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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

1 Kings 17

Verse 1

And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, 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.

Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead [ 'Eeliyaahuw (H452) ha-Tishbiy (H8664) mitoshaabeey (H8453) Gil`aad (H1568) The third word may be rendered either from the present Hebrew text, as in the King James Version, or, by a slight change of punctuation, Elijah the Tishbite, from Tisbi of Gilead: so also the Septuagint renders it: Eeliou ho profeetees ho ek Thesboon tees Galaad]. The site of this place has not yet been discovered; but if the latter meaning of the words be adopted, it conclusively settles two points:

(1) That Thisbe was not in Naphtali, as has been supposed (Reland, 'Palaestina,' p. 1035), but in Gilead; and

(2) that Elijah was not a resident merely, being a foreigner by birth, as Keil maintains ('Commentary,' in loco); an Ishmaelite (many of that race being on the confines of Gilead), as Michaelis suggests; but a native Gileadite. Josephus ('Antiquities,' b. 8:, ch. 13:, sec. 2) describes him as a native of Thesbon, a district in the Gilead country.' This prophet is introduced as abruptly as Melchizedek-his birth, parents, and call to the prophetic office being alike unrecorded. The commencement of his recorded ministry was at a great public crisis in the national history of Israel, when measures had been adopted by the court of Samaria which threatened to extinguish the very existence of true religion in the land. Jeroboam and his immediate successors had introduced an unhappy innovation in religion, by not only changing the central place of worship and the appointed time of the festivals, but by patronizing the use of Egyptian symbols. Still they adhered to the worship of Yahweh in connection with images. Ahab effected a far worse revolution by the introduction of the pagan or Phoenician idols, Baal and Ashtaroth, and building sanctuaries to them. Through the seductive influence of the court, the people of Israel, previously prone to idolatry, followed the pernicious precedent, and the worship of Yahweh was at a low ebb in the kingdom of Israel. Elijah appeared in this state of affairs.

Said unto Ahab. The prophet appears to have been warning this apostate king how fatal both to himself and people would be the reckless course he was pursuing; and the failure of Elijah's efforts to make an impression on the obstinate heart of Ahab is shown by the penal prediction uttered at parting.

Before whom I stand - i:e., whom I serve (Deuteronomy 18:5).

There shall not be dew nor rain these years. Not absolutely; but the dew and the rain should not fall in the usual and necessary quantities. This was a calamity incident to the land of Israel, and applied for the punishment of sin (cf. 1 Kings 8:33; Deuteronomy 11:17; Deuteronomy 28:23). Such a suspension of moisture was sufficient to answer the corrective purposes of God, while an absolute drought must have converted the whole country into an uninhabitable waste. The duration of this drought is stated by the Apostle James (James 5:17), to have been three years and six months.

But according to my word. Not uttered in spite, vengeance, or caprice, but as the minister of God. The impending calamity was in answer to his earnest prayer, and a chastisement intended for the spiritual revival of Israel. Miracles and prophecies are the two grand evidences of a divine revelation. And in particular, the commission of a true prophet was attested steal by the occurrence of extraordinary events in the future, conformably to his announcement. Drought was the threatened punishment of national idolatry (Deuteronomy 11:16-17; Deuteronomy 28:23); and Elijah now made a particular application of the divine denunciation.

Verse 2

And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying,

The word of the Lord came unto him, saying,

Verse 3

Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan.

Get thee hence ... At first the king may spurned the prediction as the utterance of a vain enthusiast; but when he found the drought last, and increase in severity, he sought Elijah, who, as it was necessary that he should be far removed from either the violence or the importunities of the king, was divinely directed to repair to a distant and unknown retreat.

And turn thee eastward, [ qeedªmaah (H6924); not mizraach due east, but only in an easterly direction form the point of departure-in all probability Samaria-inclining either north or south (cf. 1 Kings 7:39; Numbers 34:3; Numbers 34:15); Septuagint, kata anatolas].

And hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan, [ bªnachal (H5158), in a torrent-bed, or water-course (wady); Septuagint, en too cheimarroo Chorrath; Kªriyt (H3747), the name of a torrent (signifying a cutting, or separation-namely, through a mountain ravine); `al (H5921) pªneey (H6440) ha-Yardeen (H3383), on the face of the Jordan.] The difficulty is to discovers locality which answers all the conditions of the text. Three different places have had their claims advocated by eminent scholars. Since the words translated "before," are used elsewhere (Genesis 25:18; Joshua 19:11) to denote 'east,' Eusebius and Jerome ('Onomast.,' article 'Chorath') have placed Cherith in the trans-Jordanic country; and Rabbi Swartz ('Palestine,' p. 51) takes the same view, placing it in Wady Alias el-Yabis, which is south of Mahanaim, and runs into the Jordan a few miles below the ford opposite Beth-shan (Kirby and Mangles, p. 305).

In favour of this claimant, it has been urged that Elijah would naturally wish to have the Jordan as a protecting barrier between him and the bloodhounds of the court, who laboured to track his route. The intermixture of hill and valley that forms a characteristic feature of that region, covered with dense woods, abounding in flowing streams, and in caverns on the precipitous sides of the rocky ravines, in strongly urged in support of the hypothesis that Wady Alias was the Cherith, while local traditions lend it additional confirmation. But this description is equally applicable to other localities in Palestine; and, as shown above, the words "before" and "eastward" are not sufficiently precise to establish the determinate claims of this spot. One reason for this conclusion is the language of Josephus ('Antiquities,' b. 8:, ch. 13:, sec. 2), who, while he does not mention the name of the brook, says that Elijah 'departed into the southern parts;' and the traditions of the Church have almost uniformly placed the brook of Elijah on the west side of the Jordan. Accordingly, considering "eastward" as meaning 'southeast'-the direction in which the traditions describe the locality to have been situated-and "before" as denoting 'toward' (Genesis 18:26), modern scholars are divided in opinion between two wadys which lead down from the central mountain-chain to the western bank of the Jordan.

The one is Wady Fasael, flanked on both sides by steep precipitous rocks, and frequently swept by searching winds (Van de Velde, 'Syria and Palestine,' 2:, p. 309). The only foundation for its claim is the possession of a living fountain ('Ain), which in a time of severe and prevalent drought would be a great boon to the fugitive prophet; and yet this very circumstance of its having a perennial spring is a direct refutation of its claim to be Cherith; not only because the brook dried up, while the living or flowing waters did not, but, because the Cherith had no fountain, only a "brook," which would become dry when the protracted drought had exhaled all the moisture of the land. The honour of having been the real Cherith of the prophet is assigned now by general consent to Wady Kelt, a little south of Wady Fasael, and answering more fully than it to the description given in this passage. Its extension "eastward;" its numerous arch-mouthed caverns, any of which might have served as a safe hiding-place from the myrmidons of the court; its "brook" (nachal, not ain) flowing with impetuous current, yet capable of being dried up for want of rain to feed it, and producing a narrow strip of fresh verdure along the sides of its channel; its 'cut' or separation of the tremendous precipices at the deep bottom of the gorge; its opening at the termination "before" or 'upon the face of' the Jordan; its name Kelt, euphonized by the Arabs from the ancient Cherith, through a not-uncommon substitution of L for R; and its being, moreover, beyond the confines of the kingdom of Israel, and within the territory of that of Judah-all these circumstances combined, harmonizing, as they appear to do, with the scriptural description, with Josephus, and with local traditions, have, in the minds of competent judges; created a strong presumption that its wild, unfrequented, precipitous fastnesses afforded Elijah the refuge where he was commanded to seek. Its vicinity to Gilgal, where he had so many friends and followers, and their ignorance of the place of his retreat, would induce Ahab to search for him in every quarter rather than there (Robinson, 'Biblical Researches,' 2: p. 288; Stanley, 'Sinai and Palestine,' pp. 299, 300; Osborne's 'Palestine, Past and Present,' pp. 391-396; Porter's 'Handbook,'

p. 191).

Verse 4

And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there.

I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there, [ haa`orªbiym (H6158); Septuagint, tois koraxin]. The idea of such unclean and voracious birds being employed to feed the prophet has not only been a fertile subject of ridicule to infidels, but appeared to many believers so strange that they have laboured to make out the Orebim, which in our version has been rendered ravens, to be-as the word is used, Ezekiel 27:27 - merchants, or Arabians (2 Chronicles 21:16; Nehemiah 4:7), or the citizens of Arabah, a town alleged, on Rabbinical authority, to have been near Beth-shah (Joshua 15:6; Joshua 18:18). Jerome states that the inhabitants of this town supplied the prophet with food; and the testimony of this writer, who lived in the fourth century of our era, is considered all the more valuable that he spent several years in Palestine for the purpose of acquiring an accurate acquaintance with the Hebrew language, and with the manners of the people, with a view to the exposition of the Scriptures.

In the common printed editions of the Vulgate, corvi, ravens, is the word used in this passage; but in 2 Chronicles 21:16 and Nehemiah 4:7, Jerome with propriety renders the original word Arabians. The Arabic version considers Orebim, in this passage, as denoting a people, and not ravens. To these authorities may be added the opinion of the Jewish Commentator Jarchi, who interprets the term in the same manner, conceiving it to be impossible for the Lord's prophet to receive food from creatures declared unclean by the law, of whose authority he was a zealous upholder and unflinching defender. These considerations have seemed in the minds of many to carry so much weight that they have considered the only probable interpretation of the passage is, that the Orebim who brought to Elijah bread in the morning and flesh in the evening, with unbroken regularity for a whole year, were not ravens, but the inhabitants of the city Orbo, or traveling merchants belonging to the caravans from Arabia. [As to the latter hypothesis, Ezekiel 27:27 has, wª`orªbeey (H6148) ma`ªraabeek (H4627), and the occupiers of thy merchandise.]

But the word is here closely connected with that which follows, so as to be dependent for its meaning upon the association; and `orªbiym (H6148) is never used by itself to denote merchants. Besides, the position of Elijah's retreat refutes the supposition. The caravan route of the Arabian traders did not lie in the direction of the Wady Kelt; and as their travels were made only at distant periodical intervals, it is evident that they could not be the parties who brought the prophet big daily supplies. As little could it be some kind inhabitants of the town of Orbo; because, admitting the existence of such a town, of which, however, there is no historical evidence, its people would, according to the genius of the Hebrew language, have been called, not Orebim, but Arabaiim; and then, how could the prophet be said to "hide himself," if he were dependent for his daily subsistence on the friendly attentions of benevolent persons in the neighbourhood?

The secret of his retreat must inevitably have transpired; and yet it is said that, notwithstanding Ahab sought for him with untiring industry in all quarters, his hiding-place could not be discovered. It would have been impossible, while a system of vigilant espionage was maintained in every part of the country, and tempting rewards would be held out to any who would volunteer the much-wished-for information, that Elijah could have remained concealed, had his supplies of food been derived either from Arabian merchants or the inhabitants of a neighbouring town. The common rendering, then, in our opinion, is preferable to either of these conjectures; and if Elijah was miraculously fed by ravens, it is idle to inquire where they found the bread and the flesh, for God would direct them. "He commanded the ravens to feed" the prophet. In the Scripture history of God's providence, such commands are frequently represented as given to the lower animals. The serpents, the locusts, the fish, the billows of the sea, and the clouds of heaven, are all severally represented as acting at the mandate of God. and being employed in his service (2 Chronicles 7:13; Psalms 78:23; Isaiah 14:12; Jonah 2:10; Amos 9:3). 'Properly speaking,' says Dr. Paxton, 'the inanimate and irrational parts of creation cannot receive and execute the commands of the Almighty: they are only passive instruments employed by Him, in His providential dispensations, to produce certain effects. To command the ravens, then, is to make use of them in providing for the necessities of his servant-to impart for a time an instinctive care to supply him with food, to which they were by nature entire strangers, and which they ceased to feel when the end was accomplished.'

Of course, the flesh was suited to the taste of ravenous birds; and as the distance between Jerusalem and Cherith was not very great, it is possible, as some have suggested, that the fowls might have snatched it from the altar at the temple and carried it in their talons to the prophet's hiding-place. But as to the bread, that was not food adapted to their instincts; so that their being instinctively stimulated to carry a portion of it daily along with the meat was a strong proof of a miraculous influence being exerted over them. But the ravens are solitary birds; it is the rooks which are gregarious, flying abroad in flocks, morning and evening; and hence, as a single raven could not bring a sufficient quantity of the viands, a difficulty is felt by some to account for the fact of the prophet's continued subsistence through such agency. As an attempt at removing this difficulty, we subjoin the following remarks by the editor of 'Calmet,' without committing ourselves to the adoption of his theory:

The original word "raven" includes the whole genus corvus; and, consequently, it may have been the rook, as Taylor conjectures, not an unclean bird, which was employed on this occasion.' The same learned writer conjectures that the support of Elijah was obtained in some such way as this-`Let us suppose,' says he, 'for a moment that Elijah was concealed in some rocky and mountainous spot where passengers never strayed, and that here a number of voracious birds had built their nests on the trees which grew around it, or on the projections of the rocks. These flying every day to procure food for their young, the prophet availed himself of a part of what they brought; and while they, obeying the dictates of nature, designed only to provide for their offspring, Divine Providence directed them to provide at the same time for the wants of Elijah; so that he gathered, whether from their nests, what they dropped or brought to him, or occasionally from both means enough for his daily support. But I rather think, there being a good many of them, some might furnish him with bread (i:e., grain) and others flesh, and vice versa, at different times; so that a little from each made up his solitary but satisfactory meal. To such straits was the exiled prophet driven, and such, was the dependence of this zealous man of God.' After the lapse of a year the brook dried up, and this was a new trial to Elijah's of this zealous man of God.' After the lapse of a year the brook dried up, and this was a new trial to Elijah's faith.

Verses 5-7

So he went and did according unto the word of the LORD: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 8

And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying,

The word of the Lord came unto him. Zarephath, or Sarepta, now Surafend, where he was directed to go, was far away on the western coast of Palestine, about nine miles south of Zidon, and within the dominions of Jezebel's impious father, where the famine also prevailed. Meeting at his entrance into the town, the very woman who was appointed by Divine Providence to support him, his faith was severely tested by learning from her that her supplies were exhausted, and that she was preparing her last meal for herself and son. The Spirit of God having prompted him to ask, and her to grant, some necessary succour, she received a prophet's reward (Matthew 10:41-42); and for the one meal afforded to him, God, by a miraculous increase of the little stock, afforded many to her.

Verse 9

Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee.

Which belongeth to Zidon, [ 'ªsher (H834) lª-Tsiydown (H6721)] - which is by or near Zidon. Sarepta was situated between Zidon and Tyre, close to the Mediterranean. The etymology of the name indicates that it was a place for smelting metals. Robinson ('Biblical Researches,' 3:, 414) says that in the rocks at the foot of the hills he saw numerous tombs excavated, which apparently belonged to this ancient city.

Verses 10-13

So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 14

For thus saith the LORD God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth.

The barrel of meal shall not waste, [ lo' (H3808) tiklaah (H3615)] - be ended, consumed.

Verses 15-16

And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 17

And it came to pass after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick; and his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him.

The son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick. A severe domestic calamity seems to have led her to think that as God had shut up heaven upon a sinful land in consequence of the prophet, she was suffering on a similar account.

Verse 18

And she said unto Elijah, What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?

What have I to do with thee? The phrase is elliptic, and the meaning is, What is there in common to us two-to me, a sinful woman, and thee, a man of God-that we should thus have come together to my harm? (cf. Judges 11:12; 2 Kings 3:13: see Trench 'On Miracles,' p. 104.) Without answering her bitter upbraiding, the prophet takes the child, lays it on his bed, and, after a very earnest prayer, had the happiness of seeing its restoration, and along with it, gladness to the widow's heart and home.

There is a remarkable difference noticeable between the miracles of the Old and the New Testaments. 'We find,' says Trench, 'the holy men of old sometimes bringing-if one may venture so to speak-hardly, and with difficulty, the wonder-work to pass. It is not born without pangs: there is sometimes a momentary pause, a seeming uncertainty about the issue; while the miracles of Christ and His apostles are always accomplished with the highest ease' (Numbers 12:13-15; 1 Kings 18:42-44; 2 Kings 4:31-35). The prophet was sent to this widow, not merely for his own security, but on account of her faith to strengthen and promote which he was directed to go to her, rather than to many widows in Israel, who would have eagerly received him on the same privileged terms of exemption from the grinding famine. The relief of her bodily necessities became the preparatory means of supplying her spiritual wants, and bringing her and her son, through the teaching of the prophet, to a clear knowledge of God, and a firm faith in His Word (Luke 4:25).

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 Kings 17". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/1-kings-17.html. 1871-8.