by A. W. Pink
The office which Elijah filled supplies an important key to an understanding of the times in which he lived and the character of his mission. He was a Prophet, in fact one of the most remarkable pertaining to that Divine order. Now there is a real and marked difference between a servant of God and a Prophet of God, for while all His Prophets are servants yet not all of His servants are Prophets. Prophecy always presupposes failure and sin. God only sent forth one of His Prophets in a time of marked declension and departure of the people from Himself. As this is not generally known, we propose to labor the point and furnish Scripture proofs of our assertion. "We have also a more sure word of prophecy: whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light which shines in a dark place" (2 Peter 1:19): that expresses the general principle.
How many of our readers can recall the very first prophecy recorded in Holy Writ? Well, it is found in, "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her Seed; it shall bruise thy head and thou shall bruise His heel" (Genesis 3:15). And when was that initial prophecy given? Not while our first parents walked in obedience to and fellowship with the Lord God, but after they had sinned against Him and broken His commandments. Let this be duly noted and carefully pondered, for like the first mention of anything in the Scriptures, it is of deep moment, intimating the nature and design of all subsequent prophecy. This initial prediction, then, was not furnished by God while the original bliss of Eden obtained, but after it had been rudely shattered. It was supplied after mankind had rebelled and apostatized.
And now a harder question: How many of our readers can name the first Prophet of God mentioned in the Scriptures? In order to find the answer we have to turn to the Epistle of Jude, where we are told, "And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousand of His saints to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds," etc (vv. 14, 15). Here again we see the same principle illustrated and the same fact exemplified. Enoch the Prophet lived in a day of abounding wickedness. He was contemporary with Noah, when "the earth was filled with violence," and "all flesh had corrupted His (God's) way upon the earth" (Genesis 6:11, 12). The ministry of Enoch, then, was exercised some time previous to the great Flood, and he was raised up to call upon men to forsake their sins and to announce the certainty of Divine judgment falling upon them should they refuse to do so.
Who are the next men referred to in Scripture as being "Prophets" of God? The answer may surprise some of our readers: they are none other then Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In Psalm 105 we read, "He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, He reproved kings for their sakes, saying, Touch not Mine anointed, and do My Prophets no harm" (vv. 14, 15). The context clearly identifies these "Prophets." "He has remembered His covenant forever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations. Which covenant He made with Abraham, and His oath unto Isaac; and confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law and to Israel for an everlasting covenant: saying, Unto you will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance" (vv. 8-11). And why were the Patriarchs denominated "Prophets"? That which has been before us in the preceding paragraphs supplies the answer, and the title here given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is to be explained on the same principle. A new and fearful evil had entered the world, and God called out the Patriarchs separating them from it, so that by their lips and lives they were witnesses against it.
That evil was, idolatry. So far as Scripture reveals, idols were not worshiped by men previous to the Flood. But soon after the great deluge idolatry not only obtained a footing, but became general. "Thus says the LORD God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor; and they served other gods" (Joshua 24:2). It is to that very period in ancient history — namely, to the days of Nimrod and onwards-that Romans 1:22, 23 looks back: "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things." An incidental reference, which however may be regarded as symptomatic of general conditions, is contained in, "Rachel had stolen the images that were her father's" (Genesis 31:19). It was from this awful sin of idolatry that the Patriarchs were separated, to serve as "Prophets"-witnesses for the true God. Thus we see once more that the bringing in of the Prophet was in the face of apostasy.
Passing down the stream of human history, let us next consider the case of the chosen Nation. Jehovah had separated the Hebrews unto Himself as His favored people. Called out of Egypt, they were first brought into a place of isolation: the Wilderness. There the tabernacle of worship and witness was erected, laws were given to Israel, and the priesthood was instituted. We read of princes, elders, and judges in the congregation, but no mention whatever is made of any order of "Prophets" being appointed. Why is this? Because there was no need for them. So long as Israel walked in obedience to and fellowship with the Lord and worshiped Him according to His institutions, no "Prophet" was required! This is a fact which has not received the attention it deserves. While the life of Israel remained normal there was a place for the teacher, the Levite, and the magistrate; but no room whatever for the Prophetic function.
But after Israel entered the land of Canaan and Joshua was removed from their head, what we have pointed out above no longer obtained. At a later date in Israel's history we do find God sending Prophets unto them. Why? Because the priesthood had failed and the people had departed from God. History repeated itself: the Divine mercies were abused, the Divine Law was flouted, the servants of God lamentably failed in the discharge of their duties. Corruption set in and there was grievous and widespread departure from the Lord. Then it was that He instituted the Prophetic order in Israel. And who was it that headed the long list of Israel's Prophets? This is not an unimportant question: Acts 3:24 tells us: "Yes, and all the Prophets from Samuel, and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days."
Samuel, then, was the first of Israel's Prophets. He was raised up by God at a most critical juncture in their history, when true piety had sunk to a very low level and when wickedness flouted itself in high places. So fearful had things become, so far had the fear of God departed from their eyes, that the sons of the high priest himself pilfered part of the holy sacrifices: "The sin of the young men was very great before the LORD: for men abhorred the offering of the LORD" (1 Samuel 2:17). So lost were they not only to a veneration of what was sacred, but also to a sense of decency, that they "lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation" (v. 22). Though Eli remonstrated with them, yet "they hearkened not unto the voice of their father" (v. 25). In consequence, they were slain by Divine judgment, the ark of the Lord was carried away by the Philistines, and "Ichabod" was written over the Nation. Samuel, then, was raised up at a time of great declension, when, "There was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judg. 21:25).
Now all that has been before us supplies the key to an understanding of those books in the Old Testament which are more definitely known as "The Prophets." Their messages were addressed to a degenerate and wayward people. Let us give a quotation from the first three of them. "The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah kings of Judah. Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD has spoken; I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me. The ox knows his owner and the donkey his master's crib: but Israel does not know, My people does not consider. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward" (Isaiah 1:1-4). "Thus says the Lord, what iniquity have your fathers found in Me, that they are gone far from Me and have walked after vanity" (Jeremiah 2:5 and see verses 6-9). "Son of man I send you to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against Me" (Ezekiel 2:3 and see verses 4-9).
The same principle holds good throughout the New Testament. The first preacher there introduced to us is John the Baptist: and what was the outstanding characteristic of his ministry? Not that of an evangelist, not that of a teacher, but rather the Prophet-"He shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17). Why so? Because God sent John unto a people who had departed from Him, to a people laden with iniquities, yet self-righteous in their sins. John was a Divine protest against the rottenness of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians. Though the son of a priest, John never ministered in the temple, nor was his voice heard in Jerusalem. Instead he was a voice crying in the wilderness: placed on the outside of all organized religion. He was a true Prophet, calling upon the people to repent and flee from the wrath to come.
Take the ministry of Christ. In Him we see every office combined: He was Prophet, Priest and King. He was both Evangelist and Teacher, yet during His earthly ministry that which was the more prominent was the exercise of His Prophetic office. Of old Jehovah had declared to Moses, "I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto you, and will put My words in His mouth; and He shall speak unto them all that I shall command Him" (Deuteronomy 18:18). But let us carefully note the particular stage in His ministry when Christ began to utter prophecies as such. Most of our readers will recall there are quite a number of predictions which He made concerning His second advent, but they may not have observed that none of them was given during the early days of His service. The Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5 to 7) contains none at all. The great prophecy of Matthew's Gospel is found near the end (24, 25), after the leaders of the Nation had rejected Him!
The same general principle-declension and departure from God as the dark background before which the Prophet stands out-receives further illustration in the writings of the Apostles. In them some striking and most important predictions are to be met with; but mark attentively where they are located. The principal ones, those which enter into fullest detail, are usually to be found in the second Epistles-2 Thessalonians 2; 2 Timothy 3; 2 Peter 2. Why is this? Ah, why was a second Epistle necessary? Because the first failed to accomplish its proper end. Finally, let us ask, which is the one book of the New Testament that is outstandingly Prophetic in its character and contents? Why, the Revelation. And where is it to be found? At the very close of the New Testament, tracing as it does the course of Christendom's apostasy and describing the judgments of God upon the same.
Now there is one thing very noticeable about the Prophets of God, no matter in what day or age they lived: we always find them walking alone with God, in separation from the religious apostasy around them. It was so with Enoch: he "walked with God" (Genesis 5:24)-denoting his aloofness from the surrounding evil. It was thus with the Patriarchs: "By faith he (Abraham) sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise" (Hebrews 11:9). So isolated was the Prophet Samuel that when Saul sought unto him he had to make inquiry as to his abode (1 Samuel 9:11, 12). As we have seen, the same thing held good of John the Baptist: he was in marked separation from the organized religion of his day. So now the servants of God are commanded to "turn away" from those "having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof" (2 Timothy 3:5).
Another thing which has marked the Prophets of God is that they were not accredited by the religious systems of their day: they neither belonged to, nor were they endorsed by them. What was there that Enoch and the Patriarchs could possibly "belong" to or "hold membership in"? How could Samuel or Elijah have any personal fellowship with the apostate Judaism of their day? How was it morally possible for John the Baptist to exercise his ministry within the precincts of the degenerate temple of Jerusalem? In consequence of their separation from the God-dishonoring systems of their day, they were despised, hated and persecuted by the religious leaders, and in the eyes of their satellites were most unpopular. The same principle obtains now. Where a denomination has repudiated (in doctrine or practice) the Truth, membership in it can only be retained at the price of unfaithfulness to God: "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them" (Ephesians 5:11).
Another feature which ever characterized God's Prophets was the nature of their mission and message. This was twofold: to arouse a slumbering conscience and to comfort the hearts of God's people in a day of ruin. The first was accomplished by a faithful application of the Word of God to existing conditions, so as to awaken the people to a sense of their responsibility and guilt. The Divine Law was expounded and the holy claims of God insisted upon, so that it might appear how grievously the public had departed from Him. An uncompromising call to repentance was made: a demand to forsake their sins and return unto the Lord. The second was accomplished by directing the eyes of the saints above the ruin about them and fixing their hearts upon the future glory.
Finally, it remains to be pointed out that the message of God's Prophets was never heeded by more than an insignificant and fractional remnant. The great mass even of religious professors rejected it, for it did not suit their depraved tastes. There was never any corporate recovery! Human nature then was no different from what it is now: preaching upon the exceeding sinfulness of sin and the certainty of judgment to come has never been acceptable. It is the false Prophets who cry, "Peace, peace, when there is no peace," who were ever the popular orators. "Speak unto us smooth things" (Isaiah 30:10) is always the demand of the crowd, and those who refuse to yield to this clamor and instead faithfully preach the Truth, are dubbed "pessimists" and "killjoys."
We return to the thought with which we opened: the particular office which Elijah sustained enables us to form an accurate judgment of the times in which his lot was cast, and the specific nature of his mission. The Prophet of Gilead appeared on the scene of action in one of the darkest hours in Israel's history.
Table of Contents
1. Elijah's Dramatic Appearance
2. The Heavens Shut Up
3. The Brook Cherith
4. The Trial of Faith
5. The Drying Brook
6. Directed to Zarephath
7. On Carmel
8. The Lord Will Provide
9. A Dark Providence
10. 'Women Received Their Dead Raised to Life Again'
11. Facing Danger
13. The Troubler of Israel
14. In the Cave
15. Elijah's Challenge
16. Ears That Hear Not
17. The Confidence of Faith
18. His Exit