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The Review and Herald Articles
for the Year 1873
(Vol. 41, #4)
About the time of the birth of John, the Jews were in a deplorable condition. And in order to keep down insurrection, they were allowed to have a separate government, in name, while the Romans virtually ruled them. The Jews saw that their power and liberty were restricted, and that, in reality, they were under the Roman yoke. The Romans claimed the right to appoint men to the priesthood, and to remove them from office at will. Thus was there a door opened for the priesthood to become corrupt. The priests, not being divinely appointed, abused their office, and were unfaithful in their ministrations. Men of corrupt morals, with money and influence, obtained the favor of those in power, and succeeded in attaining to the priesthood. The whole country felt their oppression, and revolt and dissension were the result of this state of things.
The pious Jews were looking, believing, and earnestly praying, for the coming of the Messiah. God could not manifest his glory and power to his people through a corrupt priesthood. The set time to favor his people had come. The faith of the Jews had become clouded, in consequence of their departure from God. Many of the leaders of the people brought in their own traditions, and enforced them upon the Jews, as the commandments of God. The pious Jews believed, and trusted in God that he would not leave his people in this condition, to be a reproach to the heathen. He had, in time past, raised them up a deliverer when in their distress they had called upon him. From the predictions of the prophets, they thought the time appointed of God had arrived when Messiah would come. And when he should come, they would have a clear revelation of the divine will, and that their doctrines would be freed from the traditions and needless ceremonies which had confused their faith. The pious, aged Jews waited day and night for the coming Messiah, praying that they might see the Saviour before they died. They longed to see the cloud of ignorance and bigotry dispelled from the minds of the people.
"Zacharias and Elizabeth were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless." They were far advanced in years. Zacharias ministered in the holy office of the priesthood. "And it came to pass that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course, according to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense."
And when Zacharias saw the angel of God, he was surprised and troubled. This conscientious, God fearing soul questioned whether he had himself offended God, and whether this divine messenger had come to reprove, or in judgment, to condemn. The heavenly messenger cheered him with these words:
"Fear not, Zacharias, for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, 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."
In the above words, the angel Gabriel enjoined upon Zacharias that John should be brought up with strictly temperate habits. This was to secure to him physical, mental, and moral health, that he should be qualified for the important mission of making ready a people for the Lord. In order to accomplish this great work, the Lord must work with him. The Spirit of God would be with John if he should be obedient to the requirement of the angel.
A great work was before John, and in order for him to have a sound physical constitution, and mental and moral power, to do this work, he must control appetite and passion. John was to lead out as a reformer, and by his abstemious life, and plain dress, rebuke the intemperate habits, and the sinful extravagance, of the people. The indulgence of appetite in luxurious food, and the use of wine, were lessening physical strength, and weakening the intellect, so that crime and grievous sins did not appear sinful. The angel Gabriel gave special directions to the parents of John in regard to temperance. A lesson was given upon health reform by one of the exalted angels from the throne of Heaven. John was to reform the children of Israel, and turn them to the Lord. He had the promise that God would work with him. He was "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."
John was a representative of the people of God in the last days, to whom God has committed important and solemn truths. The world at large are given to gluttony and the indulgence of base passions. The light of health reform is opened before the people of God at this day, that they may see the necessity of holding their appetites and passions under control of the higher powers of the mind. This is also necessary, that they may have mental strength and clearness to discern the sacred chain of truth, and turn from the bewitching errors and pleasing fables that are flooding the world. Their work is to present before the people the pure doctrine of the Bible. Hence health reform finds its place in the preparatory work for the second appearing of Christ.
Zacharias was as much astonished at the words of the angel, as he was at his appearance. He had so humble an opinion of himself that he thought it could not be possible that he was thus to be honored of the Lord. He inquired, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. Zacharias for a moment forgot the unlimited power of God, and that nothing was impossible with him. He did not call to mind the case of Abraham and Sarah, and the fulfillment of the promise of God to them.
Zacharias received a confirmation of the angel's message: "Behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words which shall be fulfilled in their season." He was soon made to realize the verity of the divine mission. The angel had no sooner departed than he was struck dumb.
The particular office of Zacharias was to pray in behalf of the people, for pardon of public and national sins, and to earnestly pray for the coming of the long expected Saviour, whom they believed must redeem his people. When Zacharias attempted to pray, he could not utter a word. The people waited long for the appearance of Zacharias, to learn whether God had given them any visible token of his approbation. They began to fear from his long tarry that God had manifested his displeasure. When Zacharias came out of the temple, his countenance was shining with the light which the heavenly angel had reflected upon him. But he could not speak to the people. He made signs to them that an angel had appeared to him in the temple, and because of his unbelief he was deprived of the power of speech, until the prediction of the angel should be fulfilled.
Soon after the birth of John, "the tongue of Zacharias was loosed, and he spake, and praised God. And fear came on all that dwelt round about them; and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judea. And all that heard them, laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be? And the hand of the Lord was with him; and his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts until the day of his showing unto Israel."
The prophet John separated himself from his friends and kindred, and made his home in the wilderness. He denied himself of the ordinary comforts of life. His food was simple. His clothing was a garment made of hair cloth confined about the waist with a leather girdle. His parents had in a most solemn manner dedicated him to God from his birth.
The life of John, although passed in the wilderness, was not inactive. His separation from society did not make him gloomy and morose, neither was he unreconciled with his lonely life of hardship and privation. It was his choice to be secluded from the luxuries of life, and from depraved society. Pride, envy, jealousy, and corrupt passions, seemed to control the hearts of men. But John was separated from the influence of these things, and, with discerning eye and wonderful discrimination, read the characters of men. He lived in the quiet retreat of the wilderness, and occasionally he mingled in society; but would not remain long where the moral atmosphere seemed to be polluted. He feared that the sight of his eyes and the hearing of his ears would so pervert his mind that he would lose a sense of the sinfulness of sin. A great work was before him, and it was necessary that he should form a character unbiased by any surrounding influence. It was necessary that his physical, mental, and moral conditions should be of that high and noble type that would qualify him for a work which required firmness and integrity, that when he should appear among men he could enlighten them, and be instrumental in giving a new direction to their thoughts, and awakening them to the necessity of forming righteous characters. John would bring the people up to the standard of divine perfection. He studied the peculiarities of minds, that he might know how to adapt his instructions to the people.
John did not feel strong enough to stand the great pressure of temptation he would meet in society. He feared his character would be molded according to the prevailing customs of the Jews, and he chose the wilderness as his school, in which his mind could be properly educated and disciplined from God's great book of nature. In the wilderness, John could the more readily deny himself and bring his appetite under control, and dress in accordance with natural simplicity. And there was nothing in the wilderness that would take his mind from meditation and prayer. Satan had access to John, even after he had closed every avenue in his power through which he would enter. But his habits of life were so pure and natural that he could discern the foe, and had strength of spirit and decision of character to resist him.
The book of nature was open before John with its inexhaustible store of varied instruction. He sought the favor of God, and the Holy Spirit rested upon him, and kindled in his heart a glowing zeal to do the great work of calling the people to repentance, and to a higher and holier life. John was fitting himself, by the privations and hardships of his secluded life, to so control all his physical and mental powers that he could stand among the people as unmoved by surrounding circumstances as the rocks and mountains of the wilderness that had surrounded him for thirty years.
The state of public affairs when John's work commenced, was unsettled. Discord and insurrection were prevailing, when the voice of John was first lifted up, like the sound of a trumpet pealing forth from the wilderness, thrilling the hearts of all who heard with a new and strange power. John fearlessly denounced the sins of the people, saying, "Repent ye; for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand." Multitudes answered to the voice of the prophet, and flocked to the wilderness. They saw, in the singular dress and appearance of this prophet, a resemblance to the description of the ancient seers; and the opinion prevailed that he was one of the prophets risen from the dead.
It was the purpose of John to startle and arouse the people, and cause them to tremble because of their great wickedness. In simplicity and plainness, he pointed out the errors and crimes of men. A power attended his words, and, reluctant as the people were to hear the denunciation of their unholy lives, they could not resist his words. He flattered none; neither would he receive flattery of any. The people, as if with common consent, came to him repenting, and confessing their sins, and were baptized of him in Jordan.
Kings and rulers came to the wilderness to hear the prophet, and were interested and deeply convicted as he fearlessly pointed out their particular sins. His discernment of character and spiritual sight read the purposes and hearts of those who came to him, and he fearlessly told, both rich and poor, the honorable and the lowly, that without repentance of their sins, and a thorough conversion, although they might claim to be righteous, they could not enjoy the favor of God, and have part in the kingdom of the Messiah, whose coming he announced.
In the spirit and with the power of Elijah, John denounced the corruptions of the Jews, and raised his voice in reproving their prevailing sins. His discourses were plain, pointed, and convincing. Many were brought to repentance of their sins, and, as evidence of their repentance, were baptized of him in Jordan. This was the preparatory work for the ministry of Christ. Many were convicted because of the plain truths uttered by this faithful prophet; but, by rejecting the light, they became enshrouded in deeper darkness, so that they were fully prepared to turn from the evidences attending Jesus, that he was the true Messiah. By Ellen G. White.
(Vol. 41, #5)
As John looked forward to the ministry and miracles of Christ, he appealed to the people, "saying, Repent ye; for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand." He was successful in his ministry. Persons of all rank, high and low, rich and poor, submitted to the requirements of the prophet, as necessary for them in order to participate in the kingdom he came to declare. Many of the scribes and Pharisees came to him, confessing their sins, and were baptized of him in Jordan. The confessions made by the Pharisees astonished the prophet; for they had exalted themselves as better than other men, and had maintained a high opinion of their own piety and worthiness. As they sought to obtain remission of their sins, and revealed the secrets of their lives, which had been covered from the eyes of men, the prophet was amazed. "But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth, therefore, fruits meet for repentance. And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father; for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham."
The whole Jewish nation seemed to be affected by the mission of John. The threatenings of God on account of their sins, repeated by the prophet, for a time alarmed them. John knew that they cherished the idea that, because they were of the seed of Abraham, they were securely established in the favor of God, while their course of action was abhorred of him. Their conduct was, in many respects, even worse than that of the heathen nations to whom they felt so much superior. The prophet faithfully presented to them the ability of God to raise up those who would take their place, and would become more worthy children of Abraham. He told them plainly that God was not dependent upon them to fulfill his purposes; for he could provide ways and means independent of them to carry forward his great work which was to be accomplished in purity and righteousness. John further adds: "And now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees; therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." He impresses upon them that the value of the tree is ascertained by the fruit it produces. Though a tree may bear an exalted name, yet if it produces no fruit, or if its fruit is unworthy of the name, the name will avail nothing in saving the tree from destruction. "Of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes."
The prophet of God was impressed by the Holy Spirit that many of the Pharisees and Sadducees who asked baptism had no true convictions of their sins. They had selfish motives. They thought that if they should become friends of the prophet, they would stand a better chance to be personally favored of the coming Prince. In their blindness they believed that he was to set up a temporal kingdom, and bestow honors and riches upon his subjects.
John rebuked their selfish pride and avarice. He warned them of their unbelief, and condemned their hypocrisy. He told them that they had not fulfilled the conditions of the covenant on their part, which would entitle them to the promises God made to a faithful and obedient people. Their proud boasts of being children of Abraham did not make them really such. Their exhibitions of pride, their arrogance, jealousy, selfishness, and cruelty, stamped their characters as a generation of vipers, rather than the children of obedient and just Abraham. Their wicked works had disqualified them to claim the promises God made to the children of Abraham. John assured them that God would raise up children unto Abraham from the very stones, to whom he could fulfill his promise, rather than to depend on the natural children of Abraham who had neglected the light God had given them, and had become hardened by selfish ambition and wicked unbelief. He told them that if they were really the children of Abraham, they would do the works of their father Abraham. They would have Abraham's faith, love, and obedience. But they did not bear this fruit. They had no claim to Abraham as their father, or the promises God made to the seed of Abraham. "Every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." While they were professing to be God's commandment keeping people, their works denied their faith, and without true repentance for their sins they would have no part in the kingdom of Christ. Justice, benevolence, mercy, and the love of God would characterize the lives of his commandment keeping people. Unless these fruits were seen in their daily life, all their profession was of no more value than chaff which would be devoted to the fire of destruction.
The Jews had deceived themselves by misinterpreting the words of the Lord through his prophets, of his eternal favor to his people Israel.
"Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; the Lord of hosts is his name: If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me forever. Thus saith the Lord: If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the Lord." Jer. 31:35-37.
These words the Jews applied to themselves. And because God had shown them so great favor and mercy, they flattered themselves that, notwithstanding their sins and iniquities, he would still retain them as his favored people, and shower especial blessings upon them. They misapplied the words of Jeremiah, and depended for their salvation upon being called the children of Abraham. If they had indeed been worthy of the name of Abraham's children, they would have followed the righteous example of their father Abraham, and would have done the works of Abraham.
This has been the danger of the people of God in all ages; and especially is this the danger of those living near the close of time. We are cited by the apostle to the unbelief, blindness, rebellion, and repeated sins of the Hebrews, as a warning. Paul plainly states that "all these things happened unto them for ensamples; and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come." If, in these last days of peril, for the encouragement of persons in responsible positions, God in mercy gives them a testimony of favor, they frequently become lifted up, and lose sight of their frailties and weaknesses, and rely upon their own judgment, flattering themselves that God cannot accomplish his work without their especial aid. They trust in their own wisdom; and the Lord permits them, for a time, to apparently prosper, to reveal the weakness and folly of the natural heart. But the Lord will, in his own time, and in his own way, bring down the pride and folly of these deceived ones, and show to them their true condition. If they will accept the humiliation, and by confession and sincere repentance, turn unto the Lord, perfecting holiness in the fear of God, he will renew his love to them. But if they shut their eyes to their own sins, as did the Jews, and choose their own ways, the Lord will give them up to blindness of mind, and hardness of heart, that they cannot discern the things of the Spirit of God.
God cannot do much for man, because he misinterprets his blessings, and concludes that he is favored on account of some goodness in himself. It is not safe to speak in the praise of mortals; for they cannot bear it. Satan has the special work to do of flattering poor souls, and he needs not the help of the Lord's servants in this matter. How few realize the weakness of human nature and the subtlety of Satan. Many in these last days are preparing themselves for affliction and sorrow, or for complete separation from the favor of God, because of their pride and self-righteousness. They will fall, through self-exaltation.
The prophet John impressed upon the people the necessity of their profession being accompanied with good works. Their words and actions would be their fruit, and would determine the character of the tree. If their works were evil, the truth of God would testify against them. God would in no wise excuse sin in a people who had been enlightened, even if he had, in their days of faithfulness and purity, loved them, and given them especial promises. These promises and blessings were always upon condition of obedience upon their part.
The Lord pronounced, by the mouth of Moses, blessings upon the obedient, and curses upon the disobedient. "Ye shall make you no idols," was the command of God. "Ye shall keep my Sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary. I am the Lord. If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them; then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit." Many and great blessings are enumerated, which God would bestow; and then, above all the other blessings, he promised, "I will set my tabernacle among you; and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people." "But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments; and if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant, I also will do this unto you: I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart; and ye shall sow your seed in vain; for your enemies shall eat it. And I will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies. They that hate you shall reign over you, and ye shall flee when none pursueth you."
The Jews were experiencing the fulfillment of the threatened curse of God for their departure from him, and for their iniquity; yet they did not lay these things to heart, and afflict their souls before God. A people that hated them ruled over them. They were claiming the blessings God had promised to confer upon them should they be obedient and faithful. But at the very time they were suffering under the curse of God because of disobedience. John declared to them that unless they bore fruit, they would be hewn down and cast into the fire.
He specified the fruit they were required to bear in order to become the subjects of Christ's kingdom; which were works of love, mercy, and benevolence. They must have virtuous characters. These fruits would be the result of genuine repentance and faith. If blessed with plenty, and they saw others destitute, they should divide with them. They must be workers. "He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you. And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages."
John gave his disciples lessons in practical godliness. He showed them that true goodness, honesty, and fidelity, must be seen in their daily life, and that they should be actuated by unselfish principles, or they would be no better than common sinners.
Unless others should be made better within the sphere of their influence, they would be like the fruitless tree. Their wealth was not to be used merely for selfish purposes. They were to relieve the wants of the destitute, and to make freewill offerings to God to advance the interests of his cause. They should not abuse their privileges, to oppress, but should shield the defenseless, redress the wrongs of the injured, and thus give a noble example of benevolence, compassion, and virtue, to those who were inferior and dependent. If they made no change in their conduct, but continued to be extravagant, selfish, and void of principle, they would correctly represent the tree bearing no good fruit. This lesson is applicable to all Christians. The followers of Christ should evidence to the world a change in their life for the better, and by their good works show the transforming influence of the Spirit of God upon their hearts. But there are many who bear no fruit to the glory of God; they give no evidence of a radical change in their life. Although they make high profession, they have not felt the necessity of obtaining a personal experience for themselves, by engaging in Christian duties with hearts of love, intensified by their new and holy obligations, feeling a weight of their responsibility in doing their Master's work with readiness and diligence.
The people thought that John might be the promised Messiah. His life was unselfish, and marked with humility and self-denial. His teachings, exhortations, and reproofs, were fervent, sincere, and courageous. In his mission, he turned not to the right or to the left to court the favors or applause of any. He did not aspire to worldly honor or worldly dignity, but was humble in heart and life, and did not assume honors that did not belong to him. He assured his followers that he was not the Christ.
John, as a prophet, stood forth as God's representative, to show the connection between the law and prophets, and the Christian dispensation. His work and ministry pointed back to the law and the prophets, while he, at the same time, pointed the people forward to Christ, as the Saviour of the world. He raised his voice and cried to the people, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world."
Multitudes followed this singular prophet from place to place, and many sacrificed all to obey his instruction. Kings, and the noble of the earth, were attracted to this prophet of God, and heard him gladly. As John saw that the attention of the people was directed to him, thinking that he might be the Coming One, he sought every opportunity to direct the attention of the people to One mightier than himself. By Ellen G. White.
(Vol. 41, #6)
Christ's life had been so retired and secluded at Nazareth that John had not a personal acquaintance with him, and he did not positively know that he was the Messiah. He was acquainted with the circumstances of his birth, and he believed him to be the promised One. The secluded life of Christ for thirty years at Nazareth, in which he gave no special evidence of his Messiahship, suggested doubts to John whether he was indeed the One for whose coming he was to prepare the way. John, however, rested the matter in faith, fully believing that God would in due time make it plain. The Lord had shown him that the Messiah would be pointed out to him by a distinct sign; when this should be done, then John could present him to the world as the long expected Messiah, the Lamb of God that was to take away the sin of the world.
John had heard of the sinless character and spotless purity of Christ. His life was in harmony with what the Lord had revealed to him respecting one that was among them whose life was without the taint of sin. John had also seen that he should be the example for every repenting sinner. When Christ presented himself for baptism, John recognized him at once as the superior one revealed to him. He discerned, in the person and deportment of Christ, a character above every other man he had ever seen. The very atmosphere of his presence was holy and awe inspiring. Although he knew him not as the Messiah, yet never had such a holy influence been realized by John from any one as when in the presence of Christ. He felt the superiority of Christ at once, and shrank from performing the rite of baptism to one whom he knew to be sinless. Many had come to him to receive the baptism of repentance, confessing their sins and crimes; but John could not understand why the only sinless One upon the earth should ask for an ordinance implying guilt, virtually confessing, by the symbol of baptism, pollution to be washed away. He remonstrated with Christ, acknowledging his superiority, and refused to administer the ordinance, saying, "I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?" With firm and gentle authority, Jesus waives the refusal of John and his plea of unworthiness, saying, "Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness."
Christ came not confessing his own sins; but guilt was imputed to him as the sinner's substitute. He came not to repent on his own account; but in behalf of the sinner. As man had transgressed the law of God, Christ was to fulfill every requirement of that law, and thus show perfect obedience. "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God!" Christ honored the ordinance of baptism by submitting to this rite. In this act he identified himself with his people as their representative and head. As their substitute, he takes upon him their sins, numbering himself with the transgressors, taking the steps the sinner is required to take, and doing the work the sinner must do. His life of suffering and patient endurance after his baptism were an example to converted sinners of what they should endure and patiently suffer in consequence of their transgressions and sins. John finally yielded to the request of Christ, notwithstanding his feelings of unworthiness to baptize him, and performed the service. He led the Saviour of the world down into the river Jordan in the presence of a large concourse of people, and buried him in the water.
After Christ rose up from the water and from the hand of John, he walked out to the bank of Jordan, and bowed in the attitude of prayer. The eyes of John were fastened upon Christ with the deepest interest and amazement. His heart was stirred with emotion as he looked upon him thus bowed as a suppliant. Christ's hands were raised upward, and his gaze seemed to penetrate Heaven. As the believer's example, his sinless humanity supplicated support and strength from his Heavenly Father, as he was about to commence his public labor as the Messiah. Jesus poured out his soul in earnest prayer. A new and important era was opening before him. His former peaceful, quiet life is to here end. He had been happy in a life of industry and toil, while fulfilling the duties devolving on a son. He was an example to those in childhood, youth, and manhood. His deportment showed that he felt the importance and solemnity of the hour. He knew that trials, toils, conflicts, suffering and death, were in the path his feet had entered. He felt the weight of the responsibilities he must bear. He was about to engage in new and arduous duties. A sense of the sinfulness of men, and the hardness of their hearts, which separated them from God, convinced him that but few would discern his merciful mission, and accept the salvation he came from Heaven to bring them.
Never before had angels listened to such a prayer as Christ offered at his baptism, and they were solicitous to be the bearers of the message from the Father to his Son. But, no! direct from the Father issues the light of his glory. The heavens were opened, and beams of glory rested upon the Son of God and assumed the form of a dove, in appearance like burnished gold. The dove like form was emblematical of the meekness and gentleness of Christ. While the people stood spellbound with amazement, their eyes fastened upon Christ, from the opening heavens came these words: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." The words of confirmation that Christ is the Son of God were given to inspire faith in those who witnessed the scene, and to sustain the Son of God in his arduous work. Notwithstanding the Son of God was clothed with humanity, yet Jehovah, with his own voice, assures him of his sonship with the Eternal. In this manifestation to his Son, God accepts humanity as exalted through the excellence of his beloved Son.
As John had now witnessed the heavenly dove resting upon Jesus, which was the promised token of the Messiah, he stretched forth his hand, and with assurance proclaimed before the multitude, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!" From this time John had no doubt in regard to Jesus' being the true Messiah.
After this, Jesus withdrew into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil forty days. His long fast ended, the victory won, he returns to the banks of the Jordan, mingling again with the disciples of John, yet giving no outward evidence of his special work, and taking no measures to bring himself to notice.
Men were sent from the highest authority in Jerusalem to inquire in regard to the great agitation John was creating. He was calling whole cities and towns to listen to his voice of warning; and they would know the prophet's authority for thus claiming the attention of the people, and turning the world upside down. These messengers challenged John to tell them certainly if he was the Messiah. John confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias. John is then questioned as to his authority for baptizing, and thus agitating the people, when he does not claim to be Christ, or Elias, neither that prophet. The words, "That prophet," have reference to Moses. The Jews had been inclined to the belief that Moses would be raised from the dead, and taken to Heaven. They did not know that Moses had already been resurrected.
When John came, baptizing with water, the Jews thought that he might be the prophet Moses raised from the dead; for he seemed to have a thorough knowledge of the prophecies, and to understand the history of the Hebrews and their wanderings in the wilderness in consequence of their unjust murmurings and continual rebellion. They also called to mind the peculiar circumstances of John's birth, and wonderful manifestation of God to Zacharias, his father, in the temple, by the visitation of the angel from the presence of God, and the power of speech being taken from Zacharias, because he did not believe the words of the angel, and the unloosing of his tongue at the birth of John. These important facts had in the past thirty years been measurably forgotten. But when John appeared as a prophet, the manifestation of the Spirit of God at his birth was called to mind.
When the messengers of the highest authority in Jerusalem were communing with John in reference to his mission and work, he could have taken honor to himself, had he been so disposed. But he would not assume honors that did not belong to him. While conversing with the messengers, suddenly his eye kindled, his countenance lighted up, and his whole being seemed stirred with deep emotion, as he discovered the person of Jesus in the concourse of people. He raised his hand, pointing to Christ, saying, There standeth one among you whom we know not. I have come to prepare the way before him whom ye now see. He is the Messiah. He it is who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose.
"The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me; for he was before me. And I knew him not; but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from Heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not. But he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw and bare record, that this is the Son of God. Again, the next day after, John stood, and two of his disciples; and looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!" And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? The disciples confessed that they were seeking Christ, and that they desired to become acquainted with him, and to be instructed by him at his home. These two disciples were charmed with the deeply impressive, yet simple and practical, lessons of Christ. Their hearts had never been so moved before. Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of these disciples. He was interested for his friends and relatives, and was anxious that they also should see Christ, and hear for themselves his precious lessons. Andrew went in search of his brother Simon, and with assurance claimed to have found Christ, the Messiah, the Saviour of the world. He brought his brother to Jesus, and as soon as Jesus looked upon him, he said, Thou art Simon, the son of Jona; thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation a stone. The next day Christ selected another disciple, Philip, and bade him follow him. Philip fully believed that Christ was the Messiah, and began to search for others to bring them to listen to the teachings of Christ, which had so charmed him. Then Philip found Nathanael. He was one of the number who heard John proclaim, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." He felt deeply convicted, and retired to a grove, concealed from every human eye, and there meditated upon the announcement of John, calling to his mind the prophecies relating to the coming of the Messiah and his mission. He queried thus: Could this indeed be the Messiah for whom they had so long waited, and were so desirous to see? Hope sprang up in the heart of Nathanael that this might be the one that would save Israel. He bowed before God and prayed that if the person whom John had declared to be the Redeemer of the world was indeed the promised deliverer, that it might be made known to him. The Spirit of the Lord rested upon Nathanael in such a special manner that he was convinced that Christ was the Messiah. While Nathanael was praying, he heard the voice of Philip calling him, saying, "We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee."
Nathanael's wavering faith was now strengthened, and he answered and said, "Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee, under the fig tree, believest thou? Thou shalt see greater things than these. And he said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see Heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man."
In these first few disciples the foundation of the Christian church was being laid by individual effort. John first directed two of his disciples to Christ. Then one of these finds a brother, and brings him to Christ. He then calls Philip to follow him, and he went in search of Nathanael. Here is an instructive lesson for all the followers of Christ. It teaches them the importance of personal effort making direct appeals to relatives, friends, and acquaintances. There are those who profess to be acquainted with Christ for a life time who never make personal effort to induce one soul to come to the Saviour. They have left all the work with the minister. He may be well qualified for his work; but he cannot do the work which God has left upon the members of the church. Very many excuse themselves from being interested in the salvation of those who are out of Christ, and are content to selfishly enjoy the benefits of the grace of God themselves, while they make no direct effort to bring others to Christ. In the vineyard of the Lord there is a work for all to do, and unselfish, interested, faithful workers will share largely of his grace here, and of the reward he will bestow hereafter. Faith is called into exercise by good works, and courage and hope are in accordance with working faith. The reason many professed followers of Christ have not a bright and living experience, is because they do nothing to gain it. If they would engage in the work which God would have them do, their faith would increase, and they would advance in the divine life.
Jesus was pleased with the earnest faith of Nathanael that asked for no greater evidence than the few words he had spoken. And he looked forward with pleasure to the work he was to do in relieving the oppressed, healing the sick, and in breaking the bands of Satan. In view of these blessings which Christ came to bestow, he says to Nathanael, in the presence of the other disciples, "Hereafter ye shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man."
Christ virtually says, On the bank of Jordan the heavens were opened before me, and the Spirit descended like a dove upon me. That scene at Jordan was but a token to evidence that I was the Son of God. If you believe in me as such, your faith shall be quickened, and you shall see that the heavens will be opened, and shall never be closed. I have opened them for you, and the angels of God, that are united with me in the reconciliation between earth and Heaven, uniting the believers on the earth with the Father above, will be ascending, bearing the prayers of the needy and distressed from the earth to the Father above, and descending, bringing blessings of hope, courage, health, and life, for the children of men.
The angels of God are ever moving up and down from earth to Heaven, and from Heaven to earth. All the miracles of Christ performed for the afflicted and suffering were, by the power of God, through the ministration of angels. Christ condescended to take humanity, and thus he unites his interests with the fallen sons and daughters of Adam here below, while his divinity grasps the throne of God. And thus Christ opens the communication of man with God, and God with man. All the blessings from God to man are through the ministration of holy angels. By Ellen G. White.
(Vol. 41, #12)
Disciples were being daily added to Christ, and people flocked from cities and villages to hear him. Many came to him for baptism; but Christ baptized none. His disciples performed this ordinance. And while Christ's disciples were baptizing large numbers, there arose a question among the Jews and the disciples of John, whether the act of baptism purified the sinner from the guilt of sin. The disciples of John answered that John baptized only unto repentance, but Christ's disciples unto a new life. John's disciples were jealous of the popularity of Christ, and said to John, referring to Christ, "He that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou bearest witness, behold the same baptizeth, and all men come to him. John answered and said, A man can receive nothing except it be given him from Heaven."
In this answer, John virtually says, Why should you be jealous on my account? "Ye yourselves bear me witness that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. This my joy therefore is fulfilled."
John, so far from being jealous of the prosperity of Christ's mission, rejoices as he witnesses the success of the work he came to do. He assures his disciples that his special mission was to direct the attention of the people to Christ. "He must increase; but I must decrease. He that cometh from above is above all. He that is of the earth is earthy, and speaketh of the earth. He that cometh from Heaven is above all. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony."
John assured his disciples that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Saviour of the world. As his work was closing, he taught his disciples to look to Jesus, and follow him as the great teacher. John's life, with the exception of the joy he experienced in witnessing the success of his mission, was without pleasure. It was one of sorrow and self-denial. He who heralded the first advent of Christ, was not permitted personally to hear him, nor to witness the power manifested by him. John's voice was seldom heard, except in the wilderness. His life was lonely. Multitudes had flocked to the wilderness to hear the words of the wonderful prophet. He had laid the ax at the root of the tree. He had reproved sin, fearless of the consequences, and prepared the way for the ministry of Christ.
Herod was affected as he listened to the pointed testimony of John, and, with deep interest, he inquired what he must do to become his disciple. He was convicted by the plain truths uttered by John. His conscience condemned him, for a woman of vile passions had gained his affections and controlled his mind. This unprincipled woman was ambitious for power and authority, and thought if she became the wife of Herod, her object would be gained. As Herod listened to the practical truths proclaimed by John, reproving the transgression of the law of God, and setting forth the future punishment which the guilty must suffer, he trembled, and greatly desired to break the chain of lust which held him. He opened his mind to John, who brought Herod to the law of God, face to face, and told him it would be impossible for him to have part in the kingdom of the Messiah unless he should break away from the unlawful connections with his brother's wife, and, with his whole heart, obey the commandments of God.
Herod was inclined to act upon the advice of John, and stated to Herodias that he could not marry her in defiance of the law of God. But this determined woman would not be thwarted in her designs. Intense hatred was awakened in her heart toward John. Herod was weak in principle, vacillating in mind, and Herodias had no great difficulty in re-establishing herself in his favor, and holding her influence over him. Herod yielded to the pleasures of sin, rather than submit to the restrictions of the law of God.
When Herodias had gained influence over Herod, she determined to be revenged upon the prophet for his daring to reprove their course of crime. And she influenced him to imprison John. But Herod intended to release him. While confined in prison, John heard, through his disciples, of the mighty works of Jesus. He could not personally listen to his gracious words; but the disciples informed him, and comforted him with a relation of what they had seen and heard.
John having spent his life in the open air, in active, persevering labor, enduring privations, hardship, and toil, he had never before experienced the trials of confined living. He therefore became desponding, and even doubts troubled him whether Christ was indeed the Messiah. His disciples had brought to him accounts of the wonderful things they had witnessed in the ministry of Christ. But he concluded that if Christ was indeed the Messiah, he would publicly proclaim himself as the Saviour of the world.
John had indistinct ideas of the kingdom Christ came to establish, as also had the disciples of Christ. They thought Christ would establish a temporal kingdom, and reign upon the throne of David in Jerusalem. He became impatient because Christ did not immediately make himself known, assume kingly authority, and subdue the Romans. He hoped that if Christ established his kingdom, he would be brought out of prison. He decided that if Jesus was really the Son of God, and could do all things, he would exercise his power and set him at liberty.
John sent his disciples to inquire of Christ, "Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?" The disciples sought the presence of Christ; but they could not communicate with him immediately, because of the crowd who were bearing the sick to Jesus. The afflicted, blind, and lame, were passing through the throng. The disciples of John saw the miracles of Christ, and that at his word the lifeless clay became animate, and the glow of health took the place of the pallor of death. Jesus said to the disciples of John, "Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me."
In these words, John is gently reproved for his impatience. The cautious reproof returned to John was not lost upon him. He then better understood the character of Christ's mission. And with submission and faith, he yielded himself into the hands of God, to live, or to die, as should best advance his glory.
After the disciples of John had departed, Jesus addressed the multitude concerning John, "What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind?" Jesus knew that a reed trembling in the wind was the very opposite of John's character. John could not be moved by flattery, nor be deceived by prevailing errors. Neither could he be turned aside from the work he came to do, by rewards, or worldly honors. He would preserve his integrity at the expense of his life. Steadfast as a rock stood the prophet of God, faithful to rebuke sin and crime in all their forms, in kings and nobles, as readily as in the unhonored and unknown. He swerved not from duty. Loyal to his God, in noble dignity of moral character, he stood firm as a rock, faithful to principle.
"But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist; notwithstanding, he that is least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force."
The people whom Christ addressed well knew that the apparel worn by John was the opposite of that worn in royal palaces. Christ virtually inquires, What motive induced you to flock to the wilderness to hear the preaching of John? The wilderness is not the place to find those who live delicately, and who clothe themselves in rich, soft apparel. Christ would have them observe the contrast between the clothing of John and that of the Jewish priests. The prophet wore a plain, rough garment, possessing no beauty, but answering the purpose for which clothing was first designed. In marked contrast to the clothing of John, was the gorgeous apparel of the Jewish priests. The burden of the priests and elders was outward display, thinking that they would be reverenced in accordance with their external appearance. They were more anxious for the admiration of men, than for spotless purity of character and holiness of life, that they might meet the approval of God.
Christ admonished his disciples, and also the multitude, to follow that which was good in the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees, but not to imitate their wrong example, and not be deceived by their ambitious pretension.
He says, "All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works; for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen of men; they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi."
John saw that the Jews who made high pretensions to piety, were exalting and glorifying themselves. Portions of the law were printed and bound upon their foreheads, and about their wrists. God had commanded the children of Israel to have a ribbon of blue in the border of their garments, upon which was embroidered words of the law, which expressed in short the ten commandments, to remind them of their duty to love God supremely, and to love their neighbor as themselves. The farther they departed from their primitive purity, and simplicity in their words and example, and the more their works were directly contrary to the law of God, the more particular were they to make broad their phylacteries, and add to the words that God had specified that they should have in the ribbon of blue. In their outward appearance, they were expressing exalted devotion and sanctity, while their works were in the widest contrast.
The spirit of reform was stirring the soul of John. The spirit of wisdom and the power of God were upon him. Inspiration from Heaven and holy zeal led him to denounce the Jewish priests, and pronounce the curse of God upon them. They made high pretensions to godliness by their gorgeous apparel, while they were strangers to mercy and the love of God. And while the Pharisees were very exact in their dress to inspire awe and command respect of men, they were abhorred of God. They did not conform their heart and life to the will and word of God. They deceived themselves with the vain supposition that eternal blessings were theirs by virtue of the promises made to Abraham, the father of the faithful. They were not clothed with humility. They bore no resemblance to the faith and piety of Abraham. They had not earned by integrity and purity of life, moral worth, which would ally them to Abraham as his children, to share with him the promises. By Ellen G. White. (To be Continued.)
(Vol. 41, #13)
John's preaching aroused intense interest everywhere. His earnest appeals and denunciations stirred the consciences of men. People flocked from towns, cities and villages, attracted to the wilderness by his earnest and fervent exhortations, his courageous warnings and reproofs, such as they had never listened to before. There was no outward display in the dress of John to attract or to awaken admiration. He resembled the prophet Elijah in the coarseness of his apparel, and in his plain and simple diet, locusts and wild honey, which the wilderness afforded, drinking the pure water flowing from the eternal hills.
Herod's purpose to release John from prison was delayed from time to time through fear of displeasing Herodias, who was determined he should be put to death. While Herod was delaying, she was active, planning the most effectual manner to be revenged on the prophet John, because he had ventured to tell Herod the truth, and reprove their unlawful life. Herodias was acquainted with the character of Herod, and she knew that her best course to accomplish her purpose was through the gratification of intemperate appetite. She knew that although Herod kept John in prison, he designed to release him, for he honored and feared John, because he believed him to be a true prophet of God. John had made known to Herod the secrets of his heart and life. The reproofs he had given him, had struck terror to his guilty conscience.
In many things Herod had reformed his dissolute life. But the use of luxurious food and stimulating drinks was constantly enervating and deadening the moral as well as the physical powers, and warring against the earnest appeals of the Spirit of God, which had struck conviction to the heart of Herod, arousing his conscience to put away his sins. Herodias was acquainted with the weak points in the character of Herod. She knew that under ordinary circumstances, while his intelligence controlled him, she could not obtain the death of John.
She had tried, but unsuccessfully, to gain the consent of Herod to have John slain. Her revengeful spirit was at work to accomplish her inhuman design by strategy. She covered her hatred as best she could, looking forward to the birthday of Herod, which she knew would be an occasion of gluttony and intoxication. Herod's love of luxurious food and wine would give her an opportunity to throw him off his guard. She would entice him to indulge his appetite, which would arouse passion and lower the tone of the mental and moral character, making it impossible for his deadened sensibilities to see facts and evidences clearly, and make right decisions. She had the most costly preparations made for feasting, and voluptuous dissipation. She was acquainted with the influence of these intemperate feasts upon the intellect and morals. She knew that Herod's indulgence of appetite, pleasure and amusement, would excite the lower passions, and make him spiritless to the nobler demands of effort and duty.
The unnatural exhilaration which intemperance gives to the mind and spirits, lowers the sensibilities to moral improvement, making it impossible for holy impulses to affect the heart, and hold government over the passions, when public opinion and fashion sustain them. Festivities and amusements, dances, and free use of wine, becloud the senses, and remove the fear of God.
Herodias had prepared everything within her reach, which would flatter his pride and vanity, and indulge his passions. "And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; and when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom."
As Herod and his lords were feasting and drinking in the pleasure saloon or banqueting hall, Herodias, debased with crime and passion, sent her daughter, dressed in a most enchanting manner, into the presence of Herod and his royal guests. Salome was decorated with costly garlands and flowers. She was adorned with sparkling jewels and flashing bracelets. With little covering and less modesty she danced for the amusement of the royal guests. To their perverted senses, the enchanting appearance of this, to them, vision of beauty and loveliness charmed them. Instead of being governed by enlightened reason, refined taste, or sensitive consciences, the lower qualities of the mind held the guiding reins. Virtue and principle had no controlling power.
The false enchantment of the dizzy scene seemed to take away reason and dignity from Herod and his guests, who were flushed with wine. The music and wine and dancing, had removed the fear and reverence of God from them. Nothing seemed sacred to Herod's perverted senses. He was desirous to make some display which would exalt him still higher before the great men of his kingdom. And he rashly promised, and confirmed his promise with an oath, to give the daughter of Herodias whatever she might ask. "And she went forth and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist. And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist."
Having obtained so wonderful a promise, she ran to her mother, desiring to know what she should ask. The mother's answer was ready, The head of John the Baptist in a charger. Salome at first was shocked. She did not understand the hidden revenge in her mother's heart. She refused to present such an inhuman request; but the determination of that wicked mother prevailed. Moreover, she bade her daughter make no delay, but hasten to prefer her request before Herod would have time for reflection, and to change his mind. Accordingly, Salome returned to Herod with her terrible petition, "I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her."
Herod was astonished and confounded. His riotous mirth ceased, and his guests were thrilled with horror at this inhuman request. The frivolities and dissipation of that night cost the life of one of the most eminent prophets that ever bore a message from God to men. The intoxicating cup prepared the way for this terrible crime. "And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel, and the damsel gave it to her mother." By Ellen G. White. (To be Continued.)
(Vol. 41, #17)
Herod had been exalted by his lordly guests for constancy and superior judgment. And he did not wish to appear fickle or rash in character. The oath had been made on the account of Herod's guests. And had one of them offered a word of remonstrance, to deter him from the fulfillment of his promise, he would gladly have saved the life of John. Herod gave them opportunity to speak in behalf of John. They had traveled long distances to the mountains in the wilderness to listen to his earnest, intelligent, and powerful discourses. Herod told them if it would not be considered a special mark of dishonor to them, he would not abide by his oath. It was on their account he carried out his promise. Why was there no voice to be heard in that company to keep Herod from fulfilling his mad vow? They were intoxicated with wine, and to their benumbed senses there was nothing to be reverenced.
Although the royal guests virtually had an invitation to release him from his oath, their tongues seemed paralyzed. Herod himself was under the delusion that he must, in order to save his own reputation, keep an oath made under the influence of intoxication. Moral principle, the only safeguard of the soul, was paralyzed. Herod and his guests were slaves, held in the lowest bondage to brute appetite. The guardians of the people, men in authority, upon whose decision the life of eminent men have hung, should have been condemned to death if found guilty of intemperance and crime. Those who have power to enforce laws, should be law keepers. They should be men of self-government, fully enlightened in regard to the laws governing their physical, mental, and moral being, that their vigor of intellect may not be clouded, and that their standard of refinement and moral feeling may be exalted.
Herod commanded the executioner to perform the terrible act of taking the life of John. This request was carried out, which branded Herod forever with dishonor. The very act which he thought, while his reason and judgment were perverted, was maintaining his honor and dignity, made his name detestable. The head of the honored prophet of God was soon brought in before Herod and his guests. Those lips that had answered the inquiry of Herod why he could not be his disciple, and which faithfully declared the necessity of reform in his life, were now sealed. Never more would his voice be heard in trumpet tones calling the sinner to repentance. The reproofs of John had stirred Herod's conscience, and had caused his proud heart to tremble. But now he, himself, had commanded the head of this remarkable prophet to be severed from his body, to gratify the revenge of a licentious woman.
Herodias received the bloody head of John with fiendish satisfaction. She exulted that she had her revenge, and that Herod's conscience would no more be disturbed. But this inhuman act on her part made her name notorious and abhorred. She had, by this satanic conduct, enshrined this good and self-sacrificing prophet in the hearts not only of his disciples, but very many who had listened to his warning message, who had been aroused and convinced by his teachings, yet had not moral courage to take their stand openly as his disciples. His reproofs and his example in reform were remembered, and this inhuman act of Herod, in taking the life of John, rejoiced Herodias, but brought sorrow and regret to many hearts. But Herodias could not silence the influence of John's reproofs. They were to extend down through every generation to the close of time, and her corrupt life, and her satanic revenge, stand upon the page of sacred history, making her name infamous.
In the martyrdom of John, we have the result of intemperance. This eventful birthday of Herod should carry an earnest and faithful lesson of warning, and exhortation to Christian temperance. The lovers of pleasure should look upon the birthday feast of Herod as a warning to beware of self-indulgences and popular pleasure. Herod and his guests were partly intoxicated. Reason was servant to the baser passions. And after Herod and his guests had gorged themselves, like beasts, with luxurious food, they added to their surfeiting, drunkenness. The mental powers were enervated by the pleasure of sense, which perverted their ideas of justice and mercy. Satan seized upon this opportunity, in the person of Herodias, to lead them to rush into decisions which cost the precious life of one of God's prophets.
The minds of Herod and his guests, under the effects of intemperance in eating and in drinking, were in a state of animal excitement. Herod was under the delusion that his oath, made under the excitement of feasting, dancing, and revelry, when nothing was too sacred for them to profane, must be kept. The life of one of the greatest prophets that God had sent as a messenger to the earth, was in the balance, and this company of great men pronounced sentence of death after the intellect and manhood had been sacrificed to sensual indulgence.
Herod was brought to the test before his guests. Would he lift himself up against the Lord of Heaven, and exalt his oath above the commandment of God, which saith, "Thou shalt not kill"? Would he preserve his honor and dignity as a king, and violate the law of God in sacrificing the life of an innocent man? Or would he humble himself to ask his guests to release him from his rash oath. If Herod and his guests had preserved the vigor of their intellect, their minds would have been awake to sense the noble demands of justice and duty. Calm reason would have borne sway, and they would have recoiled with horror at the thought of beheading an innocent man, and he an exalted prophet of God.
When Herod commenced his feast of revelry, if one had suggested to him the part he would act before its close, in taking the life of John, he would have answered, "Is thy servant a dog that he should do this? But, under the excitement of wine, his rash vow was made, that led to results that he would not cease to regret as long as life should last.
After the feast of Herod had ended, the effects of his intoxication and revelry had passed away, and reason had resumed her throne, the king was filled with remorse. He was constantly seeking to find relief from the sting of a guilty conscience. His faith in John as an honored prophet of God, was unshaken. As he reflected upon his life of self-denial, his powerful discourses, his solemn, earnest appeals, his sound judgment as a counselor, and then reflected that he had put him to death, his conscience was fearfully troubled. While engaged in the affairs of the nation, receiving honors from men, he bore a smiling face and dignified mien, while he concealed an anxious, aching heart, and was constantly terrified with fearful forebodings that the curse of God was upon him.
When Herod heard of the wonderful works of Christ in healing the sick, casting out devils, and in raising the dead, he was exceedingly troubled and perplexed. His convictions were that God, whom John preached, was indeed present in every place, and that he had witnessed the wild mirth and wicked dissipation in the banqueting room, and that his ear had heard his command to the executioner to behead John. His eye had seen the exultation of Herodias, and the taunting and insult with which she reproached the severed head of her enemy. And many things which he had heard from the lips of the prophet, seemed now to speak to his conscience in louder tones than his preaching in the wilderness. He had heard from the lips of the prophet that nothing could be hid from God.
When Herod heard of the works of Christ, he thought that God had resurrected John, and sent him forth with still greater power to condemn sin. He was in constant fear that John would avenge his death by passing condemnation upon him and his house. "And king Herod heard of him [Christ] (for his name was spread abroad); and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in him. Others said, That it is Elias. And others said, That it is a prophet, or as one of the prophets. But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead."
The Lord followed Herod as is described in Deuteronomy, "The Lord shall give thee there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind. And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee, and thou shalt fear, day and night, and shalt have none assurance of thy life. In the morning thou shalt say, Would God it were even! and at even thou shalt say, Would God it were morning! for the fear of thine heart wherewith thou shalt fear, and for the sight of thine eyes which thou shalt see."
The life and mission of John were ended. Christ had said of him that he was more than a prophet. Again he said, "Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist." He had been executed as a criminal, not because of any guilt resting upon him, but for the reason that he had fearlessly reproved crime. His spotless life, his practical piety, his virtue and justice, condemned the dishonest and sinful lives of the Jews as well as the Gentiles.
Said Christ, in vindication of John, "But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet." Not only was John a prophet to foretell future events, but he was a child of promise, filled with the Holy Spirit from his birth, and was ordained of God to execute a special work as a reformer, in preparing a people for the reception of Christ. The prophet John was the connecting link between the two dispensations.
The religion of the Jews, in consequence of their departure from God, consisted mostly in ceremony. John was the lesser light, which was to be followed by a greater light. He was to shake the confidence of the people in their traditions, and call their sins to their remembrance, and lead them to repentance; that they might be prepared to appreciate the work of Christ. God communicated to John by inspiration, illuminating the prophet that he might remove the superstition and darkness from the minds of the honest Jews, which had been, through false teachings for generations, gathering upon them.
The least disciple that followed Jesus, that witnessed his miracles, and listened to his divine lessons of instruction, and heard the comforting words which fell from his lips, was more privileged than John the Baptist, for he had a clearer light. No other light has shone, or ever will shine, upon the intellect of sinful, fallen man, save that which was, and is, communicated through Him who is the light of the world. Christ and his mission had been but dimly understood through the shadowy sacrifices. Even John thought that the reign of Christ would be in Jerusalem, and that he would set up a temporal kingdom, the subjects of which would be holy.
While John was in prison, he had contemplated Christ's taking his power and authority, and subduing the kingdoms of the world under his rule. Then he expected to be released from prison. As his expectations were not realized, he became impatient. Unbelief took possession of his mind, and he sent his disciples to inquire of Christ, "Art thou he that should come? or look we for another? John did not clearly discern the character of Christ's kingdom. The future immortal life through Christ was not distinctly understood by him. Christ's first advent to the world was to dispel the dense moral darkness and blindness of fallen man, in consequence of sin. "The light shone in the midst of darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not." The lessons of practical instruction which Christ gave the people shed a flood of light on the prophecies.
Although not one of the prophets had a higher mission or greater work to perform than had John, yet he was not to see even the result of his own mission. He was not privileged to be with Christ and witness the divine power attending the greater light, which was manifested in the recovery of health to the sick, of sight to the blind, of hearing to the deaf. He did not see the light which shone through every word of Christ, reflecting glory upon the promises in prophecy. The world was illuminated with pure light from the brightness of the Father's glory in the person of his Son; but John was denied the privilege of seeing the display of wisdom and power of God in the unsearchable riches of the knowledge of Christ.
Those who were privileged with being with Christ when he walked a man among men, and listened to his divine teachings under a variety of circumstances while preaching in the temple--walking in the streets, teaching the multitudes by the way side, and in the open air by the seaside, and while an invited guest seated at the table, ever giving words of instruction to meet the cases of all who needed his help; healing, comforting, and reproving, as circumstances required--were more exalted than John the Baptist. By Ellen G. White.
(Vol. 42, #7)
Upon Mount Hor Aaron died and was buried. Moses, Aaron's brother, and Eleazar, his son, accompanied him. The painful duty was laid upon Moses to remove from his brother Aaron the sacerdotal robes and place them upon Eleazar, for God had said he should succeed Aaron in the priesthood. Moses and Eleazar witnessed the death of Aaron; and Moses buried him in the mount. This scene upon Mount Hor carries our minds back and connects it with some of the most striking events in the life of Aaron.
Aaron was a man of amiable disposition, whom God selected to stand with Moses and speak for him in short, to be mouthpiece for Moses. God might have chosen Aaron as leader; but he who is acquainted with hearts, who understands character, knew that Aaron was yielding, and lacked moral courage to stand in defense of the right under all circumstances irrespective of consequences. Aaron's desire to have the good will of the people sometimes led him to commit great wrongs. He too frequently yielded to their entreaties, and in so doing dishonored God. The same want of standing firmly for the right in his family resulted in the death of two of his sons. Aaron was eminent for piety and usefulness, but he neglected to discipline his family. Rather than perform the task of requiring respect and reverence of his sons, he allowed them to follow their inclinations. He did not discipline them in self-denial, but yielded to their wishes. They were not disciplined to respect and reverence parental authority. The father was the proper ruler of his own family as long as he lived. His authority was not to cease, even after his children were grown up and had families of their own. God himself was the monarch of the nation, and from the people he claimed obedience and honor.
The order and prosperity of the kingdom depended upon the good order of the church. And the prosperity, harmony, and order of the church were dependent upon the good order and thorough discipline of families. God punishes the unfaithfulness of parents to whom he has intrusted the duty to maintain the principles of parental government, which lie at the foundation of church discipline, and the prosperity of the nation. One undisciplined child has frequently marred the peace and harmony of the church, and incited to murmuring and rebellion, a nation. God has enjoined, in the most solemn manner upon children, their duty to affectionately respect and honor their parents. God required, on the other hand, of parents to train up their children, and with unceasing diligence to educate them in regard to the claims of his law, and to instruct them in the knowledge and fear of God. These injunctions which God laid with so much solemnity upon the Jews, rests with equal weight upon Christian parents. Those who neglect the light and instruction given of God in his word, in regard to training their children and commanding their household after them, will have a fearful account to settle. Aaron's criminal neglect to command respect and reverence of his sons resulted in their death.
God distinguished Aaron in choosing him and his male posterity for the priesthood. His sons ministered in the sacred office. Nadab and Abihu failed to reverence the command of God, to offer sacred fire upon their censers with the incense before him. God had forbidden them to use the common fire to present before him with the incense, upon pain of death.
Here was seen the result of loose discipline. As Aaron's sons had not been educated to respect and reverence the commands of their father, as they disregarded parental authority, they did not realize the necessity of explicitly following the requirements of God. When indulging their appetite for wine, while under its exciting stimulus their reason was beclouded. They could not discern difference between the sacred and the common. Contrary to God's express direction they dishonored him by offering common fire instead of sacred. God visited them with his wrath--fire went forth from his presence and destroyed them.
Aaron bore his severe affliction with patience and humble submission. Sorrow and keen agony wrung his soul. He was convicted of his neglect of duty. He was priest of the Most High God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. He was priest of his household, yet he had been inclined to pass over the folly of his children. He neglected his duty to train and educate his children to obedience, self-denial, and reverence for parental authority. Through feelings of misplaced indulgence he failed to mold the characters of his children with high reverence for eternal things. Aaron did not see any more than many Christian parents now see that their misplaced love and the indulgence of their children in wrong, is preparing them for the certain displeasure of God, and for his wrath to break forth upon them to their destruction.
While Aaron neglected exercise his authority, the justice of God awakened against them. Aaron had to learn that gentle remonstrance, without exercising, with firmness, parental restraint, and his imprudent tenderness toward his sons, were cruelty in the extreme. God took the work of justice into his own hands and destroyed the sons of Aaron.
When God called for Moses to come up into the mountain, it was six days before he was received into the cloud, to the immediate presence of God. The top of the mountain was all aglow with the glory of God. And even while the children of Israel had in their very sight the glory of God upon the mount, unbelief was so natural to them, because Moses was absent they begun to murmur with discontent. While the glory of God signified his sacred presence upon the mountain, and their leader was in close converse with God, they should have been sanctifying themselves to God by close searching of heart, humiliation, and godly fear. God had left Aaron and Hur, to take the place of Moses. The people were to consult and advise with these men of God's appointment in the absence of Moses.
Here Aaron's deficiency as a leader or governor of Israel was seen. The people beset him to make them gods to go before them into Egypt. Here was an opportunity for Aaron to show his faith and unwavering confidence in God, and in firmness and with decision meet the proposition of the people. But the natural love of Aaron to please, and to yield to the people, led him to sacrifice the honor of God. He requested them to bring their ornaments to him, and he wrought out for them a golden calf, and proclaimed before the people, "These be thy gods O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." And to this senseless god, Aaron made an altar, and proclaimed on the morrow a feast to the Lord. All restraint seemed to be removed from the people. They offered burnt offerings to the golden calf, and a spirit of levity took possession of them. They ate, they drank, and rose up to play. They indulged in shameful rioting and drunkenness.
A few weeks only had passed since they had made a solemn covenant with God to obey his voice. They had listened to the words of God's law, spoken in awful grandeur from Sinai's mount, amid thunderings and lightnings and earthquakes. They had heard the declaration from the lips of God himself, "I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments."
Aaron had been exalted, also his sons, in being called into the mount, to there witness the glory of God. "And they saw the God of Israel; and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in its clearness."
God had appointed Nadab and Abihu to a most sacred work, therefore he honored them in a most wonderful manner. God gave them a view of his excellent glory, that the scenes they should witness in the mount would abide upon them, and the better qualify them to minister in his service, and render to him that exalted honor and reverence before the people, which would give them clearer conceptions of his character, and awaken in them due obedience and reverence for all his requirements.
Moses, before he left his people for the mount, read to them the words of the covenant God had made with them, and they with one voice answered, "All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient." How great must have been the sin of Aaron, how aggravating in the sight of God!
While Moses was receiving the law of God in the mount, the Lord informed him of the sin of rebellious Israel, and requested him to let them go, that he might destroy them. But Moses plead before God for the people. Although Moses was the meekest man that lived, yet when the interests of the people were at stake over whom God had appointed him as leader, he loses his natural timidity, and with singular persistency and wonderful boldness, pleads with God for Israel. He will not consent that God shall destroy his people, although God promised that in their destruction he would exalt Moses, and raise up a better people than Israel. Moses prevailed. God granted his earnest petition not to blot out his people. Moses took the tables of the covenant, the law of ten commandments, and descended from the mount. The boisterous, drunken revelry of the children of Israel reached his ears, long before he came to the camp of Israel. When he saw their idolatry, and that they had broken in a most marked manner the words of the covenant, he became overwhelmed with grief and indignation at their base idolatry. Confusion and shame on their account took possession of him, and he there threw down the tables and broke them. As they had broken their covenant with God, Moses, in breaking the tables, signified to them, so, also, God had broken his covenant with them. The tables, whereupon was written the law of God, were broken.
Aaron, with his amiable disposition, so very mild and pleasing, sought to conciliate Moses, as though no very great sin had been committed by the people that he should feel thus deeply over. Moses asked in anger, "What did this people unto thee that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?" "And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my Lord wax hot; thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief. For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what has become of him. And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me; then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf."
Aaron would have Moses think that some wonderful miracle had transformed their golden ornaments into the shape of a calf. He did not relate to Moses that he had, with other workmen, wrought out this image.
Aaron had thought that Moses had been too unyielding to the wishes of the people. And if he had been less firm, less decided at times; if he had made a compromise with them, and gratified their wishes, he would have had less trouble, and there would have been more peace and harmony in the camp of Israel. He, therefore, had been trying this new policy. He carried out his natural temperament of yielding to the wishes of the people, to save dissatisfaction and preserve their good will, and thereby prevent a rebellion, which he thought would certainly come if he withstood their wishes. But had Aaron stood unwaveringly for God; had he met the intimation of the people for him to make them gods to go before them to Egypt, with the just indignation and horror their proposition deserved; had he cited them to the terrors of Sinai, where God had spoken his law in such glory and majesty; had he reminded them of their solemn covenant with God to obey all he should command them; had he told them that he would not at the sacrifice of his life yield to their entreaties, he would have had influence with the people to prevent a terrible apostasy. But when his influence was required to be used in the right direction in the absence of Moses, when he should have stood as firm and unyielding as did Moses to prevent them from pursuing a course of sin, his influence was exerted on the wrong side. He was powerless to make his influence felt in vindication of God's honor in keeping his holy law. But on the wrong side he had swayed a powerful influence. He directed, and the people obeyed. When Aaron took the first step in the wrong direction, the spirit which had actuated the people imbued him, and he took the lead, and directed as a general, and the people were singularly obedient. Here Aaron gave decided sanction to the most aggravating sins, because it was attended with less difficulty than to stand in vindication of the right. When he swerved from his integrity in giving sanction to the people in their sins, he seemed inspired with decision, earnestness, and zeal, new to him. His timidity seemed suddenly to disappear. He seized the instruments to work out the gold into the image of a calf with a zeal he had never manifested in standing in defense of the honor of God against wrong. He ordered an altar to be built, and with assurance, worthy of a better cause, he proclaimed to the people that on the morrow would be a feast to the Lord. The trumpeters took the word from the mouth of Aaron and sounded the proclamation from company to company of the armies of Israel.
Aaron's calm assurance in a wrong course gave him greater influence than Moses could have had in leading them in a right course, and subduing their rebellion. What terrible spiritual blindness had come upon Aaron that he should put light for darkness, and darkness for light. What presumption in him to proclaim a feast to the Lord over their idolatry of a golden image! Here is seen the power that Satan has over minds that are not fully controlled by the Spirit of God. Satan had set up his banner in the midst of Israel, and it was exalted as the banner of God.
"These," said Aaron (without hesitation or shame), be thy gods O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." Aaron influenced the children of Israel to go to greater lengths in idolatry than had entered their minds. They were no longer troubled lest the burning glory like flaming fire upon the mount had consumed their leader. They thought they had a general who just suited them. They were ready to do anything he suggested. They offered peace offerings, and sacrificed to their golden god, and gave themselves up to pleasure, rioting, and drunkenness. They were then decided in their own minds that it was not because they were wrong, that they had so much trouble in the wilderness; but the difficulty, after all, was with their leader. He was not a right kind of a man. He was too unyielding, and was continually keeping their sins before them, warning and reproving them, and threatening them with God's displeasure. A new order of things had come, and they were pleased with Aaron, and pleased with themselves. They thought, if Moses had only been as amiable and mild as Aaron, what peace and harmony would have prevailed in the camp of Israel. They cared not now whether Moses ever came down from the Mount or not.
When Moses saw the idolatry of Israel, and his indignation was so aroused at their shameful forgetfulness of God, that he threw down the tables of stone and broke them, Aaron stood meekly by, bearing the censure of Moses with commendable patience. The people were charmed with Aaron's lovely spirit, and were disgusted with Moses' rashness. But God seeth not as man seeth. He condemned not the ardor and indignation of Moses against the base apostasy of Israel.
The true general, then takes his position for God. He has come direct from the presence of the Lord, where he plead with him to turn away his wrath from his erring people. Now he has another work to do as God's minister, to vindicate his honor before the people, and let them see that sin is sin, and righteousness is righteousness. He has a work to do to counteract the terrible influence of Aaron. "Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the Lord's side? Let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him. And he said unto them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Put every man, his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor. And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses; and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men. For Moses had said, Consecrate yourselves today to the Lord, even every man upon his son, and upon his brother; that he may bestow upon you a blessing this day."
Here Moses defines genuine consecration as obedience to God, to stand in vindication of the right, and to show a readiness to carry out the purpose of God in the most unpleasant duties, showing the claims of God are higher than the claims of friends, or the lives of the nearest relatives. The sons of Levi consecrated themselves to God to execute his justice against crime and sin.
Aaron and Moses both sinned in not giving glory and honor to God at the waters of Meribah. They were both wearied and provoked with the continual complaining of Israel, and at a time when God was to mercifully display his glory to the people to soften and subdue their hearts and lead them to repentance. Moses and Aaron claimed the power of opening the rock for them. "Hear now, ye rebels: must we fetch you water out of this rock?" Here was a golden opportunity to sanctify the Lord in their midst, to show them the longsuffering of God and his tender pity for them. They had murmured against Moses and Aaron because they could not find water. Moses and Aaron took these murmurings as a great trial and dishonor to them. They forgot that it was God whom they were grieving. It was God they were sinning against and dishonoring, not they who were men appointed of God to carry out his purpose. They were insulting their best friend in charging their calamities upon Moses and Aaron; they were murmuring at God's providence.
This sin of these noble leaders was great. Their lives might have been illustrious to the close. They had been greatly exalted and honored; yet God does not excuse sin in those in exalted position, any sooner than in the more humble.
Many professed Christians look upon men who do not reprove and condemn wrong, as men of piety, and Christians indeed, while men who stand boldly in the defense of right, and will not yield their integrity to unconsecrated influences, they think lack piety and a Christian spirit.
Those who stand in defense of the honor of God, and maintain the purity of truth at any cost, will have manifold trials, as did our Saviour in the wilderness of temptation. The yielding temperaments, who have not courage to condemn wrong, but keep silent when their influence is needed to stand in the defense of right against any pressure, may avoid many heartaches, and escape many perplexities, and lose a very rich reward, if not their own souls.
Those who in harmony with God, and through faith in him, receive strength to resist wrong, and stand in defense of the right, will always have severe conflicts, and will frequently have to stand almost alone. But precious victories will be theirs while they make God their dependence. His grace will be their strength. Their moral sense will be keen, clear, and sensitive. Their moral powers will be equal to withstand wrong influences. Their integrity, like that of Moses, of the purest character.
The mild and yielding spirit of Aaron to please the people, blinded his eyes to their sins, and to the enormity of the crime he was sanctioning. His course in giving influence to wrong and sin in Israel cost the lives of three thousand men. The course of Moses, in what contrast! After he had evidenced to the people that they could not trifle with God with impunity; after he had shown them the just displeasure of God for their sins, in giving the terrible decree to slay friends or relatives who persisted in their apostasy, after the work of justice to turn away the wrath of God, irrespective of their feelings of sympathy for loved friends and relatives who continued obstinate in their rebellion, Moses was now prepared for another work. He evidenced who was the true friend of God, and the friend of the people.
"And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin; and now I will go up unto the Lord; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin. And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin--; and if not, blot me, I pray, thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. And the Lord said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee; behold; mine Angel shall go before thee; nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them. And the Lord plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made."
Moses supplicated God in behalf of sinning Israel. He did not try to lessen their sin before God. He did not excuse them in their sin. He frankly acknowledged they had sinned a great sin, and had made them gods of gold. Then he loses his timidity, and the interest of Israel is so closely interwoven with his life, that he comes with boldness to God, and prays for him to forgive his people. If their sin, he pleads, is so great that God cannot forgive them, if their names must be blotted from his book, he prayed the Lord to blot out his name also. When the Lord renewed his promise to Moses, that his Angel should go before him in leading the people to the promised land, Moses knew that his request was granted. But the Lord assured Moses that if he was provoked to visit the people for their transgressions, he would surely punish them for this grievous sin also. If they were henceforth obedient, he would blot out this great sin out of his book. By Ellen G. White. Black Hawk, Colorado.
(Vol. 42, #14)
The message to the church of the Laodiceans is a startling denunciation, and is applicable to the people of God at the present time.
"And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and True Witness, the beginning of the creation of God: I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot; I would thou wert cold or hot. So then, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked."
The Lord here shows us that the message to be borne to his people by ministers whom he has called to warn the people, is not a peace and safety message. It is not merely theoretical, but practical in every particular. The people of God are represented in the message to the Laodiceans in a position of carnal security. They are at ease, believing themselves in an exalted condition of spiritual attainments.
"Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked."
What greater deception can come upon human minds than a confidence that they are right, when they are all wrong? The message of the True Witness finds the people of God in a sad deception, yet honest in that deception. They know not that their condition is deplorable in the sight of God. While those addressed are flattering themselves that they are in an exalted spiritual condition, the message of the True Witness breaks their security by the startling denunciation of their true situation of spiritual blindness, poverty, and wretchedness. The testimony, so cutting and severe, cannot be a mistake; for it is the True Witness who speaks, and his testimony must be correct.
It is difficult for those who feel secure in their attainments, who are believing themselves to be rich in spiritual knowledge, to receive the message which declares that they are deceived and in need of every spiritual grace. The unsanctified heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.
God leads his people on, step by step. The Christian life is a constant battle, and a march. There is no rest from the warfare. It is by constant, unceasing effort that we maintain the victory over the temptations of Satan. We are, as a people, triumphing in the clearness and strength of the truth. We are fully sustained in our positions by an overwhelming amount of plain scriptural testimony. But we are very much wanting in Bible humility, patience, faith, love, self-denial, watchfulness, and a spirit of sacrifice. We need to cultivate Bible holiness. Sin prevails among the people of God. The plain message of rebuke to the Laodiceans is not received. Many cling to their doubts and their darling sins, while they are in so great a deception as to talk and feel that they are in need of nothing. They think the testimony of the Spirit of God in reproof is uncalled for, or that it does not mean them. Such are in the greatest need of the grace of God and spiritual discernment, that they may discover their deficiency in spiritual knowledge. They lack almost every essential qualification necessary to perfect Christian character. They have not a practical knowledge of Bible truth, which leads to lowliness of life, and a conformity of their will to the will of Christ. They are not living in obedience to all God's requirements.
It is not enough to merely profess to believe the truth. All the soldiers of the cross of Christ virtually obligate themselves to enter a crusade against the adversary of souls, to condemn wrong, and sustain righteousness. But the message of the True Witness reveals the fact that a terrible deception is upon our people, which makes it necessary to come to them with warnings, to break their spiritual slumber, and arouse them to decided action.
This message of the True Witness has not accomplished the design of God. The people slumber on in their sins. They continue to declare themselves "rich, and having need of nothing." Many inquire, Why are all these reproofs given? Why do the testimonies continually charge us with backsliding and grievous sins? We love the truth. We are prospering. We are in no need of these testimonies of warning and reproof. But let these murmurers see their hearts, and compare their lives with the practical teachings of the Bible; let them humble their souls before God; let the grace of God illuminate the darkness, and the scales will fall from their eyes, and they will sense their true spiritual poverty and wretchedness. They will feel the necessity of buying gold, which is pure faith and love; white raiment, which is a spotless character, made pure in the blood of their dear Redeemer, and eyesalve, which is the grace of God, and will give clear discernment of spiritual things, and detect sin. These attainments are more precious than the gold of Ophir.
I am very sure that the greatest reason why the people of God are now found in this state of spiritual blindness, is because they will not receive correction. Many have despised the reproofs and warnings given them. The True Witness condemns the lukewarm condition of the people of God, which gives Satan great power over them in this waiting, watching time. The selfish, and proud, and lovers of sin, are ever assailed with doubts. Satan has ability to suggest doubts and devise objections to the pointed testimony that God sends, and many think it a virtue and mark of intelligence in them to be unbelieving and questioning, and quibbling. Those who desire to doubt will have plenty of room. God does not propose to remove all occasion for unbelief. He gives evidence, which must be carefully investigated with a humble mind and teachable spirit. All should decide from the weight of evidence.
Eternal life is of infinite value, and will cost us all that we have. It is evident that we do not place a proper estimate upon eternal things. Everything worth possessing, even in this world, must be secured by effort, and sometimes by most painful sacrifice. And this is merely for a perishable treasure. Shall we be less willing to endure conflict and toil, and to make earnest efforts and great sacrifices for the infinite treasure, which passes all estimate in value, and the duration of life which will measure with the Infinite? Can Heaven cost us too much? Faith and love are golden treasures, elements that are greatly wanting among God's people.
Faith in the soon coming of Christ is waning. "My Lord delayeth his coming" is said not only in the heart, but expressed in words, and most decidedly in works. Stupidity in this watching time is sealing the senses of God's people as to the signs of the times.
The terrible iniquity abounding calls for the greatest diligence, and for the living testimony, to keep sin out of the church. Faith has been decreasing to a fearful degree. Faith can only increase by exercise.
In the first rise of the third angel's message, those who engaged in the work of God had something to venture. They had sacrifices to make. They started this work in poverty, and suffered the greatest deprivations and reproach. They met determined opposition, which drove them to God in their necessity, and kept their faith alive. Our present plan of Systematic Benevolence amply sustains our ministers. And there is no want and no call for the exercise of faith as to a support. Those who start out now to preach the truth have nothing to venture. They have no risks to run, no especial sacrifices to make. The system of truth is made ready to their hand. Publications are provided for them, vindicating the truths they advance.
Some young men start out with no real sense of the exalted character of the work. They have not privations, and hardships, and severe conflicts to meet, which call for the exercise of faith. They do not cultivate practical self-denial, and cherish a spirit of sacrifice. Some are becoming proud and lifted up, and have no real burden of the work upon them. The True Witness speaks to these ministers, "Be zealous, therefore, and repent." These ministers are some of them so lifted up in pride that they are really a hindrance and a curse to the precious cause of God. They do not exert an influence which is saving upon others. There is need of these men being thoroughly converted to God themselves, and sanctified by the truths they present to others.
Very many feel impatient and jealous because they are frequently disturbed with warning and reproofs which keep their sins before them. Says the True Witness, "I know thy works." The motives, the purposes, and the unbelief, suspicions, and jealousies may be hid from men, but not from Christ. The True Witness comes as a counselor; "I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous, therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne."
Those who heed the testimony of warning, and zealously go about the work of separating their sins from them, in order to have the needed graces, will be opening the door of their hearts that the dear Saviour may come in and dwell with them. This class you will ever find in perfect harmony with the testimony of the Spirit of God.
Ministers who are preaching present truth should not neglect the solemn message to the Laodiceans. The testimony of the True Witness is not a smooth message. The Lord does not say to them, You are about right, you have borne chastisement and reproof that you never deserved, you have been discouraged unnecessarily by severity, you are not guilty of the wrongs and sins of which you have been reproved.
The True Witness declares that when you suppose you are really in a good condition of prosperity you are in need of everything. It is not enough for ministers to present theoretical subjects. They need to study the practical lessons Christ gave his disciples, and make a close application of the same to their own souls and to the people. Because Christ bears this rebuking testimony, shall we suppose that he is destitute of tender love to his people? Oh, no! He who died to redeem man from death, loves with a divine love. He rebukes those he loves. "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten." But many will not receive the message Heaven in mercy sends them. They cannot endure to be told of their wrongs, and of their neglect of duty, of their selfishness, their pride, and love of the world.
The servants of the Lord should bear a plain testimony. They should cry aloud and spare not, and show the people their transgressions, and the house of Israel their sins. But there is a class who will not receive the message of reproof, and they raise their hands to shield those whom God would reprove and correct. They will ever be found sympathizing with those whom God would make to feel their true poverty.
The word of the Lord spoken through his servants, is received by many with questionings and fears. And many will defer their obedience to the warnings and reproofs given, waiting till every shadow of uncertainty is removed from their minds. The unbelief that demands perfect knowledge will never yield to the evidence God is pleased to give. God requires of his people faith that rests upon the weight of evidence, not perfect knowledge. The followers of Jesus Christ, those who accept of the light God sends them, must obey the voice of God speaking to them, when there are many other voices crying out against it. It requires discernment to distinguish the voice of God.
Those who will not act when the Lord calls upon them, waiting for more certain evidence, and more favorable opportunities, will walk in darkness, for the light will be withdrawn. The evidence given one day, if rejected, may never be repeated.
Tempted souls, whose hearts have ever been at war with the faithful reproving of sin, would cry, Speak unto us smooth things. What disposition will these make of the message of the True Witness to the Laodiceans? There can be no deception here. This message must be borne to a lukewarm church by God's servants. This message must arouse the people of God from their security and dangerous deception in regard to their real standing before God. This testimony, if received, will arouse to action, and lead to self-abasement, and confessions of sins. The True Witness says, "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot." And again, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous, therefore, and repent." Then comes the promise, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." "To him that overcometh, will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne."
These wrongs and sins, which have brought the people of God in their state of wretchedness, blindness, and poverty, must be seen, and they arouse to zealous repentance, and a putting away of these sins which have brought them into such a deplorable condition of blindness and fearful deception. The pointed testimony must live in the church. And this alone will answer to the message to the Laodiceans. Wrongs must be reproved, sins must be called sins, and iniquity must be met promptly and decidedly, and put away from us as a people.
Those whom God has chosen for an important work, have ever been received with distrust and suspicion. Anciently, when Elijah was sent with a message from God to the people, they did not heed the warning. They thought Elijah unnecessarily severe. He must, they thought, have lost his senses, that he would denounce them, the favored people of God, as sinners, and their crimes, so aggravating, that the judgments of God would awaken against them.
Satan and his host have ever been arrayed against those who bear the message of warning and reprove sins. The unconsecrated will be united with the adversary of souls, to make the work of God's faithful servants as hard as possible. Elijah, one of God's great and mighty prophets, as he fled for his life from the rage of Jezebel, an infuriated woman, a fugitive, weary and travel worn, desired to die rather than live. His bitter disappointment in regard to Israel's faithfulness crushed his spirits, and he felt that he could no longer put confidence in man. In the day of Job's affliction and darkness, he utters these words: "Let the day perish wherein I was born."
When Ahab ruled Israel, the people departed from God and corrupted their ways before him under his perverted rule. "And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him. And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshiped him. And he reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. And Ahab made a grove; and Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all of the kings that were before him."
Ahab was weak in moral power. He did not have a high sense of sacred things. He was selfish and unprincipled. His union by marriage with a woman of decided character, and positive temperament, devoted to idolatry, made them both special agents of Satan to lead the people of God into idolatry and terrible apostasy. The determined spirit of Jezebel molded the character of Ahab. His selfish nature was incapable of appreciating the mercies of God to his people, his obligation to God, as the guardian and leader of Israel. The fear of God was daily growing less in Israel. The blasphemous tokens of their blind idolatry were to be seen among the Israel of God. There were none who dared to expose their lives by openly standing forth in opposition to the prevailing blasphemous idolatry. The altars of Baal, and the priests of Baal who sacrificed to the sun, moon, and stars, were conspicuous everywhere. They had consecrated temples and groves, wherein was placed the work of men's hands to worship. The benefits which God gave to this people called forth from them no gratitude to the Giver. For all the bounties of Heaven, the running brooks, and streams of living waters, the gentle dew, and showers of rain to refresh the earth, and to cause their fields to bring forth abundantly, they ascribed to the favor of their gods.
Elijah's faithful soul was grieved. His indignation was aroused, and he was jealous for the glory of God. He saw that Israel was plunged into fearful apostasy. He was overwhelmed with amazement and grief at the apostasy of the people when he called to mind the great things that God had wrought for them. But all this was forgotten by the majority of the people. He went before God, and with his soul wrung with anguish, plead for him to save his people if it must be by judgments. He plead with God to withhold from his ungrateful people dew and rain, the treasures of heaven, that apostate Israel might look in vain to their idols of gold, wood, and stone, the sun, moon, and stars, their gods, to water the earth and enrich it, and cause it to bring forth plentifully. God told Elijah he had heard his prayer. He would withhold from his people dew and rain, until they should turn unto him with repentance.
God had especially guarded his people from mingling with the idolatrous nations around them, lest their hearts should be deceived by their attractive groves and shrines, temples, and altars, all of which were arranged in the most expensive, alluring manner, to pervert the senses, so that God would be supplanted in their minds.
Jericho was a city devoted to the most extravagant idolatry. The inhabitants were very wealthy. All the riches that God had given them they accredited to the gifts of their gods. Gold and silver were in abundance. Like the people before the flood, they were corrupt and blasphemous. They insulted and provoked the God of Heaven by their wicked works. God's judgments awakened against Jericho. It was a stronghold. But the Captain of the Lord's host came himself from Heaven to lead the armies of Heaven in the attack upon the city. Angels of God laid hold of the massive walls and brought them to the ground. God had said that the city of Jericho should be accursed, and that all should perish except Rahab and her household. They should be saved because of the favor that Rahab showed the messengers of the Lord. The word of the Lord to the people was, "And ye in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it." "And Joshua adjured them at that time, saying, Cursed be the man before the Lord, that riseth up and buildeth this city Jericho; he shall lay the foundation thereof in his firstborn, and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it." Josh. 6:18,26.
God was very particular in regard to Jericho, lest the people should be charmed with the things that the inhabitants had worshiped, and their hearts be diverted from him. He guards his people by most positive commands. Notwithstanding the solemn injunction from God by the mouth of Joshua, Achan ventured to transgress. His covetousness led him to take the treasures God had forbidden him to touch, because his curse was upon it. And because of this man's sin, the Israel of God were as weak as water before their enemies.
Joshua and the elders of Israel were in great affliction. They lay before the ark of God in most abject humility, because the Lord was wroth with his people. Joshua and the elders of Israel prayed and wept before God. The Lord spoke to Joshua, "Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them; for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff. Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they were accursed; neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you." E. G. W. (To be Continued.)
(Vol. 41, #15)
In the case of the sin of Achan, God has shown how he regards sin among those who profess to be his commandment keeping people. Those whom he has especially honored with witnessing the remarkable exhibitions of his power, as did ancient Israel, and that will venture to disregard his express directions, will be subjects of his wrath. God would teach his people that disobedience and sin are exceedingly offensive to him, and not to be lightly regarded. He shows us that when his people are found in sin, they should at once take decided measures to put the sin from them, that his frown should not rest upon all his people. But if those in responsible positions pass over the sins of the people, his frown will be upon them, and the people of God, as a body, will be held responsible for the sins that exist in their midst. God, in his dealings with his people in the past, shows the necessity of purifying the church from wrongs that exist among them. One sinner may diffuse darkness which will exclude the light of God from the entire congregation. When the people realize that darkness is settling upon them, and they do not know the cause, then they should earnestly seek God in great humility and self-abasement, until the wrongs which grieve God's Spirit are searched out and put away from among them.
If wrongs exist among the people, and the servants of God pass on indifferent to them, they virtually sustain and justify the sinner, and are guilty alike with the sinner, and will receive the displeasure of God just as surely as the sinner; for they will be made responsible for the sins of the guilty. Those men who have excused wrongs have been thought by the people to be very amiable, and of lovely disposition, simply because they shunned to discharge a plain and scriptural, duty. The task was not agreeable to their feelings; therefore they avoided it.
The spirit of hatred which has existed with some because the wrongs among God's people have been reproved, has brought blindness and a fearful deception upon their own souls, making it impossible for them to discriminate between right and wrong. They have put out their own spiritual eyesight. They may witness wrongs, but they do not feel as did Joshua, and humble their souls in humiliation because the burden of souls is felt by them.
The true people of God, who have the spirit of the work of the Lord and the salvation of souls at heart, will ever view sin in its real, sinful character. They will always be on the side of faithful and plain dealing with sins which easily beset the people of God. Especially in the closing work for the church, in the sealing time of the one hundred and forty-four thousand, who are to stand without fault before the throne of God, will they feel most deeply the wrongs of God's professed people. This is forcibly set forth by the prophet's illustration of the last work under the figure of the men, each having a slaughter weapon in his hand. One man among them was clothed with linen, with a writer's inkhorn by his side. "And the Lord said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for the abominations that be done in the midst thereof."
Who are standing in the counsel of God at this time? Is it those who virtually excuse wrongs among the professed people of God, and murmur in their hearts, if not openly, against those who would reprove sin? Is it those who take their stand against them, and sympathize with those who commit wrong? No, indeed! These, unless they repent, and leave the work of Satan in oppressing those who have the burden of the work, and holding up the hands of sinners in Zion, will never receive the mark of God's sealing approval. They will fall in the general destruction of all the wicked, represented by the five men bearing slaughter weapons. Mark this point with care: Those who receive the pure mark of truth, wrought in them by the power of the Holy Ghost, represented by a mark by the man in linen, are those "that sigh and cry for all the abominations that are done" in the church. Their love for purity and the honor and glory of God is such, and they have so clear a view of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, that they are represented as being in an agony, even sighing and crying. Read Ezekiel, chapter nine.
But the general slaughter of all those who do not thus see the wide contrast between sin and righteousness, and do not feel as those do who stand in the counsel of God and receive the mark, is described in the order to the five men with slaughter weapons: "Go ye after him through the city, and smite; let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity; slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women; but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary."
God said to Joshua (in the case of Achan's sins), "Neither will I be with you any more except ye destroy the accursed from among you." How does this instance compare with the course pursued by those who will not raise their voice against sin and wrong; but whose sympathies are ever found with those who trouble the camp of Israel with their sins? Said God to Joshua, "Thou canst not stand before thine enemies until ye take away the accursed thing from among you." He pronounced the punishment which should follow the transgression of his covenant.
Joshua then began a diligent search to find out the guilty one. He took Israel by their tribes, and then by their families, and next, individually. Achan was designated as the guilty one. But that the matter might be plain to all Israel, that there should be no occasion given them to murmur, and to say that the guiltless was made to suffer, Joshua used policy. He knew that Achan was the transgressor, and that he had concealed his sin, and provoked God against his people. Joshua discreetly induced Achan to make confession of his sin, that God's honor and justice should be vindicated before Israel. "And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done. Hide it not from me."
"And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done: When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it. So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran unto the tent; and, behold, it was hid in his tent, and the silver under it. And they took them out of the midst of the tent, and brought them unto Joshua, and unto all the children of Israel, and laid them out before the Lord. And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought them unto the valley of Achor. And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the Lord shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones."
God said to Joshua, that not only had Achan taken the things which he had positively charged them not to take, lest they be accursed, but had stolen, and also had dissembled. The Lord said that Jericho and all its spoils should be consumed, except the gold and silver, which was to be reserved for the treasury of the Lord. The victory obtained in taking Jericho was not through warfare, or the exposure of the people. The Captain of the Lord's host had led the armies of Heaven. The battle was the Lord's. The children of Israel did not strike a blow. It was the Lord who fought the battle. The victory and glory were the Lord's. The spoils were his. He directed it all to be consumed, except the gold and silver which he reserved for his treasury. Achan understood well the reserve made, and that the treasures of gold and silver which he coveted were the Lord's. He stole from God's treasury for his own benefit.
There are many who profess to keep the commandments of God who are appropriating to their own use the means which the Lord has intrusted to them, and which should come into his treasury. They rob God in tithes and in offerings. They dissemble, and withhold from God to their own hurt. They bring leanness and poverty upon themselves, and darkness upon the church, because of their covetousness, and in dissembling, in robbing God in tithes and in offerings.
Those who work in the fear of God to rid the church of hindrances, and to correct grievous wrongs, that the people of God may see the necessity of abhorring sin, and that they may prosper in purity, and the name of God be glorified, will ever meet with resisting influences from the unconsecrated. Zephaniah describes the true state of this class, and the terrible judgments that will come upon them.
"And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees; that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil." "The great day of the Lord is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the Lord; the mighty man shall cry there bitterly. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers. And I will bring distress upon men that they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord; and their blood shall be poured out as dust, and their flesh as the dung. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord's wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy; for he shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land."
It is in time of conflict when the true colors should be flung to the breeze. It is then the standard bearers need to be firm and let their true position be known. It is then the skill of every true soldier for the right is tested; shirks can never wear the laurels of victory. Those who are true and loyal will not conceal the fact, but will put heart and might in the work, and venture their all in the struggle, let the battle turn as it will. God is a sin hating God. And those who will encourage the sinner, saying, It is well with thee, God will curse.
Confessions of sin made at the right time to relieve the people of God will be accepted of him. But there are those among us who will make confessions, as did Achan, too late to save themselves. God may prove them and give them another trial, for the sake of his people to evidence to them that they will not endure one test, one proving of God. They are not in harmony with right. They despise the straight testimony that reaches the heart, and they would rejoice to see every one silenced that gives reproof.
The people of Israel had been gradually losing their fear and reverence for God, until his word through Joshua had no weight with them. "In his days did Hiel the Beth-elite build Jericho: he laid the foundation thereof in Abiram his firstborn, and set up the gates thereof in his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Joshua the son of Nun."
While Israel was apostatizing, Elijah was a true prophet of God. He remained loyal and true to God. His faithful soul was greatly distressed as he saw that unbelief and infidelity were fast separating the children of Israel from God. Elijah prayed that God would save his people. He entreated that the Lord would not wholly cast away his sinning people, but by his judgments, if necessary, arouse them to repentance, and not permit them to go on to still greater lengths in sin, and thus provoke him to destroy them as a nation.
The message of the Lord came to Elijah to go to Ahab, with the denunciations of his judgments, because of the sins of Israel. Elijah traveled day and night until he reached the palace of Ahab. He solicited no admission, and waited not to be formally announced. All unexpectedly to Ahab, Elijah stands before the astonished king of Samaria in the coarse garments usually worn by the prophets. He made no apology for his abrupt appearance, without invitation. He raised his hands to heaven, and solemnly affirmed by the living God, who made the heavens and the earth, the judgments which would come upon Israel: "There shall be neither dew nor rain these years, but according to my word."
This startling denunciation of God's judgments because of the sins of Israel fell like a thunderbolt upon the apostate king. He seemed to be paralyzed with amazement and terror; and before he could recover from his astonishment, Elijah, without waiting to see the effect of his message, left as suddenly as he came. His work was to speak the word of woe from God, and he instantly withdrew. His word had locked up the treasures of heaven, and his word was the only key which could open them again.
The Lord knew that there was no safety for his servant among the children of Israel. He would not trust him with apostate Israel; but sent Elijah to find an asylum among a heathen nation. He directed him to a woman that was a widow, who was in such poverty that she could barely sustain life with the most meager fare. A heathen woman, living up to the best light she had, was in a more acceptable state with God than the widows of Israel who had been blessed with especial privileges, and great light, and who did not live according to the light which God had given them. As the Hebrews rejected light, they were left in darkness. God would not trust his servant among his people who had provoked his divine anger.
Now there is an opportunity for apostate Ahab and pagan Jezebel to test the power of their gods, and to prove the word of Elijah false. Jezebel's prophets are numbered by hundreds. Against them all, stands Elijah, alone. His word has locked heaven. If Baal can give dew and rain, and cause the vegetation to flourish, if he can cause the brooks and streams of water to flow on as usual, independent of the treasures of heaven, in the showers of rain, then let the king of Israel worship him, and the people say he is God.
Elijah was a man subject to like passions as ourselves. His mission to Ahab, and the terrible denunciation to him of the judgments of God, required courage and faith. On his way to Samaria, the perpetually flowing streams, the hills covered with verdure, the forests of stately, flourishing trees, everything his eye rested upon, flourishing in beauty and glory, would naturally suggest unbelief. How can all these things in nature so flourishing be burned with drought? How can these streams that water the land, and that have never been known to cease their flow, become dry? But Elijah did not cherish unbelief. He went forth on his mission at the peril of his life. He fully believed that God would humble his apostate people, and through the visitation of his judgments would bring them to humiliation and repentance. He ventured everything in the mission before him.
When Ahab recovers in a degree from his astonishment at the words of Elijah, the prophet was gone. He made diligent inquiry for him; but no one had seen him or could give any information respecting him. Ahab informed Jezebel of the word of woe that Elijah had uttered in his presence, and her hatred against the prophet was expressed to the priests of Baal. They unite with her in denouncing and cursing the prophet of Jehovah. The news of the prophet's denunciations are spread all through the land, arousing the fears of some and the wrath of many.
After a few months, the earth, unrefreshed by dew or rain, becomes dry, and vegetation withers. The streams of water that have never been known to cease their flow, decrease, and the brooks of water dry up. Jezebel's prophets offer their sacrifices to their gods, and call upon them night and day to refresh the earth by dews and rain. But their incantations and deceptions formerly practiced to deceive the people do not answer the purpose now. The priests have done everything to appease the anger of their gods, and with a perseverance and zeal worthy of a better cause, have they lingered around their pagan altars, while the flames of sacrifice burn on all the high places, and the fearful cries and entreaties of the priests of Baal are heard night after night through doomed Samaria. But the clouds do not appear in the heavens to cut off the burning rays of the sun. The word of Elijah stands firm, and nothing that Baal's priests can do will change the word spoken by Elijah.
An entire year passes, and another has commenced, and yet there is no rain. The earth is parched, as though a fire had passed over it. The flourishing fields become as the scorched desert. The air becomes dry and suffocating, the dust storm blinds the eyes, and nearly stops the breath. The groves of Baal are leafless, and the forest trees give no shade, but appear as skeletons. Hunger and thirst are telling upon man and beast with fearful mortality.
All this evidence of God's justice and judgment does not awaken Israel to repentance. Jezebel is filled with insane madness. She will not bend or yield to the God of Heaven. Baal's prophets, Ahab, Jezebel, and nearly the whole of Israel, charge their calamity upon Elijah. Ahab had sent to every kingdom and nation in search of Elijah, and he required an oath of the kingdoms and nations of Israel, that they knew nothing in regard to the strange prophet. Elijah locked heaven with his word, and had taken the key with him, and he could not be found.
Jezebel then decided, as she could not make Elijah feel her murderous power, that she would be revenged by destroying the prophets of God in Israel. No one who professed to be a prophet of God should live. This determined, infuriated woman executed her work of madness in slaying the Lord's prophets. Baal's priests and nearly all of Israel were so far deluded that they thought if the prophets of God were slain the calamity under which they were suffering would cease.
But the second year passes, and the pitiless heavens give no rain. Drought and famine are doing their sad work, and yet the apostate Israelites do not humble their sinful, proud hearts before God. But they murmur and complain against the prophet of God who has brought this dreadful state of things upon them. Fathers and mothers see their children perish with no power to relieve them. And yet they were in such terrible darkness that they could not see that the justice of God was awakened against them because of their sins; and that this terrible calamity was sent in mercy to them, to save them from fully denying and forsaking the God of their fathers.
It will cost Israel suffering and great affliction to bring them to that repentance necessary in order to recover their lost faith, and a clear sense of their responsibility to God. Their apostasy was more dreadful than drought or famine. Elijah waited and prayed in faith through the long years of drought and famine, that the hearts of Israel through their afflictions might be turned from their idolatry, to allegiance to God. Notwithstanding all their sufferings, they stood firm in their idolatry, and looked upon the prophet of God as the cause of their calamity. And if they could have had Elijah in their power they would have delivered him to Jezebel, that she might satisfy her revenge by taking his life. Because Elijah dared to utter the word of woe which God had bidden him, he has made himself the object of their hatred. They could not see God's hand in the judgments under which they were suffering because of their sins. They charged them to the man Elijah. They abhorred not the sins which had brought them under the chastening rod, but hated the faithful prophet, God's instrument, to denounce their sins and calamity. "And it came to pass after many days that the word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year, saying, Go show thyself unto Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth."
Elijah hesitated not to start on his perilous journey. He had been hated, and hunted from city to city by the mandate of the king, for three years, and the whole nation had given their oath that the prophet could not be found. And now Elijah, by the word of God, is to present himself before Ahab. Through the apostasy of all Israel, the governor of Ahab's house has proved faithful to God while his master is a worshiper of Baal. He had, at the risk of his own life, preserved the prophets of God, by hiding them by fifties in a cave, and feeding them. While the servant of Ahab is searching throughout the kingdom for springs and brooks of water, Elijah presents himself before him. Obadiah reverenced the prophet of God, and as Elijah sends him with a message to the king, he is greatly terrified. He sees danger and death to himself and also Elijah. He pleads earnestly that his life might not be sacrificed; but Elijah assures Obadiah with an oath that he will see Ahab that day. The prophet will not go to Ahab, but as one of God's messengers to command respect, he sends by Obadiah a message, "Behold, Elijah is here." If Ahab wants to see Elijah, he has now the opportunity to come to him. Elijah will not go to Ahab. (To be Continued.)
(Vol. 42, #16)
The king heard the message with astonishment, mingled with terror, that Elijah, whom he feared and hated, was coming to meet him. He had long sought for the prophet, that he might destroy him, and he knew that Elijah would not expose his life to come to him, unless guarded, or with some terrible denunciation. He remembered the withered arm of Jeroboam, and he decides that it is not safe to lift up his hand against the messenger of God. And with fear and trembling, and with a large retinue, he hastened with imposing display of armies to meet Elijah. And as he meets the man he has so long sought for, face to face, he dared not harm him. The king, so passionate, and filled with hatred against Elijah, seems to be powerless and unmanned in his presence. As he met the prophet, he could not refrain from speaking the language of his heart, "Art thou he that troubleth Israel?" Elijah, indignant and jealous for the honor and glory of God, answers the charge of Ahab with boldness, "I have not troubled Israel, but thou and thy father's house in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord."
The prophet, as God's messenger, had reproved their sins, and denounced the judgments of God because of their wickedness. Elijah, standing alone in conscious innocence, firm in his integrity, surrounded by the train of armed men, shows no timidity, neither does he show the least reverence to the king. The man whom God has talked with, who has a clear sense of how God regards man in his sinful depravity, has no apology to make to Ahab, nor homage to give him. Elijah, now as God's messenger, commanded, and Ahab obeyed at once the command, as though Elijah was monarch, and he subject.
Elijah demands a convocation of all Israel at Carmel, and also all the prophets of Baal. The awful solemnity in the looks of the prophet gives him the appearance of one standing in the presence of the Lord God of Israel. The condition of Israel in their apostasy demanded a firm demeanor, stern speech, and commanding authority. God prepares the message to fit the time and occasion. Sometimes God puts his Spirit upon his messengers to send an alarm day and night, as did his messenger John, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord." Then, again, men of action are needed, who will not be swerved from duty, but whose energy will arouse, and demand, "Who will be on the Lord's side," let him come over with us. God will have a fitting message to meet his people in their various conditions.
Swift messengers are sent throughout the kingdom with the message from Elijah. Representatives are sent from towns, villages, cities, and families. All seem in haste to answer the call as though some wonderful miracle was to be performed. Ahab, according to Elijah's command, gathers the prophets of Baal at Carmel. The heart of Israel's apostate leader is overawed, and he tremblingly follows the direction of the stern prophet of God.
The assembly was upon Mount Carmel, a place of beauty when the dew and rain fall upon it, causing it to flourish. But now the beauty of Carmel has languished under the curse of God. Upon Mount Carmel, which was the excellency of groves and of flowers, Baal's prophets had erected their altars for their pagan worship. This mountain was conspicuous, and overlooked the surrounding countries. As upon Mount Carmel God had been signally dishonored by idolatrous worship, Elijah chose this as the place most conspicuous for the display of God's power and to vindicate his honor. It was in sight of a large portion of the kingdom. Jezebel's prophets, eight hundred and fifty in number, like a regiment of soldiers prepared for battle, march out in a body with instrumental music, and imposing display. But there was trembling in their hearts as they considered that, at the word of this prophet of Jehovah, the land of Israel had been destitute of dew and rain three years. They felt that some fearful crisis was at hand. They had trusted in their gods, but could not unsay the words of Elijah, and prove him false. But their gods were indifferent to their frantic cries, prayers, and sacrifices.
Elijah, early in the morning, stands upon Mount Carmel, surrounded by apostate Israel and the prophets of Baal. He stands undaunted, he, a lone man, in that vast multitude. The man whom the whole kingdom has charged with its weight of woe is before them, unterrified, unattended by visible armies and imposing display. He stands, clad with his coarse garment, with awful solemnity in his countenance, as though fully aware of his sacred commission, as the servant of God, to execute his commands. Elijah fastened his eyes upon the highest ridge of mountains, where had once stood the altar of Jehovah, when the mountain was covered with flourishing trees and flowers. The blight of God was now upon it, and all the desolation of Israel was in full view of the neglected and torn down altar of Jehovah, and in sight were the altars of Baal. Ahab stands at the head of the priests of Baal, and all wait in anxious, fearful expectation for the words of Elijah.
In the full light of the sun, surrounded by thousands, men of war, the prophets of Baal, and the monarch of Israel, stands the defenseless man, Elijah, apparently alone, yet not alone. The most powerful host of Heaven surround him. Angels that excel in strength have come from Heaven to shield the faithful and righteous prophet.
Elijah, with stern and commanding voice, cries out, "How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word." Not one in that vast assembly dare utter one word for God, and show their loyalty to Jehovah.
What astonishing deception and fearful blindness had, like a dark cloud, covered Israel. This blindness and apostasy had not closed about them suddenly, but it had come upon them gradually, as they had not heeded the word of reproof and warning which the Lord had sent to them because of their pride and their sins. They, in this fearful crisis, in the presence of the idolatrous priests and the apostate king, remain neutral. If God abhors one sin above another, of which his people are guilty, it is of doing nothing in a case of emergency. Indifference or neutrality in a religious crisis is regarded of God as a grievous crime; and equal to the very worst type of hostility against God.
False Teachers Exposed.--All Israel is silent. Again the voice of Elijah is heard addressing them, "I only am a prophet of the Lord, whilst Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under; and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under; and call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord; and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken. And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under. And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made."
The proposition of Elijah is reasonable. The people dare not evade it, and they find courage to answer, "The word is good." The prophets of Baal dare not dissent or evade the matter. God has directed this trial, and has prepared confusion for the authors of idolatry, and a signal triumph for his name. The priests of Baal dare not do otherwise than accept the conditions. With terror and guiltiness in their hearts, but outwardly bold and defiant, they rear their altar, lay on the wood and the victim, and then begin their incantations, their chanting and howling, characteristic of pagan worship. Their shrill cries reecho through forests and mountains, "O Baal, hear us." The priests gather in an army about their altars, and with leaping and unnatural gestures, and writhing and screaming, and stamping, and tearing their hair, and cutting themselves, they manifest apparent sincerity.
But the morning is gone, and noon has come, and yet there has been no move of their gods in pity to Baal's priests, the deluded worshipers of idols. No voice answers their frantic cries. The priests are continually devising how, by deception, they can kindle the fire upon the altars, and give the glory to Baal. But the firm eye of Elijah watches every motion. Eight hundred voices become hoarse. Their garments are covered with blood, and yet their frantic excitement does not abate. Their pleadings are mingled with cursings to their sun god that he does not send fire for their altar. Elijah stands by, watching with eagle eye lest any deception should be practiced; for he knew if they could, by any device, kindle their altar fire, he would be torn in pieces upon the spot. He wishes to show the people the folly of their doubts, and their halting between two opinions, when they have the wonderful works of God's majestic power in their behalf, and innumerable evidences of his infinite mercies and loving kindness toward them. "And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud; for he is a god: either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked. And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them. And it came to pass when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded."
How gladly would Satan, who fell like lightning from Heaven, come to the help of those whom he had deceived, and whose minds he had controlled, and who were fully devoted to his service. Gladly would he have sent the lightning and kindled their sacrifices; but Jehovah had set Satan's bounds. He had restrained his power, and all his devices could not convey one spark to Baal's altars. Evening draws on. The prophets of Baal are wearied, faint, and confused. One suggests one thing, and one, another, until they cease their efforts. Their shrieks and curses no longer resound over Mount Carmel. With weakness and despair, they retire from the contest.
The people have witnessed the terrible demonstrations of the unreasonable, frantic priests. They have witnessed their leaping upon the altar, as though they would grasp the burning rays from the sun to serve their altars. They have become tired of the exhibitions of demonism, of pagan idolatry; and they feel earnest and anxious to hear what Elijah will speak.
Elijah's turn has now come. "And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down. And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the Lord came, saying, Israel shall be thy name; and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord; and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed. And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood. And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time. And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water. And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God."
Elijah, at the hour of evening sacrifice, repairs the altar of God which the apostasy of Israel has allowed the priests of Baal to tear down. He does not call upon one of the people to aid him in his laborious work. The altar of Baal are all prepared; but Elijah turns to the broken-down altar of God which is more sacred and precious to him in its unsightly ruins than all the magnificent altars of Baal.
Elijah respected the Lord's covenant with his people, although they had apostatized. With calmness and solemnity, he repaired the broken-down altar with twelve stones, according to the number of the twelve tribes of Israel. The disappointed priests of Baal, wearied with their vain, frenzied efforts, were sitting or lying prostrate on the ground, waiting to see what Elijah would do. They were filled with fear and hatred toward the prophet for proposing the test which had exposed their weakness and the inefficiency of their gods.
The people of Israel stand spellbound, pale, anxious, and almost breathless with awe, while Elijah calls upon Jehovah, the Creator of the heavens and the earth. The people have witnessed the fanatical, unreasonable frenzy of the prophets of Baal. Now they are privileged to witness the calm and awe inspiring deportment of Elijah, in contrast. He reminded the people of their degeneracy, which had awakened the wrath of God against them, and then calls upon them to humble their hearts, and turn to the God of their fathers, that his curse may be removed from them. Ahab and his idolatrous priests are looking on with amazement mingled with terror. They await the result with anxious, solemn silence.
After the victim was laid upon the altar, he commanded the people to flood with water the sacrifice, and the altar, and fill the trench round about the altar. Elijah then reverentially bows before the unseen God, raises his hands toward Heaven, and offers a calm and simple prayer, unattended with violent gestures, or contortions of the body. No shrieks resound over Carmel's height. A solemn silence, which is oppressive to the priests of Baal, rests upon them all. In his prayer, Elijah makes use of no extravagant expressions. He prays to Jehovah as though he was nigh, witnessing the whole scene, and hearing his sincere, fervent, yet simple prayer. Baal's priests had screamed, and foamed, and leaped, and prayed, very long--from morning until near evening. Elijah's prayer was very short, earnest, reverential, and sincere. No sooner had his prayer been uttered, than flames of fire in a distinct manner, like a brilliant flash of lightning, descended from Heaven, kindling the wood for sacrifice, and consuming the victim, licking up the water in the trench, and consuming even the stones of the altar. The brilliancy of the blaze is painful to the eyes of the multitude, and illumes the mountain. The people of the kingdom of Israel, not gathered upon the mount, are watching with interest the gathering of the people upon the mount. As the fire descends, they witness it, and are amazed at the sight. It resembles the pillar of fire at the Red Sea, which by night separated the children of Israel from the Egyptian host.
(Vol. 42, #17)
The people upon the mountain prostrate themselves in terror and awe before the unseen God. They cannot look upon the bright, consuming fire sent from Heaven. They fear that they will be consumed in their apostasy and sins. They cry out with one voice, which resounds over the mountain, and echoes to the plains below them with terrible distinctness, "The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God." Israel is at last aroused and undeceived. They see their sin and how greatly they have dishonored God. Their anger is aroused against the prophets of Baal. With fearful terror, Ahab and Baal's priests witnessed the wonderful exhibition of Jehovah's power. Again is heard, in startling words of command, the voice of Elijah to the people, "Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape." And the people were ready to obey the word of Elijah. They seized the false prophets who had deluded them, and brought them to the brook Kishon, and there Elijah, with his own hand, slew these idolatrous priests.
The judgments of God have been executed upon the false priests; the people have confessed their sins, and have acknowledged their fathers' God; and now the withering curse of God is to be withdrawn, and he will again refresh the earth with dew and rain, renewing his blessings unto his people.
Elijah addressed Ahab, "Get thee up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of abundance of rain." While Ahab went up to feast, Elijah went up from the fearful sacrifice to the top of Mount Carmel to pray. His work of slaying the pagan priests did not unfit him for the solemn exercise of prayer. He had performed the will of God. After he had, as God's instrument, done what he could to remove the cause of Israel's apostasy, in slaying the idolatrous priests, he could do no more. He then intercedes in behalf of sinning, apostate Israel. In the most painful position, he bowed with his face between his knees, and most earnestly supplicated God to send rain. Six times successively he sent his servant to see if there was any visible token that God had heard his prayer. He would not become impatient and faithless because the Lord did not immediately give the token that his prayer was heard. He continued in earnest prayer, sending his servant seven times, to see if God had granted any signal. His servant returned the sixth time from his outlook toward the sea, with the discouraging report that there was no sign of clouds forming in the brassy heavens. The seventh time he informed Elijah that there was a small cloud to be seen, about the size of a man's hand. This was enough to satisfy the faith of Elijah. He did not wait for the heavens to gather blackness, to make the matter sure. In that small, rising cloud, his faith hears the sound of abundance of rain. Elijah's works are in accordance with his faith. He sends a message to Ahab by his servant, "Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not."
Elijah's Humility.--Here Elijah ventured something upon his faith. He did not wait for sight. "And it came to pass in the meanwhile, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel. And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel."
Elijah had passed through great excitement and labor through the day; but the Spirit of the Lord came upon him because he had been obedient, and had done his will in executing the idolatrous priests. Some would be ready to say, What a hard, cruel man Elijah must have been! And any one who shall defend the honor of God at any risk, will bring censure and condemnation upon himself from a large class. The rain began to descend. It was night, and the blinding rain prevented Ahab from seeing his course. Elijah, nerved by the Spirit and power of God, girded his coarse garment about him, and ran before the chariot of Ahab, guiding his course to the entrance of the city. The prophet of God had humiliated Ahab before his people. He had slain his idolatrous priests, and now he wished to show to Israel that he acknowledges Ahab as his king. As an act of special homage, he guided his chariot, running before it to the entrance of the gate of the city.
Here is a lesson for young men who profess to be servants of God, bearing his message, who are exalted in their own estimation. There is nothing remarkable they can trace in their experience, as could Elijah, yet they feel above performing duties which appear to them menial. They will not come down from their ministerial dignity to do needful service, fearing they are doing the work of a servant. All such should learn from the example of Elijah. His word locked the treasures of heaven, the dew and rain, from the earth, three years. His word alone was the key to unlock heaven, and bring showers of rain. He was honored of God as he offered his simple prayer in the presence of the king and the thousands of Israel, and, in answer, fire flashes from heaven, and kindles the fire upon the altar of sacrifice. His hand executed the judgment of God in slaying eight hundred and fifty priests of Baal; and yet, after the exhausting toil of the day, he who could bring down fire from heaven, and bring the clouds and the rain, after a day of most signal triumph, was willing to perform the service of a menial, and run before the chariot of Ahab in the darkness, and wind, and rain, to serve the sovereign he had not feared to rebuke to his face because of his crimes and sins. The king passed within the gates. Elijah wrapped himself in his mantle and lay upon the bare earth.
After Elijah had shown such undaunted courage in contest between life and death, after he had triumphed over the king, priests, and people, we would naturally suppose that he would never give way to despondency, or be awed into timidity.
After his first appearance to Ahab, denouncing upon him the judgments of God because of his and Israel's apostasy, God directed his course from Jezebel's power to a place of safety in the mountains, by the brook Cherith. He honored Elijah by sending food to him morning and evening, by an angel of Heaven. Then as the brook became dry he sent him to the widow of Sarepta and wrought a miracle daily, to keep the widow's family and Elijah in food. After he had been blessed with evidences of such love and care from God, we would suppose Elijah would never distrust God. But the apostle tells us he was a man of like passions as we, and subject, as we are, to temptations.
Ahab related to Jezebel the wonderful events of the day, and the wonderful exhibitions of the power of God, showing that Jehovah, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, was God, and that Elijah had slain the prophets of Baal. This woman was hardened in sin, and she became infuriated. Jezebel, bold, determined, and defiant in her idolatry, declared to Ahab that Elijah should not live.
That night a messenger aroused the weary prophet, and delivered the word of Jezebel, in the name of her pagan gods, that she would, in the presence of Israel, do to Elijah as he had done to the priests of Baal. Elijah should have met this threat and oath of Jezebel with an appeal for protection to the God of Heaven, who had commissioned him to do the work he had done. He should have told the messenger that the God in whom he trusted would be his protector against the hatred and threats of Jezebel. But the faith and courage of Elijah seemed to forsake him. He starts up from his slumbers bewildered. The rain is pouring from the heavens, and darkness is on every side. He loses sight of God. He flees for his life as though the avenger of blood was close behind him. He leaves his servant behind him, on the way, and in the morning, he is far from the habitation of man, upon a dreary desert alone.
"And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there. 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. And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again. And the angel of the Lord came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee. And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horab the mount of God. And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah?"
Elijah should have trusted in God who had warned him when to flee, and where to find an asylum from the hatred of Jezebel, secure from the diligent search of Ahab. The Lord had not warned him, at this time, to flee. He had not waited for the Lord to speak to him. He moved rashly. God would have shielded his servant, and would have given him another signal victory in Israel, in sending his judgments upon Jezebel, had he waited with faith and patience.
Weary and prostrate, Elijah sat down to rest. He was discouraged, and felt like murmuring. He said, "Now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers." He feels that life is no more desirable. He expected, after the signal display of God's power in the presence of Israel, that they would be true and faithful to God. He expected that Jezebel would no longer have influence over the mind of Ahab, and that there would be a general revolution in the kingdom of Israel. When the threatening message which has come from Jezebel is delivered to him, he forgets that God is the same all-powerful and pitiful God that he was when he prayed to him for fire from Heaven, and it came, and for rain, and it came. God had granted every request; yet Elijah is a fugitive, far from the homes of men, and wishing never to look upon man again.
How did God look upon his suffering servant? Did he forsake him because despondency and despair had seized him? Oh! no. Elijah was prostrated with discouragement. All day had he toiled without food. When he guided the chariot of Ahab, running before it to the gate of the city, he was strong of courage. He had high hopes of Israel, that, as a nation, they would return to their allegiance to God, and again be reinstated in his favor. But the reaction which frequently follows elevation of faith, marked and glorious success, was pressing upon Elijah. He was exalted to Pisgah's top, to be humiliated in the lowliest valley in faith and feeling. But God's eye is still upon his servant. He loves him no less while he is feeling brokenhearted and forsaken of God and man, than when, in answer to his prayer, the fire flashed from Heaven, illuminating Carmel.
Those who have not borne weighty responsibilities, who have not been accustomed to feel very deeply, cannot understand the feelings of Elijah, and be prepared to give him the tender sympathy he deserves. God knows, and can read, the heart's sore anguish under temptation and severe conflict. As Elijah slept under the juniper tree, a soft touch and pleasant voice aroused him. He starts at once in his terror, as if to flee, as though his enemy, in pursuit of his life, had indeed found him. But in the pitying face of love bent upon him, he sees not the face of an enemy, but a friend. An angel of God has been sent with food from Heaven to sustain the faithful servant of God. His voice says to Elijah. "Arise and eat." After Elijah had partaken of the refreshment prepared for him, he again slumbered. The second time the angel of God ministers to the wants of Elijah. He touches the exhausted, weary man, and in pitying tenderness says to him, "Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee." Elijah was strengthened, and pursued his journey to Horeb. He was in a wilderness. He lodged in a cave for protection at night from the wild beasts.
Here God met with Elijah through one of his angels, and inquired of him, "What doest thou here, Elijah?" I sent thee to the brook Cherith, I sent thee to the widow of Sarepta, I sent thee to Samaria with a message to Ahab, but who sent you this long journey into the wilderness? And what errand have you here? Elijah mourns out his bitterness of soul to the Lord. "And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and break in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away."
Then the Lord manifests himself to Elijah, showing him that quiet trust, and firm reliance upon him, will ever find him a present help in time of need.
The servant of God may have courage, knowing that he has a pitying Heavenly Father who reads the motives and understands the purposes of the soul. Those who stand in the front of the conflict, who are reined up by the Spirit of God to do a special work for him, will frequently feel the reaction, when the pressure is removed, and despondency may press them hard, and shake the most heroic faith, and weaken the most steadfast minds. God understands all our weaknesses. He can pity and love when the hearts of men may be as hard as flint. To wait patiently and trust in God when everything looks dark, is the lesson his servants must learn more fully. God will not fail them in integrity. E. G. W.