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delightful sense of the Divine presence,
66 The Lord was not in the fire.”
The fire disappears, and tranquillity, like the stillness of the sanctuary, spreads gradually over all nature ; and it seems as if every hill and dale, yea, the whole earth and skies, lay in silent homage at the footstool of eternal Majesty. The very mountains seem to worship; the whole scene is hushed to profound peace : and now, he hears 5
a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle," in token of reverential awe and adoring wonder, and went forth, " and stood at the entrance of the cave.
II. If, now, we inquire into the peculiar signification and primary intention of this Divine manifestation at Horeb, we can hardly remain long in doubt about it. It seems that the Lord intended thus to lead the prophet out of a variety of doubts and sorrows, in which he had lost himself. Outward events had appeared to him quite enigmatical; and his inward thoughts
confused and painful. He had lost his clue to Providence, in the unexpected turn of events which the kingdom of God in Israel had suddenly taken. It was in God's name, and by his commission, that he had forsaken his native mountains of Gilead, and had gone to Samaria to recover backsliding Israel to the faith of their forefathers. The means for such a work had been placed in his hands by God himself.
It was given him to shut heaven, and to open it again. He had performed signs and wonders, such as had not been done in Israel for centuries, and had laboured as abundantly as any saint before him. From such exertions Elijah expected to witness effects produced ; and he probably hoped for nothing less than a penitent return of the whole people to the service of Jehovah. The fervent man of God, however, erred in his calculation. The result of his faithful labours corresponded not with his hopes, but proved just the opposite to them. At the very moment when he had hoped to lead back the regenerated people, with psalms and hymns of rejoicing, to the altar of the living God, he sees himself exposed to danger in every direction; and his labour appears to have been in vain.
Such things were too mysterious for him, and he could not reconcile them with his present ideas of God.
This doubting state of mind had been augmented in the solitary cave at Horeb, and had now attained its height; when the majestic signs—the wind that rent the mountains, the earthquake, and the fire-passed before him, but the Lord was not
in them, nor in any one of them. Elijah did not derive from them those spiritual blessings which are mentioned by St. Paul, 1 Cor. x. 1-4, as having been given to the fathers who “ baptized in the cloud and in the sea ; who did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual rock which followed them: and that rock was Christ.” None of these blessings were typically expressed, or conveyed in the tremendous manifestations given to Elijah. He did not, nor was it intended that he should, obtain from them a single crumb of that spiritual food, or a single drop of that spiritual drink. They were not the means of any
delightful union between his soul and his God, or of any gracious communication. He only felt himself overwhelmed in an awful manner, by the greatness and majesty of God, and by a sense of his own infinite distance from him; and all this wrought neither love nor peace in his spirit, but served rather to make it shrink into bondage, and to produce that state of mind which Isaiah and Job felt, when the former said, “ Woe is me! I am undone ; because I am a man of unclean lips;" and the latter, “ Thine eyes are upon me, and I am not.'
But how very differently did the prophet feel, when, after this tumult of the elements, he heard that small still voice which gave to his terrified spirit a taste of the gracious loving-kindness of his God! His experience surely must then have been like that of the seventy elders, who saw the God of Israel in the very same desert, and in the same place, Exod. xxiv. 10, 11, and on whom “he laid not his hand.” His presence did not destroy or consume them, but only refreshed and delighted them. A happiness so ineffable seems now to have been given to Elijah. The Lord now “ loosed his bands;" his oppressed heart was set at liberty. All within him rejoiced at God's gracious nearness; he felt the tender mercy of Jehovah; he covered his face with his mantle, and was willing to lay himself down at the feet of his God, and to give himself up more unreservedly than ever to him.
He had heard in the strong and mighty wind, an echo, as it were, of the dreadful reproofs and words of thunder, with which he had struck the consciences of the people of Israel. The earthquake represented the plagues and judgments which he had inflicted
upon the country. The fire would remind him of the flames of Carmel, and of the bloody execution of which it had been the signal. In this way Elijah had appeared as another Moses, with the burning torch of the law—a herald of the just and holy God, who is not to be mocked. But the zealous prophet was mistaken in promising himself, from this procedure, results which never accompany the thunders of the law, but are only wont to be coupled with the still small voice of the gospel. What had he expected ? Nothing less than an immediate penitent return of all Israel to the God of their fathers In this hope he went too far. He was not justified in cherishing such expectations ; and it was this that was to be brought to his mind, in a convincing manner, on Horeb. Amidst the terrible phenomena which passed before him, he was to be taught in a lively manner, that the manifestation merely of the power and majesty of God, where its burning brilliance was not tempered by grace, might indeed inspire the sinner with anxiety and terror, but could not really humble and convert him. He was to become conscious, that the demonstration of infinite holiness, unassociated with “ the kindness and love of God our Saviour," can only overawe and repel; but is by no means adapted to produce contrition, or penitential confession, or to incline the heart to the Lord with fervent affection. Now he was to experience in his own heart, that grace alone can really soften, melt, and convert the heart; and that the blessed results, which he had anticipated from the thunders of the law and the Divine judgments, can only be produced by the loving-kindness and tender mercy of Jehovah.
In the significant occurrences on Horeb the pleasing prospect was further to be unfolded to him, that the Lord, who had not yet finished his work of reformation in Israel, would, in due time, after the earthquake, storm, and fire, come also with the voice of the gentle whisper, which the hearts of men would then be unable to resist, and which would bow down the mighty; and with what joy must Elijah have apprehended this promise! But was his labour in Israel then a lost labour ? had it been
superfluous and useless ? By no means! The prophet was to learn that just as the terrible signs he had seen on Horeb had not been unavailing to himself, but had made him more susceptible of the gracious and gentle whisper that followed them, and increased his desire for the manifestation of the loving-kindness of God; so, in like manner, the Lord would point out to him, that his prophetic exertions in Israel had not been without salutary consequences. They had prepared the hearts of the people for impressions of another kind; and thus he was taught that his peculiar vocation, generally speaking, consisted in ploughing up the hardened soil of their backsliding minds; in presenting the forgotten law in all its majesty before their eyes; in awakening the sleepers and terrifying the secure with the thunders of the law, and thereby exciting amongst them an earnest desire for the gospel, and a hunger and thirst after the righteousness which is “ by faith that it might be by grace.”
Thus Elijah had his difficulties cleared up; and in what a wonderful and glorious manner ! By this single Divine act, the ways of God were fully justified to his ind; the mystery of his own life was satisfactorily explained; he was brought, in a gentle but most convincing manner, to a sense of his mistakes; and whilst on the one hand the honour of God was gloriously vindicated, the prophet on the other hand was deeply humbled, and constrained with all his heart to confess, “ Thou, Lord, art righteous, but unto me belongeth confusion of face !” And though Elijah, soon after, repeated the complaint, it was then in a totally different spirit from that in which he uttered it before. It proceeded then from a contrite, humbled mind. The gloomy vexation, the disturbed temper, the inward strife and murmuring, had all disappeared. The jarring discords of his beclouded mind were dissolved, and harmony was restored in his soul.
Thus, my friends, I have endeavoured to give you some explanation of those mysterious events which took place on Horeb; at least with respect to their immediate meaning and object. That this history has remained enigmatical to so many readers, may probably arise from the excessive, or rather let me say, improper ideas they formed of the sanctity of our prophet. They viewed him as a being that was no longer liable to human errors, and incapable of deviating from the path of Divine simplicity, and of humble, filial, and unreserved submission to his Lord. But Elijah was a man “ subject to like passions as we are.” He was also not yet entirely free from what we all inherit from Adam; and we have the key to the wonderful conduct of the Lord towards him on Horeb, not in the prophet's perfection, but in his infirmity. Yet, after all, how great must Elijah have been, that for his reproof and instruction, heaven and earth, as it were, are moved; the rocks rend, and the mountains fall; and how must the mighty God have loved him, to make him an object of such condescension !
Thus we find here a trace, and a beautiful one it is, of evangelical instruction in Horeb, in the vicinity of mount Sinai itself. Though the office of Elijah was rather secondary to that of Moses, than (like that of his illustrious antitype John the Baptist) precursive of Christ, still it comprised the elements of good things to come.” And could this holy prophet have unbosomed himself fully, according to the tenor of that evangelical character which shines through the veil of his awful severity, and
according to the tenor of that “still small voice” which he heard, doubtless he had enough within him to have cheered the hearts of thousands. But the time for such things was not arrived. The people among whom he lived were not ripe for such disclosures; hence he had to keep his faith almost to himself before God, and to merge the office of an evangelist in that of a terri
Here then we leave Horeb, and I trust not without refreshment and blessing. May Jehovah, who is good and gracious, faithful and ready to forgive, visit us all with the still small voice, and may our whole life be in one sense like the standing of Elijah before him with his face wrapped in his mantle ! Amen.