The Pulpit Commentary

1 Kings 19:12 (1 Kings 19:12)

And after the earthquake a fire [For the association of tempest, earthquake, fire, etc; as punishments of God, see Isaiah 29:6 , and Psalms 18:7 , Psalms 18:8 . "Fire" may well signify lightning ( Job 1:16 ; Exodus 9:23 ). For a vivid description era thunderstorm at Sinai, see Stewart's "Tent and Khan, " pp. 139, 140; ap. Stanley, "Jew. Ch.," vol. 1. p. 149]: but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice . [Heb. a voice of gentle silence . דְּמָמָה an onomatopoetic word, is allied to our word dumb . Very similar expression Job 4:16 . What was the object and meaning of this succession of signs? First, let us remember that Elijah was the prophet of deeds. He taught his contemporaries not by word but by set. He is here taught in turn by signs. There passes before him in the mountain hollow, in the black and dark night, a procession of natural terrors-of storm, and earthquake, and fire. But none of these things move him; none speak to his soul and tell of a present God. It is the hushed voice, the awful stillness, overpowers and enchains him. He is to learn hence, first, that the Lord is a God "merciful and gracious, long suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth" ( Exodus 34:6 ); and secondly, that as it has been with himself, so it will be with others; the name of the Lord will be proclaimed in a voice of gentle silence ( ib ; Job 4:5 ). The weapons of His warfare, the instruments of religious progress, must be spiritual, not carnal. Not in fire and sword and slaughter, but by a secret voice speaking to the conscience, will God regain His sway over the hearts of Israel. (See Homiletics.) The striking similarity between this theophany and that which Moses saw in the same place, or at no great distance from it, must not be overlooked, for this constitutes another link between law giver and law restorer. The proclamation of Exodus 34:3 , Exodus 34:7 is the best exponent of the parable of Exodus 34:11 , Exodus 34:12 . To each was the vision of God granted after a faithful witness against idolatry, and after a slaughter of idolaters; each was in a clift of the rock; in either case the Lord passed by ; the one was taught by words, the other rather by signs, but the message in each case was the same—that judgment is God's strange work, but that He will by no means clear the guilty (cf. Exodus 34:17 ).]

- The Pulpit Commentary

1 Kings 19:12 (1 Kings 19:12)

" A still small voice ." The terrors of the Lord awe the soul; His love melts and wins it. What the law could not do, the gospel has done (Rein 1 Kings 8:8 ). Christ draws men unto Him by the sweet attraction of His cross ( John 12:32 ). The lightnings and thunders, the trumpet and the voices of Sinai, do not move the world as do the seven last words of the Crucified. "Not in the wind that parted the Red Sea, or the fire that swept the top of Sinai," was God brought so near to man, "as in the ministrations of Him whose cry was not heard in the streets, as in the still small voice of the child at Bethlehem" (Stanley). This parable may be compared with the familiar fable which tells how storm and sun strove together for the mastery. The former made the traveller wrap his garments more closely about him; the latter made him cast them aside. Love is more powerful than fear, and that because "love is of God." Judgment is His strange work. "God loves to make a way for Himself by terror, but He conveys Himself to us in sweetness" (Bp. Hall)—a truth well brought out in Theodore Monod's exquisite hymn—

"Yet He found me: I beheld Him

Bleeding on the cursed tree;

Heard Him pray, 'Forgive them, Father;'

And my wistful heart said faintly,

'Some of self, and some of Thee.'

"Day by day His tender mercy

Healing, helping, full and free;

Sweet and strong, and, ah I so patient,

Brought me lower, whilst I whispered,

'Less of self, and more of Thee.'

"Higher than the highest heavens,

Deeper than the deepest sea,

Lord, Thy love at last hath conquered;

Grant me now my spirit's longing,

'None of self, and all of Thee.'"

- The Pulpit Commentary

1 Kings 19:9-18 (1 Kings 19:9-18)

Elijah at Horeb.

Elijah went in the strength of the refreshment he had received from the Angel-Jehovah a forty days' journey to Horeb. He was now on holy ground. It was the "mount of God" on which Moses had seen the Angel-Jehovah in the bush, and was within sight of Sinai, memorable for the giving of the law. On Horeb he lodges in a cave, perhaps the very recess from which Moses witnessed the Shechinah (see Exodus 32:22 ), and here becomes the subject of Divine communications and revelations. Consider now—

I. HIS INTERCESSION AGAINST ISRAEL .

1 . Observe the occasion .

2 . The matter of the accusation .

II. THE ANSWER OF GOD UNTO HIM .

1. This was first given in symbol .

(a) First, "a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord." Here was a sign of wrath upon the rulers and people, through invasion . (Compare Jet Hebrews 4:11-15 ; Ezekiel 6:2 ; Amos 4:1 ).

(b) "And after the wind an earthquake." This is a sign of revolution, whether in things civil, ecclesiastical, or both. (Compare, Psalms 68:8 ; Revelation 6:12 ; Revelation 16:18 ).

(c) "And after the earthquake a fire. This is the symbol of judgments more immediately from God (see Deuteronomy 4:24 ; Psalms 18:12-14 ; Psalms 66:12 ; Jeremiah 48:45 ).

2 . It was afterwards expounded in words .

- The Pulpit Commentary

1 Kings 19:1-18 (1 Kings 19:1-18)

The Desponding Prophet.

A marvellous change has come over Elijah. It is difficult to imagine a more complete contrast than is presented by his moral attitude in this and the previous chapters. He who just before has so boldly confronted the proud king, and defied the priests of Baal, standing without fear before his flaming altar, and sternly carrying out the judgment of God on the corrupters of His people, is now filled with dismay, and flies from the post of duty and of danger. So unstable are the grandest forms of human virtue, and so weak are the noblest of men when God is pleased for a while to leave them to themselves. Consider

I. THE PROPHET 'S STATE OF MIND . It is one of deep despondency. Fear of the queen's revenge is not enough of itself to explain it. There is disappointment at the apparent result of the events of the previous day, weariness of life, disgust at the condition of the land, a sense of powerlessness before the difficulties of his position, perhaps doubt as to the wisdom of what he has done. He speaks and acts as a dispirited, broken-hearted man. Note some of the manifest causes of this despondency. We can never thoroughly understand the feelings of a man unless we take into account the sources and occasions of them, and try to put ourselves in his place.

1 . Physical exhaustion . His bodily frame was worn and weary. animal spirits had had a great strain upon them, and now suffered a corresponding relapse. Unwonted exertion of strength was followed by unwonted weakness. The relation that exists between the state of the body and the state of the mind is very mysterious, but very real. The elation or depression of our religious feeling depends far more on mere physical conditions than we often imagine. A diseased body will often cause a dark cloud to come over the spirit's firmament; much that is morbid in the religious thoughts and emotions of good men needs to be dealt with by the physician of the body rather than of the soul.

2 . Loneliness . He was without the companionship and sympathy of those who would share his labours and perils. "I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life to destroy it." It is a single-handed conflict in which he is involved. There are none to stand by him, none whom he can trust. Such isolation is the severest possible test of fidelity, As the rock never appears more majestic than when seen standing alone, with the ocean billows rolling round it, so with one who is "faithful found among the faithless," cut off from all natural and human supports, isolated in a surrounding sea of indifference or iniquity. (Think of Paul: "At my first answer no man stood with me, but all forsook me," 2 Timothy 4:16 ; above all the Christ . "I have trodden the winepress alone, and of the people there was none with me," Isaiah 63:3 .) Supernatural help will often come for special emergencies, and will make the soul sublimely independent of external aid; but it is hard to carry on a long, patient conflict with difficulties alone .

3 . Want of success . His ministry, seems all in vain. His words are but as the dreams of the false prophets. The solemn testimony given on Carmel has passed away without effecting any real change in the condition of things. The fire that consumed his sacrifice has gone out. Righteous vengeance has been inflicted on the idolatrous prophets, and the Kishon has swept away their blood. The drought has done its work, and the rain has returned upon the land. And now all seems to be going on just as it was before. Ahab and Jezebel are as hostile and treacherous and full of cruel hate as ever; and as for the people, there is no kind of security for their constancy to their recent vows. Surely he is living his sad life in vain! That dreariest of all thoughts to a man of high and holy purpose—that his labour is utterly fruitless—sweeps like a withering wind through his soul, and he wishes he were dead. "O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers."

4 . The sense of having forsaken the post of responsibility . It may have been a natural impulse that moved him to "fly for his life," but no wonder his despondency deepened as he lost himself in the solitudes of the wilderness. His was the inward disquietude which will always be the penalty of a man's having weakly or wilfully deserted the path of duty. When good men place themselves in a false position, they must expect the shadow of some morbid condition of feeling to fall upon their spirits. When the hands of those who ought to be busy about some work for God are idle, their hearts are left a prey to all sorts of evil influences. Religious activity is one of the main secrets of religious health. What is our grand business in this world but just to battle against the weaknesses of our own nature, and the force of adverse circumstances? And when the difficulties of our position gather thickest about us, then is the time to cast ourselves most fearlessly on the Divine power that will enable us to overcome them and listen to the voice that says, "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life."

II. GOD 'S WAY OF DEALING WITH HIM . Taking a general view of the Divine method, we see that each successive step is wisely adapted to the prophet's need.

1 . Physical refreshment . An angel is sent with food for the nourishment of his exhausted frame; not to talk with him, not by remonstrance or persuasion to chase away his morbid feelings, but to feed him. The disease of the mind is to be cured by first removing the weakness of the body, which was one of its causes. It is a suggestive incident. Our physical nature is as truly an object of Divine thought and care as the spiritual. God will not fail to supply the meaner wants of His children. The beneficent ministries of His providence are ever auxiliary to the higher purposes of His grace.

2 . A significant revelation of the Divine presence and power . The remarkable phenomena described in the eleventh and twelfth verses on doubt had a symbolic meaning. The wind, the earthquake, and the fire were emblems of the conspicuous and extraordinary manner in which Elijah probably expected the work of God to be carried on. The "still small voice" that followed taught him that God's chosen way of working was rather one that is calm and noiseless. The stirring events that had recently taken place were only preparatory to the silent but mightier energy of His spirit working through the voice of the prophet. We are apt to overestimate the power of that which "cometh with observation." Why should the wind, and the fire, and the earthquake be God's only instruments? Is He not equally in the gently dawning light, the soft-whispering breeze, the silent, secret forces of nature? Your path of usefulness may be obscure, your influence unobserved, its issues slowly developed. But be not disheartened. Remember the "still small voice" breathing in the ear of the prophet at the mouth of the cave when the tumult was over and learn that it is by a feeble instrument and a quiet, patient process that God will accomplish His grandest work in the moral sphere. This is the method of the world's Redeemer. "He shall not cry nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the streets, etc. ( Isaiah 42:2 , Isaiah 42:8 , Isaiah 42:4 ).

3 . Words of rebuke and encouragement. "What doest thou here, Elijah?" "Go, return on thy way." "Yet have I left me seven thousand in Israel," etc. Thus does God reprove him for the faithlessness that lay at the root of his despondency. If the veil that hid the secret life of Israel could at that hour have been uplifted, he would have seen how little real reason there was for it. Seven thousand living witnesses might have come forth from their obscurity to show that his work was not in vain. We little know what God is doing beneath the surface, at the secret heart of society, when appearances seem most unfavourable. Let us be true to ourselves and to Him, doing faithfully the work He has given us to do in storm or in calm, and leave it to Him to bring about the glorious issue. "Be ye therefore steadfast, immovable," etc. ( 1 Corinthians 15:58 ).—W.

- The Pulpit Commentary

1 Kings 19:1-18 (1 Kings 19:1-18)

The Desponding Prophet.

A marvellous change has come over Elijah. It is difficult to imagine a more complete contrast than is presented by his moral attitude in this and the previous chapters. He who just before has so boldly confronted the proud king, and defied the priests of Baal, standing without fear before his flaming altar, and sternly carrying out the judgment of God on the corrupters of His people, is now filled with dismay, and flies from the post of duty and of danger. So unstable are the grandest forms of human virtue, and so weak are the noblest of men when God is pleased for a while to leave them to themselves. Consider

I. THE PROPHET 'S STATE OF MIND . It is one of deep despondency. Fear of the queen's revenge is not enough of itself to explain it. There is disappointment at the apparent result of the events of the previous day, weariness of life, disgust at the condition of the land, a sense of powerlessness before the difficulties of his position, perhaps doubt as to the wisdom of what he has done. He speaks and acts as a dispirited, broken-hearted man. Note some of the manifest causes of this despondency. We can never thoroughly understand the feelings of a man unless we take into account the sources and occasions of them, and try to put ourselves in his place.

1 . Physical exhaustion . His bodily frame was worn and weary. animal spirits had had a great strain upon them, and now suffered a corresponding relapse. Unwonted exertion of strength was followed by unwonted weakness. The relation that exists between the state of the body and the state of the mind is very mysterious, but very real. The elation or depression of our religious feeling depends far more on mere physical conditions than we often imagine. A diseased body will often cause a dark cloud to come over the spirit's firmament; much that is morbid in the religious thoughts and emotions of good men needs to be dealt with by the physician of the body rather than of the soul.

2 . Loneliness . He was without the companionship and sympathy of those who would share his labours and perils. "I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life to destroy it." It is a single-handed conflict in which he is involved. There are none to stand by him, none whom he can trust. Such isolation is the severest possible test of fidelity, As the rock never appears more majestic than when seen standing alone, with the ocean billows rolling round it, so with one who is "faithful found among the faithless," cut off from all natural and human supports, isolated in a surrounding sea of indifference or iniquity. (Think of Paul: "At my first answer no man stood with me, but all forsook me," 2 Timothy 4:16 ; above all the Christ . "I have trodden the winepress alone, and of the people there was none with me," Isaiah 63:3 .) Supernatural help will often come for special emergencies, and will make the soul sublimely independent of external aid; but it is hard to carry on a long, patient conflict with difficulties alone .

3 . Want of success . His ministry, seems all in vain. His words are but as the dreams of the false prophets. The solemn testimony given on Carmel has passed away without effecting any real change in the condition of things. The fire that consumed his sacrifice has gone out. Righteous vengeance has been inflicted on the idolatrous prophets, and the Kishon has swept away their blood. The drought has done its work, and the rain has returned upon the land. And now all seems to be going on just as it was before. Ahab and Jezebel are as hostile and treacherous and full of cruel hate as ever; and as for the people, there is no kind of security for their constancy to their recent vows. Surely he is living his sad life in vain! That dreariest of all thoughts to a man of high and holy purpose—that his labour is utterly fruitless—sweeps like a withering wind through his soul, and he wishes he were dead. "O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers."

4 . The sense of having forsaken the post of responsibility . It may have been a natural impulse that moved him to "fly for his life," but no wonder his despondency deepened as he lost himself in the solitudes of the wilderness. His was the inward disquietude which will always be the penalty of a man's having weakly or wilfully deserted the path of duty. When good men place themselves in a false position, they must expect the shadow of some morbid condition of feeling to fall upon their spirits. When the hands of those who ought to be busy about some work for God are idle, their hearts are left a prey to all sorts of evil influences. Religious activity is one of the main secrets of religious health. What is our grand business in this world but just to battle against the weaknesses of our own nature, and the force of adverse circumstances? And when the difficulties of our position gather thickest about us, then is the time to cast ourselves most fearlessly on the Divine power that will enable us to overcome them and listen to the voice that says, "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life."

II. GOD 'S WAY OF DEALING WITH HIM . Taking a general view of the Divine method, we see that each successive step is wisely adapted to the prophet's need.

1 . Physical refreshment . An angel is sent with food for the nourishment of his exhausted frame; not to talk with him, not by remonstrance or persuasion to chase away his morbid feelings, but to feed him. The disease of the mind is to be cured by first removing the weakness of the body, which was one of its causes. It is a suggestive incident. Our physical nature is as truly an object of Divine thought and care as the spiritual. God will not fail to supply the meaner wants of His children. The beneficent ministries of His providence are ever auxiliary to the higher purposes of His grace.

2 . A significant revelation of the Divine presence and power . The remarkable phenomena described in the eleventh and twelfth verses on doubt had a symbolic meaning. The wind, the earthquake, and the fire were emblems of the conspicuous and extraordinary manner in which Elijah probably expected the work of God to be carried on. The "still small voice" that followed taught him that God's chosen way of working was rather one that is calm and noiseless. The stirring events that had recently taken place were only preparatory to the silent but mightier energy of His spirit working through the voice of the prophet. We are apt to overestimate the power of that which "cometh with observation." Why should the wind, and the fire, and the earthquake be God's only instruments? Is He not equally in the gently dawning light, the soft-whispering breeze, the silent, secret forces of nature? Your path of usefulness may be obscure, your influence unobserved, its issues slowly developed. But be not disheartened. Remember the "still small voice" breathing in the ear of the prophet at the mouth of the cave when the tumult was over and learn that it is by a feeble instrument and a quiet, patient process that God will accomplish His grandest work in the moral sphere. This is the method of the world's Redeemer. "He shall not cry nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the streets, etc. ( Isaiah 42:2 , Isaiah 42:8 , Isaiah 42:4 ).

3 . Words of rebuke and encouragement. "What doest thou here, Elijah?" "Go, return on thy way." "Yet have I left me seven thousand in Israel," etc. Thus does God reprove him for the faithlessness that lay at the root of his despondency. If the veil that hid the secret life of Israel could at that hour have been uplifted, he would have seen how little real reason there was for it. Seven thousand living witnesses might have come forth from their obscurity to show that his work was not in vain. We little know what God is doing beneath the surface, at the secret heart of society, when appearances seem most unfavourable. Let us be true to ourselves and to Him, doing faithfully the work He has given us to do in storm or in calm, and leave it to Him to bring about the glorious issue. "Be ye therefore steadfast, immovable," etc. ( 1 Corinthians 15:58 ).—W.

- The Pulpit Commentary

1 Kings 19:9-18 (1 Kings 19:9-18)

Elijah at Horeb.

I. How GOD DEALS WITH THE DESPAIRING .

1 . Elijah ' s mistake . Because Jezebel's enmity remained unsubdued the straggle was at once given over as hopeless; "and he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there." The same mistake is made by those who labour on with unexpectant toil, whose wrestling with God is given up, whose feeble thought and listless tones proclaim their hopelessness: by those who have laid down the work to which God called them—preachers in retirement or in other spheres, teachers, etc.—and those who have ceased to strive against their own sin.

2 . God ' s remedy .

II. THE PATH OF DELIVERANCE FOR THE HOPELESS .

1 . The vision of God . Elijah's thoughts of God's way were corrected.

2 . The recognition of ourselves as only part of the manifold agency of God . Other hands as well as his were to carry on the work of judgment and of mercy ( 1 Kings 19:15-17 ). To feel our brotherhood with the servants of God fills us with joy and power.

3 . The assurance that God never works in vain ( 1 Kings 19:18 ). The results may be hid from us, but they are known to Him.—J.U.

- The Pulpit Commentary