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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

1 Kings 18

Verse 1

The Lord Will Give Rain Again

After more than three years the LORD orders Elijah to show himself to Ahab again, because He is going to give rain. What a merciful God! The promise of the LORD that He is going to give rain does not take away that Elijah prays for it, as it appears further on. The promise is precisely an exhortation to pray.

Elijah will come and restore everything, the Lord Jesus said to His disciples (Matthew 17:11). Elijah’s character is that of restoration. Moses is the law giver. Elijah brings the people back to the law after they have deviated from it. Moses was prepared in the wilderness for forty years. Elijah has also been prepared by the LORD. Moses has performed with Pharaoh and Elijah with Ahab. Then they are both prepared by God in silence for their service. In John the baptist the service of Elijah is fulfilled. John is also prepared and then comes into the public domain.

Now comes the appearance in public for Elijah. He has to show himself to Ahab. The restoration of the people is preceded by the apparition of Elijah. He brings hearts back to God. Ahab is the spiritual leader of God’s people. The restoration is not without him, because he is the representative of the people.

Verses 2-6

Ahab and Obadiah

Obeying the command of the LORD, Elijah sets off to Ahab to show himself to him. Before that meeting takes place, we hear of a man, Obadiah, who is at the court of Ahab and of whom we read that he feared the LORD greatly. The palace of Ahab and the fear of the LORD are two opposing worlds. Obadiah cannot openly confess that he fears the LORD greatly, for he also fears Ahab. The fear of the LORD must go hand in hand with turn away from evil (Proverbs 3:7).

Yet the LORD has used Obadiah. In his fear of the LORD he has taken care that a hundred prophets did not fall into the hands of the murderous Jezebel. He even kept them alive by providing them with bread and water. This is indeed no small matter at a time when water is scarce and harvests fail due to drought. Possibly he was helped in this by the seven thousand who did not bow their knees before Baal (1 Kings 19:18). In any case, it is no small achievement for which the LORD will surely reward him.

But he cannot be a real witness to the LORD, as Elijah is. He walks on the lead of Ahab and gets his commands from him and not from the LORD like Elijah. Obadiah cannot possibly be an open witness to the LORD, because he remains connected with evil.

Whoever wants to be a real witness cannot be connected with evil. A believer who lives in fellowship with the world will act as the world. He will strive to keep the world livable and even improve it. Whoever wants to be a man of God must cleanse himself from the vessels for dishonor (2 Timothy 2:20-Ecclesiastes :). Obadiah does not do that. On the contrary, he is working, together with Ahab, to undo the consequences of God’s judgment.

Ahab cares more about his cattle than about his people, his subjects. For his cattle he goes looking for water. He orders Obadiah to search part of the land as well. Ahab apparently trusts Obadiah fully. This is how he got to know Obadiah. Although Obadiah is in the wrong position and is forced to participate in a foolish expedition, it shows that he is generally good at his work. A person who fears the LORD will be a useful force for his employer who does his job well, even though sometimes it must be said of a job that it is not a job of faith.

Verses 7-15

Obadiah and Elijah

On the way to Ahab, Elijah bumps into Obadiah. Two men who fear the LORD meet. However, there is a world of difference between them. One is a declared opponent of Ahab, the other is doing his best, hand in hand with Ahab, to ensure that in this time of scarcity the horses of Ahab at least have something to eat. Obadiah is shocked when he sees Elijah and calls him “my master”. Elijah corrects him and says that Ahab is his master. That is what Obadiah also himself says in 1 Kings 18:10. This reminds us of the word of the Lord Jesus: “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24).

Elijah is used to obeying immediately. If the LORD says “go”, then he goes (1 Kings 18:1-Exodus :). If Obadiah receives the same assignment from Elijah, he objects to it with all kinds of objections. He easily complies with Ahab’s plans, but can hardly bow to God’s plan. This is often the case in the lives of Christians who join the world. When the Word of God asks for simple obedience, they have all kinds of excuses to get out of it.

Fear dominates the life of Obadiah. He is afraid of Elijah and he is afraid of Ahab. He fears more for his own life than for that of Elijah. He tells how Ahab had Elijah restlessly searched to kill him, in the superstitious opinion that the disaster then would stop and rain would come again. There is also no peace with regard to Elijah with Obadiah. For him, Elijah is also a danger. He sees Elijah as the object of his master’s hatred and not as the representative of the living God.

Many believers live in the cleavage that characterizes Obadiah’s life. They are in systems where all kinds of evil teachings are. They condemn these teachings, but they stay where they are. They tell themselves that they might still be useful. They are, however, in ever-increasing disturbance of conscience. On the one hand they feel that the Lord Jesus is dishonored and they sometimes want to protest against it; on the other hand they are afraid of the religious leaders. This situation will ultimately lead to them either silencing their conscience or leaving that place.

Nor does Obadiah understand anything of the work of the Spirit. He believes that the Spirit will do something special with Elijah, causing him to run into the greatest difficulties and even to fear for his life. He does not know God’s thoughts and therefore he suggests thoughts about the Spirit that are totally outside the spiritual reality. Never will the Spirit do anything that would put out of action the Word of God or go against the Word of God. Elijah said in the power of the Spirit that Obadiah must announce him to Ahab. It is an insult to the Spirit to assume that He will suddenly work something else.

Obadiah feels compelled to justify himself. The reason he is so afraid of his life is because he is so full of himself. He who has lost himself does not fear for his life, for he has already lost it. Obadiah mentions everything he has done for the LORD. But the Lord does not want us to speak about ourselves like this (Proverbs 27:2). Paul calls himself “insane” (2 Corinthians 11:23) when he is forced to speak about himself. People who give up high about themselves do not find appreciation among spiritually-minded people. Nor is Elijah impressed by the achievements of Obadiah’s achievements. Without saying a word about it he turns around and goes to show himself to Ahab.

Verses 16-18

Elijah meets Ahab

Finally, Obadiah obeys. He goes to Ahab and tells him that Elijah is there. Then Ahab goes to Elijah. Israel’s most powerful man and outlawed Elijah meet. But Elijah is far above this man, who accuses him of plunging Israel into misfortune. Those who bring God’s Word and point out sin are often identified as the cause of troubles (cf. Acts 16:16-Jeremiah :).

Elijah points his finger at Ahab himself and explains why he is the cause of Israel’s misery. On the one hand Ahab forsakes the commandments of the LORD and on the other hand he has followed the Baals. These two sides always constitute the misfortune of man in general and of the Christian in particular who deviates from God.

Verses 19-21

All the People and Elijah at Carmel

That Elijah is the superior is evident from the orders he gives Ahab. And Ahab obeys. Elijah commands that all Israel be gathered, as well as the false prophets of Baal, the people who proclaim the false doctrine of Baal. Also the four hundred prophets, who receive their food from Jezebel, must come. The place of action is also determined by Elijah: Mount Carmel. This is the most suitable place for the meeting between the God of Israel and the idols of the Sidonians. Mount Carmel is located between Israel and Phoenicia where Tyre and Sidon are.

Then all the Israelites and the prophets gather at Mount Carmel. Opposite this crowd is the loner Elijah. Of the seven thousand who did not bend their knees before Baal, there is nothing to be seen. Obadiah will not stand beside him either. Although Elijah is alone and faces the masses, he sees the whole people and loves them. He carries them on his heart.

When all Israel and the prophets have gathered with Elijah, he first has a word for the people. Impressively he asks them when they will make a choice. But the people are silent. They are waiting. This apathy is terrible. It's reminiscent of the lukewarmness that reigns in the church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:16).

Verses 22-25

Elijah Determines the Test

Then Elijah acts. He takes the initiative and explains ‘the rules of the game’ for the confrontation between God and Baal. The prophets of Baal may first choose from the two bulls and bring their sacrifice first. They also get the most time to call to their god. Elijah gives them every advantage. He can only do that because he trusts God completely. He does not know the outcome, yet still he does, because he knows God’s will. That brings him to faith to give this testimony.

Baal is the god of the weather and therefore also of rain. He must be persuaded to give rain again. Fire from heaven on the sacrifice must make clear Who God is. Elijah knows the history of the fire on the sacrifice. He knows the history of Abraham where the fire comes from heaven (Genesis 19:24). He also knows of the fire on the altar and the fire in judgment on Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 9:24; Leviticus 10:1-Exodus :). He knows the fire of blessing when the fire hits the innocent sacrifice and the people can go free. Elijah has let fire come from heaven on enemies (2 Kings 1:10-2 Chronicles :), but does not do that on the people. He loves the people. Therefore the fire does not come on the people, but hits the sacrifice, as it turns out shortly.

Verses 26-29

Baal Is Called

Baal’s prophets prepare everything in the way Elijah has indicated. Then the spectacle breaks loose. That must have been impressive. Eight hundred and fifty prophets is a lot. At a distance stands the lonely Elijah. A little further on stands the mass of the people, still silent. It does not matter to them from whom the rain comes, from Baal or from God.

Elijah is not silent. When the prophets have been working for a long time without any result to persuade their god to take any action, Elijah starts to ridicule their foolish attempts with biting mockery. The prophets of God have always mocked the idols (Isaiah 44:12-Proverbs :). Elijah ridicules their god by assuming he is occupied and has no time to answer. He is a god who cannot do two things at the same time. It may also be that he has gone aside, that is to say that he is on the toilet to do his needs and then of course he can’t hear them. He cannot do that either when he is travelling, because he is a very limited god with only a small area as his terrain.

On the other hand is the God of Elijah, our God, the all-powerful God, the God of the universe, Who created heaven and earth and maintains everything. He is also the all-present God, who is present everywhere, and the all-knowing God, who is involved in all things, and to Whose attention nothing escapes.

According to their pagan customs, the prophets cut themselves to arouse the compassion of their god. What a god who should be brought to action with such actions! But all the toil and self-chastisement of the prophets is answered with total silence on the part of Baal. Of course Baal remains dead, for there is only one living God. What a defeat for the prophets of Baal.

In this manner they continue until the time of the offering of the [evening] sacrifice or the evening grain offering. The whole chapter lights up against the background of the cross. It is the ninth hour. At that hour Christ died as the real grain offering and burnt offering on the cross. It is the moment that Daniel receives an answer to his prayer, as well as Ezra, and as Cornelius, the first convert from the Gentiles (Daniel 9:21; Ezra 9:4-Deuteronomy :; Acts 10:3). When the gods are silent and the people are silent, the God of Elijah answers.

Verses 30-35

Elijah Prepares the Sacrifice

Then it’s Elijah’s turn. He commands the people to come forward, to him. He distracts the attention of Baal to focus it on himself and then on the LORD. They come. They must see clearly that he restores the altar of the LORD, which has been overthrown. He does not build a new, different altar. Nor does he renew the old altar. He rebuilds the altar from twelve stones to “the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob”, who is made “Israel” by God’s grace. “Jacob” is the name of weakness and failure. On that basis, judgment should be executed. But the LORD has given him the name “Israel”. That is what God has made of him, and then there is blessing.

With the restoration of the altar, Elijah expresses the unity of the people of God. He does this as a loner, the man of God, but he does so “in the name of the LORD”. He thereby confesses His authority. The authority of that Name is still the basis for making the unity of the church visible, even if only with a few (Matthew 18:20). It comes down to personal faithfulness in the acknowledgment of the authority of the Name of the Lord Jesus.

He continues to set up the altar for the purpose for which he is building it: that God may glorify Himself through it. He places wood on the altar. Then he cuts the ox of the second choice in pieces. He then orders the pouring of water on the altar. This is done by means of a total of twelve pitchers with water, which also reminds us of the twelve tribes. He does so three times, just as he has stretched himself out over the boy three times (1 Kings 17:21). Only God can give life out of death, of which the number three speaks.

In this way, Elijah avoids any suspicion that he would have used some sort of trick to bring the fire over the sacrifice. Every human intervention is eliminated. In practical terms, he will have had the water taken from a nearby spring. Spiritually we see that a man of God has always hidden sources.

Verses 36-40

Elijah Calls to God and God Answers

Then he who is expressly called “Elijah the prophet” turns to God. He does so without a show like the prophets of Baal, but short, simple, penetrating, especially trusting and with a view to the return of the people to God. The whole power of God is concentrated in this one man. He addresses himself to the “LORD, the God of” – the promises to – “Abraham, Isaac and Israel”. When everything is lost, there can only be an appeal to the God of the promises. We also see that Elijah speaks of God as the “God of … Israel”, that is again what God made of Jacob and not what Jacob is in himself.

Elijah does not speak of the LORD ‘my’ God. He does so in his personal prayer. Here it is a public prayer and he prays that God will make Himself known as the God of His people Israel. He also prays for himself that it will become clear that he is connected with Him and acts in His command and carries out that command as He has told him. He prays at the time of the evening sacrifice. That is a wonderful moment. It is the time when later the Lord Jesus will die on the cross as the foundation for the unity of God’s people. On the basis of that sacrifice God answers prayers. It is the hour that the Lord Jesus also called, but did not receive an answer. God accepts the sacrifice of Elijah and the people acknowledge that the LORD is God.

Elijah prays that it will become clear that God has brought repentance to their hearts. Restoration begins with those who have faith and prayed in silence and in public. Then the fire falls on the burnt offering. A burnt offering is made so that the man who brings it may be acceptable to God (Leviticus 1:9; Leviticus 1:13Leviticus 1:17), not by reason of what man is in himself, but by reason of the pleasure God has in the offering. We may know that we are pleasing to God because He sees us in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6).

The result is not only that the people are spared, that judgment passes them by, but that the hearts of the people return to God and trust God again. The result is also that the heart of God is turned back to this people and goes out to them. We see this when we look at the burnt offering that the Lord Jesus was on the cross for God. That burnt offering brings Elijah.

The fire consumes everything. When the people see it, it falls down and confesses loudly that the LORD is God. It is important that this is also the case with us. This will be evident from a radical removal of all elements that have taken the place of God. Everything that stands in the way of or does not conform to this confession must be removed from our lives. Elijah is radical. It seems hard, but it’s about the holiness of God.

The first assignment for this returned people is to seize the prophets of Baal. No one should escape. That is how we must act. In the same way, there must also be merciless dealing with people who bring a false doctrine. This does not happen in our time by killing them, but by breaking and refusing every fellowship with them. Their word goes on like cancer and you cannot have patience with cancer (cf. Deuteronomy 13:5; Deuteronomy 13:9-1 Kings :Deuteronomy 18:20). The slaughter takes place at the brook Kishon, where once the Canaanites were killed (Judges 4:7; Judges 4:13Judges 5:21; Psalms 83:9).

Verses 41-46

The Rain Is Coming

After the fire comes the rain. Ahab is the first to be told that rain is approaching. About him was not spoken about during the whole event on the Carmel. He has followed the whole spectacle. He has been silent all the time. Elijah did not speak to him, but now speaks to him. He instructs Ahab to go home to eat and drink; after all, that is the only thing he is interested in. He also does not need to be present at the effect of Elijah’s prayer for rain.

When Ahab, the leader of God’s people, is on his way to his coveted meal, the man of God, the lover of God’s people, goes up the mountain to pray. Elijah has prayed that it will not rain unless at his word (1 Kings 17:1). That time is now come. God has said that He will give rain again (1 Kings 18:1). That is what Elijah believes, and he already hears the noise of it (1 Kings 18:41). We could say that Elijah did not have to pray. But this is not how the man of God talks. He knows that God wants to be prayed to and that God wants to use the prayer of His servant to give rain and blessing. Although He has announced it, He gives it on the basis of prayer and in connection with the sacrifice.

It even is so, that Elijah has to pray seven times. A short prayer in public has fulfilled to let fire descend from heaven. In secret a sevenfold prayer is needed to let the rain come. It is not only about prayer, but about persistent and faithful prayer. There is spiritual exercise connected to this. Elijah also uses his servant. He gives him a nice task. The servant may look forward to the answering of the prayer. He may go and look to the west, over the sea, to see if there are any clouds coming. Every time he obeys and is exercise in the same way. God gladly fulfills His promises in answer to the prayers of His own. So rain and blessing comes again upon the people of God.

We may pray for rain. Rain is the rain of heaven and represents the activity of the Spirit in the teaching of God’s Word (Deuteronomy 32:2). In Egypt there is also water, but that is brought over the land by human effort (Deuteronomy 11:10). We long for the rain of heaven, the doctrine from the heavenly source. We may have a place around the altar of twelve stones, but we may also receive the doctrine that drips like rain. We must also pray for this and look forward to the hearing. Many want to eat and drink with Ahab, but only so few want to pray with Elijah. It starts with a cloud like the hand of a man, but what grows into a sky full of clouds with rain.

Elijah lets command Ahab to be fast, because otherwise the ground will be so marshy that it will not advance. While Ahab rushes away, Elijah is even faster and outruns Ahab. We can assume that he is enabled to do this by the power of the Spirit. It is a spiritual enthusiasm because of God’s work that he was allowed to do.

This action by Elijah more or less ends his public service. He still acts as a prophet, but the actual goal of his mission has been achieved. Through his service, the people have returned to God, at least in his confession.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 1 Kings 18". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/1-kings-18.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniƫl', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.