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the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
1 Kings 17

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary

Verse 1

1 Kings 17:1. Elijah the Tishbite Elijah the Tishbite, of Thezbeh in Gilead. Houbigant. Elijah, who in the New Testament is commonly called Elias, was of Thezbeh, a town on the other side of Jordan, in the tribe of Gad, and in the land of Gilead. The Scriptures making no mention either of the quality of his parents, the manner of his education, or his call to the prophetic office, some Jewish rabbis have been of opinion, that he was an angel, sent from heaven, amidst the general corruption of the world, to preserve the true worship of God. Others pretend, that he was a priest descended from the tribe of Aaron; that his father's name was Sabaca, and his birth altogether miraculous; whilst others, again, will have it that he was Phinehas, the son of Aaron, who, after having lived a long while concealed, appeared again in the world under the name of Elijah: but all particulars of this kind, where the Scripture is silent, are of small authority. This, however, may with safety be said of him, that he was the prince of the prophets of his age; a man of a great and elevated mind, of a generous and undaunted spirit, a zealous defender of the laws of God, and a just avenger of the violations of his honour. Calmet. See on the next chapter, 1 Kings 17:1.

Verse 3

1 Kings 17:3. Brook Cherith This brook, and the valley through which it runs, are both very near the river Jordan; but whether on the east or west side is not so well agreed. Saint Jerome places it beyond Jordan, and so on the east side of it; but others generally agree in placing it on the west side of it; because God, in sending away Elijah, says to him, Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward; where the expression, turn thee eastward, seems to imply that Elijah was on the west side of Jordan. See Wells's Geogr. vol. 3:

Verse 4

1 Kings 17:4. I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there Some interpreters, discontented with this miracle, have sought out a different mode of solving it, and have averted, that the word ערבים orbim rendered ravens might with propriety be rendered Arabs or merchants; who, they suppose, supplied Elijah with necessary food. But Bochart has satisfactorily proved, that the original word never signifies merchants, and that there were no Arabians inhabiting the coasts where Elijah lay concealed: and it can hardly be imagined, but that the place of his retreat would have soon been discovered to Ahab, had either merchants or other inhabitants of the country been at any time acquainted with it. Besides, the immediate order of God was, that he should retreat and hide himself where he might be absolutely concealed. And as the whole of the affair was miraculous, why should we not readily believe, that he who is able to do all things appointed these birds to bring bread and meat daily to the prophet? Though we should allow, that they are creatures voracious and unnatural to their young ones; yet, the more unfit instruments they seemed to be, the more they magnified the almighty power of him who controuled their natural appetites while he employed them; and if, as Saint Chrysostom fancies, there was a moral instruction in it, the more they might mollify the prophet's heart towards the deluded Israelites, by seeing those very creatures which were cruel to their young, kind to him. Though we should allow that they were creatures legally unclean, yet as it was for the meat, and not for the touch, that they were accounted so, we must grant, that this was a case extraordinary, wherein the ceremonial law was over-ruled by necessity, and by the law-giver's dispensation. There is this to be said, however, for the choice of ravens, 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 no improper creatures for God to employ upon this service. For more on the subject, see Scheuchzer on the place, and Bochart's Hieroz. pars 2: lib. 2.

REFLECTIONS.—Elijah is now raised up to warn the idolatrous king, and in these days of apostacy with fervent zeal to testify against the wickedness of Israel. Note; God will have his witnesses in the worst of times, and will endue them with proportionable gifts and graces for the difficulties that they are called to struggle with. We have,

1. Elijah's solemn denunciation on Ahab. Probably, he had before in vain warned him of his wickedness, and, finding him incorrigible, declares the famine which, in zeal for God, he had prayed might come as a just judgment upon Israel, see James 5:17.; and, to affect the king with a sense of the hand from whence it came, he informs him, that the Lord Jehovah, the God of Israel, whom he had dishonoured, the living God, whom he had rejected for dumb idols, had commissioned him for this message; and that neither dew nor rain should fall, but according to his word.

2. As he might well expect that his boldness would offend such impudent sinners as Ahab and Jezebel, God bids him hide himself by the brook Cherith, and Elijah, without hesitation, obeys. There, during the approaching famine, God promises to take care for his provision, and by a wonderful means supplies him; for, while the brook afforded him water to drink, ravens brought him morning and evening bread and flesh to eat. There, unknown, unnoticed, he abode, till, the water of the brook failing, God opened a new supply. Note; (1.).They who dare to be bold for God, may safely trust to him for protection. (2.) It is a bad sign for a people, when God's prophets are driven into corners. (3.) Obscurity becomes duty, when God calls us to it. (4.) God will take care that, however precarious may be their apparent subsistence, his faithful ministers shall not want; though often, like Elijah, he is pleased to feed them but from hand to mouth, to exercise their faith and patience. (5.) When God would work, he will never want means. (6.) They who give good advice, and live in bad practices, like these ravens, bring others wholesome food, and feed on carrion themselves. (7.) Every source of earthly comfort may in time run dry; but they who live upon an all-sufficient God, will find living waters of consolations that never fail.

Verse 9

1 Kings 17:9. Arise, get thee to Zarephath Zarephath, or Sarepta, lay between Tyre and Sidon, but nearest to the latter. Mr. Maundrell observes, that it is the same which is now called Sarphan, about three hours travel from Sidon, in the way to Tyre. It consists at present only of a few houses on the tops of the mountains; but there is reason to believe, that the principal part of the city stood in the plain below, because there are still ruins to be seen there of very considerable extent.

Verse 12

1 Kings 17:12. An handful of meal in a barrel Sandys tells us, that in the east they kept their corn in long vessels of clay, it being subject to be eaten by worms without that precaution: this he observed at Gaza. Agreeable whereto, Norden informs us, that a barbarian of Upper Egypt opened one of his great jars, in order to show him how they preserved their corn there. The barrel in which the woman of Sarepta kept her corn, whereof she had only enough left to make a handful of meal, might be a vessel of much the same kind, and consequently כד kad is improperly translated a barrel. It is certainly in the original the same word as is used for the vessels in which Gideon's soldiers concealed their torches, and which they broke, with a clashing terrifying noise, when they blew with their trumpets; and both circumstances indicate their being vessels of earth. It does not, however, follow from hence, that they had these things with them for the keeping of their corn; it might be for fetching water; for we find that the same word is expressive of the vessels in which women were wont to fetch water, Genesis 24:14; Genesis 24:67.; and no wonder, since the same kind of vessels were used for both purposes. Norden speaks of great jars for corn, as was just remarked; and Bishop Pococke, on the other hand, more than once takes notice of the women of that country carrying water in earthen jars at this time. Rebecca, most certainly, did not carry a barrel, a vessel of above thirty gallons, upon her head. Observations, p. 150.

REFLECTIONS.—The brook being dry, Elijah is commanded to remove. We see that he waited to the last drop without solicitude, and even then removed not without an order. He that believeth will not make haste, but wait the Lord's leisure.

1. Zarephath, a city of Sidon, is the place fixed on for his abode, where God had provided a reception for him in the house of a widow, a Gentile, and poor withal, and in the very country where Jezebel might seize him. But they who have God's warrant to go, have no questions to ask.
2. Though he knew not the person that should be his hostess, he went, not doubting to find her; and lo! at the gate providence brings them together. A woman met him, one very unlikely to supply his wants, who appeared almost famishing herself. To her he addressed himself for a little water; and when she turned to fetch it, he desired a morsel of bread along with it. This led her to inform him of her distressed circumstances; a handful of meal, and a little oil in a cruse, were all that she possessed; and she was now come to gather a few sticks, to dress it for herself and her son, as the last morsel they ever exposed to eat. Elijah bids her do so, but first make him a cake, nor fear to want, since from God he assured her, that the meal should not fail, nor the oil be exhausted, till the days of famine were over. Behold a prodigy of faith! Without hesitation, though so difficult the command, against which reason, self-love, and natural affection might raise strong objections, she staggered not at the prophet's assurance, but did as she was desired, and trusted in the word of promise. Note; (1.) In our deepest distresses, God is nearer to relieve us than we are aware. (2.) God has ever chosen the poor in this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom. (3.) Faith silences all objections; a word of promise is instead of a thousand arguments. (4.) They who can trust God with their all, will find themselves no losers by him.

3. The first essay confirmed the prophet's declaration, and the daily miracle continued for two years and upwards, during which Elijah, herself, and her son, even in those days of dearth, had enough. It was plain fare, indeed; but no doubt they were abundantly thankful for it, and, coming thus from the Lord's hand, it was doubly sweet. Note; (1.) The prophets and ministers of God must learn of Elijah to be content with hard fare. (2.) There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth. Works of piety and charity bring us again our own with usury. (3.) If our hearts be open to receive the great prophet, the greater than Elijah, we shall then never want any manner of thing that is good.

Verse 21

1 Kings 17:21. And he stretched himself upon the child three times We are persuaded, that neither words nor gestures have any virtue; and yet we read, that the prophets of the Old Testament used extraordinary gesticulations, which would be smiled at now-a-days, and considered as superstitious ceremonies. Elijah, in raising up the only son of the widow of Sarepta, stretched himself upon the child three times; and Elisha, the disciple of this great prophet, did the same thing when he raised up the son of the Shunamite woman, 2 Kings 4:34-35. Certainly no one can think that these children were only entranced with cold, or in a swoon; so that the prophets, by stretching themselves upon them, only warmed them afresh, 1:e. cured them. They were perfectly dead, as appears from the event; for, the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. Besides, how could a recovering from a swoon, or warmth restored, merit that the Scripture should make express mention of it, and place this fact among those of the prophets? When the soul is once separated from the body, it is useless for a living body to stretch itself, lie down, and place its hands upon those of the dead. All the powers of nature can do nothing in this case; because it requires an overcoming of that very law of nature which unites the body to the soul, a law which cannot be reversed but by God the author of it.

Verse 24

1 Kings 17:24. The woman said—Now by this I know that thou art a man of God The woman certainly had sufficient reason to believe that Elijah was a prophet, or person sent from God, when she saw the miraculous increase of the meal and oil; but upon his not curing her son when he lay sick, but rather suffering him to die, her faith began to droop, whereas, upon seeing him revive, her faith revived with him; and in the joy of having him restored to her again, she accounted this latter miracle much greater than the former. See Le Clerc, and Bishop Hall's Contemplations.

REFLECTIONS.—When we have been most eminently employed for God, and have received the most reviving tokens of his regard, we must not wonder if we are called to the severest trials. Whose house could one have thought so secure from evil as this widow's; yet behold its desolations!

1. She had but one son, and he dies. Though fed by a miracle, he was not beyond the arm of death.
2. Distress and anguish weigh down the afflicted widow; and, though she cannot but own that her sin provoked the visitation, she perversely reflects upon Elijah, as if his prayers, which had brought the famine on the land, had for her sin brought death into her family. Note; (1.) The more unexpectedly the stroke falls, the more difficult it is at first to be resisted. (2.) In our troubles we are apt to quarrel with our best friends. (3.) We speak that in haste, which, in our cooler hours, we cannot but condemn. (4.) When God visits our families, we should humbly confess and acknowledge our sins, which are the causes of our troubles.

3. Elijah exceedingly interests himself in her affliction, and, taking the dead child from her bosom, retires to lay the sad case before a compassionate God. He cries with importunity, pleads his interest with God, humbly reasons with him on the poor widow's afflictions, whose kindness had been so great to him, and whose circumstances were so pitiable; and stretching himself on the child, as if longing to re-kindle the vital heat in the lifeless clay, he fervently entreats that God who can awake the dead, to restore again the soul (which supposes its separate existence,) to the deserted corpse. Note; (1.) If we have christian hearts, we shall not behold the sorrows of the afflicted without tender sympathy, and a strong desire to relieve their distresses. (2.) Is Elijah so earnest to restore a dead body, and ought not Christ's ministers to be as importunate with him to quicken poor souls dead in trespasses and sins? (3.) Not all our prayers and labours can effect this spiritual resurrection, but God's power alone.

4. God hears, and graciously answers him. The child, though dead, revived, and with joy Elijah brought him down to the transported mother. Her faith had before wavered: after all that she had seen and known, she almost doubted whether he were a man of God; so apt are sore temptations to bring us under the power of unbelief.
But now she is assured of it to demonstration, and without doubt professes her full confidence in all that he had told her, whether concerning the God of Israel, or the prophesies yet to be fulfilled. Note; As the oak grows more rooted by tempestuous winds, so faith grows stronger after the blasts of temptation.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 Kings 17". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/1-kings-17.html. 1801-1803.
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