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III.-THE DEPARTURE FOR ZAREPHATH.
ONCE, when the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, he delivered them into the hands of the midianites, a fierce and warlike people; these God employed to drive back his erring and straying sheep under the crook of the Chief Shepherd. There was great distress in Israel at that time. A considerable number of the people forsook house and home, fled to the woods and mountains, or sculked into caverns and rocks; and a few intrenched themselves in deserted fortifications! Whenever they attempted to cultivate the land, the midianites soon fell upon them, like locusts, destroying all growth in the field, and leaving no sustenance for man or beast. This severe scourge produced its effect. The israelites acknowledged their sin and smote upon the thigh, every hand was stretched to heaven, and every tongue prayed, "Return, O Lord! to thine oppressed inheritance!" And God, who is faithful, heard them, and sent them relief.
In the field of Ophrah stands a solitary oak, and near it is a threshing-floor, where a young husbandman is threshing his father's corn; and while thus engaged, he has to look about him every moment, with no little anxiety, for he fears to be surprised by the marauding midianites. His name is Gideon. In the midst of his busy and anxious occupation, he is surprised by the sudden appearance of a stranger of benevolent and noble aspect. The stranger sits down beneath the oak, and says, "The Lord be with thee, thou mighty man of valour!" Gideon, with the regard of a true israelite for his country, replied, "O my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where are all the miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt? But now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the midianites," Judg. vi. 12, 13. So Gideon: Then, we are told, the Lord looked upon him, and said: "Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the midianites: have not I sent thee?" ver. 14.
To be looked upon by the Lord is not always a source of
comfort and pleasure. When he once looked upon the egyptians, it was as if the arrows of the Almighty had struck through the whole host. Then were the hearts of the mighty troubled, and the wisdom of the prudent was brought to nought. He looketh upon the mountains and they tremble, Jer. iv. 24. When a look of the same kind alighted upon Daniel's attendants, such a terror came over them, that they fled and hid themselves. And how affectingly does Job complain, "Thine eyes are upon me; and I am not! Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me? How long wilt thou not depart from me, nor let me alone till I swallow down my spittle? I have sinned; what shall I do unto thee, O thou Preserver of men! Why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away my iniquity?" Job vii. 8. 12-21. And still does the Majesty of heaven look upon man who is a worm; yes, he who is holy, holy, holy, looks into our darkness; the eye of his everlasting righteousness still beholds the sinner; and an awakened consciousness of this is the most awful of all terrors that a miserable soul on earth can experience; and yet it must in some measure be experienced, before we can ever truly rejoice in the light of his countenance.
But the look which was here vouchsafed to Gideon, under the oak, was one of kindness and grace: and he who gave it directs him, saying, "Go in this thy might !" In what might? "In the might which my beholding thee communicates; which has assured thee of my gracious favour." Verily, a power thus communicated, which gives to its recipient a consciousness of Divine grace and love, is great indeed. The heart, which hitherto had been like the troubled sea, is now changed into an abode of heavenly peace; and the soul, which a little before had sat down in sackcloth and in ashes, suddenly rises in joy and transport as on eagles' wings, now that the eye of Divine compassion has beamed upon it. A person, very simple, it may be, in other respects, will then unfold himself like a blossom of paradise, diffusing around the most delightful and salutary fragrance, and will discover, all at once, such gifts and powers as seem to have come immediately from above. Reserved and retiring persons seem at such times to have had their lips touched and their tongues unloosed, and will express themselves in such a lovely manner, that one is never tired of hearing them; yes, the most modest and timid will then come forward and confess Christ and his love, with such a holy boldness and sober joy, that one cannot but admire their courage and liberty of spirit. And what real sacrifices do we then see such persons make! yea, what self-denial! what patience! what resignation 1 what fervent
brotherly love will they evince! But whence does all this proceed? We answer, from the power of one gracious look of God; from the consciousness that my Saviour" loved me, and gave himself for me," Gal. ii. 20.
"Go in this thy might;" said the Lord to Gideon, as he cast upon him a look of love and grace. He meant not, O Gideon that thou shouldst subdue the enemy in thine own strength. He directed thee to His strength, and not thine own. It is as if he had said, " Be this thy strength, O Gideon! that I have regarded thee graciously, and let it encourage thee, let it suffice thee, that thou hast found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Go in this thy strength, and conquer!"
Oh invaluable assurance! Only possess the assurance, that he is graciously inclined towards thee, and thou mayest well be a stranger to fear. Only lay hold of such a testimony, that he is thy Beloved, that he is thy Friend, and no storms or tempests need dismay thee any more; thou mayest laugh at the shaking of the spear; yes, though there were thousands of deaths encompassing thee, or thousands of difficulties like mountains surrounding thee-they will all be surmounted. Falter not at thy own natural weakness, be not anxious about thy own ability. Weak or strong-armed or unarmed-in these respects the race is not here to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. The strength of Immanuel is thine, his love is like a victorious banner over thee; his word is thy sword, his salvation thy helmet, his righteousness thy breastplate; faith in him is thy shield and buckler: He is all that thou requirest; his grace is sufficient for thee. Whither
soever he sends thee-be it into the fire of temptation, or into the waters of affliction-be it into domestic embarrassments and necessities, or into severe conflicts and difficult undertakings— nay, were it even into agony and death—yet his having graciously looked upon thee, and his having made thee sensible of his love, may well induce thee to go; yes, go in this thy might! Thou hast no cause for fear-none for distrust. Thy Saviour will accompany thee and protect thee, because he loveth thee. He whose love is stronger than death, will make all thy way plain before thee.
Thus was it that Elijah went to the brook Cherith, in the strength of that kindness and favour which he too had received from his Lord. We are now to view him entering upon a new path of duty, equally painful and difficult in itself, but rendered smooth and easy by the strength of which we have been speaking. Yea, it becomes a path of blessing, because the Lord is with him.
I KINGS XVII. 7-16.
"And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land. And the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee. So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink. And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand. And she said, As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse; and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die. And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son. For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth. And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days. And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Elijah."
WE find the prophet still at the brook Cherith. He would not leave his solitude till the Lord bade him remove. The howling wilderness was not too dreary for him; because God was with him. He was quite content to dwell among the rocks, and to rest upon a couch of turf; knowing well, that "the Lord will provide." He was regularly supplied with sustenance morning and evening, by his faithful messengers, whose very cry as they approached him would serve to awaken his heart to songs of thanksgiving and praise. The little brook of Cherith, whose very name, in the original language, denotes drought, as if it were generally more apt to dry up than most other brooks, had run on till now, and surely by a miracle; but it was only for an appointed time. For now we behold the scene changing. The change at its commencement was most unexpected and painful; it was also in its further development very mysterious; but its result was as delightful to man, as it was glorious to God.
Three subjects here invite our consideration: I. Elijah's perplexity; II. His departure from Cherith; and, III. Its blessed
I. He had now, during a whole year, been miraculously fed and preserved. But a miracle perpetuated soon ceases to appear a miracle. And when it begins to be regarded as a matter of course, it fails of its due impression, and God's hand in it is liable to be overlooked. There is an eastern story, of a boy having challenged his teacher to prove to him the existence of
God by working a miracle. The teacher, who was a priest, got a large vessel filled with earth, wherein he deposited a kernel, in the boy's presence, and bade him pay attention. In the place where the kernel was put, a green shoot suddenly appeared, the shoot became a stem, the stem put forth leaves and branches, which soon spread over the whole apartment. It then budded with blossoms, which dropping off, left golden fruits in their place, and in the short space of one hour there stood a noble tree in the place of the little seed. The youth, overcome with amazement, exclaimed, "Now I know that there is a God, for I have seen his power!" The priest smiled at him, and said, "Simple child, do you only now believe? Does not what you have just beheld take place in innumerable instances, year after year, only by a slower process? But is it the less marvellous on that account?"
Now we, my friends, are but too often like such simple children. Suppose at rising in the morning we found a loaf added to our provisions, which we could be certain that neither we nor any human being had put there we should then have no difficulty in saying that the Lord had sent it. Yet we actually find such a loaf every morning added to our provisions, and it is equally true that God has sent it: but because he has sent it in a less direct and extraordinary manner, namely, by strengthening our own powers, and blessing our labour to obtain it, and because this is an ordinary case, and what is taking place all the world over, therefore-how unreasonable such a therefore may be—we find it difficult to realize in it His goodness, his providence, and himself. And let me tell you, that supposing he were to manifest himself in any extraordinary manner, so as to compel us to exclaim, "This is indeed a marvellous interposition of God;" yet let any such manifestation only become continual, and it will be no longer accounted marvellous; yea, it will be well if it do not cease to be regarded even as Divine. The manna falls once or twice in the wilderness, and it is wondrous in the eyes of all, and the Lord God is praised. But if it falls every day, its coming is a matter of course; and men learn to contemplate it as a natural event; they behold the manna, but not the hand that sends it. Water is produced miraculously from the rock; and if it be succeeded by heat and drought, men learn in some measure to give God the glory. But the smitten rock in the wilderness virtually follows the israelitish host; its streams attend them in their daily course; they have no lack of water; and what is the consequence? They are ungrateful: and so are we. God is daily working wonders for us also; but in order