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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 18

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-16

First Kings - Chapter 18

Elijah Reappears, Verses 1-16

It had been around three years since the drought had commenced at the pronouncement of Elijah. While the "many days" refers to the long time since it had rained in Israel it also emphasizes the great stress and strain of the times. No doubt people were perishing for hunger because moisture was insufficient to support cultivation of the land. In the more arid areas, the inhabitants would have been forced to move into other areas already populated where their coming would be unwelcome because of the scarce water. It was a terrible time, which the Lord allowed to come on Israel in an attempt to cause them to see the wickedness of their worship and return to Him.

At this juncture the Lord instructed Elijah to return into the land of Israel and to present himself to King Ahab, for He is now to send rain again on the land. As Elijah was going to the rendezvous, Ahab and the manager of his estate were also abroad on an excursion. They each led a party which was searching for fountains, watercourses, springs, etc. where there might yet be water. For the animals of the king were starving for lack of grass, and in the terror of the times it appears that Ahab was more concerned with saving alive some of his horses and mules than in saving the people.

Obadiah, the governor of Ahab’s house, is presented as a godly man. No doubt, at risk of his life, Obadiah had saved a hundred of the prophets from the murderous sword of Jezebel, by hiding them in a cave and furnishing them the bare essentials to keep them alive. Later he will tell Elijah how he had served the Lord from the time of his youth (verse 12). Here in the long ago is an example of one attempting to serve the world and the Lord at the same time, and who is having to compromise himself to do so. The Lord Jesus warned of the impossibility of doing this (Matthew 6:24).

Obadiah was astounded ’when confronted by Elijah. The prophet had been the object of a very strenuous search by King Ahab, who probably thought he would apprehend the prophet and compel him to bring an end to the drought. He had even sent into foreign lands in his search and demanded that the king there swear on oath that Elijah was not in his country. How chagrined Ahab would have been, and Jezebel mocked, had they known that Elijah was living in her own country, safe and secure in God’s keeping. Men cannot frustrate the purposes of God (Romans 9:19).

Obadiah believed the Lord had miraculously caused Elijah to dis­appear, and now he feared that he had suddenly reappeared in the same manner. But Elijah assured him that he is real and abiding, and that he should find his lord, Ahab, and inform him that Elijah has come. But Oba­diah was afraid there he would slay him in angry retaliation. He felt that Elijah was laying a dangerous trap for him, and pleaded his good deeds against being sent on such an errand. However, Elijah assured Obadiah he would not disappear and persuaded him to bring Ahab to him.

Verses 17-29

Baal Fails, Verses 17-29

Ahab’s total lack of spiritual understanding is apparent from his immediate accusation of Elijah upon their meeting. At once he accosted the prophet as the trouble of Israel. "Is it you, you old trouble-maker?" He adamantly refused to acknowledge the hand of the Lord in the matter, evidently believing Elijah possessed some occult power by which he withheld the rain. But Elijah answered him gravely and with straight forwardness. Israel was, indeed, in very great trouble brought on them by one man. That was the king of Israel, and his father, Omri, before him. They had forsaken the commandments of the Lord and turned to serve and worship the Baals of Zidon.

Ahab was told to send for the false prophets, the four hundred fifty who served in the Baal temple, and the four hundred occultists of the Asherah as well. These ate from the food of the queen’s table, therefore the tax revenues of the kingdom were supporting this pagan system. Ahab complied with the demand of the prophet and summoned the prophets to Carmel. There also gathered a large representation of the common people of Israel to the site to observe what Elijah would propose.

Elijah addressed the people assembled, questioning them, "How long will you halt between two opinions?" If the Lord be God they should serve Him, and if Baal is the true god they should serve him. Elijah’s meaning is, "Why do you hesitate, pretending to serve the Lord while sacrificing to Baal? Come down on one side or the other, with both feet. Don’t shift back and forth from one foot to the other." The people felt guilty and would not answer Elijah any word.

Therefore, Elijah advanced his proposal. Here he stood before them, one lone prophet, standing for the Lord God of Israel, and seemingly the only one. On the other had here are assembled four hundred fifty Baal prophets, not to mention the other four hundred who carried on licentiously in the groves. So let them bring two sacrificial bullocks, and let the Baal prophets choose the one they liked. They should dress it and cut it up for sacrifice, put the wood of the altar on it, but no fire under it. Elijah would take the other bullock and do likewise for the offering of the Lord. Then, in turn, the Baal prophets and Elijah would call upon their God (or gods) asking Him (or him) to respond by sending fire on the sacrifice.

The false prophets may, perhaps, have liked to forego such a contest, but the agreements of the people gathered, that it was a fair proposal, prevented them from squirming out of it. So Elijah spoke again to the Baal prophets, giving them first chance to prove the superiority of their god. Their being so many should have given them a great advantage if they, indeed, served a god of power. So they took the bullock proffered them and proceeded to prepare their sacrifice according to Elijah’s instructions.

All through the morning the Baal prophets pleaded with him to hear their cry, for him to prove himself by sending fire on their sacrifice, "O Baal, hear us, hear us!"

By noon they were becoming frantic, for there was no indication Baal (or Satan) would act to answer them. They jumped about and leaped on their altar pleading with Baal. Elijah began to mock them, suggesting that they might not be screaming loud enough for him to hear them. Or maybe Baal had gone on a journey and was not at home. He might be gone on a hunt, or be busy talking to someone else. But he was a god, was he not; they just need to call louder. He might be sleeping and they needed to awaken him.

This mockery of Elijah stirred the false prophets to a frenzy, and they mutilated their bodies with knives and lances in an attempt to attract the attention of Baal and get him to answer their prayers. Surely the Devil would have put fire on their altar if he could have, for he is the power behind all idol gods. But demonic power cannot overcome God, and God would not permit it to be demonstrated on this occasion. When mid-afternoon arrived, when it was time for the evening sacrifice in the temple in Jerusalem, there was still no sign that Baal regarded the imprecations of his prophets. (cf. Psalms 115:1-8).

Verses 30-40

The Lord Answers, Verses 30-40

At the time of the evening sacrifices in the temple Elijah asked for his turn to call on the Lord to answer by fire on his sacrifice and prove Himself before the assembled people and the false prophets. There was a broken-down altar of the Lord in the place they were met, and Elijah re­paired it, using twelve stones to represent the twelve tribes of the sons of Jacob. Although the kingdoms were divided, the Lord still accounted all the tribes one people. They should have been a unit in His service and worship. So Elijah re-erected the altar in the name of the Lord.

Next El-ah dug a trench around his altar, large enough to hold two measures (about one peck) of seed. Some commentators say this means that the trench was large enough to have taken this much seed to sow it. With the carcass of his bullock, the wood and all in place, Elijah then asked them to bring four barrels of water and pour on his sacrifice. He had this done a second and a third time. Not only was the sacrifice drenched, but water stood in the trench Elijah had dug. There must have been many dubious and skeptical people watching this procedure, but Elijah’s purpose was to insure that no one could cry, "Foul!" or claim trickery on his part.

One wonders what must have been the attitude of the Baal prophets whose god had failed them. Perhaps they comforted them­selves with the thought that rf they could not get an answer by fire nei­ther could Elijah. At the very time of the evening sacrifice in Jerusalem Elijah began to call on the Lord. He addressed Him as the God of Israel’s forefathers. He appealed to the Lord with much the same words the Baal prophets had used, "O Lord, hear me!" But his reason for so praying was not selfish as was that of the false prophets. They wished for self-­exoneration before the people, but Elijah prayed that the Lord would hear that 1) the people would know that He was the true God in Israel; 2) that Elijah was truly the Lord’s prophet and had spoken at His command in Israel; 3) that the people might recognize Him as the God who can turn their hearts back to Him in true revival.

Having so prayed the fire fell from Heaven upon the sacrifice of Elijah. It consumed the sacrifice, the wood, the stones of the altar, the dust around it, and even burned the water in the trench. There could be no thought of a hoax. The fire came directly down on the sacrifice, did not come up under it in the ordinary way of kindling a fire, and burned things not ordinarily combustible. If one question the availability of wat­er in this time of great drought it Ss to be remembered that Mount Carmel overlooked the Mediterranean Sea a short distance below, where there would be plenty of sea water for the purpose. Sea water is no more com­bustible than fresh water, but the fire of God consumed it nevertheless.

The people fell on their faces before the Lord, and acclaimed Him, "The Lord, He is the God; the Lord is God!" They acknowledged the vic­tory of the Lord over Jezebels prophets. Revival had broken out among the people, and Elijah took advantage of this surge of spiritual fervor among the people to make a clean sweep of the purveyors of heresy against the Lord. He called on the people to take the false prophets and bring them down to Kishon and slay them. This they did, and the dry riverbed soaked up the blood of Satan’s agents. This valley had seen great things, 1) the victory of Deborah and Barak over the Canaanites (Judges 5:21); 2) and that of Gideon over the Midianites (Judges 7). It will also be the scene of the great Battle of Armageddon in the end of the present age (Revelation 16:16).

Verses 41-46

Storm Clouds Gather, Verses 41-46

Elijah had faith that the Lord would send the rain as He had promised, and so urged Ahab to rise up from his day-long attendance at the contest of Elijah and the Baal prophets. He was to refresh himself with food and drink, which had been neglected, and prepare to depart the place, for Elijah, by the Spirit, herd "a sound of abundance of rain." While Ahab complied with the suggestion of Elijah the prophet went up to the summit of Carmel and knelt low upon the ground with his head between his knees, praying the Lord to send the promised rain.

This was not out of anxiety that Elijah prayed, lest the Lord fail to send rain, but the part of a faithful and prayerful believer. Today Christians should remain in a prayerful state, asking the Lord to send the things He has promised, though mindful that He will send them. Such exercise in prayer will strengthen the Christian and help him to keep attune to God and His will for him ( 1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Elijah sent his servant to observe the western horizon, out across the sea from where the rains came up on Israel, to apprise him when the clouds appeared. Seven times the servant went up to observe, and six times returned having seen nothing. Elijah did not give up, but remained confidently praying and on the seventh time the servant reported a very small cloud, about as large as a man’s hand. This was enough for Elijah so he sent the servant with a message for Ahab He was to pre­pare his chariot and hurry back to Jezreel before the rain hindered him.

While Ahab hastened to comply, the heavens grew black with fore­boding clouds, and the wind became heavy. There came a great down­pour of rain. But Elijah and Ahab both made it back to Jezreel before the noted flash flooding of the Kishon valley could occur (see Judges 5:4-5; Judges 5:21). Perhaps Ahab’s chariot was driven by the noted Jehu, his captain of the host who was a furious driver (2 Kings 9:20). But the Lord put wings on the feet of Elijah, who outdistanced the speeding char­iot of the king, and was standing in the gate when the king arrived at Jez­reel. Ahab must have been astounded, but this miraculous act was only further evidence of the Lord’s awesome power in contrast to that of Baal.

Lessons from chapter 18: 1) the Lord’s judgments on a sinful peo­ple are sent, not out of vengeance, but out of mercy, that they might re­pent and turn to Him; 2) men are ever attempting to compromise with the world and always finding themselves in shameful circumstances; 3) wicked men often think to blame God for their reverses, which they have actually brought on themselves; 4) one devoted follower with God is able to withstand everything the Devil can array against him; 5) God still manifests Himself spectacularly, though not miraculously, in behalf of those who call on Him; 6) the miracles the Lord performed were never tricky or suspicious or partial like those of the charlatan miracle workers today; 7) God can always be counted on to do what He has said he would do.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on 1 Kings 18". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/1-kings-18.html. 1985.
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