Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, by John Nelson Darby, [1857-62], at sacred-texts.com
Until now the prophet had stood before Jehovah (Kg1 17:1; Kg1 18:15) and had spoken in His name; but now, terrified by the threats of Jezebel, he flees from the dangers of the place into which his testimony had brought him. Just as we have seen in Moses at Meribah, Elijah's faith* does not rise to the height of Jehovah's grace and patience, who is full of goodness and mercy to His people. It is this failure which puts an end to Elijah's testimony, as it had shut Moses out of Canaan; for who can equal Jehovah in goodness? Elijah does not look to God; he thinks of himself, and takes flight; but God has His eye upon him. He who had not God's strength amid the evil had no refuge but the wilderness. There was a heart true to God, but not faith equal to meet Satan's hostile power in the place of testimony to the end. He must either be a witness for God amongst His rebellious people, or be entirely apart from them.
The heart of Elijah and the hand of God led the prophet into the wilderness, where, overwhelmed perhaps, yet precious in Jehovah's sight, he will be alone with God. Elijah's forty days' journey in the wilderness has only a partial resemblance to the forty days which Moses spent with God, in the same Horeb to which the prophet was going, or to those which Jesus spent in the wilderness for conflict with the enemy of God and man. In the two latter cases nature was set aside. Neither Moses nor the Lord ate or drank. As for Elijah, the goodness of God sustains the weakness of tried nature, makes manifest that He considers it with all tenderness and thoughtfulness, and gives the strength needed for such a journey. This should have touched him, and made him feel what he ought to be in the midst of the people, since he had to do with such a God. His heart was far from such a state. Impossible, when we think of ourselves, to be witnesses to others of what God is! Our poor hearts are too far from such a position.
Elijah goes on till he reaches Horeb. But coming before God to speak well of himself and ill of Israel is a very different thing from forgetting self through the power of the Lord's presence, and setting Him before the people in His power which is patient in mercy in spite of all their evil.* People sometimes come before God because they have forgotten Him in the place where they ought to have stood and borne testimony for Him. And thus God asks Elijah, "What doest thou here, Elijah? "Terrible question! like those addressed to Adam, to Cain, and now to the world with respect to Jesus. The answer does but betray (as is always the case) the sad and fatal position of one who has forgotten God. The voice was not a voice of thunder, but one that made Elijah feel it was the voice which he had forgotten. Wind, fire, earthquake, these heralds to man of the power of God, would have suited the angry heart of Elijah as instruments of divine power against Israel; but these manifestations of His power were not God Himself. The still small voice reveals His presence to Elijah. That which would have satisfied his will, and that which would perhaps have been just towards others, did not awaken his own conscience. But the still small voice by which God reveals Himself penetrates Elijah's heart, and he hides his face before the presence of Jehovah. Nevertheless the pride of his embittered heart is not yet subdued. He repeats his complaints, unsuitable as they were at the time when he had himself just destroyed all the prophets of Baal, and proving that his faith had not been able to find, by the light of his testimony, all that God saw of good in Israel.
God's answer, although just, is sorrowful to the heart. Vengeance shall be executed, and Elijah is commissioned to prepare its instruments-a sad mission for the prophet, if he loved the people. As to Elijah, he should be succeeded by Elisha in his prophetic office. But if the deserved vengeance was to be executed in his time, and if the saddened prophet was to announce it, God has still seven thousand souls who had not bowed the knee to Baal, although Elijah had not been able to discover them. Oh! when will the heart of man, even in thought, rise to the height of God's grace and patience? If Elijah had leant more upon God, he would have known some of these seven thousand. He would at any rate have known Him who knew them, and who raised up his testimony to strengthen and comfort them. But the time was not ripe for the fulfilment of God's purposes; and God will not give up the patience of His grace towards His people to satisfy the prophet's impatience. Elisha is anointed; but, Ahab having humbled himself when God threatened him on account of his iniquity, the judgments are withheld even during the life-time of Ahab and of his son. This displays another feature in God's government, namely, that judgment upon the evil-doer may not only have been pronounced in the counsels of God, but may be already marked out in His dealings, and be even ready to be executed a long time before it is really poured out. The prophet, or the spiritual man, will know or will understand in spirit that it is so, and will have to wait for the moment that suits this perfect patience, which itself waits upon the slowness of our hearts and the filling up of the iniquity of the wicked, or at least for their refusal to repent.
We see here how far the energy of the outward life of faith may continue to exist, while the inward life grows weak. It was at the moment of the most striking testimony to the presence of God in the midst of the rebellious people, and when Elijah had just caused all the prophets of Baal amongst them to be slain by the people's own hands, that his faith entirely fails at a mere threat from Jezebel. His life was not inwardly sustained by this faith in proportion to the outward testimony. His testimony excites the enemy in a way for which his personal faith was not prepared. This is a solemn lesson. The still small voice (which, unknown to him, was still heard among the people) had not perhaps its due influence upon his own heart, where the fire and manifestations had held too much place. Thus he did not know himself the grace which was still in exercise towards the people; he could not love them for the sake of the seven thousand faithful ones as God loved them, nor hope as charity hopes. Alas! what are we, even when so near God! And his complaint when he came to God, for a person so blessed, has a sad deal of self in it. I have been zealous, he says, and they have cast down Thine altars and killed Thy prophets; just when he had cast down Baal's and killed all his prophets; and then, I am left alone. It is a humbling testimony.
It was different too from Moses who, with God, interceded for the people, setting himself aside.