The Spirit and Power of Elijah, Part I

Elijah the Tishite, an inhabitant of Gilead, is one of the greatest characters of Old Testament times. He has the peculiar distinction of being the only man since the flood to be translated to heaven without seeing death. From those far-off times until the present age he seems to be God’s type of a true man. The prophet Malachi could find no better type of the forerunner of Christ than Elijah the prophet; and the angel Gabriel, four hundred years later, when making known to the aged priest Zacharias the birth of his wondrous son, said: “He shall be great in the sight of the Lord, . . . and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias.” Luke 1:15–17.

The final fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy, which is to reach to the very end, is still in the future. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to their children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” Malachi 4:5, 6. Elijah was a type of all those who will be translated at the Second Coming of Christ.

A Man of Like Passions

One noted writer has said; “We are studying the life of a man of like passions with ourselves—weak where we are weak, failing where we would fail; but who stood single-handed against his people, and stemmed the tide of idolatry and sin, and turned a nation back to God. And he did it by the use of resources which are within the reach of us all. This is the fascination of the story. Prove to us that he acted by the spell of some secret which is hidden from us meaner men; convince us that he was cast in a heroic mold to which we can lay no claim,—then we must lay aside the story; disappointment has overcast our interest: it is a model we cannot copy, an ideal we cannot realize, a vision that mocks us as it fades into the azure of the past.

“But this is not the case. This man by whom God thrashed the mountains, was only a worm at the best. This pillar in God’s temple was, by nature, a reed shaken by the breath of the slightest zephyr. This prophet of fire, who shone like a torch, was originally but a piece of smoking flax. Faith made him all he became; and faith will do as much for us, if only we can exercise it as he did, to appropriate the might of the eternal God. All power is in God; and it has pleased him to store it all in the risen Saviour, in some vast reservoir; and those stores are brought into human hearts by the Holy Ghost; and the Holy Ghost is given according to the measure of our receptivity and faith.

“Elijah’s strength did not lie in himself or his surroundings. He was of humble extraction. He had no special training. He is expressly said to have been a man ‘of like passions’ with ourselves. When, through failure of faith, he was cut off from the source of his strength, he showed more craven-hearted cowardice than most men would have done; he lay down upon the desert sands, asking to die. When the natural soil of his nature shows itself, it is not richer than that of the majority of men; and, if anything, it is the reverse.”

It was said of John the Baptist that he would go before Christ in the spirit and power of Elias. When we think of John the Baptist, we are wont to think of the great power he wielded as the wilderness preacher; and when we think of Elijah, we are apt to think of him on Mt. Carmel, praying down fire on the sacrifice, or of his wonderful departure out of this world. But let us notice the text, “He shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias.” Let us consider not alone the power these men wielded, but the spirit they manifested, and especially the training, experience, and discipline through which Elijah passed before he came to Carmel.

Student of Prophecies

Elijah was evidently a student of the prophecies, and from the writings of Moses (Deuteronomy 11:13–17) he had learned that God had said that if the people should turn aside and worship other gods, he would shut up the heavens, so that there would be no rain. Now, under the reign of Ahab, who had done more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him, Elijah knew that the true God had been set aside, and that Baal had been set up.

And so “he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not.” Afterward he went boldly into the presence of Ahab and said, “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.” When he had delivered his message, “the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan.” [James 5:17; 1 Kings 17:1–3.]

Think of those lonely days and weeks and months beside that drying brook in the wild wilderness gorge that runs down from near Jerusalem to the northern shores of the Dead Sea! But God had commanded him to go there, and has promised that the ravens should feed him there. “So he went and did according unto the word of the Lord: . . . and it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land.” [1 Kings 17:5–7.] When the last drop of water had seeped into the ground, Elijah was still there.

Elijah Obeyed

Then the word of the Lord came unto him again, saying, “Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee. So he arose and went to Zarephath.” [Verses 9, 10.]

It will be noticed that Elijah did exactly what he was told, “according unto the word of the Lord”; and afterward he could say, when the time came for God to display his power wondrously through his servant, “I have done all these things at thy word.” [1 Kings 18:36.]

The word “Zarephath” means “place of refining,” and surely this last mission upon which God had sent his servant was calculated to drain the last dregs of pride or self-reliance or independence from the already tried soul of Elijah. Some one has remarked that Elijah, with his great heart, would not have so much minded to sustain a poor widow during those terrible years of famine, but it was certainly not pleasant to his manly nature to feel that a poor widow was to sustain him. So the days slowly passed into weeks, and months, and years. The barrel of meal did not waste, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of God that he spake by Elijah.

The pen of inspiration records only one instance in the life and experiences of Elijah during those weary years of drought and famine, and that was the death of the widow’s son, who, Jewish tradition says, afterward became Elijah’s servant, and who was also the future Jonah. However this may be, Elijah raised him to life, and presented him again to his mother. We can judge of his hold upon God during those times by the testimony of this woman, who said, “I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth.” [1 Kings 17:24.]

Challenge to the Gods

“It came to pass after many days, that the word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year, saying, Go, show thyself unto Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth . . . And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel? And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have foresaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim.” 1 Kings 18:1, 17, 18. Then Elijah called for a great convocation of all Israel and of all the false prophets, on Mt. Carmel, that a test might be made of the rival systems of worship, and the god that answered by fire was to be acknowledged as the true god.

The prophets of Baal chose their bullock and laid it on their altar, and cried aloud and cut themselves with knives from morning until noon, and from noon until the time of the evening sacrifice, saying, “O Baal, hear us.” But “there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.” [Verse 26.] Then Elijah said unto all the people, “Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down. . . . And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood.” [Verses 30, 33.] Elijah was triumphant in the midst of that unbelieving host. He was more than conqueror. When all was ready, he called three times for four barrels of water to put on the wood and the sacrifice. By his mighty faith he even piled up difficulties in the way of God. Instead of trying to make it as easy as possible for his prayers to be answered, he soaked the wood and the sacrifice and filled up the trench around about his altar with water.

“And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.” [Verses 36, 37.] God more than met Elijah’s faith on this occasion. Not only was the sacrifice consumed, but also the wood and the stones and the dust and the very water that was in the trench.

No Compromise

Immediately following this remarkable demonstration of God’s power, Elijah took the false prophets down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there. There was no compromise with sin. That was the secret of his power. This is where King Saul had failed in his war with Amalek. God had told him to “go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” 1 Samuel 15:3. But Saul spared Agag and the best of the sheep. Some one has aptly remarked that if we save our Agags, when we would be at our best in some great crisis (as when Samuel went out to meet Saul) there will be the bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the oxen just when we would have them keep still, and it will be to our utter chagrin and undoing.

“Then said Samuel, Bring ye hither to me Agag the king of the Amalekites. . . . and Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.” [Verses 32, 33.] Let us slay utterly, and give heed to the admonition, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” Romans 13:14.

The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, October 12, 1916; October 19, 1916.

To be continued . . .