T. Pierce Brown
This is the fourth and last of a series of articles on Elijah that began with a consideration of events recorded in 1 Kings 17 and continues today into 1 Kings 19:9-16. It would have been normal for Elijah or for us to assume that theMt.Carmelexperience would have convinced and turned the people to God. It did not. We can sympathize with and understand Elijah’s feelings, yet they reveal the weakness of humanity, even of a great man like Elijah. He knew the strength of his God. He had experienced the quiet guidance through hard places. He had many proofs of God’s providential care and infinite power. Ravens had fed him. He had seen fire come from heaven. He had even raised the dead and had in so many ways tasted that the Lord is gracious. Yet, in this period of apparent crisis, he is throwing up his hands in despondency, discouragement and despair, wishing to die. Some of us can sympathize with him, for we have been there.
The searching question of verse 9, “What are you doing here?” may have had two purposes. It may have been a stern demand of the Lord. He may have meant, “What are you doing here instead of out there encouraging the people to continue in the little start they have made? What are you doing here hiding away like Jonah, pouting under the gourd vine, when the scattered flock needs your care?” It may have been a question of tender mercy, attempting to get Elijah to examine his fears and needs so God could provide the answer. It was probably some of both, for always God wants us to examine our motives. He wants us to realize where we are, but also why we are there.
As in Adam’s case, when God asked, “Where are you?” he was not trying to find out for himself. He already knew. So it is with us. It is very important for us to ask yourselves the question, “Where are you and why are you there?” If you are out in the world, lost in darkness, why, when you could be walking in the light? If you are saved, and are in a state of inertia or ingratitude, where are you and why? If you are despondent and discouraged, why?
In Elijah’s case, it was partly because he was counting numbers. We always have a problem with this, for every number represents a person with a soul. It is good for us to rejoice when large numbers respond properly to the gospel. It is wrong for us to assume that the success or failure of our work depends on the numbers who respond. The success of our work depends on how well we have done what God wants us to do, not on how well someone else responds to his message. Jesus did not fail just because he was crucified. Paul did not fail just because in some places he had few converts and was driven from town.
We may become discouraged if we dwell too much on externals and too little on central and eternal things. Much depends on us, for God has chosen earthen vessels to do his task. But let us look at God’s response to Elijah’s situation.
He says in verse 11. “Go forth and stand before the Lord.” That is always a good start. That is, come before him in a reverent attitude, knowing that he sees, knows and cares and then having done all, to stand (Ephesians 6:13). As we look at the events of verses 11-13 and read of the strong wind and earthquake, we may suggest some lessons. First, men are not brought to acknowledge and serve God by outward manifestations of power, greatness and glory. It is true that “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmaments showeth his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1), but they never bring men to repentance. The circumstances atCarmeldid not cause people to reject idolatry. When Camille came to theGulfCoast, Hugo to the East Coast and the earthquake came inCalifornia, some might have expected thousands to turn to the Lord. No one did because of those things as far as we can find out. Even our follow-up programs of feeding, clothing and helping, though it was appropriate and got attention, did not convert anyone.
Although outward circumstances of wind, earthquake, fire, difficulty, disaster, danger or death may not turn a man to God, they may prepare the way (as in Elijah’s case) and get his attention long enough for him to listen to the still small voice of God. Although your Bible may have at the top of the page of Acts 9, “The conversion of Saul” he was not converted and saved on the way toDamascus. Jesus got his attention at that point. He was saved through the preaching of the gospel when he obeyed it (Acts22:16,9:18). When the sower went forth to sow, the ground had to be cultivated. Yet one may cultivate the ground all year and still have no harvest. He had to sow the seed. One must have the voice of God, the seed of the kingdom (Luke8:11).
I heard of an Indian who went to hear a preacher. When he was through the Indian said, “Heap thunder; big lightning; high wind; no rain.” Our preaching can be that way. The preacher may be a wonderful speaker, smooth-tongued orator (high wind), of the fire and brimstone type (big lightning), or both. Until and unless the gospel is preached, though it is in a still small voice, there is no power that will save.
Also, we need to realize that God is no more present in great impressive things than in small ones. Whether it is the forked lightning that splits the trees or rocks, or the quiet sunbeam that evaporates the glistening dew, God’s Spirit is at work. Whether we see the roaring cataract ofNiagara Fallsor the spider web in the early morning we should see the hand of God. The heavens, with millions of miles of glorious greatness should impress us, as well as the startling uniqueness of every little snowflake. Remember that he who numbers the stars of the heavens also numbers the hairs of your head.
Churches or persons who are doing the most good for God and man are not necessarily the most visible, the biggest or most widely known. I have known this all along, but have been more impressed with it in the last few years as I have been more intensely involved in correspondenceBibleSchoolwork and other programs. Some little congregations that do not even support a preacher have done more in many areas of evangelism than thousands of congregations with multiple ministries and million dollar buildings.
We must never overlook or downgrade what the world calls insignificant. Moses was a condemned baby set adrift in an ark of bulrushes. David was a small shepherd boy with a staff and a sling. It was said about Jesus, “Can any good come out ofNazareth?” The Apostles were called “Unlearned and ignorant men” yet turned the world upside down (or right side up, depending on one’s viewpoint). I write these things partly for encouragement of those who feel so little and insignificant compared with those whose reputations are world wide, or who may be asked to speak on various lecture programs, etc. The great redwoods ofCaliforniastarted with seeds about as small as a grain of wheat. The ocean is made up of drops of water, and even the whole universe of atoms. The small boy with 5 loaves and two fish could feed five thousand when he heard and heeded the voice of Jesus.
God’s greatest works are done not only with small things, but also in quietness. The planets move in their orbits and declare the glory of God, but their voice is not heard. In the springtime when the flowers bloom and “all nature sings and round us rings the music of the spheres,” it is done in quietness. The preacher or editor who makes the biggest noise about how sound he is may not be doing nearly as much for God as some quiet housewife who grades a paper for a student inAfricaor sacrificially helps in some mission effort in theUnited States.
Perhaps the most needed lesson in this episode is that it was not in the earthquake, fire or wind that God’s revelation came to Elijah, but in a voice. Even the fact that it was small and still is not as significant as the fact that it was a voice. It was God’s word. Many commentators speak of the conscience as a “still small voice” that tells us what is right or wrong. This is not so. The conscience has no power to tell one what is right or wrong. The conscience only has the power to make you feel good (commend you) when you do what you think is right, or to make you feel badly (condemn you) when you do what you think is wrong.
Others think they have something more than the conscience to tell them. In home Bible studies, I have been told, “The Spirit bears witness to my spirit that I am a child of God.” They think they are quoting Romans 8:16. Even if they were, they misapply it for it does not teach that the Spirit bears witness to my spirit but with my spirit. When the Spirit bears witness that I must “Repent and be baptized for the remission of my sins” (Acts2:38) and my spirit bears witness that I have done that, then the Spirit is witnessing with my spirit.
When we sing, “Sweetly Lord, have we heard thee calling” or “The voice of the Savior says come,” we need to continue to emphasize what Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 2:14, “Whereunto he hath called you by our gospel.” Jesus said in Matthew22:14, “Many are called, but few are chosen” and the reason is that they refuse to hear and heed the voice of God, whether still and small or loud and clear.