תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

dared to give utterance to his convictions. Some four or five hundred there were in the kingdom, all believers in Jehovah; but all sought to please the reigning power, or timidly concealed themselves. They had been trained in the schools which Samuel had established, and were probably teachers of the people on theological subjects, and hence an antagonistic force to idolatrous kings. Their great defect in the time of Ahab was timidity. There was needed some one who under all circumstances would be undaunted, and would not hesitate to tell the truth even to the king and queen, however unpleasant it might be. So this rough, fierce, unlettered inan of few words was sent by God, armed with terrible powers.

It was now the rainy season, when rain was confidently expected by the people throughout Palestine. Yet strangely no rain fell, though sixty inches were the usual quantity in the course of the year. The streams from the mountains were dried up; the land, long parched by the summer sun, became like dust and ashes; the hills presented a blasted and dreary desolation; the very trees were withered and discolored. At last even the sheltered brook failed from which Elijah drank, and it became necessary for the man of God to seek another retreat. The Lord therefore sent him to the last place in which his enemies would naturally search for him, even to a city of Phænicia, where the worship of Baal was the only religion of the land. As in his tattered and strange apparel he approached Sarepta, or Zarephath, a town between Tyre and Sidon, worn out with fatigue, parched with thirst, and overcome with hunger, — everything around him being depressed anu forlorn, the rivers and brooks showing only beds of stone, the trees and grass withered, the sky lurid, and of unnatural brightness like that of brass, and the sun burning and scorching every remnant of vegetation, - he beheld a woman issuing from the town to gather sticks, in order to cook what she supposed would be her last meal. To this sad and discouraged woman, doubtless a worshipper of Baal, the prophet thus spoke: “Fetch me, I pray you, a little water in a vessel that I may drink;” and as she turned sympathetically to look upon him, he added, “Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand.”

This was no small request to make of a woman who was herself on the borders of starvation, and of a pagan woman too. But there was a mysterious affinity between these two suffering souls. A common woman would not have appreciated the greatness of the beggar and vagrant before ser. Only a discerning and sympathetic woman would have seen in the tones of his voice, and in his lofty bearing, despite all his rags and dirt, an unusual and marked character. She probably belonged to a respectable class, reduced to poverty by the famine, and her keen intelligence recognized at once in the hungry and needy stranger a superior person, - even as the humble friar of Palos saw in Columbus a nobleman by nature, when, wearied and disappointed, he sought food and shelter. She took the prophet by the hand, conducted him to her home, gave him the best chamber in her house, and in a strange devotion of generosity divided with him the last remnant of her meal and oil.

It is probable that a lasting friendship sprang up between the pagan woman and the solemn man of God, such as bound together the no less austere Jerome and his disciple Paula. For two or three years the prophet dwelt in peace and safety in the heathen town, protected by an admiring woman, -- for his soul was great, if his body was emaciated and his dress repulsive. In return for her hospitality he miraculously caused her meal and oil to be daily renewed; and more than this, he restored her only son to life, when he had succumbed to a dangerous illness, — the first recorded instance of such a miracle.

The German critics would probably say that the boy was only seemingly dead, even as they would deny the miracle of the meal and oil. It is not my purpose to discuss this matter, but to narrate the recorded incidents that filled the soul of the woman of Sarepta with

gratitude, with wonder, and with boundless devotion. “Verily, I say unto you,” said a greater than Elijah, “whosoever shall give a cup of cold water in the name of a prophet, shall in no way lose his reward.” Her reward was immeasurably greater than she had dared to hope. She received both spiritual and temporal blessings, and doubtless became a convert to the true faith. Tradition asserts that her boy, whom Elijah saved, — whether by natural or supernatural means, it is alike indifferent, - became in after years the prophet Jonah, who was sent to Nineveh. In all great friendships the favors are reciprocal. A noble-hearted woman was saved from starvation, and the life of a great man was preserved for future usefulness. Austerity and tenderness met together and became a cord of love; and when the land was perishing from famine, the favored members of a retired household were shielded from harm, and had all that was necessary for comfort.

Meanwhile the abnormal drought and consequent famine continued. The northern kingdom was reduced to despair. So dried up were the wells and exhausted the cisterns and reservoirs that even the king's household began to suffer, and it was feared that the horses of the royal stables would perish. In this dire extremity the king himself set forth from his palace to seek patches of vegetation and pools of water in the valleys, while his prime minister Obadiah—a secret worshipper of Jehovah — was sent in an opposite direction for a like purpose. On his way, in the almost hopeless search for grass and water, Obadiah met Elijah, who had been sent from his retreat once more to confront Ahab, and this time to promise rain. As the most dili. gent search had been made in every direction, but in vain, to find Elijah, with a view to his destruction as the man who “troubled Israel,” Obadiah did not believe that the hunted prophet would voluntarily put himself again in the power of an angry and hostile tyrant. Yet the prime minister, having encountered the prophet, was desirous that he should keep his word to appear before the king, and promise to remove the calamity which even in a pagan land was felt to be a divine judgment. Elijah having reassured him of his sincerity, the minister informed his master that the man he sought to destroy was near at hand, and demanded an interview. The wrathful and puzzled king went out to meet the prophet, not to take vengeance, but to secure relief from a sore calamity, --- for Ahab reasoned that if Elijah had power, as the messenger of Omnipotence, to send a drought, he also had the power to remove it. Moreover, had he not said that there should be neither rain nor dew but according to his word ? So Ahab addressed the prophet as the author of national calamities, but without threats or insults. “ Art thou he who troubleth Israel ?” Elijah loftily,

« הקודםהמשך »