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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[3 Kings 18]

AFTER the earth had remained three years and six months without rain or dew, the Lord spoke to Elias: “Go and show thyself to Achab that I may give rain upon the face of the earth.” The prophet obeyed. When Achab saw him, he said: “Art thou he that troublest Israel?” The prophet answered: “I have not troubled Israel, but thou and thy father’s house, who have forsaken the Commandments of the Lord and followed Baalim. Nevertheless send now and gather unto me all Israel unto Mount Carmel (Fig. 49), and the prophets of Baal, four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves, four hundred.”

 

Fig. 49. Mount Carmel. (Phot. Bonfils.)

Achab obeyed, being afraid to do otherwise, on account of the famine that was everywhere, and he went himself to the mountain. Then Elias spoke to the people of Israel saying: “How long do you halt between two sides? If the Lord be God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him.”

The people, feeling the justice of his reproach, made no answer. They were ashamed and afraid. Elias then added: “I only remain a prophet of the Lord, but the prophets of Baal are four hundred and fifty men. Let two bullocks be given us; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, but put no fire under; and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under it. Call ye on the names of your gods, and I will call on the name of my Lord; and the God that shall answer by fire, let him be the God.” All the people answered: “A very good proposal”.

Then the priests of Baal, clad in their richest garments and crowned with laurel, took an ox and slew him. They erected an altar, placed the dead ox upon it, and danced around it crying out: “Baal, hear us.” This they did from morning until noon, but no fire came to consume their sacrifice. Then Elias, mocking them, called out: “Cry with a louder voice: for he is a god, and perhaps he is talking with some one, or on a journey, or he is asleep and must be awaked.”

Then they began to cry louder than ever, hacking their bodies with knives, as they were accustomed to do, until they were covered with blood. This they kept up till evening, but all in vain. Then Elias told the people to come to him. And he erected an altar to the Lord; took twelve stones and laid the wood in order upon them, then placed the ox which had been cut in pieces on the wood.

He then poured water upon the victim till it ran down on every side and filled the trench around the altar. This being done, he said: “O Lord God, show this day that Thou art the God of Israel, and I Thy servant, and that according to Thy commandment I have done all these things. Hear me, O Lord, hear me; that this Thy people may learn that Thou art the Lord God, and that Thou hast turned their hearts again.”

That instant fire came down from heaven and consumed the holocaust, the wood, the stones and the water in the trench. The people, having witnessed this prodigy, fell on their faces, exclaiming: “The Lord He is God! The Lord He is God!” And the prophet, retiring from the multitude, went up alone to the top of the mountain where he prostrated himself before the Lord in praise and thanksgiving.

Then he besought the Lord to refresh the earth with water. And behold, a little cloud arose from the sea, no bigger than the foot of a man, and it spread itself gradually over the heavens, and rain fell in abundance.

The object of miracles. The extraordinary drought, lasting for three years and a half, was the effect of God’s interrupting by miracle the law which He Himself gave to nature. The drought was sent both as a punishment to Achab and the people for their idolatry, and as a means of their conversion. The silence however of the people, when Elias demanded of them a confession of faith, shows that pagan opinions were still dominant among them. The priests of the true God had been killed, so that there was no one to teach the truth to the poor people; and the priests of Baal, whom the king upheld, taught them that the famine had been sent by Baal as a punishment for their lack of staunchness in the pagan belief. But God in His mercy worked new and startling miracles to convince the deluded people of the folly of idolatry and to help them to return to the true faith. It was in the presence of them all that He rained down this wonderful fire from a cloudless sky, which consumed even the wet stones of the altar. As soon as the people, overwhelmed by the stupendous miracle, fell on their faces and adored Him, confessing aloud their faith in Him, by another miracle He sent the wished-for rain, so that all men might know that the drought had come from Him, and that from Him came help and salvation. But it was also for our benefit and instruction that this great miracle was wrought, in order that none of us may waver in our faith in the merciful, just and almighty God. It teaches us that God is the Lord of all the universe, that all the powers of nature, rain and drought, dews and clouds, obey Him. We may sow and plant, but the increase comes from God.

Firm faith. Like a very rock of faith and confidence Elias confronted the wavering multitude, the unbelieving king, and the frantic idolatrous priests. He reproached the people for their indecision; he mocked the insane superstitions and vain efforts of the priests of Baal, and never doubted for one instant that God would hear his prayer and confound his enemies.

Fortitude. Achab hated Elias, and his hatred was increased by the long drought which he attributed to the prophet. Elias knew of the hatred borne him by the king; nevertheless, at the Lord’s bidding, he fearlessly confronted him. He showed equal fortitude when he challenged the priests of Baal in the face of all the people. If God had not heard his prayer and sent fire from heaven, he would most certainly have been killed; but his ardent faith and zeal for God’s glory induced him to risk his life in the hope of bringing back the people from their sad defection.

The power of prayer. It was at the prayer of Elias that God worked the wonderful miracle which has been described. For this reason St. James cites the prayer of Elias as an example of efficacious prayer. He says (5:16, 18): “The continual prayer of a just man availeth much. Elias was a man passible like unto us: and with prayer he prayed that it might not rain upon the earth, and it rained not for three years and six months. And he prayed again: and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.”

Half-heartedness and indecision. The reproach made by Elias to the people for their wavering and indecision applies equally to many Christians who hesitate between virtue and vice, the spirit of Christ and the spirit of the world, the service of God and the service of the devil, although in holy Baptism they renounced Satan and all his works, and promised to be faithful to God. Our Lord warns us thus: “No man can serve two masters (who give opposite commands); for either he will hate the one, and love the other: or he will sustain the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon”, i. e. the riches &c. of this world (Mat. 6:24).

The want of priests. The people of the kingdom of Israel sank deeper and deeper into idolatry and crime, because the priests who taught them the true religion and the practice of it, were killed. It is a great misfortune for Christian countries when there is a lack of good priests; for in that case faith grows weak, morals become lax, and many souls are lost (New Test. XXXII).

Figures and Types. The land of Israel, suffering from the long drought, was a figure of the great spiritual drought from which the whole world suffered before the coming of Christ. Elias bidding the heavens to rain was a figure of Christ opening the fountains of grace to a perishing world. The rain itself, which gave a new life to the earth, is a type of the grace of God, which renews the soul of the converted sinner.

APPLICATION. Do you halt between two sides? Do you hesitate between good and evil, between the commands of God and the promptings of your own evil passions? To-day perhaps you have promised to serve God, and to-morrow you will follow some evil desire. This wavering between good and evil is a grave danger to the salvation of your soul; for you are really wavering between heaven and hell. Away then with indecision! Love God with your whole heart and be true to Him till death. Renew this day your baptismal vows.








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