« PreviousContinue »
and Jezebel were both bad enough, yet Ahab yields to that work of God, which Jezebel stubbornly opposeth: Ahab melts with that water, with that fire, wherewith Jezebel is hardened
; Ahab was bashfully, Jezebel audaciously impious. The weaker sex is ever most commonly stronger in passion, and more vehemently carried with the sway of their desires, whether to good or evil: she swears and stamps at that whereat she should have trembled; she swears by those gods of hers, which were not able to save their prophets, that she will kill the prophet of God, who had scorned her gods, and slain her prophets.
It is well that Jezebel could not keep counsel : her threat preserved him whom she had meant to kill. The wisdom and power of God could have found evasions for his prophet in her greatest secrecy : but now, he needs no other means of rescue but her own lips. She is no less vain than the gods she swears by. In spite of her fury, and her oath, and her gods, Elijah shall live ; at once shall she find herself frustrate and forsworn: she is now ready to bite her tongue, to eat her heart, for anger, at the disappointment of her cruel vow.
It were no living for godly men, if the hands of tyrants were allowed to be as bloody as their hearts. Men and devils are under the restraint of the Almighty; neither are their designs more lavish than their executions short.
Holy Elijah flees for his life; we hear not of the command of God, but we would willingly presuppose it. So divine a prophet should do nothing without
his heels were no new refuge: as nowhere safe within the ten tribes, he flees to Beersheba, in the territories of Judah, as not there safe from the machinations of Jezebel, he flees alone one day's journey into the wilderness; there he sits him down under a juniper-tree, and, as weary of life no less than of his way, wishes to rise no more: “It is enough now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” Oh strange and uncouth mutation !
what is this we hear ? Elijah fainting and giving up! that heroical spirit dejected and prostrate! He that durst say to Ahab's face, “ It is thou and thy father's house that troubleth Israel ;" he that could raise the dead, open and shut the heavens, fetch down both fire and water with his prayers; he that durst chide and contest with all Israel, that durst kill the four hundred and fifty Baalites with the sword, doth he shrink at the frowns and threats of a woman? doth he wish to be rid of his life, because he feared to lose it? Who can expect an undaunted constancy from flesh and blood, when Elijah fails? The strongest and holiest saint upon earth is subject to some qualms of fear and infirmity: to be always and unchangeably good is proper only to the glorious spirits in heaven. Thus the wise and holy God will have his power perfected in our weakness. It is in vain for us, while we carry this flesh about us, to hope for so exact health, as not to be cast down sometimes with fits of spiritual distemper. It is no new thing for holy men to wish for death: who can either marvel at, or blame the desire of advantage? For the weary traveller to long for rest, the prisoner for liberty, the banished for home, it is so natural, that the contrary disposition were monstrous. The benefit of the change is a just motive to our appetition ; but to call for death out of a satiety of life, out of an impatience of suffering, is a weakness unbeseeming a saint. It is not enough, O Elijah ; God hath more work yet for thee; thy God hath more honoured thee than thy fathers, and thou shalt live to honour him.
Toil and sorrow have lulled the prophet asleep under this juniper-tree; that wholesome shade was well chosen for his repose : while death was called for, the cousin of death comes unbidden; the angel of God waits on him in that hard lodging. No wilderness is too solitary for the attendance
of those blessed spirits. As he is guarded, so is he awaked by that messenger of God, and stirred up from his rest to his repast: while he slept, his breakfast is made ready for him by those spiritual hands; “There was a cake baked on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head.” Oh the never-ceasing care and providence of the Almighty, not to be barred by any place, by any condition! When means are wanting to us, when we are wanting to ourselves, when to God, even then doth he follow us with his mercy, and cast favours upon us, beyond, against expectation! What variety of purveyance doth he makė for his servant ! One while the ravens, then the Sareptan, now the angel, shall be his caterer; none of them without a miracle : those other provided for him waking, this sleeping. O God! the eye of thy providence is not dimmer, the hand of thy power is not shorter; only teach thou us to serve thee, to trust thee.
Needs must the prophet eat, and drink, and sleep, with much comfort, while he saw that he had such a guardian, attendance, purveyor; and now the second time is he raised by that happy touch, to his meal, and his way: “Arise, and eat, because the journey is too great for thee.” What needed he to travel further, since that divine power could as well protect him in the wilderness, as in Horeb? What needed he to eat, since he that meant to sustain him forty days with one meal, might as well have sustained him without it? God is a most free agent: neither will he be tied to the terms of human regularities. It is enough that he knows and approves the reasons of his own choice and commands: once in forty days and nights shall Elijah eat, to teach us what God can do with little means; and but once, to teach us what he can do without means. Once shall the prophet eat, “Man lives by bread;" and but once, “Man lives not by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Moses, Elijah, our Saviour, fasted each of them forty days and forty nights: the three great fasters met gloriously in Tabor. I find not where God ever honoured any man for feasting. It is abstinence, not fulness, that makes a man capable of heavenly visions, of divine glory.
The journey was not of itself so long; the prophet took those ways, those hours, which his heart gave him. In the very same mount where Moses first saw God, shall Elijah see him: one and the same cave, as is very probable, is the receptacle to both. It could not be but a great confirmation of Elijah, to renew the sight of those sensible monuments of God's favour and protection to his faithful predecessor. Moses came to see God in the bush of Horeb. God came to find. Elijah in the cave of Horeb. What doest thou here, Elijah? The place was directed by a providence, not by a command. He is hid sure enough from Jezebel ; he cannot be hid from the all-seeing eye of God. “Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? or, whither shall I fly from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there; if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there. If í take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the utmost parts of the sea, even there shall thine hand find me, and thy right hand shall hold me.” Twice hath God propounded the same question to Elijah: once in the heart, once in the mouth of the cave.
Twice doth the prophet answer in the same words.
Had the first answer satisfied, the question had not been re-demanded. Now that sullen answer which Elijah gave in the darkness of the cave, is challenged into the light, not without an awful preface. The Lord first passeth by him with the terrible demonstrations of his power. A great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake the rocks in pieces: the tearing blast was from God, God was not in it; so was he in it as in his other extraordinary works; not so in it, as by it to impart himself to Elijah: it was the usher, not the carr iageof God. After the wind, came an earthquake more fearful than it: that did but move the air, this the earth ; that beat upon some prominences of earth, this shook it from the centre. After the earthquake came a fire,
more fearful than either. The other affected the ear, the feeling ; but this lets in horror into the soul, by the eye, the quickest and most apprehensive of the
Elijah shall see God's mighty, power in the earth, air, fire, before he hear him in the soft voice: all these are but boisterous harbingers of a meek and still word. In that God was; Behold! in that gentle and mild breath there was omnipotency; there was but powerfulness in those fierce representations: there is not always the greatest efficacy, where is the greatest noise. God loves to make way for himself by terror, but he conveys himself to us in sweetness. It is happy for us, if, after the gusts and flashes of the law, we have heard the soft voice of evangelical mercy.
In this very mount, with the same horror, God had delivered his law to Moses and Israel. It is no marvel, if Elijah wrapt his face in his mantle: his obedience draws him forth to the mouth of the cave, his fear still hides his head. Had there not been much courage in the prophet's faith, he had not stood out these affrightful forerunners of the Divine presence, though with his face covered. The very angels do no less before that all-glorious Majesty, than veil themselves with their wings. Far be it from us once to think of that infinite and omnipotent Deity, without an humble awfulness.
Fear changes not the tenor of Elijah's answer: he hath not left a word behind him in the cave. “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts, because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life to take it away." I hear not a direct answer from the prophet to the demand of God; then he had said, I run away from the threats of Jezebel, and here I hide my head from her malicious pursuit. His guiltiness would not let him speak out all: he had rather say, “I have been jealous for the Lord