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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 17

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 3094. B.C. 910.

Elijah foretels the drought, 1 Kings 17:1 . Is fed by ravens, 1 Kings 17:2-7 . By a widow, whose meal and oil are multiplied, 1 Kings 17:8-16 . He raises her dead son, 1 Kings 17:17-24 .

Verse 1

1 Kings 17:1. And Elijah the Tishbite, &c. So bad was the character, both of the Israelites and their princes, as represented in the foregoing chapter, that one would have expected God should have cast off a people that had so cast him off; but as an evidence to the contrary, never was Israel so blessed with a good prophet as when it was so plagued with a bad king. Never was a king so bold to sin as Ahab, never was a prophet so bold to reprove and threaten as Elijah, whose story begins in this chapter, and is full of wonders. Scarce any part of the Old Testament history shines brighter than this, concerning the spirit and power of Elias; he only, of all the prophets, had the honour of Enoch, the first prophet, to be translated that he should not see death; and the honour of Moses, the great prophet, to attend our Saviour in his transfiguration. Other prophets prophesied and wrote, he prophesied and acted, but wrote nothing; and his actings cast more lustre on his name than their writings on theirs.

Now this most eminent of the prophets under the Old Testament dispensation, is here brought in like Melchisedec, the most eminent of the priests, without any mention of his father or mother, or the beginning of his days, like a man dropped down from the clouds. All that we learn concerning his origin or country is that he was a Tishbite, and of the inhabitants of Gilead. Probably he had dwelt at Thishbe or Thesbeh, a town or region on the other side Jordan, either of the tribe of Gad, or that half tribe of Manasseh which inhabited Gilead, but whether he was a native of either of those tribes is uncertain. He was doubtless raised up by God’s special providence, to be a witness for him in this most degenerate time and state of things, that by his zeal, and courage, and miracles, he might give some check to their various and abominable idolatries, and some encouragement and reviving to that small number of the Lord’s prophets and people who yet remained in Israel. And the obscurity of his parentage and birth was no prejudice to his eminent usefulness. “We need not inquire,” says Henry, “ whence men are, but what they are: if it be a good thing, no matter though it come out of Nazareth.” Elijah seems to have been naturally of a rough spirit, and certainly he was called to rough services. But, as his name signifies, My God Jehovah is he; he that sends me, and will own me, and bear me out; so his faith and confidence in God supported and carried him through all his arduous labours, and the violent persecutions to which he was exposed.

He said unto Ahab Having doubtless admonished him of his sin and danger before, he now, upon his obstinacy in his wicked courses, proceeds to declare and execute the judgment of God upon him; As the Lord God of Israel liveth, &c. I swear by the God of Israel, who is the only true and living God; whereas the gods whom thou hast joined with him, or preferred before him, are dead and senseless idols; before whom I stand Whose minister I am, not only in general, but especially in this threatening, which I now deliver in his name and authority; There shall not be dew nor rain This was a prediction, but was seconded with his prayer that God would verily it, James 5:17. And this prayer was truly charitable; that by this sharp affliction, God’s honour, and the truth of his word, (which was now so horribly and universally contemned,) might be vindicated; and the Israelites (whom impunity had hardened in their idolatry) might be awakened to see their own wickedness, and the necessity of returning to the true religion. These years That is, these following years, which were three and a half; Luke 4:25; James 5:17. My word Until I shall declare that this judgment shall cease, and shall pray to God for the removal of it.

Verses 3-4

1 Kings 17:3-4. Hide thyself by the brook Cherith A brook, no doubt, well known to Elijah: both it and the valley through which it runs, are near the river Jordan; but whether on the east or west side, is not so well agreed. By sending him to this remote and retired place, where he was to lie concealed, so that neither friends nor foes might know where he was, God rescued him from the fury of Ahab and Jezebel, who, he knew, would seek to destroy him. That Ahab did not seize him immediately upon hearing the forementioned prediction and warning, must be ascribed to God’s overruling providence. I have commanded the ravens to feed thee Or, I shall command; that is, effectually move them by instincts, which shall be as forcible with them, as a law or command is to men. God is said to command both brute creatures and senseless things, when he causeth them to do what he intends to effect by them. The ravens being birds of prey, and very voracious, were more likely to rob the prophet than to bring him food; but God’s command suspended their natural instinct, and made them act contrary to it. They are said to be unnatural to, and to neglect their young ones; yet, when God pleaseth, they shall feed his prophet. God could have sent angels to minister to him; but he chose winged messengers of another kind, to show that he can serve his own purposes as effectually by the meanest as by the mightiest creatures; and to give Elijah such a proof of his power and care in providing for him, as should effectually teach him to trust in God in those many and great difficulties to which he was to be exposed: and the more unfit instruments the ravens seemed to be, the more was his almighty power magnified, who controlled their natural inclinations while he employed them; and the greater encouragement was given to his prophet to rely on that power, thus engaged for him in his greatest straits and dangers. This, however, may be said for the choice of ravens for this work; that, as they are solitary birds, and delight to live about brooks of water, so are they accustomed to seek out for provisions, and to carry them to the places of their abode; on which account they were nor improper creatures for God to employ upon his service. To suppose, as some have done, that the ravens, being unclean birds, (Leviticus 11:15,) would defile and render unclean the food they brought, is to mistake the meaning of the law in that case. The flesh of unclean animals was not to be eaten by the Israelites; but their touch, while living, communicated no ceremonial uncleanness either to food or any thing else: for asses and camels were also unclean, and yet the Jews constantly used them for carrying provisions, as well as for other purposes.

Verse 6

1 Kings 17:6. The ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, &c. “We need not inquire where they procured the bread and flesh, or how the food was prepared; he who commanded them to feed his servant had ten thousand ways of enabling them to fulfil his word: thus Elijah was sufficiently provided for, when numbers were starving; and the consolations of the Lord would render him contented with his solitude and sustenance.” Scott.

Verse 7

1 Kings 17:7. After a while Hebrew, at the end of the days; that is, of a year, as that phrase is often used. The brook dried up For want of rain, and God so ordering it for the punishment of those Israelites who lived near it, and had hitherto been refreshed by it; and for the exercise of Elijah’s faith, and to teach him still to depend on God alone, and not on any natural means for support and preservation.

Verse 9

1 Kings 17:9 . Arise, get thee to Zarephath A city between Tyre and Sidon, called Sarepta by St. Luke 4:26, and others. Which belongeth to Zidon To the jurisdiction of that city, which was inhabited by Gentiles. And God’s providing for his prophet, first, by an unclean bird, and then by a Gentile, whom the Jews esteemed unclean, was a presage of the calling of the Gentiles, and rejection of the Jews. So Elijah was the first prophet of the Gentiles. Commanded a widow woman That is, appointed or provided; for that she had as yet received no revelation or command of God about it, appears from 1 Kings 17:12.

Verses 10-12

1 Kings 17:10-12. Behold, the widow woman was gathering sticks He knew, by some secret divine intimations, that this was the woman that was to sustain him. Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water Water, in consequence of the long drought, was doubtless scarce there as well as in the land of Israel; yet, being a pious woman, and therefore ready to succour a stranger in distress, she readily goes to fetch it. He called and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thy hand This he probably said chiefly to try her, and to make way for what follows. She said, As the Lord thy God liveth By this she discovers, that though she was a Gentile, yet she owned the God of Israel as the true God. I am gathering two sticks A few sticks, that number being often used indefinitely for any small number. That we may eat it and die For having no more provision, we must needs perish with hunger. Although the famine was chiefly in the land of Israel, yet the effects of it were felt in Tyre and Sidon, which were supported by the corn of that land. But what a poor supporter was this widow likely to be! who had no fuel, but what she gathered in the streets, and nothing to live upon herself, but a handful of meal and a little oil! To her Elijah is sent, that he might live upon Providence, as much as he had done when the ravens fed him.

Verses 13-14

1 Kings 17:13-14. Make me thereof a little cake first This he requires as a trial of her faith, charity, and obedience, which he knew God would graciously and plentifully reward; and so this would be a great example to encourage others to the practice of the same graces. Thus saith the Lord God of Israel In whom I perceive thou trustest. The barrel of meal The meal of the barrel. So the cruise of oil is put for the oil of the cruise.

Verse 15

1 Kings 17:15. She did according to the saying of Elijah Giving glory to the God of Israel, by believing his prophet. O woman, great was thy faith! One has not found the like, no not in Israel. All things considered, it exceeded that of the widow, who, when she had but two mites, cast them into the treasury. She took the prophet’s word that she should not lose by it, but it should be repaid with interest. “Those that can venture upon the promise of God,” says Henry, “will make no difficulty of exposing and emptying themselves in his service, and giving him his dues out of a little, and giving him his part first. They that deal with God, must deal on trust; seek first the kingdom of God, and then other things shall be added. Surely,” adds he, “the increase of this widow’s faith to such a degree as to enable her thus to deny herself, and to depend upon the divine promise, was as great a miracle in the kingdom of grace, as the increase of her oil was in the kingdom of providence. Happy they that can thus, against hope, believe and obey in hope.” She and her house did eat many days A long time, even above two years before the following event about her son happened, and the rest of the time of the famine. See how the reward answered the service! She generously made one cake for the prophet, and was repaid with many for herself and son! What is laid out in charity, is set out to the best interest, upon the best security. One poor meal’s meat this poor widow gave the prophet, and in recompense of it she and her son did eat many days, and probably some of her kindred too, here included in the term her house, an expression which would hardly have been used of her one son.

Verse 16

1 Kings 17:16. The barrel of meal wasted not, &c. But as much as they took out for their daily use, was immediately supplied by the almighty power of God. “Never did corn or olive so increase in growing,” says Bishop Hall, “as these did in using.” They multiplied, observe, not in the hoarding, but in the spending. For there is that scattereth, and yet increaseth. When God blesseth a little, it will go a great way, even beyond expectation; as on the contrary, though there be abundance, if he blow upon it, it comes to little, Haggai 1:9; Haggai 2:19.

Verse 17

1 Kings 17:17. There was no breath left in him No soul or life, as the Hebrew word here used properly signifies. For, says Buxtorf, “The Hebrews by נשׁמה , neshama, understand the rational and immortal soul, whence they are wont to swear by it: and he quotes Aben Ezra as an authority for rendering the word, anima, sed humana tantum; the soul, but only the human. The expression, however, here only means that he died, as is manifest from the following verses. This was a terrible and unexpected stroke to this widow, and, no doubt, was sent for the further trial of her faith and patience. She had received a great prophet into her house, was employed to sustain him, and had reason to think that surely the Lord would do her good; yet now she loses her son. We must not think it strange if we meet with very sharp afflictions, even when we are in the way of duty, and of eminent service to God: nay, and when we have the clearest manifestations of God’s favour and good-will toward us, even then we should prepare for the rebukes of his providence; our mountain never stands so strong but it may be moved, and therefore, in this world, we ought always to rejoice with trembling.

Verse 18

1 Kings 17:18. She said, What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? Wherein have I injured or offended thee, or been wanting in my duty? Or, why didst thou come to sojourn in my house, if this be the fruit of it? They are the words of a troubled mind. How unconcernedly had she spoken of her own and her son’s death, when she expected to die for want, (1 Kings 17:12,) That we may eat it and die; yet now her son dies, and not so miserably as by famine, and she is extremely disturbed at it. We may speak slightly of an affliction at a distance, but when it toucheth us, we are troubled, Job 4:5. Art thou come to call my sin to remembrance? That thou mightest severely observe my sins, and by thy prayers bring down God’s just judgment upon me for them, as thou hast, for the like cause, brought down this famine upon the nation? She may mean, either, 1st, Her own remembrance; that she should by this dreadful judgment be brought to the knowledge and remembrance of her sins which had procured it: or, rather, 2d, God’s remembrance; for God is often said in Scripture to remember sins when he punishes them, and to forget them when he spares the sinner, 2 Samuel 16:10. Has God taken occasion from thy abiding in my house, and my not making the improvement I ought to have made by thee, to punish this and my former sins by suddenly cutting off my son? And have I, instead of the comfort and blessing I expected, met with a severe chastisement and curse?

Verses 19-20

1 Kings 17:19-20. Give me thy son Into my arms. He took him out of her bosom By which it appears he was but a little child. And carried him up into a loft A private place, where he might more freely and fully pour out his soul to God, and use such gestures and methods as his heart inclined him to use, without any offence or observation. And laid him upon his own bed So that it was the room where he lodged, though near the top of the house. And he cried unto the Lord And, in his prayer, humbly reasons with God concerning the death of the child, using most powerful arguments. Thou art the Lord, that canst revive the child; and my God, and therefore wilt not deny me. She is a widow, add not affliction to the afflicted; deprive her not of the support and staff of her age: she hath given me kind entertainment: let her not fare the worse for her kindness to a prophet, whereby wicked men will take occasion to reproach both her and religion.

Verse 21

1 Kings 17:21. He stretched himself upon the child three times Not as if he thought this could contribute any warmth or life to the child; but partly to express, and withal to increase, his grief for the child’s death, and his desire of its reviving; that thereby his prayers might be more fervent, and consequently more prevalent with God: and partly to give a sign of what God would do by his power, and what he doth by his grace in the raising of souls dead in sin to a spiritual life: the Holy Ghost comes upon them, and the power of the Highest overshadows them, and puts life into them. Let this child’s soul come into him again By this way of speaking, Elijah expressed his certainty that the child’s soul had left his body, and that he was properly dead. And he asks, not that he might be recovered from a fainting fit, swoon, or trance; but reanimated by the departed soul, and raised from the dead. This certainly was a great and most extraordinary request, and such as there is every reason to think had never been asked of God before by any human creature. Certainly he had no precedent to plead for requesting such a thing, much less did he know of an instance of any mortal’s resurrection having taken place in answer to any one’s prayers or otherwise. Nevertheless, he was encouraged and induced to make this request, partly by his zeal for God’s honour, which he judged was concerned in it, and would be eclipsed, if the child of this widow remained in death; partly by the experience which he had of his prevailing power with God in prayer; and partly by a divine influence, moving him to desire the child’s restoration to life.

Verse 22

1 Kings 17:22. The soul of the child came into him again The reader will easily observe, that this phraseology of the sacred historian, like that of the prophet in the former verse, (and they both spoke by inspiration of God,) plainly signifies the distinction between the rational soul and earthly body to be as real as that between the house and its inhabitant, and supposes the existence of the former in a state of separation from the body, and consequently its immortality: and, probably, as Grotius thinks, God might design by this miracle to give an evidence hereof for the encouragement of his suffering people. And he revived As by an extraordinary and supernatural stroke of affliction, God had taken away the child’s life for the trial of the faith, both of the prophet and the woman; so, to strengthen the faith of both, as well as for the vindication of the true religion, and the manifestation of his own glory in opposition to idols, in that most dark and degenerate age, he restored the child to life, and thereby answered the prayer which he himself had inspired.

Verses 23-24

1 Kings 17:23-24. Elijah said, See, thy son liveth And see the power of prayer, and the power of him that hears and answers prayer, that kills and makes alive. The woman said, Now by this I know that thou art a man of God Though she believed it before, and termed him a man of God, (1 Kings 17:18,) which she might well do, having been a daily witness of the miraculous increase of the meal and oil; yet, when she saw he did not cure her sick child, but suffered him to grow worse, and die, she began to doubt of it: but upon seeing her son revive, her faith revived with him, and was mightily confirmed. For, through the joy of having him restored to her again, this latter miracle appeared to her much greater than the former. The word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth The God whom thou professest to believe in, is the only true God; and the doctrine and religion which thou teachest, is the only true religion; and therefore henceforth I wholly renounce the worship of idols.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Kings 17". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/1-kings-17.html. 1857.
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