Reading: 1 Kings 16:29-34; 17:1-24; 18:1; 19:15; 20:15.
It seems that what is said in these verses, very largely is gathered into two short clauses:
1. “Get thee hence … and hide thyself” (1 Kings 17:3).
2. The reversing of that in 1 Kings 18:1, “Go, show thyself.”
As to the first, “Go hide thyself,” it represents such times as are characterized by that sovereign method of God in dealing with situations when He hides His prophetic instrument, the instrument by which He makes Himself known and executes His purposes in the earth. He cuts off from what is public and generally manifested and recognized, so that during such times it is not clear in the world and amongst the Lord’s people in general that the Lord is moving specifically. He is not working particularly, there is no discerning of His manifest goings. It cannot be seen that the Lord has an instrument by which He is most clearly and definitely and manifestly fulfilling His purposes and speaking to men.
There are such times, the features are all here. There is the situation, but so far as the public handling of that situation for the moment is concerned, God is doing nothing as far as men can see. The instrument of God is Elijah. And God says to His instrument, “Go, hide thyself.”
It does seem to me the at the time in which we live it is to a very large extent such a time when any specific and particular instrument of God with God’s message and the execution of God’s purposes is not to be seen in the world, nor by the people of God in general. They are constantly and continually trying to drag things out into the public and make a public movement and get something going in public that all can see and recognize as of God. But it is hard work, it is not spontaneous, it does not catch fire, it is all effort. And every time they have to look back upon the special effort as only very partially satisfactory with severe limitations about it, and no one can say that it was a thing which God did and that it was an instrument mightily used of God. There is very little of that just now. A time seems to have come when God is not right out in public with an instrument doing a mighty thing, exercising Himself in manifest sovereignty and power. But what is happening? It does not mean that nothing is happening, that the Lord is not doing anything.
Now in this case it is quite clear that the Lord had a controversy with His people. That is why we read that last verse of chapter 16 of the days of Ahab. There was a link between the Lord’s people, His whole nation, and that kingdom which was wholly inimical to the Lord. There is a kingdom which is against the Lord, an order of things which is antagonistic to the Lord’s interests. That is here, of course, represented by Israel. It is not just that it is another religion, one of the other religions of the earth. It is its spiritual significance. There is something and it is taking a religious form, but the background of which is satanic, against God. A link has been brought about between what is of God and what is of satan. It may be in a religious way, but there it is, and the Lord is compelled to stand back. He has a controversy with His people.
All worldliness is such a link, every bit of worldliness is such a link. It gives satan that foothold amongst the Lord’s people and the Lord will not have it. While the Lord has a controversy with His people, He cannot come right out in a public way and exercise Himself on their behalf and manifest His power and His glory. While that controversy exists, He must hide Himself and do His work in a secret way. But He does His work and you see here His activities in secret. Outside of the official realm, the official order of things religiously, He is at work. Three things He was doing in the days of Elijah.
God’s activities in secret
1. Preserving Elijah by spiritual food
Firstly, right in the realm from which the activities of Satan were emanating, He was preserving Elijah alive by spiritual food. Did you notice that Ahab took to wife Jezebel, the daughter of the king of the Sidonians? The Lord spoke to Elijah, “Get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Sidon,” where satan’s seat is, if you like, and here right in the presence of the work of the enemy and the result of the enemy’s work, where spiritual starvation might engulf and swallow up and destroy, the mighty work of overcoming that was carried out and provision was made . “There were many widows in Israel and unto none of them was Elijah sent, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon” (Luke 4:25, 26). The Lord put it that way when He came; outside of Israel, outside of the accepted realm, and there where the very work of the enemy had its spring, the Lord worked His miracle of preserving alive a testimony.
That is how He is doing it, in secret, and you have no need that I apply that or explain that. It is what the Lord is doing to-day marvellously. It is a day of spiritual starvation, it is a day of symbolism, of the very work of satan. But He even comes right in on the very emanation of satan’s work and shows His people the glorious reality of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
What are we getting publicly of spiritual food from the recognized order of things? Not very much. What is there for spiritual food to-day? You will look through many modern volumes to-day in the religious bookshops before you will find something that you can get your teeth into. It is so much chaff. It is exceeding difficult to find spiritual food on the outside now, and some of us have had to take this position: “We must get our food from the Lord, we must know the Lord for ourselves, it is useless to look outside now for any real spiritual sustenance, we must know the Lord in an inward living way.”
2. Teaching the annulling of death by life
Then another thing was being done by the Lord there in secret which followed. He was teaching the mighty truth of life annulling death. Death was, in the permissive will of God, allowed to come in. That was the question. Why has the Lord allowed this? In the permissive will of God, death was allowed to show itself and to go a long way and seem even to go the whole way, but in that permissive will of God was a great Divine intention: death was annulled and life triumphed over death. The woman was able to say, “Now I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth.” It cost something to come there. It may be a costly way, a way of suffering and sorrow and pain to come there where we are able to say, “Now I know what you have been talking about is not just doctrine, but I know now the thing is true.”
Is that not what the Lord is doing with a similar company in a day like this? He is doing that with us, bringing us to the place where we are able to say, “We have heard these things but the Lord is doing something and we are coming to know that that thing is true. We are not on theoretical ground, but on the ground of the practical, the thing has been made real in our own case.” That is tremendous gain, if the Lord can have a people who know Him like that, as Lord of life Who has annulled death, not as part of our doctrine but as part of our experience.
3. Securing a company for a coming day
But there was as the result of this, but beyond this on a wider range, this work in secret. The Lord was securing a company of people in secret for a coming day. The Lord told Elijah a little later on, in the hour when he was having a bad time, “I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal” (1 Kings 19:18). The Lord is securing a company, seven thousand. Seven is spiritual completeness. The thousands mean that it is a large company, but it is a fixed number, a company of spiritual people who are going this way. Obadiah just let us into a bit of what was happening. He told Elijah: “Was it not told my lord what I did when Jezebel slew the prophets of the Lord, how I hid a hundred men of Jehovah’s prophets by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water?” There is a secret work. Here was the Lord feeding, in a day of famine, in a secret way a company. The Lord is doing this thing to-day. What I like about it is that when the change came, the Lord said to Elijah: “Now, go show thyself to Ahab.” And there was opened up that great scene on Carmel, that crisis when the whole situation publicly was challenged. There had to be an issue, the occasion of that crisis had to be pressed home, followed out. And the Lord told Elijah to anoint Elisha as his successor and to anoint Jehu to execute the Lord’s judgments. For the following out of this thing in a public way, the Lord needed a people and He had seven thousand in Israel. I am not able to say with any certainty that it was so, but may it not just be that the seven thousand hidden ones who had not bowed the knee to Baal, were the seven thousand that came out in the hour when the Lord needed His issue pressing home in a public way? It is very likely. Why should seven thousand be mentioned in both connections? “I have left me seven thousand in Israel.” Then when the thing has become a public matter, seven thousand are available to be the instrument carrying the thing through, fighting it out. I think it is very likely, and I have no doubt about the principle that in secret the Lord works to secure a company like this; those who have known what it is to be sustained in famine miraculously with spiritual food; who have come to know the Lord as their life, their meat, when nothing outside could provide; who have come to know the Lord as the conqueror of death, annulling death in their own experience; bringing life and incorruption to light. A company like that in secret, and then when the day comes when the Lord is going to deal with things more publicly, He has an instrument that He has formed, forged; a vessel formed in secret to be of use to Him.
I think that is the message in the main that lies in this wonderful part of the Lord’s word. And it may explain a lot, may help us a little. This is a time when we all have to admit that the Lord is not doing a great public work with great public instruments. A good many people are troubled about it and trying to force that. The Lord is not going to be forced. He has a controversy with things, things are mixed, things are linked up with what the Lord will not have. I am speaking quite generally. The Lord has turned His attention to a secret company, a hidden people, to do something there, to take them through difficulties, through suffering indirectly from the general state of things, but the Lord is using even
that in a sovereign way as the ground upon which to bring them into a position to be of value to that end. He is teaching that people in secret, in a hidden way; teaching them what He Himself by the Holy Spirit can be to them in their need; teaching them the power of life as overcoming death, making them live even when death is at work. Presently the Lord may have a use for such a company of prepared people. That has been His way all the way along. He has prepared His vessel in secret and when the time had come and there was a need, He had His vessel in hand. Oh, may it be that the Lord is not going to act alone, independently, apart from an instrument; He never has. When the Lord acts, He will want on hand some people who know Him, to send them out into the world, to people who have come to an end; those hungering for spiritual food. Have you anything? Yes, I have learned something in the secret. I know the Lord having a people like that when the need is acknowledged. When people feel they can go on no longer in this indefinite uncertain way of limping between two opinions, feel it was time something was settled, then the Lord must have on hand a people who know Him, have proved Him, and who can speak to the need that will become acknowledged at last. May this not be just wishful thinking but the Lord’s message to our hearts to show us why He is dealing with us as He is, what it is really that He is seeking to do.