T. Pierce Brown
As we study the story of Elijah as recorded in 1 Kings 17, we find some lessons that are very important for us today. There were some 7000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings19:18), but apparently they were mostly in secret for Elijah did not know about them. He was sent to deliver God’s message against Ahab. All of us who claim to be proclaiming God’s message to a lost world need the information and inspiration of this story.
First, let notice Elijah’s standing before God. He had great faith in and dependence on God. He started his message with the expression, “As the Lord God ofIsraelliveth” (1 Kings 17:1). Others in the nation then and now act as if God is dead. Some may remember a theologian from Emory who made a great stir a few years ago with his pronouncement that God is dead. It is more important than many of us realize to have a strong awareness that our God is alive. This is one reason I love to sing the wonderful song written by my beloved physics teacher, Dr. A. W. Dices, entitled, “My God He is Alive.”
To note the references to “the living God” and to inquire concerning why he is thus emphasized is worthwhile. In Matthew 16:16, when Peter was asked about his faith in Jesus, he said he was “the Son of the living God.” In John 6:57, Jesus said, “As the living Father hath sent me–.” We are called in 2 Corinthians 6:16, “the temples of the living God.” The intense awareness that our God is the living God helped Peter and John to have the holy boldness exemplified in Acts 4:20. It helped Moses to stand before Pharaoh without fear. It helped Shadrak, Meshach and Abednego to answer Nebuchadnezzar boldly. It enabled John the baptizer to rebuke Herod.
It will help us to have hope in time of need, comfort in time of tribulation, tranquility in the midst of distress and trouble. It will give strength in our weakness and help to restore our soul when it has wandered away and been distraught. It will lead us in paths of righteousness and give direction in times of uncertainty. It will give confidence in times of fearfulness, and protection in times of danger.
So Elijah had a strong awareness of and trust in the living God. This enabled him to be accepted of God and to be in close fellowship with him. The secret of courage and power in the work of the Lord is in knowing the will of God and delighting in doing it.
There is another good lesson in the fact that Elijah waited for God’s direction. If he had followed his natural inclination, he might have torn down the altars, confronted the false prophets immediately, or many other things. When Philip was preaching inSamaria, he would scarcely have left such a progressive and productive work to wander down in the desert to teach one Ethiopian, but he was willing to follow God’s direction. He neither did as Abraham and Sarah or as Jonah. He neither ran ahead, nor lagged behind. We need, like him, to learn to take one step at a time. If we are bidden to take one step, and ask, “If I do, what will happen?” the heavens are silent. But if we learn to take the step that God directs, then we will find what he wants next as he sees fit to reveal it.
One important thing in the actions of Elijah is that he had the authority of God for what he did and said. The value of one bold and noble witness who lives and speaks by the authority of God can change the course of history for good. It is always a tragedy of immense proportions when a person who claims to be a spokesman of God says, “I do not need God’s authority for what I do.” We are hearing this more often, not only from those in denominations who speak that way about the use of instrumental music in the worship and other human inventions, but from men who were assumed to be gospel preachers.
So Elijah was a model for us in at least four areas. First, he was a model in promptness. There was no hesitancy about obedience. He did not have the attitude of Felix in Acts 24:25, “At a more convenient season” I will do it. The statement that “He who hesitates is lost” may not be true in all cases, but it is true that “To him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James4:17).
Second, he was a model in patience. When God said, “Hide thyself by the brook Cherith” (1 Kings 17:5) he hid, perhaps for almost three years (1 Kings 18:1). Being dimly aware of how much God values patience, for it is a Godlike quality, I have prayed for patience. Much of the time I have felt like, “Lord, give me patience, and give it to me right now, or forget it!” Those of us who feel that way need to think carefully of James 1:4, “Let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing.” He seemed terribly slow in answering my prayer, but it may be because I am unwilling to take it on his terms. He may have been trying to help me by allowing 5 bypasses. Anyhow, he is so gracious to try by whatever means is necessary to give us what is best for us.
Third, Elijah was a model in confidence and boldness. He may not have equaled Paul who said, “I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me” (Philippians4:13), but he had courage to face Ahab, and do whatever God told him to do. We need courage in all sorts of circumstances. There is little doubt that there are many of us somewhat like Peter. We think we have courage because we can jerk out the sword and cut off the ear of some servant. But when we need to show the proper kind of courage at the proper time, we fail, and perhaps by that deny the Lord. For example, some have the courage to slash around with the sword of the Spirit when they hear some rumor about some person. They may not have the courage to say, “I was wrong. I sinned” when they find out the rumor was false.
As we look at Elijah, we can see the significant difference between discouragement and disappointment. The first is sin. The Bible speaks often about the need for us to have courage. It never asks us to avoid disappointment. Yet we sometimes use the words as if they are synonymous. Christ never lacked courage, but he was often disappointed.
Perhaps there are also lessons of hope we can get from God’s response to Elijah’s character and work. He found a hiding place. God always provided a place of refuge for his people. Whether it was a city of refuge forIsrael, or as Hebrews6:18puts it, “We who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope that is set before us” we can praise God with David. Psalm 32:7 says, “Thou art a hiding place for me. Thou preservest me from trouble. Thou does encompass me with deliverance.”
It was a place of safety and seclusion. It is for us a place of safety from the temptations that can overcome us (1 Corinthians10:13) and continuous forgiveness for all sins of which we repent (1 John 1:7). We, like him, may have the assurance of God’s care, and the experience of God’s provision. It was plentiful, it was regular, and it was providential, even to the point of being miraculous. We do not need to expect the miraculous, but when Jesus said, “If God so clothe the grass of the field, how much more will he clothe you” we need to believe it. “He that supplieth seed for the sower and bread for food shall multiply your seed for sowing” (2 Corinthians9:10). That surely was not said just to refer to miraculous things.
The ravens did not just happen to drop food. They came from God. He did not need to hoard a surplus on the chance that God would forget him the next day. One of our problems is that try to find our way around Jesus’ command, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth” by one rationalization after another. Our attitude is, “You can have your black ravens. I will take the golden eagles.”
God can find the man he needs, but he needs the man he finds, whether it is Moses, Elijah, Jonah, you or me. The secret of holy boldness and confident assurance is in the consciousness of standing with God and being obedient to his will. We may be certain that judgment is sure to overtake those who defy and disobey God, whether it is Ahab, our nation or us.