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The Still Small Voice

1 Kings 19
It is said that the hand of the Lord was upon
Elijah to bring him to Jezreel. He knew that
Jezebel was there. Her character was well
known to him; but he feared not to go
where duty called him, and to carry on and
complete the great work he had so signally
commencedof bringing back the people to
the faith of their fathersof keeping them
firm in the choice they had madeof
strengthening the good impressions they
had receivedand of maintaining the
influence he had begun to establish over the
mind of the unstable king. These were great
objects, and it was not to be expected that
such a man as Elijah, whose conquering
faith had never yet known doubt or fear,
would shrink from any danger in order to
realize them. His duty called him to Jezreel,
and to Jezreel he went.
All that has gone before, and all that we
know of his character, would naturally
prepare us to hear of his great doings
therein that very place of Satans seatin
purging out the unclean thing. It was a great
task; and of all the men that ever lived,
Elijah seemed the one best fitted for it, by
his extraordinary spiritual gifts, and by the
convincing assurances which he had just
received, that the Lord was with him, would
hear his prayer, would hold his life
precious, and would afford him all the aid
his work required. But the expected history
of great doings and great reforms is a blank.
Nothing was done. The great Elijahthat
strong-hearted manfailed at the critical
moment, fled from his post to save his life
when threatened by the wrath of Jezebel, as
soon as she heard that her prophets had
been slain. He who had experienced the
sufficiency of the Lords protection from
prince, prophets, and people, now shrinks
at last, at the crisis of his highest duty, from
the face of a woman, whom his Master
could, if He had seen fit, have cut off in a
moment. He fled; and, lacking their great
guide, and the prime leader in this
auspicious movement, the people became
discouraged, and the impression made
upon the kings mind rapidly cooled down,
both relapsing into nearly their former
state. Truly in this did Elijah show himself
a man of like passions as we are. O Lord,
what is man? O Lord, who shall stand, when
even thy Elijahs fail in their high trust?
Those who vindicate Elijah for fleeing when
his life appeared in danger, forget that he
was not a private person but a
commissioned prophet, set prominently
forth before the eyes of men, as the
appointed corrector of his times and people.
He had an appointed post to occupy, and a
determined duty to fulfill, in which his
Master would certainly sustain him; and
from which not even the fear of certain
death should have permitted him to flee.
Suppose, indeed, that he had been
absolutely certain that the Lord would not
interfere and that to stay was deathhow
could he know but that the Lords cause
might be better promoted, and His great
name more glorified, by his death than by
his life. From such a man as Elijah we are
entitled to make exactions of duty from
which commoner men might be excused. In
him, of all men, we are entitled to look for
the martyr-spirit for if not in him, in whom
of that age was it to be looked for?
Still, in this deplorable lapse of faith, there
is, we suspect, some mystery that does not
at first sight appear; for so signal a failure of
duty in a man so eminent, is seldom
without its antecedentsis seldom other
than the due effect of something that has
gone before. Seeing how often the
declinations or lapses of great and good
men follow closely upon the moments of
their highest exaltationthere is reason to
suspect that Elijah had suffered his mind to
be too much elevated, exalted above
measure, by the great deeds he had
accomplished, and by the notion in his
mind, that he alone of all Israel had
maintained his faith untainted. It was
therefore necessary that he should be
humbled, by being allowed to feel his own
weakness, and to know that of himself he
was nothing. For this correction it was only
necessary that the Lords hand should for a
moment be withdrawn from him, that for a
little while he should be left to himself. The
example is most instructive, as showing
how timid and forlorn a creature even an
Elijah may become, when even for a short
time stripped, in correcting mercy, of all but
his own strength.
The prophet, haunted by fears hitherto
unknown to his stout heart, hastened to get
into the neighboring kingdom of Judah.
Even there he was uneasy until he had
reached Beersheba, the most distant
inhabited place of that kingdom, towards
the southern desert. Good Jehoshaphat
then reigned in Judah, and one would think
that the prophet might have deemed
himself safe under his protection, even if he
had openly declared himself. But with his
shaken trust in God, he had lost much of his
trust in man; and he seems to have
recollected that Jehoshaphat was politically
in close alliance with Ahab, and that his
eldest son had espoused the likeminded
daughter of that Jezebel, whose name had
become a terror to him. He began to feel
uneasy even in Beersheba. He therefore
dismissed his servant, and set forth alone
into the wilderness, whose wide but
desolate bosom offered, as it seemed to
him, the best security against detection and
pursuit. Perhaps he had some reason to
expect to find in this quarter, at the present
time of the year, the friendly Arabs through
whom the Lord had provided for his wants
by the brook Cherith, and who would have
been glad to receive him into their tents. All
day he travelled, and found no refuge; and
in the evening, worn out with fatigue and
consumed with hunger, he cast himself
down under the shelter of one of the broom-
trees, Note: Genista rtani, or Spanish
broom, is allowed to be the tree (in Hebrew
rothem) the name of which is translated
juniper in the text. which alone flourish in
that wilderness. Here this lately strong-
souled man lay hopeless, helpless, and
despairing; and he who fled so anxiously
from death, prayed for himself that he
might die. It is enough; O Lord God, take
away my life; for I am not better than my
fathers. Strange contradiction! Here the
man who was destined not to taste of
deathflees from death on the one hand,
and seeks it on the other! And who told him
it was enough? God did not; He knew
what was enough for him to do and to
suffer. It was not enough. God had more to
teach him, and had more work for him to
do. If the Lord had taken him at his word,
and had also said it was enough, Elijahs
history would have wanted its crowning
glory.
Hitherto the Lord had not manifested
himself to him since he had left his high
post. But He had not lost sight of his
servant, and the time was come when it
seemed to Him fit to evince so much care
towards him as might prevent him from
being consumed with over-much sorrow.
From restless sleep, troubled with dreams
and doubts, he was roused by the touch of
an angel, and he beheld close by a cruse of
water and a cake of bread just baken on the
coals. After having partaken of this simple
but grateful fare, he sunk into sounder
sleep; and, as the morning rose, he was
again awakened, and found the same
provision made for him. In this food,
prepared by angel hands, he found more
than mortal nourishment; for the strength it
imparted enabled him to travel without
weariness, and to remain for no less than
forty days without the need or wish for
other food.
He was now in a better mind, yet not wholly
corrected. Something more was needed to
be taught him. His journey now assumed a
definite object. He proposed to go among
the mountains of Sinai, probably as being
uninhabited, and as affording among their
recesses many caverns in which he might
rest without danger of detection. And
although he was still astray from the path of
strict duty, we make no question that he
expected and hoped to build his heart up in
holy thoughts among the scenes which the
footsteps of the Lord had hallowed.
So he went to Horeb, and took up his
quarters in a cave. Here at last the word of
the Lord came to him once more. It came in
the form of questioning rebuke. What
doest thou here, Elijah? As much as to
sayWhat hast thou of all men, to do
here? Thou, whose post in my service is
among the haunts of mento fight my
battles against a perverse generation, and to
strengthen the hearts of those who still
encourage themselves in the Lord their
God. What hast thou to do in this selfish,
moaning solitude? With whom hast thou
left those few sheep in the wilderness?
What hast thou to do here?
Elijahs answer is less candid, or rather
more self-deceiving, than we could wish. He
upholds his own zeal for the Lord; he
believes he is the only true worshipper left;
and therefore he seeks to preserve a life
which had thus become so important, that
forsaken truth might not be left without a
living witness. He was then directed to go
forth and stand on the mount before the
Lord. He obeyed; and as he stood, a great
strong wind went by, that brake the rocks
and rent the mountains. But the Lord was
not in that wind; it was but his harbinger.
Then an earthquake made the everlasting
hills tremble beneath his feet; but the Lord
was not there. Then a fire wrapped in flame
the crests of the mountains; but the Lord
was not in the fire. All these terrors were
but his harbingersthe harbingers of a still
small voice. When the prophet heard that
Voice, he knew it; and since he might not
hide within the cavern, he wrapped his face
in the folds of his mantle, and stood to
receive the word of the Lord. The question
was repeated. What doest thou here,
Elijah? And to this the same reply was
given. The answer was, to bid him return to
the world, and do the Lords work in it; with
the assurance that, alone in the faith, as he
thought himself, the Lord, who knew and
numbered his hidden ones, had found in
Israel seven thousand knees which have
not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth
which hath not kissed him. Note: Literally
to him, suggesting that this act of homage
consisted in kissing the hand to himan
ancient act of worship represented in
sculptures.
Egyptian Figures Kissing the Hand in
Worship

Back, then, complainer; loath thy


life no more,
Nor deem thyself upon a desert
shore,
Because the rocks the nearer
prospect close.
Yet in fallen Israel are there hearts
and eyes
That day by day in prayer like
thine arise;
Thou knowest them not, but their
Creator knows.
Go, to the world return, nor fear to
cast
Thy bread upon the waters; sure at
last,
In joy to find it after many days.
Keble.
And we also! Has it not often been so with
us, that after we have been tossed by the
rough winds, shaken by the earthquake, and
scorched in many fires, the still small
voice has come to us in the solitude of our
chamber, in the night watches upon our
beds, accusing us of neglected duty and
broken faithyet speaking comfort, and
whispering encouragement and hope.