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that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their hearts back again."
The Baalites' prayers were not more tedious than Elijah's was short; and yet more pithy than short, charging God with the care of his covenant, of his truth, of his glory. It was Elijah that spake loud. Oh strong cries of faith that pierce the heavens, and irresistibly make their way to the throne of grace! Israel shall well see that Elijah's God, whom they have forsaken, is neither talking, nor pursuing, nor travelling, nor sleeping. Instantly the fire of the Lord falls from heaven, and consumes the burnt-sacrifice, the wood, the stones, the dust, and licks up the water that was in the trench. With what terror must Ahab and Israel needs see this fire rolling down out of the sky, and alighting with such fury so near their heads; heads no less fit for this flame than the sacrifice of Elijah! Well might they have thought, how easily might this fire have dilated itself, and have consumed our bodies as well as the wood and stone, and have licked up our blood as. well as that water ! I know not whether they had the grace to acknowledge the mercy of God; they could do no less than confess his power, “ The Lord is God, the Lord is God.”
The iron was now hot with this heavenly fire ; Elijah stays not till it cool again, but strikes immediately: "Take the prophets of Baal, let not one of them escape.
This wager was for life: had they prevailed in procuring this fire, and Elijah failed of effect, his head had been forfeited to them: now, in the contrary success, theirs are lost to him. Let no man complain that those holy hands were bloody: this sacrifice was no less pleasing to God than that other. Both the man and the act were extraordinary, and led by a peculiar instinct: neither doth the prophet this without the assent of the supreme magistrate, who was now so affected with this miraculous work, that he could not, in the heat of that conviction, but allow the justice of such a sentence. Far be it from us to accuse God's commands or executions of cruelty. It was the ancient and peremptory charge of God, that the authors of idolatry and seduction should die the death ; no eye, no hand might spare them. The prophet doth but move the performance of that law which Israel could not without sin have omitted. It is a merciful and thankworthy severity, to rid the world of the ringleaders of wickedness.
ELIJAH RUNNING BEFORE AHAB, FLEEING FROM JEZEBEL. I HEAR no news of the four hundred prophets of the groves: they lie close under the wing of Jezebel, under their pleasing shades, neither will be suffered to undergo the danger of this trial: the carcases of their fellows help to fill up the half-dry channel of Kishon. Justice is no sooner done, than Ahab hears news of mercy from Elijah: “Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain.” Their meeting was not more harsh than their parting was friendly. It seems Ahab had spent all that day fasting, in an eager attendance of those conflicting prophets. It must needs be late ere the execution could be done ; Elijah's part began not till the evening. So far must the king of Israel be from taking thought for the massacre of those four hundred and fifty Baalites, that now," he may go eat his bread with joy, and drink his wine with a cheerful heart !” for God accepteth this work, and testifies it in the noise of much rain. Every drop of that idolatrous blood was answered with a shower of rain, with a stream of water, and plenty poured down in every shower. A sensible blessing follows the impartial strokes of severe justice. Nothing is more cruel than an unjust pity.
No ears but Elijah's could as yet perceive a sound of rain; the clouds were not yet gathered, the vapours were not risen, yet Elijah hears that which shall be. Those that are of God's counsel can discern either favours or judgments afar off. The slack apprehensions of carnal hearts make them hard to believe that as future, which the quick and refined senses of the faithful perceive as present.
Ahab goes up to his repast, Elijah goes up to his prayers. That day had been painful to him, the vehemency of his spirit draws him to a neglect of his body. The holy man climbs up to the top of Carmel, that now he
may talk with his God alone; neither is he sooner ascended, than he casts himself down upon the earth. He bows his knees to God, and bows his face down to his knees; by this humble posture acknowledging his awful respects to that Majesty which he implored. We cannot prostrate our bodies or souls too low to that infinitely glorious Deity, who is the Creator of both.
His thoughts were more high than his body was low: what he said we know not; we know that what he said opened the heavens, that for three years and a half had been shut up. God had said before, “I will send rain upon the earth ;" yet Elijah must pray for what God did promise. The promises of the Almighty do not discharge our prayers, but suppose them; he will do what he undertakes, but we must sue for that which we would have him do. Our petitions are included in the decrees, in the engagements of God.
The prophet had newly seen, and caused the fire to descend immediately out of heaven; he doth not look the water should do so; he knew that the rain must come from the clouds, and that the clouds must arise from vapours, and those vapours from the sea, thence doth he expect them: but, as not willing that the thoughts of his fixed devotion should be distracted, he doth not go himself, only sends his servant to bring him the news of his success.
At the first sight nothing appears : seven times must he walk to that prospect, and not till his last view can discern aught. All that while is the prophet in his prayers, neither is any whit daunted with that delay. Hope holds up the head of our holy desires, and perseverance crowns it. If we receive not an answer to our suits at the sixth motion, we may not be out of countenance, but must try the seventh. At last, a little cloud arises out of the sea of a hand-breadth. So many, so fervent prayers cannot but pull water out of heaven as well as fire : those sighs reflect upon the earth, and from the earth reflect upon heaven, from heaven rebound upon the sea, and raise vapours up thence to heaven again. If we find that our prayers are heard for the substance, we may not cavil at the quantity. Even a hand-broad cloud contents Elijah, and fills his heart full of joy and thankfulness. He knew well this meteor was not at the biggest ; it was newly born of the womb of the waters, and in some minutes of age must grow to a large stature; stay but a while, and heaven is covered with it. From how small beginnings have great matters arisen! It is no otherwise in all the gracious proceedings of God with the soul : scarce sensible are those first works of his Spirit in the heart, which grow up at last to the wonder of men, and applause of angels.
Well did Elijah know that God, who is perfection itself, would not defile his hand with an imperfect and scanted favour; as one therefore that foresaw the face of heaven overspread with this cloudy spot, he sends to Ahab to hasten his chariot, that the rain stop him not. It is long since Ahab feared this let; never was the news of a danger more welcome. Doubtless the king of Israel, while he was at his diet, looked long for Elijah's promised showers; where is the rain whose sound the prophet heard ; how is it that his ears were so much quicker than our eyes ? we saw his fire to our terror, how gladly would we see his waters! When now the servant of Elijah brings him news from heaven, that the clouds were setting forward, and, if he hastened not, would be before him : the wind arises, the clouds gather, the sky thickens; Ahab betakes him to his chariot, Elijah girds up his loins, and runs before him. Surely the prophet could not want the offer of more ease in this passage ; but he will be for the time Ahab's lacquey, that the king and all Israel may see his humility no less than his power, and may confess that the glory of those miracles hath not made him insolent. He knew that his very sight was monitory; neither could Ahab's mind be beside the miraculous works of God, while his eye was upon Elijah ; neither could the king's heart be otherwise than well affected towards the prophet, while he saw that himself, and all Israel, had received a new life by his procurement. But what news was here for Jezebel! Certainly Ahab minced nothing of the report of all those astonishing accidents; if but to salve up his own honour, in the death of those Baalites, he made the best of Elijah's merits; he told of his challenge, conflict, victory, of the fire that fell down from heaven, of the conviction of Israel, of the unavoidable execution of the prophets, of the prediction and fall of those happy showers, and lastly, of Elijah’s officious attendance. Who would not have expected that Jezebel should have said, It is no striving, no dallying with the Almighty? No reasonable creature can doubt, after so prodigious a decision ; God hath won us from heaven, he must possess us; justly are our seducers perished; none but the God that can command fire and water shall be ours, there is no prophet but his. But she, contrarily, instead of reIenting, rageth ; and sends a message of death to Elijah, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them, by tomorrow about this time.” Neither scourges nor favours can work any thing with the obstinately wicked. All evil hearts are not equally disaffected to good : Ahab