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A Contrasted Life

“A grander figure never stood out even against the Old Testament sky than that of Elijah. As Israel’s apostasy had reached its highest point in the time of Ahab, so the Old Testament antagonism to it in the person and mission of Elijah. The analogy and parallelism between his history and that of Moses, even to minute details, is obvious on comparison of the two;2 and accordingly we find him, significantly, along with Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration. Yet much as Scripture tells of him, we feel that we have only dim outlines of his prophetic greatness before us. By his side other men, even an Elisha, seem small. As we view him as Jehovah’s representative, almost plenipotentiary, we recall his unswerving faithfulness to, and absolutely fearless discharge of his trust. And yet this strong man had his hours of felt weakness and loneliness, as when he fled before Ahab and Jezebel, and would fain have laid him down to die in the wilderness. As we recall his almost unlimited power, we remember that its spring was in constant prayer. As we think of his unbending sternness, of his sharp irony on Mount Carmel, of his impassioned zeal, and of his unfaltering severity, we also remember that deep in his heart soft and warm feelings glowed, as when he made himself the guest of the poor widow, and by agonising prayer brought back her son to life. Such as this must have been intended by God, in His mercy, as an outlet and precious relief to his feelings, showing him that all his work and mission were not of sorrow and judgment, but that the joy of Divine comfort was his also. And truly human, full of intense pathos, are those days of wilderness-journey, and those hours on Mount Horeb, when in deepest sadness of soul the strong man, who but yesterday had defiantly met Ahab and achieved on Mount Carmel such triumph as none other, bent and was shaken, like the reed in the storm. A life this full of contrasts—of fierce light and deep shadows—not a happy, joyous, prosperous life; not one even streaked with peace or gladness, but wholly devoted to God: a bush on the wilderness-mount, burning yet not consumed. A life full of the miraculous it is and must be, from the character of his mission—and yet himself one of the greatest wonders in it, and the success of his mission the best attestation of, because the greatest of the miracles of his history. For, alone and unaided, save of God, he did conquer in the contest, and he did break the power of Baal in Israel.[1]

2 Jewish tradition extols him almost to blasphemy, to show how absolutely God had delegated to Elijah His power—or, as the Rabbis express it: His three keys—those of rain, of children, and of raising to life. With special application of Hos. xii. 13 to Moses and Elijah, Jewish tradition traces a very minute and instructive parallelism between the various incidents in the lives of Moses and Elijah (Yalkut vol. ii. p. 32. d).

[1] Alfred Edersheim, Bible History: Old Testament (Oak Harbor: Logos Bible Software, 1997), 1 Ki 16:34–17:24.

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