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As the judgment of drought and famine did not bring king Ahab to his senses and lead him to turn from his ungodly ways, but only filled him with exasperation towards the prophet who had announced to him the coming judgment; there was no other course left than to lay before the people with mighty and convincing force the proof that Jehovah was the only true God, and to execute judgment upon the priests of Baal as the seducers of the nation.
1 Kings 18:1-6
Elijah's meeting with Ahab. - 1 Kings 18:1, 1 Kings 18:2. In the third year of his sojourn at Zarephath the word of the Lord came to Elijah to show himself to Ahab; since God was about to send rain upon the land again. The time given, “the third year,” is not to be reckoned, as the Rabbins, Clericus, Thenius, and others assume, from the commencement of the drought, but from the event last mentioned, namely, the sojourn of Elijah at Zarephath. This view merits the preference as the simplest and most natural one, and is shown to be the oldest 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. And this length of time can only be obtained by allowing more than two years for Elijah's stay at Zarephath. - From 1 Kings 18:2 to 1 Kings 18:6 we have parenthetical remarks introduced, to explain the circumstances which led to Elijah's meeting with Ahab. The verbs ויּקרא ויהי ויּאמר ויהי , and ויחלּקוּ (1 Kings 18:3, 1 Kings 18:4, 1 Kings 18:5, 1 Kings 18:6) carry on the circumstantial clauses: “and the famine was...” ( 1 Kings 18:2), and “Obadiah feared...” ( 1 Kings 18:3), and are therefore to be expressed by the pluperfect. When the famine had become very severe in Samaria (the capital), Ahab, with Obadiah the governor of his castle ( הבּית על אשׁר , see at 1 Kings 4:6), who was a God-fearing man, and on the persecution of the prophets of Jehovah by Jezebel had hidden a hundred prophets in caves and supplied them with food, had arranged for an expedition through the whole land to seek for hay for his horses and mules. And for this purpose they had divided the land between them, so that the one explored one district and the other another. We see from Obadiah 1:4 that Jezebel had resolved upon exterminating the worship of Jehovah, and sought to carry out this intention by destroying the prophets of the true God. The hundred prophets whom Obadiah concealed were probably for the most part pupils (“sons”) of the prophets. אישׁ חמשּׁים must signify, according to the context and also according to Obadiah 1:13, “fifty each,” so that חמשּׁים must have fallen out through a copyist's error. מן נכרית ולוא , that we may not be obliged to kill (a portion) of the cattle ( מן partitive). The Keri מהבּהמה is no doubt actually correct, but it is not absolutely necessary, as the Chethîb בּהמה מן may be taken as an indefinite phrase: “any head of cattle.”
1 Kings 18:7-8
Elijah met Obadiah on this expedition, and told him to announce his coming to the king.
1 Kings 18:9-11
Obadiah was afraid that the execution of this command might cost him his life, inasmuch as Ahab had sent in search of Elijah “to every kingdom and every nation,” - a hyperbole suggested by inward excitement and fear. אין ואמרוּ is to be connected with what follows in spite of the accents: “and if they said he is not here, he took an oath,” etc.
1 Kings 18:12-14
“And if it comes to pass (that) I go away from thee, and the Spirit of Jehovah carries thee away whither I know not, and I come to tell Ahab (sc., that thou art here) and he findeth thee not, he will slay me, and thy servant feareth the Lord from his youth,” etc.; i.e., since I as a God-fearing man and a protector of the prophets cannot boast of any special favour from Ahab. מנּערי , from my youth up: “thy servant” being equivalent to “I myself.” From the fear expressed by Obadiah that the Spirit of Jehovah might suddenly carry the prophet to some unknown place, Seb. Schmidt and others have inferred that in the earlier history of Elijah there had occurred some cases of this kind of sudden transportation, though they have not been handed down; but the anxiety expressed by Obadiah might very well have sprung from the fact, that after Elijah had announced the coming drought to Ahab, he disappeared, and, notwithstanding all the inquiries instituted by the king, was nowhere to be found. And since he was not carried off miraculously then (compare the לך and ויּלך , “get thee hence” and “he went,” in 1 Kings 17:3, 1 Kings 17:5), there is all the less ground for imagining cases of this kind in the intermediate time, when he was hidden from his enemies. The subsequent translation of Elijah to heaven (2 Kings 2:11-12), and the miraculous carrying away of Philip from the chamberlain of Mauritania (Acts 8:39), do not warrant any such assumption; and still less the passage which Clericus quotes from Ezekiel (Ezekiel 3:12, Ezekiel 3:14), because the carrying of Ezekiel through the air, which is mentioned here, only happened in vision and not in external reality. If Obadiah had known of any actual occurrence of this kind, he would certainly have stated it more clearly as a more striking vindication of his fear.
1 Kings 18:15-19
But when Elijah assured him with an oath ( צבאות יהוה , see at 1 Samuel 1:3) that he would show himself to Ahab that day, Obadiah went to announce it to the king; whereupon Ahab went to meet the prophet, and sought to overawe him with the imperious words, “Art thou here, thou troubler of Israel.” ( עכר , see at Genesis 34:30). But Elijah threw back this charge: “It is not I who have brought Israel into trouble, but thou and thy family, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of Jehovah, and thou goest after Baalim.” He then called upon the king to gather together all Israel to him upon Carmel, together with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who ate of Jezebel's table, i.e., who were maintained by the queen.
Carmel, a mountain ridge “with many peaks, intersected by hundreds of larger and smaller ravines,” which stands out as a promontory running in a north-westerly direction into the Mediterranean (see at Joshua 19:26), and some of the loftiest peaks of which rise to the height of 1800 feet above the level of the sea, when seen from the northern or outer side shows only “bald, monotonous rocky ridges, scantily covered with short and thorny bushes;” but in the interior it still preserves its ancient glory, which has procured for it the name of “fruit-field,” the valleys being covered with the most beautiful flowers of every description, and the heights adorned with myrtles, laurels, oaks, and firs (cf. V. de Velde, R. i. p. 292ff.). At the north-western extremity of the mountain there is a celebrated Carmelite monastery, dedicated to Elijah, whom tradition represents as having lived in a grotto under the monastery; but we are certainly not to look there for the scene of the contest with the priests of Baal described in the verses which follow. The scene of Elijah's sacrifice is rather to be sought for on one of the south-eastern heights of Carmel; and Van de Velde (i. p. 320ff.) has pointed it out with great probability in the ruins of el Mohraka, i.e., “the burned place,” “a rocky level space of no great circumference, and covered with old gnarled trees with a dense entangled undergrowth of bushes.” For “one can scarcely imagine a spot better adapted for the thousands of Israel to have stood drawn up on than the gentle slopes. The rock shoots up in an almost perpendicular wall of more than 200 feet in height on the side of the vale of Esdraelon. On this side, therefore, there was no room for the gazing multitude; but, on the other hand, this wall made it visible over the whole plain, and from all the surrounding heights, so that even those left behind, who had not ascended Carmel, would still have been able to witness at no great distance the fire from heaven that descended upon the altar.” - “There is not a more conspicuous spot on all Carmel than the abrupt rocky height of el Mohraka, shooting up so suddenly on the east.” Moreover, the soil was thoroughly adapted for the erection of the altar described in 1 Kings 18:31, 1 Kings 18:32: “it shows a rocky surface, with a sufficiency of large fragments of rock lying all around, and, besides, well fitted for the rapid digging of a trench.” There is also water in the neighbourhood, as is assumed in 1 Kings 18:34. “Nowhere does the Kishon run so close to Mount Carmel as just beneath el Mohraka,” which is “1635 feet above the sea, and perhaps 1000 feet above the Kishon. This height can be gone up and down in the short time allowed by the Scripture (1 Kings 18:40-44).” But it was possible to find water even nearer than this, to pour upon the burnt-offering in the manner described in 1 Kings 18:34, 1 Kings 18:35. Close by the steep rocky wall of the height, just where you can descend to the Kishon through a steep ravine, you find, “250 feet it might be beneath the altar plateau, a vaulted and very abundant fountain built in the form of a tank, with a few steps leading down into it, just as one finds elsewhere in the old wells or springs of the Jewish times.” - “From such a fountain alone could Elijah have procured so much water at that time. And as for the distance between this spring and the supposed site of the altar, it was every way possible for men to go thrice thither and back again to obtain the necessary supply.” Lastly, el Mohraka is so situated, that the circumstances mentioned in 1 Kings 18:42-44 also perfectly coincide (Van de Velde, pp. 322-325).
Elijah's contest with the prophets of Baal. - Ahab sent through all Israel and gathered the prophets (of Baal) together upon Mount Carmel. According to 1 Kings 18:21, 1 Kings 18:22, and 1 Kings 18:39, a number of the people (“all the people”) had also come with them. On the other hand, not only is there no further reference in what follows to the 400 prophets of Asherah (cf. 1 Kings 18:25 and 1 Kings 18:40), but in 1 Kings 18:22 it is very obvious that the presence of the 450 prophets of Baal alone is supposed. We must therefore assume that the Asherah prophets, foreboding nothing good, had found a way of evading the command of Ahab and securing the protection of Jezebel.
Elijah addressed the assembled people as follows: “How long do ye limp upon both sides? Is Jehovah God, then go after Him; but if Baal be God, then go after him” - and the people answered him not a word. They wanted to combine the worship of Jehovah and Baal, and not to assume a hostile attitude towards Jehovah by the worship of Baal; and were therefore obliged to keep silence under this charge of infatuated halving, since they knew very well from the law itself that Jehovah demanded worship with a whole and undivided heart (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). This dividing of the heart between Jehovah and Baal Elijah called limping הסּעפּים שׁתּי על , “upon the two parties (of Jehovah and Baal).” For סעפּים the meaning “divided opinions, parties,” is well established by the use of סעפים in Psalms 119:113; and the rendering of the lxx ιγνύαι , the hollow of the knee, is only a paraphrase of the sense and not an interpretation of the word.
1 Kings 18:22-25
As the people adhered to their undecided double-mindedness, Elijah proposed to let the Deity Himself decide who was the true God, Jehovah or Baal. The prophets of Baal were to offer a sacrifice to Baal, and he (Elijah) would offer one to Jehovah. And the true God should make Himself known by kindling the burnt-offering presented to Him with fire from heaven, and in this way answering the invocation of His name. This proposal was based upon the account in Lev 9. As Jehovah had there manifested Himself as the God of Israel by causing fire to fall from heaven upon the first sacrifice presented in front of the tabernacle and to consume it, Elijah hoped that in like manner Jehovah would even now reveal Himself as the living God. And the form of decision thus proposed would necessarily appear all the fairer, because Elijah, the prophet of Jehovah, stood alone in opposition to a whole crowd of Baal's prophets, numbering no less than 450 men. And for that very reason the latter could not draw back, without publicly renouncing their pretensions, whether they believed that Baal would really do what was desired, or hoped that they might be able to escape, through some accident or stratagem, from the difficult situation that had been prepared for them, or fancied that the God of Elijah would no more furnish the proof of His deity that was desired of Him than Baal would. In order, however, to cut off every subterfuge in the event of their attempt proving a failure, Elijah not only yielded the precedence to them on the occasion of this sacrifice, but gave them the choice of the two oxen brought to be offered; which made the fairness of his proposal so much the more conspicuous to every one, that the people willingly gave their consent.
1 Kings 18:26-29
The prophets of Baal then proceeded to the performance of the duty required. They prepared ( יעשׂוּ ) the sacrifice, and called solemnly upon Baal from morning to noon: “O Baal, hear us,” limping round the altar; “but there was no voice, and no one to hear (to answer), and no attention.” פּסּח is a contemptuous epithet applied to the pantomimic sacrificial dance performed by these priests round about the altar,
As no answer had been received before noon, Elijah cried out to them in derision: “Call to him with a loud voice, for he is God (sc., according to your opinion), for he is meditating, or has gone aside ( שׂי , secessio ), or is on the journey ( בּדּרך , on the way); perhaps he is sleeping, that he may wake up.” The ridicule lies more especially in the הוּא אלהים כּי (for he is a god), when contrasted with the enumeration of the different possibilities which may have occasioned their obtaining no answer, and is heightened by the earnest and threefold repetition of the כּי . With regard to these possibilities we may quote the words of Clericus: “Although these things when spoken of God are the most absurd things possible, yet idolaters could believe such things, as we may see from Homer.” The priests of Baal did actually begin therefore to cry louder than before, and scratched themselves with swords and lances, till the blood poured out, “according to their custom” ( כּמשׁפּטם ). Movers describes this as follows ( Phönizier, i. pp. 682,683), from statements made by ancient authors concerning the processions of the strolling bands of the Syrian goddess: “A discordant howling opens the scene. They then rush wildly about in perfect confusion, with their heads bowed down to the ground, but always revolving in circles, so that the loosened hair drags through the mire; they then begin to bite their arms, and end with cutting themselves with the two-edged swords which they are in the habit of carrying. A new scene then opens. One of them, who surpasses all the rest in frenzy, begins to prophesy with signs and groans; he openly accuses himself of the sins which he has committed, and which he is now about to punish by chastising the flesh, takes the knotted scourge, which the Galli generally carry, lashes his back, and then cuts himself with swords till the blood trickles down from his mangled body.” The climax of the Bacchantic dance in the case of the priests of Baal also was the prophesying ( התנבּא ), and it was for this reason, probably, that they were called prophets ( נביאים ). This did not begin till noon, and lasted till about the time of the evening sacrifice ( לעלות עד , not עלות עד , 1 Kings 18:29). המּנחה עלות , “the laying on (offering) of the meat-offering,” refers to the daily evening sacrifice, which consisted of a burnt-offering and a meat-offering (Exodus 29:38.; Numbers 28:3-8), and was then offered, according to the Rabbinical observance (see at Exodus 12:6), in the closing hours of the afternoon, as is evident from the circumstances which are described in 1 Kings 18:40. as having taken place on the same day and subsequently to Elijah's offering, which was presented at the time of the evening sacrifice (1 Kings 18:36).
1 Kings 18:30-39
Elijah's sacrifice. - As no answer came from Baal, Elijah began to prepare for his own sacrifice. 1 Kings 18:30. He made the people come nearer, that he might have both eye-witnesses and ear-witnesses present at his sacrifice, and restored the altar of Jehovah which was broken down. Consequently, there was already an altar of Jehovah upon Carmel, which either dated from the times anterior to the building of the temple, when altars of Jehovah were erected in different places throughout the land (see at 1 Kings 3:2), or, what is more probable, had been built by pious worshippers belonging to the ten tribes since the division of the kingdom (Hengstenberg, Dissertations on the Pentateuch, vol. i. p. 183, trans.), and judging from 1 Kings 19:10, had been destroyed during the reign of Ahab, when the worship of Baal gained the upper hand.
1 Kings 18:31-35
Elijah took twelve stones, “according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come (Genesis 32:29; Genesis 35:10), Israel shall be thy name,” and built these stones into an altar. The twelve stones were a practical declaration on the part of the prophet that the division of the nation into two kingdoms was at variance with the divine calling of Israel, inasmuch as according to the will of God the twelve tribes were to form one people of Jehovah, and to have a common sacrificial altar; whilst the allusion to the fact that Jehovah had given to the forefather of the nation the name of Israel, directs attention to the wrong which the seceding ten tribes had done in claiming the name of Israel for themselves, whereas it really belonged to the whole nation. יהוה בּשׁם (in the name of Jehovah) belongs to יבנה (built), and signifies by the authority and for the glory of Jehovah. “And made a trench as the space of two seahs of seed (i.e., so large that you could sow two seahs
After these preparations at the time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah drew near and prayed: “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (this name is used with deliberate purpose instead of Jacob: see at 1 Kings 18:31), let it be known this day that Thou art God in Israel, and I am Thy servant, and do all these things through Thy word. Hear me, Jehovah, hear me, that this people may know that Thou Jehovah art God, and turnest back their hearts!” (i.e., back from idols to Thyself.) This clearly expresses not only the object of the miracle which follows, but that of miracles universally. The perfects עשׂיתי and הסבּת are used to denote not only what has already occurred, but what will still take place and is as certain as if it had taken place already. עשׂיתי refers not merely to the predicted drought and to what Elijah has just been doing (Thenius), but to the miracle which was immediately about to be performed; and הסבּת to the conversion of the people to the Lord their God, for which Elijah's coming had already prepared the way, and which was still further advanced by the following miracle.
1 Kings 18:38-39
Then fire of Jehovah fell and consumed the burnt-offering and the pieces of wood, etc. יהוה אשׁ , the fire proceeding from Jehovah, was not a natural flash of lightning, which could not produce any such effect, but miraculous fire falling from heaven, as in 1 Chronicles 21:26; 2 Chronicles 7:1) see at Leviticus 9:24), the supernatural origin of which was manifested in the fact, that it not only consumed the sacrifice with the pile of wood upon the altar, but also burned up ( in calcem redegit - Cler.) the stones of the altar and the earth that was thrown up to form the trench, and licked up the water in the trench. Through this miracle Jehovah not only accredited Elijah as His servant and prophet, but proved Himself to be the living God, whom Israel was to serve; so that all the people who were present fell down upon their faces in worship, as they had done once before, viz., at the consecration of the altar in Leviticus 9:24, and confessed “Jehovah is God:” האלהים , the true or real God.
1 Kings 18:40-46
Elijah availed himself of this enthusiasm of the people for the Lord, to deal a fatal blow at the prophets of Baal, who turned away the people from the living God. He commanded the people to seize them, and had them slain at the brook Kishon, and that not so much from revenge, i.e., because it was at their instigation that queen Jezebel had murdered the prophets of the true God (1 Kings 18:13), as to carry out the fundamental law of the Old Testament kingdom of God, which prohibited idolatry on pain of death, and commanded that false prophets should be destroyed (Deuteronomy 17:2-3; Deuteronomy 13:13.).
Elijah then called upon the king, who had eaten nothing from morning till evening in his eagerness to see the result of the contest between the prophet and the priests of Baal, to come up from the brook Kishon to the place of sacrifice upon Carmel, where his wants were provided for, and to partake of meat and drink, for he (Elijah) could already hear the noise of a fall of rain. קול is without a verb, as is often the case (e.g., Isaiah 13:4; Isaiah 52:8, etc.); literally, it is the sound, the noise. After the occasion of the curse of drought, which had fallen upon the land, had been removed by the destruction of the idolatrous priest, the curse itself could also be removed. “But this was not to take place without the prophet's saying it, and by means of this gift proving himself afresh to be the representative of God” (O. v. Gerlach).
1 Kings 18:42-43
While the king was refreshing himself with food and drink, Elijah went up to the top of Carmel to pray that the Lord would complete His work by fulfilling His promise (1 Kings 18:1) in sending rain; and continued in prayer till the visible commencement of the fulfilment of his prayer was announced by his servant, who, after looking out upon the sea seven times, saw at last a small cloud ascend from the sea about the size of a man's hand.
As soon as the small cloud ascended from the sea, Elijah sent his servant to tell the king to set off home, that he might not be stopped by the rain. רד , go down, sc. from Carmel to his chariot, which was standing at the foot of the mountain.
Before any provision had been made for it ( עד־כּה ועד־כּה : hither and thither, i.e., while the hand is being moved to and fro, “very speedily;” cf. Ewald, § 105, b.) the heaven turned black with clouds and wind, i.e., with storm-clouds (Thenius), and there came a great fall of rain, while Ahab drove along the road to Jezreel. It was quite possible for the king to reach Jezreel the same evening from that point, namely, from the foot of Carmel below el Mohraka: but only thence, for every half-hour farther west would have taken him too far from his capital for it to be possible to accomplish the distance before the rain overtook him (V. de Velde, i. p. 326). Jezreel, the present Zerin (see at Joshua 19:18), was probably the summer residence of Ahab (see at Joshua 21:1). The distance from el Mohraka thither is hardly 2 3/4 German geographical miles (? 14 Engl. Miles - Tr.) in a straight line.
1 Kings 18:46
When Ahab drove off, the hand of the Lord came upon Elijah, so that he ran before Ahab as far as Jezreel, - not so much for the purpose of bringing the king to his residence unhurt (Seb. Schm.), as to give him a proof of his humility, and thus deepen the impression already made upon his heart, and fortify him all the more against the strong temptations of his wife, who abused his weakness to support the cause of ungodliness. This act of Elijah, whom Ahab had hitherto only known as a stern, imperious, and powerful prophet, by which he now showed himself to be his faithful subject and servant, was admirably adapted to touch the heart of the king, and produce the conviction that it was not from any personal dislike to him, but only in the service of the Lord, that the prophet was angry at his idolatry, and that he was not trying to effect his ruin, but rather his conversion and the salvation of his soul. יהוה יד , the hand (i.e., the power) of the Lord, denotes the supernatural strength with which the Lord endowed him, to accomplish superhuman feats. This formula is generally applied to the divine inspiration by which the prophets were prepared for their prophesying (cf. 2 Kings 3:15; Ezekiel 1:3; Ezekiel 3:15, etc.).
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on 1 Kings 18". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany