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and present him to his mother! How doth his heart leap within him, at this proof of God's favour to him, mercy to the widow, power to the child !
What life and joy did now show itself in the face of that amazed mother, when she saw again the eyes of her son fixed upon hers: when she felt his flesh warm, his motions vital! Now she can say to Elijah, “By this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth." Did she not till now know this ? Had she not said before, “What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God ?" Were not her cruse and her barrel sufficient proofs of his divine commission ? Doubtless what her meal and oil had assured her of, the death of her son made her to doubt; and now the reviving did reascertain. Even the strongest faith sometimes staggereth, and needeth new acts of heavenly supportation; the end of miracles is confirmation of truth. It seems, had this widow's son continued dead, her belief had been buried in his grave: notwithstanding her meal and her oil, her soul had languished. The mercy of God is fain to provide new helps for our infirmities, and graciously condescends to our own terms, that he may work out our faith and salvation.
ELIJAH WITH THE BAALITES.
THREE years and a half did Israel lie gasping under a parching drought and miserable famine. No creature was so odious to them as Elijah, to whom they ascribed all their misery. Methinks I hear how they railed on, and cursed the prophet: how much envy must the servants of God undergo for their master! Nothing but the tongue was Elijah's, the hand was God's; the prophet did but say what God would do. I do not see them fall out with their sins, that had deserved the judgment, but with the messenger that denounced it. Baal had no fewer servants, than if there had been both rain and plenty. Elijah safely spends this storm under the lee of Zarephath ; some three years hath he lain close in that obscure corner, and lived upon the barrel and cruse which he had multiplied : at last, God calls him forth, “Go, show thyself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth;" no rain must fall till Elijah was seen of Ahab; he carried away the clouds with him, he must bring them again. The king, the people of Israel, shall be witnesses that God will make good the word, the oath of his prophet. Should the rain have fallen in Elijah's absence, who could have known it was by his procurement ? God holds the credit of his messengers precious, and neglects nothing that may grace them in the eyes of the world ; not the necessity of seven thousand religious Israelites could crack the word of one Elijah. There is nothing wherein God is more tender, than in approving the veracity of himself in his ministers.
Lewd Ahab hath a holy steward; as his name was, so was he a servant of God, while his master was a slave to Baal. He that reserved seven thousand in the kingdom of Israel, hath reserved an Obadiah in the court of Israel ; and, by him, hath reserved them. Neither is it likely there had been so many free hearts in the country, if religion had not been secretly backed in the court: it is a great happiness when God gives favour and honour to the virtuous. Elijah did not lie more close in Zarephath, than Obadiah did in the court; he could not have done so much service to the church, if he had not been as secret as good. Policy and religion do as well together, as they do ill asunder. The dove without the serpent is easily caught; the serpent without the dove stings deadly. Religion without policy is too simple to be safe ; policy without religion is too subtle to be good : their match makes themselves secure, and many happy.
Oh, degenerated estate of Israel! anything was now lawful there, saving piety. It is well if God's prophets can find a hole to hide their heads in ; they must needs be hard driven, when fifty of them are fain to crowd together into one cave: there they had both shade and repast. Good Obadiah hazards his own life to preserve theirs, and spends himself in that extreme dearth upon their necessary diet: bread and water was more now, than otherwhile wine and delicacies. Whether shall we wonder more at the mercy of God in reserving a hundred prophets, or in thus sustaining them being reserved ? When did God ever leave his Israel unfurnished of some prophets ? When did he leave his prophets unprovided of some Obadiah ? How worthy art thou, O Lord, to be trusted with thine own charge ? While there are men upon earth, or birds in the air, or angels in heaven, thy messengers cannot want provision,
Goodness carries away trust, where it cannot have imitation. Ahab divides with Obadiah the survey of the whole land; they two set their own eyes on work, for the search of water, of pasture to preserve the horses and mules alive. Oh the poor and vain cares of Ahab! He casts to kill the prophet, to save the cattle ; he never seeks to save his own soul, to destroy idolatry; he takes thought for grass, none for mercy. Carnal hearts are ever either grovelling on the earth, or delving in it; no more regarding God or their souls, than if they either were not, or were worthless.
Elijah hears of the progress, and offers himself to the view of them both. Here was wisdom in this courage; first, he presents himself to Obadiah, ere he will be seen of Ahab, that Ahab might, upon the report of so discreet an informer, digest the expectation of his meeting; then he takes the opportunity of Ahab's presence, when he might be sure Jezebel was away.
Obadiah meets the prophet, knows him, and, as if he had seen God in him, falls on his face to him, whom he knew his master persecuted: though a great peer, he had learned to honour a prophet. No respect was too much for the president of that sacred college. To the poor boarder of the Sareptan, here was no less than a prostration, and 'My lord Elijah, from the great high steward of Israel. Those that are truly gracious cannot be niggardly of their observances to the messengers of God.
Elijah receives the reverence, returns a charge ; “Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here." Obadiah finds this load too heavy; neither is he more stricken with the boldness, than with the unkindness of this command ; boldness in respect of Elijah, unkindness in respect of himself: for thus he thinks, If Elijah do come to Ahab, he dies; if he do not come, I die: if it be known that I met him, and brought him not, it is death ; if I say that he will come voluntarily, and God shall alter his intentions, it is death. How unhappy a man am I, that must be either Elijah's executioner, or my own! Were Ahab's displeasure but smoking, I might hope to quench it; but now that the flame of it hath broken forth to the notice, to the search of all the kingdoms and nations round about, it may consume me, I cannot extinguish it : this message was for an enemy of Elijah, for a client of Baal. As for me, I have well approved my true devotion to God, my love to his prophets: what have I done, that I should be singled out either to kill Elijah, or to be killed for him ? Many a hard plunge must that man needs be driven to, who would hold his conscience together with the service and favour of a tyrant. It is a happy thing to serve a just master; there is no danger, no stain in such obedience.
But when the prophet binds his resolution with an oath, and clears the heart of Obadiah from all fears, from all suspicions, the good man dares be the messenger of that which he saw was decreed in heaven. Doubtless Ahab startled to hear of Elijah coming to meet him, as one that did not more hate than fear the prophet. Well might he think, Thus long, thus far have I sought Elijah ; Elijah would not come to seek me, but under a sure guard, and with some strange commission; his coarse mantle hath the advantage of my robe and sceptre; if I can command a piece of the earth, I see he can command heaven. The edge of his revenge is taken off with a doubtful expectation of the issue ; and now when Elijah offers himself to the eyes of Ahab, he who durst not strike yet durst challenge the prophet, “ Art thou he that troubleth Israel ?" Jeroboam's hand was still in Ahab's thoughts ; he holds it not so safe to smite as to expostulate. He that was the head of Israel, speaks out that which was in the heart of all his people, that Elijah was the cause of all their sorrow. Alas! what hath the righteous prophet done? He taxed their sin, he foretold the judgment, he deserved it not, he inflicted it not; yet he smarts, and they are guilty: as if some fond people should accuse the herald or the trumpet as the cause of their war; or, as if some ignorant peasant, when he sees his fowls bathing in his pond, should cry out of them as the causes of foul weather.
Oh the heroical spirit of Elijah! He stands alone amidst all the train of Ahab, and dares not only repel this charge, but retort it; “I have not troubled Israel, but thou and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim.” No earthly glory can daunt him, who hath the clear and heartening visions of God; this holy seer discerns the true cause of our sufferings to be our sins: foolish men are plagued for their offences; and it is no small part of their plague that they see it not. The only common disturber of men, families, cities, kingdoms, worlds, is sin; there is no such traitor to any state, as the wilfully wicked: the quietest and most plausible offender is secretly seditious, and stirreth quarrels in heaven.
The true messengers of God carry authority even