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the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 18

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy BiblePoole's Annotations



Elijah in the extremity of famine is sent to Ahab; meeteth good Obadiah, 1 Kings 18:1-7; chargeth him to certify the king of his coming: he bringeth Ahab to him, 1 Kings 18:8-16.

He reproveth Ahab and the congregation: by fire from heaven convinceth Baal’s prophets: they are slain, 1 Kings 18:17-40.

Elijah by prayer obtaineth rain; runs before Ahab to Jezreel, 1 Kings 18:41-46.

Verse 1

In the third year; either,

1. From the time when he went to hide himself by the brook Cherith; six months before which time the famine might begin, though it was not yet come to extremity. And so this being in or towards the end of the third year, it makes up these three years and six months, James 5:17. Or,

2. From the time of his going to Sarepta, which probably was a year after the famine began; See Poole "1 Kings 17:7"; and so this might be in the middle of the third year, which also makes up the three years and six months.

Show thyself unto Ahab; to acquaint him with the cause of this judgment, 1 Kings 18:18, and to advise him to remove it, and upon that condition to promise him rain.

I will send rain upon the earth, according to thy word and prayer, which thou shalt make for it. Thus God takes care to maintain the honour and authority of his prophet, and in judgment remembers mercy to Israel for the sake of the holy seed yet left among them, who suffered in this common calamity.

Verse 2

Elijah went to show himself unto Ahab; wherein he shows a strong faith, and resolute obedience, and invincible courage, that he durst at God’s command run into the mouth of this raging lion; which was a degree of martyrdom.

Verse 3

Which was the governor of his house; being valued by Ahab for his great prudence and fidelity, and therefore indulged as to the worship of the calves and Baal.

Obadiah feared the Lord greatly.

Quest. How could he and some other Israelites be said to fear the Lord, when they did not go up to Jerusalem to worship, as God had commanded?

Answ. Although they seem not to be wholly excusable in this neglect, because they should have preferred God’s service before their worldly commodity, according to the good example of the priests and Levites, and the generality of the godly people who did so, 2 Chronicles 11:13,2 Chronicles 11:16; yet because they worshipped God in spirit and truth, and performed all moral duties to God and their brethren, and abstained from idolatry, and being kept from Jerusalem by violence, they thought necessity and the apparent hazard of their lives would excuse them from ceremonial services; and God bare with their infirmity herein.

Verse 4

Prophets: this name is not only given to such as are endowed with an extraordinary spirit of prophecy, but to such ministers as devoted themselves to the service of God in preaching, praying, praising God, and the like, as 1 Samuel 10:10-12; and in this place compared with 1 Kings 18:22, where Elijah saith,

I only remain a prophet of the Lord, to wit, strictly so called; and Matthew 10:41; 1 Corinthians 12:28,1 Corinthians 12:29; 1 Corinthians 14:29.

Fed them, with the hazard of his own life, and against the king’s command; as wisely considering that no command of an earthly prince could overrule the command of the supreme Lord, the King of kings, or discharge him from those acts of piety to God, and charity to men, which God’s law indispensably required.

With bread and water; either properly, which was a great kindness in those circumstances; or figuratively, i.e. with meat and drink.

Verse 5

Unto all fountains of water, and unto all brooks; about which grass was most probably to be found in that great drought.

Verse 6

Ahab went one way by himself; not daring to trust any other, Obadiah excepted, lest being bribed by such as had grass for their own use, they should not give him a true account.

Verse 7

By this profound reverence showing his great respect and love to him.

Verse 8

Tell thy lord, Ahab; whom, though a very wicked man, he owns for Obadiah’s lord and king; thereby instructing him that he did well in owning him as such, and that the wickedness of kings doth not exempt their subjects from obedience to their lawful commands.

Verse 9

What have I sinned? wherein have I so offended God and thee, that thou shouldst inflict this punishment upon me, and expose me to certain ruin by this means?

Verse 10

There is no nation or kingdom, to wit, near to his own, where he could in reason think that Elijah had hid himself. Nothing is more frequent than to understand general expressions with such limitations.

He took an oath of the kingdom and nation, that they found thee not; not that he could force other kingdoms to take an oath, but that by his persuasions he prevailed with the chief persons in several kingdoms for his satisfaction to swear that they did not know of Elijah’s being among them; which was not hard for him to obtain. For Ahab was a great prince, and had a great interest among the neighbouring kings, the king of Tyre was his father-in-law; the king of Moab tributary to him; Jehoshaphat his friend and relation, to whom the king of Edom was tributary. We read also of

all the kings of Arabia, and of all the kings of the Hittites, and of Syria, 1 Kings 10:15,1 Kings 10:29; which as they corresponded with Solomon, so how far they might be allied to or confederate with Ahab we know not; nor what articles or agreements were between him and them, among which this might be one, that they should deliver up to one another all their fugitive or banished subjects upon demand; which might give sufficient ground for his desire or expectation of this oath.

Quest. How then could Elijah lie hid in the house of the widow of Sarepta?

Answ. That might easily be, either because she herself, or at least others, did not know particularly who he was; or because she used all possible care to conceal him, her conscience and interest both obliging her so to do; or because God secured him there.

Verse 12

The Spirit of the Lord; the Holy Ghost, to whom the inspiration and conduct of the prophets is commonly ascribed in Holy Scripture, as Isaiah 48:16; Isaiah 61:1; Matthew 4:1; Acts 16:6,Acts 16:7, who might do this either immediately by his own power, or by an angel, or by a strong wind.

Shall carry thee whither I know not; such transportations of the prophets having doubtless been usual before this time, as they were after it. See 2 Kings 2:16; Ezekiel 3:12,Ezekiel 3:14; Matthew 4:1; Acts 8:39.

He will slay me; either as a cursed impostor that hath deluded him with vain hopes; or rather, because I did not forthwith seize upon thee, and bring thee to him to receive punishment.

I thy servant fear the Lord from my youth: he speaks not these nor the following words in way of vain boasting, but only for his own necessary vindication and preservation, that he might move the prophet to pity and spare him, and not put him upon that hazardous action; which yet he was resolved to do, if the prophet peremptorily required it.

Verse 15

As the Lord of hosts liveth; the Lord of all the creatures, which are called God’s hosts, Genesis 2:1; Deuteronomy 4:19; Psalms 103:21; Psalms 148:2, and are all subject to his command. He mentions this title as his shield, under the protection whereof he did and durst venture to come into Ahab’s presence.

Verse 17

Have I at last met with thee, O thou great disturber of my kingdom, the author of this famine, and of all our disquiets and calamities?

Verse 18

These calamities are not to be imputed to my passions, but thine and thy father’s wickedness, which God punisheth by this means. He answered him thus boldly, because he spoke and acted in God’s name, and for his honour and service, whose vassal Ahab was.

Verse 19

Now therefore send, to wit, messengers, that this controversy between thee and me may be decided, the true cause of these heavy judgments discovered and removed, that so this plague may be removed.

Gather to me all Israel, by their deputies, or heads, or representatives, that they may be witnesses of all our transactions.

Unto Mount Carmel; not that Carmel in Judah, 1 Samuel 15:12, but another in Issachar by the midland sea, Joshua 19:26; Jeremiah 46:18; which he chose as a very convenient place, being not far from the centre of his kingdom, to which all the tribes might conveniently resort; and at some good distance from Samaria, that Jezebel might not hinder his design; and a very high mountain, Amos 9:3, and that upon the sea, whence he might have the opportunity to discover the rain at its first approach, which he did, 1 Kings 18:42, &c.

And the prophets of Baal; which were dispersed in all the parts of the kingdom.

The prophets of the groves; which attended upon those Baals or idols which were worshipped in the groves, which were near the royal city, and much valued and frequented by the king and the queen, 1 Kings 15:13; 1 Kings 16:33; 2 Kings 13:6, and therefore were maintained at the queen’s charges.

Verse 20

He complied with Elijah’s motion; partly, because it was so fair and reasonable, that he could not refuse it with honour, nor without the discontent of all his people, this being proposed in order to their deliverance from this terrible famine; partly, because the urgency of the present distress made him willing to try all means to remove it; partly, from a curiosity of seeing some extraordinary events; and principally, because God inclined his heart to close with it.

Verse 21

How long halt ye between two opinions? why do you not make straight paths with your feet? as the phrase is, Hebrews 12:13; why do you walk so lamely and unevenly, being so unsteady in your opinions and practices, and doubting whether it is better to worship God or Baal?

If the Lord be God; whom you pretend to worship in the calves, 2 Kings 10:16,2 Kings 10:31; compare Exodus 32:4.

Follow him; worship him, and him only, and that in such place and manner as he hath commanded you, and not by the calves.

But if Baal; if Baal can prove himself to be the true God.

The people answered him not a word, being convinced of the reasonableness of his proposition; taught by experience that Jehovah had sent this judgment, and that Baal could not remove it, which had staggered them in their opinion about Baal; yet not daring to disown Baal, for fear of the displeasure of the king, then present.

Verse 22

I only remain, to wit, here present, publicly to own and plead the cause of God; for he opposeth himself only to Baal’s four’ hundred and fifty prophets, because they only were present; the prophets of the groves being, it seems, not permitted by Jezebel (through her pride, or obstinacy, or care and kindness to them) to go thither. See 1 Kings 22:6. As for the other prophets of the Lord, many of them were slain by Ahab or Jezebel, others banished, or hid in caves.

Verse 23

He attempts the decision of this controversy, not by God’s word, which was either rejected, or despised, or grossly neglected by the generality of that people; but by a miracle, to which all that had common sense must needs submit.

Let them choose one bullock for themselves, which they judge best and fittest for their purpose.

Verse 24

That answereth by fire, i.e. that shall consume the sacrifice by fire sent from heaven; which the people knew the true God used to do, as Genesis 4:4; Judges 6:21; Judges 13:20.

All the people; even the Baalites themselves; partly because they could not without great reproach to themselves and Baal refuse so equal a motion; and partly because they were confident of Baal’s power and divinity, having probably had some experiments of supernatural and prodigious events done in the worship of Baal by God’s just and wise permission, for the hardening of that apostatical and wicked people in their idolatry; as God hath in several ages for the like reason suffered lying wonders to be wrought by the devil, whom they worshipped in and by their idols.

Verse 25

Ye are many, and I am willing to give you the precedency. This he did, partly because if he had first offered, and God had answered by fire, as he knew that he would do, Baal’s priests would have been discouraged, and upon some excuse (which would easily be accepted in regard of the king’s authority, and the favour which they had with the people) would have desisted from making the trial on their part; and partly because the disappointment of the priests of Baal, of which he was well assured, would notably prepare the way for the people’s more diligent attention unto his words and actions, and cause them to entertain the prophet’s good success with more admiration and affection; and this coming last, would leave the greater impression and relish upon their hearts. And this they accepted, be cause they might think, that if Baal did answer them first, which they presumed he would, the people would be so confirmed and heightened in their opinion of Baal, that they by the king’s assistance might murder Elijah before he came to his experiment.

Verse 26

They took the bullock which was given them; which being chosen by them, 1 Kings 18:25, was now put into their hands by those who had the beasts in their custody, till they were taken away for sacrifice.

They dressed it; cut it in pieces, and laid the parts in or upon the wood.

From morning; from the time of the morning sacrifice; which advantage Elijah suffered them to take for their sacrifice.

Upon the altar; or, over the altar; which might easily be done, the altar being low, and suddenly made for the present use. Or rather, beside (as the Hebrew (al) oft signifies) the altar; or, before it. They used some superstitious, unusual, and disorderly gestures, either pretending to be acted by the spirit of their god, and to be in a kind of holy rage, and religious ecstasy; or in way of devotion to their god; which they might borrow from the practice of their progenitors, who, amongst other things, used dancing in God’s service and presence, as Exodus 15:20; Exodus 32:19; Judges 21:21; 2 Samuel 6:14.

Which was made, Heb. which he made; either, first, Elijah; which some think was already made, though the making of it be not mentioned till afterwards, 1 Kings 18:31, and that it was their design, by leaping upon his altar, to overthrow it. Or rather, secondly, Ahab on their behalf; or any other person; that being only a Hebraism, the third person active being put for the passive verb, as our translators well render it.

Verse 27

At noon; when they had long tried all means in vain.

Elijah mocked them; derided them and their gods, which were indeed, and had now proved themselves to be, ridiculous and contemptible things. By this example we see that all jesting is not unlawful, but only that which intrencheth upon piety and good manners. See Poole "Ephesians 5:4".

Either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey; he is employed about some other business, and hath not leisure to mind you; for being a god of a small and narrow understanding, he cannot mind two things at once, and you are immodest and unreasonable to expect it from him.

Verse 28

They cried aloud; as if Elijah had spoken the truth, and their god needed rousing.

Cut themselves; mingling their own blood with their sacrifices; as knowing by experience, that nothing was more acceptable to their Baal (which was indeed the devil) than human blood, and hoping hereby to move their god to pity and help them. And this indeed was the practice of divers heathens in the worship of their false gods, as is manifest both from Scripture, as Leviticus 19:28; Deuteronomy 14:1; 1 Kings 18:28, and from the express testimonies of Plutarch, Lucian, Apuleius, and many others.

Verse 29

They prophesied, i. e. praised, and prayed unto, and worshipped their god; for so the word prophesying is used, 1 Samuel 10:10; 1 Samuel 19:20; 1 Chronicles 25:2,1 Chronicles 25:3; Matthew 7:22; 1 Corinthians 11:4; 1 Corinthians 14:5,1 Corinthians 14:6, &c.

Of the evening sacrifice, Heb. of the sacrifice; which being here opposed to the time of their offering, which was the morning, 1 Kings 18:26, must needs be meant of the evening sacrifice; of which see Exodus 29:39, &c.; which is called the sacrifice, by way of eminency, because it was more solemn, and public, and frequented than the morning sacrifice; of which divers reasons may be given. See Exodus 12:6; Psalms 141:2; Acts 3:1.

Nor any that regarded, Heb. there was no attention; either, first, Of their god, who was so far from answering, that he did not mind any of their words and actions. Or, secondly, Of the people, who were now tired out with so long attention and expectation; and therefore more readily deserted them, and approached to Elijah and his altar, at his call, 1 Kings 18:30.

Verse 30

Come near unto me; come away from these impudent deceivers to me, and expect from me what satisfaction you desire.

He repaired the altar, which by the people’s help was quickly done; the materials being all ready, and very slightly put together, only for the present occasion.

The altar of the Lord; which had been built there by some of their ancestors for the offering of sacrifice to the God of Israel, which was frequently done in high places, of which this was none of the least eminent ones; but being for some time neglected, it needed reparations.

That was broken down; either, first, By the priests of Baal at this time, who leaped upon it to that end; of which See Poole "1 Kings 18:26". Or rather, secondly, By some of the Baalites, out of their enmity to the true God, whose temple, because they could not reach, they showed their malignity in destroying his altars, 1 Kings 19:14.

Verse 31

This he did, partly, to renew the covenant between God and all the tribes, as Moses did, Exodus 24:4; partly, to show that he prayed and acted in the name and for the service of the God of all the patriarchs, and of all the tribes of Israel, and for their good; and partly, to teach the people, that though the tribes were divided as to their civil government, they ought all to be united in the worship of the same God, and in the same religion.

Unto whom the word of the Lord came; which Jacob was graciously answered by God when he prayed to him, and was honoured with the glorious title of Israel, which noted his prevalency with God and men. And I, calling upon the same God, doubt not of a like gracious answer; and if ever you mean to have your prayers granted, you must not seek to Baal for it, who, as you now see, neither hears nor regards his most devout worshippers; but unto the God of Jacob; and if you would recover the honour which was once conferred upon Jacob, and continued a long time to his posterity, you must return to that God from whom you are revolted.

Verse 32

With the assistance of the people, who readily yielded their helping hand,

he built an altar; which, though generally forbidden, he might do, because he did it by the command and suggestion of God, who can dispense with his own laws, and upon apparent and urgent necessity, and for a work of great mercy, (to which even by God’s command the ceremonial laws must give place, Hosea 6:6; Mark 2:27) even for the conversion of the Israelites, whom it was impossible to bring to the altar of Jerusalem at this time.

In the name of the Lord; by the authority of God, and for his worship.

Two measures, i.e. two third parts of an ephah; which shows that the trench was of a competent largeness.

Verse 33

Fill four barrels with water; which they could quickly fetch, either from the river Kishon; or if that was dried up, from the sea; both which were at the foot of the mountain. See Jeremiah 46:18.

Pour it on the burnt-sacrifice, and on the wood: this he did, to make the miracle more glorious, and more unquestionable, and so more successful.

Verse 36

At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice; which time he chose, that he might unite his prayers with the prayers of the godly Jews at Jerusalem, who at that time assembled together to pray, Acts 3:1.

That I have done all these things; brought this famine, gathered the people hither, and done what I have done, or am doing here. At thy word; not in compliance with my own passions, but in obedience to thy command, as thy agent and minister. For that action of shutting up heaven, and that of killing the priests of Baal, must needs expose him to great envy and reproach; which made this public vindication necessary, as it was also effectual, being witnessed from heaven.

Verse 37

That thou hast turned their heart; that they may feel so powerful and sudden a change in their hearts, that they may know it is thy work, and the effect of thy grace to them, and in them. Or, when thou hast turned, &c., or, because thou, &c. So the particle vau is oft used; and the sense is, That they may know thee to be the true God, by the effects of thy Divine power, in converting their hearts, and that in so miraculous a way, and in answer to my prayers.

Back again unto thee, from whom they have revolted.

Verse 39

They fell on their faces, in way of acknowledgment and adoration of the true God.

He is the God; he alone; and Baal is a dull and senseless idol. And they double the words, to note their abundant satisfaction and assurance of the truth of their assertion.

Verse 40

Elijah said unto them; he takes the opportunity, whilst the people’s hearts were warm with the fresh sense of this great miracle.

Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, that their blood might be poured into that river, and thence conveyed into the sea, and might not defile the holy land.

Slew them there.

Quest. How could Elijah do this, seeing he was but a private person?

Answ. First, he had no doubt the consent of all the heads of the people, who were there assembled; and of the king too, who durst not resist the universal torrent, and could not deny that they were impostors, and worthy of death; and probably was by the prophet assured of rain when this was done.

Answ. Secondly, As these idolatrous priests were manifestly under a sentence of death, passed upon such by the sovereign Lord of life and death, Deuteronomy 13:0; Deuteronomy 17:0; so Elijah had sufficient authority to execute it, as being a prophet, and an extraordinary minister of God’s vengeance against sinners, now especially when the magistrate so grossly neglected his duty therein.

Verse 41

Get thee up from the river, where the king and he had been present at the slaughter of Baal’s priests, to thy tent; which probably was pitched on the side of Carmel.

Eat and drink; take comfort, and refresh thyself; for neither the king nor any of the people could have any leisure to eat, being wholly intent upon the decision of the great controversy.

There is a sound of abundance of rain; the rain is as certainly and speedily coming, as if I did actually see it, or hear the noise which it makes. God’s wrath is now appeased, and thou shalt have no cause to repent of this day’s work.

Verse 42

Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; where he might secretly and ardently pour out his prayers unto God; and whence he might look towards the sea, and discern when the rain was coming.

Put his face between his knees; he either sat, or rather kneeled upon his knees, and then cast down his face to the ground between his knees; either in token of profound reverence and humility, or out of fervency of spirit, which oft disposeth men to uncouth gestures, which at other times, or in other men, would be ridiculous; but in them, and in that case, are usual and allowed: or, that turning away his eyes from all outward objects, he might be more intent and earnest upon his work, or pray to God without distraction.

Verse 43

Go up now, whilst I continue praying.

Look toward the sea; whence clouds and vapours usually arise. Elijah desired to have timely notice of the very first appearance and signification of rain, not out of vanity or ambition, but that Ahab and the people might know that it was obtained from Jehovah by the prophet’s prayers, and thereby be confirmed in the true religion.

Go again seven times; let us not be dejected for some disappointments, but continue to wait upon God, who will answer me, and that speedily.

Verse 45

Not that in Judah, Joshua 15:56, but another city in the border of Issachar and Manasseh, Joshua 19:18.

Verse 46

The hand of the Lord was on Elijah: God gave him more than natural and ordinary strength, whereby he was enabled to outrun Ahab’s chariot, and that for so many miles together.

He girded up his loins, that his garments, which were then long, might not hinder him. See 2 Kings 4:29 2 Kings 4:9:1.

Ran before Ahab; partly, to show how ready he was to honour and serve the king, if he did not exalt himself above or against God; partly, that by this humble and selfdenying carriage it might appear that what he had done was not from envy, or ambition, or human passion, but only from a just zeal for God’s glory; partly, that by his presence with the king, and his courtiers who attended upon him, he might animate and oblige them to proceed in the well-begun reformation of religion; and partly, to demonstrate that he was neither ashamed of, nor afraid for, what he had done, though he knew how Jezebel would resent it, but durst venture himself in the midst of his enemies, as being confident of the Divine power and protection.

Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on 1 Kings 18". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mpc/1-kings-18.html. 1685.
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