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Elijah Reproves Ahab
v. 1. And it came to pass after many days, three and one half years after the first announcement of the famine, Luke 4:25; James 5:17, that the word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year, namely, the third year of his sojourn in Zarephath, saying, Go, show thyself unto Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth. The present punishment, concerning which a number of parenthetical remarks are now inserted, was to be ended presently.
v. 2. And Elijah went to show himself unto Ahab, to present himself to ask for an interview. And there was a sore famine in Samaria, the lack of rain had been especially noticeable in that section of Palestine.
v. 3. And Ahab called Obadiah, which was the governor of his house, the master of the palace, the majordomo, who had charge of the entire royal household. (Now Obadiah feared the Lord greatly, he was one of the few who still adhered to the worship of Jehovah;
v. 4. for it was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord, for it had been her aim, from the start, to abolish the worship of Jehovah in Israel, that Obadiah took an hundred prophets, members of the prophets' schools or societies which had been in existence since the time of Samuel, and hid them by fifty in a cave, probably in two caverns, in the hills of Ephraim, and fed them with bread and water. )
v. 5. And Ahab said unto Obadiah, this had taken place when the famine had reached its most severe point, Go into the land, making a careful survey of the entire country, unto all fountains, springs, of water, and unto all brooks; peradventure we may find grass to save the horses and mules alive, that we lose not all the beasts, for the lack of water would soon have forced them to kill some of the animals.
v. 6. So they, since the need was so great, divided the land between them to pass throughout it; Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself.
v. 7. And as Obadiah was in the way, engaged in this task of finding water for the royal stables, behold, Elijah met him; and he knew him, the prophet being recognizable anywhere by the garments which he wore, 2 Kings 1:7-8, and fell on his face, in reverence and in fear, and said, Art thou that, my lord Elijah?
v. 8. And he answered him, I am. Go, tell thy lord, King Ahab, Behold, Elijah is here.
v. 9. And he said, What have I sinned that thou wouldest deliver thy servant into the hand of Ahab to slay me? He feared lest Ahab conclude that he had known the hiding-place of Elijah during the past years and would therefore wreak his vengeance on him.
v. 10. As the Lord, thy God, liveth, there is no nation or kingdom, namely, of those in the entire neighborhood, whither my lord hath not sent to seek thee, for such was his bitterness against the prophet; and when they said, He is not there, he took an oath of the kingdom and nation that they found thee not. In his great fear Obadiah undoubtedly overemphasized this point and became guilty of exaggeration.
v. 11. And now thou sayest, Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here. Since Ahab had looked for Elijah everywhere in vain, the danger that the sudden announcement of his presence in the immediate neighborhood would rouse him to a quick fury was very great.
v. 12. And it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from thee, that the Spirit of the Lord shall carry thee whither I know not, a possibility which his anxiety caused him to mention; and so when I come and tell Ahab and he cannot find thee, he shall slay me, in the supposition that he had willfully misled the king. But I, thy servant, fear the Lord from my youth, this fact being urged to influence Elijah in his behalf.
v. 13. Was it not told my lord what I did when Jezebel slew the prophets of the Lord, how I hid an hundred men of the Lord's prophets by fifty in a cave and fed them with bread and water? He mentioned this one example in order to impress his sincerity upon Elijah and to show him the danger of his own position.
v. 14. And now thou sayest, Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here; and he shall slay me, since Ahab was enraged even now on account of his religious convictions.
v. 15. And Elijah said, As the Lord of hosts, he who commands the countless host of the mighty angels, liveth, before whom I stand, as a minister and ambassador, I will surely show myself unto him today.
v. 16. So Obadiah, reassured by the definite promise of the prophet, went to meet Ahab and told him; and Ahab went to meet Elijah.
v. 17. And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel, bringing confusion and misfortune upon the people?
v. 18. And he, turning back the accusation upon the king, answered, I have not troubled Israel, but thou and thy father's house, his whole family, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, rejected the true religion with which the people had always been happy, and thou hast followed Baalim, the chief heathen god in the various activities ascribed to him.
v. 19. Now, therefore, send and gather to me all Israel unto Mount Carmel, the mountain by the Mediterranean Sea, in the southern part of the territory of Asher, and the prophets of Baal, four hundred and fifty, the priests of the idol, who also acted as soothsayers, and the prophets of the groves, the priests of the female idol Astarte, four hundred, which eat at Jezebel's table, receiving their entire sustenance from the queen, who was bound to establish idolatry in Israel.
v. 20. So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, proclaiming a great national assembly, and gathered the prophets together unto Mount Carmel. In spite of Ahab's apparent scorn for Elijah, a superstitious fear caused him to agree to the prophet's words. Thus even the godless are occasionally filled with a terror which causes them to bow under the Word of God, at least outwardly.
Elijah Slays the Prophets of Baal
v. 21. And Elijah came unto all the people, as they were assembled in a convenient place on the southeastern slopes of Mount Carmel, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions, being of a double mind, trying to harmonize the worship of Jehovah and that of Baal? If the Lord be God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him. This same argument is applicable to the unionistic tendencies of our day, no matter in what connection they crop out, for all such efforts to harmonize truth and falsehood are an abomination to the Lord. And the people answered him not a word, their silence conceding the actual antagonism between the two religions.
v. 22. Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord, all the rest having been either murdered or caused to cease preaching; but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men. The priests of Astarte had apparently not appeared, having a presentiment of harm which would surely befall them if they attended this great assembly.
v. 23. Let them therefore give us two bullocks, in order that the issue might be publicly decided; and let them, the priests of Baal, choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under, and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under;
v. 24. and call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord; and the god that answereth by fire, let him be God. Since sacrifice was the chief expression of worship at that time, this form of deciding the issue was chosen, and since the priests of Baal were given the first opportunity to test the truth of their religion and also their choice of bullocks, it was practically impossible for them to refuse without immediately branding their religion as a huge fraud. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken. The proposal and the test seemed altogether fair to them.
v. 25. And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many, he did not intend to crowd forward, but wanted to give them every advantage; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under.
v. 26. And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, which included the proper dissecting of the members according to the requirements of the ritual, and called on the name of Baal from morning, when the meeting opened, even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us, literally, "hearken unto us," answer us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered, literally, "And not was there a voice, and not was there an answerer. " And they leaped upon the altar which was made, they began a sacrificial dance with a reeling movement.
v. 27. And it came to pass at noon that Elijah mocked them and said, Cry aloud; for he is a god, that is, in their opinion; either he is talking, engaged in deep meditation, or he is pursuing, having stepped out for a few minutes, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth and must be awaked. This was holy derision and irony, for it is altogether in order, in given circumstances, to ridicule the hollowness and insufficiency of unbelief and false religions.
v. 28. And they, with whom the outcome of the affair was now a matter of the greatest seriousness, cried aloud and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, with swords and sharp lances, for they now tried a weapon-dance, till the blood gushed out upon them, all with the idea of compelling their idol to answer their frantic appeals.
v. 29. And it came to pass, when midday was past and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, about three o'clock in the afternoon, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded, all their efforts received not the slightest recognition or attention from the idol in whom they trusted.
v. 30. And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me, he wanted them to be witnesses of the events which were about to take place. And all the people came near unto 'him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down, this being one of the heights where sacrifices to Jehovah had formerly been made.
v. 31. And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the Lord came, saying, Israel shall be thy name, he wanted to declare, at this time, that it was really the twelve tribes which constituted the Lord's people, and that they should remain united in the worship of Jehovah;
v. 32. and with the stones, on the foundation of the former altar, he built an altar in the name of the Lord, where Jehovah was to reveal Himself as the one true God. And he made a trench about the altar, a ditch to receive the water which he intended to be poured upon the sacrifice, as great as would contain two measures of seed, that is, he had the people dig out as much soil as would have been needed to hold two measures of seed, if this had been sown there.
v. 33. And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels, large pails, with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice and on the wood.
v. 34. And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time.
v. 35. And the water ran round about the altar, covering and soaking everything thoroughly; and he filled the trench also with water, as it ran down from the altar. Altogether, the measures adopted by Elijah would prevent any suspicion of fraud.
v. 36. And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice that Elijah, the prophet, came near, approaching closely to the altar, and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, the God of the nation's ancestors, let it be known this day that Thou art God in Israel, and that I am Thy servant, and that I have done all these things at Thy word; for he had not acted in his own cause or interest, but only in behalf and for the honor of the Lord, at whose command all this was performed.
v. 37. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that Thou art the Lord God, and that Thou hast turned their heart back again, that which was about to happen should result in their conversion to the true God.
v. 38. Then the fire of the Lord fell, as when the Tabernacle was dedicated, Leviticus 9:24, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, that in the spaces between the stones, and licked up the water that was in the trench. It was a miraculous fire, one, moreover, which exceeded any ordinary fire in intensity.
v. 39. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces, in reverent awe and in terror; and they said, The Lord, He is the God; the Lord, He is the God! An overpowering impression had been made upon them, and the confession that Jehovah was the one and only true God came from full conviction.
v. 40. And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal, lay hold on them quickly; let not one of them escape. And they took them; and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, which flows at the foot of Mount Carmel, and slew them there. It was the judgment of God upon the false prophets and their soul-destroying doctrines. While the kingdom of God is no longer built and maintained by external force, God still shows by an occasional extraordinary punishment upon blasphemers that He is the only true, the living God, and that there is none beside Him.
v. 41. And Elijah said unto Ahab, who was also present at this great meeting, Get thee up, eat and drink, he could once more be of good cheer; for there is a sound of abundance of rain. The prophet heard the noise of the approaching storm before there was a cloud in the sky.
v. 42. So Ahab went up to eat and to drink, to refresh himself after the anxiety of the last days. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel, to a promontory which offered a view of the sea; and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees, in an attitude of the most earnest, importunate prayer,
v. 43. and said to his servant, Go up now, look toward the sea, where the storm-clouds would be visible at once. And he went up, and looked, and said, There is nothing. And he said, Go again seven times, again and again, for the rain must surely come.
v. 44. And it came to pass at the seventh time that he said, Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea like a man's hand. And he, knowing that this cloud would bring the expected rain, said, Go up, say unto Ahab, whose tent was probably pitched among the crags, Prepare thy chariot and get thee down that the rain stop thee not.
v. 45. And it came to pass in the mean while, while Ahab got ready to return to his home, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel, evidently his summer residence.
v. 46. And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, imparting to him supernatural strength; and he girded up his loins, to make traveling easier, and ran before Ahab, as a faithful servant ready to stand at his side in removing the curse of idolatry from the country, to the entrance of Jezreel, this run of some seventeen miles being in itself an unusual feat. Note: A nation's weal and woe, blessing and curse, depends upon its relation to the true God.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on 1 Kings 18". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany