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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
1 Kings 18

 

 

Verse 1

And it came to pass after many days, that the word of the LORD came to Elijah in the third year, saying, Go, shew thyself unto Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth.

The third year. In the New Testament it is said there was no rain "for the space of three years and six months." The early rain fell in our March, the latter rain in our October. Though Ahab might have at first ridiculed Elijah's announcement, yet, when neither of these rains fell in their seasons, he was incensed against the prophet as the cause of the nation's Judgment, and compelled him, with God's direction, to consult his safety in flight. This was six months after the king was told there would be neither dew nor rain; and from this period the three years in this passage are computed.

Go, show thyself unto Ahab. The king had remained obdurate and unreformed. Another opportunity was to be given him of repentance, and Elijah was sent in order to declare to him the cause of the national judgment, and to promise him, on condition of his removing it, the immediate blessing of rain.


Verse 2

And Elijah went to shew himself unto Ahab. And there was a sore famine in Samaria.

Elijah went - a marvelous proof of the natural intrepidity of this prophet, of his moral conrage, and his unfaltering confidence in the protecting care of God, that he ventured to approach the presence of the raging lion.

There was a sore famine in Samaria. Elijah found that the famine was pressing with intense severity on the capital. Corn must have been obtained for the people from Egypt or the adjoining countries, else life could not have been sustained for three years; but Ahab, with the chamberlain of his royal household, is represented as giving a personal search for pasture to his cattle. On the banks of rivulets, grass-tender shoots of grass-might naturally be expected; but the water being dried up, the verdure would disappear. In the pastoral districts of the East, it would be reckoned a most suitable occupation still for a king or chief to go at the head of such an expedition. Ranging over a large tract of country, Ahab had gone through one district, Obadiah through another.


Verse 3

And Ahab called Obadiah, which was the governor of his house. (Now Obadiah feared the LORD greatly:

Obadiah feared the Lord greatly. Although he did not follow the course taken by the Levites and the majority of pious Israelites at that time, of emigration into Judah (2 Chronicles 11:13-14), he was a secret and sincere worshipper. He probably considered the violent character of the government, and his power of doing some good to the persecuted people of God, as a sufficient excuse for his not going to worship in Jerusalem.


Verse 4

For it was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the LORD, that Obadiah took an hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water.)

An hundred prophets - not men endowed with the extraordinary gifts of the prophetic office, but who were devoted to the service of God, preaching, praying, praising, etc. (1 Samuel 10:10-12).

Fed them with bread and water. These articles are often used to include sustenance of any kind. Since this succour must have been given them at the hazard, not only of his place, but his life, it was a strong proof of his attachment to the true religion.


Verse 5-6

And Ahab said unto Obadiah, Go into the land, unto all fountains of water, and unto all brooks: peradventure we may find grass to save the horses and mules alive, that we lose not all the beasts.

No JFB commentary on these verses.


Verse 7

And as Obadiah was in the way, behold, Elijah met him: and he knew him, and fell on his face, and said, Art thou that my lord Elijah?

As Obadiah was in the way ... Elijah met him. Deeming it imprudent to rush without previous intimation into Ahab's presence, the prophet solicited Obadiah to announce his return to Ahab. The commission, with a delicate allusion to the perils he had already encountered in securing others of God's servants, was, in very touching terms, declined, as unkind, and peculiarly hazardous. But Elijah having dispelled all the apprehensions entertained about the Spirit's carrying him away, Obadiah undertook to convey the prophet's message to Ahab, and solicit an interview. But Ahab, bent on revenge, or impatient for the appearance of rain, went himself to meet Elijah.


Verses 8-16

And he answered him, I am: go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here.

No JFB commentary on these verses.


Verse 17

And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel?

Art thou he that troubleth Israel? A violent altercation took place. Ahab thought to awe him into submission; but the prophet boldly and undisguisedly told the king that the national calamity was traceable chiefly to his own and his family's patronage and practice of idolatry. But while rebuking the sins, Elijah paid all due respect to the high rank, of the offender, and urged the king to convene, by virtue of his royal mandate, a public assembly, in whose presence it might be solemnly decided which was the troubler of Israel. The appeal could not well be resisted, and Ahab, from whatever motive, consented to the proposal. God directed and overruled the issue.


Verse 18

And he answered, 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.

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 19

Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel's table.

Gather ... the prophets of Baal ... the prophets of the groves. From the sequel, it appears that the former only came. The latter, anticipating some evil, evaded the king's command.

Eat at Jezebel's table - i:e., not at the royal table, where herself dined, but were maintained from her kitchen establishment (see the notes at 1 Samuel 20:24; 1 Kings 4:22). It was and is the custom of Eastern courts to entertain the officers attached to them from the royal table (Athenaeus, 4:, 10, p. 145). They were the priests of Astarte, the Zidonian goddess.


Verse 20

So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel. So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel.

The people - i:e., the representatives of the people stood before the mountain, on the plain of Esdraleon. The place was worthy of the greatness of the crisis, which was the greatest among many that have been signalized. Nature had there representatives from all her departments, to hear Yahweh's controversy with idolatrous man. Sea and river, and plain and mountain, great memories in the past, great occasions in the future-all made Esdraelon the fitting scene and platform of the momentous debate that Elijah made to resound thereon. From every point over that 100 square miles of surface those interested in the issue of this great argument could watch the descent of the fiery response anticipated (Drew's 'Scripture Lands,' pp. 178, 179). "Mount Carmel" is a bold, bluff promontory, which extends from the western coast of Palestine, at the Bay of Acre, for many miles eastward, to the central hills of Samaria. It is a long range, presenting many summits, and intersected by a number of small ravines. The spot where the contest took place is situated at the eastern extremity, which is also the higher point of the whole ridge. It is called el-Mohhraka, 'the Burning,' or 'the Burnt place.' No spot could have been better adapted for the thousands of Israel to have stood, drawn up on those gentle slopes. The rock shoots up in an almost perpendicular wall of more than 200 feet in height, on the side of the vale of Esdraelon. This wall made it visible over the whole plain, and from all the surrounding heights, where gazing multitudes would be stationed.


Verse 21

And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.

Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye? They had long been attempting to conjoin the service of God with that of Baal. It was an impracticable union; and the people were so struck with a sense of their own folly, or dread of the king's displeasure, that they "answered not a word." Elijah proposed to decide for them the controversy between God and Baal by an appeal, not to the authority of the law, for that would have no weight, but by a visible token from heaven. Since fire was the element over which Baal was supposed to preside, he proposed that two bullocks should be slain, and placed on separate altars of wood-the one for Baal and the other for God-and on whichever the fire should descend to consume it, the event should determine the true God, whom it was their duty to serve. It is evident from this language that the mass of the people, ignorant and strongly addicted to idolatry, considered Baal as identical with Yahweh; while the worshippers of Yahweh, on the other hand, maintained His exclusive title to divine honours.

The controversy, therefore, did not consist in a direct opposition between the worship of Yahweh and that of Baal; for the latter party, like the pagan in general, tolerated the worship of other deities along with their own favourite idols; but, as Hengstenberg states it ('Pentateuch,' 1:, pp. 170, 171), 'the persecution was directed against those who, like Elijah, bore powerful testimony against the union of what was irreconcilable, who loudly maintained that Yahweh identified with Baal was no longer Yahweh. The proposal which Elijah made from this point of view, that they should see whether Yahweh was God, or Baal, the priests of Baal, from their point of view, understood to be, whether Yahweh-Baal was God, or Yahweh in perfect exclusiveness. The question that he put before making his proposal plainly implies, that in the popular opinion these heterogeneous religious elements were blended in one' (cf. Hosea 2:11).

The people answered him not a word. It was precisely the same controversy as was of old between Moses and Pharaoh (see Macdonald, 'Introduction to the Pentateuch,' 1:, 177).


Verse 22

Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the LORD but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men.

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 23

Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under:

Let them ... give us two bullocks ... The preparations as described were exactly accordant with the prescriptions of the Mosaic ritual (see the notes at Leviticus 1:1-17); and the mode of decision suggested by Elijah is borrowed from Leviticus 9:1-24. There was a close resemblance in the circumstances, though a much greater urgency for a miraculous attestation from heaven in the apostate times of Elijah, and the result was the same (cf. 1 Kings 18:39).


Verse 24

And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.

All the people answered and said, It is well spoken. The proposal appearing every way reasonable, was received by the people with unanimous approval.


Verse 25

And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under.

Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves. The priests of Baal commenced the ceremony by calling on their god. In vain did they continue invoking their senseless deity from morning until noon, and from noon until evening, uttering the most piercing cries, using the most frantic gesticulations, and mingling their blood with the sacrifice. (See description of the manner and invocation of the pagan, Osborne's 'Palestine,' p. 253; Roberts, 'Oriental Illustrations,' in loco; Davy's 'Travels in Ceylon;' and Dr. Marshall, 'Ceylon.')


Verse 26-27

And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made.

No JFB commentary on these verses.


Verse 28

And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.

Cut themselves ... with knives and lancets - (see Grotius.) [The scenes of Carmel are transacted daily before the eyes of our missionaries. An account is given ('Missionary Herald,' p. 1005) of the rites of the Hindu goddess Matha.: 'There was a multitude of ten or twelve thousand people assembled. In a short time a man advanced into the center of the group, pretending that the goddess had entered into him; pulling off his turban and tossing his long hair over his face, he began to leap and shake, uttering a noise occasionally like the bark of a dog. As his excitement increased, he beat himself with a chain, and made incisions in his tongue with a sword. Having taken the blood, he rubbed it on the foreheads of the spectators. By and by the infection spread, and others pretended to be in like manner possessed by the goddess; so that in a short time every party had three or four of the possessed. These poor, infatuated men continued to leap and shake the whole night.' (See Graham's 'Jordan and Rhine,' p. 176; Virgil, 'AEneid,' 4:, 672: cf. Revelation 13:16-17; Revelation 15:2; Revelation 16:2; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:4.)] No response was heard; no fire descended. Elijah exposed their folly and imposture with the severest irony.


Verse 29

And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.

They prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice , [ wayitnab'uw (Hebrew #5012)] - they imitated, at length, the manner of the true prophets, by shouting, and the singing of sacred music.


Verse 30

And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down.

Elijah said unto all the people, Come near. Since the day was far advanced, Elijah commenced his operations. Inviting the people to approach and see the entire proceeding, he first repaired an old altar of God, which Jezebel had demolished; then, having arranged the cut pieces of the bullock, he caused four barrels or jars of water to be dashed all over the altar, and round in the trench. Once, twice, a third time this precaution was taken, and then, when he had offered an earnest prayer, the miraculous fire descended (Leviticus 9:24; Judges 6:21; Judges 13:20; 1 Chronicles 21:26; 2 Chronicles 7:1), and consumed not only the sacrifice, but the very stones of the altar. The impression on the minds of the people was that of admiration, mingled with awe; and with one voice they acknowledged the supremacy of Yahweh as the true God. Taking advantage of their excited feelings, Elijah called on them to seize the priestly impostors, and with their blood fill the channel the river (Kishon), which, in consequence of their idolatries, the drought had dried up-a direction which, severe and relentless as it seems, it was his duty as God's minister to give (Deuteronomy 13:5; Deuteronomy 18:20).

The natural features of the mount exactly correspond with the details of this narrative. The conspicuous summit, 1,635 feet above the sea, on which the altars were placed, presents an esplanade spacious enough for the king and the priests of Baal to stand on the one side, and Elijah on the other. It is a rocky soil, on which there is abundance of loose stones, to furnish the twelve stones of which the altar was built-a bed of thick earth, is which a trench could be dug; and yet the earth not so loose that the water poured into it would be absorbed; 250 feet beneath the altar plateau there is a perennial fountain, which, being close to the altar of the Lord, might not have been accessible to the people, and whence, therefore, even in that season of severe drought, Elijah could procure those copious supplies of water which he poured over the altar. The distance between this spring and the site of the altar is so short as to make it perfectly possible to go thrice there and back again; whereas it must have been impossible once in an afternoon to fetch water from the sea (Van de Velde 2:, p. 893). The summit is 1,000 feet above the Kishon which nowhere runs from the sea so close to the base of the mount as just beneath el-Mohhraka; so that the priests of Baal could in a few minutes be taken, down 'to the brook (torrent), and slain there.' The place where the false prophets were discomfited and slain was toward that extremity of the mount which faces Jezreel (Esdraelon), and at a point near which it is approached by the Kishon. 'From this slaughter some travelers are disposed to derive the modern name of the river, el-Mukuta', following the meaning, secuit excidit, etc., of the Arabic verb (so D'Arvieux, "Memoire,"

ii., p. 294). But among the common people the name signifies merely "the ford," from another meaning of the same, verb, trajecit flumen. See Freytag's "Lex. Arab."' (Robinson's 'Biblical Researches,' 3:, p. 232).


Verses 31-41

And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the LORD came, saying, Israel shall be thy name:

No JFB commentary on these verses.


Verse 42

So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees,

Ahab went up to eat and to drink. Ahab, kept in painful excitement by the agonizing scene, had eaten nothing all the day. He was recommended to refresh himself without a moment's delay; and while the king was thus occupied, the prophet far from taking rest, was absorbed in prayer for the fulfillment of the promise (1 Kings 18:1).

Put his face between his knees - a posture of earnest supplication still used.


Verse 43

And said to his servant, Go up now, look toward the sea. And he went up, and looked, and said, There is nothing. And he said, Go again seven times.

Go up now, look toward the sea. From the place of worship there is a small eminence, which, on the west and northwest side, intercepts the view of the sea (Stanley; 'Sinai and Palestine,' p. 347; Van de Velde, 1., p.

121). It can be ascended in a few minutes, and presents a wide prospect of the Mediterranean. Six times the servant went up, but the sky was clear, the sea tranquil. On the seventh time he descried the sign of approaching rain (see the notes at 1 Kings 17:21-22).


Verse 44

And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man's hand. And he said, Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not.

A little cloud ... like a man's hand. The clearness of the sky renders the smallest speck distinctly visible; and this is in Palestine the uniform precursor of rain. It rises higher and higher, and becomes larger and larger with astonishing celerity, until the whole heaven is black, and the cloud bursts in a deluge of rain.

Prepare thy chariot ... that the rain stop thee not - either by the River Kishon being suddenly so swollen as to be impassable, or from the deep layer of dust in the arid plain being turned into thick mud, so as to impede the wheels.


Verse 45

And it came to pass in the mean while, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel.

Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel - now Zerin, a distance of about ten miles. This race was performed in the midst of a tempest of rain. But all rejoiced at it, as diffusing a sudden refreshment over all the land of Jezreel.


Verse 46

And the hand of the LORD was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.

Elijah ... girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab. It was anciently, and still is, in some countries of the East, customary for kings and nobles to have runners before their chariot, who are tightly girt for the purpose. The prophet, like the Bedouins of his native Gilead, had been trained to run; and as the hand of the Lord was with him, he continued with unabated agility and strength. It was, in the circumstances, a most proper service for Elijah to render. It tended to strengthen the favourable impression made on the heart of Ahab, and furnished an answer to the cavils of Jezebel; because it showed that he who was so zealous in the service of God was at the same time devotedly loyal to his king. The result of this solemn and decisive contest was a heavy blow and great discouragement to the cause of idolatry. But subsequent events seem to prove that the impressions, though deep, were but partial and temporary.

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 Kings 18:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/1-kings-18.html. 1871-8.

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