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FROM AHAB TO JEHU
The Prophet Elijah During Ahab’s Reign
1 Kings 17:18, 1 Kings 17:19
A.—Elijah before Ahab, at the brook Cherith, and in Zarephath
1 Kings 17:1-11.17.24
1And Elijah1 the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants2 of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the Lord [Jehovah] God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.3
2And the word of the Lord [Jehovah] came unto him, saying, Get thee hence, 3and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before4 Jordan. 4And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens5 to feed thee there. 5So he went and did according unto the word of the Lord [Jehovah]: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. 6And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening6; and he drank of the brook.
7And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there hadbeen no rain7 in the land. 8And the word of the Lord [Jehovah] came unto him saying, 9Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee. 10So 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. 11And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morselof bread in thine hand. 12And she said, As the Lord [Jehovah] thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but a handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and,behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my Song of Solomon , 8 that we may eat it, and die. 13And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy Song of Solomon 1:0; Song of Solomon 1:04For thus saith the Lord [Jehovah] God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord [Jehovah] sendeth9 rain upon the earth. 15And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and Hebrews , 10 and her 16house, did eat many days. And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord [Jehovah], which he spake by Elijah.
17And 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. 18And 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? 19And he said unto her, Give me thy son. And he took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into a loft11, where he abode, and laid him upon his own bed. 20And he cried unto the Lord [Jehovah], and said, O Lord [Jehovah] my God, hast thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son? 21And he stretched himself12 upon the child three times, and cried unto the Lord [Jehovah], and said, O Lord [Jehovah] my God, I pray thee, let this child’s soul come into him again. 22And the Lord [Jehovah] heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived.23And Elijah took the child,13 and brought him down out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him unto his mother: and Elijah said, See, thy son liveth.24And the woman said to Elijah, Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord [Jehovah] in thy mouth is truth.
The history of the prophet Elijah, which begins with the chapter now before us, is continued in chapters 18, 19, 21, 2 Kings 1:0, and is brought to a conclusion in 2 Kings 2:0, belongs, as is known, not only to the weightiest portions of our own, but of the Old Testament historical books generally. Hence it has been the object frequently, both of special theological inquiry and also of devotional consideration. In this respect we name here: Eichhorn: Ueber die Prophetensagen aus dem Reiche Israel (in der allgem. Bibliothek der bibl. Literatur iv. 2 s. 193 sq.). Niemeyer: Charakteristik der Bibel V. s. 257 sq. Knobel: Der Prophetismus der Hebräer ii. s. 73 sq. Rödiger: In der Hall. Encyclopädie Bd. 33 s. 320. Köster: Die Propheten des Alten und Neuen Testaments, s. 70 sq. Winer: R.- W.-B. I. s. 317 sq. Ewald: Geschichte Israels iii. s. 485 sq. und 533 sq. Kurtz, in Herzog’s R.-E. iii. s. 754 sq. Sartorius: Elias und Elisa, 3. Heft der Vorträge über die Propheten, Basel, 1862. Menken: Christliche Homilien über die Geschichte des Propheten Elias, 2 Bd. der gesammelten Schriften, Bremen, 1858. (These 1798 homilies are, as the preface rightly remarks, “a complete ascetic commentary.” They are to this day unsurpassed, and belong to what is best that has ever been said and written upon Elijah.) Fr. W. Krummacher: Elias der Thisbiter, 4. Ausg. Elberf., 1851. K. M. Wirth: Das Leben des Propheten Elias, Predigten, Bern, 1863. F. Bender: Alttestamentliche Lebensbilder in Predigten, 3. Bändchen: Die Propheten Elias und Elisa, Stuttgart, 1858. [See also Dean Stanley: Jewish Church, Lecture 30. F. D. Maurice: Prophets and Kings of the Old Testament, Sermon viii. Bp. Hall: Contemplations, &c., Book 1 Kings 17:6, 1 Kings 17:7, 1 Kings 17:8. F. W. Robertson: Sermons, Second Series, vi.—E. H.]
Besides the sections in our books just referred to, we have no further accounts of the history of Elijah. As his activity was limited to the kingdom of Israel, the Chronicles, which are occupied specially with the kingdom of Judah, furnish no parallel accounts. They make no mention of Elijah, except that he wrote a letter to king Joram (2 Chronicles 21:12 sq.), of which, however, we find nothing in our books. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, Elijah is mentioned but once (Malachi 4:5). How high he stood in the estimation of the later Jews may be learned from the praise of him in the Wisdom of Solomon (1Kings 48:1–12). In the New Testament no prophet is mentioned and extolled so frequently as Elijah: whence certainly it follows that in the time of Christ and of the Apostles generally, a high significance was attached to him in the sphere of the history of redemption. Rabbinical tradition supplements indeed the history of the prophets, but its statements are so marvellous, and in part so absurd (Cf. Schöttgen, Hor. heb. II., p. 533; Eisenmenger, Entdecktes Judenthum II. s. 401 sq.), that not the slightest historical value can be conceded to them. They certainly show, however, the extraordinary estimation in which then and always Elijah stood amongst the Jews. Origen, Jerome, and Eusebius mention apocryphal accounts of Elijah, and even the Mohammedans have their fables about him (See Winer s. 320 and Ewald s. 548).
In respect now of the narrations in our books, as to form and contents, they are so unmistakably distinguishable from the chapters which precede, and which are inserted amongst them (15, 16, 20, and 22), as to place it beyond doubt that they belong to another documentary source, the work assuredly of some prophet, and probably incorporated into the great historical collection in the hands of our author (see Introd. § 2). Lately, distinctions between the different accounts have been made; and it has been maintained that they are the product of different periods. According to Ewald, chap. 21. is the most ancient, and 2 Kings 1 Kings 1:2-11.1.17 the latest section (so Thenius also in respect of the latter); but that the main portion, (chaps, 17, 18, 19, 2 Kings 2:1-12.2.18) was written by one person, who lived at the close of the eighth or the beginning of the seventh century, i.e., some two hundred years after Elijah. This view rests, however, upon a completely unjustifiable perversion of the history, by virtue of which the punishment of Naboth (chap, 21) decided the whole turn of affairs in Israel. When the author of the main portion of the narrative lived cannot be determined. That “he cannot have lived before the end of the eighth or the first half of the seventh century,” is an assumption which rests only upon the undemonstrated opinion of the unhistorical character of the story of Elijah in general, but which does not necessarily follow from this. Who in that period, far from being an insignificant one, could have been the author?
Recent criticism, on account of the “accumulation of the miraculous” in the expositions of the life and work of Elijah contained in our books, pronounces it more or less unhistorical. At first the attempt was made to explain this miraculous element away by giving to the events concerned a merely natural coloring (cf. Exeget. Handbuch des Alt. Testaments, 8 and 9; St. Bauer, Hebr. Mythologie II. s. 156 sq. and Gesch. der hebr. Nation II. s. 406 sq.; Ausführliche Erklärung der Wunder II. s. 148), but, as Winer mildly expresses it, “not with a very felicitous result,” examples of which shall be cited below. Subsequently this was entirely abandoned. The view now current takes this form: we have before us here, “not history strictly speaking, but a tradition-sketch;” the entire delineation wears often “a wholly fabulous character” (Thenius), and is hence full of “the marvellous” (Winer), and yet “the fabulous is so closely connected with the historical that it is scarcely possible to separate the one from the other in all particulars” (Rödiger, Knobel). The latest way of looking at the matter goes still farther, claiming that the documentary source employed by our author “is a poetico-prophetic work of a later age, in which the image of such an extraordinary phenomenon as Elijah had gradually become stronger and more colossal,” that in this work, still further, “older narratives and treatises were manifestly made use of,” only “the author, conceiving of everything with poetic loftiness, lifted up the reader even to a height often dizzy, has formed anew the whole history of Elijah and of his time.” It is “a wonderful, creative representation of the sublimest prophetic truths,” and “is freed besides of every fetter of prosaic historical material” (Ewald, l.c., s. 534 sq., whose words Eisenlohr, as usual, repeats). Bunsen has expressed this view in the sharpest way (Bibelwerk für die Gemeinde V. 2, s. 540. sq.): “The whole narration of the life of Elijah is a firmly welded popular epic in its execution, from the beginning to end … for the wonderful power of this spirit and for his astonishing manifestations our poem serves better than a dry narration of the actual occurrences. It is the fruit of an inspiration which he, like some superhuman being as it were, awakened in his disciples. Nothing but boundless ignorance, or, where historical criticism has not died out, only an hierarchical-dilettanti reaction, foolhardy hypocrisy or weak-headed fanaticism, would wish to demand the faith of the Christian community in the historic truth of these miracles as if they had actually taken place.” Reserving details for the particular statements, we remark as follows, in a general way, upon these various modes of view of the new criticism.
(a) In respect of “the accumulation of the miraculous,” from which the new criticism generally, in disputing the historical character of the account about Elijah, proceeds, Kurtz says—”It must be confessed that these miracles, partly at least, are surprising through their outwardness, and that, were we justified in supposing that mythical embellishments entered into the biblical history at all, here (and in Elisha’s story) more than anywhere else would they be found.” If indeed it be presupposed that a miracle is an impossibility, and is to be relegated, consequently, to the sphere of legend or of fiction, the history of Elijah must appear certainly as legendary and unhistorical. But if this be not presupposed, the frequent manifestation of the miraculous in this history cannot surprise us. The entire history (Heilsgeschichte) of the Old and New Testament, as the actual revelation of the living, holy God, who is infinitely above all natural, finite being, is a great continuous miracle, and is likewise the soil in which all miracles, in particular, are rooted. But as it has, like every other history, its main epochs, which form the gathering-points of its development, so it is agreeable to its nature, that just at these very points the miraculous should appear stronger, more distinctly and more frequently, and the appearance of any person who stands at the apex of a new epoch should be accompanied by miracles. The concentration of revelation leads, in the nature of the case, to a concentration of the miraculous, and moreover, in a way which corresponds with the steps in the development of the people, and the position of the person who leads them. Such was the case with Moses, the founder of the Covenant, and with Christ its finisher, and it would be surprising if in the case of Elijah, the restorer of the Covenant (see below, Historical and Ethical), miracle should not be present. Ewald confesses this when (s. 510) he says: “The sphere of religion is always that of wonder, while that of strong faith in the being and agency of heavenly powers is in action as well as experience; where also there is the strongest intensity of true religion, there will such wonders in part actually take place through the activity of the believing spirit, and in part will be experienced, at least, by believing hearts … In so far were the days of Elijah and of Elisha, then, when the true religion was compelled to maintain itself most stringently against its internal foes, as rich in wonders as of old the days of Moses and of Joshua had been.” Sartorius also justly remarks: “The activity of these prophets of an older time did not consist in testimonies simply by word of mouth, in long speeches and extended discourses, like those of the later prophets, but in deeds laid upon them by God, wrought by them in the strength of God, which they taught people rightly to understand only, in brief statement, as a sign from the Lord.…Especially was the falling away at that time at such a pass that the conversion of souls could not be accomplished by words simply, but by demonstrations of the power of the living God, and these we see now in the miracles of Elijah.” What Christ says in John 5:36 of His works, is true, mutatis mutandis, of Elijah. They were signs and witnesses, and there can be no discussion here of a surprising “outwardness” in any particular. They have all a spiritual kernel, and often speak deeper and louder than words. The proof of this devolves upon the exegesis. If the legendary be so cemented with the historical, as the new criticism confesses, that it is “impossible” to separate them, the accounts generally can have no historic worth, and it would be more consistent, critically, to explain them as fiction. For the rest, supposing that tradition has added this or that, it by no means follows, as has been assumed, that all the miraculous belongs to the legendary only, and is unhistorical. The miraculous which the Jewish tradition has grafted upon the biblical accounts is of the sort which can be readily distinguished from that which in the Bible itself is explained away as legendary. But never would a tradition, running out into what is irregular and extraordinary, have been formed, had Elijah’s appearing been without any miracle.
(b) The notion that the accounts of Elijah are portions of a larger poetical work, in fact a national epic, does away readily with many difficulties, but at the same time is involved in irreconcilable contradictions. No one can deny that the author of our books wished to write an historical work. Had he regarded the history of Elijah, as contained in his documentary sources, not as history but as “fiction,” he would not have incorporated it into his work, and have placed it side by side with the other documents to which he appealed. Least of all would he have done this in a main portion, in the history of the prophet who makes an epoch in the history of the monarchy, yea, of the theocracy of the Old Covenant. Of course, if he held that to be history which he incorporated into his own work he would have claimed in its behalf acceptance upon the part of his readers. If, finally, it were “fiction,” that objection of “unlimited ignorance,” absence of “historic sense,” “foolhardy hypocrisy,” or “weak-headed fanaticism” would before all strike him, and he would, at the same time, disclaim for his whole history all trustworthiness and credibility. If the documentary source belonged to the end of the eighth or the beginning of the seventh century, then for the space of two hundred years, down to the days of our author, no one remarked that it did not contain history, but was only a fiction. The history of Israel was likewise the history of the divine revelation, and consequently a matter not for the poets but for the prophets (see Introd. § 2), and nothing can be more certain than that the prophet who composed the documentary source, did not mean to write a popular epic, but history. But apart from every other consideration, the narratives about Elijah, notwithstanding their peculiar coloring, are not related to the remaining portions of our books as poetry to prose. The extreme simplicity and directness of the narratives (cf. Thenius, Comment. s. 218), the pregnancy of expression, the frequent designation of places, the many individual characteristico-psychological traits impart to the whole an historical impress so unmistakable, that the events narrated cannot possibly be regarded as a poetic costume and “representation of the sublimest prophetic truths” and general religious ideas. Ewald’s view, that the author of the documentary source had gathered together everything with poetic elevation, and has lifted his readers up to a height which is often giddy, contradicts flatly his own previous assertion: “How grand everything said of him (Elijah) may be, still all accounts can be but a feeble image of the original grandeur, and the all-conquering might of this great prophetic hero of the ten tribes.” If the appearing of Elijah were originally so grand—and “there can be no doubt actually of the marvellousness of his prophetic activity”—if he achieved the “incredible miracle of a complete alteration in the condition of the ten tribes at that time,” we see no reason why the author of the documentary source could or would have been moved “to form anew the whole history of Elijah and of his time,” “to make an entire new thing,” and to “get rid of every fetter in the way of a lower historical material.” When Bunsen says, “we have legends, not myths,” but adds, “the historical character of the life and of the personality is not at all imperilled thereby,” this is simply a contradiction. For legends are no history, and in the way of history all that remains is that once an Elijah lived and did great things; all besides is insecure and uncertain, is in fact legend presented in a poetic garment.
Exegetical and Critical
1 Kings 17:1. And Elijah the Tishhite. When under Ahab the falling away from Jehovah in Israel reached a degree never hitherto known (1 Kings 16:30-11.16.34), then the prophet Elijah appeared and announced to the king, &c. Thenius is of the opinion that the proper opening of the history of Elijah here is missing, and that the manner of his appearance presupposes an activity in the past. Von Gerlach also says, “the history has a great gap here, at its beginning,” for Elijah appears as one in connection with whom extraordinary occurrences were known for a long time. But this view is not necessary. It is in the highest degree probable that Elijah lived, up to that moment, in retirement, that his prophetic activity first began with his encounter with Ahab, and that then his history, strictly speaking, began, like that of Mark and Matthew, and of John the Baptist his copy. This sudden coming forth corresponds well with the peculiarity of his appearing, hence also Jesus Sirach (Sir 48:1-12) begins his eulogy upon Elijah with the words: “Then stood up Elias the prophet as fire, and his word burned like a lamp. He brought a sore famine upon them,” &c. The name אֵלִיָּהוּ or אֵלִיָּה (2 Kings 1:3 sq.), i.e., not, according to the old interpreters: My strength is Jehovah, but: My God is Jehovah, refers to the life’s calling of the prophet, which was to bear witness against Jehovah as the one true God over against Baal. It is not at all likely that he gave this significant name to himself (Thenius). In 1 Kings 21:17 he is called the Tishbite without any addition. In Tob 1:2 only, is θίσβη, a place, mentioned, “which is at the right hand of that city which is called properly Naphtali, in Galilee above Aser.” As there is no mention anywhere of a place of that name, this must be the Thisbe. The addition מִתּשָׁבֵי גִלְעָד says that Elijah of Thisbe was born in Galilee, but was living in Gilead, in the land lying over against Ephraim, on the other side of Jordan. Instead of מִתּשָׁבֵי Ewald, Thenius, and Kurtz wish, after the Sept. (ὁ θεσβίτης ὁ ἐκ θεσσεβῶν τῆς Γαλαάδ), to read מִתִּשְׁבִּי, so that the sense would be, the Tishbite, namely, of the Thisbe which is in Gilead, but which is not the Thisbe in Galilee, mentioned in Tob 1:2. But there is no proof that there was a Thisbe in Gilead. Even תּוֹשָׁב does not force us to this reading: for it does not designate a stranger, i.e., a non-Israelite, but one who had wandered off into another tribe, and was dwelling there, like the still stronger גַּר in Judges 17:7 of the Levite who was of Bethlehem in Judah, and had settled himself in Ephraim. That the generally plene written תּוֹשָׁב stands here without ו makes nothing against the Masoretic punctuation (Keil on the place). Whether Elijah came from the unknown Thisbe in Galilee, or from the equally unknown Thisbe in Gilead, is a matter of no moment, but it is certain that he came over into Samaria from the country east of the Jordan.
Said unto Ahab, &c. It is often maintained that the words of Elijah are the conclusion of a longer conference with Ahab, and the Talmud (Sanhed. 1 Kings 22:1) states the occasion and the contents of the same, but most arbitrarily. The prophet surely entered into no dispute with Ahab. According to his constantly observed plan, he appeared before the backslider with a short but incisive word, which he understood well enough without any extended reasoning. As the Lord God of Israel liveth is the usual form of an oath, which here at the same time places Jehovah, the only living God, in contrast with Baal, the dead idol. The addition also, the God of Israel, stands out in its full meaning: the true living God is He also who had chosen Israel and made a covenant with them, which was now shamefully broken by idolatry. With the words, before whom I stand (1 Kings 1:2; 1 Kings 10:5; 1 Kings 10:8), Elijah designates himself to the king as the servant and ambassador of Jehovah, and that as such he stands before him and announces the impending punishment. This punishment, that there should be no dew nor rain, was not arbitrary and prejudiced, but was threatened in the law for the sin of falling away, and suited the especial circumstances. The fruitful land of Canaan was promised to the people, after their exodus from Egypt, on the condition that they would keep the covenant of Jehovah, and not serve other gods. But in the event of a falling away it was threatened that the heavens should become brass, and the earth iron, i.e., that it should become unfruitful; and this, for an agricultural people, was the direst evil (Leviticus 26:19 sq.;Deuteronomy 11:16 sq.;1Kings 28:23 sq.; cf.1 Kings 1 Kings 8:35; Amos 4:7 sq.). Never hitherto had the covenant been broken, and idolatry been formally introduced, as under Ahab; if ever at all, now must the threatening be carried into execution. Such a punishment was at the same time an evidence against the Baal-worship; for since Baal was worshipped conspicuously as the generating Nature-power, so was the impending drought and barrenness a tangible proof of the impotence and nullity of this idol. It is not to be overlooked that Elijah, while he announces the coming of the punishment threatened by Moses, and in a certain degree executes it, places himself, at the outset, in the direct position of a mediator and founder of the covenant, as another Moses, i. e., as the restorer of the covenant. The prophet announces the continuance of the drought only in a general way, because it would depend upon the conduct of the king and of the people. He therefore adds, but according to my word, perhaps “in opposition to others, particularly the prophets of Baal” (Keil), certainly for the humiliation of the haughty king, who had set himself up above Jehovah and his commandment, and now must feel himself dependent upon the word of a man whom he despised, one of his subjects, but who, nevertheless, “was standing before Jehovah.”
1 Kings 17:2-11.17.3. And the word of the Lord came unto him, &c. How Ahab received the announcement of the prophet, whether angrily or indifferently, is not stated. Certainly he did not lay hands upon him, who seems to have disappeared as unexpectedly as he came. From the more general direction eastward, which is followed by the more especial עַל־פְּנֵי of Jordan, Thenius justly concludes that the brook Cherith flowed easterly from Jordan (Genesis 16:12; Genesis 23:19; Joshua 18:14), in opposition to the tradition which locates it this side the same river (see Keil). What recent writers deliver in respect of its situation are, after all, uncertain guesses, and nothing can be gathered concerning it from its name כְּרִית, i.e., separation. The assertion that the “brook” was called Cherith, i. e., drying up, because it used to dry up (Krummacher) much sooner than all others, is a sort of lucus a non lucendo. For it seems, on the other hand, to have belonged to the class of perennial fountains, and upon that account to have been pointed out to the prophet in the time of drought. Certainly the prophet was not concealed “in order to get out of the way of importunate prayers for the removal of the punishment” (Keil), for a man of such inflexible will would not find it necessary to get out of the way of such prayers. We surmise rather that his design was to be safe from the persecution of Ahab and Jezebel; for he would be able the more readily to fly into the neighboring kingdom of Judah. It was also requisite, after that great declaration, that he should again retire into the obscurity from which he had emerged, and not appear again “until men were convinced of the truth of his word by the results thereof, and would feel their need of him and of his God, and he could labor mightily and decisively against the idol-worship” (Menken). Since God had appointed him to an extraordinary task, it was necessary, after he had begun it with the announcement of the judicial punishment, to retire into obscurity, in order to prepare for all that his calling brought with it, both great and grievous. The sojourn in the desert was “the time when he grappled and wrestled in prayer for his people, and was himself purified and strengthened for his future deeds” (Von Gerlach). “Most of the saints and great men lived, before their entrance upon their public career, in profound obscurity: so Moses, so Jesus himself, so Paul, who spent three years in Arabia after his conversion. God receives His people first in silence in his school, until He can use them openly (Calwer Bib.). The second Elijah, John the Baptist (Matthew 11:14; Matthew 17:12), was in the wilderness when the command of God came to him to appear openly (Luke 1:80; Luke 3:2).
1 Kings 17:4-11.17.6. I have commanded the ravens, &c. To command means “as much as to make use of them in the execution of his purposes” (Berleb. Bibel). As the God who hath made heaven and earth and all that therein is, hath “commanded” the serpents (Amos 9:3), and the clouds (Isaiah 5:6; Psalms 78:23), the sea also (Job 38:11), so likewise the ravens. By means of these the supply of the prophet with food is promised, not “against their own voracity, because subject to the will of God” (Thenius), but because they have their habitat, and are found in wild and desolate places (Isaiah 34:11; Zephaniah 2:14). As the raven, according to Leviticus 11:15; Deuteronomy 14:14, belongs to the unclean class of birds, Kimchi and other rabbins, referring to Ezekiel 27:27, explain עֹרְבִים as merchants. But apart from the consideration that עֹרֵב by itself never means merchant, Elijah was not to eat the ravens, and the eating only of unclean creatures was forbidden. It is even still worse to read עַרְבִים, i.e., Arabians (1 Chronicles 21:16), or to suppose that the inhabitants of the unknown city Orbo, or of the rock Oreb (Judges 7:25), are meant (cf. on the other hand Bochart, Hieroz. II. i. 2). Gumpach is altogether out of the way when he translates 1 Kings 17:6,—and the ravens coming to him were bread and meat; for then Elijah would have, been compelled to eat, in order to be nourished, unclean creatures forbidden by the law.
1 Kings 17:7-11.17.12. And it came to pass after a while, &c. Not after the course of a year, but after some time; for יָמִים can only be understood of the space of a year when the connection necessarily requires it, as in Judges 11:40; Judges 17:10; Leviticus 25:29. Luther’s translation: after several days, is also incorrect. Zarephath lay between Tyre and Sidon, also in the native land of Jezebel. There is still extant a village named Surafend with remains of an ancient date (Robinson’s Palestine, vol. II. p. 474–475). The “commanding” here is the same as in 1 Kings 17:4.—The widow woman, &c., 1 Kings 17:10. From the fact that she was gathering sticks it is evident that the woman was poor and forsaken. To test whether she were the person who was to provide for him, wearied by his journey in the heat of the sun, he begs her first of all for a drink of water (by כְּלִי a drinking-cup which he had brought from the brook Cherith is to be understood). As she readily complied with his request he went further, and asked for a mouthful of bread, and observes from her reply, in which she speaks only of her son, and not of her husband, that she was a widow, and also that she knew Jehovah, the God of Israel. Then he was no longer in doubt that she was the person who was to care for him. בְּיָדֶךְ at the conclusion of 1 Kings 17:11 is not to be connected with לִקְחִי but with פַּת־לֶחֶם: a bit of bread which thou hast (Sep. ψωμὸν ἄρτου τοῦ ἐν τῆ χειρί σου). From the oath by “Jehovah,” and the addition “thy God” it is obvious that the woman recognized in the man thus asking of her an Israelitish prophet, which, indeed, his dress proclaimed (2 Kings 1:8), and likewise that she also knew of Jehovah the God of Israel. The supposition that she knew only the name of this God, and then, “so much the more to secure confidence” (Thenius), swore not by her own, but by the God of Elijah, makes her simply a hypocrite; for no one swears by a God whom he does not honor and recognize as a God. She indeed names Jehovah the God of the prophet, but while she swears by this God she gives it to be understood that the God of the prophet is also her God. In any event she was not a worshipper of the Phœnician Baal and Astarte, otherwise an Elijah would not have been directed to her. How and where she learned to know the God of Israel, we do not ascertain. But it is certain that she knew him. It is not impossible that she was an Israelite by birth, who had been married to a Phœnician. To dwell in a foreign land, with an Israelitish widow, seems entirely suitable to the prophet’s situation. The passage in Luke 4:25 does not suggest that she was a heathen and worshipper of idols, but that she was not in the native land of the prophet. By מָעוֹג “the smallest-sized bread in the form of cake is to be understood (Thenius). It is baked in hot ashes; the Sept. has ἐγκρυφίας (cf.Ps. 1Kings 35:16). כַּד is a little vessel for holding meal. Oil was used in baking. The woman was collecting the wood to have her last “baking,” for she saw before her death from starvation.
1 Kings 17:13-11.17.16. And Elijah said unto her, Fear not, &c. The prophet attaches to his word of consolation a demand which was, for the woman, a severe test of her faith. Never would he have made the demand, and still less would she have paid any attention to it (1 Kings 17:15), had she been a heathen and worshipped idols. That at the word of Jehovah, the God of Israel (1 Kings 17:14), she did what the prophet bade her, certainly shows a faith which could scarcely be found in Israel. תתן is the infinitive תֵּת with the syllable תֵן repeated as in 1 Kings 6:19. The addition, and her house, 1 Kings 17:15, while in 1 Kings 17:12-11.17.13 her son only is mentioned, means that there was so much meat and oil that even her poor relations came to partake thereof. The Sept. in 1 Kings 17:12-11.17.13, without any authority, has τοῖς τέκνοις, and in 1 Kings 17:15, τὰ τέκνα, and Thenius would like to make the text to conform to this. The same author, without reason, wishes, with the Vulgate (et ex illa die), to refer יָמִים to the following verse: and from that time the barrel wasted not. It means simply a long while, like Genesis 40:4; Numbers 9:22.
1 Kings 17:17-11.17.18. And it came to pass after these things, &c. It went so far with the sick son that “there was no breath left in him.” The same expression occurs also in Daniel 10:17 (cf.1 Kings 1 Kings 10:5), but where it does not, however, at all describe death (i.e., being in a state of death). It would be a mistake to maintain that these words can mean only that he died. We must rather conclude, that as the text does not say וַיָּמֹת it did not mean to say it. 1 Kings 17:18; 1 Kings 17:20 likewise do not compel us to think of a being in a state of death, and Josephus, who certainly was not afraid of the miraculous, gives our words thus—“ὡς καὶ τὴς ψυχὴν . The illness was certainly mortal, and the boy would have remained in a breathless and lifeless condition, had not Elijah rescued him from death. The action of the prophet is hence miraculous, which he did not perform by his own human power, but which the God who doeth wonders achieved through him. The formula מַה־לִּיוָלָךְ (cf.2 Sam. 1 Kings 16:10; Jdg 11:12; 2 Kings 3:13; Matthew 8:29; John 2:4) has, according to the connection, a somewhat different sense. Here it expresses, as the respectful form of address, “Man of God,” shows, not strong dislike, or “the breaking up of outward fellowship and a demand for his departure” (Thenius), but distress and lamentation: Is this the result of my association with thee? Must such sorrow befall me because thou art with me? The words immediately following are to be connected therewith; בָּאתָ, &c., which do not convey a positive accusation or objection, but, with the Sept., Vulgate, Thenius, and others, are to be understood interrogatively: Was it necessary for thee to come to me, &c. As mothers, at the loss of a beloved child, often seek for the reason of it in some definite occasion, so here the troubled woman has the thought that the death of her son is a punishment for her sin, which first becomes known properly before God through the man of God, who, as such, is in a special intercourse with God. We can scarcely find “the presumption” in this thought, that “the appearance of a higher being brings undoubtedly death to the person to whom it happens” (Menken after Hess), but rather the erroneous supposition that by intercourse with the holy man of God, and in contrast with him, her sinful nature first becomes clear and known to the holy God. As in contrast with the holy will of God revealed in the law, man in his sinfulness knows himself, the same is true also in contrast with such men as walk before the holy God, and within whom His holy will lives and works (Luke 5:8). The error lay in this—that the woman supposed that in the degree in which she had come to the knowledge and the feeling of her sin, God also was then taking cognizance of it, and punishing her. “Folly indeed in the thought, but in this folly what truth of feeling and humility” (Krummacher). This error the prophet sets aside, not by means of a long didactic reply, but by a rescuing action which must have convinced her that the distress did not overtake her on account of her special sin, but ὑπὲρ τὴς δόξης τοῦ θεοῦ, and that “the works of God might be manifest thereby” (John 9:3; John 11:4).
1 Kings 17:19-11.17.23. And he took him out of her bosom, &c. He goes “into his lonely chamber in order to be alone with his God, and to be able to pray all the more freely. Here he pours out his heart, inwardly moved by sympathy at the grief of the mother, and much distressed at the incomprehensibleness and unexpectedness of this divine providence, in humble trustfulness before his God” (Menken). Cf.Acts 1Kings 9:40; 2 Kings 4:33. In the question to God (1 Kings 17:20) there is no cavil; it is rather the expression of a man wrestling in prayer with God, who does not doubt that God will hear him (James 1:6).—And he laid him, &c. How this was done is more fully stated in 2 Kings 4:34. Like Christ, the prophet of all prophets, when he healed the dumb, and the blind, and the blind from his birth (Mark 7:33; Mark 8:23; John 9:6-43.9.7), so Elijah proceeded in this case. He employs rational means for warming and re-vivifying, not with the hope that of themselves they would prove effectual, but in the sure confidence that God, in answer to his weeping supplication, would impart supernatural, divine, i.e., life-giving, force to the natural human instruments, and this happened.—Three times Elijah stretched himself upon the child, calling upon God, not so much because everything to be thoroughly and completely done must be done thrice (three are the true unit), as rather because the calling upon the name of Jehovah in the old covenant was a threefold act (Psalms 55:18; Daniel 6:10); thrice in the high-priestly benediction was the name of Jehovah laid upon Israel (Numbers 6:22); thrice did the seraphim before the throne of Jehovah cry out holy (Isaiah 6:3).
1 Kings 17:24. And the woman said, &c. The sense of her words is not that she had doubted hitherto whether Elijah were actually a man of God, but that now she knew it; for she names him such in 1 Kings 17:18, and as such regards him as the cause of her grievous visitation. Rather she explains, now (עַתּה זֶהRth 2:7; 2 Kings 5:22), she is convinced anew and most assuredly about it. אֱמֶת at the end is not to be taken adverbially: that thou art truly a prophet and speakest the word of Jehovah, but as a substantive: that which thou, in the name of Jehovah, speakest as His word is truth, upon which one can entirely repose. The experience in 1 Kings 17:14 is confirmed here to its fullest extent. Menken is incorrect here in understanding by דְּבַר־יְהוָֹה “the whole announcement of the truth, all taken together, which Elijah had said and taught during his stay in her house, concerning truth and error, the worship of idols and the worship of God,” &c. The expression never means this, but always simply the word of Jehovah which He Himself speaks or has spoken.
Historical and Ethical
1. The first coming forth of Elijah is in the highest degree characteristic, and, as it were, the superscription, in the way of action, to his entire appearing; for it throws light, at the outset, upon the peculiarity both of his personality and of his public activity. Living until then in the greatest obscurity and entirely unknown, he stands suddenly there “like one fallen from the clouds, to be compared with the lightning of God, like a lighted fire-brand hurled by the hand of Jehovah” (Krummacher), and after he had spoken his word, which “burned like a torch” (Ecclesiast. 1Kings 48:1), he again disappears, and no one knew whither he had gone (1 Kings 18:10; cf. 2Ki 2:16-18; 1 Kings 9:3; 1 Kings 9:8). Wholly alone, without any power or influence behind him, he encountered the mighty king fearlessly and courageously, not like a suppliant, but threatening and punishing (cf. chap, 1 Kings 18:15; 1 Kings 21:20; 2 Kings 2:15 sq.). His speech is brief and pithy, firm and definite. He delivers no elaborated address; the word he speaks is like a deed. “There is something great, majestic, divine, in the coming forth of this prophet” (Menken). No less striking is the substance of his first utterance. He announces to the chief of the kingdom of the ten tribes, carried over into formal idolatry by the sin of Jeroboam, and now completely cut loose from the covenant (1 Kings 19:10), the punishment which was threatened in the covenant (=law), that he may forsake his evil ways and turn unto the God of his fathers. But in this he does not bring to light merely one side of his prophetic calling, but the core and heart thereof. The peculiar, specific place which he occupied in the economy of grace was to raise up and restore the covenant which had been communicated and established by Moses, but had become violated. As restorer and reformer he stands in immediate relation to Moses, the founder of this covenant. Hence we shall see, not only in the course of his history is there much that is analogous with the history of Moses, but he appears also together with Moses at the transfiguration of the Lord (Luke 9:28-42.9.35), and both speak “of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.” They both represent the Old-Testament economy in contrast with Him who, by his “decease,” carries it to its end and fulfilment. As another, second Moses, Elijah’s entire personality and work in his calling bears also supremely an historical character. And as the restoring and rehabilitation of the covenant demanded, necessarily, an overthrowing and removal of the idol-worship, already deeply rooted and powerful, not only must glowing zeal and impartial strictness be combined in this character so devoted to the law, but also a judicial activity itself. Hence his acts often have the appearance of hardness and violence. The period of his appearing was, for the covenant-breaking, idolatrous generation, a day of divine judgment, a time of visitation and chastening. But in so far as the restoration of the covenant did not concern outward, political relations, but the ethico-religious relation to Jehovah, the Holy One, and aimed to “turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6), Elijah was properly the prophet of repentance. This, indeed, he announced by his dress (2 Kings 1:8), which thereafter was the official dress of the prophets and preachers of repentance (1 Kings 19:19; 2 Kings 2:13; Zechariah 13:4), and in which he appeared, of whom the Lord said, “and if ye will receive it, this is Elias which was for to come” (Matthew 3:4; Matthew 11:14; Matthew 17:11). And what was his first word but a call to repentance? Kurtz is somewhat one-sided in his judgment on Elijah’s position in the divine economy. He says: “In his official position the absolute one-sidedness of the exhibition of law, and the limit of his vision and of his activity to the present, which is therewith connected, characterizes him.…for the understanding of this, his one-sided position as prophet, having to deal neither with hopes nor with promises, we should not lose sight of the fact that he wrought and lived in the kingdom of Israel, not in the kingdom of Judah. Only there, not here, is the coming of a prophet like Elijah comprehensible. In the kingdom of Judah a prophet like Elijah would certainly have taken a different course.… there, all would have worked upon him and would have made something else out of him.” If this were so, it is not easy to explain why he, in preference to all other prophets, should have appeared, along with Moses, at the transfiguration of Christ, and why the Lord, in the passages already cited, should attribute to him such high significance for the Messianic age, just as the prophet Malachi had already done (1 Kings 4:5, 1 Kings 4:6). It was not Elijah’s calling to refer to the Messiah in words and discourses, he had to do only with the rehabilitation of the broken covenant, and Messianic predictions could follow only upon this. Under existing circumstances, this could be brought about only by great, mighty actions. Elijah, hence, was, as we have already remarked, a prophet of action, “the great hero-prophet of the kingdom of the ten tribes” (Ewald). His whole career was active. His person was a living prophecy of him who appeared before the day of the Lord, the day of judgment, so also of grace (cf. Hengstenberg, Christologie III. s. 441 sq.)
2. The three wonderful occurrences which follow upon the first coming forth of Elijah are in immediate relation to the time in which they took place, and which was a period of general distress in consequence of the drought, and it was also a time of preparation for the coming activity of the prophet. And the transactions here brought together lose in this way the appearance of being only accidental and arbitrary, which might have happened just as suitably at any other time. Far from being mere “miracles,” and from calling up and favoring an unworthy representation of the nature (being) of God, they are signs and witnesses of the living, personal God over against the apotheosis of Nature, and the dead idols which have mouths and speak not, eyes and see not, ears and hear not, hands and handle not (Psalms 115:4-19.115.7). All that is grand and glorious about this God, which the Scripture teaches, stands here before us in deeds. The God who has made heaven and earth and all that therein is, and given to the world its laws, does not stand beneath but above it, so that “leaves and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and unfruitful years, food and drink, health and sickness, wealth and poverty, and all things, do not come to us hap-hazard, but from His fatherly hand” (Heidel. Katech.). He does not lack the means to deliver out of all distress and even death itself (Psalms 68:21): He is near unto all who call upon Him. He does for all who call upon Him earnestly what they who fear God desire. He hears their cry and helps them (Psalms 145:18 sq.). He often leads them by dark paths, but “they are mercy and truth unto such as keep His covenant and His testimonies” (Psalms 25:10). For Elijah, indeed, the necessary experiences of this period of preparation for his great career, were both a trial and a strengthening of his faith. When in the most fruitful district itself, where there was scarcity, he is remanded first to a desert in which there is an absence of all food, and only a brook which at any moment might dry up, and then in a foreign land to a widow almost at death’s door from starvation. But here a calamity befell, out of which no deliverance seemed possible. He acts, nevertheless, in firm faith and asks no question, like the people in the wilderness (Psalms 78:19 sq.), and the more his faith is proved and exercised, so much the more is it strengthened, so much the more gloriously is the power and fidelity of the living God verified unto him. Thus disciplined and strengthened, he first properly becomes an instrument to destroy the heathen abominations and to bear the name of his God before the Gentiles and before the kings and before the children of Israel (chap. 18).
3. Elijah’s subsistence in the desert is and remains, according to the simple, clear sense of the narrative, miraculous. “It is almost laughable,” as Winer rightly says, when many ancient and recent expositors, even Rabbins, make the ravens to be Arabs or merchants; but it is not much better when J. D. Michaelis supposes that Elijah had a hunting-ground for ravens, as well also as young hares, rats, and mice, which they would carry to their nests, or had trained them as hawks for the hunt. Others, like Knobel, perceiving the preposterousness of such explanations, have referred to “the like cases amongst profane writers:” “Semiramis, exposed as a newly-born infant, was nourished by doves; a bitch gave suck to Cyrus, a shewolf to Romulus and Remus; the same is narrated by Ælian, v. 12, 42, of hinds, mares, bears, goats” (Prophet. der Hebr. II. s. 84; cf. Rödiger, Allg. Encyklop. Bd. 33, s. 322). All these myths of children-nursing animals have grown up upon the soil of nature-religion, and are consequently specifically heathen. Their sense is that the power of nature, revealing itself in the suckling animals, is transferred to the child, or they explain how this or that person, remarkable by a special power, has obtained it by the same being the distinguishing trait of some animal (ζῶον). What has this remote resemblance to do with the fact that the God who holds in His hand all creatures, provided the necessary nourishment for his prophet in the wilderness by the occupants of this wilderness, the ravens. Quite apart from their sense and meaning, not even in their outward form do these myths allow of a comparison with our narrative. That which has been adduced in the way of parallel is equally inappropriate. When Jerome (Opp. i. p. 239) states that the hermit Paul was fed daily by a raven provided with a half loaf for the period of sixty years, this obviously is but an exaggerated imitation of our story. Hess (Gesch. der Kön. Isr. I. s. 99) refers to the “credible accounts that exposed children, exiles, fugitives have been sustained for a long time by animals,” and remarks thereupon: “Such narrations are rarely questioned, except when they are adduced by the writers of the Bible, as proofs of a special divine providence;” but he adds, that in the case before us much remains that is “inexplicable.”
4. The sojourn of Elijah with the widow of Sarepta, considered quite apart from the fact that it served as a preparation for his public activity, constitutes a weighty moment in his history, because it shows us one side of the prophet which is thrown into the back-ground in his public career, but which, nevertheless, belongs essentially to a complete portraiture of the great man of God. While over against the fallen, covenant-breaking, idol-serving generation he was inexorable and uncomprising, denouncing and judging, threatening and punishing, to the poor widow he was sympathizing and friendly only, full of fellow-feeling and compassion, comforting, blessing, and helping. He there, for the first time, appears great and wonderful, for it is manifest that that harshness and severity was not characteristic, not inborn, but was founded in the special place which he was destined to occupy in the economy of grace. Never would he have; fulfilled his calling to put an end to the crime of a ruinous idolatry, and to be a second Moses, if he had shown the same traits to Ahab and Jezebel which he did to the widow of Sarepta. Elijah had to make good, first of all, obedience and resignation to the will of God at the brook Cherith, compassion and love at Sarepta, then it was that he appeared in the sight of God furnished with iron-severity to judge and to punish. “Now since thou hast learned sympathy, go hence and preach, and speak to the people:” these are the words to him which Chrysostom puts into the mouth of God (Opp. vi. p. 109).
5. The narrative represents the fact, that the meal in the barrel and the oil in the cruse did not fail, to have been quite as much an extraordinary act of God as the previous support by means of the ravens. The grossest prejudice alone can say: “Here there is not a syllable that this was done by miracle: God gave his blessing so, that by the labor of her hands, assisted perhaps by the prophet, she secured for herself the necessaries of life” (Dinter, Schull. Bib. on the place). In that case Elijah’s promise, 1 Kings 17:14, was nothing more than an exhortation to industry, but no prophet was needed for this. Knobel is equally unsatisfactory (as above s. 81), when in the whole narrative he finds nothing more than “the view that the blessing of God rests where men of God are.” The words of the Lord, in Luke 4:25, do not at all authorize us to think that this was simply an ordinary act of divine providence. Hess (as above s. 104) says: “As for myself, I find the narrative so beautiful and as suitable to God as anything, and place confidence in the old author, when, without fear of any wisdom, whether of that time or of to-day, he continues, She went and did as Elijah bade her, &c.” Menken: This whole history glorifies God, whom the Scripture teaches us to know in His unapproachable greatness and in His affable mercy and condescension. A God such as the human heart in the needs of this present life needs always and desires; the all-governing Ruler, the alone-independent, the free master over all nature, who gives dew and rain, and punishing lands and peoples, withholds and takes away bread and water. But the individual man is not forgotten of Him; no, not even the beggar on the highways. He beholds not only the whole, but the single parts: He looks not only into the palace of kings, but into the huts of poverty. The need and misery of a poor widow are not too insignificant for Him; he observes her sighs and tears, and her silent desolate cabin is for Him a place worthy of the revelation of His glory and goodness (Isaiah 57:15; Isaiah 66:1 sq.).
6. The revivifying of the child, on account of the prophet’s mode of procedure, has been explained as a physician’s act. The narrative has, so Knobel supposes, its foundation “in the circumstance that the prophets exercised also the function of physicians.” The boy, in consequence of frequent convulsions, suffered a severe fainting-fit, and was brought back again to life by pressure, animal warmth, and applied restoratives (Meyer in Berthold’s Theol. Journal iv. 230). According to Ennemoser (Magnetism. s. 422) this was a case of animal magnetism (Winer, R.- W.- B. I. s. 319). But nothing is more certain than that the text adduces no proof of the medical skill of the prophet, nor says anything of a human medical act of healing: it sets forth an act of God done by means of the prophet. Before he stretches himself upon the boy the prophet calls once and again imploringly upon Him who can both kill and make alive (Deuteronomy 32:29; 1 Samuel 2:6; 2 Kings 5:7): Let the soul of this child come to it again! “and Jehovah hearkened to the voice of Elijah.” The revivifying is like an answer to prayer. It is not the prophet, as a “thaumaturgist” or as a physician employing natural means, but Jehovah who hears the prayer of His servant and delivers from death. If in addition to praying he stretches himself upon the child, he did this after the genuine prophetic way; the visible human deed served as substratum for the divine, and this divine deed is affirmed and attested in the prophet’s. The deeds of the prophets are signs (אוֹת) which represent what God does or will do by means of them, and are more or less symbolical actions (see above). The outward action was, in the case, the sign of that which God alone could do; it is not the delivering, quickening might and power, but only the medium denoting it.
Homiletical and Practical
1 Kings 17:1. The first appearing of the prophet Elijah. (a) The time when; (b) the message with which he appeared. The prophet Elijah, (a) his name—my God is Jehovah; (b) his origin: Thisbe, an insignificant, unknown place, like Bethlehem and Nazareth; (c) his condition and calling: he stands before the Lord, the God of Israel. General distresses, like hunger and famine, sicknesses and epidemics, are not mere natural events, but they are the judgments of God upon the godless and the God-forgetting; they are the trials of the pious, and to all they cry: repent and be converted!—Menken: Men in general have never been willing to recognize, and are still unwilling to recognize, the fact that need and misery upon earth stand in the closest relation to their conduct towards God; that through their need they may be called back to Him whom they have forsaken, and feel what it is when God withdraws His hand, when they are left to themselves, when the Almighty withholds His gifts and blessings, and sends His punishments and plagues. The God of Israel is the living God because He has spoken to Israel and has, through His word, revealed Himself to them (Psalms 147:19-19.147.20). God has spoken to us by His Son, the image of His Being (Hebrews 1:2), and has revealed Himself in Him much more gloriously to us; therefore Christendom knows no other living God than the father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Who can venture to say that he stands before God? He who, like Elijah, has firm faith, is unconditionally obedient to the word of God, and fearlessly and courageously pursues the path God has prescribed for him (Isaiah 41:10).—Krummacher: It is the way of our God from of old that he takes people, by whom He will accomplish something great, from the dust rather than from thrones, so that it may be manifest how all things happen according to His purpose, how that flesh and blood have not done this and that, but that to him alone belongs the glory.
1 Kings 17:2-11.17.9. Bender: Elijah at the brook in the wilderness. (a) How his faith was tried, and (b) how it was crowned.—Wirth: Elijah at the brook Cherith. How the Lord protects and conceals him; how He leads him into the wilderness; and how He cares for him. Elijah in the wilderness. (a) Why the Lord sends him thither; (b) what he suffered him to experience there.
1 Kings 17:3. Go away and hide thyself. (a) Go away. A hard word for a heroic man like Elijah, who has threatened the king and the whole people, and must now flee and expose himself to scorn and contempt. Going away often requires more self-denial than remaining. For the testimony to the truth, the command at one time is, remain and fear not (Acts 18:9 sq.), at another, go from that city, &c. (Matthew 10:14; Matthew 10:23 sq.); they “must, like their Lord, often appear in the form of a servant, and can wear upon earth no other crown than a crown of thorns, and if at any time their power is so great that they can give or take away dew and rain upon earth, and can punish kings and peoples, at another time they must bow and bend, suffer and be silent, and in the eye of the world appear weak and powerless, so that they and others may thereby know all the more profoundly, that the superabundant might is of God, and not of themselves” (Menken). But to every true Christian also the command often comes, go hence, remain not where men are serving the world and Baal, where the word of the Lord is despised, and the fear of the holy and righteous Lord has disappeared. [See The Hermits of the Rev. Charles Kingsley.—E. H.] (b) Hide thyself. In order to be able to achieve his great, severe, and holy task and to be fitted for it, Elijah had to go into retirement, where he was alone with his God and learned to say, Lord whom have I, &c. (Psalms 73:25 sq.). Every man who has done anything great in the kingdom of God has passed a long time in retirement and solitude. But to every faithful Christian also the command has come, hide thyself, go into the stillness and solitude. The hidden man of the heart, with soft, still spirit (1 Peter 3:4), does not thrive in the perpetual tumult and babbling noise of the world. There is no man who has not felt the need of some time and place to collect his thoughts and to be alone with his God; they who avoid such are not fit for the kingdom of God.
1 Kings 17:4. Krummacher: Every way appointed for us by the Lord has His promise, and we need not fear when once we are assured that God has directed our way.
1 Kings 17:5. Might it be said of us all, in every situation of life and under all relations, he went thither and did according to the word of the Lord.—Menken: He went in faith along the hard, dark path into the wilderness, as a genuine son of Abraham the father of all the faithful, who knew that without faith it is impossible to please God, and that man can offer to God no higher and nobler homage than to believe in his promises. Who so chooses the dear God, and always hopes in Him, him will He sustain wonderfully in all need and affliction (Psalms 4:4; Psalms 147:5). Go whithersoever thou wilt, means shall not fail thee, thy deed is pure blessing, thy course pure light. To Elijah the promise was, I have commanded the ravens to care for thee; but we all have a still more glorious promise: He hath given his angels charge concerning thee, that they shall watch over thee in all thy ways, &c. (Psalms 91:10-19.91.12).—Menken: Just under these circumstances in which most men forsake the word of God, it shows itself most gloriously to the few who hold to it. When the world despises it, and ridicules the observance of it as weakness of mind, then is it mightiest, and it justifies the keeping of it by means of the richest experiences, which are the assurance, to those who honor it, of its truth and of the power of God. The ravens, which are not accustomed to care for their own young, must, at the command of God, nourish the prophet, as an evidence that even the unreasoning creature cannot move without His will, and that even the most insignificant must contribute to the glory of the Creator, who has promised, I will not leave nor forsake thee (Hebrews 13:5).—Starke: In the case of His servants and children, God sometimes makes use of the ravens, i. e., of abandoned and godless men.
1 Kings 17:7-11.17.16. Wirth: Elijah with the widow at Sarepta. (a) The dried up brook; (b) The new place of refuge; (c) The meal in the barrel and the oil in the cruse.—Krummacher: The departure for Zarephath. Elijah’s need, Elijah’s departure, his grand deliverance.—Bender (1 Kings 17:10-11.17.24): Elijah with the widow at Sarepta. Our history confirms the Psalm-word (Psalms 68:21); (1) we have a God who helps, and (2) a Lord of lords who delivers from death. The widow at Zarephath. (a) Her lot (widowed, poor, without influence before the world, but chosen by God, Luke 4:26). (b) Her self-denial and her faith (although on the verge of death from starvation, she will share what she can, and believe the word of the prophet as a word from God). (c) Her reward, Matthew 10:41 sq. (she is not only delivered from death by hunger, Psalms 33:19; but she receives continuously what she and her whole household needed, Psalms 37:19; Psalms 112:3).
1 Kings 17:7-11.17.9. Elijah’s second trial of faith. (a) Depart (one trial follows another, so that the gold of his faith may become more free from all dross). (b) To Zarephath in Sidon (from thy fatherland into a spiritual waste and desert, in the land of idolatry, where Jezebel’s father ruled, and where the danger seemed greater than at the brook Cherith; but, courage, it will not be so serious, &c.). (c) To a widow (who herself needed protection, and not to a rich, powerful man. The Lord will care for thee, rest assured of that, and do not ask how it shall come to pass. Despise no instrumentality which He points out to thee, no condition and no man He makes use of, for it is not difficult to the Lord to send help by means either of little or of much, 1 Samuel 14:6. Things are small before God, and to the Highest all things are alike [‘There is no great and no small, to the Lord that maketh all.’] … He is the true wonder-worker, who can now exalt and now overturn).
1 Kings 17:7. When without thy fault the brook, from which thou dost quench thy thirst, is dried, and the spring whence thy life was supported has failed, let the word spoken come to thee: Wait upon the Lord, who will help thee (Proverbs 20:22); for they who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, &c. (Isaiah 40:31). The words of Elijah to the widow. (a) The request (1 Kings 17:10-11.17.11); (b) The consolation (1 Kings 17:13); (c) The promise (1 Kings 17:14). Requests made to a man are often the key which opens to us his most hidden being. They who have but little usually give more than they who have much (Luke 21:1 sq.). To the weeping widows and orphans the Lord always calls, Fear not! 1 Peter 5:7; Matthew 6:25 sq.; Psalms 37:25.
1 Kings 17:12. In a heathen, idolatrous land Elijah finds in a poor widow what he had sought in vain in Israel: faith in the living God of Israel.—Krummacher: He who has experienced it knows how precious it is, when one is far away in a strange country, where the roads toward Zion lie waste, and sees one’s self thrown into the circle of the children of this world, and by the streams of Babylon, to meet unexpectedly in the wilderness somebody from Galilee, or a brother or sister in the Lord.
1 Kings 17:13. Berleb. Bib.: Fear not! Ah! How often has a child of God bemoaned, Now all is lost! I have nothing more and know nothing more. The operations of the Spirit of God have ceased for me: the meal and oil are gone! And yet, where there is nothing more amid the night and the darkness, the morning brings something, upon which one can live and find nourishment for the soul, although the time be miserable.
1 Kings 17:14-11.17.15. When the need is greatest, then is God nearest. On the very day when the poor widow, with her son, will eat the last supplies, her distress comes to an end, and she has thenceforth her daily bread. He helps us before we expect, and permits us to enjoy much good.
1 Kings 17:16. The same God who spoke by means of Elijah: The meal in the barrel shall not be wasted, and the oil in the cruse shall not fail, has also promised, as the earth lasts, seed-time and harvest, frost and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease (Genesis 8:22). We are astonished at the little miracle in the cabin at Sarepta, but we pass over with indifference, and without attention, the large miracle.
1 Kings 17:17-11.17.24. Wirth: The great deed of God in the case of the son of the widow of Sarepta. (a) The lamentation of the mother over the dead body of the son; (b) the praying prophet and the answering God; (c) the joyous message, Behold, thy son liveth!—Krummacher: The resuscitation at Zarephath. (a) The divine stroke; (b) the victorious battle; (c) the rest after the storm. The school of suffering at Zarephath. (a) The suffering with which the widow and the prophet were visited; (b) how each behaved under it; (c) what both experienced.
1 Kings 17:17. Great manifestations of divine grace follow also great trials, so that our faith may be made more precious (1 Peter 1:7).—Menken: God willed that the good work begun in her should not be unfinished, and without suffering this could not be, any more than it is in our case and in that of all men.… It is pure goodness and fatherly fidelity when the infinitely good, heavenly Father sends to His children sorrow upon sorrow, lays upon them burden upon burden, and leads them from one distress and trouble into others. In eternity, He will be heartily thanked for nothing more than for this paternal goodness and fidelity.
1 Kings 17:18. The first thing which the cross and suffering must do in a man, is to bring about an humble sense of his sin; it is the beginning of all true knowledge of God, the foundation of all true piety. Much that is erroneous respecting God and divine things may adhere to a man, but if he have a living knowledge of his sin, and a living feeling of his unworthiness before the holy God, he is on the pathway to a deepening and higher knowledge of God.—Menken: She does not complain of unrighteousness upon the part of God, she does not accuse God: she acquits God and condemns herself. That was the true bearing in her trouble, and so sorrow wrought good within this soul: it led her within herself, and humbled her in the deeper knowledge of herself. And God giveth grace to the humble. A man does not so readily humble himself too much.… The more strictly a man judges and condemns himself, so much the which is repeated year by year for the whole world.—Starke: The way to wealth is cheerful giving (Luke 6:38), and God crowns beneficence with a blest store (Proverbs 19:17). God can bless even a little store so that it will suffice for a longwhile. more readily is he acquitted, justified, and pardoned before the divine tribunal (Luke 18:13 sq.). Intercourse and association with a true man of God become a blessing to us when we are thereby led more deeply into ourselves, and are made genuinely conscious of our sinfulness before God (Luke 5:8; Matthew 8:8).
1 Kings 17:19-11.17.22. The prayer of Elijah, (a) The contents; (b) the answer to it. Those are genuine and true friends who do not show sympathy and commiseration simply when we are in distress and trouble, but who give us a helping hand, and from their heart call upon Him who can help us. Wrestling with God in prayer is a matter which belongs to the lonely chamber (Matthew 6:6). He who prays only in public, in the church, has never yet prayed truly.
1 Kings 17:20. In our prayer we may express indeed how dark and incomprehensible the providences of God are to us, only when we do so with submission to His will without complaint or murmur, and humbly committing entirely to His will how and when He will save us, in our hour of need.
1 Kings 17:21. In sickness, we must leave no natural means towards recovery untried, however much we may long for a miracle of God, whilst at the same time we implore God to grant power to these means and bless their application.
1 Kings 17:22. Menken: Even if the Lord do no miracle, there are still a thousand ways and means by which he sends comfort and strength, or help and salvation, in answer to the believing prayer of His faithful servants. Each granting of prayer is indeed a miracle, and never is one humble, believing prayer of a righteous soul uttered in vain—no, not even when it is refused.
1 Kings 17:23. For the father and mother heart, which moan and lament over a lost son, what could be a gladder message than this: “This, thy son, was dead and is alive again.” (Luke 15:24.) The miracles in the kingdom of grace are as worthy of adoration as those in the kingdom of nature.
1 Kings 17:24. We must pass through much grief and humiliation before with joyful assurance we can say to Him, who is greater than Elijah: Now know I that thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. Only by means of individual experience does each man come to the blessed confession, that the word of the Lord is truth. He only is a servant of God in whose mouth the word of the Lord is truth, not mere appearance and sham (phrase).
1 Kings 17:1; 1 Kings 17:1.—[The Sept. adds his office, “Elijah the prophet, the Tishbite.”
1 Kings 17:1; 1 Kings 17:1.—[The Sept. has mistaken the Heb. participle מִתּשָׁבֵי, and by a slight change of the pointing has read מִתִּשְׁבִי ὁ ἐκ Θεσβῶν, “who was of Thesbe.” The Alex. Sept. also omits the word Θεσβίτες. It has been much questioned whether Elijah was of the Thesbe in Galilee mentioned Tob 1:2 (see Exeg. Com.). Against this supposition is the fact that the Jews of our Lord’s time believed that “out of Galilee ariseth no prophet” (John 7:52).
1 Kings 17:1; 1 Kings 17:1.—[כִּי אִס־לְפִי דְבָרִי is strongly emphatic: nisi ego et non alius vir, etiamsi propheta sit vel prophetam mentiatur, dixero, Seb. Schm.
1 Kings 17:3; 1 Kings 17:3.—[The phrase עַל־פְּנֵי, the ambiguity of which is exactly rendered in the English “before,” allows either the opinion that the brook was on the east of the Jordan (Euseb., Jerome, v. Raumer, &c., with whom our author), or that it was on the west (Reland, Robinson, &c.)
1 Kings 17:4; 1 Kings 17:4.—[עֹרְבִים is translated ravens in all the VV. except the Arab.; yet so important a commentator as S. Jerome says: Orbim accolœ villœ in finibus Arabum, Eliœ dederunt alimenta. But see Exeg. Com.
1 Kings 17:6; 1 Kings 17:6.—[The Vat. Sept. says the ravens brought bread in the morning and flesh in the evening.
1 Kings 17:7; 1 Kings 17:7.—[The Heb. word here used for rain, גֶּשֶׁם, is the same as in 1 Kings 17:14 and in 1 Kings 18:41, but different from מָטָר coupled with dew, in 1 Kings 17:1. It denotes heavy rain.
1 Kings 17:12; 1 Kings 17:12.—[The Sept. curiously has here and in 1 Kings 17:13 τέκνοις in the plural.
1 Kings 17:14; 1 Kings 17:14.—[The form in the text תתן is pointed by the Masorets and marked in the k’ri as to be understood תֵּת. It may, however, he considered as the infin. תֵּת with reduplicated syllable תֵּן and read תִּתֵּן. See Ewald Krit. Gramm. § 238 c.—F. G.]
1 Kings 17:15; 1 Kings 17:15.—The k’ri היא־והוא in Place of the k’tib הוא־והיא is unnecessary. Maurer: Accentus major voci ותאכל adponendus, post ותאכל vero cogitatione repetendum est edebat s. edebant. According to Keil, the feminine form ותאכל is to be taken as an indefinite neuter: and it, he and she, ate. [The reading of the k’ri, however, is sustained by many MSS.
1 Kings 17:19; 1 Kings 17:19.—[עַלִיָּה = ὑπερῷον, the upper chamber which is often built upon the roof of Oriental houses, and to which there was access without passing through the house.
1 Kings 17:21; 1 Kings 17:21.—[וַיִּתְמֹדֵד lit. “he measured himself,” i.e. stretched himself.
1 Kings 17:23; 1 Kings 17:23.—[The Vat. Sept. omits the greater part of 1 Kings 17:22 and the first clause of 1 Kings 17:23. —F. G.]
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Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on 1 Kings 17". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany