Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, May 29th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 18

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verses 1-2


“And it came to pass after many days that the word of Jehovah came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, Go, show thyself unto Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth. And Elijah went to show himself unto Ahab. And the famine was sore in Samaria.”

“In the third year” It is shameful the way some irresponsible writers strive to make these words a contradiction of the N.T. references to this drought. This passage does not say, “in the third year of the drought”; and only by wresting the Scriptures can it be made to say that. Keil tells us exactly what is meant here:

“The time given here, the third year, is not to be reckoned from the commencement of the drought, but from the event last mentioned, namely, the sojourn of Elijah with the widow of Zarephath, and this reckoning is shown to be true by Luke 4:25 and James 5:17, where Christ and James both say, that in the time of Ahab it did not rain for three years and six months.”(F1) LaSor(F2) and Gates(F3) alike find no fault with Keil’s reason on this. The fact that his position is confirmed by no less an authority than that of Christ himself is decisive. The false critical allegation that denies the integrity of the N.T. was stated thus by Matheney, “The third year was expanded by later tradition to three and one half years Luke 4:25 and James 5:17.”(F4) Both the gospel of Luke and the Epistle of James are historical in the ultimate sense; and for any writer to make the words of Jesus Christ no more than a “later tradition” is a denial of the Word of God that no Christian should accept!

Verses 3-6


“And Ahab called Obadiah, who was over the household. (Now Obadiah feared Jehovah greatly: for it was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of Jehovah, that Obadiah took a hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water). And Ahab said unto Obadiah, Go through the land, unto all the fountains of water, and unto all the brooks; peradventure we may find grass and save the horses and mules alive, that we lose not all the beasts. So they divided the land between them to pass throughout it: Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself.”

These verses (1 Kings 18:3-6) are a double parenthesis, first to explain how Elijah happened to meet Obadiah alone; and then verses (1 Kings 18:3 b-4) are a parenthesis within the larger one to explain the loyalty of Obadiah to Jehovah. Although a dozen people in the O.T. are called by the name Obadiah, in our commentary on Obadiah (Vol. 2 of the Minor Prophets, p. 241), we attributed its authorship to the Obadiah mentioned here, especially because of the most probable date when Obadiah was written, that is, 848-844 B.C. in the days of Jehoram, as convincingly advocated by Homer Hailey, Deane and Keil.

“Obadiah… hid them in a cave… and fed them” We are not told where Obadiah hid the prophets; but there were many caves (as many as two thousand, and some of them quite large) “under the western cliffs of Mount Carmel.”(F5)

Verses 7-15


“And as Obadiah was in the way, behold, Elijah met him: and he knew him, and fell on his face, and said, Is it thou, my lord Elijah? And he answered, It is I: go tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here. And he said, Wherein have I sinned, that thou wouldest deliver thy servant into the hand of Ahab, to slay me? As Jehovah thy God liveth, there is no nation or kingdom, whither my lord hath not sent to seek thee: and, when they said, He is not here, he took an oath of the kingdom and nation,, that they found thee not. And now thou sayest. Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here. And it will come to pass, as soon as I am gone from thee, that the Spirit of Jehovah will carry thee whither I know not; and so when I come and tell Ahab, and he cannot find thee, he will slay me: but I thy servant fear Jehovah from my youth. Was it not told what I did when Jezebel slew the prophets of Jehovah, how I hid a hundred men of Jehovah’s prophets by fifiy in a cave, and fed them with bread and water? And now thou sayest, Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here; and he will slay me. And Elijah said, As Jehovah of hosts liveth, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself unto him this day.”

“There is no nation… whither my lord hath not sent to seek thee” Jezebel slew the prophets of Jehovah; and there is no doubt that Ahab intended to add Elijah to the list of those slain; but after three and one half years of famine which nearly destroyed his kingdom, Ahab finally remembered that Elijah had told him that there would be no rain until Elijah’s word came ending the drought. Also awe and fear of Elijah’s power had taken all of the bluster out of Ahab. When he finally came face to face with the prophet, it was Ahab, not Elijah, who took the stern rebuke.

In the meanwhile, also, the popularity of Jezebel’s rain-god had doubtless turned into secret hatred and disgust in the hearts of all the people. The king could not have been ignorant of this. The Canaanite Baal, as the god of fertility, rain, good crops, etc., had really “flunked out” in the situation precipitated by that devastating drought.

Verses 16-19


“So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him; and Ahab went to meet Elijah. And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Is it thou, thou troubler of Israel? And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of Jehovah, and thou hast followed the Baalim. Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the Asherah four hundred, that eat at Jezebel’s table.”

The humbling of Ahab by the hardships of the disastrous drought is evident in this interview. It was Elijah who rebuked the king and issued the orders for a general assembly of the covenant people. Snaith believed that Ahab consented to this because, “He believed himself to be a true worshipper”(F6) of the God of Israel. To this writer, it appears more likely that Ahab desperately needed rain to save those horses and mules, and that he was willing to do ANYTHING that Elijah requested, in the hopes of getting it. Matheney also credited Ahab with, “having nominal allegiance to Jehovah,”(F7) on the basis that the names of two of his children were Jehovist. We can find no reason whatever to classify Ahab as anything other than an outright pagan! He might have accepted Elijah’s demands for a contest on Mount Carmel in the secret hope that those 450 prophets of Baal would put Elijah to shame. After all, Ahab was feeding them!

“The prophets of the Asherah, four hundred, that eat at Jezebel’s table” “All that is meant here is that they were fed by her bounty.”(F8)

Verses 20-24


“So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the peoples together unto mount Carmel. And Elijah came near unto all the people, and said, How long go ye limping between the two sides? if Jehovah be God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, am left a prophet of Jehovah; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men, Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, and put no fire under; and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on the wood, and put no fire under. And call ye on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of Jehovah: and the God that answers by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.”

“And Ahab… gathered the peoples… unto mount Carmel” The traditional site where this occurred, “Is El Muhraka, i.e., `the place of burning,’ just below the summit on the southern edge, some 1,600 feet above sea level, with the brook Kishon below; and nearby is Tel el-Qassis (`priest’s mound’) the traditional site of the slaughter of the priests of Baal.”(F9)

“I, even I only, am left a prophet of Jehovah” What music lover is there who has not thrilled to the glorious aria in the oratorio Elijah, in which these words are featured? What about all those prophets hidden in a cave by Obadiah? “Elijah did not count them, because he only was the one acting as a prophet,”(F10) and standing in the forefront of the battle for Jehovah, challenging the prophets of Baal. Martin also expressed the opinion that there may be evidence in Elijah’s words here, “Of the tainted nature of other professed followers of Jehovah in that era.”(F11)

“But Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men” What about those 400 prophets of the Asherah who were also invited? Jamieson pointed out that they evidently did not come, “Anticipating some evil, they avoided the king’s commandment.”(F12)

“All the people answered and said, It is well spoken” These verses (1 Kings 18:20-24) record Elijah’s address delivered to the whole people, who at first refused to answer a word (1 Kings 18:21), but when they heard the details of the contest proposed by Elijah, which was so fair and impartial, even giving the advantage of choice and precedence in the contest to the representatives of Baal, that the people unanimously approved of it; and, after that, there was no honorable way out of the contest for the prophets of Baal. They attempted to “save face” by going through with it.

Verses 25-29


“And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first, for ye are many; and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under. And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar that was made. And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud; for he is a god: either he is musing, or he has gone aside, or he is on a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth and must be awaked. And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lances, till the blood gushed out upon them. And it was so when midday was past, that they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening oblation; but there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.”

“O Baal, hear us” The oratorio’s rendition of these words still rings in our ears, “Baal, we cry to thee; Baal we cry to thee”!

“Elijah mocked them” Yell a little louder! maybe your god is asleep, thinking about something else, on a journey, or has stepped out for a few minutes! It seems incredible that human beings could worship such a so-called god!

“They cut themselves after their manner” “This was more than a mere puncturing or scratching. The superstition existed that the blood of priests was especially virtuous in constraining the deity to action.”(F13)

“They prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening oblation” The RSV gives us a better rendition for prophesied. It reads: “they raved on.” “The sense here is that they behaved in an ungoverned manner.”(F14) The Biblical usage of the word “prophesied” supports this rendition, as for example, in the case of Saul’s prophesying and lying naked all night on the ground at Ramah (1 Samuel 18:10). in this conspicuous episode, the priests of Baal staged an unbelievably outrageous and bloody demonstration of frenzy, confusion, and screaming madness. What happened? Nothing!

Keil has a remarkable description of such pagan orgies of undisciplined supplications to pagan gods.

Verses 30-40


“And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me; and all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of Jehovah that was thrown down. And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of Jehovah came, saying, Israel shall be thy name. And with the stones he built an altar in the name of Jehovah; and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed. And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid it on the wood. And he said, Fill four jars with water, and pour it on the burnt-offering, and on the wood. And he said, Do it the second time; and they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time; and they did it the third time. And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water. And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening oblation, that Elijah the prophet came near and said, O Jehovah, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear us, O Jehovah, hear me, that the people may know that thou, Jehovah, art God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of Jehovah fell, and consumed the burnt-offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, Jehovah, he is God; Jehovah, he is God. And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them; and Elijah took them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.”

“Here for the first time we learn that the gods of Canaan, as well as Jehovah, had their prophets. Carmel was chosen as the spot for this contest because it was recognized as sacred by both parties. It was a Phoenician sanctuary, and we know that there was an altar to Jehovah there (1 Kings 18:30) which had been thrown down,”(F15) and which was rebuilt by Elijah in this episode.

The feature of this paragraph is that magnificent prayer of Elijah, and it is especially significant that the NAME OF JEHOVAH which he invoked here, namely, “The God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel,” was used, “Only once before, and that was by God Himself before the giving of the Law, at the burning bush.”(F16) This name of Jehovah is the “Great Memorial Name of God”; and we have discussed this at length in our consideration of all the nonsense that has been written about the Tetragrammaton (Y-H-W-H). (See my commentary on Exodus, pp. 32-34.)

“Pour it (the water) upon the offering, and upon the wood” Unbelievers diligently, but vainly, seek contradictions and “impossibilities” in the Bible; and Thenius wrote of this line that “The author evidently forgot about that terrible drought,”(F17) when he put that in about pouring all that water over everything! Keil, however, assures us on the best authorities that there were perpetual springs of water very near the scene of this great wonder.(F18)

“Then the fire of Jehovah fell” Matheney wrote that, “This probably means lightning”;(F19) and Snaith likewise explained this fire in the words, “It may well have been lightning.”(F20) In fairness to these, and other scholars of the same opinion, it should be noted that they did not deny the miraculous element in this wonder, supposing that the miracle consisted in the timing of the lightning stroke. “The miracle consists in this coincidence.”(F21) We consider these views of what happened inadequate, because lightning does not “consume” stones, nor dust. Furthermore, the fact of its having been a cloudless day makes the probability of lightning almost, if not completely, impossible. God does NOT need the help of rationalists who attempt to explain all of his wonders in terms of the ordinary.

Despite our disagreement about the wonder having been a stroke of lightning, we heartily agree with Matheney’s summation regarding this event.

This miracle falls into the category of the mighty acts of God in salvation-history.(F22)

“And they took them… brought them dozen to the brook Kishon, and slew them there” This action was just and necessary. “It was an appropriate retribution for Jezebel’s slaughter of the priests of Jehovah, and at the same time it was in obedience to the sacred law of God that required the execution of the death penalty upon false prophets (Deut. 7:2f; 13:130.”(F23)

Verses 41-46


“And Elijah said unto Ahab, Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain. So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he bowed himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees. And he said to his servant, Go up now, look toward the sea. And he went up and looked, and said there is nothing. And he said, Go again seven times. And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, Behold, there ariseth a cloud out of the sea, as small as a man’s hand. And he said, Go up, say unto Ahab, Make ready thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not. And it came to pass in a little while, that the heavens were black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel: and the hand of Jehovah was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.”

“Get thee up, eat and drink” From this, it is clear that Ahab had witnessed the slaughter of the priests of Baal at the foot of Carmel, and apparently there had been some kind of a reconciliation between Elijah and Ahab, as evidenced by the fact that Elijah had acquired a servant (most probably from Ahab). Elijah might have had high hopes at that moment that Ahab would reverse his apostate behavior. This admonition from Elijah to Ahab was obviously friendly; and Ahab heeded it.

“And he bowed himself down to the earth… put his face between his knees” This was the prophet’s posture in prayer. God did not answer his prayer for rain instantly, but Elijah kept on praying, in full faith that God would hear.

“That the rain stop thee not” All watercourses would soon be at flood stage.

“And the hand of Jehovah was on Elijah” This is a reference to the sudden miraculous endowment of Elijah with the physical ability to run ahead of Ahab’s chariot all the way to Jezreel. We encountered a number of such supernatural endowments of God’s servants in the Book of Judges, as for example, when Samson carried away the gates of the city of Gaza (Judges 16:3). “The nearest point of Carmel is about 17 miles from Jezreel; and Elijah’s feat of running that distance ahead of the king’s chariot was proof of his Divine inspiration, like the exploits of Samson.”(F24)

Whatever the hopes of Elijah might have been as he thus conducted Ahab into Jezreel, his euphoria was fated to encounter a shocking reversal. One word with Jezebel, and Ahab reverted to his total apostasy from God.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Kings 18". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/1-kings-18.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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