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

[3 Kings 17]

IN order to bring back the kings and the people to better sentiments, God raised up, at different times, holy persons who are known as prophets. These prophets preached penance in a very impressive manner, and they proved the truth of their divine mission by working great miracles.

God revealed to them many future events. They predicted the principal circumstances of the birth, life, passion, death and glory of the Messias. One of the most celebrated of the prophets was Elias. He lived in the reign of Achab, king of Israel. This king was very wicked. None of his predecessors had committed so many crimes as he.

 

Fig. 47. God Moloch. Terracotta bust, found in Palestine. (After Vincent.)

He had married a Gentile woman named Jezabel; and he had built a temple to Baal and had consecrated to the service of that false god four hundred and fifty priests, whilst he had caused the priests of the Lord to be put to death. In a word, his intention seemed to be to destroy the true religion entirely among the ten tribes.

Elias, clad in a rough sheep’s skin and with a staff in his hand, presented himself before Achab and said: “As the Lord liveth, the God of Israel, in whose sight I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these three years, but according to the words of my mouth.” Achab was very angry to hear these words of the prophet, and secretly resolved to put Elias to death.

Then the Lord, knowing the evil intention of the king, commanded Elias to go and conceal himself near the brook Carith, in the vicinity of the Jordan. The prophet obeyed, and behold, the ravens brought him bread or flesh every morning and every evening for many days: and he drank of the torrent.

Some time after the brook ran dry, and the Lord commanded Elias to go to Sarepta (Fig. 48), a city of Sidon. Elias went accordingly, and when he drew near the gate of the city he saw a woman gathering sticks, and he called her and said: “Give me a little water in a vessel that I may drink.”

 

Fig. 48. Place where ancient Sarepta stood. (Phot. Bonfils.)

As the woman was going to fetch it he called after her: “Bring me also a morsel of bread.” She answered: “As the Lord thy God liveth, I have no bread, but only a handful of meal in a pot and a little oil in a cruse; I am gathering two sticks that I may go and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it and die.”

The prophet assured her saying: “Fear not, but go and do as thou hast said; but first make for me of the same meal a little hearth-cake. For thus saith the Lord: ‘The pot of meal shall not waste nor the cruse of oil be diminished until the day wherein the Lord will give rain upon the earth.’ ”

The woman did as Elias had told her, and from that day forth she had meal in her pot and oil in her cruse and knew no want, neither Elias nor she nor her son. Now it happened some time after that the son of this poor woman of Sarepta fell sick and died. She said to the prophet: “What have I done to thee, thou man of God? Hast thou come to me that my iniquities should be remembered?” Thereupon Elias took the child and went into the upper chamber, and laid it upon his own bed. Then he cried to the Lord: “O Lord, hast Thou also afflicted the widow with whom I am after a sort maintained?” Then he stretched himself and measured himself three times upon the child; and the soul of the boy returned and he revived.

Elias took the child and brought him down to his mother and said: “Behold, thy son liveth.” Full of joy and gratitude the woman exclaimed: “Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and the word of the Lord in thy mouth is true.”

The Mercy of God. Of His mercy He did not entirely reject the faithless Israelites, but sent His prophets to them from time to time to give them a chance of repentance and pardon.

The Omniscience of God. The prophets were inspired by God, or else they would not have been able to foretell the future. The future is known only to God, with whom times and seasons are as nothing.

The Omnipresence of God. “As the Lord liveth in whose sight I stand,” said Elias to Achab. Wherever we are or go, God is with us. Elias lived in the constant recollection of God’s presence, and this it was that gave him courage and consolation under persecution and when in danger of death. He did not feel himself deserted even in the cave of Carith, because God was with him.

The Omnipotence of God. Winds and clouds, dew and rain obey Him, and by His command a terrible drought pervaded Israel for three years and a half. The unreasoning ravens did His will, and twice each day brought food to the prophet of God. “The most ravenous of birds”, says St. Basil, “were compelled to supply the prophet with food; and they, whose nature it was to seize the food of others, waited on the man of God. Completely forgetful of their nature, they obeyed the divine behest” It was by God’s almighty will that the meal in the widow’s pot and the oil in her cruse remained undiminished. And He who is Lord of life and death called the widow’s son back to life, commanding his soul to return to his dead body.

The Goodness of God. God lovingly provided for the safety of His persecuted servant, hid him from Achab’s bloodthirsty emissaries, and fed him by a continuous miracle in the desert. He protected him on his perilous journey to Sarepta, increased the meal and oil by a miracle for the sustenance of himself and the widow, and called the poor woman’s dead son back to life.

Justice and Mercy. The long drought which was sent by God at the prayer of Elias (James 5:17 &c.), was a miracle both of divine justice and of divine mercy. On the one hand it most justly punished the idolatrous king and people; on the other hand it proved to the Israelites that the fruits of the earth did not come from Baal, but from God, who is the Lord of heaven and earth. The famine was sent to them as a means of inducing them to return to the true faith.

Confidence in God. Elias showed admirable courage by fearlessly announcing the impending judgment. The prophet drew his courage from his great confidence in God, giving himself over entirely to His gracious guidance. When the brook dried up, he gave way neither to fear nor lamentation. He did not say: “Now I must die of thirst,” but on the contrary he said to himself: “God will help me.” When he was sent to the poor widow of Sarepta, a town in the kingdom of Sidon, he might naturally have thought: “Why am I to go among Jezabel’s people? Are they not sure to kill me? And why am I to go to a poor widow? How can she support me? Why should I not seek hospitality of some rich person?” But the holy man of God gave ear to no such doubts and obeyed God’s commands with simplicity and confidence. It is in this way that we ought always to trust in God.

Faith. Achab and his people would not believe Elias when he foretold the coming drought. On the other hand the Gentile woman did believe the promise which he made to her in God’s name. To find faith the prophet of God had to go into a heathen country. It was hard for the widow, herself dying of hunger, to be told to divide her last morsel of food with the prophet; but she did so, because she believed and obeyed a secret inspiration of God; and God rewarded her faith and charity by miraculously increasing her meal and oil, by restoring her dead son to life, and by confirming her in the true faith. Works of mercy draw down on us the grace of God.

The power of prayer. At Elias’s prayer the heavens were shut, so that no rain fell for a long time. By prayer he raised the dead boy to life. At the brook Carith he spent his days in prayer and contemplation. His prayer was efficacious, firstly, because he prayed with devotion, humility and confidence; and secondly because he was a just man, lived in the grace of God, and avoided sin.

The soul is the life of the body (chapter III). As soon as the soul is separated from the body, the latter dies; and if the dead body is to be restored to life, the soul must return to it. It was thus therefore that Elias prayed: “Let the soul &c.”

The raising of the widow’s son by Elias is, according to St. Augustine, a type of the spiritual resurrection of the sinful world through Christ. The world lay dead in sin; but Jesus Christ has restored it to life by stretching Himself on the cross.

As Elias stretched himself three times on the body of the boy, breathing on his face, so, when administering holy Baptism, the priest bows himself three times over the person to be baptized and breathes upon him, as a sign that by sanctifying grace the soul is raised to a supernatural state of life.

APPLICATION. Do you pray willingly and devoutly? He who wishes to pray well, must accustom himself to pray diligently. Each time you pray, place yourself in the presence of God and say: “Lord, help me to pray.”

Could you not sometimes give an alms or do some service of love to your fellow-men, either to your comrades or to some sick or poor person? Make a resolution to do something of the sort to-day.








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