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nChrist
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« Reply #60 on: June 17, 2008, 08:56:25 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
16. NABOTH'S VINEYARD
By John MacDuff, 1877

        Yes, the plot had succeeded to a wish -- a triumph of female sagacity. Not one noble or elder had divulged the terrible secret, which had given the semblance of legality to atrocious villainy. The bones of the murdered were heaped out of sight in some forgotten grave; and what was perhaps more than anything else to Ahab, Elijah was now, as he imagined, out of the way. He had heard nothing lately of his old troubler and tormentor. Perhaps some confused story had reached him of the wilderness flight -- that in a fit of cynical temper, the Prophet had turned at once coward and hermit, and was spending the dregs of a fanatic life in the untrodden wilds of the Arabian desert. The king's fleet horses bear him along the highway to take formal possession of his dearly-bought possession. He enters the gates, and is already planning how this aceldama -- this "field of blood" -- can be turned to the greatest advantage. Ah, he hears it not! The dulled ear of conscience is closed; but the voice of Naboth's blood is crying from the ground, "O God, to whom vengeance belongs, show yourself."

        Soon is the prayer heard. There was one close by, whose presence he little dreamt of -- one who had last conducted him in triumph, after a day of miracle and grace, to these same gates of Jezreel. Now he stands before him the messenger of wrath -- the "Prophet of Fire" -- an incarnate spirit of evil tidings. It is ELIJAH? -- his own great, bold, brave self again no longer daunted and panic-stricken by Jezebel, and ready, when his malediction is delivered, to gird himself for flight. The prediction of Ahab's dreadful end might indeed well have struck fresh terror into his heart as he uttered it. But he is another man since we recently met him in the Sinai desert. The frenzied queen may again vow vengeance as she pleases; he will not shrink from duty. The old visions of Horeb -- the wind, and earthquake, and fire -- proclaim in his ears that "Jehovah lives."

        A career of unblushing impiety, on the part of Ahab, had now culminated in the most hideous of crimes, and the Herald of vengeance delivers unabashed his message. It is one of his former rapid, sudden, meteor-like appearances. Without warning or premonition, he confronts Ahab, like the ghostly shadow of the monarch's own guilty conscience; and, with a tongue of FIRE, flashes upon him the accusation -- "Have you killed, and also taken possession?" We know not a grander subject for a great picture than this -- the hero-prophet standing erect before the ghastly, terror-stricken king; breaking through the barriers of court etiquette, and caring only for the glory of the God he served and the good of Israel, charging him with the murderer's guilt, and pronouncing upon him the murderer's dreadful doom. The trembling monarch, awaking in a moment from his dream of iniquity to a sense of the presence which confronted him, shrieks aloud -- "Have you found me, O my enemy." "I have found you," is the reply, "because you have sold yourself to work evil in the sight of the Lord." And then he proceeds to deliver the terrible sentence -- The sword was to avenge the blood of the innocent. His family, root and branch, were to be extirpated -- the wild dogs of the city and the winged vultures of heaven should banquet on the flesh of his sons!

        The king cowered in despair. He tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his flesh, and in bitter misery bewailed, when it was too late, his aggravated sin. So heartfelt, however, was this agony of remorse, that the God he had insulted graciously respites his sentence. For three years, opportunity was given him, though in vain, for a fuller repentance and amendment, before the weapon of deferred retribution descends. But the day of vengeance comes at last. At the end of that period, in going up to battle, to Ramoth-Gilead, he is mortally wounded. In a crimson pool, at the foot of the chariot, he lies in the last convulsions of ebbing life -- "The chariot was washed in the fountain of Samaria, and the dogs licked his blood!"

        Jezebel's end was more signal and appalling still. At that moment, which we have described, when Ahab entered to take possession of the vineyard of Naboth, two attendants were seated at the back of his chariot, who overheard the stormy interview between him and the Prophet. The words Elijah then uttered, sank deep into the heart and memory of one of these. It was Jehu the son of Nimshi. And when, from the position of an attendant he rose to the dignity of a conqueror, and entered with a triumphant army the streets of Jezreel -- though twenty long years had elapsed, he seems neither to have forgotten nor misunderstood his commission, as the scourge of God, and the avenger of innocent blood.

        When the Queen, savage and debased as ever, tried first by pretentious arts, and then by insult, to conquer or defy her invader, the blood of the incensed warrior rose in his veins; by his orders, she was thrown from her window outside the city wall -- trampled under feet of the horses, and torn to pieces by the dogs.

        2 Kings 9:30-36– When Jezebel, the queen mother, heard that Jehu had come to Jezreel, she painted her eyelids and fixed her hair and sat at a window. When Jehu entered the gate of the palace, she shouted at him, "Have you come in peace, you murderer? You are just like Zimri, who murdered his master!"

        Jehu looked up and saw her at the window and shouted, "Who is on my side?" And two or three eunuchs looked out at him. "Throw her down!" Jehu yelled. So they threw her out the window, and some of her blood spattered against the wall and on the horses. And Jehu trampled her body under his horses' hooves.

        Then Jehu went into the palace and ate and drank. Afterward he said, "Someone go and bury this cursed woman, for she is the daughter of a king." But when they went out to bury her, they found only her skull, her feet, and her hands.
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« Reply #61 on: June 17, 2008, 08:58:11 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
16. NABOTH'S VINEYARD
By John MacDuff, 1877

        When they returned and told Jehu, he stated, "This fulfills the message from the Lord, which he spoke through his servant Elijah from Tishbe: 'At the plot of land in Jezreel, dogs will eat Jezebel's flesh.

        There are many voices addressed to us from Naboth's vineyard.

        One of these is– Beware of covetousness! That vineyard has its counterpart in the case and conduct of many still. Covetousness may assume a thousand chameleon hues and phases, but these all resolve themselves into a sinful craving after something other than what we have. Covetousness of fortune -- a grasping after more material wealth, the race for riches. Covetousness of place -- aspiring after other positions in life than those which Providence has assigned us -- not because they are better -- but because they are other than our present God-appointed lot -- invested with an imaginary superiority.

        And the singular and sad thing is, that such inordinate longings are most frequently manifested, as with Ahab, in the case of those who have least cause to indulge them. The covetous eye cast on the neighbor's vineyard is, (strange to say;) more the sin of the affluent than of the needy -- of the owner of the lordly mansion than of the humble cottage. The man with his clay floor, and thatched roof, and crude wooden rafters, though standing far more in need of increase to his comfort, is often (is generally) more contented and satisfied by far than he whose cup is full. The old story, which every schoolboy knows, is a faithful picture of human nature. It was Alexander, not defeated, but victorious -- Alexander, not the lord of one kingdom, but the sovereign of the world, who wept unsatisfied tears.

        Ahab had everything that human ambition could desire. The cities of Israel his father had lost, had been all restored -- peace was within his walls, and -- prosperity within his palaces. His residences were unparalleled for beauty. His lordly park, and territories, and gardens at Jezreel -- stretching for miles on every side of the city -- had every rare tree and plant and flower to adorn them. But what pride or pleasure has he now in all these? Plants bloom, and birds sing, and fountains sparkle, in vain. So long as that one patch of vineyard-ground belonging to Naboth is denied him, his whole pleasure is blighted. He cannot brook that insult of refusal. It has stung him to the quick, and sends him to pout and fret, in unroyal tears, on his couch in Samaria!

        How many there are, surrounded with all possible affluence and comfort, who put a life-thorn in their side by some similar chase after a denied good, some similar fretting about a denied trifle. They have abundance; the horn of plenty has poured its contents into their lap. But a neighbor possesses something which they imagine they might have also. Like Haman, though their history has been a golden dream of prosperity -- advancement and honor such as the brightest visions of youth could never have pictured -- yet all this avails them nothing, so long as they see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate!

        Seek to suppress these unworthy envious longings. "For which things' sake," says the apostle, (and among these things is covetousness,) "the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience." Covetousness, God makes a synonym for idolatry. He classes the covetous in the same category with the worshipers of stocks and stones. "Be content with such things as you have." Paul was ever sound in philosophy as in religion -- his ethical, as well as his theological system, is one worthy of our profoundest study and imitation. Here is one of his maxims -- "I have learned in whatever state I am therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound; every where, and in all things; I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need."

        The secret of his contentment was, that he was possessor of those "true riches," which made him independent of all worldly honors and gains and distinctions. "I have coveted," says he, "no man's silver or gold or apparel." Why? because he had nobler treasures than the mines of the earth could yield or its looms fabricate. Having Christ for his portion, he could say -- "I have ALL and abound." The vineyard which he coveted, was that which "God's own right hand had planted, and the Branch he had made strong for Himself!" Be assured that nagging discontent will grow, if you feed it, until it comes to eat out the kernel of life's happiness -- a discontented manhood or womanhood culminating in that saddest of conditions, a peevish old age.

        In other sorrows, (the real trials of life,) the heart is upheld and solaced by sympathy, and by the nobler consolations of God's truth. But who or what could minister to a mind thus diseased? Who could pity the soul whining and murmuring in the midst of plenty? Who could throw away balm-words of comfort on those piercing themselves through with many sorrows, when these sorrows are imaginary -- ghosts of their own discontented brain? As you value your peace, exorcize the foul fiend. Let Naboth alone in his vineyard, and enjoy yours just as it is. Impose not self-inflicted torture by longing for what you are better without. When shall we be taught in this grasping, avaricious, unsatisfied age, that a man's life, (his true being -- his manhood -- his glory,) consists not "in the abundance of the things which he possesses!"
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« Reply #62 on: June 17, 2008, 09:00:52 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
16. NABOTH'S VINEYARD
By John MacDuff, 1877

        Another of the voices from Naboth's vineyard is– Keep out of the way of temptation! If AHAB, knowing his own weakness and besetting sin, had put a restraint on his covetous eye, and not allowed it to stray on his neighbor's forbidden property, it would have saved a black page in his history, and the responsibilities of a heinous crime. Let us beware of tampering with evil. "If your right eye offends you, pluck it out, and cast it from you." "Avoid it," says the wise man, speaking of this path of temptation, "pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away."

        If ACHAN had not cast his eye on the goodly Babylonish garment, the shekels of silver, and the wedge of gold, he would have saved Israel a bloody debacle and himself a fearful end. But he saw them; and the sight fed and fostered and stimulated the covetous master-passion -- the latent avarice of his greedy heart. It was DAVID'S wandering eye that led to the twin crime of adultery and murder. He, also, ventured to the place of temptation. He had become an idler when he should have been a worker. The old, heroic, chivalrous days were over, when he would have despised luxurious ease, and been away rather to share the hardships of his brave army then in the field. Instead of this, he was basking in inglorious unsoldierlike fashion, after his noontide meal, on the roof of his palace. He was out of the way of duty, and in the way of temptation; and one fatal look, and one fatal thought, entailed a heritage of bitter sorrow on himself and on his children's children.

        Each has his own strong temptation -- the fragile part of his nature -- his besetting sin. That sin should be specially watched, muzzled, curbed -- that gate of temptation specially padlocked and sentineled. One guilty neglect of duty -- one unhappy abandonment of principle -- one inconsistent, thoughtless word or deed -- may be the progenitor of unnumbered evils. How many have bartered their peace of conscience for worthless trifles -- sold a richer inheritance than Esau's birthright for a mess of earthly pottage! And once the first fatal step is taken, it cannot be so easily undone. Once the blot on fair character is made, the stain is not so easily erased.

        Ahab's first and irretrievable blunder, was dated long anterior to the coveting of the vineyard. We have before noted that his thoughtless, unlawful, unprincipled union with a heathen princess, whose father's name and throne were blackened with infamy, was the commencement of his downward career -- the first installment of that price, by which, we read, "he sold himself to work iniquity." He would never, in any circumstance, have been a great man; he had no native vigor or independence of character for that; but, under better fostering influences, he might have been molded into a useful one. His facile, vacillating nature, might, by a better adaptable power, have been brought to incline to the side of virtue. But Jezebel was his evil genius. He was a mere puppet in her hands. She took anything that was noble and generous from him -- instigating him only to execrable deeds. His better self surrendered to her base artifices, he became a depraved, effeminate weakling.

        What we have already said, in a previous chapter, regarding the marriage union, is equally applicable to all business and social connections. How many, in the formation of these, by looking merely to worldly advantages, make shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience! How many a young man has been lured, by the prospect of monetary recompense, where his religious principles will be tampered with, or where he will be in danger of scheming at dishonest gains! The high sense of honor and integrity once lost or compromised, he becomes an easy prey to base arts -- underhand, dishonorable ways, and double dealings. No worldly gains or position can make up for the absence of true wealth of character and principle. All that Phoenician riches could secure or lavish, followed the Sidonian princess to her Hebrew home in Samaria. But what of this? Under that Tyrian purple there lurked a heart, which turned all she had into counterfeit and base alloy. Oh, rather far, the poorest, lowliest, most unostentatious lot, with character unsoiled, than gilded ceilings and array of servants, plate, and equipage, where the nobler element of moral riches is lacking. Rather the crust of bread and the crippled means, with unsullied principle and priceless virtue, than all that boundless wealth can procure without them.

        Another voice from Naboth's vineyard is– Be sure your sin will find you out! Ahab and Jezebel, as we have seen, had managed to a wish, their accursed plot. The wheels of crime had moved softly along without one rut or impediment in the way. The two murderers paced their blood-stained inheritance without fear of challenge or discovery. Naboth was in that silent land where no voice of protest can be heard against high-handed iniquity. But there was a God in heaven who makes inquisition for blood, and who "remembered them." Their time for retribution did come at last, although years of gracious forbearance were allowed to intervene. As we behold the mutilated remains of that once proud, unscrupulous queen, lying in the common receptacle of filth and carrion outside the city of her iniquities, her blood sprinkling the walls -- or, in the case of the partner of her guilt, as we see the arrow from the Syrian bow piercing through "the jointed armor" -- or as he lies weltering in his blood -- his eyes closing in agony -- the wild dogs, by the pool of Samaria, lick the crimson drops from the wheels of his chariot and the plates of his armor -- have we not before us a solemn and dreadful comment on the words of Him who "judges righteous judgment" -- "These things have you done, and I kept silence; you thought that I was altogether such a one as yourself -- but I will reprove you, and set them in order before your eyes. Now consider this, you that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver." "He that, being often reproved, hardens his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy."
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« Reply #63 on: June 17, 2008, 09:03:00 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
16. NABOTH'S VINEYARD
By John MacDuff, 1877

        And are the principles of God's moral government different now? It is true, indeed, that the present economy deals not so exclusively as the old in temporal retribution. Sinners now have before them the surer and more terrible recompense and vengeance of a world to come. But not infrequently here also, retribution still follows, and sooner or later overtakes, the defiant transgressor. They who "sow to the wind" are made to "reap the whirlwind;" the solemn assertion of a righteous God is not uttered in vain -- "I will search with lanterns in Jerusalem's darkest corners to find and punish those who sit contented in their sins, indifferent to the Lord, thinking he will do nothing at all to them."

        Yes, and moreover, even should crime and wrongdoing be successfully hidden from the eye of man, CONSCIENCE, like another stern Elijah in the vineyard of Naboth, will confront the transgressor and utter a withering doom. How many such an Elijah stands a rebuker within the gates of modern vineyards, purchased by the reward of iniquity! How many such an Elijah stands a ghostly sentinel by the door of that house whose stones have been hewn and polished and piled by illicit gain! How many an Elijah mounts on the back of the modern chariot, horsed and harnessed, pillowed and cushioned and liveried with the amassings of successful roguery! How many an Elijah stands in the midst of banquet-hall and drawing-room scowling down on some murderer of domestic peace and innocence, who has intruded into vineyards more sacred than Naboth's -- trampled VIRTUE under foot, and left the broken, bleeding vine, to trail its shattered tendrils unpitied on the ground!

        And even should Conscience itself, in this world be defied and overborne; at all events in the world to come, sin must be discovered; retribution (long evaded here) will at last exact its uttermost farthing. The most dreadful picture of a state of eternal punishment, is that of sinners surrendered to the mastery of their own special transgression; these sins, like the fabled furies, following them, in unrelenting pursuit, from hall to hall and from cavern to cavern in the regions of unending woe -- and they, at last, hunted down, wearied, breathless, with the unavailing effort to escape the tormentors, crouching in wild despair, and exclaiming, like Ahab to Elijah, "Have you found me, O my enemy?"

        We may appropriately close this chapter with the impressive words and prayer of the Psalmist --
        O God, surely you will destroy the wicked!
        Get out of my life, you murderers!
        They blaspheme you;
        your enemies take your name in vain.
        O Lord, shouldn't I hate those who hate you?
        Shouldn't I despise those who resist you?
        Yes, I hate them with complete hatred,
        for your enemies are my enemies.
        Search me, O God, and know my heart;
        test me and know my thoughts.
        Point out anything in me that offends you,
        and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
        Psalm 139:19-24


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« Reply #64 on: June 17, 2008, 09:05:00 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
17. AHAZIAH AND THE GOD OF EKRON
By John MacDuff, 1877
       

        2 Kings 1:2-8

        One day Israel's new king, Ahaziah, fell through the latticework of an upper room at his palace in Samaria, and he was seriously injured. So he sent messengers to the temple of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, to ask whether he would recover.
        But the angel of the Lord told Elijah, who was from Tishbe, "Go and meet the messengers of the king of Samaria and ask them, 'Why are you going to Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, to ask whether the king will get well? Is there no God in Israel? Now, therefore, this is what the Lord says: You will never leave the bed on which you are lying, but you will surely die.' " So Elijah went to deliver the message.
        When the messengers returned to the king, he asked them, "Why have you returned so soon?"
        They replied, "A man came up to us and told us to go back to the king with a message from the Lord. He said, 'Why are you going to Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, to ask whether the king will get well? Is there no God in Israel? Now, since you have done this, you will never leave the bed on which you are lying, but you will surely die.' "
        "Who was this man?" the king demanded. "What did he look like?"
        They replied, "He was a hairy man, and he wore a leather belt around his waist."
        "It was Elijah from Tishbe!" the king exclaimed.


        Can the ax boast greater power than the person who uses it? Is the saw greater than the person who saws? Can a whip strike unless a hand is moving it? Can a cane walk by itself?
        Listen now, king of Assyria! Because of all your evil boasting, the Lord, the Lord Almighty, will send a plague among your proud troops, and a flaming fire will ignite your glory. The Lord, the Light of Israel and the Holy One, will be a flaming fire that will destroy them. In a single night he will burn those thorns and briers, the Assyrians. Isaiah 10:15-17

        The events which are to occupy our attention in this chapter have a peculiar interest, connected as they are with the last exercise of Elijah's prophetic office. As he had begun, so he terminates his career -- the messenger of wrath -- the rebuker of iniquity -- "the Prophet of Fire." Three or four years have elapsed since last we followed his lightning-track -- traced his fiery footsteps in Naboth's vineyard, speaking God's word before kings, and not being moved. We are again to find him standing by a kingly couch -- bold as a lion -- discharging the last arrows in his quiver at the same presumptuous idolatries against which he had uttered a lifelong testimony.

        Ahaziah, (son and successor of Ahab,) had inherited the heathen vices and followed the idolatrous practices of his parents. Iniquity and irreligion are not always hereditary. But yet how often, by a righteous principle in the divine administration, are moral corruption and impiety, with their bitter fruits, transmitted to children's children -- penalties of that great natural and divine law enforced and exemplified -- "Whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap." Troubled was the two years' reign of this unworthy king of Israel, and unhappy and inglorious his sudden and premature death. From the brief passing notice in the historical narrative, we are not warranted perhaps to stigmatize him as a coward. But we are led to surmise that dread of a violent death similar to his father's, had led him to shrink from the perils and calamities of war–allowing as he did, a daring revolt of long subject Moab to pass without an effort to repair the disaster. Exemption, however, from the dangers of battle could not purchase immunity from the smaller ills of life. He had now shown him that God has other, and less glorious instruments of death than "the spears of the mighty," and that, after all, the post of duty (not that of coward self-preservation) is the real post of safety.

        Let us pause for a moment, and read, from the case of Ahaziah, the impressive lesson, that all our care, forethought, and caution, cannot ward off accident, calamity, and inexorable death. He who escaped the Syrian's venturous aim, was laid low by an accidental fall from the flat roof of his palace in Samaria. He had probably been leaning against the screen or railing common on the tops of Eastern dwellings -- when, overbalancing himself, the slender rail or lattice-work had given way. He fell on the tessellated floor below, stunned and mangled, and he was carried to a couch from which he was never to rise.

        Age, character, rank, position, station can afford no exemption from such casualties, and from the last terminating event of all, the universal doom of dust. These royal robes encircled a body perishable as that of the lowest subject of his realm. The hand grasping that ivory scepter, as well as the brawny arm of the strongest menial in his palace, must moulder to decay. "Trust not in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goes forth. He returns to his earth. In that very day his thoughts perish." Poor and rich -- the beggar and the prince -- the slave and his master -- Dives with his purple and gold, and Lazarus with his crumbs and rags, are on a level here. The path of glory and royalty, of greatness and power, "leads but to the grave." The lattice on which the strong man leans -- the iron balustrade of full health and unbroken energy -- may in a moment give way. Sudden accident or fever may in a few hours write Ichabod on a giant's strength. The touch of the old slave in the conqueror's triumphal chariot is never more needful than when we are moving through life charioted in comforts -- wreathed with garlands -- regaled with music -- "Remember you are mortal!" None dare boast presumptuously of strong arm, and healthy cheek, and undimmed eye. It is by the mercy of God each one of us is preserved from the " "the terrors of the night, and the dangers of the day, and the plague that stalks in darkness, and the disaster that strikes at midday!"
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« Reply #65 on: June 17, 2008, 09:07:12 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
17. AHAZIAH AND THE GOD OF EKRON
By John MacDuff, 1877

        And when accident or affliction does overtake us, it is our comfort to know that it is by His permission. It is He who puts the arrow on the bowman's string. It is He who loosens the railing in its sockets. It is He who makes the lightning leap from the clouds on its lethal errand. It is He who commissions the coral builders to rear the fatal reef. It is He who guides the roll of that destroying billow, that has swept a loved one from the deck into a watery grave. It is He who says, (and who can oppose!) "You shall die, and not live." "As your soul lives, verily there may be but a step between you and death."

        Saddest of all is it, when accident and "sudden death" overtakes, without due preparation for the great change. Ah, yes, it is easy for us in health -- when the world goes well; when life's cup is brimming -- when the white sails are gleaming on its summer seas, and the music of its high holiday is resounding in our ears -- it is easy then to repress from thought the urgency of more solemn verities. But wait until the pillow of pain receives the aching, recumbent head -- wait until the curtains are drawn, and the room darkened, and that music is exchanged for the muffled bell, and the suppressed whisper, and noiseless footfall -- wait until the solemn apprehension for the first time steals over the spirit, that the sand-glass is running out, life's grains diminishing, and that dreadful hour which we have evaded, dreaded, tampered with, shrunk from, has come at last -- how solemn the mockery to try then to give to God the dregs and remnants of a worn existence and a withered love! How sad then to begin for the first time to utter the lamentation, "He weakened my strength in the way, He shortened my days. I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days!"

        How much nobler, wiser, happier to anticipate the necessities of that inevitable hour, that whether our summons shall come by the fall from the lattice, or the gradual sinking and wasting of strength -- whether by sudden accident, or by the gradual crumbling of the earthly framework -- we may be ready, in calm composure, to breathe the saving of the dying patriarch, "I have waited for your salvation, O God."

        Ahaziah was thus suddenly prostrated in the very midst of life -- while manhood was yet in its glory. We are not indeed led to infer from the narrative, that there were at first any dangerous symptoms in his illness. It was sent and intended as a timely warning -- a seasonable remonstrance. Had he listened to the Divine voice -- or, like Manasseh in his affliction, had he "besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers" -- or, like Hezekiah in his severe sickness, turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the Lord -- he might have been raised up to prove for years a blessing to his people, and a monument of saving mercy. We almost expect and hope indeed, in reading the opening words of the story, to find a royal penitent, in the extremity of his mental anguish, recognizing the chastisement of the God he had long despised -- sending messengers to summon the great Tishbite prophet to his sick-bed, that he might put forth on his behalf his "effectual, fervent prayers."

        Elijah's name and person and achievements must have been thoroughly familiar to him when he was yet a boy in the palace of Jezreel. He could not fail often and again to have seen, or, at all events, to have heard of that wild, rugged, stern Prophet; nor, despite of his parents' hatred and scorn, could he be unimpressed with the story of his startling miracles and hero-deeds -- how he had restored a poor woman's son at Zarephath -- brought him back, not from sickness, but from the chambers of death -- how, on the heights of that very Carmel on which he had gazed from his youth, he had brought down fire from heaven, and defeated the Baal-priests -- and, last of all, he could not have forgotten how awfully verified had been the uttered judgments of this Herald of omnipotence regarding his own hapless father! Every time his eye fell on the now blighted and cursed vineyard of Naboth, would not the figure and demeanor of the Tishbite be before him -- his trumpet-voice sounding in his ears the solemn lesson, "Who has hardened himself against God, and prospered?"

        Alas! how difficult it is, even in the midst of weightiest judgment, to overcome unbelief and prejudice! Nursed in the abominable idolatries of Jezebel, he clings to the last to the lie of heathenism. Messengers are summoned to his bed-side, with instructions to hasten to a well-known temple of Baal, to ascertain the outcome of his trouble -- whether he would recover of his disease. This oracle was situated in Ekron, the most northerly of five cities of Philistia. The Sidonian god was here, under one of his manifold forms, worshiped as Baal-zebub -- literally, "The God of Flies;" the supposed averter of the plague, common in the east, of swarming insects or gnats. This temple at Ekron was the great rendezvous of heathen devotees. It was the Delphic oracle, or the Mecca of the Baal-worshipers. Thousands from the surrounding provinces and countries congregated at the shrine of the guardian god, to get cured of diseases, otherwise supposed to be incurable. He was the Phoenician Aesculapius -- the god of medicine -- reputed to have power over demoniacs as well as bodily diseases. Hence the reference in the Pharisees' accusation regarding Christ, "He casts out devils by Beelzebub."
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« Reply #66 on: June 17, 2008, 09:09:08 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
17. AHAZIAH AND THE GOD OF EKRON
By John MacDuff, 1877

        In a literal sense, the parallel to Ahaziah's folly can in vain be sought now, in the changed aspects of the Church and the world. The heathen oracles are mute. The prince of darkness, who seems in former ages to have wielded, by means of these incantations, a mysterious power, has now changed his tactics. But yet how many, in another form, have their Ekron still? -- in life as well as in death trusting to some miserable, false confidences; instead of reposing in simple faith on the Lord God of Elijah, and on the work finished and consummated on the cross of Calvary. Is it asked, "What are these?"

        There is the Ekron of self-righteousness -- the pride of what they themselves have done -- grounding their peace and confidence, alike for a living and a dying hour, on some miserable fragmentary virtues of their own -- their charities and alms-deeds and moral lives -- the beggar proud of wearing some tinsel on his rags, the bankrupt proud of paying by farthings a debt which is accumulating by pounds and talents.

        There is the Ekron of proud reason. Men will not trust the simple word of the living God. The Bible doctrines, or, it may be, subordinate facts, do not square with their judgments and presuppositions -- their preconceived opinions and prejudices, and they send their imperious intellectual messengers to this haughty oracle. Instead of coming to the divinely-authenticated page with the humble spirit of inquiry, "What do the Scriptures say?" their preliminary question is -- 'Science, what do you think? Philosophy, what do you think?' They come to the well of Sychar, not with the question, "Give me to drink;" but they must subject the water to chemical analysis; they must cast the Bible into their own earthly crucible, and subject it to their own earthly tests. Happy they who stoop down like the beggar at the running stream and quench their thirst; asking no vain questions; feeling nothing, and caring for nothing, but the precious adaptation of the water of life to their panting, needy souls. Happy they, who, spiritually enlightened, are not curious to know the process of surgery or medicine, but who, gazing on the glorious uncurtained beauties of the moral world, before hidden from their view, can tell, in the utterance of a simple faith, "This one thing I know, that whereas once I was blind, now I see."

        Moreover, are there not many who make shipwreck of their peace and comfort by involving themselves needlessly in speculative questions -- profound transcendental doctrinal enigmas -- with which they have no concern? As Ahaziah seems not to inquire how he was to recover, but if he was to recover, so how many there are who, like him, perplex themselves with the same question, in a spiritual sense; 'Am I ordained to be raised from the death of trespasses and sins? Am I among the number of the elect? Has God, by a predestined decree, placed me among the saved? Have I His seal on my forehead?' Vain dreamers! seeking to penetrate into the mysteries of heaven -- "the secret things which belong only to the Lord our God" -- instead of giving themselves to the great practical work of applying the sovereign remedy of the gospel, already provided and already offered to them, working out their own salvation with fear and trembling.

        But to return to the narrative. The messengers of Ahaziah are now on their way -- speeding along the plain of Esdraelon -- charged to hasten with fleet foot to relieve the feverish anxieties of their lord. Laden, doubtless, with golden bribes and offerings, they expect to retrace their steps with a propitious response from the flattering oracle. But who is this, when the king's message demands such haste, that dares to thwart them in their mission, and to cross their path? What living oracle can this be, who seems to arrest in a moment that band of royal delegates, and send them back trembling and panic-stricken to the couch of their dying king? At that couch they stand -- and the monarch, with startled looks, seeing probably their trepidation, interrogates them as to the cause of this strange and speedy return. With the old smouldering passion kindling up in his languid eye, he demands, as if half guessing the dreaded truth, "Why have you now come back?" The reason was soon told -- a wild, strange, unearthly being -- with hairy cloak, and flowing beard, and leathern belt, had stood in their way; and, with a voice of thunder, in the name of Jehovah, had exclaimed -- "Why are you going to Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, to ask whether the king will get well? Is there no God in Israel? Now, since you have done this, you will never leave the bed on which you are lying, but you will surely die."

        We gather from the narrative, that these messengers had either never personally seen 'the evil genius' of Ahab's house; or, at all events, they had not recognized the Prophet-messenger of the God of Israel, in that singular personage, who had met them on their way, like a lion from the dens of Carmel. But the king does not for a moment hesitate in recognizing their description. He exclaims, "It is Elijah the Tishbite!" In his inmost soul, though he may try to conceal his guilty fears, we almost hear him echoing his father's words, "Have you found me, O my enemy?"
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« Reply #67 on: June 17, 2008, 09:10:46 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
17. AHAZIAH AND THE GOD OF EKRON
By John MacDuff, 1877

        It is yet another of the Prophet's sudden appearances. He comes upon them like a flash of lightning; utters with thrilling brevity his solemn message, and then retires; for the description of the dramatic scene closes with the words, "And Elijah departed." Bold, brave man! Here he was once more, "jealous for the Lord of hosts." Deeper affront could not have been offered to the Jehovah before whom he stood, than was perpetrated by the reigning monarch -- in ignoring the God of the Hebrew nation in the eyes of the heathen -- and going down to Egypt for help. It was a base violation of the fundamental law of the theocracy, "You shall have no other gods before me." "In Judah is God known; his name is great in Israel. In Salem also is his tabernacle, and his dwelling place in Zion." "Confounded be all those who worship engraved images."

        As certainly as Saul's wild, heathenish, debasing mission to the cave of the enchantress at Endor sealed his doom, so does this impious insult of the son of Ahab seal his. It was doing sinful homage to an idol-god, in the face of almost unparalleled proofs of Jehovah's supremacy. Never, since the epoch of the exodus, had wonders and miracles been more profusely displayed than now, through the instrumentality of Elijah; and yet this apostate from the faith of his fathers, who had witnessed God's arm thus made bare, sends, in the very hour of righteous judgment and rebuke, the officers of his court to consult in his behalf with the miserable fly-god of Ekron, in Philistia. "Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph." "If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god, shall not God search this out?"

        There is yet one other incident worthy of note in this passage, before we close the present chapter. It is the appearance of the majestic messenger -- One mightier than Elijah -- "Stronger" than "THE STRONG" -- who sends him to meet the servants of the king of Samaria. He is called here "the Angel of the Lord," or rather, "the Angel, THE LORD;" "the Angel JEHOVAH." None other can he be than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself -- the great covenant Angel; the same Divine Personage, who, anticipating as it were the period of His incarnation, had appeared to Abraham at Mamre, to Jacob at Peniel, and to Gideon at Ophrah. This idolatrous king of covenant Israel was sending to solicit the intercessions of heathen Baal -- defiling Jehovah's throne -- desecrating his country's altars -- like Nadab and Abihu, seeking to offer strange fire. The great future Intercessor of His Church arrests the messengers on their insulting errand; and shows, that if He is rejected as strong to save, He will manifest, in righteous severity, that He is strong to smite!

        Terrible thought! to forfeit, by our own incorrigible sins, the intercessions of Him who alone can save us -- to have His rejected blood pleading, not for us, but against us -- oh, while we see the life of Israel's monarch fast ebbing, as he lies on his royal couch at Samaria -- when we think, moreover, of his own daring impiety, as that which sealed his doom and hurried him to an early grave -- how solemnly do we seem to listen to the words of that insulted covenant Angel -- "Their sorrows shall be multiplied, who hasten after another god. Their drink-offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips."

        Yet, may we not, also, in this very sentence of death uttered by the angel Jehovah, derive a comforting reflection? Is it no solace to think that life and death are in the hands of that Angel-God; that what appears to us to be the most wayward and capricious of occurrences -- the departure of a human being from this world -- is directly under His sovereign control; that He gives the lease of life; and, when He sees fit, revokes the grant? He speaks indeed, in the case of Ahaziah, in righteous wrath; but, to each of His own people, as the divine Savior -- the Brother-man -- He says, not in anger or judgment, but in love and faithfulness -- "You shall not come down from that bed on which you are gone up, but shall surely die."

        Death has no terrors when it comes thus as a message from death's great Conqueror. As He sent Elijah -- the minister of flaming fire -- with the tidings of doom to the chamber of the wicked; so does He send angels -- glorious beings, who delight to do His pleasure -- to the death-beds of His saints, to bear their disembodied spirits upward on wings of light and love to heavenly mansions. "Father, I will," (is His last and closing intercessory prayer in behalf of every member of the Church on earth,) "that they also, whom you have given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory!"
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« Reply #68 on: June 17, 2008, 09:12:50 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
18. THE SECOND ANSWER BY FIRE
By John MacDuff, 1877
       

        2 Kings 1:9-18

        Then the king sent an army captain with fifty soldiers to arrest Elijah. They found him sitting on top of a hill. The captain said to him, "Man of God, the king has commanded you to come along with us."
        But Elijah replied to the captain, "If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and destroy you and your fifty men!" Then fire fell from heaven and killed them all.
        So the king sent another captain with fifty men. The captain said to him, "Man of God, the king says that you must come down right away."
        Elijah replied, "If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and destroy you and your fifty men!" And again the fire of God fell from heaven and killed them all.
        Once more the king sent a captain with fifty men. But this time the captain fell to his knees before Elijah. He pleaded with him, "O man of God, please spare my life and the lives of these, your fifty servants. See how the fire from heaven has destroyed the first two groups. But now please spare my life!"
        Then the angel of the Lord said to Elijah, "Don't be afraid. Go with him." So Elijah got up and went to the king.
        And Elijah said to the king, "This is what the Lord says: Why did you send messengers to Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, to ask whether you will get well? Is there no God in Israel? Now, since you have done this, you will never leave the bed on which you are lying, but you will surely die."
        So Ahaziah died, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah.


        "For behold, the Lord will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire." Isaiah 66:15

        "And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will be clothed in sackcloth and will prophesy during those 1,260 days. If anyone tries to harm them, fire flashes from the mouths of the prophets and consumes their enemies. This is how anyone who tries to harm them must die." Rev. 11:5

        In last chapter, we considered the account given of the messengers who were sent by Ahaziah, from his sick-bed, to consult the oracle of Baal-zebub, the fly-god at the Philistine city of Ekron. While hastening on their journey, we found them suddenly arrested by none other than Elijah himself. We followed them as they returned to the chamber of their sovereign, bearing to him the Prophet's doom of death -- the merited retribution for so impious a deference to an idol of the heathen, and so insulting a rejection of the God of Israel. We shall now pursue the narrative, and note how the message of these heralds of evil tidings was received by the prostrate king.

        The unexpected intervention of Elijah was calculated to fill Ahaziah with dismay. The king knew that the words and threatenings of the stern Prophet carried with them a frightening significance. That never-to-be-forgotten day on Carmel -- the fire, the slaughter, the blood -- must have engraven itself deep in his young memory. He might well have deemed it the height of madness to trifle with the sayings of one who could unlock the armory of Heaven, and inflict dreadful vengeance on the adversaries of the God he served. Therefore, as a doomed man, we half expect, half hope, to see the tear of penitence trembling in his eye, and messengers forthwith despatched along the plain of Esdraelon, to endeavor to avert or modify the dreadful denunciation. But the blood of his mother Jezebel flows in this sick man's veins. The message of the Prophet rouses him only to wild and frenzied exasperation. He resolves that the Tishbite shall forfeit his liberty or his life for his bold presumption.

        How sad when affliction, in whatever shape it comes to us, whether it be sickness, or bereavement, or worldly loss, is not accompanied with the humbling effects of resignation, penitence, submission! Outward trials, as we have remarked before, in speaking of Ahab, if they be not sanctified for softening the heart, must have the opposite result of leading to a deeper hardening and impenitency. So it was now with Ahaziah. We might have expected that his sickness would have proved a salutary warning -- a rousing messenger of rebuke and alarm to his soul, humbling him in godly sorrow and tears, and leading him to cry for mercy. But instead of being like oil poured on the troubled waters -- calming their fretfulness -- that sickness proved rather like oil thrown into the flames, feeding their fury. The dying man presents a picture of what, alas! is not infrequently seen, though the saddest of all spectacles -- a scorner and spurner of the most solemn providential warnings at the very last gasp of life -- contending with his Maker -- lifting his soul in proud defiance against God.

        It is evident, from the troop of soldiers the king summons, that he deems the Tishbite no insignificant prey. An officer, with fifty men, is sent in hot haste to bring him dead or alive to the palace of Samaria. Elijah has meanwhile retired to "the top of a hill" -- "the top of the mount" -- supposed with every probability to be Mount Carmel. There he once more manifests in all its integrity, his old hero-spirit -- the truest of all bravery -- that of unflinching faith and trust in his God. Seated on the summit, watching the armed band approaching, he would at once conjecture their hostile intent.

        Had he been the panic-stricken Prophet we so lately found wandering in the desert of Beersheba, he would have girded up his loins, and with the fleet foot which, on a previous occasion, near this same place, had outstripped the steeds of Ahab's chariot, he would have evaded the vengeance of his pursuers, either by distant flight, or by taking refuge in one of the many caves of Carmel with which he was familiar. But his old watchword and motto again rises to the ascendant. No, under the consciousness of the presence and nearness of the Covenant Angel -- the Divine, mysterious Personage, whose voice had a few brief hours before addressed him -- he could say, with a special emphasis, "The Angel of the Lord encamps round about then that fear him, and delivers them. O taste and see that the Lord is good -- blessed is the man who trusts in him." If one wavering unworthy thought might for a moment have obtruded itself, we may imagine him rebuking it in the words of the Psalmist King -- "The Lord is my rock and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God -- my strength in whom I will trust; my shield, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower." Indeed, the lessons of Horeb were now too indelibly written on his inmost soul to be forgotten. The time was when he might have been tempted to succumb before the storm, and in coward unbelief to utter the desponding plaint, "My heart and my flesh fails." But since the Lord had "passed by," and spoken in "the still small voice," he had been taught that "Jehovah was the strength of his heart and his portion forever." Though a host therefore should now encamp against him, his heart does not fear.
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« Reply #69 on: June 17, 2008, 09:14:56 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
18. THE SECOND ANSWER BY FIRE
By John MacDuff, 1877

        The officer or captain of the troop approaches within speaking distance, and exclaims, "O man of God, the king has said, Come down!" "Man of God." This appellation may have been uttered in profane irony -- as if this godless captain of a godless king, would make stern proof of how useless was the name, when fifty gleaming swords were ready to leap from their scabbards should resistance be attempted. But even had no such arrogant sarcasm been implied, it was crime and presumption enough to order thus summarily a prophet of Israel, who had done nothing but deliver a message on his Master's authority, to surrender himself captive at the bidding of a treacherous and apostate monarch. It was not so much contempt of Elijah, as insult to Him whose messenger and servant he was. Woe to the earthly power that would dare dishonor an ambassador of the Most High!

        Elijah, resolute and unmoved, majestically answered, "If I am a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty." Grandly does the Tishbite appear at this moment -- not in anger, but with the calm dignity of conscious POWER, as the divinely-appointed minister of vengeance. He vindicates his mission and magnifies his office. He remembers that his own name signifies "God the Lord" -- to rise up therefore against him, was to insult and desecrate the noble character he bore, as the representative and viceregent of Heaven. That captain and his fifty, as the delegates of an earthly sovereign, had dared to defy and outbrave the warning of the King of kings -- "Touch not my anointed, and do my prophets no harm." As the Prophet of Fire, Elijah gives the word. The lightning leaps from the cloud. At one flash, the captain and his fifty men lie scattered on the green sward of Carmel -- a mass of smouldering ashes -- a silent, terrible testimony to the truth, "Jehovah lives!" "The Lord reigns; let the people tremble." "A FIRE goes before him and burns up all his enemies round about; the heavens declare his righteousness, and all the people see his glory."

        The king, meanwhile, has been waiting in the vain expectation of the return of his soldiers with the captured Prophet. He cannot brook delay. Another captain with fifty are commissioned to go forth on the same embassy; and bearing a still more urgent and imperious message. Unappalled by the spectacle of his smitten comrades, the leader of this second band delivers the summons, "O man of God, thus has the king said, Come down at once!" But vain is the arrogant demand. Again the artillery of heaven opens -- the volleyed lightning speeds -- and the second fifty men share the terrible fate of their predecessors. "The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave his voice; hailstones and coals of fire. Yes, he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; and he shot out lightnings, and routed them," (Psalms 18:13, 14.)

        Ahaziah could not fail, by this time, to be fully cognizant of these appalling judgments. He might possibly have ventured to put an atheistic construction on the death of the first fifty -- that they had been the victims of unhappy and untoward accident -- that the lightnings -- the capricious shafts from the quiver of 'nature' -- had, by sad mishap, fallen on the slopes of Carmel where his soldiers were. But now that the very same catastrophe had overtaken the second group, there could surely be little debate that a 'Higher hand' had put the bow on the string and made ready the arrows. Blinded indeed must that dying monarch be, if he still refuses to desist from his mad, impotent rage.

        If there be no reprieve from the merited doom pronounced on his own head, surely, one must think, at all events, before the retributive sentence is executed, he will with his dying breath do homage to the Almighty Being he has insulted and provoked, and confess that the Jehovah of Elijah is the only true God. Alas! how much it takes to humble the proud heart. Apart from divine grace no outward trial can do it. Impending death itself, that hour when, we might suppose, all false confidences and illusions might well be shaken, finds the hardened and impenitent impervious as ever to conviction. Hence the miserable delusion of those who trust that they will have penitential feelings in their last hours. It is too often a vain unrealized dream. "As men live, so do men die!" The scorner in life, is a scorner at the last -- the blasphemer in life, is often a wilder blasphemer at the last. The unjust remain "unjust still" and the filthy remain "filthy still." Oh, it is the saddest picture of moral apostasy -- the saddest exponent of the enmity of the unregenerate when even DEATH, the 'king of terrors' brings no terror to the seared conscience and the unfeeling, stubborn, and obdurate soul -- the banner of proud defiance against Christ waved, even when the dreadful gloom of mortal darkness is closing in all around!

        The king's passion is still roused -- the fever of vengeance burns hot as ever; and the last miserable dregs of his life are spent in the renewed attempt to baffle Omnipotence, but only to squander afresh the blood of his innocent soldiers. A third troop of fifty are equipped and sent forth on the same luckless errand. Wise, however, at all events on this latter occasion, is their leader. On reaching Carmel, he sees from the dreadful memorials of rejected warning in the blackened skeletons around, how vain it would be, again contemptuously to summon Elijah to surrender; how vain rather, by assaulting the person of God's ambassador, to rush with madness against the bosses of Jehovah's shield. He falls down a suppliant at the Prophet's feet, begs for his own life and that of his followers. He besought him, and pleaded with him, "O man of God, please spare my life and the lives of these, your fifty servants. See how the fire from heaven has destroyed the first two groups. But now please spare my life!"
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« Reply #70 on: June 17, 2008, 09:17:07 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
18. THE SECOND ANSWER BY FIRE
By John MacDuff, 1877

        Be it ours to imitate the example of this soldier, and take timely warning by the fearful fate of the despisers of divine vengeance. Every narrative of punishment in the olden time, is a parable -- the foreshadow of sadder eternal realities, written for our admonition on whom the ends of the world have come. The present incident is one of these Old Testament prefigurations, of the certain doom that will overtake all who dare to fight against God. "Hand" here is "joined in hand" -- fifty by fifty league themselves against the Almighty; but their "swift destruction" leads to us the solemn lesson, that "the wicked shall not escape unpunished."

        Yes, let all who make light of divine warnings and venture on high-handed resistance to God's word and will, gather around these heaps of smouldering ashes and splintered armor on the slopes of Carmel, and hear the silent voice of the silent dead proclaim the sterner verities of a world to come -- "Upon the wicked he shall rain fire and brimstone and an horrible tempest; this is the portion of their cup" -- "The chaff he shall burn with unquenchable fire!"

        Before we leave the scene of flaming retribution, let us connect it and contrast it, for a moment, with that other "answer by fire," which, ten years before, had descended on this same mountain. The two may not inaptly be taken as symbolic illustrations of the law and the gospel. The GOSPEL lesson and picture is conveyed in the older narrative. The fire from heaven, invoked by Elijah, fell on the sacrifice as an atonement for the sins of the people. The thousands of Israel were gathered around, gazing in expectant silence, while the lone Prophet laid the bullock in pieces on the altar. As the fire at his intercession came down; not an Israelite was touched, not a hair of their head was singed; the visible emblem of God's wrath consumed the vicarious sacrifice -- then followed the rain clouds of blessing, and the multitudes dispersed with the praises of Jehovah on their lips -- "God is the Lord who has kindled for us the flame. Oh give thanks unto Jehovah; for he is good -- for his mercy endures forever," (Psalms 118:27, 29.)

        In our present narrative, we behold the emblem of the LAW. That previous, ever-memorable day of sacrifice, seems to be guiltily forgotten and ignored alike by king and soldiers. The altar erected by Elijah is desecrated -- the shrine of Baal-zebub at Ekron is madly preferred to it. And now, when above the same hallowed ground, the clouds of heaven again part -- the winged lightning -- emblem of righteous vengeance -- falls on the defiant sinners themselves. The rejected Deity manifests Himself under the dreadful revelation of "a consuming fire."

        Do we know the reality of this solemn alternative? "The Lord answers by fire!" Fire -- the wrath due to sin -- must come down, either on the sinner or on the provided Sacrifice. Reject the Savior and His great atonement, and however splendid or imposing may be our own moralities and boasted righteousness, "fire" must come forth from His presence and "mingle our blood with our sacrifices." Blessed are they who have been enabled to lay hold by faith on the glorious gospel declaration -- "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." We may devoutly say, in the words of the captain of the third fifty, as we address the true "Man of God" -- the "Man of His right hand" -- the God-man Mediator -- "O man of God, I pray you, let my life be precious in your sight!" 'I have given you,' may He not reply, 'the best proof which, (Omnipotent though I be) I could give, that your life is thus precious in my sight, in not sparing my own, that you might have the gracious offer of a free salvation! The precious blood I shed, is the evidence and exponent of the preciousness of your souls to Me! "I came that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly."'

        But to return. The supplication of the third captain is graciously heard. As it was with Elijah's Lord in Horeb, so is it with himself now; the voice of mercy follows the earthquake and the fire. The lives of the troop are spared. The Angel Jehovah of the preceding context, again addressing his servant, bids him fearlessly join himself to the armed band, accompany them back to the city, and confront in person the dying king. The Prophet accordingly descends from the summit of the hill, and, unaccoutred with human arms or armor, joins the cavalcade.

        We may imagine them entering the gates of Samaria. There is an unusual stir in the royal city. A monarch, whose life is fast ebbing in the palace, would be theme enough of absorbing interest and excitement. But to this was added the strange tale, or rather the startling reality, of the holocaust on Carmel, and the terrible revival of Elijah's power. How the eager crowd would rush to the city-gates to catch a glimpse of the wonder-working Prophet -- the captured hero -- loved and revered by many -- dreaded by all!

        And, if such were the feelings of the general population, what must have been those of the king, when, in a few moments, the rough hair-clad man stands at the bedside of the monarch he has doomed! It was the sparrow cowering in the presence of the hawk! We are again forcibly struck, indeed, with the calm dignity of Elijah's demeanor. There is no reference to the miraculous vengeance -- the fire-smiting of the earlier part of the day -- no boasting or parade of delegated omnipotence. As the minister of the Most High he simply utters his message, and then retires. He solemnly repeats, without comment, "the word of the Lord" -- "This is what the Lord says: Why did you send messengers to Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, to ask whether you will get well? Is there no God in Israel? Now, since you have done this, you will never leave the bed on which you are lying, but you will surely die."
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« Reply #71 on: June 17, 2008, 09:19:53 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
18. THE SECOND ANSWER BY FIRE
By John MacDuff, 1877

        The delivery of this doom ends the remarkable interview. The king is silent. He is too much appalled in the presence of the man of God, or else his bodily strength is sinking too rapidly, to permit him to entertain the thought either of remonstrance or of vengeance. The pallor of death slowly gathers over his countenance -- for the solemn statement immediately follows, "So he died according to the word of the Lord which Elijah had spoken." It was the Tishbite's last meeting with the house of Ahab; his last message of wrath -- his last protest against Baal. The hours of his own earthly existence were now nearly spent -- already the sentence was framing in the upper sanctuary, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

        It is pleasing to think of him in this, his closing public act, true as ever to his great life-work and calling, as the unflinching Reformer of his day -- denouncing the degradations of the Baal worship, quenching the strange fires on the defiled altars of his country, and rekindling the sacred flames -- the same heroic spirit we found him when first presented to us on the sacred page; like Moses, not fearing the wrath of the king, but enduring, as seeing Him who is invisible. "Go down with him, be not afraid," said the Angel-Jehovah to the Prophet. It is the same encouraging word Jesus speaks to us, in all time of our tribulation. He will Himself descend with us from our Carmels, to the battle of life -- from our hill-tops of prosperity to the valley of humiliation and trouble. He says to us, as He said to His church in Philadelphia, "I also will keep you from" (yes, in) "the hour of temptation." "At my first answer," says Paul, "no man stood with me, but all men forsook me; notwithstanding, the Lord stood with me and strengthened me; and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion."

        The reference to the incident which has occupied our attention in this chapter would not be complete, without taking in connection with it that parallel passage in the Gospels, where two Apostles, in the blindness of a false zeal, sought to draw, from Elijah's conduct on this occasion, a vindication of their own unworthy desire of retaliation. When our blessed Lord and His disciples were journeying together in this very district, on their way from Galilee to Jerusalem -- James and John were stung to the quick by the churlish inhospitality of some Samaritan villagers. These villagers had refused, to the Jewish strangers, the customary courtesies accorded to travelers -- and in their passionate misguided zeal, the two "sons of thunder," (as the Lord had well named them,) -- perhaps a distant view of Carmel suggesting the precedent, asked permission of their Master, that, in imitation of the old Prophet, they might call down fire from heaven -- "Lord, do you us to command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elijah did?" The proposal was sharply rebuked and silenced. "You know not," said He, "what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of man has not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them."

        Jesus does not vindicate the conduct of the boorish, sectarian villagers; but He bids the imprecators of vengeance remember that they had grievously mistaken and misapprehended the character of the dispensation under which they lived. The days of Elijah were past. It was now no longer the economy of terror, judgments, visible retribution; but the gentle, peaceful era of the Gospel. The calling down of fire from heaven on the part of the Tishbite, was no more than the visible expression of the character of that severe, rigid dispensation, whose prophet and interpreter he was. It was different altogether under the dispensation of the Spirit -- the newly inaugurated era of peace and love.

        "The Son of man has not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them!" How this declaration rebukes the spirit of intolerance which has marked for centuries the career of persecuting churches, and more especially the apostate Church of Rome -- that Church which has sought to maintain its own supremacy, and to crush truth and freedom, by means of fire, prison, and the sword -- and this under the spurious name of "religious zeal." Whatever be the strength of our own convictions, we dare not, as the children of the new dispensation of light and love and charity, attempt to lord it over the consciences of others. Corrupt worship and practice are not to be uprooted and extirpated by violence and penal laws. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal. Those who use the sword must perish by the sword. All acts of resentment, vindictiveness, revenge -- either on the part of Christians as individuals, or in their corporate capacity as a church -- are inimical to the spirit and character of Him, who was meek and lowly in heart, and whose dying utterances were words of forgiveness.

        And if we may draw yet another lesson from this same passage, and one more specially applicable to the times in which we live, it is, that the present tendency to inflame and foster "the war-spirit" is in every way opposed to the economy of the Gospel. Let us not be mistaken or misapprehended. All honor to the brave men who (noble examples of self-sacrifice) are willing to shed their blood and surrender their lives for their country's good -- the guardians of our homes, our liberties, and all that are dear to us! Moreover, as society at least now exists, we pronounce those to be the wildest dreamers, who, on spurious "peace-at-any-price" principles, would disband our armies -- convert our swords into ploughshares, and pave with cannon our iron highways. But neither can we coincide with those who would draw from the stern conflicts and bloody exploits recorded in the pages of Old Testament story, argument and defense, if not encouragement, for the savage realities of modern war -- and for the reason already assigned, that the character of the dispensation is completely changed. As little dare we take the fierce campaigns of Joshua, Gideon, David, and others, with their cruel accompaniments, to justify the modern war-spirit -- as we can take the fact of Elijah's slaughter of the apostate priesthood, or Elijah's invoking the fire to descend on Ahaziah's soldiers, as a vindication of the minister or priest who now would gird himself for the work of slaying -- or venture, with his own hands, to take bloody retaliation on the enemies of Him to whom vengeance belongs.

        Elijah's age (symbolized in Horeb by the earthquake, the hurricane, and the fire) has passed away, and has been succeeded by that of "the still small voice." We maintain, therefore, that War -- meaning by that, either the unbridled letting loose of the fierce passions of human nature, or the frantic lust of conquest and aggression -- is not more a blot on humanity, than a presumptuous violation and desecration of the spirit of the New Testament -- that kingdom which "is righteousness and peace." May God, in His mercy, hasten the time, when the spirit of the new economy shall be more widely recognized and acknowledged -- when nations, as nations, shall listen to and obey the great law of the Gospel dispensation, enunciated by the lips of the Prince of Peace, its author and representative -- "This is my commandment, that you love one another!"
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« Reply #72 on: June 17, 2008, 09:23:59 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
19. FAREWELL VISITS TO THE SONS OF THE PROPHETS
By John MacDuff, 1877
       

        2 Kings 2:1-7

        When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal. And Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Bethel."
        But Elisha replied, "As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you!" So they went on together to Bethel.
        The group of prophets from Bethel came to Elisha and asked him, "Did you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?"
        "Quiet!" Elisha answered. "Of course I know it."
        Then Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Jericho."
        But Elisha replied again, "As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you." So they went on together to Jericho.
        Then the group of prophets from Jericho came to Elisha and asked him, "Did you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?"
        "Quiet!" he answered again. "Of course I know it."
        Then Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to the Jordan River."
        But again Elisha replied, "As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you." So they went on together.
        Fifty men from the group of prophets also went and watched from a distance as Elijah and Elisha stopped beside the Jordan River.


        "As you know how we exhorted and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his children." 1 Thessalonians 2:11

        "They wept aloud as they embraced him in farewell, sad most of all because he had said that they would never see him again. Then they accompanied him down to the ship." Acts 20:37-38

        The eventful time has at length arrived, when, from his changeful and chequered life-experience, the pilgrim prophet is to be upborne in a fiery chariot to his heavenly rest and crown. And yet, notwithstanding the divine premonition he had evidently received of the honor in store for him, we never could guess from his bearing and demeanor that anything extraordinary was impending. Another day, and he would be soaring, in his magnificent flight, amid angels -- kindred spirits in the upper sanctuary -- ministers of flaming fire -- communing with the sainted fathers and patriarchs of his nation -- yes, gazing on the ineffable glories of God Himself. How such an anticipation would have overpowered most men, and made the repression of exultant feeling an impossibility!

        But it was different with this moral hero. He betrays no apparent emotion. We meet him on the way from Gilgal, walking side by side with Elisha -- calm, unmoved, unagitated. He appears more like a father, making farewell visits to his scattered family, before undertaking some long pilgrimage. Even when he meets his friends in this his last journey, he makes no reference to the peerless honor awaiting him. He sounds no trumpet before him. He could easily have gathered all Israel to the heights of the Jordan valley, to witness the wondrous spectacle of his departure. But with the humility of true greatness he keeps the secret locked in his bosom -- perhaps the one dominant thought in his great soul, with the vision of that fiery rapture before him, was -- 'What have I done, after all, to merit such an ovation as this?'

        "O you noble Tishbite," says Krummacher, "how does your noble appearance cast us all into the shade! You desire to be nothing that God may be everything, and tremble lest you should be taken for more than a dark shadow to set off the divine glory. Concealing the secret of your approaching triumph, you fly the eye of witnesses, and you seek a veil for your glory, afraid lest any one should admire and praise, instead of the Sun, the little dew-drop that reflects his beams. And yet you had not seen Him who spoke, 'I am meek and lowly in heart;' 'I seek not my own honor, but him who sent me.' We have seen Him -- the Beloved of the Father -- and yet how clearly does His image shine in you, compared with us! Yes, we penetrate your motive -- we understand your wishes, and are covered with shame!"

        As in the case of Naomi's remonstrance with Ruth in a former age, it is probable that Elijah, with the view of testing the fidelity and attachment of Elisha, thus addressed his trusted brother-prophet at Gilgal, "Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Bethel." He repeats the same at Bethel; and yet again at Jericho. But Elisha's constancy was unshaken. He was no summer friend, forsaking the prop on which he had long leaned when it was about to be removed. No importunities would deter him from discharging the last offices of hallowed earthly attachment. Dissimilar as we have seen the two in many ways were, in feelings and character, Elisha had been taught too tenderly to love and revere that once rough, stern spirit, to whom he owed so much, to desert him in tho closing scene. And he solemnly protests, "As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you!"
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« Reply #73 on: June 17, 2008, 09:26:54 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
19. FAREWELL VISITS TO THE SONS OF THE PROPHETS
By John MacDuff, 1877

        We are introduced, in this concluding portion of Elijah's history, to some new localities -- Gilgal, Bethel, and Jericho. In the previous passages of his life, with the exception of the one incident of his flight to the Sinai wilderness, our interest was concentrated in the northern kingdom around Samaria, Jezreel, and Carmel. In this closing chapter, it is transferred to the border cities of the two nations, the valley of the Jordan, and the giant mountain range on its eastern banks. Let us pause to say a word in passing, regarding Gilgal, the place from which the two prophets are represented as starting together in company, and where Elijah had purposely gone to make the first of these his farewell visits. It is only recent explorers who have solved satisfactorily the topographical difficulties which surround this place of their departure. The old, immemorial Gilgal, which formed Joshua's first encamping ground after entering Canaan, was situated in the lower valley of the Jordan in front of Jericho. By a glance at any map of Palestine, it will at once be observed that it would have been a strange circuitous route for Elijah to have taken in order to reach the ford of the Jordan, had he traveled, (as has been generally taken for granted,) from the Gilgal of Joshua north to Bethel, and thence from Bethel back to Jericho. Moreover, the peculiarity of the expression in ver. 2, "So they went down to Bethel," would be manifestly inappropriate with reference to the city of Israel's encampment. No one could be said to "descend" from it to "the holy city," seeing that the way from the Gilgal of the Jordan valley to Bethel, is a gradual ascent of twelve hundred feet. We must seek its locality, therefore, somewhere among the mountains towards the north. The remains of a city or village, Jiljilia, on a steep, flat-topped hill, in the borders of Ephraim, north-west of Bethel, from which Ebal and Gerizim and the distant Hermon are seen northwards, and the mountains of Gilead towards the east, seems conclusively to point to the real locality of Elijah's present sojourn. Indeed, this "mountain-Gilgal" is incidentally mentioned long previously by Moses in connection with the old Canaanitish kingdom -- "Are they not on the other side Jordan, by the way where the sun goes down, in the land of the Canaanites, which dwell in the champaign over against Gilgal, beside the plains of Moreh?" (Deuteronomy . 11:30.)

        But leaving this point of mere geographical interest, let us proceed to note the object of Elijah's farewell visits to these three favored cities.

        There was an unusual and unmistakable stir and excitement in Gilgal, Bethel, and Jericho that day. Companies of young men -- called here "Sons of the Prophets" -- are seen gathering in earnest and arrested groups -- and when the two reverend men of God are welcomed in their midst, they beckon Elisha aside, and the secret is with trembling lips whispered by the surrounding youth in his ears -- "Did you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?" To this query, the reply was given with bated breath -- "Yes, I know it indeed -- hush! be silent!"

        This introduces us to a new and most interesting phase in Elijah's history. We have hitherto been contemplating him in his public aggressive character, as the bold reformer -- the defender of the old faith -- the unsparing "iconoclast" -- the uncompromising antagonist of the Baal worshipers -- God's ordained minister of fire and judgment against the workers of iniquity -- the vindicator of the Divine righteousness -- the avenger alike of Israel's defiled scepter and polluted altars. But here we have him under a new representation -- no longer engaged on the outward bulwarks he had so nobly strengthened and defended, but occupied with an equally momentous work. Directed, doubtless, mainly by the Spirit of God, but inspired also by his own apprehension for the decay of true religion throughout the land in this period of degeneracy, he had spent his closing years in providing for the spiritual well-being of the generation to come by establishing three, if not more, "Schools" -- the Universities -- or, if we might be allowed the modern term, the "Divinity halls," or Missionary seminaries of the age. By instructing in these, the flower of the Hebrew youth, in the great principles of the theocracy and the religion of their ancestors, he ensured the existence of a seed to serve his God, when he would be gathered to his fathers in the Church above. We must regard these Colleges -- these repositories of sacred truth and learning, specially as the institutes of Elijah.

        True, indeed, we read of similar "schools of the Prophets" in the age and under the venerable presidency of Samuel, in Gibeah and Ramah. Interesting, however, as these earlier institutions were, they were temporary in their character, compared with those of the age of Elijah. They seem to have had no fixed external constitution or organization -- to have partaken more of the character of voluntary associations or combinations of youth, whose object was very much the cultivation of sacred poetry and music, and which were discontinued and superseded in the reign of David, by the new era he inaugurated in the services of the sanctuary and in sacred song.

        Moreover, the people in the age of Samuel, mainly through their reverence and love for his exalted character, and their gratitude for deliverance by his prayers from Philistine oppression, were imbued with his pious spirit. Though the priesthood had degenerated, the heart of the nation was sound. Samuel's influence, were it nothing else, had secured their loyalty to the God he so faithfully served. In Elijah's age all was different. A withering blight had passed over the old theocratic devotion. The people were woefully demoralized. Seduced by court influence, and by their own corruptions, they had lapsed into abominable idolatries. So lamentable indeed was the general apostasy, that, as we have seen, he who was best conversant with the gangrened condition of the body politic, had uttered the desponding plaint, "I am left alone!" May it not have been one of the many sacred lessons Elijah was taught at Horeb -- or rather, may it not have been one of the practical results of the assurance given him there, that there were yet seven thousand loyal-hearted in the land, his being led thus to adopt means permanently to secure some of this residuary "leaven," for the benefit of succeeding ages? What better method could he devise, for protecting and perpetuating the purity of truth and worship, than founding a number godly Schools -- nurseries of devotion and sacred literature. What more hallowed or befitting occupation for the evening of his own life, when silvered locks had now displaced the raven hair of former days, and the giant strength of Cherith and Carmel had to bow to the inexorable demands of advancing years, than to be engaged in rearing up and indoctrinating a noble band of young Israelites in the principles of the old theocracy? He seems to have made the words and the prayer of the Psalmist his own -- "O God, you have taught me from my youth -- and hitherto have I declared your wondrous works. Now, also, when I am old and gray-headed, O God, forsake me not, until I have showed your strength unto this generation, and your power to every one that is to come."
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« Reply #74 on: June 17, 2008, 09:29:50 AM »

THE  PROPHET OF FIRE
The life and times of Elijah, with their lessons
19. FAREWELL VISITS TO THE SONS OF THE PROPHETS
By John MacDuff, 1877

        We can only form a dim conjecture and conception of these closing eight years of hallowed occupation in the southern cities of Israel. If the Tishbite's bodily frame was more fragile than in the chivalrous days of earlier manhood; his soul, at least, burned, as ever, with inextinguishable fire. We can think of him gathering these children of the corrupt faith around him -- expounding the great principles of the Levitical and Moral Law -- making them minutely conversant with the details of their sacred books -- the design (so far as was then revealed) of the complicated typical and ceremonial dispensation -- alternating these several pursuits, as in the earlier schools, with the study of sacred poetry and music -- above all, exhorting his hearers to holy boldness and steadfastness in the faith, in the midst of an infidel and apostate age; and to transmit the great doctrines of the faith unblemished to posterity, that the people who would be created might praise the Lord.

        We may only further add, that these schools, in the kingdom of Israel, so far compensated for the lack of the Temple services and Levitical priesthood, instituted in the metropolis of the kingdom of Judah. If it be a new light, therefore, it is surely an interesting one, to regard Elijah as the founder, in one sense, of Ecclesiastical Colleges -- the first head and principal of a Religious University -- gathering around him a band of unstudied youth and imbuing them with the truth set forth in his own great life motto -- "The Lord lives before whom I stand!"

        Indeed, if he had done nothing else, he would ever have been honored, in this connection, as a benefactor of his people -- the CONSERVATOR, as he had already proved himself the DEFENDER of the faith. What a joy to the aged man to see these altar fires kindled in the Temple of God before his own lamp was put out -- these stars lighting up the theocratic skies, before he vanished like the sun from their sight, to shine in a brighter hemisphere! How he would now feel rebuked for his old saying, "I only am left!" How unreasonable and unwarrantable would his gloomy anticipations now appear, when he beheld these "arrows in the hand of the mighty!" Happy would he be who had thus "his quiver full of them;" and who, in looking round on such "nourishers of his old age," could say, with a grateful heart, to the God be served, "Behold I and the children whom you have given me."

        We may cease to wonder, then, at these eager groups, gathered on that memorable day, around the city gates, at Gilgal, Bethel, and Jericho. The Spirit of God -- whose influence, we have reason to believe, was specially poured out on these Prophetical students, had communicated to them the fact that their revered head and father was about to be taken up to his glorious reward.

        Let us endeavor to realize the scene. Let us picture the youths assembled at one of the college-gates here mentioned -- say that of Bethel. 'Shall we ever see him again? Shall we get his farewell benediction and blessing?' Thus we may imagine them interchanging their hopes and fears; when, all at once, they observe in the distance the well-known figure, in company with Elisha. With hearts bursting with fond, yet mingled emotions, they go forth to meet him! They have gathered lovingly around the object of their veneration, outside the gates of the city, somewhere in the moorish track still scattered with the stones, out of which Jacob, ages before, made his crude pillow. With delicate reticence, they make no allusion to their Spiritual Father of the approaching event. He has said nothing of his severance from them -- and they, with fitting deference, do not introduce the theme uppermost in all their minds. To Elisha alone they confide the eager question, 'Is it indeed the case? Is it true? Can it be?' "Yes, indeed, it is," is the reply, "I know it -- be silent!" As if he said, 'It is too tender a theme to be mooted. Let there be no parting scene -- give and receive the parting farewell, in mute expressive silence!'

        Let us just listen, in passing, to the grand philosophy of death, contained in these simple words of the sons of the prophets -- (what a comfort to those mourning the loss of beloved relatives) -- "Do you know that the Lord will take" your master -- your friend -- your husband -- your wife -- your child "away today." They are taken; but do you know it is "the Lord." Oh rejoice, it is not until He calls they can be "taken." "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken." "HE turns man to destruction, and says, Return, you children of men."

        From Bethel, the two men of God start on another stage of this last journey. They pursue the old well-known valley -- "the long narrow passage, or gorge" -- leading from Ai to Jericho, "which, in other times, formed the route of invading armies into Palestine." On reaching Jericho, the same touching scene, in an interview with the sons of the prophets residing there, is repeated. Last parting counsels and blessings may have been given by Elijah; but, if so, they are not detailed in the simple record. But surely, with reference to himself, it is a touching farewell memory, that his closing earthly thoughts and deeds are in connection with those beloved sons in the faith, whom he had, for the last decade of his life, watched and tended with such paternal interest and solicitude. The old helmsman is about to resign his post; but his last thought is for those, who, after he is gone, are to steer the shattered vessel through the surging sea.
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