The way in which Elijah made his complaint against Israel in 1 Kings 19 does not indicate a very good condition of soul: “I have been very jealous for Jehovah the God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I am left, I alone, and they seek my life, to take it away” (v 10). In the main, Elijah provides us with a fine example of faithful testimony for God in an evil day. In the midst of widespread apostasy, he stood out boldly for Jehovah, caring little whether he was supported by many or by few. None would question that he had been truly jealous for the honour of God, and that he had earnestly sought to uphold it in the face of all opposition. However, when he made this outburst, he had become unduly occupied with himself and his testimony, and had come to regard himself as the sole pivot on which everything turned. For the moment, God had been displaced by Elijah in his soul’s vision. Elijah seemed to be the great indispensable factor, and since his life was in danger, what would become of the testimony then? To his mind it appeared that all true testimony for God was at an end and that Satan had become the master of the situation.
How painfully self–assertive are these poor hearts of ours! The best and most faithful of the servants of God are not immune from this snare. Of course God will surely sustain a lonely man, and make him a power for testimony in a dark scene (see Is. 51: 2: Zech. 12: 8), but let not the witness regard himself as indispensable, or disaster will result. Furthermore, communities are as liable to fall into this error as individual witnesses. If a company of saints, few or many, seeks diligently to recover for practical use principles of truth that have lapsed, their zeal and obedience will unquestionably turn into a testimony, and God may be relied upon to be with them. But let them get occupied with themselves as witnesses, let their testimony to others become more important in their eyes than their own spiritual condition, and God will no longer support them, but give them over to disaster and shame. The history of the testimony is littered with many such sad examples.
Elijah’s occupation with himself led him to entertain highly improper feelings towards the erring people of God around him: “Know ye not what the scripture says in [the history of] Elias, how he pleads with God against Israel?” (Rom. 11: 2). Pleading against Israel! Speaking well of himself and ill of God’s people! Was this really part of being a witness for God? In speaking in this way, was he in tune with the heart of God, who bears long with His people and, in spite of all their waywardness and sin, never gives them up? Moses spoke very differently, and it is most refreshing to listen to his touching intercession to God for Israel after their worship of the golden calf (see Exod. 32: 11–13, 31–32). Though he felt the affront to Jehovah, in Jehovah’s presence not a single ill–word escaped the lips of Moses concerning them. On the contrary, he persisted in reminding Jehovah that despite their grave sin, they were still His people, and that the honour of Jehovah’s name was bound up with their blessing. Rather than that they should be consumed Moses was willing that God should blot him out of His book.
Let us note this principle well, for it is greatly needed in our day. Self–inflation and occupation with our own faithfulness in testimony breeds censorious feelings in our hearts to the people of God around us, and makes us quite unsuited to intercede with God on their behalf. Need we be surprised if our improper airs draw from others the sarcastic remark “Truly ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you!” (Job 12: 2).
In Elijah’s case his complaint had quite different results from what he anticipated. We may pass by at this time the lessons taught him by the wind, the earthquake, the fire and the still small voice, and dwell a little on the actual words of God to him: “And Jehovah said to him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus; and when thou comest, anoint Hazael king over Syria; and Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel–meholah shalt thou anoint prophet in thy stead. And it shall come to pass, [that] him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay; and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay. Yet I have left [myself] seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth that hath not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:15–18). Did Elijah wish the people of God to be chastised for their sin? He Himself was to anoint the executors of God’s judgment ––painful work surely for one who really loved the people! Did he consider himself indispensable as a witness? Then he must go and anoint his successor in his place! Did he regard himself as the only faithful man left in the land? Then he must learn his mistake in the startling announcement that Jehovah still had seven thousand loyal hearts in Israel.
This is a serious lesson, and it is good for us if we learn it thoroughly. Those who magnify their own importance in testimony may be set aside as witnesses altogether, and their place taken by others. We have known something of this in our day. ‘We are the testimony’ they said, ‘we are Philadelphia, and everything else is Laodicea’. Yet when we look for the special operation of God’s Spirit, we do not see it among those who speak so approvingly of themselves, but among others possessing far less spiritual light and knowledge of the letter of God’s Word. It is the inevitable result of allowing ourselves to displace God in our minds and hearts: “But he that boasts, let him boast in the Lord. For not he that commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends” (2 Cor. 10: 17, 18).
Again, what a comfort that even in the darkest hour God has this true–hearted seven thousand! If they do not come out as boldly in public separation from evil as we would desire, it is nevertheless a joy to us to know that they sigh and groan over the sins of the times, and seek to keep their affections right towards their Lord: “But thou hast a few names in Sardis which have not defiled their garments, and they shall walk with me in white, because they are worthy” (Rev. 3: 4).