1 Kings 18: Elijah at Horeb
Elijah was discouraged. He had done bravely all that the Lord had told him to do at Mount Carmel. Jezebel was the more angry with Elijah. Who was Jezebel? Then Elijah fled for his life, far away to the southern part of the country and out into the wilderness. There he sank down discouraged under a "juniper tree." It was hardly a tree, but a desert shrub which grows sometimes ten or twelve feet high. It has delicate pea-like flowers, pink and white in color, which come out before the leaves. When a whole hillside is covered with the shrub in blossom it is said to be as beautiful as the loveliest apple orchard. The shrub under which Elijah rested seems to have been growing by itself, as it often does in the desert.
The Lord who had cared for Elijah and fed him at the Cherith and at Zarephath cared for him now. An angel touched him as he slept, and showed him a cruse of water and a cake baked on the coals. Twice he ate and drank. He was refreshed, "and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God."
Horeb: have we heard that name before? It is another name for Mount Sinai, or for the group of mountains of which Mount Sinai is one. These are the mountains to which Moses came when he was keeping the sheep, where he saw the burning bush and the Lord sent him to Pharaoh. They are the same mountains to which the children of Israel came in their journey, when they camped before the mountain and heard the Ten Commandments spoken by the Lord. Going to Horeb was like going where the Lord was, for encouragement and help. And he found encouragement, as you will see.
Now Elijah went back from Horeb to the land of Israel. He was strong again, not weak and discouraged any more. His way was up the Jordan valley toward Damascus, and on the way he met and called Elisha who was to be his servant and the prophet after him. It was in a meadow by the Jordan. Twelve plows drawn by yokes of oxen were making as many furrows across the field, one following a little behind the other. They were rude plows such as the people in that country use today, which only scratch the ground with a sharp point. They were driven by Elisha's servants and the last one by himself. Elijah left the path and crossed over to Elisha and cast his mantle upon him. We heard of his mantle at Horeb when he wrapped his face in it and stood in the entrance of the cave, and we shall hear of it again in our next lesson. We think of a rough, hairy mantle such as prophets wore (Zech. 13:4), perhaps of camel's hair like John the Baptist's. (2 Kings 1:8; Matt. 3:4) It meant that Elisha was to be Elijah's servant and to be the prophet after him. He asked first to go home and say good-by, but the Lord had called him and he must come at once. So he made a feast (which was perhaps also a sacrifice) hastily in the field, and went after Elijah and helped him. (2 Kings 3:11) Now we will read the story.
If you will look over the chapter with me, I will point out a number of things for a little study, so that when we read the story we shall understand it and need not be interrupted. Verse 1. Who were Ahab and Jezebel, and what did Ahab tell Jezebel that Elijah had done?
Verses 3, 4. Can you show me Beer-sheba on the map? Keeping on to the south from Beer-sheba Elijah came into the wilderness. It was almost a desert, with a few desert shrubs and plants and little water. Notice what I have said to the little children about the "juniper tree." It was a desert shrub called by the Arabs roetem, very beautiful when in flower. The Arabs burn the roots for charcoal.
"Coals of juniper" you read in Ps. 120:4; and it would seem that in times of great need the roots were eaten. "Juniper roots for their meat." (Job 30:4)
Does this scene in the desert and the shrub remind you of another story that we learned, about Hagar and Ishmael? You may like to turn back to Gen. 21:1-21, and compare the two stories. Both are stories of discouragement. In both there are the desert and the shrub, and the angel who gave refreshment and new courage.
We follow Elijah to Horeb, the stern rocky mountain of Sinai. It takes us back to the time when Moses keeping the sheep of the priest of Midian came to Horeb, and the Lord spoke to him from the burning bush. (Exod. 3:1-6) We remember too when all the people on their way from Egypt stood before the cliff of Sinai and heard the Ten Commandments. (Exod. 19:10-25) Horeb was "the mount of God." To go to Horeb in a time of discouragement was to go to the Lord for comfort and strength. Among the rocks at the top of the cliff of Sinai was the cave in which Elijah found shelter. And he found the comfort and the strength that he needed. He felt the Lord's nearness, not in the wind and the earthquake and the fire, but in the still small voice. He was again the Lord's brave prophet as he went back to his work.
Verse 20. Elisha's request to kiss his father and mother reminds us of the words of one whom the Lord called to follow Him: "Lord, I will follow Thee, but let me first go bid them farewell, which are home at my house." And you remember the Lord's answer. (Luke 9:61-62) Elijah's answer shows displeasure (A. 5895), and it means that when the Lord says something is right we ought not to linger or delay for anything. "Go back again; for what have I done to thee?" as if he said: "Stay in your old home, if you are not ready to leave everything for the Lord."
1. Why did Elijah flee after the sacrifice on Mount Carmel? Who sought to kill him? Where did he go?
2. What other name do you know for Horeb? What had happened there?
3. What were Elijah's feelings as he journeyed into the wilderness? How was he strengthened for the journey?
4. Why was Elijah encouraged and stronger when he came again from Horeb?
5. On whom did he cast his mantle? What did this mean?
If we take some particulars of this story for deeper study, it must be to make more full the grand lesson of the chapter - finding strength in the quiet remembrance of the Lord, when all outside is threatening and discouraging. We recognize the wilderness in this story of Elijah as in the stories of Hagar and of Moses as in keeping with states of trial. We find again the expression "forty days and forty nights." What other associations have we with this phrase and with the number forty? (A. 730)
Let someone make a little study of the shrub under which Elijah sat in his discouragement. Trees and plants correspond to intelligence of many kinds. Some kinds of intelligence, of thought and understanding, like some trees, are strong and fruitful; other kinds are meager. Sitting or dwelling under a tree suggests taking spiritual rest or comfort in truth which is rooted and growing in the mind. The kind of truth in which one finds delight and rest is suggested by the kind of tree under which he sits or dwells. The oaks under which Abraham camped at Shechem and at Hebron (Gen. 12:6; 13:18, Revised Version) represent strong, sturdy thoughts of right and justice. The palm under which Deborah dwelt (Judges 4:5) stands for intelligence of another kind, intelligence in regard to the Lord's power to save. Dwelling under the vine and fig tree in the days of Solomon (1 Kings 4:25) pictures a state of rest and delight in principles of spiritual and natural charity. So the fig tree under which Nathaniel was sitting when he was called to follow the Lord. (John 1:48) In the story of Jonah we read of a gourd under which he found shelter, which was destroyed to his grief. (Jonah 4:5-10) In that case the gourd represented not true and heavenly principles, but the selfish, exclusive thoughts of Jonah and his people in which they took selfish pleasure. (E. 401) What sort of thoughts, of understanding of truth, can the desert shrub represent, under which Elijah sat in his discouragement? It represents a very meager perception of what is true, so little as to amount to almost nothing. Compare this passage in the story of Elijah with the story of Hagar and Ishmael. (Gen. 21:14-21) They were cast out into this same wilderness of Beer-sheba, and there Hagar cast the child under one of the shrubs, and presently an angel comforted her and showed her a well of water. This story is fully explained in the Arcana, and it is there said that the shrub or bush denotes perception so little as to be scarce anything, and that to be cast under one of the shrubs is to be desolated as to truth and good even to desperation. This seems to be the meaning also of the similar passage in the story of Elijah. (A. 2682)
Remembering the associations of Horeb, and noticing that it is here called "the mount of God," we see that Elijah's journey to Horeb represents an earnest effort in a time of discouragement to come nearer to the Lord that we may feel His power. That it was little which the prophet could perceive is suggested by his dwelling at Horeb in a cave, which represents a dark and restricted state, also by wrapping his face in his mantle as he listened to the Lord's words. (A. 2463, 6829)
The wind, the earthquake, the fire, and the still small voice. When we are in careless and evil states violent things in nature and in our own experience may be useful in awakening us to remember the Lord and our duty to Him. But the gentle things in nature teach us truer lessons of His presence and His power. The moving of the stars so steadily on their way; the springing of the little plants and the opening of the flowers through all the fields and woods; the awakening of the whole earth in spring after the sleep of winter; the healing of the scars which floods and fire and other violence make upon the face of nature - these gentle things, like the still small voice, remind us that the Lord is near and are tokens of His power. The smoke and fire, the quaking of the mountain and the trumpet voice growing louder and louder, were all representative of the seeming harshness of the Lord's commands and of His providence to those who are in low and evil states, while always inwardly it is only love and speaks with a still small voice. (A. 8823)
There were seven thousand in Israel who had not bowed unto Baal. Elijah was not so entirely alone as he had thought: We may always have this encouragement, that there are other people trying to serve the Lord. Heaven is on our side if we are trying to do right. There may seem to be few who are with us, but there are seven thousand, for the number means all heavenly influences which are working with the Lord.
Elijah and Elisha are both types of the Lord, both prophets spoke His word, both are referred to by the Lord in Luke 4:24-27 as types of Himself. The story seems to present Elijah as the sterner man, and Elisha as of gentler character. Elijah who slew the prophets of Baal and who is so often mentioned as of the same spirit as John the Baptist, seems especially to represent the power of the letter of the Word to condemn evil. Elisha, the gentler prophet who was called after Elijah had heard the still small voice at Horeb, seems to represent the same Word with the appearance of harshness softened by a perception of the Divine spirit of love within it. We shall think of the relation of the two prophets again in our next lesson. (E. 430)
Let someone of the class compare Elijah's rebuke to Elisha when he wished to kiss his father and mother farewell with the Lord's words in Luke 9:61-62, and Matt. 8:21-22, and tell us what is meant by the father and mother who are to be left without a farewell kiss. (A.5895)