALT NOT TEMPT THE LORD THY GOD
As he had fled by divine command before, so now, having no warrant to remain, and guided as at all times by the inward prompting of the Spirit of God, Elijah flies for his Life, nor does he rest in Judah where a righteous king (Jehoshaphat) was on the throne and would have protected him, but relentlessly, impelled by the divine counsel, presses on his way ever southward, past Beer-sheba, where he leaves his servant, and on through the desert of the Israelitish wanderings, till he comes to the Mount of God, even to Horeb - and Horeb is Sinai, the Mount of the Law to which Elijah’s prophetic ministry belonged.
A day’s journey beyond Beer-sheba he casts himself down under the juniper and longs for death. This, the critics allege, indicates his dejection. Mac Duff goes further and sees therein “pride, presumption, irritability, impatience, peevishness”.
We see something else. We see the prophetic longing of the soul, wearied of the contentions of this world, earnestly seeking eternal rest, and above all longing for the gospel day which could not dawn till the Law and all it stood for met in Him who fulfilled it, and by dying ended its curse and its reign of death, and brought in the new law of everlasting righteousness for His chosen people.
No, Elijah. Thou art not destined for death but for life. Thy ministry is not yet ended. It will be resumed by another long after the horses and chariots of fire have come to take thee to heaven. Thou shalt indeed be seen again on the earth - on the holy mount of transfiguration, where with Moses thou shalt be exhibited to the astonished gaze of Peter, James and John walking with Him who bears all the glory of heaven, and discussing with Him the never changing theme of all prophecy - His decease which He was shortly to accomplish at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). Thou honoured man. It was always thy destiny, with Moses, to show how all the writings of the Old Covenant, Moses and the prophets combined, united to display the humiliation or The Redeemer, and the glory that should follow. To this day thy critics do not understand the ministry of the Old Covenant as being that temporary and external thing which prepared the way for the Kingdom of God.
Israel might be warned, thou Prophet of Fire, that thy ministry was not completed in thy day, but many centuries later by another who came in thy spirit and power and won the martyr’s crown which thou wast not permitted to wear, and whose ministry to a people as blind and corrupt as thou didst find their fathers in thy day should be the last sign to them that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand.
PROPHETIC FOOTPRINTS IN DESERT
The prophet sleeps and is awakened by angelic touch to partake of a meal prepared by celestial hands.He sleeps again, and is awakened once more by the angel to partake of a miraculous repast in the strength of which he travels without meat or drink for forty days and nights till he comes to Horeb the Mount of God.
That twofold sleep reminds Israel of the twice forty years which Moses the Lawgiver spent in that same wilderness. The Spirit of God is guiding Elijah every step of the journey. His footprints across the desert are indelible prophetic impressions upon history. They are not the hasty steps of a poor fugitive in flight from fancy, but the remorseless pressing on to the predestined goal of a man under the divine control of the Spirit of the Living God. He walks not for himself but for the Israel of God for whom always he acts.
Those forty days and nights should caution us as to a merely human interpretation of the prophet’s actions. All here is measured and weighed. Every moment is a moment of prophetic time. Moses was twice forty days and forty nights without meat or drink on the great Mount Horeb to which Elijah was inexorably traveling. It was in that same wilderness too, we believe, that the Saviour, in accord with that same prophetic impulse, trod the same awful ground: “The Spirit driveth Him into the wilderness....” (Mark 1:11) where He was tempted by the devil. Where else but on the ground where the holy Law of God was given which He came to fulfil, the symbol of that legal ground of perfect obedience unto death by which He overthrew the devil and knelled the doom of the Kingdom of Death and Darkness?
The fast of the Saviour for forty days and nights in that wilderness was a prophetic and miraculous fast. It was only afterward that He hungered (Matthew 4:2). The Saviour was sustained in the wilderness in the same miraculous way as Moses and Elijah before Him, for “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God”. (Matthew 4:4).
These three, Moses, Elijah, and Christ trod the same awful ground, for in Moses the Law was promulgated, in Elijah it was upheld, and in Christ it was fulfilled.
It is for this that we assort without fear of challenge that Elijah was as surely directed to flee from Jezebel and make his prophetic journey to Horeb, as was Moses before him and Christ after him. His journey was in fulfillment of the holy purpose of the Sovereign God, based on the divine decrees. He acted not for himself but, as always, for those whom he represented.
THE CLEFT OF THE ROCK
“What doest thou here Elijah?” It is the voice of God sounding in the soul of the prophet as he lay in the shelter of the cave on Sinai. Perhaps it was the very cleft of the rock where Moses sheltered many years before and saw the glory of the Lord pass by (Exodus 33:21-23).
There in the cave, “The word of the Lord came to Elijah” (1 Kings 19:9) asking him what he did there. The use of the expression, “The Word of the Lord came”, indicates that the prophetic spirit came upon Elijah and his subsequent words were not his own, but prophetically induced for the purposes of the vision.
Hence Elijah’s words, to which the critics take such exception were actually a part of the prophetic episode, and must be divinely understood. “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of Hosts,” says Elijah, “for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I even I only am left; and they seek my life to take it away”.
The fact that this interrogation and the answer are twice repeated should warn all commentators that we are on prophetic and not on human ground.
The earthquake, the wind and the fire which ensued upon Elijah’s first answer were the tokens of the Law. It was on this very spot that the Law was promulgated with earthquake, wind and fire in the days of Moses.
The Lord was not in these manifestations, says the account, because the Lord would now speak in the second phase of the prophet’s ministry - that of salvation. The Law must be followed by the gospel, Elijah by Elisha, and John the Baptist by Christ. That is the divine order in the preaching of the gospel too, and woe to our evangelicalism if we preach conversion without repentance and talk about ‘receiving Christ’ without receiving the verdict of the Law and its judgment in heart and conscience.
MAN AND HIS GOD
So after the fire came the “still, small voice”. Was there ever a Book like the Bible, brethren, for dramatic power and poetic contrast? Search through the greatest poets, and there is not in any of the world’s grandest productions anything so sublime and daring as the account of Elijah’s altercation with deity in the mouth of Horeb’s cave. The Man of God wraps himself in his mantle and answers for the second time the imperious challenge of the Almighty in that same still, small voice, “What doest thou here Elijah?”
It is thus the Bible evinces itself as the inspired oracles of God, the direct and total revelation of deity, the Book of awful authority and invincible truth, by which man converses with deity and is born anew by the, incorruptible seed of the Word of God. For the Spirit is in the Word, and life is mediated thereby to those who are of faith.
We would ask for no higher proof that the Bible is the only and uniquely inspired Word of God, than a perusal of this colloquy between God and man on Horeb’s dreadful height.
We are sad about our friends who see only a human craven, a disillusioned and peevish man, in the person of the prophet.
How can men understand the Word of God and uncover its unsearchable riches by conceptions so banal as those which we have been examining? Let them take just this one word to feel the impact and the glory of it:
“AND IT WAS SO, WHEN ELIJAH HEARD IT, THAT HE WRAPPED HIS FACE IN HIS MANTLE AND WENT OUT AND STOOD IN THE ENTERING IN OF THE CAVE. AND BEHOLD THERE CAME A VOICE UNTO HIM AND SAID, WHAT DOEST THOU HERE ELIJAH?”
That man must be insensible to all impression, a barbarian and a philistine indeed, who does not feel in this word the presence of Deity, the opening of a door in heaven and the streaming of light supernal from the holy splendours of the Throne upon the soul of chosen and privileged man.
The reply of the prophet is not that of a peevish man. It is the reply of a man with his face wrapped in his mantle to denote the reverence of his soul, just as the seraphim covered themselves with their wings in the vision given to Isaiah (Isaiah 6). “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Hosts….”
We are here in the presence of God, brethren, seeing and hearing through the faculties of the inspired prophet in a moment of highest spiritual rapture.
Here is no place for Elijah critics with their facile and humanistic interpretations, as though this was an impudent, barefaced flinging back of failure into the face of deity. Those who think that way have never really been in the school of God, and had better retire from their pulpits till they receive at least a beggar’s portion of the spirit of Elijah.
The prophet’s reply was the same as before. God does not rebuke him, because the words are not Elijah’s but the inspired word of the Holy Spirit.
“I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts....” Elijah speaks not for his own confusion and rebuke, but for the confusion and judgment of Israel who had rejected his ministry and were now to reap the holy justice of God.
GOD’S REPLY TO THE DILEMMA OF HISTORY
The inspired colloquy requires, according to prophetic standards, that God should ask and Elijah should answer so as to put in dramatic form the reply of God to the dilemma of history and be the occasion of His disclosing His counsel so that subsequent events would be understood, not in the light of fortuitous events which confuse the historians of the world, but in accordance with the unerring decrees of Providence by which God orders all historic events according to His eternal counsel in Christ to make way for the processes of redemption.
So Elijah states the problem in which he was the principal actor, and God discloses what He will do for the relief of His people and the overcoming of Satan.
Taking occasion by the dilemma presented in the words of the Prophet – “They will not hear; thy word is despised; the righteous fail; I only am left”, God shows what has been decreed. Three instruments are prepared - Hazael, Jehu and Elisha - which shall prevail against the wicked.
As for the righteous, God points to the election of grace, whose identity is hidden even from the prophet, because they are the invisible Kingdom of Divine grace, the hidden wisdom of God which the Lord prepared before the world for the glory of His people (1 Corinthians 2:7). The hidden wisdom of God is the redemption of His elect in Christ and in that work all the powers of creation, the processes of history, tyrannies, policies, kings and governments are harnessed as to the chariot wheels of the King of the Ages as He rides down through time, controlling the wild and plunging steeds of war, and making all things serve the one dominating purpose of bringing His many sons to glory (Hebrews 2:10).
“Go” says the Lord to his servant, “return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when thou comest anoint Hazael to be king over Syria: and Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-Meholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room.And it shall come to pass that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay: and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay. Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:15-18). Hazael and Jehu represent the punitive judgments of God and Elisha is Christ, the Word of the Living God.The seven thousand are the elect remnant, the Church, the Israel of God, the true inheritance of Christ, the people of redemption and the citizens of the heavenly Zion.
Literally Hazael and Jehu between them slew the wicked of Israel and extirpated the enemies of the Lord though themselves were ungodly men. But how is it said that Elisha, who never wielded the sword, should also take his part in slaying the wicked? Because his was the sword of the Spirit, the most potent of all weapons.” Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth” (Hosea 6:5).
THE COMING OF ELISHA
The coming of Elisha was prophetic of Christ. Of all the prophets Elisha was the most remarkable type of Christ. His name means “The Salvation of God” and the name of his father Shaphat means “Justice” or “Judgment”. Abel-Meholah where he dwelt signifies the place of mourning and weakness, for Christ was the Man of Sorrows, crucified through weakness - the weakness of human nature and patient submission to the holy will of the Father.
All the miracles of Elisha were miracles of mercy and showed forth the nature of the gospel which the Son of God would Himself come to proclaim.
The cursing of the children of Bethel by Elisha was not a miracle but a judgment for Christ came for judgment as well as for mercy (John 9:39). Bethel was the centre of Israel’s apostasy where Jeroboam set up the calves and ordained priests of the lowest and basest of the people. The children of Bethel had been only too well taught in blasphemy; they knew of the translation of Elijah; they refused to be dismayed but made the honour of God’s prophet and his triumph over death the theme of their blasphemous chant, “Go up, thou baldhead!”
These children of Bethel’s ungodly priesthood, on the very spot where God revealed Himself to their ancestor Jacob had the same reprobate mind as their fathers. The curse which fell upon forty-two of them (the two she-bears which destroyed them) was a small thing compared with the curse of the divine vengeance which came upon the whole race of Israel at no distant date, and Samaria and the ten tribe Kingdom fell before the Assyrians and disappeared off the face of the earth for ever.
Those two she-bears were the twin powers of Assyria-Babylonia which between them ravaged the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The warning of Bethel was unheeded.
The Samaritan catastrophe was itself a foreshadowing of the even greater judgment upon the apostate nation which crucified Christ, rejected the gospel, judged itself unworthy of the Kingdom of God, suffered the destruction of nation, priesthood and Temple in the Roman War and entered upon an agelong dispersion which after 2,000 years remains an apostasy. The scattering of Israel is still perpetuated in unbelief, and they refuse to learn the lessons of Bethel.
Yet in the nation is still the Lord’s tenth (Isaiah 6:13), an election of grace, a reserved ‘seven thousand’ effectually called to salvation in Christ.
Those who affect to be squeamish about the destruction of the children of Bethel had better learn the lessons thereof and see their own children are not educated in the same blasphemy which brings upon families and nations and generations the condign judgments of God.
ELISHA and CHRIST
One of the most remarkable miracles of Elisha foreshadows one of the most conspicuous and significant of Christ’s miracles. We refer to that of the loaves of bread brought by the Man from Baal-Shalisha to feed the sons of the prophets at the end of the dearth (2 Kings 4:42-44).
Twenty loaves of barley were provided for 100 men and when Elisha said, “Give unto the people that they may eat”; the servitor said, “What, should I set this before 100 men?” “Give" repeated Elisha, “for thus saith the Lord, They shall eat and shall leave thereof”.
The connection of this miracle with that of the feeding of the five thousand by Christ is very obvious but there are some remarkable features which are not usually observed.
Why did Christ Command that the five thousand sit down in companies of fifty at a time? Because 5,000 is the fiftieth multiple of 100, and for every one of Elisha’s 100 men there was a company of fifty in Christ’s great miracle.
The comparison of the two miracles shows that Christ’s miracle was the deliberate expansion of Elisha’s and the exact numbers involved showed not only the fixity of the divine purposes and. the careful arrangements of predestination down the ages, but also the exact number of the elect (known only to God) to whom is distributed the bread of everlasting life.
The greater miracle performed by Christ showed to the Jew the superiority of the New Covenant to the Old Order of which Elisha was the representative.
Out of the miracle of the Five Thousand grew the great discourse by Christ on the Bread of Life (John 6) with its disclosure of the absolute decrees of divine election governing the work of salvation: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me, and him that cometh I will in no wise cast out … this is the Father’s will that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing … No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him … therefore said I unto you that no man can come unto me except it were given unto him of my Father”. (John 6:37, 39, 44, 65)
Let those unfamiliar with the doctrine of the Election of Grace consider the impossibility of faith on the part of fallen human nature apart from the sovereign intervention of God by His Spirit. Let them consider the case of the people of Bethel despite the awful sign given to them of the translation of Elijah and all the prior judgments of his stupendous ministry. The hearts of the sons of men are fully set in them to do evil (Ecclesiastes 8:11).
There is a crookedness in human nature as a result of the fall, and only grace can overcome it. Grace is not awarded to the deserving (for all are equally without merit) but is the free bestowal of the favour of God as He will (Romans 9:16). We cannot pry into mysteries hidden in God, but we may consider that election is not a device to prevent the salvation of those who long for it, but a means of glorifying Christ and giving Him a bride, and ensuring that He shall See of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied (Isaiah 53:11). It is enough that Christ is satisfied rather than the appetite of perfervid preachers who appropriate or otherwise receive the glory, praise and satisfaction due to the Redeemer alone.
The miracles recorded in John are specially designed to demonstrate doctrinal truth and enforce its lessons. Nine centuries before Christ stood by the Lake and broke the bread to 5,000 in companies of fifty, and received back the twelve baskets of fragments corresponding to the twelve mystic tribes of the spiritual Israel, His Spirit in Elisha had foreshadowed His intentions and prepared the way for the full disclosure of His munificent grace at the end of the days.
So all the steps of the prophets are ordered and all their recorded deeds are to be prophetically considered in relation to their task. We do not plead for the perfection of these men.Elijah was truly a man of like passions as we, but we are not told this so we may look for flaws in his character and behaviour but, on the contrary that we might emulate his example of simple faith and prayer. (James 5:16-18)
Nor does it mean that we should experiment in spectacular prayers as though like Elijah we can call down fire from heaven, work miracles, produce reformations and revivals. It is not given unto us to think up schemes whereby we imagine that God can be glorified or grievances redressed, and having fixed upon a purpose, pretend we can pray a prayer of faith to have the business executed.
Such follies are common enough today among people who have no real knowledge of the Bible. Their pretence to inspiration, and their foolish attempts to convince themselves and others that they can command God, produce revivals, work mighty deeds, impose their wills on the Almighty, is pathetic in the extreme and productive of untold evils.
Elijah prayed for the famine to begin because God had disclosed to him that this was His will. Elijah did not think up the idea of a famine and then get God to endorse it. Nor did he know when to pray again for rain till God told him to do so. God does not now disclose to individuals in advance what He is about to do. We walk by faith not by visions, voices, and impressions. We should be all our time praying for those things which are clearly revealed in the Word of God as being always in the sphere of His will - personal holiness, daily help, strength in trial, patience in affliction, grace for other sufferers, help and guidance in serving Him, and above all, our prayers should be exercises in meditation, adoration and praise.
God’s prophets were special men - special not in that they were different in their souls from other men, but special in their calling and in the working of divine inspiration in them. No-one should be so foolish and ignorant as to ask for what they had in that respect. Since Christ and the apostles were here we have need of no prophet, no new or special revelation of God’s will. We have all in the Word of God. We will be well employed if we study that Word more diligently and understand from it the mind and will of God in our sanctification, service, preaching of the Word, management of our families, loving service to others, and patient submission to His holy will. We should be often in such chapters as the 12th of Romans with its searching admonitions to be sincere in love, abhorrent of evil, kind in our affections, diligent in duty, honest in all dealings, peaceful in our lives, heaping coals of fire on the heads of those who despitefully use us.
There is a great need among Christian people today, not of spectacular doing but of patient plodding, carrying the cross, and cultivating a rejoicing faith in our glorious Redeemer and King.
So let it be.Amen.
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FAITH AND FLEEING
It is waste of time to observe Faustus’ remark that Abraham falsely called Sarah his sister; as if Faustus had discovered the family of Sarah, though it is not mentioned in Scripture. In a matter which Abraham knew and we do not, it is surely better to receive the patriarch when he says what he knows than to believe Manichaeus when he finds fault with what he knows nothing about. Abraham himself told the king (Abimelech) that Sarah was his sister by his father and not by his mother. And on this occasion he could not have been led to tell a falsehood from fear, for the king knew that she was his wife (when he said this) and was restoring her with honour because he had been warned of God.
Some may say, Why did not Abraham’s confidence in God prevent his being afraid to confess his wife? God could have warded off from him the death he feared, and could have protected both him and his wife while among strangers, so that Sarah, although very fair, should not have been desired by anyone, nor Abraham killed on account of her. Of course, God could have done this; it would be absurd to deny it. Now it is a part of sound doctrine that when a man has any means in his power, he should not tempt the Lord his God. So it was not because the Saviour was unable to protect His disciples that He told them, ‘When ye are persecuted in one city flee to another’. And He himself set the example. For though He had the power of laying down His own life, and did not lay it down till He chose to do so, still, when an infant, He fled to Egypt, carried by His parents. And when He went up to the feast He went not openly, but secretly, though at other times He spoke openly to the Jews who in spite of their rage could not lay hands upon Him, because His hour was not yet come.
Thus He who displayed divine power by teaching and reproving openly, without allowing His enemies to hurt Him, did also, by escaping and concealing Himself, exhibit the conduct becoming the feebleness of men that they should not tempt God when they have any means in their power of escaping threatened danger.
So also the apostle, not from despair of divine assistance or from loss of faith, was let down over the wall in a basket, in order to escape being taken by his enemies. Not from want of faith in God did he thus escape, but because not to escape when this escape was possible would have been tempting God.
Abraham avoided tempting God by taking what measures he could for the preservation of his own life, and showed his hope in God by entrusting to Him the chastity of his wife.
But a pleasure which all must feel is obtained from this narrative when we examine into the prophetic character of the action, and knock with pious faith and diligence at the door of the mystery; that the Lord may show us who was prefigured in the ancient personage, whose wife this is who, while in a foreign land is not allowed to be stained and defiled, that she might be brought to her own husband without spot or wrinkle … To the Church, to whom it is said in the Song of Songs, “O thou fairest among women” kings offer gifts in acknowledgment of her beauty; as King Abimelech offered gifts to Sarah, admiring the grace of her appearance. The holy Church too, is in secret the spouse of Christ. For it is secretly, and in the hidden depths of the Spirit, that the soul of man is joined to the Word of God, so that they two are one flesh; of which the apostle speaks as a great mystery in marriage, as referring to Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:31-32).
Again, when it is said that the Church is the sister of Christ, not by the mother but by the father, we learn the excellence of the relation, which is not of the temporary nature of earthly descent, but of divine grace, which is everlasting. By this grace we shall no longer be a race of mortals when we receive power to become the sons of God … This grace we obtain not from the synagogue, which is the mother of Christ after the flesh, but from God the Father.
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NOTE TO READERS
The next Broadsheet in this series in defence of the Bible Characters, will deal with the calumnies which are commonly rife amongst us in relation to the apostle Paul, chiefly in the matter of his last journey to Jerusalem and his observance of the Temple rituals there.
These papers are aimed at restoring a living exposition of the Word of God and their introduction to others who may profit thereby, is earnestly requested.