A Contrasted Life

“A grander figure never stood out even against the Old Testament sky than that of Elijah. As Israel’s apostasy had reached its highest point in the time of Ahab, so the Old Testament antagonism to it in the person and mission of Elijah. The analogy and parallelism between his history and that of Moses, even to minute details, is obvious on comparison of the two;2 and accordingly we find him, significantly, along with Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration. Yet much as Scripture tells of him, we feel that we have only dim outlines of his prophetic greatness before us. By his side other men, even an Elisha, seem small. As we view him as Jehovah’s representative, almost plenipotentiary, we recall his unswerving faithfulness to, and absolutely fearless discharge of his trust. And yet this strong man had his hours of felt weakness and loneliness, as when he fled before Ahab and Jezebel, and would fain have laid him down to die in the wilderness. As we recall his almost unlimited power, we remember that its spring was in constant prayer. As we think of his unbending sternness, of his sharp irony on Mount Carmel, of his impassioned zeal, and of his unfaltering severity, we also remember that deep in his heart soft and warm feelings glowed, as when he made himself the guest of the poor widow, and by agonising prayer brought back her son to life. Such as this must have been intended by God, in His mercy, as an outlet and precious relief to his feelings, showing him that all his work and mission were not of sorrow and judgment, but that the joy of Divine comfort was his also. And truly human, full of intense pathos, are those days of wilderness-journey, and those hours on Mount Horeb, when in deepest sadness of soul the strong man, who but yesterday had defiantly met Ahab and achieved on Mount Carmel such triumph as none other, bent and was shaken, like the reed in the storm. A life this full of contrasts—of fierce light and deep shadows—not a happy, joyous, prosperous life; not one even streaked with peace or gladness, but wholly devoted to God: a bush on the wilderness-mount, burning yet not consumed. A life full of the miraculous it is and must be, from the character of his mission—and yet himself one of the greatest wonders in it, and the success of his mission the best attestation of, because the greatest of the miracles of his history. For, alone and unaided, save of God, he did conquer in the contest, and he did break the power of Baal in Israel.[1]

2 Jewish tradition extols him almost to blasphemy, to show how absolutely God had delegated to Elijah His power—or, as the Rabbis express it: His three keys—those of rain, of children, and of raising to life. With special application of Hos. xii. 13 to Moses and Elijah, Jewish tradition traces a very minute and instructive parallelism between the various incidents in the lives of Moses and Elijah (Yalkut vol. ii. p. 32. d).

[1] Alfred Edersheim, Bible History: Old Testament (Oak Harbor: Logos Bible Software, 1997), 1 Ki 16:34–17:24.

Victory and the Vale

It is a comfort to the wrestling heart, to gaze at the Word; to trace the outlines of those who have gone before, those who have struggled before—men like Elijah, who, with voice rising above the din of Baal-ish prophets, bids us understand the redemptive message of his life. The Scriptures carry all the weight of his sleeping misery beneath the broom tree (1 Kings 19:4); they reflect the image of his quivering frame as he cowered in the cave. All of this and still more—for it was Elijah who, together with Moses, later appeared upon the mount with Christ (Mark 9:2).  Where once both men had covered their faces,[1] in these days leading to the Cross they gazed on His glory with eyes un-averted (Matthew 17:3).

Like Elijah, we sometimes raise victorious voices; other times it is all we can do to simply raise the body out of bed. But here in this moment, on the other side of the Cross, the risen Christ calls to us in the pages of His Word. Yes, we might quail—Elijah-like—before the King; but if we would look, the eyes of our faith would meet the face of, “One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15–16; ESV)

God’s Word still speaks. Whispering [2] throughout its pages, the Bible carries with it the same stir of “a thin silence”[3] that roused the weary soul of the prophet (1 Kings 19:12-13). God understands our struggles and He promises to redeem.[4]

So says Elijah who, once tottering in the balance between victory and the vale, now forms a part of the cloud of witnesses,[5] urging us forward today.[6]

[1] “And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” (Exodus 3:6; ESV)

[2] “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

[3] See footnote, The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Ki 19:12–13.

[4] “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us… And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:18, 28; ESV)

[5] Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2; ESV)

[6] “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)