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ELIJAH'S RETURN AND THE ORDEAL OF MOUNT CARMEL.—The preceding chapter having been exclusively occupied with the fortunes of Elijah during his enforced absence of three and a half years from the land of Israel, we are left to conjecture what the course of events in the northern kingdom during this period of drought and suffering must have been. But it is not difficult to picture in our minds the steadily increasing alarm and distress which the solemn ban he had pronounced must have occasioned. At one time, it may be, especially if the prophet up to that period had been unknown, both king and people, under the malign influence of Jezebel, professed to regard his threatening with contempt, the more so as the priests of Baal would not fail to assure them of the protection and blessing of "the Lord" of nature. But as the months and years passed by, and neither dew nor rain fell—as the heavens were brass and the earth iron—and the pastures languished, and the fruits of the earth failed, and the cisterns became dry, and man and child and beast began to suffer the extremities of thirst, we cannot doubt that the tone and temper of the country underwent a great change. At first, threats had been freely uttered against Elijah, who was perversely regarded as the author of all this misery, and that and the neighbouring countries were scoured to find him. Moreover reprisals were made on the system which he represented, by a fierce persecution of the prophetic order, of which he was recognized as the head. But it is probable that when the drought lasted into the third and fourth year, and when absolute ruin and death stared the country in the face, that then defiance had given place to dread and regret in every bosom, save, perhaps, that of the queen and the sycophants who ate of her table. The conviction was steadily gaining possession of the minds of all Israel that Baal and Ashtoreth were vanities, and that the Lord alone made the heavens and covered them with clouds. The great drought, and the manifold sufferings which it entailed—sufferings which the animated description of the prophet Joel (Joel 1:1-20.) enables us to realize—were doing their work. The heart of the people was being slowly turned backward, and in the third year of his sojourn at Zarephath the time was ripe for Elijah'e return, which our author now describes, together with the striking results which followed it. In the first fifteen verses, we have the meeting of Elijah and Obadiah; in Obadiah 1:16-20, the meeting of Elijah and Ahab; Oba 1:21 -38 describe the ordeal of Mount Carmel; verses 39, 40, its immediate results; while the remainder of the chapter depicts Elijah's prayer for rain, the bursting of the storm, and the return to Jezreel.
1 Kings 18:1
And it came to pass after [This word is wanting in the Heb. except in a few MSS.] many days that the word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year [From what date is this "third year" to be counted? The prima facie view is that the words refer to "these years" mentioned in 1 Kings 17:1, i.e; to the date of the announcement of the drought, and this is the interpretation of the Rabbins and some of the modems. But it is almost fatal to this view that the duration of the drought is distinctly stated in the New Testament to have been "three years and six months" (Luke 4:25; James 5:17). It is every way better, therefore, to connect the words with 1 Kings 17:7, i.e; with the date of the sojourn at Zarephath. It follows hence that the prophet spent about one year in the Wady Cherith, and two and a half in the house of the widow], saying, Go, show thyself [Heb. be seen] unto Ahab; and I will send [Heb. give] rain upon the earth. [Heb. on the face of the ground. Cf. 1 Kings 17:14.]
1 Kings 18:2
And Elijah went to show himself unto Ahab. And [or Now. It would, perhaps, have been better to begin a new verse here, as this is the beginning of a parenthesis, explanatory of the circumstances under which king and prophet met. It was the famine led to Obadiah's encountering Elijah on the road] there was a sore famine in Samaria. [The effect of a three years' drought would be to reduce the entire people to the verge of starvation. The severity of the famine was no doubt mitigated, as on a former occasion (Genesis 41:57), by the importation of corn from Egypt.]
1 Kings 18:3
And Ahab called [Rather, had called. "The verbs וַיְּהִי וַיּקְרָא etc. (1 Kings 18:3, 1 Kings 18:4, 1 Kings 18:5, 1 Kings 18:6), carry on the circumstantial clauses" (Keil).] Obadiah [This name is almost as remarkable as Elijah's, or would be, if it were not more common. It means "servant of Jehovah." Compare the modern Arabic Abdallah. Although borne by one who "feared the Lord greatly" (Obadiah 1:3), and "from his youth" (Obadiah 1:12), it occurs too frequently (1 Chronicles 3:21; 1 Chronicles 7:3; 1Ch 8:38; 1 Chronicles 9:16; 2 Chronicles 17:7; 2 Chronicles 34:12; Ezra 8:9; Obadiah 1:1; etc.) to justify the belief that it was assumed or bestowed as an indication of his character (Rawlinson)], which was the governor of his [Heb. over the] house. [See note on 1 Kings 4:6, and cf. 1 Kings 16:9. Rawlinson says it "tells in favour of the monarch's tolerance that he should have maintained an adherent of the old religion in so important an office." But it is just as probable that it was because of his religion that he occupied this post of trust. Ahab could depend on his fidelity and conscientiousness]. (Now Obadiah [here begins a second parenthesis within the first] feared [Heb. was fearing] the Lord greatly.
1 Kings 18:4
For it was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord [Our author now instances a proof of Obadiah's devotion. The incident to which he refers is otherwise unknown to us, nor can we refer it with certainty to its proper place in the history. But it is extremely probable that this work of extermination was begun as an act of reprisals for the drought denounced by Elijah. Obadiah 1:13 almost implies that it had taken place during his absence. We see here, consequently, an additional reason for his flight (cf. 1 Kings 19:2). These "prophets" are the same as those elsewhere called the "sons of the prophets, i.e; members of the prophetic schools; cf. 2 Kings 2:3, 2 Kings 2:5, 2 Kings 2:7, etc.] that Obadiah took an hundred prophets [This would lead us to suppose that the great majority escaped. But see Obadiah 1:19 and 1 Kings 22:6. That we find so large a number still in the land, notwithstanding the exodus (2 Chronicles 11:16), and the steady growth of impiety, shows that God had not left Himself without witnesses], and hid them by fifty [Keil would insert a second הֲחמִשִׁים as do some MSS. (Gardiner), and as in 1 Kings 22:13. Such a word might easily be omitted in transcription, it is true. But "proclivi lectioni," etc.] in a cave [Heb. the cave; but LXX. ἐν σπηλαὶῳ. Similarly in verse 13. What is the force of the article here it is somewhat difficult to say. It has been suggested that these caves were in the sides of Mount Carmel; there are large caves under the western cliffs (Stanley); more than two thousand, according to others; "often of great length and extremely tortuous"; but this is mere guesswork, as Palestine, being of limestone formation, abounds in caverns. See Stanley, S. and P. pp. 151, 52. From the earliest times we find men—outlaws and the like—taking up their abode therein. Of. Joshua 10:17; Jdg 6:2; 1 Samuel 22:1; Ezekiel 33:27; Hebrews 11:38. Probably the division into two companies was partly for the sake of security (see Genesis 22:8), and partly for the sake of convenience. The greater the number to be fed, the greater the chance of detection. Compare also Jacob's precautions Genesis 32:8], and fed them with bread [or, food] and water.) [It is to be observed, as bearing on 1 Kings 17:3-6, that these hundred prophets, though preserved by the special providence of God, were nevertheless maintained through human agency and by natural means.
1 Kings 18:5
And Ahab said [had said] unto Obadiah, Go into [Heb. in] the land, unto all fountains [Heb. places of fountains. Cf. with מַעְיָן from מָאוֹר עַיִן from אוֹר etc.] of water, and unto all brooks [wadies; see on 1 Kings 17:3]: peradventure we may find grass to save the horses and mules alive [It has been inferred from Ahab's concern for his stud that he viewed the sufferings of his subjects with comparative indifference, or at least regarded them as of altogether secondary importance. But this is a too hasty conclusion. His subjects were, for the most part, as well able to find water for themselves as he was for them, and he might safely trust to their instinct of self preservation to do their best to meet the emergency. But the dumb cattle, con. fined to the stall, could not act for themselves. Hence this expedition in search of fodder], that we lose not all the beasts. [Marg. that we cut not ourselves off from, etc. But this rendering, and still more that of the text, misinterprets the force of the Hiphil נַקְרִית. The literal translation is, "That we may not have to cut off from (i.e; a portion of, מִן partitive, as in 1 Kings 17:13 below, מגְּבִיאֵי). What Ahab means is that, unless they soon find fodder, they will have to slaughter a portion of their animals. So Bähr, Und nicht von dem Vieh (einen Theil) umbringen mussen. Similarly Keil.]
1 Kings 18:6
So they divided the land between them to pass throughout it ["This personal inspection by the king and one of his chief officers marks the extreme straits to which the Israelites were now reduced" (Rawlinson). The difference, however, between an Eastern and an European monarch must not be overlooked. "None (of the emirs of Arabia or the chiefs of central Asia) think it beneath them to lead an expedition in search of grass or water" (Kitto)]: Ahab went one way by himself [Heb. alone. Rawlinson says, "This does not mean that either Ahab or Obadiah was unaccompanied by a retinue," but it may very well mean that (לבַד, solus; LXX. μόνος; Bähr allein. Cf. verse 22), if, indeed, it must not necessarily mean it; and Obadiah 1:14 certainly implies that Obadiah at least was unattended], and Obadiah went another way by himself.
1 Kings 18:7
And as Obadiah Was in the way, behold, Elijah met him [Heb. to meet him]: and he knew [i.e; recognized. Same word, Genesis 27:23; Genesis 43:7, etc.] him, and fell on his face, and said, Art thou that [Heb. this, probably used adverbially (like hic) for here = בָּזֶה] my lord Elijah? [The humble obeisance and the terms in which he addresses him alike show the profound reverence with which Obadiah regarded him, as well he might do, considering the terrible power he wielded. The whole land was, so to speak, at his mercy.]
1 Kings 18:8
And he answered him; I am [Heb. I]: go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here. [The last two words are not in the Hebrew, and the sentence is much more graphic without them.]
1 Kings 18:9
And he said, What have I sinned, that thou wouldst deliver [Heb. that thou art giving] thy servant into the hand of Ahab, to slay me?
1 Kings 18:10
As the Lord thy God liveth [Obadiah uses precisely the same adjuration as the widow of Zarephath, 1 Kings 17:12. But then, though Jehovah was undoubtedly his God, He was in a more special and intimate manner Elijah's God. The oath corresponds well with the prophet's name], there is no nation or kingdom, whither my lord hath not sent to seek thee [Keil says the hyperbole is to be explained by the "inward excitement and fear" of the speaker. But the Orientals use similar exaggerations in their calmest moments. All that is meant is that all neighbouring and accessible courts had been communicated with. This search for Elijah shows that Ahab regarded him as the author of the drought, and did not recognize it as sent by God. The belief in occult and magical powers has always held possession of the Eastern mind]: and when they said, He is not there [Heb. Not, and he, etc.]; he took an oath [LXX. ἐνέπρησε, which has been thought by some to point to acts of vengeance. But more probably it is a clerical error, perhaps for ὥρκισε, or ἐνώρκισε. On the frequency of oaths in that age see on 1 Kings 1:51] of the kingdom and nation, that they found thee not.
1 Kings 18:11
And now thou sayest, Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here. [Heb. Behold, Elijah. Obadiah echoes the words of Obadiah 1:8.]
1 Kings 18:12
And it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from thee, that [Heb. I shall go from thee, and] the Spirit of the Lord shall carry thee whither I know not [These words, which literally translated are "shall lift thee up upon where," etc; are to be explained by 2 Kings 2:16, "lest the Spirit of the Lord hath taken him up" (same word) "and cast him upon some mountain," etc. Seb. Schmidt, Wordsworth, al. think that such a transportation must have already occurred in the history of Elijah, but the sudden, mysterious disappearance and the long concealment of the prophet is quite sufficient to account for Obadiah's fear. Compare Acts 8:39. The words do suggest, however, that it had been believed by some that the Lord had hid Elijah, and it is not improbable that during his long absence rumours had often gained credence that he had been seen and had suddenly disappeared, just as later Jews have held that he "has appeared again and again as an Arabian merchant to wise and good Rabbis at their prayers or in their journeys" (Stanley)]; and so when I come and tell [Heb. and I come to tell] Ahab, and he cannot find thee, he shall slay me [This is just what a prince like Ahab, or any prince who was under the guidance of a Jezebel, would do, out of sheer vexation at losing his prey when so nearly in his grasp]: but [Heb. and] I thy servant fear the Lord from my youth. [Obadiah's meaning clearly is not that he, "as a God-fearing man and a protector of the prophets, cannot have any special favour to expect from Ahab" (Keil; similarly Ewald), but that it was hard that one who was a steadfast worshipper of Elijah's God should be slain for his sake. It is extremely unlikely that Ahab knew of Obadiah's having protected the prophets. He could hardly have maintained him in his post had he known that the steward of the palace had thwarted the designs of his queen.]
1 Kings 18:13
Was it not told my lord what I did when Jezebel slew the prophets of the Lord how I hid an hundred men of [Heb. from] the Lord's prophets by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water? [Stanley happily calls Obadiah "the Sebastian of this Jewish Diocletian."]
1 Kings 18:14
And now thou sayest [="This is to be the reward of my devotion, is it?"], GO, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah Is here: and he shall slay me.
1 Kings 18:15
And Elijah said, As the Lord of hosts liveth, before whom I stand [This formula should be compared with that of 1 Kings 17:1. The repetition is suggestive as exhibiting the habit of the man. He was the ready and patient slave of Jehovah. The צְבָאוֹתis apparently introduced not so much to "elevate the solemnity of the oath" (Keil, Bähr)—for surely Elijah would wish to make the affirmation of 1 Kings 17:1 as strong and solemn as possible—nor yet to convey the meaning that "it is not Baal or Ashtaroth who are the rulers of the heavenly bodies" (Wordsworth), for Obadiah knew that perfectly well, but because it was thus better adapted for a believer. In addressing Ahab it suited Elijah's purpose better to give prominence to the idea that Jehovah was "the God of Israel"], I will surely show myself unto him today.
1 Kings 18:16
So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him: and Ahab went [Very readily, it would seem. Anything was better than suspense and famine. And Elijah's very return contained in it a promise of rain] to meet Elijah.
1 Kings 18:17
And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him Art thou he [Rather, here: same words as in 1 Kings 18:7. "Do I at last see thee again? Hast thou ventured into my presence?"] that troubleth Israel? [Heb. thou troubler of Israel. For the word (עָכַר) see Genesis 24:30; Joshua 6:18; Joshua 7:25; Proverbs 11:17; 1 Samuel 14:29. When Rawlinson says that this charge of troubling Israel has "never been before brought against any one but Achan," he apparently forgets the passage last cited. "My father hath troubled the land." Wordsworth paraphrases, "Art thou the Achan of Israel?" but it is very doubtful whether this thought was in Ahab's mind.]
1 Kings 18:18
And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy fathers house [It has been supposed that Ahab "hoped to abash the Tishbite, perhaps to have him at his feet suing for pardon" (Rawlinson). If so, he must have completely misjudged his man. And why the prophet should sue for pardon, when he was so clearly master of the situation, it is difficult to imagine. It is quite as likely that Ahab expected denunciation and defiance such as he now provokes], in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou [The change from plural to singular is instructive. Preceding kings and the people at large had broken God's commandments by the calf-worship, but Ahab alone had introduced the Baal-cultus into the land] hast followed [Heb. goest after] Baalim. [The plural may either refer to the various names and forms under which Baal was worshipped—Baal-Berith, Baal-Zebub, etc. (Bähr, al.)—or more probably to the various images or statues of this god set up in the land (Gesenius). "This boldness, this high tone, this absence of the slightest indication of alarm, seems to have completely discomfited Ahab, who ventured on no reply," etc. (Rawlinson). It is probable that, though he put on a bold front, he was from the first thoroughly cowed.
1 Kings 18:19
Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel [i.e; by representation, the heads of the people, elders, etc. Cf. 1Ki 8:2, 1 Kings 8:65; 1 Kings 12:16, 1Ki 12:18; 1 Kings 16:16, 1 Kings 16:17] unto Mount Carmel [Heb; as almost always, the Carmel, i.e; the park. Cf. 1 Samuel 25:1-5. It is "the park of Palestine." It is indebted for this name to the luxuriant vegetation—"the excellency of Carmel" (Isaiah 35:2)—which clothes its southern slopes. It is now generally called Mar (i.e; Lord or Saint) Elyas, after the great prophet. No one who has seen the locality can have any doubts as to which part of the mountain was the scene of the sacrifice, or can fail to be struck with the singular fitness of the place to be the theatre of this thrilling history. Carmel is rather a ridge than a mountain, some twelve miles in length. Its western (or strictly N.N.W.) extremity is a bold headland, some 600 feet in height, which dips almost directly into the waters of the Mediterranean. Its highest point, 1728 feet above the sea level, is about four miles from its eastern extremity, which, at an elevation of 1600 feet, rises like a wall from the great plain of Esdraelon. It is at this point, there can be no question, we are to place the scene of the burnt sacrifice. The identification has only been effected in comparatively recent days, but it is beyond dispute. Not only does the Arab name which it bears—El Murahkah, "the Burning," or "Sacrifice"—afford striking witness to the identity, but the situation and surroundings adapt themselves with such wonderful precision to the requirements of the narrative as to leave no reasonable doubt in the mind. For
(1) it is a sort of natural platform, or pulpit, raised 1000 feet above the adjoining plain, and therefore well calculated to afford a view of the proceedings, or at least of the descent of the Holy Fire, to spectators of all Israel. The flame would probably be seen by Jezebel in her palace at Jezreel. This eminence is visible from Nazareth, some twenty miles away. "There is not a more conspicuous spot on all Carmel than the abrupt, rocky height of El Murahkah, shooting up so suddenly on the east". "The summit… commands the last view of the sea behind and the first view of the great plain in front" (Stanley). In fact, it was in its way just as well adapted for the solemn vindication of the law which took place there as Jebel Sufsafeh was for the giving of the law.
(2) A sort of plateau near the summit—the table land where the altars were built, etc.—would accommodate a vast number of spectators (1 Samuel 25:21).
(3) There is a spring of water close at hand—less than 100 yards distant—and a spring which is said to flow even in the driest seasons, which would supply the water of which we read in 1Sa 25:4, 1 Samuel 25:33-35. Josephus (Ant. 8.13, 5) says it came from the fountain.
(4) The sea, though not visible from the plateau itself, is seen from a point some 300 feet higher, a detail which accords admirably with the account of 1 Samuel 25:42-44. It may be added that the place is still held sacred by the Druses, and reverenced by "Jews, Christians, Moslems, and Bedouin as the site of these miracles of Elijah" (Thomson). The traveller, consequently, cannot doubt for a moment, as he stands on the table-land of El Murahkah and looks across the great plain to Jezreel and the heights of Galilee and Samaria, that he is on the very spot sanctified by the descent of the heavenly fire. It should be added, as explaining the selection of Carmel by Elijah, that its situation is central end convenient; that it is near the sea, from whence the rain clouds would come; that it is easy of access from Jezreel; and that it was not only a holy place from earlier times (cf. 2 Kings 4:23), but also had its altar of Jehovah, an altar, no doubt, in constant use when the people "sacrificed and burnt incense on the high places," but which had in later days fallen into neglect, and was now broken down. It was every way, therefore, a most appropriate locality for the public vindication of the despised and outraged law of God. "No place could be conceived more fitted by nature to be that wondrous battlefield of truth" (Tristram in Wordsworth)], and the prophets of Baal [so called not because they were Weissager und Verkunder (Bähr) of the god, nor yet because they were teachers and emissaries of his religion, but because of the prophetic frenzy (1 Samuel 25:28) into which they worked themselves (Keil)] four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves [Heb. of the Asherah, i.e; of Astarte, not "grove," as 'Rawlinson. See note on 1 Kings 14:15] four hundred [Rawlinson remarks that "the number 400 seems to have been one especially affected by Ahab." He reminds us that we find 400 prophets at the close of his reign (1 Kings 22:6), and also remarks on "the prevalence of the number 40 in the religious systems of the Jews (Exodus 36:24, Exodus 36:26; Deuteronomy 25:1-19 :"3, etc.) " But when it is remembered that Baal's prophets were 450, and the prophets of 1 Kings 22:6 were about 400 men, the solitary instance of the 400 prophets of Astarte—who, by the way, were Jezebel's rather than Ahab's ministers—affords but a slender basis for his conclusion], which eat at Jezebel's table. [Heb. eaters of. There is nothing in the Hebrew to imply that they sat with her at the same board; and it is certain that this would be altogether repugnant to Eastern ideas of propriety. All that is meant is that they were fed by her bounty. See note on 1 Kings 2:7.]
1 Kings 18:20
So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto Mount Carmel, ["The persecuting king became a passive instrument in the hand of the persecuted prophet" (Stanley). His ready compliance with Elijah's request, notwithstanding the bitter hatred of the man which he had just betrayed, is easily explained. It was not so much that "he bowed before the spiritual supremacy of the prophet, which impressed him" (Bähr), as that he hoped, from his reappearance, that he was now about to speak the word (1 Kings 17:1) and give rain upon the earth, and Ahab was willing to take any measures which would conduce w that result. It would take some days to collect the representatives of the tribes.]
1 Kings 18:21
And Elijah came unto all the people [He is concerned not so much with the king as the people of the Lord. His object was not "to prove that Ahab and not he had troubled Israel," but to prove that Jehovah and not Baal was God. There is abundant room on the plateau, or "wide upland sweep" (Stanley), above referred to, to accommodate a large concourse of people], and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? [This is a faithful and felicitous rendering. But it must be remembered that "halt" is used in the sense of "limp." Vulg. Usquequo claudicatis in duas partes. The same word is used in 1 Kings 18:26 of the swaying, tottering dance of the Baal prophets.] If the Lord be God [Heb. if Jehovah the God], follow him [Heb. go (i.e; walk straight) after him]: but if Baal, then follow him And the people answered him not a word. [Not only were they awed by the presence of the king and the priests of Baal on the one side, and of Elijah on the other, but they were "convicted by their own consciences," and so were speechless (Matthew 22:12).]
1 Kings 18:22
Then said Elijah unto the people, l, even I only, remain [Heb. I, I am left alone. Cf. Genesis 32:24; μονώτατος] a prophet of the Lord [Thenius hence concludes that the "hundred prophets" of whom we read in Genesis 32:4, Genesis 32:13 had been discovered in their hiding place and had been put to death. But this by no means follows from Elijah's statement here or in Genesis 19:10 (where see note); and we know that the schools of the prophets had not ceased to exist (2 Kings 2:3, 2Ki 2:5, 2 Kings 2:7; cf. 1 Kings 22:8). All that Elijah says is that he stood that day alone as a prophet of Jehovah. "I only remain in the exercise of the office of a prophet" (Rawlinson). The rest might well hesitate, after me fierce persecution which they had undergone, to face the king and their bitter enemies, the Baal prophets. It must be remembered that Elijah had had no opportunity of communicating with them, and he may have been quite ignorant as to what number had remained steadfast and true. One thing he knew, that he alone was left to prophesy, and to confront the whole hierarchy of the false God]; but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men. [It is clear, not only from the silence of this verse and of Genesis 19:25, respecting them, but still more from the fact that they escaped in the general slaughter (verse 40), that the prophets of Astarte were not present, and the natural inference is that either Jezebel had forbidden their presence or that they shrank from the ordeal. The LXX. inserts "and the prophets of the grove, four hundred," but the words are evidently added from Genesis 19:19. The Baal prophets would doubtless have been only too glad to do the same, but they were under the immediate command of the king. It is not certain that they had any forebodings of evil, or dreaded reprisals on Elijah's part, but they had had proof conclusive of his power and of their impo-fence. We must remember that all through the triennium prayers and sacrifices had, no doubt, been constantly offered with a view to procure rain. We learn from Menander (Jos; Joshua 8:1-35.Joshua 8:13. Joshua 8:2) that even in Phoenicia supplication had been made for rain by Ethabaal.
1 Kings 18:23
Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces [same word Exodus 29:17; Le Exodus 1:6, Exodus 1:12; Judges 20:6], and lay it on wood [Heb. the woods], and put no fire under [Heb. and fire they shall not set to]: and I win dress [Heb. make, עָשָׂה, like ποιεῖν in the LXX; is constantly used in a sacrificial sense = offer. Cf. Exodus 29:36, Exodus 29:38, Exodus 29:41; Le Exodus 9:7; Exodus 15:15; Judges 6:19, etc. This is to be remembered in interpreting our Lord's τοῦτο ποιεῖτε κ.τ.λ. (Luke 22:19)] the other bullock, and lay it on wood [the wood], and put no fire under [and fire I will not set to]:
1 Kings 18:24
And call ye on the name of your gods [As Elijah is still addressing the people, not the prophets of Baal (see 1 Kings 18:25), this change of person is significant. He sorrowfully assumes that they have taken Baal and Astarte for their gods], and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the Clod that answereth by fire, let him be God. [Heb. he shall be the God, i.e; the true God and their God. Cf. verse 39. Not only was a "sign from heaven" (Mark 8:11) ever esteemed a more powerful and direct proof of Divine energy—perhaps as being less liable to be counterfeited, and as excluding the idea of the operation of infernal powers (Matthew 12:24)—but it must be remembered that Baal claimed to be the Sun god and Lord of the elements and forces of nature; while Jehovah bad already, according to the law, identified Himself with this token (Le Hebrews 9:24; 1 Chronicles 21:26; 2 Chronicles 7:1). Indeed, this sign had a double fit. ness as a test of the true religion. It would not only put the powers of the rival deities to the proof; it would also at the same time decide which of the rival systems of worship was acceptable to the Supreme Being. It is observable that there is no mention of rain. We might have expected, after the long drought, that this would be the test. But that could not be promised until the Lord had first been recognized as God.] And all the people answered and said, Is well spoken. [Heb. Good the word. They accepted Elijah's proposition, but whether eagerly or reluctantly it is difficult to say. The Hebrew merely conveys that they admitted its fairness and reasonableness.
Having gained the assent of the people, for whose verdict he and the Baal prophets were now contending, and who were, consequently, entitled to be consulted as to the sign which would satisfy them, he turns to the band of 400 prophets, who, probably in all the bravery of their sacrificial vestments (2 Kings 10:22), occupied a separate position on the hill top, between the king and the people, and repeats his proposal to them.
1 Kings 18:25
And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress [or offer, as in 1 Kings 18:23] it first; for ye are many [Heb. the many. Every pre-eminence and advantage which he gives to them will make his triumph, when it comes, all the greater. It is quite possible that he meant again to hint at their immense superiority in point of numbers. But no doubt he was only too glad to find a reason for their taking the lead. "He is anxious that their inability shall be fully manifested before he shows his own power" (Rawlinson). Whether the idea was also present in his mind that they "could prepare their victim in a much shorter time than he could prepare his" (ib.) is by no means so certain]; and call on the name of your gods [or god, i.e; Baal], but put no fire under. [The repetition (cf. verse 24) shows that the ordeal was proposed separately to the people and the prophets.]
1 Kings 18:26
And they took the bullock which was given them [Heb. which he (or one) gave; i.e; they declined to choose], and they dressed it, and called on the name of from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us [Heb. answer us. Same word as below. They thought they would be heard for their much speaking]. But there was no voice [Heb. and not a voice], nor any that answered. And they leaped [or limped. Same word as that translated "halt" in verse 21. Gesenius thinks the word is "used scornfully of the awkward dancing of the priests of Baal." But it seems more natural to understand it as descriptive of what actually occurred, i.e; of the reeling, swaying, bacchantie dance of the priests, which was probably not unlike that of the dancing dervishes or the Indian devil worshippers of our own time] upon [or near, i.e; around] the altar which was made, [Heb. he, that is, one made, עָשָׂה impersonal. But some MSS. and most versions read עָשׁוּ].
1 Kings 18:27
And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked [or deceived] them, and said, Cry aloud [Heb. with a great voice]: for he is a god [i.e; in your estimation. "Here is one of the few examples of irony in Scripture" (Wordsworth)]; either he is talking [the marg. he meditateth is preferable. Cf. 1 Samuel 1:16; Psalms 142:3. But the word has both meanings (see 2 Kings 9:11), fairly preserved in the LXX; ἀδολεσχία αὐτῷ ἐστι], or he is pursuing [Heb. for he hath a withdrawal, i.e; for the purpose of relieving himself. A euphemism. Cf. Judges 3:24; 2 Samuel 24:3. Stanley attempts to preserve the paronomasia, שִׂיג שִׂיח, by the translation, "he has his head full" and "he has his stomach full"], or he is in a Journey [the thrice repeated כִי must be noticed. It heightens the effect of the mockery], or peradventure he sleepeth [Though it was noon, it is not clear that there is a reference to the usual midday siesta of the East], and must be awaked.
1 Kings 18:28
And they cried aloud [Heb. in a great voice, as above. It was not that they took Elijah's words au serieux, but his scorn led them to redouble their efforts, if only to testify their faith in their god. The frantic cries of the Greek Easter in Jerusalem, the prayers of the pilgrims for the descent of the holy fire, may help us to realize the scene here described], and cut themselves [cf. Deuteronomy 14:1; Jeremiah 16:6; Jeremiah 41:5; Jeremiah 47:5] after their manner [Keil quotes from Movers, Phoniz. 1. pp. 682-83, a description of the religious dances offered to the Dea Syria. "A discordant howling opens the scene. Then they rush wildly about in perfect confusion, with their heads bowed down to the ground, but always revolving in circles, so that the loosened hair drags through the mire; then they begin to bite their arms, and end with cutting themselves with the two-edged swords which they are in the habit of carrying. A new scene then opens. One of them, who surpasses all the rest in frenzy, begins to prophesy with sighs and groans," etc. In the "Contemporary Review," vol. 27, pp. 371 sqq; Bishop Caldwell has graphically described the devil dances of Southern India—a description which may be read with profit in this connexion. One sentence may be transcribed here: "He cuts and hacks and hews himself, and not unfrequently kills himself there and then." Kitto mentions "the furious gashes which the Persians inflict upon themselves in their frantic annual lamentation for Hossein." Rawlinson says this was also common among the Carians and Phrygians] with knives [Heb. swords] and lancets [Heb. lances, spears. The A.V. is misleading. The instruments they used were weapons of heavy-armed troops. For רְמָחִים, see Numbers 25:7; Judges 5:8; Jeremiah 46:4], till the blood gushed out upon them. [Heb. until the shedding of blood upon them. It is perfectly clear that their faith in Baal was sincere and profound. Making due allowance for the fact that they were under the eyes of their king and patron, and of representatives of the entire people, it is still impossible to doubt their sincerity. Some of them, it is probable, were Phoenicians. "Of one thing I am assured—the devil dancer never shams excitement" (Caldwell).]
1 Kings 18:29
And it came to pass, when midday was past [Elijah allowed them all the time he could, consistently with the great work he had himself to do, which would absorb all the rest of the day], and they prophesied [Notice the striking coincidence with the description of the worship of Ashtoreth given above. We are not to think of vaticinations, but of frenzied cries, etc. It is not clear, however, that any fresh element in their worship is intended, as Keil imagines. Their service as a whole, seeing they were prophets, would be called a "prophesying," and the word, consequently, may merely mean "they pursued their calling," "they cried and prayed," etc.] until the time of the offering [Keil and Rawlinson would translate, "until towards the time," etc. There is certainly some indefiniteness in the words עַד לַעֲלוֹת, until [the hour] for placing, etc; but we may well believe that their dances and cries continued up to the moment of Elijah's prayer (1 Kings 18:36)] of the evening sacrifice [Heb. the Minchah, i.e; the meat offering or unbloody sacrifice. In Genesis 4:3-6 the word would appear to be used of any offering; but at a later day it was restricted to bloodless offerings, and was opposed to זֶבַח Cf. Psalms 40:7; Jeremiah 17:26. Directions as to the offering of the Minchah are given, Exodus 29:38-41; Numbers 28:3-8. The evening sacrifice was probably offered then, as it certainly was at a later day, at the ninth hour. Cf. Acts 3:1; Acts 10:3, Acts 10:30, and see Jos; Ant. 14.4. 3. Wordsworth think, this synchronism very significant, as suggesting that the true worship of God was that of the temple in Jerusalem], that there was neither voice, nor any to answer [as in Acts 10:26], nor any that regarded. [Heb. and not attention. The LXX has a curious variation and addition here: "And Elijah the Tishbite said to the prophets of the idols, Stand back; I will now make ready my offering."]
1 Kings 18:30
And Elijah said unto all the people [He has now done with the priests. They have had their opportunity; his turn is come], Come dear unto me. [Hitherto they had gathered round the altar of Baal, and some, it may he, had joined their prayers to those of the priests (1 Kings 18:24). In 1 Kings 18:21, he "drew near"—same word—to them. Now they must stand round the altar he is about to build. He will have "eyewitnesses and ear-witnesses" (Keil). There must be no suspicion of imposture.] And all the people came near unto him And he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down. [It has been already suggested that this altar may have dated from the time when there was no house built unto the name of the Lord. But it is just as likely that it had been restored, if not raised, by some of the "seven thousand who had not bowed their knees unto Baal," or by some of the faithful remaining in Israel after the calf-worship and the hostility between the two kingdoms had made worship at Jerusalem an impossibility. Anyhow we can hardly be mistaken in holding that this was one of the "altars" (1 Kings 19:10), thrown down" by command of Ahab or Jezebel. Elijah's repairing it wag an act of profound significance. It showed him as the restorer of the law and the true religion.]
1 Kings 18:31
And Elijah took twelve stones [This number, too, was full of significance. Not only would it carry back their thoughts to the giving of the law (Exodus 24:4; Exodus 28:21), and to their fathers' entrance into the promised land (Joshua 4:3, Joshua 4:9), but it would remind them of the essential unity of the people, notwithstanding the division of the kingdom. The act was thus a protest against the schism. We cannot hold with Keil, Wordsworth, al. that it was "a practical declaration on the part of the prophet that the division of the nation into two kingdoms was at variance with the will of God," because we are distinctly told that that division was "from the Lord" (1 Kings 12:15). But it was certainly a witness against a divided Church, and a reminder of the unity of the race], according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the Lord came [Genesis 32:28], saying, Israel shall be thy name. [He thus protests against the exclusive assumption of the name of Israel, and the exception of the southern kingdom from the glorious heritage and calling of Israel, by the ten tribes. But we cannot follow Bähr in the belief that Jacob received "from Jehovah the name of Israel," i.e; the "soldier of God," because he commanded his house to "put away the strange gods" (Genesis 35:2, Genesis 35:10 sqq.), or that Elijah would teach that "only those who did as Jacob did had a claim to his name." The great idea is that the people are one, and are the Lord's.]
1 Kings 18:32
And with the stones [the twelve he had chosen out of the ruins. Cf. Exodus 20:25] he built an altar in the name of the Lord [not "by the command of Jehovah" (Bähr), but rather as the minister and for the service of Jehovah, or, as Keil. "by the authority and for the glory of Jehovah." Nor is it certain that "he called, as he Built it, on the name of Jehovah, and so dedicated it to His service" (Rawl.) See Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:4; Genesis 33:20; Genesis 35:7]: and he made a trench [or channel, 2 Kings 18:17; Isaiah 7:3; Isaiah 36:2; Ezekiel 31:4. The word implies that it was for holding the water, not for keeping off the people] about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed [Heb. as the inside (lit; house) of two seahs of seed. These words have been variously interpreted. Keil, with Thenius and Wordsworth, understands that "the trench was so large that you could sow two seahs of seed upon the ground which it covered." But apart from the fact that בַּיִת must refer to capacity rather than superficial extent, one does not measure a trench, as Bähr observes, by the ground which it covers, but by its depth. He would follow Gesenius in understanding that the trench was so deep as to hold two seahs of seed; i.e; as deep as the grain measure containing two seahs. The סְאָה was the third of an ephah. Cf. Jos; Ant. 9.4. 5, and the σάτα τρία of Matthew 13:33.]
1 Kings 18:33
And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood [Rawlinson says "He obeyed, that is, all the injunctions of the law with respect to the offering of a burnt sacrifice (see Le 1 Kings 1:3-9), and adds, "He thus publicly taught that all the ordinances of the law were binding on the kingdom of Israel." But it is very probable that the priests of Baal had done the same things. All sacrifice involved such manual acts. Cf. Genesis 22:9, where the same word עָרַךְ is used. No doubt the prophet did everything in an orderly and regular way; but the people could hardly learn a lesson of obedience from such elementary acts as these, and the less so as the law provided, that the sacrifice should be offered only "by the priests, the sons of Aaron" (Le Genesis 1:8), and Elijah's ministrations, consequently, might seem to warrant or condone the ministrations of Jeroboam's intrusive priesthood. That they did not lend any real sanction to those irregularities is clear, however, to us. For, in the first place, priests were not to be had, all having long since left the kingdom. In the second place, the higher commission of the prophet embraced within itself the authority for all necessary priestly Ac. Cf. 1 Samuel 16:2. Elijah acted, as Grotius well observes, jure prophetico, minoribus legibus exsolutus, ut majores servaret], and said, Fill four barrels [Heb. כַדּים. Cf. 1 Kings 17:12. It designates the ordinary water-pitcher, generally carried then, as now, by women: Genesis 24:14-20; Judges 7:16; Ecclesiastes 12:6] with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood. [The water, as already remarked, was doubtless brought from the adjoining spring. "In such springs the water remains always cool, under the shade of a vaulted roof, and with no hot atmosphere to evaporate it. While all other fountains were dried up, I can well understand that there might have been found here that superabundance of water which Elijah poured so profusely over the altar".]
1 Kings 18:34
And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. [Heb. Repeat, and they repeated.] And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time. [See note on 1 Kings 17:21.]
1 Kings 18:35
And the water ran round [Heb. the waters went round] about the altar, and he filled the trench also [i.e; the trench, which was only partially filled with the water of the twelve כַדִּים, he now filled to the brim] with water. [The object of these repeated drenchings of the victim and altar was to exclude all suspicion of fraud. It would almost seem as if tricks not unlike that practised year by year at the Greek Easter at Jerusalem were familiar to that age. Some of the fathers expressly state that the idolatrous priests of an earlier time were accustomed to set fire to the sacrifice from hollow places concealed beneath the altar, and it was an old tradition (found in Ephrem Syrus, and Chrysostom) that the Baal prophets had concealed a man for that purpose beneath their altar, but that he had died from suffocation (Stanley). Bähr, however, sees in these 3 x 4 vessels of water a symbolical act. The significance of this combination, he says, is unmistakable, though we cannot be certain as to the precise meaning of the prophetic act. His only suggestion is that it points to abundance of rain as the reward of keeping the covenant (Deuteronomy 28:12, Deuteronomy 28:23). But all this is extremely precarious, and the more so as the pitchers may have been filled any number of times before the trench was full.]
1 Kings 18:36
And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice [see note on 1 Kings 18:29], that Elijah the prophet [this designation of Elijah is unusual. Cf. Malachi 4:5. Elsewhere he is "the Tishbite," or the "man of God"] came near, and said, Lord [Heb. Jehovah. Not only does the sacred name stand at the head of his prayer, it is also mentioned thrice (LXX. four times)] God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel [Two things are to be noticed here: first, that this formula had only once before been used, and that by God Himself, before the giving of law, at the burning bush. It was when God revealed Himself in flaming fire that He had proclaimed Himself the God of Abraham, etc. Secondly, that the variation "Israel" is made designedly (cf. verse 31), not only to proclaim the Lord as the "God of Israel" (cf. 1 Kings 17:1), but also to suggest that the name and privileges of Israel belonged to all the sons of Jacob. The LXX. adds, "Hear me, O Lord, hear me this day by fire"—most of which is clearly borrowed from the next verse], let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel [according to verse 24, "the God that answereth by fire, etc.], and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things according to thy word. [LXX. διὰ σε. Not only the earlier proceedings of the day, but the three years' drought, etc. Keil would include the miracle about to be performed, but the people could hardly doubt that that, when done, was done according to the Divine word. It is interesting to compare with these words 1 Kings 17:2, 1Ki 17:3, 1 Kings 17:8, 1 Kings 17:16, 1 Kings 17:24, and 1 Kings 18:1, all of which mention the "word of the Lord."]
1 Kings 18:37
Hear me, O Lord [Jehovah], hear me [or answer me; same word as in 1 Kings 18:24, 1 Kings 18:26, and 1 Kings 18:29], that this people may know that thou art the Lord God [Rather, "that thou, Jehovah, art the God." Same expression as in 1 Kings 18:24, "let him be the God"], and that thou hast turned their heart back again. [Cf. Malachi 4:5, Malachi 4:6 : "He "Elijah the prophet") shall turn the heart of the fathers," etc. He speaks as if the miracle were already wrought (cf. John 11:41), and the people already repentant. His prayer is that they may understand that the prodigy about to be performed was wrought for their conversion.]
1 Kings 18:38
Then the fire of the Lord [Jehovah. Not lightning, but supernatural light and heat emanating from God Himself. Cf. Le 1 Kings 9:24; 1 Chronicles 21:26; 2 Chronicles 7:1; Hebrews 12:29] fell, and consumed [Heb. ate up, devoured] the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones [in calcem redigit, Cler.], and the dust [Bähr translates die Erde, and understands this to be the earth with which the altar of twelve stones had been packed. Similarly Rawlinson. But it is very doubtful whether עָפָר pulvis, could be used in this sense. It may mean dry earth, but this altar had been deluged with water], and licked up [לָחַךְ is clearly onomatopoetic, like our lick; Germ. lecken; Gr. λείχω, etc. It expresses well the action of tongues of flame] the water that was in the trench.
1 Kings 18:39
And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces [As in Le 1 Kings 9:24; 2 Chronicles 7:3; cf. Numbers 22:31; Joshua 5:14; Revelation 11:16. They recognized in the fire, that is to say, the token of the Divine Presence]: and they said, The Lord [Jehovah. The connexion of this verse with the three verses preceding is obscured by our translation], he is the God; the Lord, he is the God. [The echo of verse 24. The Hebrew words are the same. Stanley remarks that it is as if (by a slight inversion) they turned "the name of the prophet himself into a war-cry, 'Eli-Jah-hu.'"]
1 Kings 18:40
And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. [Elijah's promptitude is extremely striking. The people had hardly recovered from their terror and awe before he proceeds to judgment. The narrative has the air of truth, and was doubtless reduced to writing by an eye-witness.] And they took them: and Elijah brought them down [Heb. caused them to go down, i.e; had them brought down. He could but lead the way, as they numbered 450] to the brook [Wady. "Like most of the so called ' rivers of Palestine,' the perennial stream forms but a small part of the Kishon" (Grove)] Kishon ["Tortuous," now called Nahr el Mukatta, the "river of slaughter." See Thomson, L. and B. 2. pp. 140, 141; Porter, pp. 383-4; Dict. Bib. 2.p.45. It flows directly under Carmel], and slew them there. [Obviously, he merely superintended the slaughter. That he slew them all with his own hand is altogether out of the question. Nor is it clear that" sword in hand he stood over them" (Stanley). Josephus rightly explains: "they slew the prophets at Elijah's instigation." It is almost certain, from their resorting to the Kishon for this purpose, that it was not quite dry at the time. Their blood would mingle with its waters, and the flood which the "great rain" would presently produce (cf. Judges 5:21) would carry their corpses down to the sea. It has often been supposed that the mound near the Kishon, known as Tell el Cassis, "the mound of the priests," derives its name from this slaughter of the prophets of Baal. But Conder remarks that "Kassis is the word applied to a Christian priest, and the word Kohen or Kamir would more naturally be expected if there was any real connexion with the idolatrous priests of Baal."]
This action of the prophet Elijah in instituting this wholesale slaughter in the hour of his triumph has been repeatedly arraigned and denounced, but most unjustly. According to some, it was an act of gross fanaticism and cruelty; others have seen it in a wild and terrible vendetta for the murder of the Lord's prophets. By some, indeed, it has been justified on the principles of the lex talionis (Exodus 21:24, etc.); on the ground, that is to say, that the men who had instigated Jezebel in her attempted extermination of the prophetic schools had merited extermination in their turn. But it is a fatal objection to their view, first, that we not only have no proof, but no reason for thinking, that it was at their instigation that the queen "cut off the prophets of the Lord;" and, secondly, that it is not clear that she succeeded in her sanguinary purpose, or that many lives were sacrificed to her fury. And Elljah's action needs no such lame apologies. As the Lord's prophet, as the vindicator and restorer of the law, there was no other course open to him. If the Mosaic law was then written, and this very incident is one of the proofs that it was then written; if, however it had fallen into contempt or desuetude, it was still binding upon Israel; and if Elijah was justified in executing its provisions, and was required to execute them, however repugnant they might be to his inclinations (Deuteronomy 27:26; Galatians 3:10), then he could not have done otherwise than he did. For it was an essential part of that law, it was an obligation that was laid, not once or twice, but on three separate occasions (Exodus 22:20; Deuteronomy 13:1-18.; Deuteronomy 17:2-7), on the Jewish people, it was a duty they were to perform, however distressing and harrowing it might be (Deuteronomy 13:6-9), to provide that the worshipper of false gods, and especially the teacher of such worship, should be put to death. It was primarily, of course, the duty of the authorities, of the theocratic king and his subordinates, to execute these injunctions. But the king of that age was corrupt and powerless—nay, was himself idolatrous. So great was the depravity of the time that the false prophet enjoyed the favour and protection of the court, and the true prophet was everywhere being hunted to death. The execution of this law, consequently, could not be expected from the king. It must be executed, if at all, in spite of him, and in disregard of his protests. It was only Elijah, therefore, could put it into force, and Elijah only in the hour of his triumph. And the jus zelotyparum, the right claimed by every faithful Jew to execute vengeance, after the example of Phinehas (Numbers 25:11), upon any gross breach of the Divine law committed in his presence, was not his only warranty; he held a commission, higher than the king's, as the prophet of the Most High. He had just proved that the Lord He was God. It was now for him to prove that God's law was no dead letter. It was for him to cut off the men—some of them renegades from the faith of Israel, some of them foreign emissaries introduced into the land who had corrupted his countrymen, and threatened the very existence of the true religion. It is necessary, therefore, for those who challenge his conduct in this respect, who call him sanguinary, vindictive, etc; to settle their account with the law which he obeyed, and, indeed, with Him who has approved this deed, and has forewarned us that He too will act in like manner (Luke 19:27). For this terrible retribution is by no means an exceptional or isolated act, in contrast to the general spirit of that dispensation; on the contrary, it is in thorough accord with the system out of which it sprung. We gain nothing, therefore, by repudiating this one transaction. For clearly, in the first place, it was allowed and approved of God, who otherwise would hardly have answered the prayer which Elijah presently offered, and (2) other similar acts have distinctly received Divine commendation (Exodus 32:25-28; Numbers 25:7-13; 2 Kings 1:9 sqq.) It is true that the spirit of Elias was not the spirit of Christianity (Luke 9:56), but it is forgotten how different was the dispensation of Elijah from that of the New Covenant. In that age idolaters must receive their just recompense of reward, because the judgment to come had not then been revealed; because justice must be measured out to men in this life. We do not avenge idolatry or irreligion now with fire and sword, not because the thing is any the less sinful, but because the duty has been taken out of our hands; because our religion instructs us to leave it to Him who has said, "Vengeance is Mine," etc. It is perhaps worth remarking here that there is nothing in this history half so dreadful as might be seen on a thousand battlefields—and those not battlefields for truth and right—on which, nevertheless, Elijah's critics have learned to look with complacency. It may, however, be objected to this view that the punishment denounced by the law was stoning (Deuteronomy 13:10; Deuteronomy 17:5). But surely it is easy to see why, in this particular, the law was not kept. It was simply that the exigency of the occasion did not permit of its being kept. It was because the 450 traitors to God and their country could not be stoned within the few hours that remained before the night closed in and the multitude dispersed, that a more speedy punishment, that of the sword, was adopted. And it would have been a sacrifice of the spirit of the law to the letter had some few false prophets been stoned and the rest thereby been afforded the opportunity to escape, and, under Jezebel's protection, to renew their efforts against truth and morality and religion.
1 Kings 18:41
And Elijah said unto Ahab, Get thee up [It is clear from the word עֲלֵה that the king had gone clown with the crowd to the Kishon. Curiosity had perhaps impelled him to witness the slaughter which he was powerless to prevent. And no doubt he had been profoundly awed by the portent he had just witnessed], eat and drink [It is hardly likely that there was aught of derision in these words. It is extremely probable that the excitement of the ordeal was so intense that the king had barely tasted food all day long. Elijah now bids him eat if he can, after what he has witnessed. There is now, he suggests, no further cause for anxiety or alarm. The people being repentant (1 Kings 18:39, 1 Kings 18:40), and the men who have brought a curse on the land being cut off, the drought can now be abated (cf. 2 Samuel 21:1, 2 Samuel 21:6, 2 Samuel 21:14). The next words assign the reason why he should eat and drink. It is a mistake, however (Ewald, Rawlinson), to suppose that he was bidden to "eat of the feast which always followed a sacrifice," for this was a whole burnt offering and had been entirely consumed (1 Kings 18:38). It is probable that the attendants of the king had spread a tent for him upon the plateau, and had brought food for the day along with them]; for there is a sound of abundance of rain [Heb. for a voice of a noise—הָמוֹן; cf. hum, an onomatopoetic word—of rain. Gesenius and Keil think that the prophet could already hear the sound of the drops of rain, but if so, it was only in spirit (cf. verse 45). The words may refer to the rise of the wind which so often precedes a storm, but it is more probable that Elijah speaks of signs and intimations understood only by himself. This was the "word" of 1 Kings 17:1.]
1 Kings 18:42
So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top [Heb. head] of Carmel [It is clear from Verse 43 that this was not the actual summit, nor can it have been, as Bähr supposes, the outermost promontory towards the sea, unless he means the foot or slope of that ridge or promontory, for from this רֹאשׁ the sea was not visible. It also appears from the עֲלֵה of verse 44 that this point must have been at a lower elevation than the plateau where the altar had stood and where Ahab's tent was]; and he cast himself down upon the earth [Same word 2 Kings 4:34, 2 Kings 4:35, of Elisha's prostration upon the dead child. But if Elijah "stretched himself full length" upon the earth, as the Easterns constantly do in prayer (see Thomson, 1:26, 27) it was but for a moment, as we presently find him kneeling], and put his face between his knees. ["The Oriental attitude of entire abstraction" (Stanley). The posture witnessed to the intensity of his supplication.]
1 Kings 18:43
And said to his servant [of whom we now hear for the first time. It is an old tradition that this was none other than the son of the Sareptan, who was afterwards known as the prophet Jonah (Jerome, Praef. in Jonam). See note on 1 Kings 17:24], Go up now, look toward [Heb. the way of] the sea. [It is a striking confirmation of the theory which identifies El Murahkah with the scene of Elijah's sacrifice that the sea, though not visible from the plateau itself, is from the crest of the hill, a few feet higher. Van de Velde writes, "On its west and northwest sides the view of the sea is quite intercepted by an adjacent height. That height may be ascended, however, in a few minutes and a full view of the sea obtained from the top." Similarly the latest authority, Mr. Condor: "The peak is a semi-isolated knoll with a cliff some forty feet high, looking southeast .... The sea is invisible, except from the summit, and thus it was only by climbing to the top of Carmel, from the plateau where the altar may have stood, that the prophet's servant could have seen the little cloud," etc.] And he went up, and looked, and said, There is nothing. And he said, Go again seven times. [Cf. Joshua 6:15-20; 2 Kings 5:14; Matthew 18:21; Psalms 119:164. The idea here is that of sufficiency, of completion, rather than, as elsewhere, of covenant. And yet it must be remembered that Elijah was only praying for what God had already promised to grant (Psalms 119:1). This earnest prayer for rain under these circumstances suggests that the former prayer "that it might not rain" (James 5:17) had also been inspired of God. But it is worth considering whether Elijah's attitude was not one of reverent and assured expectation, as much as of prayer. When Rawlinson says that "the faithfulness and patience shown [by the servant] in executing this order without a murmur, imply devotedness of no common kind," he surely forgets that the drought had lasted for three years and a half, and that the servant had that day seen the fires of God descend at Elijah's prayer. It is inconceivable, under such circumstances, that any man could murmur.]
1 Kings 18:44
And it came to pus at the seventh time, that he said, Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man's hand. [כַף lit; palm, hollow of hand. Cf. Luke 12:54, "When ye see the cloud (Gr. τὴν νεφέλην) arise out of the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it is." "Still in autumn the Utile cloud comes up like a man's hand and swells till huge thunder pillars are piled black and high above the mountains" (Condor). But it is not in Palestine alone that a little cloud on the horizon is frequently the harbinger of rain]. And he said, Go up [see note on Luke 12:42], say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot [Heb. bind], and get thee down [Keil, Stanley, and others assume that Ahab's chariot was waiting at the foot of the mountain. But it is to be noticed that the command to harness the horses precedes that to "go down." The writer rode down from El Murahkah to the plain, and it is quite conceivable that the royal chariot may have conveyed Ahab to the plateau of sacrifice and have waited for him there], that the rain stop thee not, [After heavy rain (גֶּשֶׁם) the Kishon, which "collects the whole drainage of this large basin" (Conder), the Great Plain, soon becomes an impassable swamp.(Judg, 5:21), "I can tell you from experience that in wet seasons it (the Wady) is extremely muddy, and then the Kishon causes great tribulation to the muleteers. Rarely indeed do they get over it without some of their animals sticking fast in its oozy bottom".]
1 Kings 18:45
And it came to pass in the meanwhile [Heb. unto thus and unto thus, i.e; till now and then (cf. Exodus 7:16; Joshua 17:14). Gesen; Bähr, al. support the rendering of the A.V. Ewald, Keil, al. understand "while the hand is being moved hither and thither," i.e; very speedily. The practical difference is not great], that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. ["The cry of the boy from his mountain watch had hardly been uttered when the storm broke upon the plain" (Stanley). "The storm" [over "the dark slate-coloured ridge of Carmel," witnessed by Conder in 1872] "burst suddenly, the rain descending with violence, hissing on the ground, as if not able to come down fast enough, and accompanied with gusts of wind, thunder, and lightning."] And Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel.
1 Kings 18:46
And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah [Same expression 2 Kings 3:15; Ezekiel 1:3; Ezekiel 3:14; Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 33:22; cf. also Exodus 9:3; Judges 2:15; Ruth 1:13; Acts 11:21; Acts 13:11. Some of the commentators understand the words of Divine guidance, some of a supernatural strengthening. There is no need to exclude either interpretation. An impulse from on high impelled him to "gird up his loins" and go with the king; a strength not his own sustained him whilst "he ran," etc. The distance across the plain to Jezreel is about fourteen miles; the royal chariot would drive furiously, and whatever fleetness and endurance the prophet had acquired in the wilds of Gilead, it seems hardly likely that, after the fatigues and excitement of that day, he would have been able, without the hand of the Lord upon him, to keep ahead of the chariot horses], and he girded up his loins [i.e; gathered round his waist the abba, or "mantle"—the אַדֶּרֶת (cf. 1 Kings 19:13, 1Ki 19:19; 2 Kings 2:13, 2 Kings 2:14) was so-called from its ample size—which would otherwise have impeded his movements. Probably this, apart from the girdle, was his sole garment.], and ran before Ahab [Thomson mentions an interesting illustration of this incident which he witnessed. The forerunners of Mohammed All Pasha "kept just ahead of the horses, no matter how furiously they were ridden, and in order to run with the greatest ease they not only girded their loins very tightly, but also tucked up their loose garments under the girdle." But such a spectacle is of common occurrence in the East. Kitto remarks that the Shatirs of Persia keep pace with case with their masters' horses. They also are tightly girded. His object was apparently twofold. First, to honour the sovereign whom he had that day humbled in the presence of his subjects. The great prophet, by assuming the lowly office of a footman, or forernnner (see note on 1 Kings 1:5), would give due reverence to the Lord's anointed, like Samuel on a somewhat similar occasion (1 Samuel 15:30, 1 Samuel 15:31). Secondly, he may have hoped by his presence near the king and court to strengthen any good resolves which the former might have made, and to further the work of reformation which he could not but hope the proceedings of that day would inaugurate. That this tribute of respect would be grateful to Ahab, who hitherto had only regarded Elijah as an adversary, it is impossible to doubt. And that Elijah believed he had struck a death blow to the foreign superstitions fostered by the court, and especially by the queen, is equally certain. It is not clear, as Bähr assumes, that his servant accompanied him on the road. He may have rejoined him later on in the day or night] to the entrance [Heb. until thou comest to. The Arab aversion, which Elijah is supposed to have shared, to entering cities, has often been remarked. But there were other and deeper reasons why he should not adventure himself within the city. Probably the same guiding hand which led him to Jezreel impelled him to lodge outside the walls. It was impossible to say what Jezebel, in her transports of rage, might do. After such a day, too, any prophet would shrink from familiar contact with men and from the strife of tongues] of Jezreel. [Ahab had a palace here (1 Kings 21:1). But Samaria was still the capital, and so remained till the captivity (1 Kings 22:37; 2Ki 15:13, 2 Kings 15:14; 2 Kings 17:5, 2 Kings 17:6). The selection of Jezreel as a royal residence is easily accounted for. It stands on "a knoll 500 feet high" (Conder), overlooking both the plain of Esdraelon and the valley of Jezreel. In fact, it is the finest situation in the "Great Plain." Hence perhaps its name "the sowing place of God." See Stanley, S. and P. pp. 336 sqq.; Porter, p. 353; Dict. Bib. vol. 1.p. 1080; Van de Velde, vol. 2. p. 370.]
1 Kings 18:3, 1 Kings 18:4
The Governor of Ahab's House.
There are few things in these books of Scripture more surprising and suggestive than the position of Obadiah in She palace of Ahab. Consider—
I. THE AGE. We have seen that during this reign (1 Kings 16:30, 1 Kings 16:33; 1 Kings 21:25), and especially in the capital city of Samaria (1 Kings 16:32), the wickedness of Israel had reached its zenith. From the accession of Jeroboam, and the schism which followed it, the northern kingdom had steadily gone from bad to worse, till its apostasy and impiety culminated under the malign influences of Ahab and Jezebel. Their joint reign marks a new departure in the religious history of the ten tribes. Hitherto men had worshipped the God of their fathers, though in an irregular and unauthorized way, and idolatry, though not unknown, had not been open and unblushing. Now, however, the whole nation, with but few exceptions, abandoned itself to the licentious worship of Phoenician gods, and the ancestral religion was proscribed, its altars were overthrown, and a determined effort was made to stamp out its prophets and professors.
II. THE PLACE. We should expect, consequently—what Elijah really believed to be the case (1 Kings 19:10)—that to find a pious man we must search the land as with a lantern. We should expect to find some Abdiels, "faithful among the faithless found," but we should look for them away from the haunts of men, in "caves and dens of the earth," in the brook Cherith, or the cottage of Zarephath, or wandering about "in sheepskins and goatskins," etc. (Hebrews 11:37, Hebrews 11:38). But we should hardly hope to find them in the cities of Israel, in the broad light of day, in conspicuous positions, and least of all should we look for them in Samaria, where Satan's seat was, the fortress and citadel of Baal.
Or if we were so sanguine, notwithstanding the godlessness of the times and the genius of the place, as to count on some saints in Samaria, we should never betake ourselves to the great men (Jeremiah 5:5); we should go in search of piety in the cottages of the poor. We should never dream of finding any followers of the Lord occupying an exalted station, living under the shadow of the palace, or in close contact with the determined and unscrupulous queen.
III. HIS POSITION. But if we were assured that even in Ahab's palace, under the same roof with Jezebel, a devout and steadfast servant of Jehovah was to be found, we should certainly have expected to find him in some insignificant servitor, some poor retainer of the place. That any high official, that a minister of state could retain his piety in that cesspool of corruption, that hotbed of idolatry and immorality, and at the very time that Jezebel was cutting off the Lord's prophets, would seem to us altogether out of the question. "What communion," we should ask, "hath light with darkness? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?"
IV. HIS PIETY. Yet we find that Obadiah, the intendant of the palace of Samaria, the trusted and faithful minister of Ahab, the "third ruler in the kingdom," "feared the Lord greatly" (Obadiah 1:3), and, though surrounded by Baal-worshippers, never bowed the knee to Baal; though risking his life by his devotion to Jehovah, yet served Him truly, and succoured His prophets.
We have a parallel to this, and a still more striking instance of piety under the most adverse and discouraging circumstances in the New Testament. We have something like it, indeed, in the case of Daniel and the three Hebrew children; something approaching it in the case of Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward (Luke 8:8); but we find a still closer analogue in the saints of Caesar's household (Philippians 4:22).
When we remember that the saints of Rome were the talk, the admiration, the patterns of the early Christian Churches" throughout the whole world" (Romans 1:8); that among the saints of Rome, those of the palace or of the barracks (Philippians 1:18) attached to Caesar's palace on the Palatine, were conspicuous, at least (Daniel 4:22) for their charity, for the crowning Christian grace of φιλαδελφία, the stamp and seal royal of the saints (John 13:35; 1 John 4:20); when we remember, too, that this was in Rome, at that period the very worst city in the world, the resort—their own writers being witness—of all the knaves and charlatans and libertines of the empire; that this was in the year A.D. 63, when the palace of the Caesars was occupied by Nero, of all those born of women perhaps the meanest, basest, most infamous, most profligate; that this Nero was murderer of brother, murderer of mother, of wife, of paramour; persecutor and butcher of the Christians, sworn foe of goodness and purity in every shape, patron and abettor of every kind of abomination, according to some the "Beast" of the Apocalypse; when we consider that under his roof, in the pandemonium which he had created around him, saints were found, meek followers of the unspotted Christ, we cannot but be impressed with the fact that the wisdom of God has preserved for our encouragement two conspicuous instances—one under the Old Dispensation, one under the New—of fervent piety living and thriving in a palace under the most adverse circumstances, amid the overflowings of ungodliness. And these facts may suggest the following lessons:
1. "Let every man, wherein he is called, there abide with God" (1 Corinthians 7:20, 1 Corinthians 7:24). The temptation to desert our post, because of the difficulties, seductions, persecutions it affords, is peculiarly strong, because it presents itself under the garb of a religious duty. We think we shall "one day fall by the hand of Saul" (1 Samuel 27:1). We fear the temptation may be too strong for us, and we consult, as we fancy, only for our safety, in flight. But we forget that "every man's life is a plan of God;" that we have been placed where we are by Him, and placed there to do His work. We forget also that His "grace is sufficient" for us; that with every temptation He can make a way to escape (1 Corinthians 10:13); that He will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able to bear; and that flight under such circumstances must be mere cowardice and faithlessness. It was a great mistake of the hermits and the religious of a past age to leave the world because it was so wicked, for this was to take the salt out of the earth, and to leave it to corruption. If the men who alone can leaven society shut themselves up in a cloister or a study, it is simply leaving it to the devil to do his worst. This is not to fight, but to flee. Except these abide in the ship, how can it be saved? (Acts 27:31.) It is egregious selfishness to hide our candle under a bushel, lest perchance the blasts of temptation should extinguish it. Obadiah was called by the providence of God to be governor of Ahab's house. The post must have been one of extreme difficulty, of constant trial and imminent peril. We see from Obadiah 1:10, Obadiah 1:14 the kind of man he had to deal with, and how, from day to day, he carried his life in his hand. But he did not desert the state of life into which it had pleased God to call him. /Is considered that he was there for some good purpose; that he had a work to do which only he could do, and he resolved to stop and do his duty. Perhaps he remembered the ruler of Pharaoh's house, and the deliverance he wrought for Israel (Genesis 45:7, Genesis 45:8), Anyhow, he waited and endured, and at length the opportunity came. When Jezebel would exterminate the Lord's prophets, then the steward of the palace understood why he had been placed in that perilous and responsible position. It was that he might save much people alive (Genesis 1:20). Then he did what, perhaps, only he could have done—took a hundred of the Lord's prophets, hid them in two eaves, and fed them with bread and water.
2. The saints make the best servants. It is scarcely less strange to find Ahab employing Obadiah than to find Obadiah serving under Ahab. Some have seen herein a proof of the king's tolerance, but it is much more like a proof of his sagacity. Whether he knew of Obadiah's faith may be uncertain, but we may be sure that he had proved his fidelity. It was because Obadiah was "faithful in all his house" that he was retained in this position. It was not to Ahab's interest to have a Baal-worshipper at the head of his retainers. Bad men do not care to be served by their kind. They pay piety and probity the compliment—such as it is—of encouraging it in their dependants and children. They find, as Potiphar did, as Darius did, that the God-fearing bring a blessing with them (Genesis 39:5). For if there is no special benediction of their basket and store, of their fruit and fold (Deuteronomy 28:4, Deuteronomy 28:5), yet they are guarded against peculation and waste (Luke 16:1). How many, like Ahab, have found that those who share their sins or pleasures cannot be entrusted with their goods; that if they would have faithful servants, they must have God-fearing ones.
3. It is only the power of God could keep men holy in Ahab's or Nero's palace. Coleridge has somewhere said that there are two classes of Christian evidences—Christianity and Christendom; the system in itself, its pure morality, its beneficent teachings, and its results, its conquests, and achievements in the world. For it is altogether beyond the power of human nature to work the moral changes which Christianity has wrought either to convert men or to preserve them from falling. That a man who is notorious in his neighbourhood, the talk and terror of the country side, a chartered libertine, an ame damnee, or even like St. Paul, a persecutor and injurious; or like Augustine, or John Newton; that such an one should be suddenly stopped, transformed, ennobled, should preach the faith which he once persecuted—this is very difficult to account for on human grounds. And that men with every temptation to sin, everything to lose and nothing to gain by godliness, worldly interest, pride, passion, shame, everything combining against religion—that these should, nevertheless, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, live soberly, righteously, and godly (Titus 2:12) in the Sodom around them—this is no less a miracle of Divine grace. The influences that preserved an Obadiah, a St. Paul, a Pudens, and Linus, and Claudia (2 Timothy 4:21) must have been from above. We know only too well what human nature, unassisted by grace, is capable of. We know it tends inevitably, not to bear a rich crop of virtues, but, like the cereals, to degenerate, to run to seed. In Socrates and Seneca—"half-inspired heathens "we see it at its best, and yet how wide the gulf between Nero's preceptor and the saints of Nero's household. When we see our nature, planted in a hotbed of grossness and profligacy, nevertheless yield the "peaceable fruits of righteousness," then we know that the hand of the great Husbandman must, if silently and unseen, yet assuredly, have been at work.
4. If religion held its own in Ahab's or in Nero's court, it will hold its own and win its way anywhere. How can we ever despair of our religion so long as we have such proofs that it is the "power of God unto salvation"? Society, both in England and on the continent of Europe, may be very godless; it may be changing for the worse; we may be preparing for an outbreak of Communism, Nihilism, Materialism, Atheism; the masses in our large towns may be very brutal and besotted and animal, may be utterly estranged from religion in every shape; but, whatever England is like, and whatever Europe is like, its state is nothing like so desperate as was that of Rome under Nero. The savages to whom we send our missionaries, again, no doubt they are debased, sensual, apathetic, or even hostile to our religion; but are they really worse, is their case more hopeless, than that of Ahab's or Nero's subjects? And if the days of persecution are not ended; if in China, and Melanesia, and Turkey the sword is still whetted against the Christian, can we find among them all a more truculent persecutor than Jezebel, a more savage and unprincipled inquisitor than Tigellinus. But we cannot pretend that our sufferings are anything like theirs. No longer are the prophets hunted like partridges; no longer are they clad in the skins of wild beasts, or dipped into cauldrons of pitch; no longer do we hear the sanguinary cry, Christianos ad leones. And yet, despite those terrible mockings and scourgings, those agonies in the amphi-theatre, those privations in the caves, religion, in Samaria and in Rome alike, held its ground. In Israel, seven thousand true-hearted confessors would neither be tempted nor terrified into bowing the knee to Baal. In Italy, the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church; neither Nero, nor Decius, nor Diocletian could hinder the onward march of Christ's baptized host, and now it is matter of history how one day the empire woke up to find itself Christian.
5. If men could be saints in Ahab's and Nero's palace, they may be saints anywhere. How constantly do men plead the adverse circumstances in which they are placed as a reason why they cannot serve God. Sometimes it is a godless street or wicked hamlet; sometimes it is an irreligious household or infidel workshop; or their trade is such, their employers or associates are such, that they cannot live a godly life. But the example of Obadiah, the example of those saints of the Praeterium, convicts them of untruth and of cowardice. They cannot have greater temptations or fiercer persecutions than befell those Roman Christians. If they proved steadfast, and lived in sweetness and purity, which of us cannot do the same wherever we may be placed?
6. The saints of Ahab's and Nero's courts shall rise up in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it. In a wicked city, in an impure court, through fire and blood, they kept the faith. Christianity is now established in the land. Kings are its nursing fathers. Its holy rites are celebrated freely and openly. Yet how many dishonour or deny it! how many are ashamed of their religion! With what shame will they meet the brave confessors of the past I They will need no condemnation from their Judge (Matthew 12:41; John 5:45).
1 Kings 18:17-20
The King and his Master.
For three and a half years king- and prophet have not met (Luke 4:25). For three and a half years, forty and two months, twelve hundred and sixty days (Revelation 11:2, Revelation 11:8; Revelation 12:6; Revelation 13:5; Daniel 7:25), the mystical period of persecution and blasphemy, the plague of drought has afflicted the land. But now the time—God's "fulness of time"—has arrived for its removal. The time to favour Israel is come, and king and prophet meet again. It was an anxious moment for each of them. It was a critical moment in the history of the Church. Let us mark their words; let us observe how they bear themselves; we shall surely learn something from their carriage and discourse.
I. The king goes to meet the prophet. Elijah would seem to have waited in the place where Obadiah left him until Ahab appeared. He is not going to take the place of a suppliant. Subject though he is, he is Ahab's superior. He has a commission higher and nobler than the king's. It is his task to reprove the king; hence, in a manner, he summons him before him. The proud monarch who has scoured all lands in search of him must now humble himself to go before the prophet. "Behold Elijah."
II. Ahab fears to meet Elijah. It is true he is the first to speak, and accuses the prophet of troubling the land; but we may well believe that, despite his brave words when Jezebel was at his side, and the cheap courage he manifested when he had the court and the priests of Baal at his back, he must have looked forward to this meeting with something like dismay. He had good cause for misgivings and fears. First, he was to encounter a true prophet, and one vested with supernatural powers. Of one thing he could have no doubt, as to the" sure word of prophecy" in Elijah's lips. No less than the Sareptan, he had proved that the word of the Lord in Elijah's lips was truth (1 Kings 17:24). "He spake and it was done." He had denounced a drought, and it had come to pass, a drought beyond all precedent, a drought which still cursed the country, and was at that moment taxing its resources (Obadiah 1:5) And of another thing Ahab must have been equally certain, that this drought was no chance which had happened him. The coincidence between the word and the event negatived that idea. He must see in it the finger of God; he must recognize in the prophet the power of God. But
(2) the man for whom he had been searching over hill and dale, in town and hamlet, in his own and in adjoining lands, now proposes a meeting. Clearly, then, he is not afraid. He almost compels an interview—"I will show myself unto him today."
(3) Even if Ahab ascribed his power to magic or witchcraft, still men tremble in the presence of a sorcerer. We cannot wonder, therefore, if his courage almost failed him, and if he looked forward to the meeting with something like dread. But he remembers his imperious consort; he thinks how full of threatening and fury he himself has been, and he feels he must put on a bold front; he must carry himself proudly; he must tax the prophet with wrong doing. And so, when at last they meet, the king is the first to speak. "Art thou here?" he cries, almost frightened at the sound of his own voice. "Art thou here, thou troubler of Israel?" Words have often served to conceal men's thoughts, often been a veil to hide theft abject fears.
Now, we have heard words like these, we have read of them in other mouths than Ahab's. It is a common charge against the prophets and people of God. The saints are always in the wrong. It is always they who "turn the world upside down" (Acts 17:6, Acts 17:8); always they who "do exceedingly trouble our city" (Acts 16:20). Our Lord was accused of sedition. The first Christians were called "enemies of the human race." All manner of evil is said against them falsely. Ahab only speaks "after his kind." He saw that Elijah had been instrumental in bringing down the drought and the terrible famine which accompanied it. He never pauses to ask what moved Elijah to call for a drought; what caused Elijah's God to send it. The herald is accused as the cause of the war. "There is nothing new under the sun." The same charge is made, and with the same unreason and perversity at the present day. The lamb must have fouled the stream, whichever way it flows. If the Baptist comes neither eating nor drinking, they say, "He hath a devil." If the Son of man comes eating and drinking, they say, "Behold a gluttonous man and a winebibber." If we pipe, they will not dance: if we mourn, they will not lament (Matthew 11:16 sqq.)
III. Elijah denounces the king to his fence. "I have not troubled Israel, but thou," etc. "The righteous are bold as a lion." There is no trace of fear in these words. The truth has nothing to fear. And the truth it was then, and is now, that the trouble and suffering of the world spring out of sin, out of forgetting and forsaking God. If men will leave Him out of their thoughts and lives, their sorrows cannot but be multiplied (Psalms 16:4). It is like leaving the sun out of our solar system—the world would revert to primaeval chaos. The French revolution shows the result of the negation of God. Communism and Nihilism do the same. "There is no peace to the wicked." But not only do they "pierce themselves through with many sorrows," but they trouble Israel (Ephesians 6:16), the peaceful people of God. But for them this world would be a Paradise. It is they who make wretched homes and broken hearts. It is they who necessitate our armies, our police, our gaols, our poor rates. It is they who sometimes make us wonder, with some of the ancients, whether this earth is not really a place of punishment. But for them, and the confusion and misery they cause, men would never ask "whether life is worth living;" still less conclude that "the greatest good is never to have been born into the world, and the next to die out of it as soon as possible." We are entitled, therefore, like Elijah, to denounce the godless and the vicious as the enemies of society, as conspirators against the world's peace and prosperity. "The only common disturber of men, families, cities, kingdoms, worlds, is sin." It is one of the arguments for our holy religion that, sincerely practised, it ensures "the greatest possible happiness of the greatest possible number." It is the brand of Atheism that it brings trouble, uncleanness, selfishness, suffering, at its heels.
IV. The king endures the upbraiding of the prophet. To Elijah's "Thou art the man," he makes no reply. He is taxed with the ruin of his country, and is speechless. His courage has soon evaporated. He who would accuse Elijah cannot defend himself. Though anointed king, he is weak and helpless (2 Samuel 3:39), and owns his subject his superior. How soon have they changed places! Ahab has been hunting for the prophet's life, has been vowing vengeance upon him if found. Now he has found him, and he trembles before him And this because conscience has made him a coward. He knows in his inmost heart that Elijah has spoken the truth; that God is on his side; and he is afraid of him, just as Saul, giant and king though he was, was afraid of the stripling David. And men are still afraid of a true saint of God. They regard him with almost a superstitious dread. Sometimes it is fanaticism they fear; but sometimes it is the holiness which condemns their sinfulness (Luke 5:8).
V. The king obeys the prophet's commands. Elijah might be king from the commands he issues. "Send and gather to me"—observe "to me"—"all Israel unto Mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal," etc. Did Ahab know why they were wanted? Did Elijah then tell him of the ordeal by fire? It is extremely improbable. It is probable that, though Ahab hoped for rain, still he anticipated no good to his or Jezebel's prophets from this meeting. He would have disobeyed this command if he dared. But he has found his master, and it is in the uncouth, untutored Gileadite. We are reminded of Herod and John, of Ambrose and Theodosius, of Savonarola and Lorenzo de' Medicis, of Mary of Scots and John Knox. At Elijah's bidding, his posts go throughout the land. The prophet has had a triumph already. Truth and the consciousness of right, and the rower of God's presence, have proved greater than sceptre and crown.
1 Kings 18:21-40
It has been remarked elsewhere that in the history of the Israelitish people we may see pourtrayed the trials and experiences of a Christian soul.
And not only is that true of this history as a whole, but it also holds good of various periods of that history, of various crises in the nation's life. It holds good of that great crisis recorded in this chapter. For from the conversion of Israel on the day of Carmel, we may gather some lessons as to the true doctrine of conversion, the conversion of a man from sin to righteousness, from the power of Satan unto God. From the turning of their heart back again (1 Kings 18:37), we may learn something as to the change to be wrought in our own. Let us consider, therefore—
1. What it was.
2. How it was accomplished.
3. What were its results.
I. WHAT IT WAS. It was—
1. A change of mind. It was a μετάνοια, a change of thought and view. Of course it was more than this, but this it was pre-eminently and primarily. On that day of the Lord's power (Psa 110:1-7 :8) the views of king and people were altered. The king and court—and Ahab was not without his ministers and courtiers to witness the ordeal—had many of them believed in Baal, and served him. It is true some had wavered (1 Kings 18:21) between Baal and Jehovah; but the people as a whole had held Baal to be Lord and God, prince of nature, source of life, not to the exclusion of Jehovah, but along with Him. The first thing for them to learn, consequently, was that an "idol is nothing in the world;" that Baal was no more than a log (1 Kings 15:12), a senseless stock, powerless for good or evil It is clear that Elijah's first object was to demonstrate before this great convocation on Carmel the absolute impotence and nothingness of their idol deities. He had been proving for three years past and more that Baal had no dominion over the clouds; that he could not discharge that primary function of a God, viz; to control the course of nature, and give his votaries ram from heaven and fruitful seasons (Leviticus 26:4; Deuteronomy 11:17; 1 Samuel 12:17; 1 Kings 8:36; Psalms 68:9; Jeremiah 5:24; Joel 2:23; Amos 4:7; Acts 14:17). And now he offers to prove that Baal has as little power over the fire, that recognized emblem and property of God (Genesis 3:24; Exodus 19:18; Le Exodus 9:24; Deu 4:1-49 :86); only known to men, according to an ancient tradition, because it had been stolen from heaven. He will also prove that the Lord whom he serves can give both fire and rain; and by these facts he will gain their understandings, the assent of their minds to the conclusion that the Lord alone is God. This was his first task, his main object. And this is the first step towards the conversion of a soul—that it should "know the only true God and Jesus Christ," etc. At the basis of conversion lies the knowledge of God and of self. There is a knowledge which "bloweth up;" while "charity buildeth up" (1 Corinthians 8:1). There is also a γνῶσις which is life eternal. He is the converted man who can say, "We have known and believed the love that God hath to us" (1 John 4:16). It was a favourite saying of St. Theresa that if men really knew God, they could not help loving and serving Him. By nature they do not know Him; they have false and unworthy ideas of Him; they think Wire to be altogether such an one as themselves (Psalms 50:21), because the devil, the "slanderer" (διάβολος), who is not only the "accuser of the brethren" before God (Revelation 12:10; Job 1:9), but also the accuser of God before the brethren (Genesis 3:5), poisons their minds against God, traduces and misrepresents Him, so that the opening of the eyes (Acts 9:18; Acts 16:14; Acts 26:18; Luke 24:45; Ephesians 1:18), the enlightening of the mind, the shining of the glorious gospel of Christ in the darkened heart (2 Corinthians 4:4, 2 Corinthians 4:6)—this is the beginning of our conversion. A conversion which rests, not on knowledge, but emotion, cannot be real and lasting.
2. A change of affection. Believing Baal to be God, they had yielded him their homage, their service. The heart, for the most part (Romans 7:1-25. passim), goes with the understanding. If the latter be firmly persuaded, the former is enlisted. "As he thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7). Those who regarded Baal as their helper and benefactor could not help reverencing and loving him (1 Kings 19:18; cf. Job 31:27). But when they learnt his impotence; when they saw that they had been deceived (Acts 8:9); when it was forced upon them that these things were dumb idols, lying vanities, and that the Lord alone had made them, sustained them, blessed them, then there was a strong revulsion of feeling; their heart was turned back again; their affections went forth to Him whom they had slighted and wronged. And so it is in our conversion. It is not a purely intellectual process; it stirs the lowest depths of the heart. When a man realizes that God is not hate, but love; that he is a Father, not a hard master; that the devil has deceived him and enslaved him, while promising him liberty; that the world has cheated him, and its pleasures have mocked him, it would be strange indeed if this apocalypse did not affect the whole man; if the knowledge did not lead at once to loathing and love; loathing for the enemy who has played us so false and slandered our gracious Father; love for Him who first loved us, and sealed His love by pain and sacrifice. And with the newborn love there will be compunction; grief that we have grieved the Eternal Love. This is what we call repentance. It is a part of the μετάνοια.
3. A change of conduct. If the head does not always carry the heart with it, the heart always controls and governs the man. It is the mainspring of our nature. The heart is the helm that turns the ship "whithersoever the governor listeth" (James 3:4). We have no record, indeed, of any permanent change in the religious life of Israel, and it has been too readily assumed that all the congregation that witnessed the descent of the fire, and confessed their belief in Jehovah, straightway lapsed into paganism. But it is clear that, for a time at least, there was a change in their conduct. The readiness with which they slew the priests of Baal shows it. Indeed, without this there would have been no conversion at all. For that word, though constantly used in a purely conventional and non-natural sense—to express, in fact, a mystical change in the man, a peculiar conscious transition which the heart is supposed to experience—really describes a change in the life and conduct (Acts 15:3; Luke 22:32; Matthew 18:3; James 5:19). The secret inner change the Scripture always calls "repentance" (Matthew 9:13; Luke 15:7; Acts 20:21; Romans 2:4; Hebrews 6:6, etc.) Conversion is the outward and visible change resulting from the former, and corresponding with it. Hence St. Peter's words, "Repent and be converted" (Acts 3:19). This conversion of Israel was not an emotion, an experience, an ecstasy, but a change from Baal. worship to Jehovah worship; from impurity and devilry (Deuteronomy 32:17; l Corinthians Deuteronomy 10:20) to righteousness; it was a turning "from idols to serve the living and true God" (1 Thessalonians; 9).
II. HOW WAS THIS CONVERSION BROUGHT ABOUT?
1. By the ministry of a prophet. The appeal of Elijah (1 Kings 18:21) had some influence; the works he wrought—he was a prophet of deed—had much more. He was God's messenger to turn the disobedient to the wisdom of the just (Luke 1:17). We are reminded here of the place which the ministry of the word occupies in the New Dispensation. "How shall they hear without a preacher?" "We preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities," etc. (Acts 14:15). No one says that a preacher is indispensable, but no one can deny that he is God's ordinary instrument for the conversion of men (1 Corinthians 1:18, 1 Corinthians 1:21).
2. By the chastening of God. The drought and the famine prepared their stubborn hearts for Elijah's appeal, and disposed them to decision. At another time he might have addressed Israel in vain. And sorrow and pain, privation and bereavement are still not unfrequently found to dispose the rebellious mind to hear the message of God. "When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness" (Isaiah 26:9; cf. Isaiah 26:16).
3. By the terrors of the Lord. It is the "still small voice" wins most for God; but the wind and earthquake and fire have their preparation work to do. The law preceded the gospel, and even the gospel has its stern threatenings. Apostolic preaching did not overlook the terror of the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:11). We can hardly doubt that fear played some part in the conversion. As on a former occasion, the giving of the law (Exodus 20:18), so at this solemn vindication of the law, "the people were afraid by reason of the fire" (Deuteronomy 5:5). Why, then, should we call that common which God hath cleansed? Why discard an instrument which God has sanctioned?
4. By a supernatural token. For the fire was the turning point in this conversion. It was at the awful "sign from heaven," this evidence of a Divine Presence, that the great cry arose, "The Lord, He is the God." The Bones were dry until the Breath came into them. And may not this remind us that there is a supernatural element in our conversion too? Man cannot change himself. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit which descended in fire (Acts 2:3; Matthew 3:11), can the eyes Be opened, the heart softened, repentance wrought, or true and lasting conversion to God be accomplished. This is the dispensation of the Spirit. It is His to convince of sin (John 16:8), to testify of Christ (John 15:26), to renew the heart (Titus 3:5), to give peace and joy (Galatians 5:22).
5. After prayer to God. Not only the prayer of 1 Kings 18:36, 87, offered before the restored altar of God (1 Kings 18:30); Elijah had prayed for many years. The discipline of drought was an answer to his prayer. Nor can we think that he was alone in his petitions. The seven thousand would assuredly pray for the regeneration of their country. The triumph of Carmel is the answer to those cries of God's elect (Luke 18:7). And prayer is still one of the instruments of our conversion. It is significant how prayer is mentioned in connection with the example of Elias, and with conversion in James 5:17-20. Nor is the mention of prayer in connection with St. Paul's conversion less instructive (Acts 9:11). It is one step the soul takes towards God; and by persevering in prayer the goal is reached, for "Every one that asketh, receiveth" (Matthew 7:8). Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved (Acts 2:21). A prayer of half a dozen words once sufficed for justification (Luke 18:14).
6. It was the result of a sudden decision. "How long halt ye?" etc. He will have them make up their minds one way or the ether. It is better to be cold than lukewarm (Revelation 3:16). We cannot serve two masters. How many conversions are deferred because men will not look facts in the face! That is all the preacher asks of them. "If there is a God, then serve Him. If there is a judgment, then prepare for it." Decision of character is necessary to the great change. When the prodigal says, "I will arise," the first step has been taken. And "it is only the first step that costs."
III. WHAT WERE ITS RESULTS? It is well to ask this question, for some forget that conversion is not the end, but the beginning. It is the entrance on the life of reconciliation and obedience; it is the door to sanctficaton and perfection. This conversion was
(1) evidenced by—
1. Obedience. The law enjoined that the false prophet should be put to death (Deuteronomy 12:1-11). The sin of seducing the Lord's people was so heinous that it merited a capital punishment. It has been objected against Elijah that, in the massacre of these 400 men, he displayed a sanguinary and revengeful spirit. But it would have been strange if he, the restorer of the law, had ignored one of its provisions. We should have suspected this conversion had the false prophets been spared. "This sacrifice was no less pleasing to God than that other." For the true convert sets himself to do God's will. Whatever grace and favour God may have showed him cannot release him from the discharge of duty. He must still "keep the commandments" if he would enter into life (Matthew 19:17). Obedience is the touchstone of conversion (Luke 6:46; John 14:21).
2. Watchfulness. No doubt one reason why the false prophets were put out of the way was that they might no longer be able to tempt God's people. The convert will be careful to avoid all occasions of sin; he will cut off the right hand that causes him to offend. He will keep himself that the wicked one touch him not (1 John 5:18). If strong drink has been his snare, he will abstain; whatever his besetting sin, he will put it away. But
(2) it was followed by—
3. Blessing. After the conversion came the rain, and a renewal of prosperity and plenty (James 5:18). Not until the people had turned to Him with all their hearts, could He "be jealous for his land, and pity his people" (Joel 2:12, Joel 2:18). The drought, the punishment of apostasy, was removed on their repentance. Once more the thirsty land drank in the grateful showers; once more a plentiful rain refreshed God's inheritance, and the land brought forth its increase (James 5:18)—a picture this of the blessings which attend the reconciled soul. "Rivers of living waters." "The water of life freely." "The fruit of the Spirit." "The peaceable fruits of righteousness."
1 Kings 18:41-45
Effectual Fervent Prayer.
It is pre-eminently in the matter of prayer that Elijah is proposed to us as an example in the New Testament. From the long list of Hebrew saints and worthies he has been selected by St. James 5:17, James 5:18 to prove and illustrate the proposition that "the prayer of a righteous man availeth much in its working" (James 5:16, Revised Version). His prayers for drought are not mentioned by our historian, but his prayer for rain may not unreasonably be supposed to be referred to in the account of verses 42-45. Let us notice its more prominent features.
1. It was the prayer of a righteous man. The prayers of unrighteous men are sometimes heard (Luke 18:14; 2 Chronicles 33:19), but only their prayers for grace and pardon. The intercessions of the wicked for others are of no avail, any more than the prayers of the impenitent for themselves. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (Psalms 66:18). Common sense teaches that God is not likely to grant the requests of impenitent rebels. "To the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do" with intercession? "Get thee to the prophets of thy father," etc. (2 Kings 3:18). "Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen" (Judges 10:14). But "he will fulfil the desire of them that fear him" (Psalms 145:19).
2. It was the prayer of a man of like passions with us. We are not to think that Elias stood on a pedestal apart from the rest of his kind. He is not pictured to us, as are the heroes of so many biographies, as perfect. We are not sure that that great "day of Carmel" passed without sin. We are quite sure that he betrayed fear and unbelief in his flight, impatience and discontent in the desert. Yet his prayers availed much. Let us, therefore, though compassed about with infirmity, and stained with many sins of ignorance and imperfection, come boldly to the throne of grace.
3. It was fervent. "He prayed with prayer" (προσευχῇ προσηύξατο), says St. James. His attitude reveals its fervency—it was that of complete self abstraction, of intense inward entreaty. We must seek "with all the heart" (Psalms 119:2; Jeremiah 24:7). Seeking early (Proverbs 1:28; Proverbs 8:17; Psalms 63:1; Psalms 78:34; Isaiah 26:9) does not mean seeking in youth, but seeking eagerly, intently. Compare the expression, "rising up early," etc. (Jeremiah 7:13; Jeremiah 25:8, Jeremiah 25:4; Jeremiah 26:5; Jeremiah 35:15, etc.) Some one has said that there are not many persons who really and truly pray half a dozen times in their lives. We offer up formal or lukewarm petitions, and then marvel that we receive no answers. Prayer must be ἐκτενής (Luke 22:44). It is not that God is hard to persuade; it is that He will have us mean what we say. There is no difficulty with Him. We are straitened in ourselves.
4. It was persevering. He was not daunted by the laconic "nothing" of his servant. "Go again seven times." It is not enough to pray; we must "pray and not faint" (Luke 18:1; Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 4:2). We must "diligently seek him" (Hebrews 11:6). St. Paul besought the Lord thrice (2 Corinthians 12:8), after the example, it is probable, of our Blessed Lord (Matthew 26:44). Compare the example of Abraham (Genesis 18:23 sqq.) Daniel prayed three times a day (Daniel 6:10). The "seven times" of Elijah means that he will pray until the covenant God hears his petitions (cf. Le Daniel 4:6, Daniel 4:17; Daniel 8:11; 14:16).
5. It was touching God's kingdom. This is the proper subject for our prayers (Matthew 6:33). We may have doubts whether some of the blessings we would fain crave are good for us, but we always ask "according to his will" when we pray, "Thy kingdom come." Our prayers for rain or fine weather are often selfish. Elijah only desired the drought, only supplicated for rain, as a means of influencing Israel and advancing God's work. It is partly the selfishness of our prayers which has led men to question the efficacy of all prayer. If men want to have their own way with the elements, or to make God's power further their private ends, is it strange if He declines to hear them? If we are to "obtain our petitions," we must" ask those things that please him."
6. It was believing. He never doubts the promise of 1 Kings 18:1. He has already announced the rain to Ahab, before he prays for it. Similarly our Lord gave thanks at the grave of Lazarus: "I thank thee that thou hast heard me" (John 11:41), just as if the dead man had already come to life again. We must ask in faith. No wonder if God does not hear the petitions of the man who doubts whether God is, or is the rewarder of those who seek Him. Before we pray we should at least be clear that there is One who hears and can help us. Unbelief makes God a liar.
7. It was humble. "Cast himself down upon the earth." What self abasement before God! And he was heard in that he feared (Hebrews 5:7). God has respect unto the lowly, and giveth grace to the humble (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5; Psalms 9:12; Psalms 10:17).
8. It was in the Holy Ghost (Jude 1:20). This prayer was first inspired. Elijah would never presume to ask either for drought or ram, unless the prayer had been put into his heart. As he mused in the wilds of Gilead over the apostasy of Israel, and vexed his righteous soul with the news of the Baal-worship, he felt constrained to cry to God, as we find His saints constantly doing, to awake, to make bare His arm, to vindicate His outraged honour. And what could he pray for, except, that God would enforce the penalties He had Himself denounced? His prayer for drought is the outcome of his zeal for God's law, with which God had Himself inspired him. And we, too, are promised supernatural help and guidance in our prayers (Romans 8:26, Romans 8:27; Jude 1:20).
9. It availed much. It opened the windows of heaven. "There was a great rain." It gave life to those who were sitting in flue shadow of death. "The earth brought forth her fruit." The desolate land became as Eden. Man and beast drank and lived.
10. It availed immediately. While he was yet speaking, God heard (Isaiah 65:24). If that word is ever true, Bis dat qui cito dat, it was true of this occasion. Indeed, the answer almost anticipated the prayer (1 Kings 18:1, 1 Kings 18:41). God is more ready to give than we to pray.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
1 Kings 18:1-6
The Cry for Life.
For three years and six months the heavens were as brass. Throughout the summers the sun glared and flamed in a cloudless sky, and the temperature, even at night, never sank to the dew-point. Throughout the winters, if the temperature reached that point, the elements were so boisterous that no dew could settle upon the herbage, and the winds carried the aqueous vapour away to other lands. In the absence of dew and rain, vegetation, excepting only that near rivers or fringing streams fed from the deepest springs, was scorched and blasted. The mortality, therefore, amongst animals was frightful, and men suffered incredible things. The agony of distress had now risen to such a pitch that throughout the land there was one earnest, plaintive cry for life.
I. SOME CRIED FOR LIFE TO NATURE.
1. Such was the case with Ahab.
(1) He had worshipped Baal, the fire of nature. But Baal was now punishing his votaries. Such is the manner in which the "god of this world" repays his dupes.
(2) Yet did not Ahab repent of his folly. For, instead of seeking the living God, who was proving Himself the superior of Baal, he divides the land between himself and the governor of his house, to search for herbage.
(3) Note also the heartlessness of the idolater. He is more concerned for his stud than for his people. "Peradventure we may find grass to save the horses and mules alive, that we lose not all the beasts.'
2. He was a specimen of a class
(1) His queen was of the same way of thinking. She had been brought up to worship Baal. She had a masculine temper and swayed the mind of her husband.
(2) The courtiers and the majority of the nation, who thought more of court fashion than of the holy service of Jehovah, bowed the knee to Baal.
II. OTHERS CRIED FOR LIFE TO GOD.
1. Of this number was Elijah.
(1) He recognized God as above nature, when he announced that there would be a departure from the ordinary course of nature in the withholding of dew and rain for successive years. Still he recognizes this when he shows himself to Ahab, believing that God would now give rain (1 Kings 17:1; 1 Kings 18:1, 1 Kings 18:2).
(2) He recognized God as above nature before these assurances, for he received them in answer to faithful prayer (see James 5:17, James 5:18). This is not mentioned in the history, but implied in his character as a man of God. Note: A man of God is a man of prayer.
2. Obadiah also was of this number.
(1) He "feared the Lord greatly." This arose from the strength of his faith. We cannot fear that in which we do not believe.
(2) His faith was fruitful in good works. He screened one hundred of the Lord's prophets from the violence of Jezebel, and sustained them. "Bread and water," like "daily bread" in the Lord's prayer, is an expression for things needful for the body. And in thus sheltering and nourishing the servants of God, Obadiah hazarded not only the loss of his situation, but also of his head.
(3) One who feared the Lord greatly after this fashion would pray to Him. Piety would move him to it. Patriotism also would move him at this juncture.
3. There were many more who cried to God.
(1) There were the "prophets of the Lord" preserved by Obadiah, and doubtless others also who escaped the vigilance of Jezebel. These would cry to God for life.
(2) And if there were so many prophets, or sons of the prophets, there would be a considerable number of devout persons in Israel notwithstanding the abounding apostasy (see 1 Kings 19:18). There is a great deal of goodness where men little expect to find it.
God is the source of life, not only to the body, but also to the soul. Let us seek to Him for life.—J.A.M.
1 Kings 18:7-16
The Servant of the Lord.
Such is the meaning of Obadiah's name; and so truly descriptive of his character is it that we may take him as a typical servant of God.
I. HE FEARED THE LORD FROM HIS YOUTH.
1. Piety is not natural.
(1) On the contrary, we inherit a depraved heart (Genesis 5:8; Psalms 51:5; Romans 5:12; Ephesians 2:3).
(2) And this depravity is complete (Genesis 6:5; Isaiah 1:5, Isaiah 1:6; Romans 3:9-19).
(3) Life is only tolerable through the meliorating influences of the "gospel of the grace of God." To these must be attributed whatever seems good in unconverted men (Romans 1:28-32).
2. Grace is free.
(1) All are directly the subjects of its illuminations, restraints, and encouragements (John 1:9; 1 Corinthians 12:7).
(2) Some are indirectly specially favoured. Being surrounded by Christian influences. Being children of godly parents.
(3) These opportunities, if duly improved, will infallibly lead to salvation (Titus 2:11-14).
3. Those who fear God from their youth have great advantages.
(1) They have not given evil habits time to consolidate into rigidity. Time is necessary to this, for habits are strengthened by repetition. The hard crystallization of bad habits renders the conversion of old sinners very difficult. Therefore, how few are such conversions, comparatively!
(2) They have a splendid opportunity of founding a strong character of goodness. When the habit of resisting temptation is formed, it becomes more and more natural and easy to resist. Hence, like Obadiah, who "feared the Lord from his youth," they will come to fear Him "greatly."
II. HE FEARED THE LORD GREATLY. See the manifestation of this in his—
1. Respect for the ambassador of God.
(1) He "knew Elijah." Probably he had been present when the prophet warned the king that his fire god would be made to punish his votaries in the absence of dew and rain (1 Kings 17:1). The godly, having sympathy with the ministers of God, are quick to recognize them.
(2) He "fell on his face before him." This was the form of a most respectful salutation. He honoured in him that God whose ambassador he was. Obadiah feared the Lord too greatly to give to any creature the homage due to God alone.
(3) He addressed him reverently, "My lord Elijah." And he spoke of himself as" thy servant." This was proper on his part; but we note how Elijah transferred the style to Ahab—"Go tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here."
2. Kindness to the servants of God.
(1) Through the sin of Jeroboam the priests and Levites went into Judah (see 2 Chronicles 11:18, 2 Chronicles 11:14). To supply their lack in Ephraim, prophets' colleges were established. The students in these colleges were called "sons of the prophets" (see 2 Kings 2:3, 2 Kings 2:5, 2 Kings 2:7).
(2) These, together with their masters, or "fathers," were probably the objects of Jezebel's resentment when Elijah could not be found. They are called "prophets of the Lord" (Obadiah 1:13; compare 1Ki 22:1-53 :85, 1 Kings 22:38, 1 Kings 22:41).
(3) At the time of that persecution Obadiah sheltered and fed one hundred of these. This he did at the hazard of his life. Because he feared the Lord greatly, he feared not the wrath of the king (compare Hebrews 11:23, Hebrews 11:27).
3. Faith in the power of God.
(1) He believed that Jehovah might raise a wind that could carry Elijah away from the power of Ahab. He doubtless knew that Enoch had been translated into the heavens, and may have known of examples of translations from one locality to another, not recorded in the earlier Scriptures (compare 2 Kings 2:11-16; Ezekiel 3:14; Act 8:1-40 :89).
(2) A being who could do such wonders, and whose power was now terribly manifest in the drought, was greatly to be feared (see Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:5).
(3) But while God is of all enemies the most formidable, He is an Almighty Friend.
III. HE FAITHFULLY SERVED HIS KING.
1. God-fearing men make good citizens.
(1) Wicked as Ahab was, he preferred Obadiah to the courtiers of Jezebel in the high office of chamberlain.
(2) This is not a solitary case. Joseph over the house of Pharaoh. Daniel in the house of the kings of Babylon. Christians were in the household even of Nero.
(3) The qualities of a servant of the Lord—truth, honour, diligence—are those sought after for places of trust. "Godliness is profitable unto all things" (1 Timothy 4:8; Isaiah 58:14).
2. God preserves them in their faithfulness.
(1) Service in a licentious court Obadiah would not have chosen. But he is in it and maintains his integrity. They that fear the Lord need not go out of the world.
(2) They have a testimony for God.
(3) They have opportunities of serving the servants of the Lord.
Let us not murmur at our providential lot. God can change it if He see fit. If He does not change it, then He has a purpose in it which we should endeavor to fulfil.—J.A.M.
1 Kings 18:17, 1 Kings 18:18
Elijah, who during the terrible drought was con-coaled, now, at the word of the Lord, came forth to show himself to Ahab, as God was about to give rain. What a meeting! One of the worst of kings with one of the noblest of prophets. What confrontings will there be in the great day of judgment l Here each charges the other with being the troubler of Israel. Observe, then—
I. THAT THE WICKED SEEK TO MALIGN THE GOOD.
1. Ahab accused Elijah.
(1) He assumed that all the horrors of the famine were the work of the prophet, and therefore sought to slay him. How many precious lives, in all ages, have been sacrificed to the theories of tyrants.
(2) This persecutor was terribly in earnest. He sought the prophet in Israel Then in neighbouring kingdoms. He even took an oath of the kingdoms that they did not shelter him. It were well for the world if men were as earnest in good as they are in evil.
(3) But God can hide His servants from the fury of their adversaries. In the solitudes of Cherith In the stir of Zarephath.
(4) Now Ahab accuses the prophet to his face. But see how his courage cools in the presence of the man of God. He frames his accusation mildly in the form of a question, "Art thou he that troubleth Israel?" Conscience makes tyrants tremble.
2. He found a pretext.
(1) Theorists can easily find pretexts for tyranny. Ahab seized upon Elijah's words (1 Kings 17:1), and drew his own inference.
(2) As these words were verified to the letter, the tyrant saw, or affected to see, his theory confirmed. This kind of reasoning is very common.
(3) Why did he not accuse God? Elijah acted as the servant of God. He feared to do this in form, though he did it in fact (see Pro 14:1-35 :81; Matthew 10:40-42; Matthew 25:40, etc.; Act 5:1-42 :89; Acts 9:1-15; Hebrews 6:10).
3. He had a motive.
(1) Why did not Ahab accuse himself? His conscience no doubt did this for him.
(2) But he could not afford publicly to bear the odium of having brought the miseries of the famine upon his people.
(3) Therefore he shifts the responsibility on to the shoulders of the prophet. How essentially does the spirit of the lie enter into all sin!
II. TRUTH COMES HOME IN DUE TIME.
1. Goodness will be vindicated.
(1) It may suffer long under the reproaches of liars. This is permitted because God is long suffering. He makes the trial a blessing to" those who are exercised thereby."
(2) But God is jealous for His servants. Therefore the triumphing of the wicked is but for a season. If the vindication takes not place in this world it certainly will in the next.
(3) Elijah had his opportunity. He repudiated the imputation of Ahab. Good men are true patriots. The trial on Carmel settled the question.
2. Sin will be shamed.
(1) Let it only be brought home, and it will cover the sinner with confusion.
(2) "Thou and thy father's house" have troubled Israel "in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord." Complicity in the sin of Jeroboam is specified here. This sin was a breach of the first and second commandments of the decalogue. It was also a forsaking of the Levitical law, which prescribed ceremonies that were but parodied in Ephraim. This offence was carried to its height in the statutes of the house of Ahab which were those of Omri (see Micah 6:16).
(3) "And thou hast followed Baalim." This was a sin introduced by Ahab himself, no doubt prompted by Jezebel The way of error is from bad to worse.
Sin is the troubler of humanity. It invaded the tranquillity of Eden and broke it up. It brought down judgments of God upon individuals and communities. Upon Cain. Upon the antediluvians. Upon the cities of the plain. Upon Israel It has provoked wars, in whose wake came pestilences and famines. It troubles the abyss of hell.—J.A.M.
1 Kings 18:19-21
Christ or Belial!
Here is a curious phenomenon. A monarch, who had searched all kingdoms for a prophet that he might reek anger upon his life, now sought out and confronted by that prophet, and submitting to his orders to call an assembly of the nation! How God can turn about the hearts of princes! Conspicuous in this vast concourse are the idolatrous priests with gnashing teeth. Elijah stands alone undaunted, a witness for Jehovah, and, appealing to the multitude, he accuses them of unworthy hesitation between irreconcilable services.
I. WHY HESITATE IN SEEKING HAPPINESS?
1. No joys can compare with the heavenly.
(1) There are, indeed, sad professors of the true religion.
(a) Some are constitutionally melancholy. This is a disease which certainly is not aggravated by the sense of the favour of God.
(b) Some have false views of religion. They caricature it into a sepulchral thing. They do it injustice.
(c) But the case most common is that sad professors do not experience what they profess. They halt between Jehovah and Baal—between Christ and Belial. In fashion. In friendships. In pursuits. So conscience stings them sore.
(2) When religion is true there is the best reason for joy.
(a) It brings emancipation from the slavery of sin.
(b) Deliverance from the tyranny of Satan.
(c) Adoption into the family of God.
(d) Heirship to everlasting life.
The true heir has the title-deeds of his inheritance in his heart (Ephesians 1:13, Eph 1:14; 2 Corinthians 5:4, 2 Corinthians 5:5). Thus does he antedate the very bliss of heaven (Luke 17:21; Ephesians 1:3).
2. If sinners be not sad, the more shame.
(1) For sin degrades the man below the brute. As far below as the powers of a man are superior. The degradation of a devil would be impossible to a brute. If a man can be transformed into a compound of swine and devil and not be sad, this is the climax of depravity.
(2) Sin is perfidy to infinite love. Such ingratitude can only be reconciled with the absence of sadness upon the ground of the most shameful perversity.
(3) The sinner is befooled by Satan. In his reflective moods he must loathe himself; but Satan whirls him away from his reflections into some mad dance, and drowns the voice of his conscience in some boisterous laugh. So the fool still befooled exults in his folly. O shame!
II. WHY HESITATE IN SEEKING SALVATION?
1. Life is the determining period.
(1) It is the seed-time for the reaping in eternity. The yield then will be according to the sowing now. In quality: "After its kind." Also in quantity.
(2) Therefore the young have a splendid opportunity. They have time in their favour. "How long shall ye?"
2. Procrastination is precarious work.
(1) "How long (פסח) hop ye?"—this word denotes the passing over from one place to another—"between two opinions." It is used scornfully of the awkward leaping of the priests of Baal, in 1 Kings 18:26. As the squirrel hopping from branch to branch may miss its footing and fall, so may the halting sinner hop into ruin.
(2) Consider the uncertainty of life. Read the gravestones. How enormous is the mortality amongst the young! Unroof heil!
(3) Consider the solemnities of eternity. The freshness and vividness of memory in the disembodied state. What a preparation for the day of judgment!
III. FOR INDECISION THERE IS NO DEFENCE. "The people answered him not a word." But there are motives to evil when there are no good reasons. Such are—
1. Conjugal influence.
(1) Ahab's heart was estranged from God by the influence of Jezebel His predecessors suffered from the same cause. Notably so Solomon.
(2) Beware of contracting ungodly matrimonial alliances. Remember the famine in Samaria. The same God still "ruleth in the kingdom of men."
2. The smile of favouor.
(1) Idolatry was favoured at court. The priests of Ashere feasted "at Jezebel's table." Mean-spirited Israelites sought court favour at the expense of the favour of God.
(3) True worshippers were persecuted. Elijah had to hide himself at Cherith and Zarephath. The sons of the prophets had to hide in the eaves of Obadiah. To keep a whole skin many hesitated. Will you encounter the frown of God to escape the sneer of an old companion?
3. The force of example.
(1) Elijah stood alone as the prophet of the Lord. He had with him a handful of laymen. Obadiah was conspicuous amongst them. If the prophets fed by Obadiah had issued from their caves, they did not stand forth on Carmel in their official character.
(2) The pronounced idolaters were a larger company. There were the prophets of Baal four hundred, and the prophets of Ashere four hundred and fifty, with a proportionate following.
(3) Still "the people" were vacillators. These were the majority. The power and influence of numbers were with the moderate people who would fain keep good terms with God and the devil. The halters are still the majority. How few amongst the multitude of the wicked have resolved in heart and soul that they will go to the devil! It is time you made up your mind one way or the other. How long halt ye?—J.A.M.
1 Kings 18:22-24
The Test of Fire.
Elijah had appealed to the people on their inconsistency in hesitating between services so widely different and so utterly irreconcilable as those of Jehovah and Baal. He got no response. "The people answered him not a word." Then he proposed the test of fire to determine which was worthy. The conclusiveness of such an appeal could not be challenged; so the people with one voice answered, "It is well spoken."
L THE TEST WAS UNEXCEPTIONABLE.
1. For Baal was the fire god.
(1) His name designates him as the lord or ruler. It comes from the verb (בעל) to own or possess, to be master of. But the sun, from its splendour and central position, accounted the visible lord in the material heavens, was their Baal. Sanchoniathon says the Phoenicians thought the sun to be the only lord of heaven, calling him Beelsamen, which in their language is lord of heaven. In "Beelsamen" we at once recognize the Hebrew בעל שמים.
(2) Baal was the fire or body of the sun, rather than its light. So in 2 Kings 23:5 we find Baal (בעל) distinguished from (שמש) the solar light. (See Parkhurst under שמש.) Parkhurst points out that the Runic or Islandic BAAL signifies fire, the Saxon BAEL, and BAEL-FYR, a burning pile, a pyre, a bonfire. Probably our bonfire is simply a corruption of Bael-fyr.
(3) The image of this idol was a bull. This animal was by the ancients regarded as the emblem of fire. The similitude seems to have been in its red colour, in the curled hair upon its forehead giving the idea of flame, in the horns budding from its head suggesting the darting of rays of light from the sun. In Tobit (1:5) we read of "the heifer called Baal." We have the name of this god still preserved in our English bull.
2. The controversy was whether Baal was independent of Jehovah.
(1) His worshippers claimed this for him.
(2) Elijah maintained the opposite. And with cogent reason, for during three years and six months Jehovah made Baal punish his votaries.
(3) Now the prophet proposes the further test of a sudden miracle. If Baal be god, if he be independent of Jehovah, let him come down and consume the sacrifice offered to him. If he cannot, then why should he be worshipped? If Jehovah can send fire on his sacrifice, then is He manifestly Lord of Baal, and should be so acknowledged.
(4) That suitable acknowledgment of God which such a miracle demands, implies—
(a) Recognition of His almighty providence and lordship over the material and moral universe.
(b) The engagement of all our powers in His worship and service.
II. SO WAS THE MANNER OF THE TEST.
1. The prophets of Baal had precedence.
(1) Not because Baal was entitled to it, for that would be a concession of the argument, but because they were many. Elijah stood alone the prophet of the Lord, while the idolatrous prophets were 850 men.
(2) They were to provide the sacrifices. They were wealthy. Elijah was poor. They could not object to the test when the sacrifices were of their own selection.
2. The experiment was to be fair.
(1) Not only might the priests of Baal choose their bullock, cut it in pieces after their approved method, lay it on the wood of the altar; but they must "put no fire under." Else where would be the proof of the ability of Baal? Under some heathen altars holes were dug in which fire was concealed, which communicating with the alter set the wood on fire to make the simple people believe that the sacrifice was consumed by miraculous fire. This Elijah would not permit.
(2) Ordinarily the sacrifices offered to Baal were offered in fire; and sometimes human sacrifices were so offered. "They built the high places of Baal to burn their sons with fire, for burnt offerings" (Jeremiah 19:5). The Phoenician Baal seems to have been identical with the Ammonite Molech. "They built the high places of Baal which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech" (Jeremiah 32:35).
(3) Ashtaroth also were virtually the same as "Baalim," under which plural term are included diversified Baals, as Baal Peor, etc.; and so in verse 25 the prophets of Baal are said to have (אלהים) "gods," in the plural
(4) These had their various images, in some of which the man and bull came into union. The Assyrian man bull so conspicuous in the Nineveh marbles, is probably one of these.
Let us bless God for our Christianity. It is pure light. Compared with it other systems are dark with ignorance, superstition, and error. It is supreme benevolence. Happy is its contrast to the characteristic cruelties of idolatry.—J.A.M.
1 Kings 18:25-29
When the appeal of Elijah to the people had gained their applause, he had the prophets of Baal at his command. The test he had proposed was so fair that they could not reasonably object to it, and the voice of the people rendered it impossible for them to evade the trial. The prophet of the Lord accordingly pressed the matter home upon his adversaries in the words of the text. They were obliged to proceed to the trial which ended in their discomfiture.
I. THEIR PRAYER WAS EARNEST.
1. They began early.
(1) Everything seems to have been in readiness soon after daybreak; so that almost as soon as their Apollo looked out of the eyelids of the morning the cry arose, "O Baal, hear us!"
(2) Worshippers of Jehovah should not be less zealous. The early morning was chosen by His devoted servants. Such exercises will be a noble preparation for the day.
2. They persisted.
(1) They continued their supplications until noon. As the sun rolled upwards in the heavens their hopes rose. As it neared the zenith they felt it was now or never and 850 voices in full chorus cried, "O Baal, hear us!"
(2) Even when the noon point was turned and their god was sinking in the west, still they urged their suit, adding to their entreaties frantic gestures and mingling their own blood with their sacrifice.
(3) Idolatry is essentially cruel, and in this contrasts strongly with the service of Jehovah (see Leviticus 19:28; Deuteronomy 14:1). The cruel penances of Rome are kindred to those of Baal's servants. "The devil is a murderer." Of bodies. Of souls.
(4) Persistency should mark the servants of God. Jacob wrestled all night with the angel at Penuel, and at daybreak prevailed. The parable of the importunate widow was given to impress this lesson. We should ask until we receive.
(5) How blessedly has persistency been rewarded! Ministers have seen this; parents; Sunday school teachers; tract distributors.
II. BUT IT WAS MISDIRECTED.
1. Their god was contemptible.
(1) He was destitute of the attributes they ascribed to him. The sun, though a glorious body, is but matter. It has no more intelligence than a flint. How the intellects as well as the eyes of men are dazzled with splendour!
(2) How different is the true God! He is a Spirit—invisible—omniscient—omnipresent—omnipotent—holy—just—good. He claims, and should receive, the homage of all our faculties.
2. Their worship, therefore, was ridiculous.
(1) So Elijah thought when he stung them with mockery. "He is a god!" (כי אלהים הוא) he is a supreme god l Here is a fine stroke of irony. This weapon of rhetoric was used by our Lord" Art thou a master in Israel and knowest not these things?"
(2) "He is talking." He is so stunned with the thunder of his own voice and with the voices of his associates in the pantheon that he cannot hear the ordinary voices of mortals. Therefore "cry aloud." Or "he is (שיח) meditating" (margin)—in a brown study, in a reverie—and must be roused.
(3) "Or he is pursuing," or "hath a pursuit." He is so engaged with some other matter that he cannot hear your feeble voice. What sort of god is yours?
(4) "Or he is in a journey"—so far away that your prayer will be useless unless you can cry aloud.
(5) "Or peradventure he sleepeth and must be awaked." You must first raise a clamour about his ears to arouse him, or you pray in vain. How doubtful must be the success of any worship paid to such a god!
3. Ridicule was righteously applied.
(1) It should never be substituted for reason, as too often it is. It is a favourite weapon with sceptics who are at a loss for an argument.
(2) But where reason is wasted upon stupidity then it is fitting. Elijah was silent from sunrise till noon, when the experiment had a fair trial and failed. Then he rallied the idolaters with a ridicule that was full of argument.
(3) When evening set in they gave up the contest in despair. There is an evening coming in which all contests with Jehovah shall so terminate.—J.A.M.
1 Kings 18:30-35
As the time of the evening sacrifice approached, Elijah left the priests of Baal prophesying in despair. Satan, if permitted, could have brought fire down (see Job 1:12, Job 1:16; Revelation 13:13, Revelation 13:14); but God restrained him. The people were now convinced that Baal was not able to hear his priests; so they drew round Elijah, and observed the order in which he proceeded with his preparation.
I. HE REPAIRED THE ALTAR OF THE LORD.
1. Then there had been an altar of the Lord on Carmel.
(1) Some great man, as Abraham or Samuel, had built an altar there. Its relies remained a memorial of the piety of earlier times. Influence for good or evil is posthumous.
(2) This mount was, in consequence, reputed as holy. Perhaps this determined Elijah in his choice. Holy places were formerly more important than they are under this spiritual dispensation (see Malachi 1:11; John 4:20-24; 1 Timothy 2:8).
2. But this altar had been "broken down."
(1) Not only had it fallen into decay, but it had suffered from the hand of violence. Probably this was one of the sad evidences of the wicked zeal of Jezebel It was significant of the apostasy of the times (see 1 Kings 19:14; Romans 11:2, Romans 11:8). Idolatry was in favour at court; courtiers therefore favoured it; so did the multitude who followed the fashions.
(2) Such influences still are potent. Idolatrous fashions in dress. In furniture. Even in religion.
3. Elijah would not use the altar used by the priests of Baal.
(1) The service of Jehovah must be pure. It must not be contaminated by the remotest connection with idolatrous abominations. Let us search our hearts (see 2 Corinthians 6:15-18).
(2) In repairing the disused altar of Jehovah, Elijah showed that his was no new religion, but that of the fathers of the nation. So he significantly rebuked the apostasy.
4. Twelve stones were employed in the repairs.
(1) This was "according to the number of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the Lord came, saying, Israel shall be thy name." This was done to show that, though ten of the tribes had separated from the house of David, still, in worship there should be no division (see Genesis 32:28; Exodus 24:4; Joshua 4:5, Joshua 4:20).
(2) "The twelve stones being for the twelve tribes were the mystical body of Him who was their sacrifice and altar both, or who offered His own body, and suffered in it, and who was promised to be accepted in the name (ישראל) Israel, i.e. (ישר) pleasing to, right with, or upright before (אל) the Lord (see Matthew 3:17). But
(3) It was also prophetic of the healing of all schisms in the mystical body of Christ in the happy time to come (see Ezekiel 37:21, Ezekiel 37:22).
(4) All this the prophet did "in the name of the Lord" (1 Kings 18:32). By His direction; therefore with notable significance. For His glory. And since God so expressly authorized such a deviation from the Levitical law, does it not indicate that that law had its principal value in its typical teaching, and that when the antitypes came it should pass away? (See Colossians 2:22; Hebrews 8:1-18.)
II. HE PREPARED THE SACRIFICE.
1. "He put the wood in order."
(1) Why did he not dispense with the wood? The celestial fire certainly did not need it, for it fell upon the sacrifice before it touched the wood, and was so fervent that nothing could stand before it. Stones and dust could no more resist it than wood. Had the wood been intended for fuel, would the prophet have overflowed it with water?
(2) The order was usual in sacrifices. It was observed for typical purposes. The holocaust was a type of Christ, our Sacrifice, who, when consumed in the holy fires of the Godhead on the altar of Calvary, was laid on the wood of the Cross.
2. He poured writer upon the sacrifice.
(1) He poured it in great quantity and with much deliberation, for in preparing the altar he dug a trench to receive the overflow (1 Kings 18:32-35). The water probably came from a deep well-spring in the mountain side rather than from the Kishon. The Mediterranean seems out of the question. Josephus states the well to have been the source (Ant. 8.13).
(2) It was conveyed in four barrels, and these were filled and emptied three times, thus making twelve. Here again we meet with the number of the tribes of Israel. The order, viz; in sets of four three times repeated, was that of the stones in the high priest's breastplate, upon which were engraven the names of the tribes.
(3) Could this sign be intended to show that a plentiful rain would shortly come upon all Israel? And further, that it should come through the repentance of the people for whose sin it had been withholden? That it should come through the return of the people from the altar of Baal to that of Jehovah? If so, then in this sign the gospel also is preached to us. We too must be saved from spiritual drought and death through repentance towards God and faith in Christ.—J.A.M.
1 Kings 18:36-40
While Elijah completed his preparations for offering up his sacrifice, the prophets of Baal, who had failed to vindicate their religion, were hoping that the servant of Jehovah likewise might fail. It was matter of history that Jehovah had answered by fire. (See Genesis 4:5; Le Genesis 9:24; Judges 6:21; 1 Chronicles 21:26.) About a century before this that fire came from heaven which was still kept burning upon the altar at Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 7:1). But Carmel is not Jerusalem; and Jehovah has not promised to record His name here. And, should Elijah fail, then would they fall upon him and destroy him. Yet, on the other hand, he is an extraordinary servant of Jehovah; his word concerning the rain and dew has come true; so may his confidence respecting this answer of fire be honoured. Such thoughts flashed through their minds; but the moment has arrived; the preparations are complete. Now observe—
I. THE PRAYER.
1. It is offered at the time of the evening sacrifice.
(1) The stated evening sacrifice is now on the temple altar. Elijah holds communion with that altar. He, too, though on Carmel, is a true worshipper of the God of David. There are differences in religious worship sanctioned by God which must not be accounted schism. Protestant Nonconformists are not necessarily schismatics.
(2) It is the "hour of prayer." Prayer should ascend with the sacrifice; Christ should be in an our supplications. The hour of prayer was the "ninth hour" (Acts 3:1), that hour in which Jesus "cried with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit" (Matthew 27:50). So in submission must we yield up our spirits with his in prayer to God.
2. It pleads for the honour of God.
(1) It reminds Him of His covenant. "Jehovah Elohim of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel." With these patriarchs He had established His covenant. They knew nothing of Baal's covenants.
(2) "Let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel." Let those who will not acknowledge Thee be confounded. (See Joshua 2:11.) Let those who repent be reconciled to Thy favour.
(3) "Let it be known this day in Israel that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word." Else to have so acted would have been the height of presumption. But with the authority of God mistrust would have been presumption. We are bound to believe the promises of God.
3. It sues for mercy to the penitent.
(1) "Hear me, O Jehovah, hear me, that this people may know that thou art Jehovah Elohim;" that Thou art the self existent, covenant keeping God.
(2) "And that thou hast turned their heart back again." The blessings of the covenant are conditioned upon faith. Without repentance there is no tame faith.
(3) How few are the words of this prayer! No vain repetitions. How wide the contrast with the clamour of Baal's priests!
II. THE RESPONSE.
1. Then the fire of the Lord fell.
(1) There was no mistake about it. It was indeed the "fire of Jehovah"—miraculous fire; for it worked downwards, contrary to the ordinary operation of fire, which works upwards. The sacrifice was soon consumed. Then the wood. The water was licked up. The very stones and dust were vitrified and volatilized.
(2) The destruction of the altar pointed to the pleasure of God that patriarchal high places should be removed, and that all Israel should henceforth worship at the Levitical altar of the temple at Jerusalem. This is the last instance on record in which God accepted a sacrifice offered on a patriarchal altar.
(3) But where now is Baal? Is not that celestial fire which was worshipped as a god completely in the hands of Jehovah?
2. The demonstration was irresistible.
(1) "When all the people saw it they fell upon their faces." Here was an act of reverence towards God. It was the sign also of their renunciation of Baal.
(2) This confession in symbol was accompanied by a corresponding confession in words. "And they said, Jehovah, he is the Elohim; Jehovah, he is the Elohim." Words are signs of a fuller expression.
(3) But words must be followed up by deeds. The prophets of Baal have now to be sacrificed. The law required this. (See Deuteronomy 13:1-11.) They were accordingly slaughtered by the brook Kishon. Thus was returned upon their heads the slaughter of the prophets of the Lord. (See 1 Kings 18:4, 1 Kings 18:18.)
(4) The retribution was complete. Some are of opinion, because the "prophets of Baal" only are mentioned, that the 400 prophets of Ashere were absent and escaped. But this does not follow, for the prophets of Ashere might be included under the designation "prophets of Baal," as Saul's sons are included in his name. (See 1Sa 31:8 -18; 2 Samuel 21:13.) The prophets of Ashere certainly were present. (See 1 Kings 18:19, 1 Kings 18:20; also 1 Kings 19:1.) Let us confess the Lord. In signs: observing His sacraments and ordinances of worship public and private. In words: confessing Him before men upon all fitting occasions. In deeds: bringing forth the fruits of good living, and sacrificing the idolatries that would lead us astray.—J.A.M.
1 Kings 18:41-46
The Sound of Rain.
The fire has fallen upon the sacrifice of Elijah. The people are convinced, renounce Baal, confess Jehovah supreme, and evince their sincerity by slaying the idolatrous priests. Now there is "a sound of abundance of rain."
I. THIS WAS THE SOUND OF SALVATION.
1. Rain was salvation to the nation.
(1) Three years and six months of drought brought it to the point of extinction. The heavens were brazen; the earth was scorched. The people were blackened with excessive heat, and worn with want. Their numbers were thinned by death; survivors moved like skeletons on the edges of their graves.
(2) To such the sound of rain is tidings of life. Let it come, and soon, in such a climate as Palestine, vegetation will burst into verdure. There will be "seed for the sower and bread tot the eater."
2. It was a sign of spiritual blessings.
(1) The kingdom of nature was constituted to furnish apt similes of the kingdom of grace. The blooming of the desert after rain is a familiar figure of spiritual revival. (See Isaiah 35:1-10.;Isa 55:10 -18.)
(2) The descent of rain is a figure of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the receptive soul (Isaiah 32:15). Water, a purifier, refresher, vitalizer, fittingly sets forth His energies; and as these are active, so in baptism the element should come upon the person as rain upon the passive earth. (See Acts 2:8, Acts 2:4, Acts 2:17, 82; Acts 10:44-48.)
3. Revivals have their premonitions.
(1) The sound comes before the rain. It is heard in the branches of trees, and in the waves of seas and lakes. So is a coming revival discerned in the Church by emotion under the word, interest in religious services public and private, and increased evangelistic activity.
(2) This is first heard by the spiritual. Elijah was the first to hear the sound of the coming rain. It begins in the higher heavens before it reaches the earth. Those who are much in prayer have the sensitive ear to hear "afar off." (Compare 2 Peter 1:9.)
II. THE CONDITIONS HAD BEEN FULFILLED.
1. Sin was repented.
(1) The people saw the impotence of Baal. He could not answer for himself. They were now convinced of their folly in submitting to such a delusion. So it must be with every sinner whose eyes are opened.
(2) They destroyed the authors of their delusion. They slew the prophets of Bash Not one escaped. So in the most complete manner must our evil lusts be slain. No power must be left to them to lure us from the truth again.
2. Christ was accepted.
(1) Elijah must show himself to Ahab as a condition of rain (1 Kings 18:1). Ahab so far accepted him as to submit to his directions. But Elijah was a type of Christ, without whose revelation of Himself to us we can have no spiritual grace. (See 1 Kings 17:1.)
(2) Elijah was a type of Christ in his persn. His name (אליה and אליהו) is "My God Jehovah," or, "Whose God is he," expresses the union of God and man in Christ.
(3) He was a type of Christ also in his office. All prophets were types of the One Great Prophet. Elijah, who was remarkable amongst the number, eminently so.
(4) He, too, united with his office of prophet the functions of the priest. He offered up the sacrifice on Carmel. In this sacrifice the people accepted Jehovah as their covenant God. So must we likewise accept God in Christ. In token of their communion with Jehovah they appear to have feasted on the sacrifices. With the burnt offering there were doubtless peace offerings, for these were usual accompaniments, upon which the worshippers feasted. This was the eating and drinking to which Elijah moved Ahab (1 Kings 18:42).
(5) Elijah also was a type of Christ in his character of Intercessor. While Ahab and his people were partaking of the peace-offerings, "Elijah went up to the top of Carmel, and cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees." He bowed reverently in prayer with his head towards the ground—an attitude still observed in the East. So Christ, in the heights, makes intercession for us.
3. The blessing came.
(1) While Elijah interceded he sent his servant to look for the signs of the coming blessing. In this parable, in which the prophet is still the type of Christ, his servant stands for the Church, whose duty it is to look for the fruits of the Redeemer's pleadings. Are we thus looking?
(2) The servant went, and went again and again before he witnessed any sign, in which the lesson to us is that while Christ pleads we must never be discouraged, but "hope to the end."
(3) At the seventh time the promise appeared in a cloud as of a man's hand rising out of the sea, which was to be followed by others in rapid succession until the heavens were "black with clouds and wind," and the thirsty earth was visited with copious showers of refreshing rain. This was prophetic of that seventh time, or "fulness of time," when the hand of God shall act in the sea, or among all nations, and raise that "plentiful shower "which shall refresh His weary inheritance (Psalms 68:9). Meanwhile Elijah sent his servant to Ahab, saying, "Harness the horses, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not."
(4) Now the parable is changed. Ahab, the king of Israel, after the destruction of the prophets of Baal, riding as in triumph, and attended by the blessings of heaven, is the type of Christ. So Elijah runs before him in the spirit and power of God. The Baptist accordingly came "in the spirit and power of Elias," as the forerunner of Christ, in His first advent, to establish His spiritual kingdom. But Elias, in person, will be His harbinger when He comes again, in the fulness of His blessing, to establish a visible and everlasting kingdom (Malachi 4:5).—J.A.M.
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE
1 Kings 18:7-16
It is a proof of the extremity of distress to which the land had been reduced by famine that the king himself with one of his highest officers, the governor of his household, should have gone forth on this expedition in search of water and pasturage. The reverence the person of Elijah inspired is seen in the behaviour of Obadiah towards him when they met. The brief notice we have of this man is highly instructive.
I. HIS FIDELITY. His name, Obadiah, "servant of Jehovah," is suggestive of the strength of his religious character. And it was probably no vain boast that he had always sustained it (Obadiah 1:12). It may seem strange that so good a man should have been willing to remain in the service of such a king, and of a state so demoralized and disorganized by the spirit of idolatry. But note—
1. Religious fidelity wins respect even from those whose own life is most at variance with it. Ahab must have known that his servant remained true to the God of his fathers, and his being continued in such a post was a testimony to his moral and practical worth. Like Joseph in the court of Pharaoh, and Daniel in Babylon, "the Spirit of God was in him," and the king could find none more worthy of his trust. The fear of God is after all one of the highest qualifications for the secular businesses and responsibilities of life, and "when a man's ways please the Lord he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him" (Proverbs 16:7).
2. It is often a noble thing to stand at the post of duty, however uncongenial the moral atmosphere may be. We have no reason to believe that Obadiah retained his position by any kind of moral laxity. He did not violate his conscience in maintaining his secular allegiance. Naaman the Syrian, in the zeal of his new devotion to the God of Israel, asked a dispensation of forgiveness if he should bow with his master in the house of Rimmon (2 Kings 5:18), but we have no evidence even of such a compromise as this in the case of Obadiah. There are times when religious principle itself dictates that men should refuse to relinquish positions of peculiar danger and difficulty; but when fidelity to an earthly master is absolutely incompatible with fidelity to God, an upright spirit will not long hesitate.
3. God may have some great purpose for His servant in such a case to fulfil. Obadiah's mission may have been to mitigate as far as possible the horrors of the famine, to save as he did the lives of the sons of the prophets (Obadiah 1:13); to exert, perhaps, some kind of restraining influence over the conduct of the king. At all events the presence of such a man in one of the high places of the land would be a standing proof that God had not utterly abandoned His people. Every situation in life has its grand opportunities; when there is no possible way of turning it to good account we may well forsake it.
II. HIS FEAR. "What have I sinned?" etc. Faithful as Obadiah was, there was an element of timidity in his nature. He shrank from the risk the commission of the prophet imposed on him. His timidity has two aspects.
1. So far as it meant distrust of Ahab it was natural. He knew only too well his capricious and despotic temper, and could not rely either on his justice or his clemency. "The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel" (Proverbs 12:10). "Let me not fall into the hands of man," etc. (2 Samuel 24:14).
2. So far as it meant distrust of Elijah or of the protective providence of God it was wrong. Could he think that the prophet would abuse his confidence, or that God would be unmindful of him, and after allowing him, for no fault of his own, to be involved in danger, would leave him to his fate? This shows weakness, and was unworthy of the character he bore. The best of men have their seasons of weakness, and fail sometimes under the pressure of unwonted circumstances to maintain the very virtues for which they are most distinguished. The meek spirited Moses is impetuous; the saintly David fails a prey to grovelling passion; the brave Peter proves a coward.
III. THE TRIUMPH OF HIS FIDELITY OVER HIS FEAR. The solemn asseveration of Elijah (Obadiah 1:15) rouses the braver spirit in him, and he responds to the call and goes to meet Ahab. When there is true nobility of character in a man, a word, a flash of light upon the realities of the situation, will often be enough to move him to put forth all his strength and shake off the spell of meaner feeling that may for a while have fallen upon him.—W.
1 Kings 18:21
A solemn alternative.
It must have been by special Divine direction that Elijah was moved thus to put the relative claims of God and of Baal to a public test. The command to gather the priests and people together on Carmel was one that Ahab, defiant as he was, dared not resist. We may suppose these words to have been uttered just before the crisis of the tragedy, when the people were waiting in breathless silence and suspense upon the issue. Nothing is more impressive than a pause like this before some expected catastrophe. The prophet improves it by making one brief pointed appeal to the judgment and conscience of the people. "How long?" etc. His voice of stern, yet sorrowful, rebuke must have struck deep into many hearts; but "they answered him not a word." "Halting between two opinions" was probably a true description of the mental condition of the great mass of the people. Some, no doubt, were blind devotees of the reigning idolatry; others consented to its rites, and practised them through fear of the penalty of resistance, or in hope of some form of secular reward. But the greater part of them were just in this state of moral hesitancy, leaning sometimes to one side and sometimes to the other, swayed by the influences that happened to be strongest upon them at the time. It was the fatal defect of their national character, the sad heritage of earlier days—the "forty years" provocation in the wilderness." What have we here but a true picture of religious indecision? Learn from the prophet's remonstrance—
I. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF EVERY MAN AS REGARDS HIS OWN RELIGIOUS OPINIONS. That the people are rebuked for "halting between two" implies their power and obligation to decide. "Opinions," mental judgments, convictions (marg. "thoughts"), these are the root from which the fruits of all religious feeling and action grow. Here lies the secret guiding and formative power of a man's life. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." It is thought that inspires affection, moulds character, guides the will, determines conduct, rules the man. We cannot well exaggerate the importance of the relation thought bears to the highest interests of our being. But how are these "thoughts" of ours determined? Every man's religious ideas and beliefs, say some, are determined for him by a thousand influences over which he has no control—by early education, by the books that fall in his way, by human associations, native temperament, conformation of brain, etc. There is a measure of truth in this that we dare not ignore. These things have a great deal to do with the matter, and the fact should modify our judgment of the mental position of others in relation to religious truth, and teach us to watch carefully the bearing on ourselves of such influences. Many of us owe our Christian beliefs far more than we imagine to the force of favouring circumstances. We may well thank God that it is so; for as we mourn to think how many things there are that tend to distort the truth and hide it from man's eyes, so we rejoice that there should be so many channels through which the Light of Life may find its way into the soul. But however this may be, God holds every one of us under obligation to think for himself, judge for himself, believe for himself; to use with uprightness of spirit all the means within his reach for the formation of right opinions, to welcome and follow the light that shines from heaven upon his way.
II. THE DUTY OF A PRACTICAL CARRYING OUT OF ONE'S OWN HONEST CONVICTIONS. "If the Lord be God, follow him." The startling "sign" that was about to be given them was intended to decide this grave alternative. "The God that answereth by fire, let him be God." It was great condescension in Jehovah to suffer His claims to be thus put in seeming competition with those of Baal. But the prophet would have the decision of the people to spring from real conviction, and that conviction to be based on sufficient proof. And then let it be a practical decision—final, conclusive, manifest. Let there be an end to all this miserable vacillation, this shameful subserviency to the leading of Ahab and Jezebel and the Baal priesthood, this dark dishonour done to the God of Israel by the multiplication all over the land of heathen groves and altars. All true religious thoughts and opinions have reference to a true life. They are hollow and worthless unless consummated in tiffs. "Faith without works is dead being alone" (James 2:17). A heavy condemnation rests on those who "profess that they know God, but in works deny him" (Titus 1:16). It is a fatal inconsistency to believe in a God and yet not "follow Him." Have you true religious ideas and convictions? Translate your thinking into life.
III. THE URGENCY OF THE NEED FOR THIS PRACTICAL DECISION. "How long?" etc. We may suppose that the prophet was not only impressed with the tardiness of that generation in declaring once for all for the service of Jehovah, but with the memory of the weary provocation of the past, When will Israel be true and steadfast in her allegiance to her God and King? Iris in every respect unreasonable, unmanly, and infinitely perilous to allow the question of your religious position to remain unsettled.—W.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
1 Kings 18:21
Describe the gathering of the people upon Mount Carmel: the suffering they had endured from the long-continued drought; the eager expectancy of the secret worshippers of Jehovah, and the reappearance of Elijah the prophet; the general readiness to obey the summons to witness a decisive contest, etc. The descent into national idolatry had been gradual. One step had made the next easy, and sometimes inevitable, till now the chosen nation was in the deepest degradation. Of this many of them were scarcely conscious. They had followed the example set by the court without remonstrance and without reflection. The opportunity for consideration had come at last. Elijah abruptly threw himself into the current of national life—like a gigantic rock in the stream, which cannot itself be stirred, but whose presence must make itself felt, and may divert the stream into another channel. The test he proposed to the people was obviously fair; indeed, it appeared to give every advantage to the worshippers of Baal. It was not fire but rain that the thirsty land required; but had he said, "The God that answereth by rain, let him be God," Baal's priests might argue that it was not water but fire that their God could rule. Elijah would fight the idol on his own chosen ground. Show how often advantage seems to be given to God's adversaries, as if they were allowed to make out the best cause they could, yet all to no effect. The wisdom of the world was left to the Church's foes. The people were not asked to do what was irrational, but were to have evidence, and this evidence was to be adapted to their sensuous character. Religion appeals to a man as to a rational being. The sin with which Elijah charged the people on Carmel was religious indecision, which we now consider.
I. THE CONDITION OF INDECISION.
1. It implies some enlightenment on religious subjects. Many heathen exist even in a Christian land. Living under the shadow of our sanctuaries, they are profoundly ignorant of God, of His claims, and of His gospel. They are not halting "between two opinions," for they have no opinion about a religious life, but are decided in their godlessness. Such was not the condition of Israel, nor of their modern representatives. There is no want of intellectual knowledge of scriptural truth complained of here.
2. It implies contradiction between theory and practice. The Israelites would not have denied the Divine interpositions of the past, and many would have admitted that the temple at Jerusalem was originally the true place for worship, etc. Like some in Crete, in Paul's days, "they profess that they know God, but in works they deny him."
3. It implies dissatisfaction with present condition. They were like men longing for something which they have not yet resolved to seek. So at Athens, some who heard Paul felt that his words were so wise and weighty that they exclaimed, "We will hear thee again of this matter." They were moved by transient feeling, like Felix (Acts 24:25) and Agrippa (Acts 26:28). To all such comes this protest against vacillation.
II. THE CAUSES OF INDECISION.
1. Want of thoughtful consideration. Many speculate about religion who have never yet cried, "What must I do to be saved?" A busy life diverts them from earnest thought, their powers being absorbed in worldly affairs. Or a frivolous habit of mind may prove their bane.
2. Deficiency of personal courage. It would require courage under Jezebel's rule to become worshippers of Jehovah. Give instances of the difficulties which beset earnest men in modern life, the necessity sometimes arising for true heroism on the part of those who would follow Christ.
3. Tendency to procrastination. Today is devoted to that which is evident to the senses, tomorrow to that which concerns the soul. Examples:
III. THE CONSEQUENCES OF INDECISION.
1. Increase of difficulties. Evil habits grow in strength. The simple spray of ivy can be gathered by a child's hand, but after the growth of years, though it is killing the tree, you cannot tear it off. A worldly man who is now impervious to good never meant to be what he is, but he expected that when the stress of making his position was over he would have time and inclination to attend to affairs of the soul. Imperceptibly God seems to have "given him over to a reprobate mind, because he did not choose to retain God in his knowledge."
2. Loss of opportunity. Even if it were easier to decide for God next year, it would be madness to delay. "Boast not thyself of tomorrow," etc. Read the parable of the Rich Fool—Luke 12:3. Irreparable ruin. If God's opportunity is lost, it will not be re-created after death. See how Christ spoke of Capernaum, of Chorazin, and of Jerusalem. "But now they are hid from thine eyes." "He that is filthy, let him be filthy still." In face of such penalties press home the question on the undecided, "How long halt ye between two opinions?"—A.R.
1 Kings 18:44
Elijah's Prayer for Rain.
The wonders which accompanied the ministry of Elijah were not meaningless prodigies. Those who question the wisdom of miracles should remember that the condition of those for whom they were intended rendered them necessary. Sensuous men must learn through their senses, and worshippers of material force must be met by physical displays of power. We do not try to instruct a child by an essay, or to convince a savage by a syllogism. God could speak directly to the devout patriarchs; but when the worshippers of Baal were to know that there was a living God, they saw the fire from heaven, and heard the bursting of a storm after years of drought. Idolatry had just been swept away by a whirlwind of popular execration. The time had therefore come for the curse to be removed. Elijah with a premonition of the distant rain bade king and people eat of the sacrificial feast, while he went up the mountain to pray. Six times his servant ascended the loftiest peak of Carmel, and came back to say that there was no sign of change; but the seventh time, gazing over the blue expanse of the Mediterranean, he saw a cloud tiny as a man's hand, which was the pledge of answered prayer, for soon the heavens were "black with clouds," and over the thirsty land there was "a great rain." In dealing with events of Old Testament history, we must guard ourselves against giving a fanciful interpretation which cannot be reasonably justified; but we must not forget, on the other hand, that such incidents reveal great principles which run through the whole economy of God, in the moral as well as in the physical world.
I. THE SPIRITUAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BLESSING SOUGHT. The New Testament justifies us in regarding the rain which Elijah prayed for as a type of the Holy Spirit, without whom our hearts are barren, and the moral world is dead. See, for instance, how boldly the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews evolves from the tabernacle what those who constructed it little imagined. Take as another example the allusion which Paul makes to the rock in the wilderness, in which he says emphatically, "That rock was Christ." Recall passages in which the descent of the Spirit is likened to the failing of rain and the distilling of dew. Points of analogy: the grounds on which the heavenly blessing is withheld; the misery that follows its absence; the preparation and prayer for its coming; the subsequent fertility of the barren land, etc. The sins of our age are not unlike those of Elijah's time, though they are less gross in form. The enervating luxuries of civilization, the indifference of many to the decline of religion, the deification of force and of lust, are examples. There has been a forsaking of the Lord on the part of His people, and hence this barrenness of good, in spite of all our toil; because there is a withholding of the gracious influences of the Divine Spirit. May He "come down as rain upon the mown grass, and as showers that water the earth."
II. THE SPIRITUAL PREPARATION FOR THE BLESSING PROMISED.
1. Self forgetfulness. Elijah was personally provided for, and would lack nothing. His heart bled, however, for the suffering people. For them he prayed. We want more of such soul burdening on the part of parents and pastors.
2. Reformation. By the execution of the false prophets, Elijah had done all that in him lay to put away evil. Sins are obstacles in the way of descending blessings. We cannot win the Holy Spirit by good conduct, but we may hinder His work by our sin. Sin is a bar across the sluice gates of benediction, and must be removed or broken before the dry channel can be flooded.
3. Prayer. It is in the Epistle of James that we are told that Elijah's prayers brought both the drought and the rainfall. The fact that the prophet heard the sound of abundance of rain stimulated his supplication, and did not prevent it. He did not argue that God would send the storm whether he prayed or not, but believed that the reception of blessing was inseparably connected with the offering of prayer. Similarly the Holy Spirit was promised to the disciples, but they met to pray till He came. "Ask, and you shall receive."
4. Watchfulness. Elijah was so sure of God's fidelity and goodness that he sent his servant seven times to look for the faintest sign of rain. We need watchfulness for the following reasons:
(1) The answer to prayer does not always come when and how we expect it. E.g; we ask for holiness, and God sends an illness, in which our murmuring closes our heart against the very blessing that is then nearing us. Or we pray for spirituality, and have the possibility of it presented to us in some unexpected joy, which too often makes us more worldly than grateful. Or we entreat God for the salvation of our child; and because we do not watch, we fail to recognize the sign and pledge of the Holy Spirit's work in the child's eager questioning and simple prayer.
(2) The answer to prayer may be long delayed. Elijah was not discouraged even by the sixth repetition of the despairing phrase, "There is nothing." Yet on that very day his one earnest cry had instantaneously brought down fire from heaven. How often like the Psalmist we say," Hath God forgotten to be gracious? .... Wait on the Lord, wait patiently for him."
(3) The answer to prayer may begin in what seems trifling. A cloud the size of a man's hand, hardly describable on the horizon, was enough to transfer Elijah's prayer into praise. Little in itself, it was the beginning of a glorious blessing. The baptism of the Holy Spirit will not suddenly fill the world with worshippers; but it will be seen, perhaps, in the turning to God of one lad, who shall prove the Elijah of his age; or in the new light given to one who has long been under the shadow of doubt; or in some holy resolve, some noble thought that shall presage blessing to the world. Slight and insignificant as it may seem, gratefully welcome it, and still hope, and wait, and pray, till He "come and rain righteousness upon us."—A.R.
HOMILIES BY J. URQUHART
1 Kings 18:21-40
The God that answereth by fire.
I. ISRAEL'S SIN (1 Kings 18:21).
1. Its nature: indecision, a want of whole-hearted devotion; "How long halt ye?" etc. They tried to combine both worships, bowing before Jehovah in secret, and publicly before Baal in the assemblies commanded by the court. There are two who contend today for our devotion and service—the world and God (1 John 2:15). The world has its rewards and demands; God has His.
2. Its folly. Both cannot be served. What we build in obedience to one we cast down in obedience to the other. "If the Lord be God, follow him," etc.
3. The necessity for its abandonment. The messenger sent to announce blessing (1 Kings 18:1) must first convince of sin and secure its removal. The blessings of God stand at the door, but they can enter only as our sins are cast out.
II. THE CHALLENGE (1 Kings 18:22-24).
1. A false test rejected. Baal seemed triumphant. Elijah stood alone, the prophets of Baal were many, and yet the cause had still to be decided. The pretensions of a faith are not established by numbering its adherents and weighing their influence. Truth has often stood alone, and may stand alone again.
2. The true test proposed. Baal's claims and Jehovah's are put to the proof. There is wrath against the land; which will remove the cause of it? By which will the sin offering laid upon the altar be accepted and the iniquity be removed? That test which alone met Israel's need could alone prove Israel's God.
3. The true test accepted. "And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken." Israel's answer will yet be the cry of all nations. The heart of the world will yet acknowledge the true God's work.
III. THE DECISION (1 Kings 18:25-39).
1. Baal tried and found wanting.
(1) The first choice was given to the priests of Baal. The world has had time enough to prove the truth of its pretensions, and to show whether it can meet man's need. The sacrifice has long lain upon its altar.
(2) The earnestness of the false prophets. The failure is not due to lack of effort on the part of the world's votaries. There is no path which has not been trod to find whether the world has aught to satisfy the cry of man's soul; there is no sacrifice it has called for that has been withheld.
(3) Their perseverance. Midday, the hour of the sun's might, was past, yet still they cried and cut themselves, etc. The boundless faith and unwearied efforts of the world's worshippers.
(4) The failure. The sacrifice lay unconsumed upon the altar, lay still there hastening to corruption, when the darkness fell and the priests lay weltering in their blood.
2. God tried and proved.
(1) God's altar built in the face of the world's discomfiture (1 Kings 18:29, 1 Kings 18:30). It was reared about the time of the evening sacrifice. "In the fulness of the times." "After that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased," etc. (1 Corinthians 1:21). The vanity of the world's way was proved ere Christ was manifested.
(2) The altar was one on which God had been served before ("He repaired the altar of the Lord which was broken down"). What was lost in the first is restored in the second Adam. The accepted sacrifice must be offered upon a perfect manhood.
(3) God proved to the uttermost (33-35). There is nothing where that sacrifice is set which the fire of God will not kindle and change into the glory into which that sacrifice itself is lifted.
(4) The answer. The fire fell; the accepted sacrifice went up in living flame which kindled all things round it—wood, stones, dust, water. We cannot test God in His own way without receiving an answer which will lift from the heart's depths the cry, "The Lord, he is God."
IV. THE JUDGMENT OF THE FALSE PROPHETS. The manifestation of God's glory is the hour of sin's overthrow.—J.U.
1 Kings 18:41-46
The return of blessing.
I. ELIJAH'S ASSURANCE OF GOD'S MERCY. "There is a sound of abundance of rain," but it was only as yet a sound in the prophet's ear.
1. The ground of the assurance.
(1) God had promised (per. 1), He would therefore fulfil His word.
(2) The preliminary work which He had sent him to do was accomplished. The people's heart was turned. Their sin was washed away. The curse would surely, then, be also removed. We build a still mightier trust on God's consistency. "tie that spared not his own son," etc.
2. The use he made of it. "He said unto Ahab," and through him to all Israel, "Get thee up," etc. The work of the believer is to comfort God's people, and strengthen their expectation of good.
II. HIS PREVAILING WITH GOD.
1. The assurance of God's mercy does not exclude prayer. "Ahab went up to eat and drink," but "Elijah went up to the top of Carmel." The worldling may expect good and know nothing of supplication; not so with the man of God. Expectation is but encouragement to prayer. The desire that the blessing might come at once and cause the seed of faith to spring up in the people's hearts, made earnest prayer more necessary to Elijah than the refreshment which his body craved.
2. The utter lowliness of the true worshipper. "He cast himself down upon the earth." His face was hid. The man who stands nearest God is the lowliest of all God's worshippers.
3. His importunity. He did not cease till his prayer was granted. Again and again was the servant sent till the small cloud was seen.
III. HIS ATTEMPT TO PREVAIL WITH MAN.
1. His message to Ahab ("Prepare," etc.) showed his care for the king. He was a foe to the sin, but not to the man.
2. He honoured him. He "ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel." The mighty prophet became the erring king's servant. The ministers of God must seek to win the sinful as well as to smite their sin. Hatred and contempt will neither advance God's cause nor man's well being.—J.U.
HOMILIES BY E. DE PRESSENSE
1 Kings 18:1-46
Elijah and the Prophets of Baal.
Elijah is now prepared for his work. He who had sent him into the desert now commands him to enter into open conflict with idolatry. God makes His will known to him in two ways.
I. BY AN INWARD IMPULSE.
II. THROUGH HIS MEETING WITH THE YOUNG OBADIAH, the protector of the prophets, and the faithful servant of God in the midst of the impure court of Ahab. Let it be ours to seek such a twofold assurance of the will of God. Let us not rest satisfied with an inward impulse, lest we be led astray by an illusive mysticism; let us watch also the indications of Providence. The wisdom that cometh down from above is not a blind leading; it can give a reasonable explanation of its motives. It learns to read the will of God at once in the book of the heart and in that of Providence. In his decisive interview with Ahab, Elijah shows us how we are to contend with the idolatry which is always at the root of every doctrine hostile to God.
1. The first element of strength is his manly and indomitable courage. To the king's insolent question, "Art thou he that troubleth Israel?" he replies, "I have not troubled Israel, but thou and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim" (1 Kings 18:18). He only will be victorious in the battle for the right who does not fear to denounce, without flinching, the sin of his people, and to say, like John the Baptist to the mighty ones, whether in the realm of society or of science, "It is not lawful for thee" (Matthew 14:1-36.) Wherever sin is, the witness for truth and righteousness must first strike home to the conscience before attempting to convince the mind.
2. Everything in the language of Elijah breathes a full assurance of victory. He knows that he has on his side that strength of God which he has proved. To believe that we shall be victorious is already to have half won the battle.
3. Elijah's irresistible weapon is prayer. "Hear me, O Lord, hear me; that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again" (1 Kings 18:37). If we now look away from Elijah himself to the plan he proposed to pursue in his warfare against idolatry, we shall see that no better is possible for us today. He does not multiply arguments in dealing with his adversaries; he meets them on the common ground of experience. He gives practical rather than theoretical demonstration of the power of God. Here are the priests of Baal assembled on Mount Carmel. On their side are the people, the favour of the king, the confidence of the public. Elijah stands alone, and yet he feels he is not alone, for God is with him. The heaven, closed for long months against the fertilizing rain, in punishment of the perverseness of Israel, seems a vault of iron and brass. Will it ever melt again, and spread life in soft reviving showers over the land? In vain Ahab has sent his servants up and down throughout the country; the water springs have all failed. The one question in all hearts is, What intercession may avail to draw down the rain once more from heaven? Elijah offers a challenge full of bitter irony to the priests of Baal. May he not lawfully do so, as the messenger of Him of whom it is said that "He shall laugh at the mighty ones who exalt themselves against him'? (Psalms 2:4.) In vain the priests cry, and leap, and cut themselves with stones, in their savage rites; there comes no answering voice from their deaf and dumb idol. But at the prayer of Elijah the heavens re-open, and his God reveals Himself in the glory of His power. Champions of the true God, the God of the gospel, defend it, as Elijah did, against the insolent idolatry of materialism, or of the pantheism which sets up an idol as monstrous as the Baal of old. Be bold, like Elijah, in showing the idolaters how deeply they have fallen. Believe in the victory of your cause; use the invincible weapon of prayer; and to those who have vainly sought the living water in the broken cisterns of earth (Jeremiah 2:13), show the heavens opened and the gracious rain descending upon all broken hearts, and bringing the blessings of a full redemption. Give to our generation this conclusive practical evidence. Meet the positivism of the infidel with the positivism of the Christian. This is the surest means of casting down the idol into the dust, without having recourse to that exterminating sword which the prophet of the old covenant was commanded to draw upon the idolatrous priests. We live under another dispensation, and ours is that sword of the Spirit which only wounds to heal.—E. de P.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Kings 18". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany