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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
1 Kings 18

 

 

Introduction

1 Kings 17-19.—These chapters come from another source, which relates the adventures of the great prophet Elijah. They are rightly reckoned among the finest pieces of prose writing in the OT. They abound in miracle and marvel which ought neither to be rationalised nor explained away, for on their supernatural character the vindication of Yahweh as the God of Israel depends. Rightly therefore does Skinner (Cent.B) declare that the explanation of such a miracle as the feeding of the prophet by "ravens" (orebim) is that the neighbouring Arabs brought him food is "a rationalistic absurdity." Though the prophet appears throughout as "a man of like passions with ourselves" (James 5:17), he is yet clearly represented as one with supernatural powers, which he freely exercises.

In a sense Elijah is the most "supernatural" figure in the historical books, though this does not make him unhistorical. He moves in an atmosphere of wonder and miracle, appearing and vanishing in the most unexpected manner, and his ascension is only in keeping with the rest of his life. As he is described in Kings, so was he regarded in subsequent ages, a mysterious figure, likely to reappear as suddenly to the world as he did from time to time to Ahab (Malachi 4:5, Matthew 17:10, etc.), and the forerunner of Messiah.


Verses 1-41

1 Kings 18:1-41. Elijah's Meeting with Ahab and his Contest with the Priests of Baal.—The history of Ahab's reign must have been something like the following: On his marriage with Jezebel he must have allowed the worship of the Baal of Tyre and been met with the remonstrances of the prophets. Furious at their opposition, Jezebel had massacred a large number, but the king's steward had supported the cause of Yahweh (1 Kings 18:4); so Ahab cannot have been wholly ill-disposed to those who were faithful to the God of Israel. But he had no mercy for the leader of the whole movement, Elijah, who had prophesied the drought. He was sought in every neighbouring kingdom as the author of all the agitation, "the troubler of Israel." In the meantime Jezebel had organised the worship of the Baal, and supported at her own. cost four hundred and fifty prophets (1 Kings 18:19). Public opinion was evidently setting against her policy, owing to the long drought, which was regarded as a Divine punishment for the neglect of Yahweh. It was at this juncture that Elijah revealed himself, first to Obadiah and then to Ahab, and demanded a public trial of strength between himself, as representing Yahweh. and the prophets of the foreign god (1 Kings 18:19). The account of the contest on Mount Carmel is most dramatically told, and the object is to bring out the contrast between the ecstatic worship of the Baal and the pure and calm trust of the prophet when he calls upon Yahweh as the only God.

1 Kings 18:3. The name Obadiah shows that Ahab's high steward was pre-eminently a worshipper of Yahweh. Obad or obed means "servant of," and its nearest equivalent would be "Abdullah" (the LXX has Abedios = Obadiah). The Celtic name Gilchrist (servant of Christ) may be compared with it.

1 Kings 18:5. From the Qarqara inscription we learn that Ahab had a large force of chariots; hence his anxiety for his horses.

1 Kings 18:12. Obadiah's fear that Elijah would disappear shows the mystery which surrounded his person. The spirit of Yahweh would remove him to some unknown spot (cf. Acts 8:39).

1 Kings 18:18. he that troubleth Israel: Ahab uses the same verb, achar, as Joshua does when he asked Achan, "Why hast thou troubled us?" (Joshua 7:25).

1 Kings 18:19. Besides the four hundred and fifty prophets of the Baal, four hundred prophets of the Asherah (or grove, AV) are mentioned. In this case Asherah (1 Kings 15:13*) must be the name of a goddess; but the reading is open to suspicion (LXX omits). Here for the first time we learn that the gods of Canaan as well as Yahweh had their prophets. Carmel (pp. 28-30) was chosen as a spot recognised as sacred by both parties. According to Robertson Smith (RS2, p. 156) it was a Phœnician sanctuary, and we know (1 Kings 18:30) that there was an altar of Yahweh there which had been destroyed. Elijah may have wished to put the matter to the test at the scene of his rivals' triumph, as evidenced by the broken altar of the God of Israel. The traditional scene of the sacrifice is not the headland of Carmel, but some miles inland, at a place still called Muhrakah (burning), which overlooks not the sea, but the plain and city of Jezreel (p. 30). The Kishon (p. 29) runs at the foot of the cliff; at a place called Tel el-Kassis the priests are said to have been slain.

1 Kings 18:21. Elijah's question is difficult to render exactly from the Hebrew. The LXX renders it "How long go ye lame" (Heb. "pass over") "on both knee-joints?" His meaning is clear enough: the people want to serve both Baal and Yahweh. The prophet's words here, as in 1 Kings 18:27, are bitterly sarcastic.

1 Kings 18:28. lancets: the form given to the word in all English Bibles down to 1762 was "lancers," i.e. "throwing spears" (HDB).

1 Kings 18:29. The votaries of Baal "prophesied"—that is, raved, just as Saul did in his madness (1 Samuel 18:10; 1 Samuel 19:24).

1 Kings 18:32. The making of a trench round the altar is generally explained as a precaution against any form of imposture. Probably, however, the pouring out of the water had a symbolical purpose [originally a form of sympathetic magic.—A. S. P.], to procure rain (cf. the pouring of water on the altar at the Feast of Tabernacles). Yahweh was about to answer by fire, but He was also going to give rain. Elijah and the prophets of the Baal were doubtless agreed that the object of their sacrifice was to save the land by the gift of rain. The fire was the sign of Yahweh's presence, as at Sinai (Exodus 19), and approval (Judges 6:21). After the prophets of the Baal had been slain and His honour vindicated, the rain came.

It is noteworthy that Elijah is pre-eminently the prophet of Yahweh manifested by fire. Here on Carmel the fire consumes the sacrifice; at Horeb the wind, the earthquake, and the fire precede the "still small voice"; the captains of fifty are destroyed by fire (2 Kings 1:10); and the prophet ascends in a chariot


Verses 41-46

1 Kings 18:41-46. The Sending of the Rain.—Elijah and his servant again ascended Carmel, where the prophet prayed and the servant watched. The nearest point of Carmel is about 17 miles from Jezreel. Eijah's feat (1 Kings 18:46) of outrunning the chariot was regarded as a proof of Divine inspiration, like the exploits of a Samson. The hand of Yahweh is an equivalent to this power (2 Kings 3:15, and commonly in Ezek.).

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on 1 Kings 18:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/1-kings-18.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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