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Our Young Folk's Josephus by  William Shepard
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THE MIRACLES OF ELIJAH

[187] NOW the famine grew to be so severe that not only men, but horses and other animals, found it difficult to live. For there was hardly any moisture in the land at all, and neither grasses nor vegetables would grow. So the king called for Obadiah, his steward, and bade him go to the rivers and the fountains, and if any grasses grew near them, he was to cut them down and bring them to feed his horses and cattle. Ahab and Obadiah went out to search all through the land, and Obadiah took one road and the king another. Obadiah was a just and good man. Not long before, Jezebel, in her rage, had ordered that all the prophets of the true God should be killed, but Obadiah had saved one hundred of them alive, and hidden them in caves, where he had fed them on bread and water. He had not travelled very far when he met Elijah, for God had told the prophet that it was now time to go to Ahab and inform him that rain was coming.

Obadiah spoke to Elijah and asked him who he was, and when he had been told, he fell on his face before him. Then Elijah said, "Go to the king, and tell him I am here ready to wait on him."

But Obadiah answered, "What harm have I done thee that thou seekest my death? For knowest thou not that Ahab hath sought thee everywhere in order to kill thee? And if I go to him with thy message, the Lord will surely protect thee and carry thee away while I am gone, and the king, [188] when he finds thou art no longer here, will surely put me to death."

Elijah bade him fear nothing, and solemnly promised that day to appear before Ahab.

Obadiah went and gave the prophet's message to the king. And Ahab came to Elijah, and said, in great anger,—

"Art thou the man that afflicts the people of Israel, and causes famines and droughts?"

"Nay," answered Elijah, "thou art that man, for it is the wickedness of thyself and thy family which hath excited the wrath of God, and brought these calamities upon the country."

Then Elijah told Ahab to assemble all the people on Mount Carmel, and to bring thither all the priests and prophets of Baal, about four hundred in number. So the priests and the people came, and Elijah stood in the midst of the multitude and addressed them, saying,—

"How long, O men of Israel, will you waver in your opinions and remain undecided whether to serve the one true God of your fathers, or this Baal whom Ahab hath set over you? For if you believe our God to be the one true God, then obey His commandments; but if you do not believe in Him, and believe these strange gods are the true gods, then follow them and obey them only."

The people heard what Elijah said, but they made no answer.

Then the prophet continued,—

"Let us make a trial of the power of our God and of the power of these strange gods. I am the only prophet of our God here present, and there are four hundred priests of Baal. Now I will take a bullock and kill it as a sacrifice, and place it upon pieces of wood without kindling any fire, and let these priests of Baal do the same thing. And I will pray to my God, and they shall pray to their god, to send down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifices. And in this way you will learn which is the true God."

[189] The people were pleased with this proposal, and cried out that it should be as Elijah had said.

Then the prophets of Baal killed a bullock, and laid it on pieces of wood, and cried to their god to send down fire to burn it. But no fire came at their prayer. Then Elijah mocked them, and told them to call louder, for perhaps their god was asleep, or on a journey. And they did so, and leaped about the altar and cut themselves with swords and lances, for this was their manner of worshipping. But still no answer came to their prayer.

Then Elijah bade the prophets to go away, but asked the people to come close up to him to see that he did not hide any fire among the wood. And he took twelve stones and built an altar, and dug a trench or ditch around it. He laid pieces of wood upon the altar, and placed a bullock on the wood. Then he ordered the people to fill four barrels with water, and pour the water over the altar, so that the bullock and the wood were both soaked, and the ditch was filled up with water.

When this had been done, Elijah prayed to God and asked Him to make manifest His power to a people that had remained so long in the blindness of error. And a fire came down from heaven in the sight of the multitude, and fell upon the altar and consumed the sacrifice, till the very water was set on fire and the place was become dry.

When the Israelites saw this, they fell down and worshipped God, and called Him the one true God, and said all other gods were false. And at Elijah's bidding they seized the false prophets and slew them.

Then Elijah spoke to the king, and told him that now he might go home and eat and drink, for the rain was coming and the famine would soon be at an end. So Ahab went his way. But Elijah went up to the highest point of Mount Carmel, and sat on the ground, and leaned his head upon his knees. The sky was still entirely clear, and after a little time [190] Elijah told a servant who was with him to go and look towards the sea and let him know if he was a cloud rising anywhere. Six times the man went and came back with the answer that he saw nothing. But the seventh time he said he saw a small black thing in the sky not larger than a man's foot. When Elijah heard that, he sent to Ahab, telling him he had better make haste to the nearest city before the rain came down. Ahab rode in his chariot towards the city of Jezreel. In a little time the sky was all covered with clouds, and a brisk wind sprang up, and there was a very great rain. Ahab reached Jezreel just as the storm burst, and the Lord gave Elijah strength to run before the chariot, so that he came to the gate of the city ahead of Ahab.

When Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, heard of all the wonders that Elijah had wrought, and how he had slain her prophets, she was very angry, and sent messengers to him, threatening him with death. Elijah was frightened, and fled to the city of Beersheba. There he left his servant and went away into the desert. Being very sorrowful, he prayed that he might die. Then he lay down and slept under a tree. On waking in the morning he found food and water set by him. When he had eaten and drunk he felt much refreshed, and he walked on till he came to Mount Sinai, and, finding a cave there, he took up his abode in it. One day, while he was in the cave, he heard a voice calling to him, but he knew not whence it came. The voice asked, "Why hast thou left the city and come hither?"

Elijah answered, "The king's wife seeks to punish me, because I slew the prophets of the false gods and persuaded the people that He only whom they had worshipped from the beginning was God. Therefore have I fled from the city."

Then Elijah heard another voice telling him that he should come out on the next day into the open air, and should then learn what he was to do. When Elijah came out accordingly, a bright flame leaped out of the earth, and the earth itself [191] shook and trembled, and he heard a divine voice ordering him to return home, and to ordain Jehu king of Israel and Hazael of Damascus king of Syria, and that these two kings would punish all the wicked men that had rebelled against God. The voice also told him to ordain as prophet, to succeed himself, a man named Elisha, who lived in the city of Abel. So Elijah departed from Sinai, and on his way he came across Elisha, who was ploughing in the fields. Elijah threw his mantle over Elisha, who at once left off ploughing and began to prophesy. And having first obtained permission to take farewell of his parents, the new prophet followed Elijah and became his disciple and servant all the days of his life.


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