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ELIJAH'S RETURN TO FACE AHAB
The famine lasted three and a half years (James 5:17), the same length of time the Great Tribulation will last. But the rain would not be sent until Elijah gave the word. The Lord then sent Elijah to present himself to Ahab (v.1). Meanwhile Ahab was desperately occupied with finding some means to relieve the results of the famine. Obadiah was a prominent man in charge of Ahab's affairs. In contrast to Ahab, he feared the Lord greatly, so that it was inconsistent that he should be employed by a wicked man. Yet he did care for the Lord's interests too, for he had hidden 100 prophets of the Lord from the cruelty of Jezebel, Ahab's wife, when she massacred others of the prophets. He supplied them with bread and water when hiding them (vs.3-4).
Ahab gave orders to Obadiah to search the land for springs of water or brooks that might be still running, so as to keep the horses and mules alive. He was more concerned for the horses and mules than he was for the people, for the horses and mules were a means of income for him. Ahab went one way in this search and Obadiah another way.
Obadiah being alone, suddenly Elijah met him, This was a shock to Obadiah, who fell on his face and asked, "Is that you, my lord Elijah?" (v.7). He had a higher regard for Elijah than Ahab did - in fact a too exaggerated regard, for Elijah was not his lord. Still, he knew that Elijah was a true prophet of God. Elijah told him, "Go, tell your master that Elijah is here" (v.8). Obadiah was trying to serve two masters, for he knew he ought to serve the Lord, but Elijah considered that Ahab was Obadiah's master.
Obadiah protested that Ahab had sent to all the surrounding nations to hunt for Elijah and had gotten sworn statements from them that Elijah was not in any of those nations. Therefore Obadiah feared that when he reported that Elijah had come, Elijah would be transported by the Spirit of God somewhere else, and leave Obadiah to bear the consequences of falsehood, even to the point of being killed by Ahab (vs.9-12).
Obadiah pled that he had feared the Lord from his youth, and had hidden 100 of the Lord's prophets from Jezebel when she killed others of them. He asked if Elijah hadn't heard this (v.13) But if it was common knowledge, why did Jezebel not know it? More than this, the Lord knew, and that should have been sufficient for Obadiah: there was no reason for him to tell Elijah of his good deeds. We may be too inclined to think that some good things we do will be an excuse for walking in wrong company.
But Elijah simply told him, "As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely present myself to him today" (v.15). Obadiah should not have escaped the force of these words. Elijah stood before the Lord of hosts, but Obadiah stood before Ahab!
When Obadiah returned with Ahab, Ahab's words to Elijah were bitter, "Is that you, 0 troubler of Israel?" Three and a half years of famine had not subdued Ahab to realize that it was God, not Elijah, who had withheld the rain from heaven. But Ahab had no intention of recognizing God. Elijah answered him directly to the point, "I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father's house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and have followed the Baals" (v.8).
Then the prophet gave orders to the king, whether the liked it or not. Elijah told him to send for 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah (who were supported by Jezebel) and gather them on Mount Carmel. This was a bold declaration indeed, but it was ordered by God. Ahab probably thought that the great number of false prophets would far outweigh the boldness of this one lone prophet of the Lord. He had no idea what would take place, but he willingly gathered the prophets. The people of Israel were present too (v.20).
GOD'S VICTORY OVER THE FALSE PROPHETS
On Mount Carmel Elijah took charge of the proceedings. Who would resist him when he was decidedly speaking for God? He addressed all the people, "How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him" (v.21). There was no response to this, and he added, "I alone am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal's prophets are 450 men" (v.22).
Therefore Elijah proposed a test for Israel as to who was the true God. He asked for two bulls, one to be given to Baal's prophets and the other to himself. The bulls were to be cut in pieces and laid on wood, but with no fire under (v.23). Baal's prophets could first pray to Baal and Elijah would pray to the Lord, and the God who sent fire to consume the bull would prove Himself to be God (v.24). Likely Baal's prophets would be very fearful of this test, but the people said "It is well spoken," for they all realized this was perfectly fair. What could Ahab do or say? He surely must have been as fearful as the prophets of Baal as to the outcome of such a test, but he could do nothing but submit to it.
Elijah gave the prophets of Baal plenty of time to call on their mystical god, crying, "0 Baal, hear us." When there was no answer, they jumped around the altar they had made, as though to influence their idol with their physical gyrations! After a few hours of useless energy, Elijah mocked them, telling them to cry out louder, for perhaps Baal was preoccupied or busy or on a journey or asleep, and must be awakened (v.27). They had no conception of an omniscient, omnipresent God.
These poor, deluded Baal worshipers evidently did not perceive Elijah's sarcasm, so they took his advice and cried out more loudly to Baal, also cutting themselves with knives and lances, Thus idolaters inflict injury to the flesh literally, thinking this is the self-denial that will influence their false god. How different indeed is the true self-denial of a believer! True self-denial makes no show, but involves a sober self-judgment in spiritual reality. The prophets of Baal continued this useless clamor all afternoon until the time of the evening sacrifice (v.29).
Then Elijah spoke to the people, "Come near to me" (v.30). What a different approach! He repaired the altar of the Lord that had been broken down through the sin of Israel. To do this he took 12 stones "according the the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob" (v.31). What a reproof to the separated 10 tribes? God was concerned for all Israel, and Elijah showed this impartial consideration for all twelve tribes.
As well as building the altar, he dug a trench around it of no small dimensions. He put the wood on the altar, cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood (v.33). Besides this he guarded carefully against anyone suspecting trickery in what he was doing. He told them to fill four waterpots with water and pour it on the sacrifice. They did this, and he told them to repeat this a second and third time, so that the water ran all around the altar and filled the trench (vs.34-35).
Elijah had given the prophets of Baal all day to plead with their idol. Now at the time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah prayed simply to the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel to let it be known that He is God in Israel and that Elijah had acted as directed by the word of God. His prayer was brief, ending with the words, "Hear me, 0 Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again" (v.36-37).
Immediately the Lord answered him by sending fire to consume not only the wood and the sacrifice, but also the stones, the dust and the water in the trench. Imagine the dismay in the faces of the false prophets! The people fell on their faces and declared, "The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God! (v.39).
Elijah did not waste a moment in giving orders to seize the prophets of Baal. Let not one of them escape," he said. The people were fully willing to carry out these orders. Elijah took them down to the brook Kishon and killed the false prophets there. He may not have done the executioner's work alone, for likely there were people glad to help him in this. Only the 450 prophets of Baal are mentioned here: nothing is said of the 400 prophets of Asherah (cf. v.19). But this was certainly a mass execution! These men reaped the results of their own folly in defying the God of Israel.
RETURN OF THE RAIN
Elijah then told Ahab to go and eat and drink, for God would send an abundance of rain (v.41). How Ahab was affected by the killing of the false prophets we are not told, but he could offer no resistance to this. Now that the evil was judged, God could be free to pour out His blessing on Israel. Yet God sought the exercise of Elijah in prayer as regards giving rain. How different is Elijah's attitude before God than it had been before Ahab! To Ahab he had been firm and decided, declaring the word of God, but now we see him bowed down on the ground with his face between his knees (v.42) He had before prayed earnestly that it would not rain and this had been effective for three and a half years. Now he prays for rain. He told his servant to go and look toward the sea, but he saw nothing. Seven times he told him the same, and not until the seventh time did he say there was a very small cloud, as small as a man's hand, rising out of the sea (v.44). God knows how to work when there seems to be no promise of blessing whatever. But the small cloud pictures the hand of the Man Christ Jesus, who is the one Mediator between God and man. When He intervenes, how wonderful are the results!
The small cloud was the answer to Elijah's prayer. He told his servant to tell Ahab to prepare his chariot and go down to Jezreel before the rain stopped him. The sky became black with clouds and wind with a downpour of rain. Elijah, by the power of the Spirit of God, ran to Jezreel, to arrive before Ahab's chariot! We might think that after such a day Elijah's energy would be greatly abated, but the grace of God was his sustenance, just as we too might have the encouragement of God's word, "Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength" (Isaiah 40:31).
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 Kings 18". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany