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Christian Biblical Studies
Principal Text: 1 Kings 19
All Scripture references are to the King James Version (KJV). Where a text is not quoted, click on the link.
THE PROPHET ELIJAH was in trouble. He had instigated an uprising in Israel against the priests of the heathen god Baal, and 450 of them were killed by the indignant population. The account of that confrontation is given in 1 Kings 18: 20-40.
The royal patron of the priests was Jezebel, wife of Ahab, king of Israel. The name of Jezebel has come through the ages as a synonym for immorality and cruelty – a devil in female guise. Now she issued a death threat against Elijah and he ran away to the Judaean wilderness (1 Kings 19: 1-4).
Now, tormented by fear, feeling sorry for himself and very much alone, Elijah complained to God, ‘I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away’ (1 Kings 19: 10).
The prophet was a brave man. But even the brave are occasionally afraid, and he was worn ragged from his ordeal, prostrate with his distress. Fatigued, and wishing to die, he fell asleep under a tree (v. 4). Here God arranged food for him (vs. 5, 6). Refreshed, but still feeling hunted, Elijah pressed on for over a month and took refuge in a cave.
It was here that the Lord revealed Himself to Elijah in an unusual way, ‘passing by’ in three distinct manifestations: wind, earthquake, and fire. After the fire there came a ‘still small voice’, indicative of God’s reassuring presence (vs. 11, 12).
Looking around us at the spiritual state of Britain today, it’s hard to realise that this land has been used mightily in the work of God. The publication of the King James Bible in the early seventeenth century spurred the growth of new churches in the eighteenth. From these shores in the early 1800s issued forth the message of the Gospel in the influential work carried out, for example, by the British and Foreign Bible Society, long-standing testimony to the achievements of Protestant Britain in preaching the good news of Jesus Christ.
It has in some circles become popular, in a perverse undermining of one’s own national history, to dismiss this religious ‘phase’ of British history as the outcroppings of colonial adventure. The secular press revels in the new, progressively secular Britain, while simultaneously venting tabloid disquiet over social breakdown. With a few clicks of the journalistic mouse, the Christian history and ethical traditions of this island-nation are deleted.
But not quite.
The Christian understandably may feel alone, harried by an army of infidels and atheists. The very intellectual acuity which helped to propel Britain to the forefront of nations, seems now to be employed in dismantling the Christian faith that nurtured previous generations. Heading the charge are thinkers such as Richard Dawkins and the scholar-journalist Christopher Hitchens, and others. These are men mighty in their sphere who raise devastating arguments against the doctrinal and traditional roots of the Christian faith, shredding the precursor to faith: the belief that God exists. For anyone who comes to God must first believe that He ‘is’ (Hebrews 11: 6). This modern class of atheists draw from a carefully-thought-out system of Evolution, an explanation of origins now adopted by most scientists and thinkers.
All of these developments are bad news for the sincere Christian, today’s Elijah. To counter the discouraging effects of the onslaught, many Christians have modified their beliefs – such as redefining (or ignoring) the book of Genesis, with its narrative of creation and the Divine formation of man. By this self-service approach they unwittingly undermine the very doctrine of salvation: that Jesus came to seek and to save those who were lost, and that as a perfect man He corresponded to the perfect man, Adam, for whom He died. No Adam – no Jesus – no Salvation.
The proportion of true, dedicated Christians to the shop-window variety has always been low. Nonetheless, British society used to be a rough approximation of Christian traditional beliefs. Indeed, one might argue that the industrial, technological, and legal innovation of this blessed land during the eighteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries reflected an intelligence and an integrity underpinned by a respect for Scripture.
The modern British Christian has reason to feel marginalised. Matters have not yet risen to widespread persecution or a banning of the faith. In fact, were this to occur, it might be the wake-up slap needed to stimulate the wider church to action. No, rather, it is the low-level assault on the idea and credibility of faith, and the contemporary assertion of a new sexual culture to replace the traditional strictures of Christianity regarding celibacy, marriage and sexual behaviour. Such things, and other accumulated insults to godliness, can drive the Christian to discouragement and despair.
No doubt humbled by the amazing display he had witnessed in the lee of the cave, Elijah nonetheless reiterated his lament, surely by now less convincing (v. 14). Assuring Elijah of eventual victory, the Lord pronounced (v. 18), ‘Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him’.
There is good evidence within the Bible itself to show that Elijah represents the Lord’s people during the Gospel Age. For instance, the Apostle Paul rehearses this incident with Elijah, stating that ‘at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace’ (Romans 11: 5).
The Christian today, pressed by doubts and discouragement, and overwhelmed by well-honed arguments he feels unable to counter effectively, should take heart from the knowledge that God will never leave Himself without a witness in the world. ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’ So reads Acts 16: 31. A heart-felt, intelligent faith in Christ Jesus as Saviour and King is sufficient to bring justification by faith, irrespective of one’s denomination. There are in Britain today many tens of thousands such as this – believers who refuse to conform their behaviour to the seductive ways of an idolatrous world, nor lend it their mental support. But often we do not recognise them because they hold to doctrines which vary from our own, and we are usually inclined to believe that ‘our’ church is the only true church.
In response to the demand of the Pharisees that Jesus forbid the crowd from praising Him, Jesus said, ‘The stones will cry out’ (Luke 19: 40). This is a truth for all ages. In other words, a testimony to God’s Plan of salvation must be given, and will be given, even though it be through an agency other than the one we prefer.
The ‘7,000’ come in various guises, usually with differing emphases on aspects of the Divine message. It may take the form of an educated defence of faith and God’s reputation against Evolution; in the assertion of the Biblical view of marriage against politically expedient variations; it may lay emphasis on the work of Christ in saving from Sin, as against the ‘no-guilt’ indulgent culture of the reprobate. But however it is carried out, the work of witness will be advanced by those whom God has reserved to Himself in these peculiar days.
Elijah’s cave is, in one way, indicative of the period of history in which we live, with its hovering threat of war (wind), the undercurrent of social revolution (earthquake), and its near cousin, anarchy (fire). In this historical and social context the thoughtful Christian contemplates the scene from a refuge of trust in the Lord.
The Christian’s fretfulness will give way to wonder and encouragement when faith understands the work of God in the world and recognises the army of believers He has recruited. No matter how long it may yet take, through His mighty works God’s will shall prevail and the world will marvel at the blissful outcome.
Drop thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of thy peace.
Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still small voice of calm!
J.G. Whittier (1807-1892)
Copyright December 2010 ukbiblestudents.co.uk
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