Elijah the Tishbite
The prophet’s words went into immediate effect. Those who were at first inclined to scoff at the thought of calamity, soon had occasion for serious reflection; for after a few months the earth, unrefreshed by dew or rain, became dry, and vegetation began to wither. As time passed, streams that had never been known to fail, began to decrease, and the brooks to dry up. Yet the people were urged by their leaders to have confidence in the power of Baal, and to set aside as idle words the prophecy of Elijah.
The priests insisted that it was through the power of Baal that the showers of rain fell. Fear not the God of Elijah, nor tremble at his word, they urged; it is Baal who brings forth the harvest in its season, and provides for man and beast. The idols of wood and stone, representing him, should still be worshipped.
God’s message to Ahab gave Jezebel and her priests and all the followers of Baal and Ashtoreth opportunity to test the power of their gods, and to prove the word of Elijah false. Against the assurances of hundreds of idolatrous priests, the prophecy of Elijah stood alone. His words had locked heaven. If, notwithstanding his declaration, Baal could still give dew and rain, causing the streams to continue to flow and vegetation to flourish, then let the king of Israel worship him, and the people say that he is God.
Determined to keep the people in deception, the prophets of Baal continue to offer sacrifices to their gods and to call upon them night and day to refresh the earth. With costly offerings the priests attempt to appease the anger of their gods; with a zeal and a perseverance worthy of a better cause they linger round their pagan altars, and pray earnestly for rain. Night after night, throughout the doomed land, their cries and entreaties arise. But no clouds appear in the heavens by day to hide the burning rays of the sun. No dew nor rain refreshes the thirsty earth. The word of the Lord stands unchanged by anything the priests of Baal can do.
A year passes, and yet there is no rain. The earth is parched as if with fire. The scorching heat of the sun destroys what little vegetation has survived. Streams dry up, and lowing herds and bleating flocks wander hither and thither in distress. Once flourishing fields have become like burning desert sands,—a desolate waste. The groves dedicated to idol-worship are leafless; the forest trees, gaunt skeletons of nature, afford no shade. The air is dry and suffocating; dust-storms blind the eyes and nearly stop the breath. Once prosperous cities and villages have become places of mourning. Hunger and thirst are telling upon man and beast with fearful mortality. Famine, with all its horrors, comes closer and still closer.
Yet, notwithstanding these evidences of God’s power, Israel repented not, nor learned the lesson that God would have them learn. They did not see that he who created nature controls her laws, and can make of them instruments of blessing or of destruction. Proud-hearted, enamored of their false worship, they were unwilling to humble themselves under the mighty hand of God, and they began to cast about for some other cause to which to attribute their sufferings.
Jezebel utterly refused to recognize the drought as a judgment from Jehovah. Unyielding in her determination to defy the God of heaven, she and nearly the whole of Israel united in denouncing Elijah as the cause of all their misery. Had he not borne testimony against their forms of worship? If only he could be put out of the way, she urged, the anger of their gods would be appeased, and their troubles would end.
Urged on by the queen, Ahab instituted a most diligent search for the hiding-place of the prophet. To all the surrounding nations, far and near, he sent messengers to seek for the man whom he hated, yet feared; and in his anxiety to make the search as thorough as possible, he required of these kingdoms and nations an oath that they knew nothing of the whereabouts of the prophet. But the search was in vain. The prophet was safe from the malice of a king whose course had brought upon the land the denunciation of an offended God.
Failing in her purpose to destroy Elijah, Jezebel determined to avenge herself by slaying all the prophets of the Lord in Israel. Not one who claimed to be a prophet of the Lord should live. The infuriated woman carried out her purpose in the massacre of many of God’s servants. Not all, however, perished. Obadiah, the governor of Ahab’s house, yet faithful to God, “took a hundred prophets,” and at the risk of his own life, “hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water.”
The second year of famine passed, and still the pitiless heavens gave no sign of rain. Drought and famine continued their devastation throughout the kingdom. Fathers and mothers, powerless to relieve the sufferings of their children, were forced to see them die. Yet still apostate Israel refused to humble their hearts before God, and continued to murmur against the man by whose word these terrible judgments had been brought upon them. They seemed unable to discern, in their suffering and distress, a call to repentance. They failed to see in their calamity a divine interposition to save them from taking the fatal step beyond the boundary of Heaven’s forgiveness.
The apostasy of Israel was an evil more dreadful than all the multiplied horrors of famine. God was seeking to free the people from their delusion, and lead them to understand their accountability to the One to whom they owed their life and all things. He was trying to help them to recover their lost faith, and he must needs bring upon them great affliction. “The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy.” “Though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies. For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.”
“Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?” “Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? for I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.” “Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?”
God has sent messengers to Israel appealing to them to return to their allegiance. Had they heeded these appeals, had they turned from Baal to the living God, Elijah’s message of judgment would never have been given. But the warnings that might have been a savor of life unto life, proved to them a savor of death unto death. They allowed the words of God’s messengers to wound their pride, and their hatred was aroused against these messengers, and particularly against Elijah. In the face of calamity, they stood firm in their idolatry, and looked upon the prophet as the cause of all their troubles. Thus they added to the guilt that had brought the judgments of Heaven upon the land. If Elijah had been in their power, they would gladly have delivered him to Jezebel,—as if by silencing his voice they could stay the fulfillment of his words!
For stricken Israel there was but one remedy,—a turning away from the sins that had brought upon them the chastening hand of the Almighty, and a turning to the Lord with full purpose of heart. To them had been given the assurance, “If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people; if my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” It was to bring to pass this blessed result that God continued to withhold from them the dew and the rain until a decided reformation should take place.