Adam Clarke Commentary
1 Kings 17
Elijah‘s message to Ahab concerning the three years‘ drought, 1 Kings 17:1. He is commanded to go to the brook Cherith; where he is fed by ravens, 1 Kings 17:2-7. He afterwards goes to a widow‘s house at Zarephath, and miraculously multiplies her meal and oil, 1 Kings 17:8-16. Her son dies, and Elijah restores him to life, 1 Kings 17:17-24.
Elijah the Tishbite - The history of this great man is introduced very abruptly; his origin is enveloped in perfect obscurity. He is here said to be a Tishbite. Tishbeh, says Calmet, is a city beyond Jordan, in the tribe of Gad, and in the land of Gilead. Who was his father, or from what tribe he sprang, is not intimated; he seems to have been the prophet of Israel peculiarly, as we never find him prophesying in Judah. A number of apocryphal writers have trifled at large about his parentage, miraculous birth, of his continual celibacy, his academy of the prophets, etc., etc., all equally worthy of credit. One opinion, which at first view appears strange, bears more resemblance to truth than any of the above, viz., that he had no earthly parentage known to any man; that he was an angel of God, united for a time to a human body, in order to call men back to perfect purity, both in doctrine and manners, from which they had totally swerved. His Hebrew name, which we have corrupted into Elijah and Elias, is אליהו (Alihu), or, according to the vowel points, Eliyahu; and signifies he is my God. Does this give countenance to the supposition that this great personage was a manifestation in the flesh of the Supreme Being? He could not be the Messiah; for we find him with Moses on the mount of transfiguration with Christ. The conjecture that he was an angel seems countenanced by the manner of his departure from this world; yet, in James 5:17, he is said to be a man ὁμοιοπαθης , of like passions, or rather with real human propensities: this, however, is irreconcilable with the conjecture.
There shall not be dew nor rain these years - In order to remove the abruptness of this address, R. S. Jarchi dreams thus: - “Elijah and Ahab went to comfort Hiel in his grief, concerning his sons. And Ahab said to Elijah, Is it possible that the curse of Joshua, the son of Nun, who was only the servant of Moses, should be fulfilled; and the curse of Moses, our teacher, not be fulfilled; who said, Deuteronomy 11:16, Deuteronomy 11:17: If ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them, then the Lord‘s wrath shall be kindled against you; and he will shut up the heaven that there be no rain? Now all the Israelites serve other gods, and yet the rain is not withheld. Then Elijah said unto Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.” This same mode of connecting this and the preceding chapter, is followed by the Jerusalem and Babylonish Talmuds, Sedar Olam, Abarbanel, etc.
Hide thyself by the brook Cherith - This brook, and the valley through which it ran, are supposed to have been on the western side of Jordan, and not far from Samaria. Others suppose it to have been on the eastern side, because the prophet is commanded to go eastward, 1 Kings 17:3. It was necessary, after such a declaration to this wicked and idolatrous king, that he should immediately hide himself; as, on the first drought, Ahab would undoubtedly seek his life. But what a proof was this of the power of God, and the vanity of idols! As God‘s prophet prayed, so there was rain or drought; and all the gods of Israel could not reverse it! Was not this sufficient to have converted all Israel?
I have commanded the ravens to feed thee - Thou shalt not lack the necessaries of life; thou shalt be supplied by an especial providence.
And the ravens brought him bread and flesh - The Septuagint, in the Codex Vaticanus, and some ancient fathers, read the passage thus: - Και οἱ κορακες εφερον αυτῳ αρτους το πρωΐ, και κρεα το δειλης , And the crows brought him bread in the morning, and flesh in the evening: but all the other versions agree with the Hebrew text. This is the first account we have of flesh-meat breakfasts and flesh-meat suppers; and as this was the food appointed by the Lord for the sustenance of the prophet, we may naturally conjecture that it was the food of the people at large.
The brook dried up - Because there had been no rain in the land for some time, God having sent this drought as a testimony against the idolatry of the people: see Deuteronomy 11:16, Deuteronomy 11:17.
Get thee to Zarephath - This was a town between Tyre and Sidon, but nearer to the latter, and is therefore called in the text Zarephath which belongeth to Sidon; or, as the Vulgate and other versions express it, Sarepta of the Sidonians. Sarepta is the name by which it goes in the New Testament; but its present name is Sarphan. Mr. Maundrell, who visited it, describes it as consisting of a few houses only on the tops of the mountains; but supposes that it anciently stood in the plain below, where there are still ruins of a considerable extent.
A handful of meal in a barrel - The word כד (cad) is to be understood as implying an earthen jar; not a wooden vessel, or barrel of any kind. In the East they preserve their corn and meal in such vessels; without which precaution the insects would destroy them. Travellers in Asiatic countries abound with observations of this kind.
But make me thereof a little cake first - This was certainly putting the widow‘s faith to an extraordinary trial: to take and give to a stranger, of whom she knew nothing, the small pittance requisite to keep her child from perishing, was too much to be expected.
The barrel of meal wasted not - She continued to take out of her jar and out of her bottle the quantity of meal and oil requisite for the consumption of her household; and without carefully estimating what was left, she went with confidence each time for a supply, and was never disappointed. This miracle was very like that wrought by Jesus at the marriage at Cana in Galilee: as the servants drew the water out of the pots, they found it turned into wine; and thus they continued to draw wine from the water-pots till the guests had been sufficiently supplied.
There was no breath left in him - He ceased to breathe and died.
To call my sin to remembrance - She seems to be now conscious of some secret sin, which she had either forgotten, or too carelessly passed over; and to punish this she supposes the life of her son was taken away. It is mostly in times of adversity that we duly consider our moral state; outward afflictions often bring deep searchings of heart.
Stretched himself upon the child three times - It is supposed that he did this in order to communicate some natural warmth to the body of the child, in order to dispose it to receive the departed spirit. Elisha, his disciple, did the same in order to restore the dead child of the Shunammite, 2 Kings 4:34. And St. Paul appears to have stretched himself on Eutychus in order to restore him to life, Acts 20:10.
Let this child‘s soul come into him again - Surely this means no more than the breath. Though the word נפש (nephesh) may sometimes signify the life, yet does not this imply that the spirit must take possession of the body in order to produce and maintain the flame of animal life? The expressions here are singular: Let his soul, נפש (nephesh), come into him, על קרבו (al kirbo), into the midst of him.
And the soul - נפש (nephesh), of the child came into him again, על קרבו (al kirbo), into the midst of him; and he revived, ויח (vaiyechi), and he became alive. Did he not become alive from the circumstance of the immaterial principle coming again into him?
The word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth - Three grand effects were produced by this temporary affliction:
1.The woman was led to examine her heart, and try her ways;
2.The power of God became highly manifest in the resurrection of the child;
3.She was convinced that the word of the Lord was truth, and that not one syllable of it could fall to the ground. Through a little suffering all this good was obtained.
The subject in the fourth verse of this chapter deserves a more particular consideration.
1.With what propriety the raven, an unclean animal, could be employed?
2.Why the dove, or some such clean creature, was not preferred?
6.And whether it be not best, in all cases of this kind, to adopt that mode of interpretation which is most simple; the wisdom, goodness, and providence of God being as equally apparent as in those cases where a multitude of miracles are resorted to in order to solve difficulties?
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