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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
1 Kings 19



Verse 4


‘He requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life.’

1 Kings 19:4

I. The wish for death, the weariness of life, is a phenomenon extremely common, and common because it arises from a multitude of causes; but those causes all run up into this, that, as Scripture expresses it, ‘man is born to sorrow, as the sparks fly upward.’ Rebuke this feeling as you will, you must deal with it as a fact, and as an experience of human life. The sense of failure, the conviction that the evils around us are stronger than we can grapple with, the apparent non-atonement for the intolerable wrong—there are hours when, under the incidents of these trials, even the noblest Christian finds it hard to keep his faith strong and his hope unclouded. Take any man who has spoken words of burning faithfulness, or done deeds of high courage in a mean and lying world, and the chances are that his life’s story was clouded by failure or closed in martyrdom.

II. In this chapter we have God’s own gracious way of dealing with this sad but far from uncommon despondency.—Elijah had fled into the wilderness, flung himself down under a juniper tree, and requested that he might die. How gently and with what Divine compassion did God deal with his despair! He spread for Elijah a table in the wilderness, and helped him forward on his way; only then, when his bodily powers had been renewed, when his faith had been strengthened, does the question come, ‘What doest thou here, Elijah?’ The vision and the still small voice may have brought home to the heart of Elijah one reason at least why he had failed. He had tried taunts and violence in the cause of God; he had seized heaven’s sword of retribution, and made it red with human blood. He had not learned that violence is hateful to God; he had to be taught that Elijah’s spirit is very different from Christ’s Spirit. And when God has taught him this lesson, He then gives him His message and His consolation. The message is, ‘Go, do My work again’; the consolation is, ‘Things are not so bad as to human eyes they seem.’

III. Those who suffer from despondency, should (1) look well to see whether the causes of their failure and their sorrow are not removable; (2) embrace the truth that when they have honestly done their best, then the success or the failure of their work is not in their own hands. Work is man’s; results are God’s.

Dean Farrar.


(1) ‘No doubt Elijah felt that his work was over, and prayed God to take his life away. And that only goes to show that now he was acting under the influence of a higher will than his own, and that if he had consulted his own inclination he would have stayed to die, for what did it matter by what death he entered into the presence of God? No doubt, also, he needed encouragement, but it was just to find the opportunity of giving it that God sent him out into the wilderness.’

(2) ‘Something may have been due to physical overstrain. There had been the strain of anticipation of that day on Carmel, the nervous tension of the day itself, the destruction of the priests of Baal, whose blood encrimsoned the Kishon River, and all these exhausting fatigues had culminated in the courier-run of eighteen miles ahead of Ahab’s chariot, the token of his willingness to show deference to the head of the nation. All these strenuous efforts were bound to have a natural reaction, in which probably his whole nature was involved, for there is a mysterious union between soul and body. The one reacts on the other, and depressed spirits are often directly attributable to the depressed condition of our physical health. At times, when we are conscious of overstrain, we should be more than ever on our guard against the attack of the great enemy of souls.’

(3) ‘Scripture does not flinch from telling us of the failure of its most representative characters. The Word of God holds the mirror up alternately the weakness or sinfulness of the saints, and then to the redeeming love and mercy of God, that the one may set forth the exceeding greatness of the other. God’s greatest heroes are but men at the best, and if there is a break, though only for a moment, in the union between them and the Lord, they will become weak as others. It is only by the grace of God that they are what they are.’

Verse 19


‘So he departed thence, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth; and Elijah passed by him, and cast his mantle upon him.’

1 Kings 19:19

There may be many to whom the casting of the mantle does not mean the leaving of home and business, but a continuing in the state of life where you are, only with the mantle still over you, with Jesus Christ as the ruling partner of the firm, with Jesus Christ as master of the home. There are some to whom the call is, as it was to St. Matthew or Elisha, to give up the secular life, as men call it, and go out, it may be, to the foreign field, or to the slums of London, Belfast, or Glasgow, to live and labour for Jesus Christ.

I. The simple call.—But whatever the new life may be, the summons to it comes in a very simple way. God never forces men into His service. How easy it would have been for Elisha to have neglected this call; how easily he might have argued ‘If Elijah really wants me, let him ask me straight out.’ God’s call comes in very ordinary ways. Some servant of God is wearing the mantle, some Elijah has crossed your path, and something of his earnestness or the simplicity of his faith, or the attractiveness of his joy, has touched you. That was God’s call to you to share the mantle; it was not an accident. Elijah passed on; he did not stay by Elisha’s side to wait for his answer. He walked rapidly past him, and Elisha had to run after him to accept the invitation. Jesus Christ passes by; it may be that at one time you feel the rustle of the mantle—but if you do not obey or yield then, the invitation may not be repeated.

II. What is this new life?—What does it mean? Well, in the case of Elisha it meant (a) a life of devotion to Elijah. He went after him and ministered unto him. It means a life of devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ, not the following afar off of St. Peter, denying the Lord who bought you, but such a life that your one thought day by day, week in and week out, is this: ‘I belong to Jesus, I love Jesus, I am all for Jesus.’ (b) A life of separation. As a follower of Elijah, Elisha was separated from the old life. He had to bid good-bye to the life on the farm, to the old interests and pursuits. It must be so; though in the world, we are not of it. (c) It was a life of hardship. The soft bed that had been Elisha’s from childhood was his no more: he lived with Elijah in the deserts, in the dens and caves. You cannot be the Lord’s disciple unless you carry the Lord’s cross. (d) But it was also a life of privilege. There are three places in which we read of Elijah’s mantle. The first is in Illustration

‘There is room in our Lord’s service for men of every type, and of all kinds of gifts. Let no one hang back because his gifts are not the same as someone else’s. Gifts of thought, gifts of speech, gifts of heart—Christ wants them all. He wants you and your gift, whatever it may be. There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are diversities of operations, but the same Lord.’


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Kings 19:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, December 14th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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