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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 17

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-7

Elijah’s announcement of God’s judgment 17:1-7

Again God raised up a prophet to announce what He would do. Evidently Ahab’s apostasy had been going on for 14 years before God raised up His prophetic challenge. [Note: Merrill, Kingdom of . . ., p. 346.] Normally God gives sinners an opportunity to judge themselves and repent before He sends judgment on them (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:31; 2 Peter 3:9-10).

The three scenes in the Elijah narrative (chs. 17-19) form one story in which we can see the rising powers of the prophet. In each succeeding episode of the story he confronted an increasingly difficult problem. In this way God developed his faith and taught the reader the importance of trust and obedience. [Note: For five helpful, popular messages on incidents in these chapters, see Howard G. Hendricks, Taking a Stand: What God Can Do through Ordinary You.]

". . . cutting across the linear story are parallel patterns which unify the narrative in another way. Specifically, if the narrative is divided into its three major divisions, corresponding basically to the present chapter divisions, one can discern the same sequence of events in each. The corresponding events in each chapter are linked by verbal, thematic, and structural repetitions which create a texture of foreshadows and echoes, of balances and contrasts, of rising and falling action. This parallel patterning gives the narrative a dimension of depth which supports and enriches its linear logic. The following chart outlines the phenomena which we shall proceed to interpret.

"A. Announcement
by Elijah (1 Kings 17:1)by God (1 Kings 18:1)by Jezebel (1 Kings 19:2)
B. Journey
from Israel (1 Kings 17:2-5)to Israel (1 Kings 18:2)from Israel (1 Kings 19:3-4)
C. Two encounters
ravens (1 Kings 17:6-7)Obadiah (1 Kings 18:7-16)an angel (1 Kings 19:5-6)
widow (1 Kings 17:8-16)Ahab (1 Kings 18:17-20)the angel of the Lord (1 Kings 19:7)
D. Miracle
resuscitation (1 Kings 17:17-23)fire (1 Kings 18:21-38)theophany (1 Kings 19:9-18)
E. Conversion
widow (1 Kings 17:24)Israel (1 Kings 18:39-40)Elisha (1 Kings 19:19-21)
Ahab (1 Kings 18:41 to 1 Kings 19:1)

"The parallel elements may be briefly summarized. Each act in the narrative begins with an announcement (A) which initiates the action and, thereby, precipitates a crisis. The announcement propels Elijah to a new locale (B). In the new setting he has two successive encounters or confrontations (C). The second encounter results in a challenge which requires Yahweh’s intervention to resolve (D). Finally, in response to this intervention, individuals are ’converted’ and declare or exhibit their loyalty to Yahweh (E)." [Note: Robert L. Cohn, "The Literary Logic of 1 Kings 17-19," Journal of Biblical Literature 101:3 (September 1982):343-44. This article has several good insights into the major motifs and structure of these chapters.]

This dramatic story opens with Elijah bursting onto the scene in Ahab’s palace.

"’Before whom I stand’ (1 Kings 17:1) is his claim to authority: it is a technical phrase used of a king’s first or ’prime’ minister-his confidant and chief executive." [Note: Auld, pp. 109-10.]

Elijah’s name means "Yahweh is my God." He could promise severe drought because God had said this is what He would bring on the land if His people forsook Him (Leviticus 26:18-19; Deuteronomy 11:16-17; Deuteronomy 28:23-24; Deuteronomy 33:28). This would have been a challenge to Baal since Baal’s devotees credited him with providing rain and fertility. Some representations of Baal that archaeologists have discovered picture him holding a thunderbolt in his hand.

"Why choose a drought? Why emphasize that Yahweh lives? Elijah determines to attack Baalism at its theological center. Baal worshipers believed that their storm god made rain, unless, of course, it was the dry season and he needed to be brought back from the dead. To refute this belief Elijah states that Yahweh is the one who determines when rain falls, that Yahweh lives at all times, and that Yahweh is not afraid to challenge Baal on what his worshipers consider his home ground." [Note: House, p. 213.]

God sent Elijah to Cherith (exact site unknown) to provide for his needs, to hide him from Ahab, and to teach him a lesson (cf. 1 Kings 18:10). [Note: See the map "Elijah’s Travels" in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 523.] Ravens do not even feed their own young (cf. Job 38:41). God provided miraculously for Elijah to build the prophet’s faith in view of the conflicts he would face. "Bread" (1 Kings 17:6) is literally "food" (Heb. lehem) and could include berries, fruit, nuts, eggs, etc. Elijah was learning experientially that Yahweh was the only source of food, fertility, and blessing. As God had promised, drought soon began to grip the nation (1 Kings 17:7).

"It is only our ignorance and neglect of Amos and Hosea that keep us from sensing the heart-shattering tragedy of 2 Kings 15:8-31; 2 Kings 17:1-6 in its true proportions. In just under forty years Israel, which had seemed to reach almost Solomonic glory under Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:25; 2 Kings 14:28), collapsed into nothingness, like the wooden house whose vitals have been devoured by termites." [Note: H. L. Ellison, The Prophets of Israel, pp. 44-45.]

Miracles Involving Elijah [Note: Adapted from The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 541.]
Elijah fed by ravens1 Kings 17:6Water and food
Widow’s food multiplied1 Kings 17:15Flour and oil
Widow’s dead son raised to life1 Kings 17:22Life
Elijah’s altar and sacrifice consumed1 Kings 18:38Water and fire
Ahaziah’s 102 soldiers consumed2 Kings 1:10-12Fire
Jordan River parted2 Kings 2:8Water
Elijah’s transport to heaven2 Kings 2:11Fire and wind

Verses 8-24

God’s revelation of His power 17:8-24

God had a very unusual ministry for Elijah to perform in which he would stand alone against hundreds of opponents (1 Kings 18:16-40). This section reveals how the Lord prepared him for it.

The site of Zarephath was between Tyre and Sidon in Phoenicia, the stronghold of the cult that Ahab had imported into Israel (cf. 1 Kings 16:31). Widows were poor in the ancient Near East and would have been the first to run out of food in a drought. [Note: See Richard D. Patterson, "The Widow, the Orphan, and the Poor in the Old Testament and the Extra-Biblical Literature," Bibliotheca Sacra 130:519 (July-September 1973):223-34.] Elijah’s request for water and then bread (1 Kings 17:10-11) evidently identified the widow God had in mind (cf. Genesis 24:10-21). Her response revealed a Gentile believer in Yahweh (1 Kings 17:12; cf. 1 Kings 17:1; Luke 4:26). Elijah asked the widow to put God’s interests-represented by himself, a prophet of Yahweh-before her own as the condition for her blessing (1 Kings 17:13; cf. Matthew 6:33; Mark 12:41-44). She responded obediently to the word Elijah gave her from God, showing she really believed that Yahweh, not Baal, was the God who could provide food and fertility (1 Kings 17:14). God honored her faith; He provided her need for food (1 Kings 17:15-16).

"In the absence of Baal who lies impotent in the Netherworld, Yahweh steps in to assist the widow and the orphan, and this is even done in the heartland of Baal, Phoenicia." [Note: F. C. Fensham, "A Few Observations on the Polarisation between Yahweh and Baal in 1 Kings 17-19," Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 92:2 (1980):234.]

This situation undoubtedly strengthened Elijah’s faith in God’s power and faithfulness, as well as the faith of the woman.

"The fact that Elijah had to sustain the widow and boy points not only to YHWH as provider for the needy but also as one who ’trained’ his prophet, as it were, to be obedient to him. Flour and oil signify life; they are the two common staples in any ancient, as well as modern, Near Eastern household." [Note: James R. Battenfield, "YHWH’s Refutation of the Baal Myth through the Actions of Elijah and Elisha," in Israel’s Apostasy and Restoration: Essays in Honor of Roland K. Harrison, p. 22.]

The sickness of the widow’s son corresponded to Israel’s spiritual condition at this time (1 Kings 17:17). The widow incorrectly blamed herself for her son’s predicament (1 Kings 17:18; cf. John 9:2-3). Elijah realized that only God could bring the boy back to life, so he called on God in prayer to do so (1 Kings 17:20-21). Often in cases of miraculous restoration, God’s servant placed his hand on the afflicted one. He did so to indicate that the power of God in him was passing to the needy individual (cf. Matthew 8:3). In this instance Elijah placed his whole body against the boy’s body for the same reason (1 Kings 17:21; cf. 2 Kings 4:34; Acts 9:31-43; Acts 20:10). This is the first restoration to life of a dead person that Scripture records. Elijah prayed shamelessly, one of the fundamental requisites for obtaining one’s petitions in difficult cases (1 Kings 17:21; cf. Matthew 7:7-8; Luke 11:5-13). God restored the lad’s life (1 Kings 17:22). In the process Elijah learned the power of God and the power of prayer. He applied both of these lessons in his contest with the Baal prophets (1 Kings 18:16-46). His confidence in his own ability as a channel of God’s blessing and word received added strength from the widow’s confession (1 Kings 17:24).

"The best proof of the effectiveness of Elijah’s preparation is that he was verified as an authentic man of God and the bearer of God’s word by a daughter of the very people he opposed (1 Kings 17:24)." [Note: Rice, p. 145.]

If God could raise a dead Gentile boy back to life in response to believing prayer, He could also revive the chosen people of Israel who had become spiritually dead.

". . . the emphasis in this text [1 Kings 17:17-24] is not so much on Elijah as on the word of the Lord which is in Elijah’s mouth." [Note: Marion Soards Jr., "Elijah and the Lord’s Word: A Study of 1 Kings 17:17-24," Studia Biblica et Theologica 13:1 (April 1983):39-40.]

1 Kings 17:17-24 display a chiastic structure that highlights Elijah’s control of the situation and his intimate relationship with Yahweh that resulted in the miraculous resuscitation of the boy.

"A ’What have you against me, O man of God?’

B ’Give me your son!’

C And he took him and brought him up

D And he cried to the Lord and said, ’O Lord my God.’

E And he stretched upon the boy

D’ And he called to the Lord and said, ’O Lord my God.’

E’ And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah

C’ And Elijah took the child and brought him down

B’ ’See your son lives!’

A’ ’Now I know that you are a man of God.’" [Note: Cohn, "The Literary . . .," p. 336.]

"The whole point of the story, however, seems to be paramountly a demonstration that YHWH, not Baal, has the power of life over death." [Note: Battenfield, p. 23.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Kings 17". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/1-kings-17.html. 2012.
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