Monday, August 31, 2015

He Laveth the Thirsty Land

  Years ago I was privileged to sing in a performance of Mendelssohn's "Elijah."  One of the great choruses from that oratorio is "Thanks be to God, He Laveth the Thirsty Land."
  The oratorio is based on the story of Elijah as told in 1 Kings.   At that time Israel had turned away from God.  King Ahab had married Jezebel and begun worshipping Baal.  Jewish prophets, including Elijah were persecuted.  
   As a result of Israel's disobedience the rain disappeared.  For three years not a drop fell on this desert kingdom.  Even the dew dried up. There was almost nothing to eat.  Then God told Elijah to meet with Ahab, and they set up a trial to see who was more powerful, the Lord God of Israel, or Baal.  
    All the people were summoned to Mount Carmel where each side prepared a bull for sacrifice and laid it on the pyre but did not light the fire.
   The prophets of Baal went first.  They laid out their sacrifice, then prayed and chanted to Baal, calling for fire.  They prayed all day.  They cut themselves with swords.  Elijah taunted them saying "call him louder, . . .  perhaps he is asleep."  
    Then Elijah called the people to him and they watched while he built the altar to the Lord that had been broken.  He put the wood on the altar and laid the sacrificed bullock upon it.  Then he poured water over it all.  Then he dug a trench and filled that with water also.  At the time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah prayed to God, and fire from heaven fell and consumed the sacrifice and the wood and the stones and the dust and even the water that was in the trench.
    After this demonstration of the Lord's power, Elijah prayed again to God for rain.  Seven times Elijah sent his servant to look toward the sea.  On the seventh time, the servant reported a small cloud.  Then Elijah told Ahab to hurry home for if he did not leave immediately the storm would stop him.  Then the heavens were black with clouds and wind and there was a great rain.
  In Mendelssohn's "Elijah" the storm is described as "the waters gather, they rush along, the stormy billows are high, their fury is mighty, but the Lord is above them, and Almighty.  Thanks be to God!  He laveth the thirsty land!"
  It is a thrilling chorus to sing and I often recall the words in the midst of a rainstorm.  But after the long drought of this summer, I understand more deeply the gratitude of a parched people when the clouds gather and rain waters the earth.  Unlike the Israelites, we in British Columbia have not faced starvation, but we have seen thousands of acres of forest burn, we have witnessed streams and rivers run so low the fish are endangered and, perhaps, we have learned a better understanding of how precious is water.
  So, as the skies turned dark this weekend and rain poured down on my thirsty garden I sang with the Israelites, "Thanks be to God, He laveth the thirsty land."

part one of "Elijah" with Thomas Hampson

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