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Bible Commentaries

Wells of Living Water Commentary
1 Kings 18

 

 

Verses 1-39

Elijah at Mount Carmel

1 Kings 18:1-39

INTRODUCTORY WORDS

There are three things which we wish to consider:

1. Judgment and justice. The opening verse of chapter 18 says, "And it came to pass after many days." Those many days amounted to three and one-half years. We know this because in the Book of James we read: Elijah prayed "that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months." Those many days were days in which God was judging the sins of Ahab.

A great famine had fallen upon the earth so that both man and beast suffered indescribably. Lack of water means lack of vegetation of every kind. In other words, it means famine. There is no pestilence that is worse than famine.

2. Protection and provision. During the three and one-half years of famine, God protected Elijah from the wrath of Ahab on the one hand, and provided for his every need on the other hand. This reminds us of the days when there was famine in Egypt, but our God protected Joseph, and through him provisioned Jacob. God's eye is always upon His own. He never leaves them, nor forsakes them. They may suffer because they are in a world which is under the curse, but in all of their suffering they will enjoy protection and provision.

Habakkuk said so truly, "Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God, is my strength, and He will make my feet like hinds' feet, and He will make me to walk upon mine high places."

This is exactly what God did for Elijah in the midst of the dire destruction which befell Israel because of Ahab's sins.

3. Command and compliance. It was at the end of the three and one-half years that the Word of the Lord came to Elijah saying, "Go, shew thyself unto Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth." This was the command. It was a command that humanly speaking meant disaster to Elijah. It was no small matter for him to show himself to the king who sought his life. It was like being cast into a lions' den, or being thrust into a burning fiery furnace. Yet we read, "And Elijah went to shew himself unto Ahab."

God said, "Go" command; Elijah went compliance. God also says "Go" to the Christian. The command is a command which is still upon us. We are to go to the ends of the earth. The people to whom we are to go include "every creature." Are we as ready to comply? There are multiplied millions upon the earth who have never heard of Christ. What will we say when we stand before the Lord?

I. OBADIAH, THE RIGHTEOUS (1 Kings 18:3 )

1. The trusted servant of Ahab. In 1 Kings 18:3 is the statement, "And Ahab called Obadiah, which was the governor of his house." We wonder why the king who had sinned against God and worshiped Baal sought to place as governor over his house a man who feared the Lord greatly?

We surmise that with Ahab it was the same as it is with the people of today: they themselves may be wicked, but they want some one to serve them who is righteous. They feel safer when they have a saint watching over their goods.

We remember reading the story of an atheist who stopped one wild and stormy night in the home of a cowboy in western Texas. The man had a bag of money with him, and he was afraid of having it stolen. He determined that he would not sleep any, but would keep his ears open and his eyes alert, so that the cowboy could not take him unawares, kill him, and rob him. Through a crack in the wall he looked, however, and he saw the cowboy reaching for a Bible, and then, after reading it, he saw him kneel down to pray. Immediately the sojourner for the night prepared for a good night's sleep. Even an atheist felt safe in the home of the man who prayed.

So it was with Ahab. No matter how wicked he was, he desired one whom he could trust to be over his goods.

2. The servant of God. How refreshing it is to notice in 1 Kings 18:3 the statement, "Now Obadiah feared the Lord greatly." This is often the case. In the midst of wickedness and shame God has those who are truly His own. They are in the world, but they are not of it.

Daniel was in Babylon, but he was righteous, Babylon stood for everything morally corrupt and vile, but Daniel stood for everything that was right and righteous.

We saw in the coal regions of Pennsylvania amid the dirt and soot of mining a beautiful white flower that seemed absolutely unsoiled. So should we, in the midst of wickedness be righteous; in the midst of darkness, be light.

II. THE DEEDS OF OBADIAH, THE RIGHTEOUS (1 Kings 18:4 )

Our verse carries with it a twofold story.

1. The deeds of Jezebel. Jezebel was the daughter of Ethbaal, the king of the Zidonians, whom Ahab had married. It was she who had led the king into much of his wickedness. It was upon her invitation Ahab had cast down the worship of the Lord, and had reared up an altar for Baal. Our key verse tells us how this wicked woman had cut off the Prophets of the Lord. She evidently was a woman of tremendous force and power for evil. The king himself seemed to be a mere puppet in her hand. Everybody bowed the knee to Jezebel.

2. The deeds of Obadiah. It was in the midst of this terrific onslaught against the Prophets that Obadiah took one hundred Prophets and hid them by fifties in a cave. He kept them alive by feeding them bread and water. In this act Obadiah laid himself open to the wrath of Jezebel. However, just as Moses feared not the wrath of king Pharaoh, so Obadiah by faith feared not the wrath of Jezebel. He was a savior to the Prophets of the Lord.

We wonder how many there are among us today who are willing to serve God in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation? We wonder how many of us are willing to pay the price by going all the way?

Shall we join with the popular crowd who decry the Lord and His servants? Or shall we go without the camp suffering reproach for Christ, and share with the saints in their suffering?

3. Obadiah and Ahab searching for grass. The famine in Samaria was so sore that the king himself started on a personal search for grass, accompanied by his trusted servant. They searched for a fountain of water, or a brook, where they might find grass and thereby save their horses and mules alive. It was at this time that God commanded Elijah to show himself to Ahab.

III. ELIJAH MEETS OBADIAH (1 Kings 18:7-9 )

As Obadiah went forth seeking water and grass, Elijah met him. Immediately Obadiah recognized Elijah, and falling upon his face, he said, "Art thou that my lord Elijah?" Elijah promptly replied, "I am." These words of Elijah bring to our mind the words which God gave to Moses when he was commissioned to meet Pharaoh. We remember how Jesus Christ said on one occasion "before Abraham was, I am."

As Elijah stood before Obadiah and said, "I am," we feel that he perhaps purposely suggested the thought that he was there as the representative of the eternal God. Thus it was that looking upon Obadiah, he said, "Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here."

Immediately Obadiah demurred. He said, "What have I sinned, that thou wouldest deliver thy servant into the hand of Ahab, to slay me?"

Obadiah then told Elijah that there was no nation or kingdom where Ahab had not sought for Elijah. He even said that every king and kingdom had had to take oath that they found not Elijah.

Then said Obadiah to Elijah, "And now thou sayest, Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here. And it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from thee, that the Spirit of the Lord shall carry thee whither I know not; and so when I come and tell Ahab, and he cannot find thee, he shall slay me: but I thy servant fear the Lord from my youth."

Obadiah knew well the villainy of his master, Ahab. As he stood before Elijah he pleaded his own fidelity and faithfulness. Elijah, however, encouraged Obadiah by saying, "As the Lord of hosts liveth before whom I stand, I will surely shew myself unto him to day." Thus it was that Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him that Elijah had come.

IV. THE FATEFUL MEETING (1 Kings 18:17 )

Our Scripture says, "And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel?" The Bible is silent upon what occurred when Obadiah told Ahab that Elijah had come. It is silent upon what Ahab thought, and what he said as he and Obadiah hastened to the place where Elijah waited.

However, all of the pent-up anxiety and sorrow of three and one-half years seemed to break forth from Ahab's lips as he said to Elijah, "Art thou he that troubleth Israel?"

The Prophet immediately 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."

How easy it is for the sinner to blame another for his sorrows. Because of their own waywardness, people bring upon themselves untold anguish, and then they condemn God or some one else for everything they suffer. This is a revelation of the human heart and its vileness.

Ahab himself had brought every bit of Israel's trouble, in that he worshiped and followed Baal, and yet he wanted to condemn the man who had followed the Lord fully, and who ever stood in the presence of his God.

V. THE GREAT TEST (1 Kings 18:21 )

Elijah, the Prophet, spoke to Ahab, the king, with supreme authority. He neither trembled nor feared before Ahab. He rather commanded him to gather all Israel unto Mount Carmel specifying that the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal must be present, and the four hundred prophets of the groves which ate at Jezebel's table must also be present.

1 Kings 18:20 tells us that Ahab sent unto the Children of Israel, and that he also gathered the prophets together unto Mount Carmel. Now comes our key verse which reads, "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."

Every young man and woman today needs to face this proposition. We have too many middle-of-the-roaders. They are neither hot nor cold. They serve neither God nor Baal, or perhaps they endeavor to serve them both.

They come as the people come, and they worship as the people worship. Their hearts are far from the Lord. Their names are on the church rolls, but they are not in the Lamb's Book of Life. They are outwardly pious, but inwardly full of dead men's bones.

To every one of this class we bring the words of Elijah, "If the Lord be God, follow Him: but if Baal, then follow him."

We plead with the young people for a fuller consecration; a wholehearted, truehearted obedience to God. Let us no longer serve God on Sunday, and the devil on Monday. Why should we rob ourselves of the joys of Christ because we follow Baal, or of the transient joys of earth because we follow God? Let us be one or the other, and be it wholeheartedly.

VI. THE GREAT CONCLUSION (1 Kings 18:39 )

1. The two altars ordered. As the people gathered around Elijah on that remarkable day Elijah commanded that two altars should be erected, that two bullocks should be dressed and cut in pieces, and laid on the wood. Under neither of the sacrifices should any fire be placed. Then Elijah was to stand apart, as he permitted the prophets of Baal to call on the name of their gods.

After they had called he, too, was to call upon the Name of his God. Then said Elijah, "The God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken." They saw that Elijah was fair in what he asked.

If Baal was God he was to answer the prayers of the prophets of Baal and accept their sacrifice by sending down fire. If the Lord was God He must answer the prayer of His Prophets, and accept their offering by fire. There was only one inequality, and that was the prophets of Baal were four hundred and fifty, with the prophets of the groves were four hundred. Thus, there were eight hundred and fifty men, against one.

2. The first altar. With Elijah's instructions before them, the first altar was made. Around that altar the prophets marched from morning until noon saying, "O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered." In their desperation they leaped upon the altar which they had made. Elijah, the Prophet of God added to their fury by saying, "Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked."

Elijah was mocking them, because their god, Baal, was the sun-god, and how could he be forgetful of them at the hour of noon when from the heavens itself he was seen looking down upon them in his glory.

Then the prophets of Baal cried aloud, and cut themselves with knives and lances until the blood rushed out upon them. It must have been a horrid sight. The people stood amazed. The Baal god spoke not. He could not emit enough heat to set the offering on fire, and burn up the sacrifice.

3. The second altar. Thus it came to pass when they had prophesied past the midday and on until the time of the evening sacrifice that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded. Could they have worked a trick, they would have done it, but there were too many eyes upon them.

Then Elijah said to the people, "Come near unto me." All the people gathered around him. Then he repaired the altar of the Lord that Ahab had broken down. He took twelve stones according to the number of the sons of Jacob.

When the altar was completed he made a trench around about it. He put the wood in order, then cut the bullock in pieces, and laid it on the wood. Lest some one would say that he kindled the fire through trickery, he stood apart and said, "Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt-sacrifice, and on the wood. And he said, Do it the second time, * * and he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time."

"And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water. And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice," as the Baal god was disappearing behind the horizon that Elijah, the Prophet, came near and said, "Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that Thou art God in Israel, and that I am Thy servant, and that I have done all these things at Thy Word. 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."

Can you visualize that wonderful scene? Can you see the Prophet with uplifted hands as he prays? Can you see the multitudes awed into silence? Can you see those prophets of Baal stunned into silence by the majesty and assurance of God's man as he prayed?

"Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench." As the people saw it they prostrated themselves and fell upon their faces as they said, "The Lord, He is the God; the Lord, He is the God."

We wonder if any unbelieving ones would be willing to put the gods they serve and the God of the Christian to the test. Then if willing to do that, are they also willing to serve the God who answers by fire?

The air is filled in these days with blasphemy against the Most High. Some, who do not dare to come out and utter blasphemy, do make slighting remarks against the Lord who is God. Some young people of school age are given to ridiculing things Divine. They call their parents "old fogies" because they believe in God. We plead with all such to put God to the test and if God be God. serve Him; if Baal, then follow him.

AN ILLUSTRATION

A LEAN-TO SHED

"Religion" to Elijah was not an easy affair.

"Many men owe their religion, not to grace, but to the favor of the times; they follow it because it is in fashion, and they can profess it at a cheap rate, because none contradict it. They do not build upon the rock, but set up a shed leaning to another man's house, which costs them nothing." The idea of a lean-to religion is somewhat rough, but eminently suggestive. Weak characters cannot stand alone, like mansions; but must needs lean on others, like the miserable shops which nestle under certain Continental cathedrals. Under the eaves of old customs many build their plaster-nests, like swallows. Such are good, if good at all, because their patrons made virtue the price of their patronage. They love honesty because it proves to be the best policy, and piety because it serves as an introduction to trade with saints. Their religion is little more than courtesy to other men's opinions, civility to godliness.

Alas for an age when this sort of thing abounds! It is an injury to the architecture of godliness to be encumbered with these pitiful hovels.

As parasites suck the life out of the goodly tree, so do these pretenders injure those to whom they cling with the servile homage of hireling adulation. To themselves their vain profession and man-pleasing are a presage of destruction: for at the last day all must fall into eternal ruin which has not its own foundation on the rock. Our lives will be weighed one by one in personal judgment, and no other man can add an ounce to aid us if we are found wanting.

The well-founded and well-compacted structure of the sincerely gracious will survive the time when once more the Lord shall shake not only earth but also heaven; but that frail fabric which leans on mortal aid will perish in that dread convulsion. Chas. H. Spurgeon.

 


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Bibliography Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on 1 Kings 18:4". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lwc/1-kings-18.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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