Where Is the Lord God of Elijah?
The death of John Knox on the 24th November 1572 marked a great loss for the nation. Although Scotland has produced great preachers and teachers since then, none has quite equalled the influence over the nation of Scotland’s great Reformer. Today we might well paraphrase our text for modern Scotland: Where is the God of Knox? Three things are to be considered: the departure of Elijah — a great loss to the nation; the God of Elijah — the great need of every generation; and the faith of Elisha — the need of God’s people today.
Where are the Elijahs of God? – A Great Loss to the Nation!
Elijah’s bold and courageous stand for God was desperately needed. Israel was a nation set apart from all other nations. It was to be different and by means of that difference it was to lead the other nations to the only true God. They were to be an example of spiritual and moral purity in a world marked by idolatry and wickedness of every kind. Despite this high and privileged position God’s covenant people had gone astray. Rather than leading the surrounding nations into the truth they had followed their neighbours into open sinfulness and spiritual apostasy. It was not easy in his day to speak out. The advocating of open sin and wickedness in society by those in power made life more than a little difficult for the followers of God. The preachers were in large measure hidden in caves due to persecution (1 Kings 18:4, 13). The malevolent influence of wickedness in high places in Scotland today is no more receptive to the rebukes of Scripture than the wicked rulers of Elijah’s day. Elijah faced the ungodliness of Ahab and Jezebel, a couple infamous for their self-absorbed wickedness and unrestrained wantonness. Yet Elijah had the grit and the grace necessary to withstand them personally and publicly.
John Knox gave the First Blast in his day and it is certain that there is a need for a Second Blast to be heard against the Monstrous Regiment of ungodly rulers who have infested our nation’s corridors of power. (Knox, following publication of his First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, did in fact contemplate a Second Blast on these very lines, and though he did not ultimately proceed with it he gave out as one of its propositions that ‘No manifest idolater nor notoriouse transgressor of God’s holie preceptes o[u]ght to be promoted to any publike regiment, honour or dignitie in any real me, prouince or citie, that hath subjected the[m] self to Christe Iesus and to His blessed Euangil’.)
In Scotland today spiritual and moral wickedness abounds and barely a whimper of protest is heard. Weak and effete individuals parade themselves in clerical garb but refuse to speak a word against open sin and nationwide apostasy. Sadly, many would rather sip tea politely at a garden party with a modern day Ahab or Jezebel than declare with holy boldness, ‘Thus saith the LORD!’
Elijah was a powerful influence in his day because he was a man of prayer and godly zeal. It is much easier to commend such prayerfulness and godly passion than it is to imitate it. The prayer-closets of our ministers and the prayer-meetings of our congregations need to be revived if Scotland is ever to return to God. The epistle of James names Elijah as an example of truly godly intercession: ‘The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit’ (Jas. 5:16-18). The loss of every truly godly praying man or woman is a huge loss to any nation. Scotland needs ‘effectual fervent prayers’ to be heard again. The cry of Knox, ‘Give me Scotland, or I die’, embodied that same fervent desire for nationwide godliness. As one writer has stated, ‘Knox’s prayer was not an arrogant demand, but the passionate plea of a man willing to die for the sake of the pure preaching of the gospel and the salvation of his countrymen. Knox’s greatness lay in his humble dependence on our sovereign God to save His people, revive a nation, and reform His church’ (Burk Parsons). It is said of Mary Queen of Scots that she feared the prayers of Knox more than the armies of England. One wonders if our prayers have ever been viewed in such a way.
Elijah was a man full of faith. His faith was seen in the miracles he wrought, the holiness he exhibited and the boldness he possessed. God changes nations by the ministry of such men, and there is a crying need for such men in our day. It is easy to ignore men of small faith and no faith; after all they do not possess enough conviction in what they say to convince themselves, so why should anyone else listen to them? But men like Elijah are heard by friend and foe alike, and most gloriously of all they are heard in Heaven and feared in Hell (Acts 19:15). Even those who do not like them, and have no desire for the message they preach, cannot ignore them and secretly fear them (Acts 4:17). John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elijah (Lk. 1:17) and Herod could not ignore him. Knox thundered out the message of salvation by grace alone, not through masses and Mariolatry. The brazen compromise of ecumenism, and the silent acquiescence of the deceived in our day, are together ripening Scotland for the judgment of God. There is a lack of powerful and fearless preachers after the pattern of Elijah, declaring the message of the Bible, without fear or favour. Before we deal with the cry, ‘Where is the God of Elijah?’ we must ask ourselves the searching question, where are the Elijahs of God? Scotland’s pulpits were once filled with such men and the conventicles of earlier generations possessed men of such character. The world stands in need of such preaching today! In the face of the growing apostasy in the church, the rampant infidelity amongst governments and the increase of false religion sweeping across Europe and the world, there is a need for strength in the pulpit. Scotland is in danger of returning to the deep darkness of the pre-Reformation era. Pilgrimages are looked upon with approval by churches, paganism is promoted (especially in the areas of entertainment and mass media) and immorality is openly practised and embraced throughout society. The church needs more evangelists and less ecclesiastics! The nation and the world of our day need passionate prophets of truth instead of polished pulpiteers and media personalities. Where are the Elijahs of God?
Where is the LORD God of Elijah? – The Real Need of Every Generation
Trees may be seen by the power of streetlights on the coldest winter night. However, if trees are to bud, blossom and bloom it requires the warmth of the spring sunshine. The external works of its members and ministers may highlight the church as they live before the world. However, the church will never flourish unless the power of God shines forth upon it. Elisha was absolutely convinced of this truth. God speaks through Zechariah: ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts’ (Zech. 4:6). The cry of Elisha, ‘Where is the God of Elijah?’ is an affirmation of the absolute necessity of God to work if any good is to be done. In the history of Elijah there are several aspects of the working of God worthy of note at this time.
When Elijah is at the brook Cherith (1 Kings 17:1-7) we see an example of the care of God for Elijah at a very low point in the life of the prophet. There is no point in trying to ignore the fact that often the path of obedience is a difficult and at times a lonely one. Think of the Apostle Paul abandoned by those who should have encouraged him: ‘At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge’ (2 Tim. 4:16). But at these times the LORD draws close to His servants and upholds them when all human help is lacking. ‘Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen’ (vv 17-18). In the summer of 1547 French warships attacked the castle where Knox was. Knox was taken prisoner and spent nineteen months as a galley slave on a French warship, forced to row in chains. When he was set free he went to England where he preached in the border town of Berwick.
The widow of Zarephath was preparing to die along with her son, but God had other plans (1 Kings 17:8-24). The LORD intended not only to provide for the widow and her son, but through her to make provision for His servant Elijah. God could have provided for Elijah’s needs in other ways but He chose to use the humble home of the widow and her son to provide company as well as food. God never lacks the means and power to uphold His people and provide for all their needs, sometimes in surprising ways. Let us not limit the God of Heaven in our own day. We have endured difficult times as a denomination. We may endure more trying ones yet. Nevertheless we must stand fast in the liberty of Jesus Christ. We must not doubt that God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s supplies.
The life of Elijah bore frequent testimony to the activity of God in overruling ‘all His creatures and all their actions’ to bring about His great purpose. Whether it is the commanding of the birds to feed Elijah at Cherith, or replenishing the meal in the barrel for the widow of Zarephath, or commanding the elements of the wind, the earthquake and the fire at Horeb, we realise that all things are under His command. Jesus reassured the church that in going into the world to preach the Gospel we are not left to our own devices. All power is given to Jesus to exercise it as our Mediator from the throne of heaven for the blessing of the church on earth (Mt. 28:18-20).
When Elisha called on the God of Elijah he knew God hears the prayers of His people. Elijah had cried out in anguish and God gave him, not what he asked, but what he needed.
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers. And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. 1 Kings 19:4-5
He asked for death; God gave him food and rest. He sought to be taken away from the trials, but God gave him a companion to assist and reassure him that the work would go on (1 King.19:16, 19). God hears us and He knows when to give us what we ask for and when to give us something better.
God heard the prayer of Elijah both for sending drought and rain. God’s ear was open to the voice of Elijah when over eight hundred pagan priests watched by thousands of disobedient Jews observed his every move. God watched him as he rebuilt the altar. God took note as he offered the sacrifice, every last piece, upon the altar. God observed the faith of Elijah as he called for the water and drenched the offering time and again, and God heard when he prayed, and sent fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice (1 Kings 18:38). He is the God who hears and answers prayer, not only in the secret place where none but you can hear the still small voice, but also when all the world looks on and questions God and His Servant!
Where is the Faith of Elisha? – The Great Need for the Church Today
Elisha was a man determined to know the blessing of God in his ministry, following in the footsteps of the faithful who have gone before. Elijah and Elisha were very different characters, yet what bound them together was deeper and more profound than their superficial differences. They wanted God’s blessing for the nation and to see God’s people walking with the LORD. They were convinced that the answer lay in the power of God and not in them. Their lives bore eloquent testimony to the fact that their hope was rooted and grounded in God. Elisha willingly walked in the shadow of Elijah and served him faithfully since that fateful day the mantle of Elijah had been cast upon him. However, he was well aware that he had been raised up to replace Elijah and he was determined that although Elijah might be gone the work would go on. We must have due respect to those who have gone before. We should appreciate the blessings we have inherited from previous generations. However, we must never imagine that no more can be expected in our day.
Often the reason we see no blessing is because that is exactly what we expect. You will no doubt recall what Spurgeon wrote:
You must also believe in the power of that message to save people. You may have heard the story of one of our first students, who came to me, and said, “I have been preaching now for some months, and I do not think I have had a single conversion”. I said to him, “And do you expect that the Lord is going to bless you and save souls every time you open your mouth?” “No, sir”, he replied. “Well, then”, I said, “that is why you do not get souls saved. If you had believed, the Lord would have given the blessing”. I had caught him very nicely; but many others would have answered me in just the same way as he did. They tremblingly believe that it is possible, by some strange mysterious method that once in a hundred sermons God might win a quarter of a soul. They have hardly enough faith to keep them standing upright in their boots; how can they expect God to bless them? I like to go to the pulpit feeling, “This is God’s Word that I am going to deliver in His name; it cannot return to Him void; I have asked His blessing upon it, and He is bound to give it, and His purposes will be answered, whether my message is a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death to those who hear it”.
It is a sad fact that faithfulness to God will not keep a man free from trials and discouragements. Nevertheless it is important to remember that such difficulties come not only from the world, the flesh and the devil, but often from within the church itself. In this chapter we see Elisha being dealt with by the Sons of the Prophets in a way that almost seems to indicate a sense of delight in bringing bad news to him (2 Kings 2:3, 5). Moses was opposed by his fellow leaders, Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10), and family members, Aaron and Miriam (Numb. 12) despite conducting himself with the grace of the meekest man in the entire world. The great American preacher, pastor, and theologian, Jonathan Edwards, suffered at the hands of the malcontents in his congregation at Northampton. Though many were personally blessed through his ministry and the congregation had gained fame throughout the Christian world for the blessings enjoyed under their pastor, none of these things could preserve him from the animosity of some. Calvin suffered a similar fate in Geneva. Do not be surprised if when you seek to live and preach for God, enemies appear from within the church as well as from outside its bounds.
Nevertheless, Elisha was determined to do all within his power to fulfil the requirements placed upon him. What is particularly interesting to note is that many hard miles had been done before he realized that he must see his master depart if the blessing was to rest upon him. The journeys to Bethel, Jericho and Jordan mentioned earlier in the chapter occurred before he knew this fact. Often the preparation for blessing is made not when we are aware that we are being tested. He was aware that Elijah was soon to be taken from him, but each time he was bidden to rest and let Elijah go on without him he followed on. This is where many a blessing is lost, in the small things, in the seemingly unnecessary things, when we are tempted to take the easy way out rather than go the second and the third and every other mile required. We should be grateful to God for those mighty servants of God (like Elijah) who have gone before us and left us an inheritance. We must lift our eyes to heaven in expectation and seek the blessing that only God can give. We must live and work as those who truly do believe and cry again, ‘Where is the LORD God of Elijah?’