Elijah, Part 4
Elijah lived alone among
The hills where once he'd sprung
From solid stock in Gilead.
He was a Tishbite from his head
Down to his leather thongs, and spent
His days, except when he was sent
On some unhappy errand to
Samaria, in prayer; and grew
Each day less suited for the earth,
Less like the people of his birth
Inside, though like them he would wear
The leather belt and camel hair.
Within he was not there, but felt
His soul on fire each time he knelt
And put his torch into the flame
Of heaven's throne, and took the name
Of God upon his lips, and yearned
To be where God is never spurned,
But every saint and angel soul
Burns for the Lord beyond control.
It was as though the Lord would light
In him a torch so hot and bright,
And so beyond extinguishing
With holy fire and blazing wing,
Not Gilead nor any place
On earth could stand before his face.
Ten years had passed between the time
Elijah made his fearful climb
Along the cliffs of Sinai, where
The still small voice of God in prayer
Had shattered all his lofty zeal,
And left him with a spark more real,
More lowly, more intense, less vain,
More fit for heaven . . . and for pain.
Ten years since he had heard or seen
The widow and her son. Sixteen
Would be his age, and she, he thought:
More beautiful and ripe with years,
No doubt. But surely, after tears,
She would have loved again, and wed
Another man, and made him bread
From that same cruse of oil and jar
Of barley meal that now seem far
Away, but once had held them both
In thrall like a betrothal oath.
Elijah often took the path
From Gilead to Zarephath,
But met the angel of the Lord
Half way; and though he oft implored,
Was never once allowed to see
The widow or her son. "To be
A prophet," he would say, "is death,
Though one should have immortal breath."
Indeed the end was very near,
And God sent down his word, "Give ear,
Elijah, listen well. Your life
Has been a living death: no wife,
No sons, no friends, no gifts to grant,
No pleasant home, no fields to plant,
No fine attire, no games to play,
One long-forgotten great display.
I made your life a living death,
I give you now immortal breath.
Tomorrow you will come with me
Through fire into eternity.
But first a visit you must pay:
Go down to Jericho today,
And bid the prophets there farewell.
There is a message you must tell
To one of them, and one to hear."
And so by nightfall he drew near
The city wall of Jericho,
And waited for a boy to go
And call the prophets from the place
Of prayer. And as they came, each face
He studied for a sign, and prayed
That some impression might be made
Upon his mind which prophet would
Both give and get the word he should.
And one by one they passed before
His eye. At last, a lad, no more
Than sixteen years, came up. "You seem
Familiar, son. Was it a dream
I had or have we met?" The lad
Replied, "We've met. And I am glad
Once more, before you bid farewell,
To see Elijah, and to tell
You now what you have longed to know,
But which the Lord refused to show.
I come from Zarephath. Ten years
Ago I hugged your leg with tears.
You saved my mother with your bread
And raised me from the dead."
Elijah's heart leaped like a fawn
In springtime at the sight of dawn.
He bade the prophets leave. And when
They were alone, there flowed the ten
Long years of tears, and he embraced
The son he might have had. He traced
The silhouette in search of one
He loved but never touched. "My son,"
Elijah said, "How is it now
You've come to Jericho, and vow
With needy prophets here to dwell
Like this? Is not your mother well?"
"I do not know," the boy replied.
I only know that she has died.
And whether she is truly well
Is what the Lord sent you to tell.
My message is a common one
On earth, but yours surpassed by none."
Elijah's heart collapsed as though
The fawn were shot. "And may I know
The way she died, and when? Was it
In recent days? And was she hit
By some disease? Have you no dad?
These years, did she not marry, lad?"
"O she was hit," the boy replied.
I still remember how she cried
Out for the Lord to save your life.
But it was no disease. The knife
Of Jezebel consumes more than
The plague or any sickness can.
The night you left us in Jezreel,
At midnight by the potter's wheel,
And Obadiah hollered, Go?
It was the last thing he would know.
And mother hid me 'neath the stairs,
And all I heard were blows and prayers
For you, lest they should think a son
Elijah, have they won?
The words they spoke still scream inside
My head today. They stood beside
Her body there when she was dead,
Not ten feet from my face and said,
‘Long live the prophets of the Baal,
And such the end of those who fail
To worship him!'
they had left,
I knelt beside her face, bereft
Of everything I knew but you,
And cried until I slept. I do
Not know who found me there or brought
Me here to Jericho.
I now, Elijah, think of God?
Do you still hold to Aaron's rod?
Do streams divide, does fire descend?
Does God still make a meal extend?
Where is Mount Carmel and its might?
Do ravens really fly at night?
Do little boys rise from the dead?
And widows from their mortal bed?
You ask, Elijah, if she's well.
I do not know. But if you tell
Me, I will listen like a son."
Elijah said, "They have not won!
Nor will or could they ever win.
There is none but the Lord. And in
The hills of Gilead I've seen
More glory than a wicked Queen
Could ever win if she would slay
All seven thousand saints today.
For though she reign in splendor now,
Fret not, nor envy those who bow
And benefit from bloody knives.
God will avenge the holy lives
Of fallen saints, and vindicate
The faith and hope of all who wait
On him, including widows from
Their mortal bed of clay. You come
With me tomorrow morning, son,
And you will know that God has won.
Though he has made my life a death,
There burns in me eternal breath.
Like Moses he will take me up —
This time by fire. And I will sup
Before the sun goes down beside
Your mother and the one who died
To save my life.
Come see behind the open door
Of death, and know that those who trust
In God will never die, nor must
We grieve as if the dead were lost,
Though there is now an awesome cost.
Behold! We pass through fire and sword
Into the kingdom of the Lord.
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