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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
1 Kings 17

 

 

Verses 2-7

Elijah Is Fed By Ravens At The Brook Cherith (1 Kings 17:2-7).

Having made his public declaration Elijah was then advised by YHWH to go to the east of Jordan, to one of the wadis that fed the Jordan, where he was promised that he would be fed by ‘rbm. Pointed as ‘orebim this would indicate ‘ravens/crows’. Pointed as ‘arabim it would indicate wandering Arabs. (The original text had no pointing). In a time of drought the Arabs would have dying cattle from which they could supply meat to Elijah, and for that reason they would not want to move far from water, which would explain why they hung around the Jordan at this time. However, in a similar way, scavenger birds would have more carcases available from which they could bring meat to Elijah, and this appears the more likely meaning as it illustrated the author’s desire to portray the power of the God of creation in making His creatures do His will. Others, however, point out that by taking it as ‘Arabs’ we have (together with the widow of Zarephath) two parallel examples of God providing for His servant through ‘foreigners’, when his own people had turned against him (but had Jesus seen it in this way, surely he would have included it as an example in Luke 4:25). It makes little difference in the end. The point was that the power of YHWH would ensure that he was provided for.

Analysis.

And the word of YHWH came to him, saying, “Get yourself away from here, and turn yourself eastward, and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is before the Jordan” (1 Kings 17:2-3).

“And it shall be, that you will drink of the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there” (1 Kings 17:4).

So he went and did according to the word of YHWH, for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, which is before the Jordan (1 Kings 17:5).

And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening, and he drank of the brook (1 Kings 17:6).

And it came about after a while, that the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land (1 Kings 17:7).

Note that in ‘a’ Elijah was sent to the Wadi Cherith were he would have a supply of water, and in the parallel the Wadi dried up and he had to move on. In ‘b’ the ravens would feed him there, and in the parallel the ravens did feed him there. Centrally in ‘c’ Elijah obeyed the word of YHWH.

1 Kings 17:2-3

And the word of YHWH came to him, saying, “Get yourself away from here, and turn yourself eastward, and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is before the Jordan” ’

As a prophet Elijah then received the word of YHWH which told him to leave Samaria and go to the Wadi Cherith, east of Jordan (or overlooking the Jordan) to a deserted spot where he could find a hiding place where Ahab’s men could not find him.


Verse 4

And it shall be, that you will drink of the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.”

There he would be able to drink water from the Wadi, regularly refreshing himself, and he was promised that YHWH would send the ravens (or wandering Arabs) to feed him. This is not strictly comparable with Exodus 16, although it similarly indicates that YHWH can feed His people how He wills.

1 Kings 17:5

So he went and did according to the word of YHWH, for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, which is before the Jordan.’

Unlike Israel Elijah obeyed the word of YHWH. He went and dwelt by the Wadi Cherith by the Jordan, was fed and was content.

1 Kings 17:6

And the ravens brought him food and flesh in the morning, and food and flesh in the evening, and he drank of the brook.’

And there he received food and flesh which was brought to him by large scavenger birds (or wandering Arabs) both morning and evening. If we wish to rationalise we should consider that there would be so many dead beasts around, due to the drought, that the scavenging birds would be collecting larger amounts of food than normal and may well have dropped some by Elijah as they flew by or even have come to rest nearby. Presumably it was as popular site for ravens. Thus YHWH may well have used this natural situation in order to feed Elijah. Palestinian ravens could be sixty five centimetres (two feet) long and only scavenged for meat that was comparatively fresh. They would thus carry reasonably sized pieces of comparatively fresh meat which would be edible to human beings.

1 Kings 17:7

And it came about after a while, that the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land.’

But inevitably after a while as a result of the lack of rain the Wadi began to dry up. Elijah would now have to look elsewhere for water.


Verses 8-16

YHWH Makes Provision For Elijah With A Widow Of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8-16).

The water in the Wadi Cherith having almost dried up, God now directed Elijah to go to Zarephath, where He would arrange for a widow woman to provide his need. Zarephath was on the Lebanese coast road between Tyre and Sidon, thirteen kilometres (nine miles) south of Sidon. It was mentioned in the 13th century BC papyrus Anastasi 1. It was also mentioned by Sennacherib and Esarhaddon.

To this Phoenician town Elijah made his way, and was provided for even more miraculously than at the Wadi Cherith. God was making clear to him that He could provide all that he needed under all circumstances. Although Baal could not produce grain and oil for his worshippers from the fields, the living God was able to supply both abundantly from a small jar.

This remarkable incident regularly causes much scepticism today among those who close their eyes and then say, ‘I cannot see’. But there are in fact well authenticated parallels of similar occurrences having happened in the present day, for those who have eyes to see.

Analysis.

a And the word of YHWH came to him, saying, “Arise, get you to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Look, I have commanded a widow there to sustain you” (1 Kings 17:9).

b So he arose and went to Zarephath, and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks, and he called to her, and said, “Fetch me, I pray you, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink” (1 Kings 17:10).

c And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, “Bring me, I pray you, a morsel of bread in your hand” (1 Kings 17:11).

d And she said, “As YHWH your God lives, I have not a cake of bread, but a handful of meal in the jar, and a little oil in the cruse, and, see, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die” (1 Kings 17:12).

c And Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid, go and do as you have said, but make me from it a little cake of bread first, and bring it forth to me, and afterwards make for yourself and for your son. For thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, The jar of meal will not waste, nor will the cruse of oil fail, until the day that YHWH sends rain upon the earth” (1 Kings 17:13-14).

b And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah, and she, and he, and her house, did eat for many days (1 Kings 17:15).

a The jar of meal wasted not, nor did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of YHWH, which he spoke by Elijah (1 Kings 17:16).

Note that in ‘a’ God sent Elijah to a widow who would provide for his needs, and in the parallel his needs were miraculously provided. In ‘b’ he called on the woman to give him a drink and in the parallel she did so. In ‘c’ he called on her for bread in time of great famine, and in the parallel she was assured that on doing what he had asked she would never go without bread. Centrally in ‘d’ the awful situation was pinpointed, that he had come to a family who were starving to death.

1 Kings 17:8-9

And the word of YHWH came to him, saying, “Arise, get you to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Look, I have commanded a widow there to sustain you.” ’

Once more, by the Wadi Cherith, Elijah received ‘the word of YHWH’. He lived his life constantly listening for that word. And this time God told him to go to Zarephath, a town of Sidon, outside Ahab’s territory, where he would be provided for by a widow woman who had a son. There in Phoenicia was a true believer in YHWH who was obedient to his will, in total contrast to the proud king of Israel.

1 Kings 17:10

So he arose and went to Zarephath, and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks, and he called to her, and said, “Fetch me, I pray you, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” ’

So Elijah, in obedience to YHWH’s word, went to Zarephath as YHWH had commanded him. It was a long and weary journey, with limited sustenance and very little water along the way, but he did not hesitate for a moment. God had spoken and he would do it. And when he approached the city gate he came across a woman who was gathering sticks. The woman was a widow. Calling to her, he asked, “Fetch me, please, some water in a cup, so that I might drink.’

In normal circumstances this would simply have been the request of a stranger needing help, which had to be fulfilled in accordance with the laws of hospitality. But all knew that these were not normal circumstances. It was a time when every bit of drinking water was precious, and she had to consider the needs of her own family. Water was running out, and no one was sure where the next cupful was coming from. But she recognised from his clothing that he was a prophet of YHWH, and so because of her love for God, she heeded his request. She may well have been an Israelite woman sojourning in Sidon.

1 Kings 17:11

And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, “Bring me, I pray you, a morsel of bread in your hand.” ’

Realising from her quick response that this must be the woman that YHWH had told him about, Elijah then called after her, “And also please bring me a piece of bread at the same time”. It was a bold request for he knew that bread was in short supply due to the famine. But Elijah recognised that if this was the woman chosen by YHWH as his helper he should find out straight away.

1 Kings 17:12

And she said, “As YHWH your God lives, I have not a cake of bread, but a handful of meal in the jar, and a little oil in the cruse, and, see, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” ’

The woman’s reply confirmed the heartbreaking situation. She had no bread, only a small handful of grain and a small vessel of oil that she had been eking out, as she hoped and prayed that the famine might end. For many weeks now they had lived on limited supplies, and had gone continually hungry. But now she had reached the end of her supplies and was gathering sticks in order to have one last meal before she and her beloved son simply waited until they died of hunger. This would, of course, have been a situation multiplied a thousand times across the land. The people were undoubtedly suffering severely, and as so often happens the believers were suffering along with those who deserved their suffering because of their sinfulness. We should note, however, that for the large majority their suffering had not brought them to repentance. Had they done so God would have heard them. But their hearts were still hardened. They would still take heed to the prophets of Baal.

Note her mention of ‘two sticks’. She meant, of course, ‘a few sticks’. But this was how number words were often used in those days, not to indicate a particular quantity, but in order to give the right impression. Most people did not think numerically.

1 Kings 17:13

And Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid, go and do as you have said, but make me from it a little cake of bread first, and bring it forth to me, and afterwards make for yourself and for your son. For thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, The jar of meal will not waste, nor will the cruse of oil fail, until the day that YHWH sends rain upon the earth.”

Elijah then assured her that she need not be afraid. If only she would make him some bread, then she could make some bread for herself and her son, and then in accordance with the word of YHWH, the God of Israel, the meal would never run short in the vessel, and the oil would never run short in the jar, until the day that YHWH once again sent rain on the earth.

Note the emphasis on the fact that YHWH was the God of Israel. She had to know that what was coming would not be from the gods of Tyre and Sidon, but would be from the living God.

1 Kings 17:15

And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah, and she, and he, and her house, did eat for many days.’

The woman obediently did what Elijah had asked, and the result was that she and her household fed well for many days. That was one household no longer worrying about the famine, because YHWH’s representative was there.

1 Kings 17:16

The jar of meal wasted not, nor did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of YHWH, which he spoke by Elijah.’

And as Elijah had promised, the vessel of meal and the jar of oil did not become empty all the while that the famine lasted. For God has promised His own that, ‘My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:19).

Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Christian who hid Jews during the second world war, tells of how she and her sister were hauled off to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp when their activities were discovered. They had no idea of the horrors that lay ahead, (nor how long they would last), but because her sister was infirm she managed to secrete into that camp of horror a small bottle of liquid containing vital vitamins. From this bottle she daily gave her sister a small amount, hoping to eke it out as long as possible so that it might help her to survive. But one day another sickly inmate spotted what she was doing and asked what was in the bottle. On learning that it was vitamin supplement she asked if she might have some. Corrie hesitated. There was so little and her sister was dependent on it. But then recognising as a Christian that she could not turn from someone in need she gave her a small amount from the bottle. Soon the news inevitably spread among desperate women and it was not long before every day there were a queue of women wanting vitamins. Corrie said that as she dispensed it she never dared to look into the bottle. It should have run out long before. But day by day and week by week the women came, and the bottle never ran out. And this went on until by chance another continuing source of vitamins became available. And then the bottle ran out. Furthermore this was not something done in private. It was witnessed by a good number of people.


Verses 17-24

Elijah Raises The Widow’s Son To Life (1 Kings 17:17-24).

In this final miracle God reveals His power of life and death. Sadly many people would have been dying in the area at the time because of the famine, and, when many are dying, death becomes almost accepted as inevitable. The incident brings out that in the midst of those scenes of death YHWH demonstrated that He was present as the Lord of life on behalf of those who looked to His prophets. The lesson is clear. Had they but trusted in YHWH and the words of His prophets, not one of them need have died. While Baal was proving helpless, YHWH was dispensing life. To those with eyes to see the contrast was clear.

Analysis.

a And it came about after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick, and his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him (1 Kings 17:17).

b And she said to Elijah, “What have I to do with you, O you man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son!” (1 Kings 17:18).

c And he said to her, “Give me your son.” And he took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into the chamber, where he was living, and laid him on his own bed (1 Kings 17:19).

d And he cried to YHWH, and said, “O YHWH my God, have you also brought evil on the widow with whom I am staying, by slaying her son?” (1 Kings 17:20).

c And he stretched himself on the child three times, and cried to YHWH, and said, “O YHWH my God, I pray you, let this child’s life come into him again” (1 Kings 17:21).

b And YHWH listened to the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child came into him again, and he revived (1 Kings 17:22).

a And Elijah took the child, and brought him down out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him to his mother, and Elijah said, “See, your son lives.” And the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of YHWH in your mouth is truth” (1 Kings 17:23-24).

Note that in ‘a’ the son was dead and had breathed his last, and in the parallel the son lived and breathed again, confirming that Elijah was a man of God. In ‘b’ the woman accused Elijah ‘as a man of God’ and as having slain her son, and in the parallel YHWH listened to his voice (because he was a man of God) and the child revived. In ‘c’ Elijah carried the son up into the room where he was living, and in the parallel, he lay on the son’s body in his room and called on YHWH to give him back his life that he might live again. Centrally in ‘d’ he sought understanding from God as to why this had happened.

1 Kings 17:17

And it came about after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick, and his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him.’

Some time after Elijah had moved into the house, the widow’s son became ill and died. Note the threefold emphasis on the seriousness of what had happened, he ‘fell sick -- his sickness was sore - no breath was left in him.’ The intention is clearly to indicate illness that had resulted in death (only modern man seeks to analyse the situation so as to demonstrate that the breath leaving a body does not mean that it has died).

1 Kings 17:18

And she said to Elijah, “What have I to do with you, O you man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son!” ’

The widow knew that her son was dead and felt that this had happened because of the presence of Elijah. (How quickly we forget our blessings. She had already forgotten that it was because of Elijah’s presence that they were still alive). As she clung to her son’s body she was convinced that it was because she was so sinful that, as a result of the presence of this holy prophet of YHWH who had highlighted her sinfulness, YHWH had taken note of it and had brought this death on her son as a punishment. (Compare Peter’s ‘depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’ He too was afraid of being in the presence of someone who had been revealed as being so holy).

1 Kings 17:19

And he said to her, “Give me your son.” And he took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into the chamber, where he was living, and laid him on his own bed.’

Elijah’s response was to ask her to release her son’s body, and he then carried him up to the ‘room’ in which he himself was living and laid him on his own bed. In view of the widow’s poverty this ‘room’ was probably a make-shift shelter on the flat roof of the house, reached by steps up the outside of the house. Such shelters were often used to house guests as they also enabled the family to have some privacy. In this case it also removed any suggestion of impropriety as a result of Elijah’s presence in the widow’s house.

1 Kings 17:20

And he cried to YHWH, and said, “O YHWH my God, have you also brought evil on the widow with whom I am staying, by slaying her son?” ’

Then he called on YHWH and asked him if there was any good reason why He had brought this natural ‘evil’ (disaster) on the widow through ‘slaying her son’. While ‘moth’ can sometimes be used metaphorically there is absolutely no reason for seeing that as applying here. The thought was that her son was dead as a result of the activity of YHWH.

1 Kings 17:21

And he stretched himself on the child three times, and cried to YHWH, and said, “O YHWH my God, I pray you, let this child’s life come into him again.” ’

Presumably he was satisfied with the reply that he received from YHWH, for he then stretched himself three times on the young man and cried to ‘YHWH his God’ to let the young man live again. His aim may well have been with the hope of ‘life’ flowing from him to the young man because he himself was filled with the Spirit of YHWH. He would not know the mechanics of God’s working (compare how Jesus knew that power had gone out of Him when He healed the woman with the issue of blood - Mark 5:30). But he was looking to YHWH, not to magic, and submitted himself to YHWH’s will. Note that in his view the young man’s ‘life’ had left him, and needed to return again.

1 Kings 17:22

And YHWH listened to the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.’

And YHWH did as he asked. Note the three-fold steps. He listened to Elijah’s voice, and the young man’s life returned to him, and he came back to life. YHWH had raised him from the dead in a complete act of restoration as a result of Elijah’s prayer.

1 Kings 17:23

And Elijah took the child, and brought him down out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him to his mother, and Elijah said, “See, your son lives.” ’

Elijah then took the young man down the outside stairs, and entered the house and presented him to his mother, declaring, ‘See, your son lives.’ This was in huge contrast to what was happening to many people in the midst of the extreme famine. While the famine was taking lives, and Baal and Moth were simply standing by and allowing it to happen, with Baal powerless to do anything about it, YHWH was giving life.

1 Kings 17:24

And the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of YHWH in your mouth is truth.” ’

The woman was astounded. She knew that her son had been dead. And now here he was alive. In an awed tone she declared, “Now I know in actual experience that you really are a ‘man of God’ (a genuine prophet of YHWH), and that the word of YHWH in your mouth is truth.” She had, of course, already known that he was a prophet. But she also knew that even the most persuasive prophets could turn out to be false (although not usually if they fed people miraculously). What he had done before was convincing. This, however, demonstrated beyond all doubt that Elijah was a true prophet of YHWH. Now it was indisputable. (This message was not only for Elijah. The author wanted it to come home to his readers and hearers).

YHWH Determines To Bring The Famine To An End (1 Kings 18:1-2 a).

1 Kings 18:1-2 a ‘And it came about after many days, that the word of YHWH came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the earth. And Elijah went to show himself to Ahab.” ’

Many days having passed, indeed it had reached ‘the third year’, the word of YHWH again came to Elijah. And this time it was with instructions that he make himself known to Ahab because YHWH was about to send rain on the earth once again. And Elijah obediently went to do what YHWH had bidden him, to show himself to Ahab (the man who according to Obadiah was desperately looking for him in order to kill him). This too required an act of faith.

The third year of famine indicated that two years of famine had previously passed, and the third was now in process. Indeed anything less would not have been a sign to Israel. They would have experienced occasional years before when the rains had been slight or had not come. That was no sign. It was the prolonged period of famine that made people recognise that this was unusual.

But before YHWH would once again send the rain something else had yet to happen, a final challenge laid down to Baal that he make it rain, and that he prove that he was the god of storm and lightning by setting fire to a sacrifice being offered on his altar. Once he had done that, then they could believe on him.

The King’s Search For Water In Israel Results In Elijah’s Meeting With King Ahab And The Gathering Of All Israel to Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:2-20).

The shortage of water had grown so desperate in Israel that King Ahab himself had initiated a large-scale search for water, in which he himself had been in charge of one of the search parties, while his Prime Minister Obadiah was on charge of the other. It was to Obadiah that Elijah appeared, and he called on him to bring Ahab to see him. Not the three times repeated, ‘Go tell your lord, Behold Elijah!’ If Ahab wanted to meet him, so be it. He was ready to meet him.

But it appeared that King Ahab had been searching everywhere for Elijah with no good intention in mind, and Obadiah, who was a true worshipper of YHWH, feared that if he told King Ahab about Elijah, and then Elijah could not be found, he himself would be put to death. Elijah, however, assured him that Ahab would find him, and when he did finally meet up with Ahab he called on him to gather all the prophets of Baal and all the people, to an assembly at the sanctuary on Mount Carmel.

Analysis.

a And the famine was sore in Samaria, and Ahab called Obadiah, who was over the household. (Now Obadiah feared YHWH greatly, for it was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of YHWH, that Obadiah took a hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water) (1 Kings 18:2-4).

b And Ahab said to Obadiah, “Go through the land, to all the fountains of water, and to all the brooks. Perhaps we may find grass and save the horses and mules alive, so that we do not lose all the beasts” (1 Kings 18:5).

c So they divided the land between them to pass throughout it. Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself (1 Kings 18:6).

d And as Obadiah was in the way, behold, Elijah met him, and he knew him, and fell on his face, and said, “Is it you, my lord Elijah?” (1 Kings 18:7).

e And he answered him, “It is I. Go, tell your lord, Behold, Elijah” (1 Kings 18:8).

f And he said, “In what have I sinned, that you would deliver your servant into the hand of Ahab, to slay me? As YHWH your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom, where my lord has not sent to seek you. And when they said, ‘He is not here,’ he took an oath of the kingdom and nation, that they had not found you” (1 Kings 18:9-10).

g “And now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord, Behold, Elijah.’ And it will come about, as soon as I am gone from you, that the Spirit of YHWH will carry you where I know not, and so when I come and tell Ahab, and he cannot find you, he will execute me” (1 Kings 18:11-12 a).

f “But I your servant fear YHWH from my youth. Was it not told my lord what I did when Jezebel slew the prophets of YHWH, how I hid a hundred men of YHWH’s prophets by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water? And now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord, Behold, Elijah,’ and he will kill me” (1 Kings 18:12-14).

e And Elijah said, “As YHWH of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today.” So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him, and Ahab went to meet Elijah (1 Kings 18:15-16).

d And it came about, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” (1 Kings 18:17).

c And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you, and your father’s house, in that you have forsaken the commandments of YHWH, and you have followed the Baalim” (1 Kings 18:18).

b “Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel to mount Carmel, and the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and the four hundred prophets of the Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table” (1 Kings 18:19).

a So Ahab sent to all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together to mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:20).

Note that in ‘a’ Obadiah had gathered the prophets of YHWH into a cave in order to save them, and in the parallel Ahab was to gather the propets of Baal on Mount Carmel in order that Elijah might test them. In ‘b’ the animals and people are dying of thirst while in the parallel the false prophets are feasting at Jezebel’s table. In ‘c’ King Ahab and Obadiah, his chancellor, search the stricken land for water, and in the parallel the rason for the drought is described in that King Ahab has forsaken the commands of YHWH and has followed the images of Baal. In ‘d’ Obadiah asks, ‘Is it you my lord, Elijah?’, and in the parallel Kinh Ahab asks, ‘Is it you, you troubler of Israe?’. In ‘e’ Obadiah is to tell King Ahab ‘Behold Elijah (is here)’, and in the parallel Obadiah told Ahab. In ‘f’ Obadiah describes what a dangerous position that would put him in and Ahab’s desperate search for Elijah, and in the parallel he asks whether he really wants him to be executed, which is what would happen of he told him about Elijah, and then Elijah was not there. Centrally in ‘g’ Obadiah reveals the mystique that has gathered around Elijah in all the people’s minds.

1 Kings 18:2-4 ‘And the famine was sore in Samaria. And Ahab called Obadiah, who was over the household. (Now Obadiah feared YHWH greatly, for it was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of YHWH, that Obadiah took a hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water).’

Meanwhile the famine was very severe in and around Samaria, with the result that many of the king’s domestic animals were in danger of dying of thirst. So Ahab called for his Prime Minister Obadiah in order to institute a search for water. It is at this point that we learn that Obadiah was in fact a true worshipper of YHWH, and had actually save a hundred prophets of YHWH from Queen Jezebel who had been carrying out a purge against them, by hiding them in a cave and providing them with food and water. We have here a reminder that Israel’s apostasy was not total. There were yet many who preached the truth to the people, even though in danger of their lives.

This was probably the action of a vindictive queen rather than an official attempt to suppress Yahwism, and the prophets may well have been denouncing Jezebel, arousing her anger. Ahab himself is always depicted as swaying between Yahwism and Baal, and he would probably still be acting as king priest at the feasts professedly held to YHWH at the two main sanctuaries of Bethel and Dan. As we have already been told he followed in the ways of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, but had added to his sins by allowing his wife to encourage the full-scale worship of Baal.

1 Kings 18:5

And Ahab said to Obadiah, “Go through the land, to all the fountains of water, and to all the brooks. Perhaps we may find grass and save the horses and mules alive, so that we do not lose all the beasts” ’

So King Ahab called on Obadiah to assist him in his search for water. They were to search out the springs and the wadis to find any that still contained water. His rather vain hope was to find grass and water so as to save at least some of the king’s domestic animals. His special fear was probably the thought of losing his large number of chariot horses (he would put two thousand chariots in the field against Shalmaneser III of Assyria).

The personal presence of Ahab and Obadiah would be necessary so that if water and grass were found it could be appropriated in the king’s name and under his seal, however much anguish it might cause to the local inhabitants.

1 Kings 18:6

So they divided the land between them to pass throughout it. Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself.’

Accordingly each took a section of the land and Ahab and his search party went one way, and Obadiah with another search party, went another. And the aim would be to find any grass or source of water that could be used to keep alive the king’s domestic animals. It was a desperate measure in a desperate situation and indicated how bad things had become. ‘By himself’ indicates that Ahab was not with him, not that he did not have assistants in his search. Both would have large search parties.

1 Kings 18:7

And as Obadiah was in the way, behold, Elijah met him, and he knew him, and fell on his face, and said, “Is it you, my lord Elijah?” ’

Here we have another of the dramatic appearances of Elijah out of ‘nowhere’ (compare 1 Kings 17:1). As Obadiah went on his way Elijah appeared before him, and Obadiah immediately recognised him and fell on his face, and cried, ‘Is it you, my lord Elijah?’ This deference from the second person in the land is a reminder of the high esteem in which Elijah was held by many in the land as a true prophet of God, and especially so to a man like Obadiah who was himself a true servant of YHWH.

Obadiah would have been present when Elijah had first appeared to Ahab (1 Kings 17:1), and he was not a person easily forgotten.

1 Kings 18:8

And he answered him, “It is I. Go, tell your lord, Behold, Elijah.” ’

Elijah replied that it was indeed he. Then he cried, ‘Go tell your lord, Behold Elijah.’ It was an indication that Elijah wanted to meet Ahab. This cry, ‘Go, tell your lord, Behold, Elijah’, appears three times in the narrative indicating Elijah’s firm intention. It also draws attention to his divine authority in that he could summon a king in such a way.

1 Kings 18:9

And he said, “In what have I sinned, that you would deliver your servant into the hand of Ahab, to kill me?” ’

But Obadiah was concerned. He did not want to go to Ahab with the news that Elijah was there, only for Ahab to discover when he came that Elijah had vanished. Such a situation would not bode well for the bearer of the news. And he asked Elijah why he was treating him like this. What sin had he committed that Elijah should put him in such a dangerous position? His fear reflected the despotism that had developed in Israel’s kingship so that even the highest servant in the land was not immune. But it also illustrated how intensely Ahab felt about Elijah.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Kings 17:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-kings-17.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, October 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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