ELIJAH: A flight from Glory

The-Dream-of-Elijah,-1650-55

AS UNSPEAKABLY grand as had been the scene on Mount Carmel, we instinctively feel that it was the outcome of the Old Testament.

But we cannot conceive it possible under the New Testament dispensation. In so saying we do not so much refer to the ironical taunts which Elijah had addressed to the priests of Baal, when compassion, gentleness, and meekness might have seemed befitting, since it was necessary effectually to expose the folly as well as the sin of idolatry, and this was best done in such manner (comp. Isa. 40:18, etc. ; 41:7 ; 44:8-22; 46:5-1 1 ; Jer. 10:7, etc.). Nor do we allude only or mainly to the destruction of the priests of Baal. This was simply in obedience to the Old Testament Law, and was grounded alike on its economy, and on the circumstances of the time. Taking the lowest view, it was an act of necessary self-preservation, since the two religions could not co-exist, as the conduct of Jezebel had recently proved. But there is a higher view than this of the event. For the fundamental object of Israel’s calling and existence –the whole typical import and preparatory purpose of the nation –was incompatible with even the existence of idolatry among them. Finally, there is this essential difference between the Old and the New Testament dispensation”that under the latter, religion is of personal choice, heart willingness being secured by the persuasion of the Holy Ghost; while under the Old Testament (from its nature) religion was of Law. Religious liberty is a principle which necessarily follows from a religion of free choice, where God no longer addresses Himself to man merely, or mainly, with the authority of a general Law, but appeals to the individual conscience with the persuasion of a special invitation.

Under the Old Testament, of which the fundamental principle was the sole Divine authority of Jehovah (Ex.20:2, 3), idolatry was not only a crime, but a revolt against the Majesty of heaven, Israel’s King, which involved the most fatal consequences to the nation. Yet even so, we repeat it, the scene on Mount Carmel could not have been enacted in New Testament times.

But while fully admitting this distinctive standpoint of the preparatory dispensation, it would be a most serious mistake to forget that the Old Testament itself points to a higher and fuller manifestation of God, and never more distinctly then in this history of Elijah. Attention has already been called to the analogy between Elijah and John the Baptist. At this stage we specially recall three points in the history of the latter. It seems as if the Baptist had expected that his warning denunciations would be immediately followed either by visible reform,or else by visible judgment. But instead of this he was cast, at the instigation of Herod’s wife, into a dungeon which he was never to leave; and yet judgment seemed to slumber, and the Christ made no movement either for the deliverance of His forerunner, or the vindication of his message.

And, lastly, in consequence of this disappointment, spiritual darkness appears to have gathered around the soul of the Baptist. One almost feels as if it had been needful for such a messenger of judgment to become consciously weak, that so in the depression of the human the Divine element might appear the more clearly. And it was also good that it should be so, since it led to the inquiring embassy to Christ, and thus to a fuller revelation of the Divine character of the Kingdom. The same expectation and the same disappointment are apparent in the history of Elijah on the morrow of the victory at Carmel. But they also led up to a fuller manifestation of the meaning and purpose of God. Thus we see how the Old Testament itself, even where its distinctive character most clearly appeared, pointed to that fuller and more glorious manifestation of God, symbolized, not by storm, earthquake, or fire, but by “the still small voice.”

If Elijah had lingered in Jezreel in the hope that the reformation proclaimed on Mount Carmel would be followed up by the king, he was soon to experience bitter disappointment. There is, however, good reason for inferring that the impression then made upon the mind of Ahab was never wholly effaced. This appears not only from the subsequent relations between the king and prophets of the Lord (1 Kings 20), but even from his tardy repentance after the commission of his great crime (i Kings 21:27-29). Indeed, it might almost seem as if, but for the influence of Jezebel upon the weak king, matters might at least temporarily have taken a different turn in Israel.

But if such was the effect produced upon Ahab by the scene on Mount Carmel, we can understand that Jezebel’s first wish must have been as soon as possible to remove Elijah from all contact with the king. For this purpose she sent a message, threatening the prophet with death within twenty-four hours. It need scarcely be said, that, if she had been so bold as really to purpose his murder, she would not have given him warning of it. and that the reference to twenty-four hours as the limit of his life must rather have been intended to induce Elijah to immediate flight. And she succeeded in her purpose “not, indeed, from just fear on the part of the prophet, but also from deep disappointment and depression, for which we may in some measure find even a physical cause in the reaction that must have followed on the day after Carmel.

Strange as it may seem, these felt weaknesses of men like Elijah come upon us with almost a sense of relief. It is not only that we realize that these giants of faith are men of like passions with ourselves, but that the Divine in their work is thereby the more prominently brought out. It deserves special notice that Elijah proceeded on his hasty journey without any Divine direction to that effect. Attended only by his faithful servant, he passed without pausing to the farthest boundary of the neighbouring kingdom of Judah. But even that was not his final destination, nor could he in his then mood brook any companionship. Leaving his servant behind, he went into the wilderness of Paran. In its awful solitude he felt himself for the first time free to rest. Utterly broken down in body and in spirit he, cast himself under one of those wide-spreading broom trees, which seemed as if they indicated that even in the vast, howling wilderness, the hand of the Great Creator had provided shelter for His poor, struggling wanderer.

There is something almost awful in the life-and-death conflicts of great souls. We witness them with a feeling akin to reverence. The deep despondency of Elijah’s soul found utterance in the entreaty to be released from work and suffering. He was not better than his fathers; like them he had vainly toiled; like them he had failed; why should his painful mission be prolonged? But not so must he pass away. Like Moses of old, he must at least gain distant view of the sweet land of beauty and rest. As so often, God in His tender mercy gave His beloved the precious relief of sleep. And more than that, he was to have evidence that even there he was not forsaken.

An angel awakened him to minister to his wants. God cares for the body; and precious in His sight is not only the death, but also the felt need of His people. The same great Jehovah, whose manifestation on Carmel had been so awful in its grandeur, condescended to His servant in the hour of his utmost need, and with unspeakable tenderness, like a mother, tended His weary child. Once more a season of sleep, and again the former heaven-given provision for the journey which he was to make –now in the guidance of God.

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Taken from, THE HISTORY OF ISRAEL AND JUDAH FROM THE REIGN OF AHAB TO THE DECLINE OF THE TWO KINGDOMS.
Written by, Alfred Edersheim, M.A., D.D., Phd.
Edited for thought and sense

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Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage:  Alfred Edersheim (March 7, 1825 – March 16, 1889) was a Jewish convert to Christianity and a Biblical scholar known especially for his book The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (1883). 

Edersheim was born in Vienna of Jewish parents of culture and wealth. English was spoken in their home, and he became fluent at an early age. He was educated at a local gymnasium and also in the Talmud and Torah at a Hebrew school, and in 1841 he entered the University of Vienna. His father suffered illness and financial reversals before Alfred could complete his university education, and he had to support himself.

He converted to Christianity in Pest when he came under the influence of John Duncan, a Church of Scotland chaplain to workmen engaged in constructing a bridge over the Danube. Edersheim accompanied Duncan on his return to Scotland and studied theology at New College, Edinburgh and at the University of Berlin. In 1846 Alfred was married to Mary Broomfield. They had seven children. In the same year he was ordained to the ministry in the Free Church of Scotland. He was a missionary to the Jews at Iaşi, Romania for a year.

On his return to Scotland, after preaching for a time in Aberdeen, Edersheim was appointed in 1849 to minister at the Free Church, Old Aberdeen. In 1861 health problems forced him to resign and the Church of St. Andrew was built for him at Torquay. In 1872 Edersheim’s health again obliged him to retire, and for four years he lived quietly at Bournemouth. In 1875 he was ordained in the Church of England, and was Curate of the Abbey Church, Christchurch, Hants, for a year, and from 1876 to 1882 Vicar of Loders, Bridport, Dorset. He was appointed to the post of Warburtonian Lecturer at Lincoln’s Inn 1880-84. In 1882 he resigned and relocated to Oxford. He was Select Preacher to the University 1884-85 and Grinfield Lecturer on the Septuagint 1886-88 and 1888-89.

Edersheim died at Menton, France, on March 16, 1889.