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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 17

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-24

1 Kings 17:1 . Elijah the Tishbite. His parentage is not named, but the Jews call him a levite or a priest. He swore to Ahab in the name, not of Baal, but of Jehovah. As the Lord had promised covenant-blessings with an oath, it was just, under these circumstances, to withhold rain and dew by the most solemn asseveration. Elijah had before this travelled as a prophet, and was well known; the Spirit of God having taken him from evil: 1 Kings 18:12. There shall not be dew nor rain but according to my word. In confirmation of this prophecy, Josephus quotes Menander, a Greek writer, as saying, “In the Acts of Ithobalus there is a record that there was no rain from the month of October, to the month of October in the following year.” Antiq. Judeorum, lib. 8. c. 7.

1 Kings 17:4 . I have commanded the ravens. Birds in hot climates seek their prey in the evening, and in the morning. Ezekiel once uses the Hebrew word for merchants, but as they always rest in the evening, they could not feed the prophet twice a day in a secret glen of Galilee. Abulensis, a good Hebrew writer, goes so far as to say that the ravens brought the best cooked meat from Ahab’s kitchen.

1 Kings 17:21 . Elijah stretched himself upon the child, using natural means to convey reänimating warmth to the child, as well as divine fervour in prayer, that the immortal spirit might return. When we ask divine aid we must employ all the requisite means.


Public and national apostasy from God is of the most serious consequence to posterity. There is no medium between repentance and punishment; yea, between repentance and ultimate destruction. In the remaining history of the ten tribes, we are called to contemplate, on the one hand, a nation in the highest stage of apostasy and vice; and on the other, the efforts which heaven made to reclaim them by the glorious ministry of the prophets, and by an awful series of chastisements, till they were ultimately so cut off by sickness and the sword that but a few remained. Hence, almost every circumstance in this history, trivial in itself, is pregnant with moral events.

Ahab having fully gratified his idolatrous queen in the erection of a temple and altar to Baal, and consecrated a vast train of priests, was about to taste the pleasure of all his work; for four hundred prophets of the grove vied one with another in predictions of peace and prosperity. But all at once his hopes were troubled, and all his joys blasted by the appearance of a stranger. Elijah, father of the Hebrew prophets, whose ministry had hitherto been obscure, crossed the Jordan, and obtruded himself on the royal notice. This bold and holy man, after faithfully delivering his message, swore by JEHOVAH, the everliving God, that there should be neither dew nor rain upon the land for an unlimited number of years, until he should return and give it by his word. What power have faithful men when inspired of God! They are invested with the keys, and at the divine pleasure can shut and open heaven, with regard both to temporal and spiritual blessings. James 5:0. This fact was notorious; the drought and consequent famine are related by Menander, the Phœnician historian, as quoted by Josephus.

The sign followed the ministry, and as the pagan prophets would not fail to say that the drought was wholly occasioned by Elijah’s curse, the Lord ever watchful of his servants, safely sent Elijah to hide in the glens and caverns by the brook Cherith, and he promised that the ravens should feed him; for in extraordinary times the Lord supports the faith of his people by extraordinary interpositions. And how much preferable are deserts, solitude and exile, to apostasy. So Elijah was hid in the cleft of the rock, while all Israel, and the neighbouring nations were examined on oath that they found him not. And Christ the rock cleft for man, can hide us from every storm.

When the brook dried up, in the course of the summer, God not willing to entrust his faithful servant among apostates, sent him to Zarephath among the gentiles. On approaching the gate he found a meagre woman gathering a few sticks, that she might eat her last cake with her son and then die. He begged a little water, an article both scarce and dear. Seeing her ready to do this favour, for charity should distinguish the poorest believer, he asked for a little bread also; but on opening her sad case he promised her in the name of the Lord, that her barrel of meal should not waste, nor her cruse of oil fail, till the day that the Lord should send rain on the earth. She believed the word of the Lord, and obeyed his servant. She risked her last bread in time of famine to shelter this prophet; and according to our Saviour’s intimation, Luke 4:0., she is a striking figure that the gentiles should embrace the gospel and cherish its ministers, while both were rejected of the Jews. Happy family, still living by faith; for reason saw nothing but food which might every day be exhausted. It seems however an invariable maxim of providence, that most of those who are greatly honoured should be greatly tried. The son, the only son of this widow, so miraculously saved from famine, suddenly sickened and died, even while Elijah was yet concealed in her house. Perhaps the continued miracle had elated this widow’s soul, and now it was requisite that affliction should sanctify it; for God is jealous of our affections. In her anguish she expostulates with the man of God for having suffered her son to die, and because of her past offences. In all our afflictions it is wise to draw a parallel between our sins and our punishments, and to examine both the nature and the fruits of our repentance; and it is well to consult with aged ministers in our grief. The Lord had compassion on his prophet and on this faithful woman, and restored her son to life again. So Jesus has stooped to our humanity, and prayed over us, and raised our souls to a heavenly and divine life.

Elijah’s peculiar situation in this widow’s house may teach ministers what duties are due to those families who show them kindness because of their work. We should endeavour to feed them with the bread that cometh down from heaven; to raise their children from a spiritual death in trespasses and in sins, so far as God shall bless our word and hear our prayers; and to comfort and encourage them to the utmost of our power in all their troubles and afflictions; for God has promised that they, as well as we, shall receive a prophet’s reward.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Kings 17". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/1-kings-17.html. 1835.
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