Here is, I. Elijah housed in a cave at Mount Horeb, which is called the mount of God, because on it God had formerly manifested his glory. And perhaps this was the same cave, or cleft of a rock, in which Moses was hidden when the Lord passed by before him and proclaimed his name, Exod. 33:22. What Elijah proposed to himself in coming to lodge here, I cannot conceive, unless it was to indulge his melancholy, or to satisfy his curiosity and assist his faith and devotion with the sight of that famous place where the law was given and where so many great things were done, and hoping to meet with God himself there, where Moses met with him, or in token of his abandoning his people Israel, who hated to be reformed (in the latter case, it agrees with Jeremiah’s wish, Jer. 9:2; O that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men, that I might leave my people, and go from them, for they are all adulterers) and so it was a bad omen of God’s forsaking them; or it was because the thought he could not be safe any where else, and to this instance of the hardships this good man was reduced to the apostle refers, Heb. 11:38. They wandered in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
II. The visit God paid to him there and the enquiry he made concerning him: The word of the Lord came to him. We cannot go any where to be out of the reach of God’s eye, his arm, and his word. Whither can I flee from thy Spirit? Ps. 139:7-10 God will take care of his out-casts; and those who, for his sake, are driven out from among men, he will find, and own, and gather with everlasting loving-kindnesses. John saw the visions of the Almighty when he was in banishment in the isle of Patmos, Rev. 1:9. The question God puts to the prophet it, What doest thou here, Elijah? 1 Kgs. 19:9; and again 1 Kgs. 19:13. This is a reproof, 1. For his fleeing hither. “What brings thee so far from home? Dost thou flee from Jezebel? Couldst thou not depend upon almighty power for thy protection?” Lay the emphasis upon the pronoun thou. “What thou! So great a man, so great a prophet, so famed for resolution—dost thou flee thy country, forsake thy colours thus?” This cowardice would have been more excusable in another, and not so bad an example. Should such a man as I flee? Neh. 6:11. Howl, fir-trees, if the cedars be thus shaken. 2. For his fixing here. “What doest thou here, in this cave? Isa. this a place for a prophet of the Lord to lodge in? Isa. this a time for such men to retreat, when the public has such need of them?” In the retirement to which God sent Elijah (1 Kgs. 17:1-24) he was a blessing to a poor widow at Sarepta, but here he had no opportunity of doing good. Note, It concerns us often to enquire whether we be in our place and in the way of our duty. “Amos I where I should be, whither God calls me, where my business lies, and where I may be useful?”
1. He excuses his retreat, and desires it may not be imputed to his want of zeal for reformation, but to his despair of success. For God knew, and his own conscience witnessed for him, that as long as there was any hope of doing good he had been very jealous for the Lord God of Hosts; but now that he had laboured in vain, and all his endeavours were to no purpose, he thought it was time to give up the cause, and mourn for what he could not mend. Abi in cellam, et dic, Miserere mei—“Away to thy cell, and cry, Have compassion on me.”
2. He complains of the people, their obstinacy in sin, and the height of impiety to which they had arrived: “The children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, and that is the reason I have forsaken them; who can stay among them, to see every thing that is sacred ruined and run down?” This the apostle calls his making intercession against Israel, Rom. 11:2, 3. He had often been, of choice, their advocate, but now he is necessitated to be their accuser, before God. Thus John 5:45; There is one that accuseth you, even Moses, whom you trust. Those are truly miserable that have the testimony and prayers of God’s prophets against them. (1.) He charges them with having forsaken God’s covenant; though they retained circumcision, that sign and seal of it, yet they had quitted his worship and service, which was the intention of it. Those who neglect God’s ordinances, and let fall their communion with him, do really forsake his covenant, and break their league with him. (2.) With having thrown down his altars, not only deserted them and suffered them to go to decay, but, in their zeal for the worship of Baal, wilfully demolished them. This alludes to the private altars which the prophets of the Lord had, and which good people attended, who could not go up to Jerusalem and would not worship the calves nor Baal. These separate altars, though breaking in upon the unity of the church, yet, being erected and attended by those that sincerely aimed at the glory of God and served him faithfully, the seeming schism was excused. God owned them for his altars, as well as that at Jerusalem, and the putting of them down is charged upon Israel as a crying sin. But this was not all. (3.) They have slain thy prophets with the sword, who, it is probable, ministered at those altars. Jezebel, a foreigner, slew them (1 Kgs. 18:4), but the crime is charged upon the body of the people because the generality of them were consenting to their death, and pleased with it.
3. He gives the reasons why he retired into this desert and took up his residence in this cave. (1.) It was because he could not appear to any purpose: “I only am left, and have none to second or support me in any good design. They all said, The Lord he is God, but none of them would stand by me nor offer to shelter me. That point then gained was presently lost again, and Jezebel can do more to debauch them than I can to reform them. What can one do against thousands?” Despair of success hinders many a good enterprise. No one is willing to venture alone, forgetting that those are not alone who have God with them. (2.) It was because he could not appear with any safety: “They seek my life to take it away; and I had better spend my life in a useless solitude than lose my life in a fruitless endeavour to reform those that hate to be reformed.”
IV. God’s manifestation of himself to him. Did he come hither to meet with God? He shall find that God will not fail to give him the meeting. Moses was put into the cave when God’s glory passed before him; but Elijah was called out of it: Stand upon the mount before the Lord, 1 Kgs. 19:11. He saw no manner of similitude, any more than Israel did when God talked to them in Horeb. But, 1. He heard a strong wind, and saw the terrible effects of it, for it rent the mountains and tore the rocks. Thus was the trumpet sounded before the Judge of heaven and earth, by his angels, whom he makes spirits, or winds (Ps. 104:4), sounded so loud that the earth not only rang, but rent again. 2. He felt the shock of an earthquake. 3. He saw an eruption of fire, 1 Kgs. 19:12. These were to usher in the designed manifestation of the divine glory, angels being employed in them, whom he maketh a flame of fire, and who, as his ministers, march before him, to prepare in this desert a highway for our God. But, 4. At last he perceived a still small voice, in which the Lord was, that is, by which he spoke to him, and not out of the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire. Those struck an awe upon him, awakened his attention, and inspired humility and reverence; but God chose to make known his mind to him in whispers soft, not in those dreadful sounds. When he perceived this, (1.) He wrapped hi face in his mantle, as one afraid to look upon the glory of God, and apprehensive that it would dazzle his eyes and overcome him. The angels cover their faces before God in token of reverence, Isa. 6:2. Elijah hid his face in token of shame for having been such a coward as to flee from his duty when he had such a God of power to stand by him in it. The wind, and earthquake, and fire, did not make him cover his face, but the still voice did. Gracious souls are more affected by the tender mercies of the Lord than by his terrors. (2.) He stood at the entrance of the cave, ready to hear what God had to say to him. This method of God’s manifesting himself here at Mount Horeb seems to refer to the discoveries God formerly made of himself at this place to Moses. [1.] Then there was a tempest, an earthquake, and fire (Heb. 12:18); but, when God would show Moses his glory, he proclaimed his goodness; and so here: He was, the Word was, in the still small voice. [2.] Then the law was thus given to Israel, with the appearances of terror first and then with a voice of words; and Elijah being now called to revive that law, especially the first two commandments of it, is here taught how to manage it; he must not only awaken and terrify the people with amazing signs, like the earthquake and fire, but he must endeavour, with a still small voice, to convince and persuade them, and not forsake them when he should be addressing them. Faith comes by hearing the word of God; miracles do but make way for it. [3.] Then God spoke to his people with terror; but in the gospel of Christ, which was to be introduced by the spirit and power of Elias, he would speak by a still small voice, the dread of which should not make us afraid; see Heb. 12:18-24
V. The orders God gives him to execute. He repeats the question he had put to him before, “What doest thou here? This is not a place for thee now.” Elijah gives the same answer (1 Kgs. 19:14), complaining of Israel’s apostasy from God and the ruin of religion among them. To this God gives him a reply. When he wished he might die (1 Kgs. 19:4) God answered him not according to his folly, but was so far from letting him die that he not only kept him alive then but provided that he should never die, but be translated. But when he complained of his discouragement (and whither should God’s prophets go with their complaints of that kind but to their Master?) God gave him an answer. He sends him back with directions to appoint Hazael king of Syria (1 Kgs. 19:15), Jehu king of Israel, and Elisha his successor in the eminency of the prophetical office (1 Kgs. 19:16), which is intended as a prediction that by these God would chastise the degenerate Israelites, plead his own cause among them, and aveng 2ea8 e the quarrel of his covenant, 1 Kgs. 19:17. Elijah complained that the wickedness of Israel was unpunished. The judgment of famine was too gentle, and had not reclaimed them; it was removed before they were reformed: “I have been jealous,” says he, “for God’s name, but he himself has not appeared jealous for it.” “Well,” says God, “be content; it is all in good time; judgments are prepared for those scorners, though they are not yet inflicted; the persons are pitched upon, and shall now be nominated, for they are now in being, who shall do the business.” 1. “When Hazael comes to be king of Syria, he shall make bloody work among the people (2 Kgs. 8:12) and so correct them for their idolatry.” 2. “When Jehu comes to be king of Israel he shall make bloody work with the royal family, and shall utterly destroy the house of Ahab, that set up and maintained idolatry.” 3. “Elisha, while thou art on earth, shall strengthen thy hands; and, when thou art gone, shall carry on thy work, and be a remaining witness against the apostasy of Israel, and even he shall slay the children of Bethel, that idolatrous city.” Note, The wicked are reserved to judgment. Evil pursues sinners, and there is no escaping it; to attempt an escape is but to run from one sword’s point upon another. See Jer. 48:44; He that flees from the fear shall fall into the pit; and he that gets up out of the pit shall be taken in the snare. Elisha, with the sword of the Spirit, shall terrify and wound the consciences of those who escape Hazael’s sword of war and Jehu’s sword of justice. With the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked, Isa. 11:4; 2 Thess. 2:8; Hos. 6:5. It is a great comfort to good men and good ministers to think that God will never want instruments to do his work in his time, but, when they are gone, others shall be raised up to carry it on.
VI. The comfortable information God gives him of the number of Israelites who retained their integrity, though he thought he was left alone (1 Kgs. 19:18): I have left 7000 in Israel (besides Judea) who have not bowed the knee to Baal. Note, 1. In times of the greatest degeneracy and apostasy God has always had, and will have, a remnant faithful to him, some that keep their integrity and do not go down the stream. The apostle mentions this answer of God to Elijah (Rom. 11:4) and applies it to his own day, when the Jews generally rejected the gospel. Yet, says he, at this time also there is a remnant, Rom. 11:5. 2. It is God’s work to preserve that remnant, and distinguish them from the rest, for without his grace they could not have distinguished themselves: I have left me; it is therefore said to be a remnant according to the election of grace. 3. It is but a little remnant, in comparison with the degenerate race; what are 7000 to the thousands of Israel? Yet, when those of every age come together, they will be found many more, 12,000 sealed out of each tribe, Rev. 7:4. 4. God’s faithful ones are often his hidden ones (Ps. 83:3), and the visible church is scarcely visible, the wheat lost in the chaff and the gold in the dross, till the sifting, refining, separating day comes. 5. The Lord knows those that are his, though we do not; he sees in secret. 6. There are more good people in the world than some wise and holy men think there are. Their jealousy of themselves, and for God, makes them think the corruption is universal; but God sees not as they do. When we come to heaven, as we shall miss a great many whom we thought to meet there, so we shall meet a great many whom we little thought to find there. God’s love often proves larger than man’s charity and more extensive.