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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
1 Kings 18

 

 

Verses 1-18

ELIJAH'S CONTEST WITH AHAB AND BAAL

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—

1Ki . After many days … in the third year—in Luk 4:25, Jas 5:17, the drought is said to have lastes for the space of three years and six months." In the natural order of things, rains fall regularly in March and October—"the early and latter rains." Their censation might be dated either from the March when the last rain fell, or from the October when the rain first failed to fall. The later reckoning would make the period six months less than the former, yet both computations would be equally correct.

1Ki . There was a sore famine in Samaria—"Entirely without reference to the Old Testament, Menandros (Josephus, Antiq. viii. 13.2) makes mention of a severe drought lasting for a year under the Syrian king Ithobal, a contemporary of Ahab" (Ewald).

1Ki . Obadiah took an hundred prophets—i.e., scholars in the schools of the prophets. This indicates that they must have been numerous, even though Jezebel had sought to extirminate them, with all that connected Jehovah's name and worship with the land. Hid them in a cave—Most probably in the clefts of Mount Carmel (Winer).

1Ki . Art thou that my lord Elijah?—Luther translates the words, האתָּה זֶה, "Art thou not my lord Elijah?" The Sept. renders them, εί σὺ εἶ αὐτός κύριέ μου ἠλία. But Obadiah was in no doubt; "he knew him." It is rather a question of wonder (Keil). "Art thou here?"

1Ki . The Spirit of the Lord shall carry thee whither I know not—Either by a supernatural bodily transition (Act 8:39), or by an inward impute from God (Mat 4:1). Cannot find thee—The effectual secresy of Elijah for so long a time, though search had everywhere been made for him (1Ki 18:10), convinced Obadiah that Elijah could hide from discovery.

1Ki . As the Lord of hosts liveth—"The צבָאוֹת with יְהֹוָה elevates the solemnity of the oath" (Keil).

1Ki . Art thou he that troubleth Israel?— עכר, to bring into trouble. The words may be rendered, Art thou there, O troubler of Israel? They mean, Do I at last meet thee, thou bringer of trouble upon Israel?

1Ki . Thou hast followed Baalim—The Baalim; not alluding to the numerous images and statues of Baal, but the various personifications of that god—Baal-Berith, Baal-Zebul (Winer).

HOMILETICS OF 1Ki

AHAB THE TYPE OF A WEAK AND WICKED KING

I. He was the occasion of prolonged national distress (1Ki ). For three years and a-half Israel lay gasping under a parching drought, with all its attendant horrors of famine (Luk 4:25; Jas 5:17). Everywhere was desolation and barrenness; the soil seemed scorched up with the wrath of God. The labours of the field had ceased, and the joy of the harvest and vintage was hushed. The market-places were empty and silent, and the cottages were occupied by thin, bony forms, in which the pulse of life but faintly throbbed. The bright-plumaged birds had fled, and none but carrion fowl hovered in the air, or fattened on the carcases that were strewn in ghastly plenty on the plains. The calamity was so great and widespread that the indolent and reckless Ahab was compelled to bestir himself, and, in harmony with the simple manners of many Eastern monarchs, went in search of provender. And yet the thought never seemed to dawn on the mind of the king that he was a principal cause of the suffering he everywhere witnessed. Unhappy, indeed, is the people whose sovereign is both weak and wicked!

II. He was served by a God-fearing officer. It is no unusual coincidence for a Godless king to desire God-fearing men for his ministers and counsellors. Many a prince, though himself no Christian, holds in his service a Christian, and esteems him more highly than the others who are not Christian.

1. Obadiah's piety was practical (1Ki ; 1Ki 18:13). He protected the prophets of the Lord from the persecuting fury of Jezebel, and, at considerable personal cost, when everything was at famine prices, fed them with bread and water, when bread and water were luxuries very difficult to procure. Religion does very little for a man if it does not inspire him to generous activity. Noble thoughts look better when crystallized into noble deeds.

2. Obadiah's piety teas maintained in the midst of moral corruption and danger (1Ki ). It is creditable to Ahab that he had an officer like Obadiah, and though he had steadily refused to bow the knee to Baal, and though it was publicly known that he had befriended the prophets, Ahab must have been so attached to him that even Jezebel had not ventured to bring about his dismissal from the court. And yet Obadiah could not fully trust the king; he was compelled to confess that he might be unrighteously put to death by him (1Ki 18:14). Obadiah was not located in a remote and lonely place, but in the midst of a busy court, where he saw and heard nothing good, surrounded by Godless men, and exposed to every temptation to Godlessness, frivolity, rioting, and licentiousness. "To be pious with the pious, to maintain one's faith in the midst of the faithful, is not difficult; but in the midst of the world, to preserve one's self unspotted from it, to keep a pure heart, and have God before our eyes and in our hearts, wherever the Lord places us, this is, indeed, greatly to fear the Lord."

3. Obadiah's piety was put to a severe test (1Ki ). The faith that had sustained the soul amid the corruptions of idolatry was staggered by the simple request of a man of God. That Elijah, journeying on his weary way, should meet the very man who was the only true friend of the prophet at the court, was no more accidental than that Obadiah, going forth in search of provender for the cattle, should find the man who was to test severely his faith and his fear of God. Even those who fear the Lord, and walk by faith, are sometimes, in the hour of peril, overcome by an agony of fear, which bows them down as reeds before a whirlwind. Peter, who first threatened with the sword, became suddenly terror-stricken before a damsel. It is good for us to recognize our human weakness, for this knowledge preserves us from over-security, and leads us to pray: Lord, strengthen our faith.

III. He was callously indifferent to the sufferings of his people (1Ki ). He was more concerned about his horses and mules than the condition of his subjects. How totally unfit was such a mean-spirited man to wear a crown! It is the fatal result of idolatry to steel the heart against human sympathy. It is a melancholy sight to see in Ahab one who can submit to great personal inconvenience to search for "grass," but who has no desire to enquire after a justly-offended God; while in his whole conduct in this transaction we have the type of all grovelling, sordid souls, who will spend more upon their kennels in a month than upon their cottagers in a year, and who will lose in a few seconds, amid the gambling of the turf, what would endow many an orphanage, and establish a hundred schools.

IV. He was mistaken as to the true cause of national suffering (1Ki ). "Art thou he that troubleth Israel?" All men who deal faithfully with careless souls are denounced as troublers. There are hundreds who, like Ahab, think of the trouble, but ignore the sin that causes the trouble. Ahab attributed the national distress to the man who had plainly announced to him its cause, and the method by which cause and effect could be removed. In his mad delusion he sought in every country (1Ki 18:10) for the life of the heroic prophet. He was swallowed up in revenge when he ought to have been swallowed up in penitence. Idolatry was continued with all its shameless, enormities, and its punishment was continued too.

V. He was cowed by the fearless indictment of the faithful prophet (1Ki ). The meeting of Ahab and Elijah in the valley of Jezreel was of a very remarkable character; it was one of those scenes which become historic. The savage, hot-tempered accusation of Ahab is met by the calm, stern reply of Elijah: "I have not troubled Israel, but thou and thy father's house." The monarch quails before the man in sheepskin, and at once becomes pliant in his hand. A consciousness of right fills the heart with courage. Truth never fears the light; torch like, "the more it's shook it shines," and every falsehood is exposed by its searching glare.

LESSONS:—

1. It is an awful responsibility to be a king.

2. The worst kings have often the most exemplary servants.

3. Idolatry it an unmitigated curse to king and people.

GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES

1Ki . Elijah's reappearance. In this incident we have three eminent men brought before us, and the conduct of each suggests some useful lessons. I. With regard to Elijah We have—

1. an illustration of self-denial. It would be no easy matter for Elijah to leave Sarepta. He was surrounded with many inducements to remain—peace, security, plenty, comfort, ease, enjoyment. On the other hand, the duty to which he was called was by no means a pleasant one. The prospect of meeting Ahab would awaken any but agreeable feelings in his heart. He had no reason to expect anything from such a wicked king but harshness and severity. But in the face of these circumstances he is ready to obey the voice of God. That voice is supreme, and he follows it, whatever self-denial it may involve on the one hand, or risk on the other.

2. An illustration of courage. The righteous are as bold as a lion. Elijah showed such boldness on this occasion. He was the messenger of God, doing His bidding, and he could rely upon his God for safety and help; therefore he had no fear at the prospect of meeting Ahab. And when he did meet him, he boldly charged the calamity of the country upon his wickedness and idolatry. We need not only self-denial to withdraw ourselves from the pleasant associations of life, but also courage and determination to do Christ's work in the face of difficulty and danger. II. With regard to Ahab, we see the hardening and blinding influence of sin. While the famine pressed sorely upon all the land, the king was most anxious about himself and his royal stud. We read of no effort to alleviate the sufferings of the people: no famine subscriptions; no relief fund for the poor. This is the fruit of sin and heathenism. What a contrast to the teaching of Christ and the conduct of Christian nations, especially our own nation! Let distress come upon any portion of our people, and at once efforts are put forth to relieve them. And Ahab was not only hard and selfish, but he was blind to the true cause of the famine. He attributed it to Elijah. He did not see it was his own sin against God This is one of the fruits of sin; it is blind-folding. It throws a veil over the mind of men, so that they do not see themselves as sinning against God. Hence the need of the Spirit of God to convince of sin. III. With regard to Obadiah we have—

1. An illustration of fidelity. Obadiah's position would expose him to many temptations, but in the midst of all he was enabled to be faithful to his master and true to his God. He could relieve and help the people of God amid distress and persecution, and at the same time discharge his duty to the king. Similar illustrations of fidelity we have in the case of Joseph in Egypt, and of Daniel in Babylon.

2. An illustration of the advantage of early piety. Obadiah feared God from his youth. This is the secret of his excellent character. Youth is the time to form those habits which fit men for positions of usefulness and importance. When youth has been neglected, one's after years are of much less value in the world and in the church.—The Study and Pulpit.

1Ki . The commands of God. I. Are made known at the right time. "And it came to pass after many days." II. Are authoritative and peremptory. "Go, show thyself unto Ahab." III. Have ever a promise of blessing linked on to them. "And I will send rain upon the earth." IV. Are promptly obeyed by His believing servants. "And Elijah went to show himself unto Ahab."

1Ki . Famine.

1. Imposes indescribable sufferings.

2. May be used as a scourge to punish a sinful and idolatrous people.

3. Presents ample materials to the conscientious ruler for repentance and reform.

—Daily bread was scarce, for the land was dried up and unfruitful; but the bread of life, the Word of God, was likewise scarce, for the nation itself was dried up, and those who would have sown the seed of the Word were persecuted and compelled to silence and concealment. Woe to that country upon whom famine, bodily and spiritual, both fall, and who yet are driven by neither to repentance and conversion.

1Ki . Eminent piety. I. Is found in the highest social rank, and in the most unlikely places. II. Consists in "fearing the Lord greatly." III. Is intensely practical in its aims. IV. Has a lofty regard and generous care for the suffering "prophets of the Lord."

1Ki . Obadiah could not do this without great risk and the exposure of his own person to great danger; neither in that extreme famine could he maintain those hundred prophets without great expenditure of his own substance. Obadiah not only preserved the lives of a hundred innocent men, he saved a hundred worshippers of Jehovah, and yet more, a hundred men who, immediately the persecution was over, and the Baal-worship in Israel destroyed, became useful to the ignorant and bewildered people as their instructors in doctrine. Thus, although Obadiah, as the lieutenant of the royal watch, could not do much for the kingdom of God by direct testimony and instruction, yet indirectly he did a great deal by preserving these witnesses for the truth at the peril of his own life and at the expense of his own fortune. Thus many people, by the maintenance of the witnesses for evangelical truth, by the spread and promotion of the Christian Scriptures, do much for the kingdom of God, which otherwise they could not do, and lay up a reward in heaven, if they do not shun disgrace, nor prefer earthly and perishable gains to the celestial and imperishable.—Menken.

—O degenerate state of Israel! anything was now lawful there, saving piety. It is well if God's prophets can find a hole to hide their heads in. They must needs be hard driven when fifty of them are fain to crowd together into one cave: there they had both shade and repast. Good Obadiah hazards his own life to preserve theirs, and spends himself in that extreme dearth, upon their necessary diet. Bread and water was more now, than other whiles wine and delicates. Whether should we wonder more at the mercy of God in reserving a hundred prophets, or in thus sustaining them, being reserved? When did God ever leave His Israel unfurnished of some prophets? When did He leave His prophets unprovided of some Obadiah? How worthy art thou, O Lord, to be trusted with thine own charge! While there are men upon earth, or birds in the air, or angels in heaven, thy messengers cannot want provision.—Bp. Hall.

1Ki . A heartless monarch. 1. A monstrosity in a time of famine.

2. Is more concerned about his stables than the lives of his famishing subjects.

3. Prepares for himself inevitable punishment.

—Pitiful man! Anxious care for the life of his horses and the maintenance of his stables—this is all that the three years and a half of chastisement of the Almighty had called forth in his soul. How often does one think of a person, "Now he will be quite a different person"; and then, behold I where one hopes to find at length thoughts of God and eternity, there are only thoughts of horses and mules; and in place of holy emotions, instead of aspirations, prayers, and reflections upon the great and eternal interests of life, you find a thick swarm of pitiful cares and considerations which hover about the soul, and hover with it into an awful eternity. Ahab and Obadiah both journey on together through the land, but each goes his own way alone—a picture of their life journey. Ahab walks in the broad, Obadiah in the narrow, way: the latter alone leads to the green pastures and still waters which refresh the soul.—Krummacher.

1Ki . The terribleness of unimproved warnings. What a mournful picture have we here! For three years God had tried this monarch with sore judgments. He had shut up heaven, closed the fountains of the land, decimated his people with famine. The voice seemed too loud, too solemn and awful to be disregarded. We might have expected to see Ahab, like the heathen king of Nineveh, put sackcloth on his loins and dust on his head, calling his people to humiliation and repentance. But alas! the Divine monition seems utterly disregarded. God has emptied His quiver upon him; but arrow after arrow has bounded back from that heart of adamant. He has neither tear for his own guilt, nor tear for his suffering subjects. So far as we are told, the one miserable, petty thought that fills that narrow soul is, to get provender for his stables, and save his mules and horses. Ah! terrible indeed it is when judgments thus lead to an open defiance and resistance of the Divine will; a mocking of his hand, a laughing to scorn of His righteous reproofs; no penitence, no remorse; but rather a more intense selfishness. An unsanctified trial becomes a curse. It indurates if it does not soften. It is like the heat of the sun, which melts the wax, but hardens the clay.—Macduff.

1Ki . Ahab had found Obadiah faithful, and therefore trusted him in this weighty business, rather than any other. Of a man that truly feareth God it may better be said than of Cato, that he never did well that he might appear to do so, but because he could not do otherwise.—Trapp.

1Ki . Obadiah finds this load too heavy; neither is he more stricken with the boldness than with the unkindness of this command—boldness in respect of Elijah, unkindness in respect of himself; for thus he thinks—"If Elijah do come to Ahab, he dies; if he do not come, I die. If it be known that I met him and brought him not, it is death. If I say that he will come voluntarily, and God shall alter his intentions, it is death. How unhappy a man am I that must be either Elijah's executioner or my own! Were Ahab's displeasure but smoking, I might hope to quench it; but now that the flame of it hath broken forth to the notice, to the search, of all the kingdoms and nations round about, it may consume me; I cannot extinguish it. This message is for an enemy of Elijah, for a client of Baal. As for me, I have well approved my devotion to God, my love to His prophets. What have I done that I should be singled out either to kill Elijah, or to be killed for him? "Many a hard plunge must that man needs be driven to who would hold his conscience together with the service and favour of a tyrant It is a happy thing to serve a just master; there is no danger, no stain, in such obedience.—Bp. Hall.

1Ki . A consciousness of right. I. Nerves the soul with invincible bravery. II. Brings the soul in contact with the most colossal embodiments of iniquity. III. Prompts the soul to the most faithful denunciations of wrong.

—A strong, resolute word of faith exercises power over the heart. It strengthens the weak, supports the tottering, encourages the fearful, and tranquillizes the anxious-minded. A teacher must not shrink from his office through fear or cowardice, let tyrants look grim as they may (1Pe ).—Lange.

1Ki . The fear of God putteth out the fear of any mortal wight, as the sunbeams do the fire on the hearth. When Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, said to Dr. Taylor, the martyr—"Art thon come, thou villain? How darest thou look me in the face for shame? Knowest thou not who I am?" "Yes," quoth Taylor, "I know who you are; you are Dr. Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester and Lord Chancellor, yet but a mortal man, I trow. But if I should be afraid of your lordly looks, why fear you not God, the Lord of us all? How dare you for shame look any Christian man in the face, seeing you have forsaken the truth, denied our Saviour Christ and His Word, and done contrary to your own word and writing? "Thus spake that valiant martyr, like another Elias.—Trapp.

1Ki . The source of national trouble.

1. Is not in the messenger who announces its presence.

2. But in the infidelity and wickedness of the throne.

3. In the national desertion of God.

4. In the adoption and practice of idolatry.

—A remarkable meeting.

1. A numerously attended monarch, and a lonely prophet.

2. The impersonation of great moral weakness in the presence of great moral strength.

3. An angry question met by a calm, overwhelming reply.

4. The authority of the prophet triumphing for the time over that of the king.

—At last the mysterious prophet, whom each had desired to see for so long, appeared suddenly before them. "Behold Elijah!" was the message which the faithful Obadiah was to take back to Ahab—two awful words which he thrice repeats, before he can be induced to return. "Art thou my lord Elijah?" was the reverential salute of the minister. "Art thou the troubler of Israel?" was the angry question of the king. But it was an anger which soon sunk into awe. Face to face at last they met, the prophet and the king. In that hour of extreme despair, the voice of Eiijah sounded with an authority which it had never had before. The drought, we are told, had been threatened by him. It was then, doubtless, as it still is, the belief of Eastern countries that seers and saints have the power of withholding or giving rain. In the convent of Mount Sinai the Arabs believe that there is a book, by the opening or shutting of which the monks can disperse or retain the rain of the peninsula.—Stanley.

1Ki . Doubtless Ahab, startled to hear of Elijah coming to meet him as one that did not more hate than fear the prophet. Well might he think, "Thus long, thus far, have I sought Elijah; Elijah would not come to seek me but under a sure guard, and with some strange commission. His coarse mantle hath the advantage of my robe and sceptre. If I can command a piece of the earth, I see he can command heaven." The edge of his revenge is taken off with a doubtful expectation of the issue; and now, when Elijah offers himself to the eyes of Ahab, he who durst not strike, yet durst challenge, the prophet—"Art thou he that troubleth Israel?" Jeroboam's hand was still in Ahab's thoughts; he holds it not so safe to smite as to expostulate. He that was the head of Israel speaks out that which was in the heart of all his people, that Elijah was the cause of all their sorrow. Alas! what hath the righteous prophet done? He taxed their sin; he foretold the judgment, he deserved it not, he inflicted it not; yet he smarts, and they are guilty; as if some fond people should accuse the herald or the trumpet as the cause of their war; or, as if some ignorant peasant, when he sees his fowls bathing in his pond, should cry out of them as the causes of foul weather.—Bp. Hall.

1Ki . This stern rebuke led the poor king to feel that he had his master before him, and that the hairy mantle of the prophet was a symbol of greater power than the royal robe, and his staff an emblem of higher authority than his own sceptre. He quailed before the fearless prophet; and the same facility of temper which inclined him to evil when under the influence of Jezebel, swayed him to good in the presence of Elijah. We have heard of men whose whisper could quell the rage of the wildest horse, and bend him down to sudden tameness. Power of the like kind some men possess over other men. Elijah possessed it eminently; it was the gift of God, and such a man as Ahab was a proper subject for its influence. Besides, Ahab seems to have had some capacities for right feeling when away from under the deadly influence of his wife; and whatever may have been his first purpose when he heard that Elijah awaited him, he had time to cool on the way to the place where he was.—Kitt.

—O, the heroic spirit of Elijah! He stands alone amid all the train of Ahab, and dares not only repel this charge, but retorts it. "I have not troubled Israel, but thou." No earthly joy can daunt him who hath the clear and heartening visions of God. This holy seer discerns the true cause of our sufferings to be our sins. Foolish men are plagued for their offences, and it is no small part of their plague that they see it not. The only common disturber of men, families, cities, kingdoms, worlds, is sin. There is no such traitor to any state as the wilfully wicked; the quietest and most plausible offender is secretly seditious, and stirreth quarrels in heaven.—Bp Hall.


Verses 19-40

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—

1Ki . Prophets of Baal, &c.—Soothsayers and oracle príests. Groves—Asherah. Baal and Astarte were the male and female divinities. Jezebel was the patroness of the prophets of this female divinity.

1Ki . How long halt ye, &c.—From the root סָעַף, to divide, dissever. In Psa 119:118, the same word is rendered by "vain thoughts," i.e., double-minded, ambiguous. The Vulg. translates here, Usquequo claudicatis in duas partes? To go from one to another. Not with standing all Ahab and Jezebel had done to exterminate Jehovah-worship, there was vacillation between Jehovah and Baal—not decision against Jehovah, only indecision.

1Ki . The God that answereth by fire—A specially favourable test, for Baal was the fire-god, the sun.

1Ki . For ye are many—An ironical taunt. You are the more numerous religious party in Israel, and, as being in the ascendant, you have the right of first choice! Yet, O how near the moment of their reverse from this ascendancy!

1Ki . Leaped upon the altar—The pantomimic heathenish dance.

1Ki . Cry aloud; for he is a god—A seuthing satire, a most mocking taunt. Talking, or meditating; pursuing, gone astray.

1Ki . Cut themselves after their manner— וַיִּתֻגּדְדוּ means more than a mere puncturing or scratching. The superstition existed that the blood of priests was specially virtuous in constraining the deity to action; and now they were in extremis.

1Ki . Two measures of seed—The measurement is not very definite, and cannot be conjectured with any accuracy, but it must have been both deep and wide.

1Ki . The fire of the Lord fell— יְהֹוָהאֵש does not mean lightning (comp. Lev 9:24).

1Ki . Slew them there—For they were deadly criminals, perilous to the theocracy, and had incurred the penalty of death (Deu 17:2-4; Deu 13:13).

HOMILETICS OF 1Ki

THE TRIAL AND DEFEAT OF IDOLATRY

THE grand, imposing spectacle on Mount Carmei described in these verses has an interest and a lesson to humanity for all time. As in other ages and countries, a great delusion was here tested, exposed, and overthrown. Truth long despised and persecuted had the opportunity of vindicating itself, and the vindication was so public and complete as to constitute an example for universal reference. The place was worthy of the scene to be enacted there. Carmel was the peculiar haunt of Elijah. Situated on the west of Palestine, immediately to the south of the Bay of Acre, it rises at its highest point sixteen hundred feet above the level of the Mediterranean Sea, from the shores of which it stretches in a south-eastern course, and in ranges of different heights, for five or six miles, commanding a view of the great plain of Esdraelon, just where the glades of the forest sink into the usual bareness of the hills of Manasseh. In the distance, and on its commanding position, overlooking the whole valley, rose the stately city of Jezreel, with Ahab's palace and Jezebel's temple embosomed in its sacred grove. Immediately under their feet spread, far and wide, that noble plain—the battle-field of sacred history—the plain of Megiddo or Jezreel, with the torrent Kishon passing (as its name implies) in countless windings through the level valley—that ancient stream on whose banks had perished the host of Sisera and the host of Midian, before the army of Deborah and Barak, before the sword of the Lord and of Gideon. In such a scene, with such recollections of the past, were the people of Israel gathered for a conflict as momentous as any which had taken place in the plain beneath. On the one side were ranged the king and people, with the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal dressed in their splendid vestments; and on the other side the one solitary figure of the prophet of the Lord in his rough sheepskin cloak, though supported all the time by an invisible throng of heavenly intelligences. Observe—

I. That idolatry was here put on its trial under the most favourable circumstances to secure its triumph.

1. Took place at the seat of its greatest power. Idolatry was the established religion of Israel, and those who did not heartily accept it were awed into submission by the terrors of persecution. The multitude now gathered on Carmel, from the king downward, were worshippers of Baal, and were ready to defend their favourite deity. It seemed a daring and hopeless thing to offer the slightest opposition.

2. Was accepted by its acknowledged leaders. The four hundred and fifty priests might have declined the contest, and the king might have forbade it; but whether compelled by the unanimous voice of the people, or assured of victory by observing the lonely and unfriended condition of Elijah, or urged by an influence they were powerless to resist, they accepted the challenge. Could it be that they had any real confidence in the power of Baal? Alas! there is no knowing to what depth of delusion idolatry may sink its victims. The maddening earnestness of the reiterated appeals to Baal (1Ki ; 1Ki 18:28) was a sight to make one sad.

3. Appealed to what the worshippers believed was the most prominent attribute of their deity (1Ki ). Baal was the sun-god, and his worshippers might readily suppose that, having at his command the source of light and fire, he would in such a strife vindicate himself by answering by fire. Surely, Elijah might have urged, your sun-god should find it easy, in the use of his own element, to triumph over Jehovah! He takes the Baalites on their own ground, and agrees that by a sign from heaven in the form of fire the claims of their respective religions shall be determined. The proposition is startling, because it was of the very essence of Judaism that there was no other God but Jehovah. It was a great concession on the part of Elijah to heathen notions, where contests as to the power of rival deities were of frequent occurrence. Thus Baal had everything in his favour, and if he could do anything at all, now was his opportunity.

II. That idolatry exhausted all its resources in the contest (1Ki ). Confident of success, the priests of Baal dress the bullock, and place the cut pieces dripping on the altar. The condition was they should put no fire under; although St. Chrysostom has preserved an old tradition which asserts that inside their altar the Baalites had secreted an accomplice who was to kindle a fire, but that in the act of so doing he died of suffocation. And now for three long hours the cry is heard—the anxiety of king, and priests, and people, growing more intense and feverish with each repetition—"O Baal, hear us!" But there was no voice, nor any that answered. To hurry the answer, they begin the wild, frantic pagan dance. "As the Mussulman dervishes work themselves into a frenzy by the invocation of Allah! Allah! until the words themselves are lost in inarticulate gasps; as the pilgrims round the church of St. John at Samaria formerly, and round the chapel of the Holy Sepulchre now, race, run, and tumble, in order to bring down the Divine fire into the midst of them; so the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal performed their wild dances round their altar, or upon it, springing up or sinking down with the fantastic gestures which Orientals alone can command, as if by an internal mechanism, and screaming with that sustained energy which believes it will be heard for its much speaking." Still no answer. This afforded an opportunity Elijah could not resist, and he mocked the devotees with words of bitter irony (1Ki 18:27). His object was to stimulate the priests to greater exertions, and so to make their failure more complete, and to suggest to the people that such failure would prove absolutely that Baal was no God. Elijah's scorn has the effect intended; it rouses the Baalites to increased effort. Louder and louder grow their cries, wilder and more rapid their dance, more frautic their gesticulations. At length, when the frenzy has reached its height, knives are drawn from their sheaths, lances are upraised, and the blood spurts forth from hundreds of self-inflicted wounds. And this was all idolatry could do: Baal was unresponsive to the most piteous cries, was powerless to help, and his worshippers are driven to suicide and despair! Could anything more completely expose the utter helplessness and vanity of idolatry?

III. That idolatry suffered a signal and crushing defeat (1Ki ).

1. Was defeated by the Being it ignored and insulted. Elijah was careful in all his arrangements to give prominence to Jehovah, of whom he was but the humble and intermediate agent. The altar was built in the name of Jehovah (1Ki ); the offering was arranged according to the injunctions of the law of Jehovah (1Ki 18:33 compared with Lev 1:3-9); and the short, simple, and beautifully suggestive prayer was designedly addressed to "the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel" (1Ki 18:36-37). Jehovah had been forgotten; His ever-living presence is again asserted: He had been ignored and insulted; His peerless majesty and righteous claims are again vindicated.

2. The defeat was signal and complete (1Ki ). As the sky was still perfectly clear, this fire cannot have been a flash of lightning. It was altogether, in its nature as well as in its opportuneness, miraculous. From the clear blue ether overhead, deepening as the sun declined towards the sea, the whole multitude saw the bright white flame descend, and in a moment consume everything—the fragments of the ox on the summit of the altar, the pile of wood heaped from the forest of Carmel, the very stones of the altar, the dust, and also the water that filled the trench, till everything is consumed, and the crackle and hiss are gone. "The prayer of a moment has accomplished what the howlings of a whole day have failed to achieve." The most obdurate heart could not fail to be convinced. The neglected and insulted God of Israel has triumphed, as He ever must.

3. The defeat was publicly acknowledged (1Ki ). Unable to endure the brilliance of the Divine light, the people fell on their faces before it, and hid their eyes lest they should be blinded (Lev 9:24; 2Ch 7:3). The people understand thoroughly the nature and bearing of the whole scene, as a trial to determine whether Baal or Jehovah is the true God. And they now pronounce the matter to be clearly and certainly decided Baal is overthrown; he is proved to be no god at all. The Lord Jehovah, He and He alone, is God. Him will they henceforth acknowledge, and no other. The time is coming when truth shall universally triumph, and the supremacy and glory of God be everywhere adored (Php 2:10-11).

IV. That idolatry involves its votaries in disgrace and punishment (1Ki ). The vindicator of Jehovah becomes His avenger. The slaughter of the idolatrous priests was in harmony with the express commands of the law (Deu 13:5; Deu 17:2-5; Deu 18:20). Moreover, a prophet under the theocracy had a right to step in and execute the law when the king failed in his duty. In this act we may see some retaliation for Jezebel's slaughter of the prophets of the Lord. It is an unalterable principle of the Divine government that evildoers shall be punished for their sins, and often by the same instruments with which they have wrought the evil. Robespierre perished on the same scaffold on which he had shed some of the best and bravest blood of France.

LESSONS:—

1. Error is sure to fail when fairly put to the test.

2. The claims of God to universal homage are absolute and unchangeable.

3. The enemies of God will meet with their merited punishment.

GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES

1Ki . The challenge. Whenever we read of a meeting of crowned heads or prominent statesmen, we generally infer that they have been called together by some pressing object in which they are mutually interested—an object which may involve the welfare of a people, or the destiny of a nation. And when Elijah and Ahab met face to face, such an object as this engaged their thought and discussion. The people of Israel had for a long time been suffering from a severe famine, and the king attributes it to Elijah, who disclaims the responsibility, and charges it upon the conduct of the king. Not only does he makes this charge, but he is anxious to put it to a fair trial, and consequently he gives Ahab the challenge contained in the above verses. Concerning the challenge, we shall notice the object, the test, the decision, the result.

I. The object.

1. To confirm his statement that Ahab was responsible for the prevailing distress. This could only be obtained on the assumption that Jehovah would support Elijah in his denunciation of the king by some manifestation of Himself which would carry conviction to the mind of Ahab and others; and by this challenge Elijah sought such a manifestation of God.

2. To establish his claim as the prophet of God. In all probability the people would regard Elijah with the same unbelief and hostility as Ahab did. And before Elijah could gain a hearing from them, he needed to overcome their unbelief and opposition. This could be done by means of the challenge.

3. To prove that Jehovah was the only true God, and that Baalim was no god. This was the most important object of the challenge. At this time the people believed Jehovah to be one among many gods. Elijah sought to show them that besides Him there was no god; that Baalim and all other supposed gods were the creations of men's minds, and, therefore, false.

4. To restore the people of Israel to their allegiance to Jehovah. They had forsaken Him, and transferred their allegiance to Baalim. Elijah seeks to recover them from this apostacy; and the means by which he sought it was admirably adapted to his purpose. If God should answer Elijah, then the people would be reminded in a forcible manner of their own past history, the most prominent and grandest feature of which was the appearance of Jehovah at various times to their fathers; to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; to Moses in the burning bush; in Egypt; at the Red Sea; throughout the wilderness; to Joshua at the Jordan; at Jericho; and in giving them possession of the land wherein they dwelt. A similar manifestation to themselves would surely impress them with a sense of their sin, and awaken repentance in their hearts.

II. The test.

1. This test was fair to the Baalites. They acknowledged Baal as the god of fire. If he could manifest his power in any way, surely he could in the way proposed.

2. It was honourable to Elijah. His appeal was to the special prerogative of Baal. He does not ask for a manifestation of power not claimed for him by his followers.

3. It was adapted to the multitude. It was one upon which they could all judge. It would appeal to their senses, involving no mystery, and leaving no room for doubt.

III. The decision. Elijah's proposal being accepted, he suggested to the Baalites that they should be the first to make the trial to which they agreed. No sooner had they retired, than Elijah steps forward to prepare the altar for his bullock. His preparation is more elaborate. He has a trench dug round it, and water poured upon the sacrifice and the wood; this is repeated three times. Here we see his wisdom and his faith. He is protecting himself against any charge of procuring fire by false means. He can afford to do this, because he believes that God can send sufficient fire to consume the sacrifice, notwithstanding the water. With what excited feeling would the multitude watch Elijah, as he came near and asked the God of Abraham to show Himself this day that He was God in Israel, so that His apostate people might be convinced of their sins and return unto Him. At the close of his prayer, the fire fell and consumed the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. It required no deliberation to form a judgment upon the point at issue. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces, and said: "The Lord He is the God, the Lord He is the God!"

IV. The result. The prophets of Baal were slain. There are some objections raised against the conduct of Elijah in such a slaughter. Could he slay these prophets in the face of the authority of the king? Would the people obey Elijah in this thing? How is it to be reconciled with justice? To these objections we may answer:

1. Ahab was a coward; he would be overwhelmed with fear, and would shrink from opposing his authority to one who could in such a way invoke the God of Heaven.

2. The people knew that God had spoken against idolatry, and His law was that those who practised it were to be put to death.

3. God sought to establish His claim to be King of kings and Lord of lords: that He was a jealous God, and would not share His glory with another. The people needed to be taught this, and by such terrible means they would learn the lesson. Let us learn:

1. That God's claims are submitted to our intelligence and judgment, as well as to our hearts.

2. It is our duty to examine His claims and to yield to them.

3. It is unreasonable and dangerous to be undecided with regard to them.—The Study and Pulpit.

—A memorable day. l. Because of the unique assemblage it gathered.

2. Because of the distinguished personages it engaged.

3. Because of the extraordinary nature of its transactions.

4. Because of the momentous truths involved.

5. Because of the important results that followed.

1Ki . Elijah on Mount Carmel, surrounded by all Israel, while the prophets of the groves, and those that ate at Jezebel's table, were offering their bullocks, or crying "O Baal, hear us!" and leaping upon the altars, and cutting themselves with knives, is a picture with which we are all familiar. If you try to recall the impressions which it has made upon you, I think you will feel that it has not proceeded mainly from the sudden appearance of the fire which came forth to consume Elijah's sacrifice, but from the contrast between the fever and restlessness of the priests, and the calmness and minute regularity of all the proceedings of the prophet. To testify by the form of the altar that the people were even then a portion of the twelve tribes, that they were united in God's sight, though visibly separated by the sins of men, was one great part of Elijah's work. But it was not a less important part of his duty to remind the people that God had appointed the method and time of the sacrifice; that prayer to Him was not a violent effort to bring about some mighty result desired by the worshipper, but was an act of quiet obedience, of self-surrender: all its earnestness being derived from a belief in the willingness of God to make His creature that which without Him he cannot be. "O Lord God, turn the heart of this people back again! they are in an unnatural, disorderly condition; they are trying to be independent of Thee. And they have so fixed and rooted themselves in that which is false, that they cannot break loose from it. The evil power to which they have done homage holds them fast bound in his fetters. Good has become evil to them; evil has become good. Ruler of the heart and reins, who desirest good and nothing but good for them, make them reasonable beings, restore them to the state of men!" To this prayer the fire was an answer. It came down as a witness that God himself is the Author as well as the Accepter of every sacrifice; that all fire must be false which He has not kindled.—Maurice.

1Ki . The necessity of decision in religion.

1. Because of its superior claims.

2. Because of its exalting benefits.

3. Because of the moral deterioration and inevitable misery involved in prolonged hesitation.

1. Israel's double-mindedness.

2. Israel's unreasonableness.

3. Israel's coldness and indifference under appeal.

—"And the people answered him not a word." The sullenness of unbelief.

1. Unbelief is slow to accept evidence.

2. Is reluctant to admit conviction.

3. Stubbornly refuses to act in harmony with both evidence and conviction.

—Israel is met together. Elijah rates them not so much for their superstition, as for their unsettledness and irresolution. Nothing is more odious to God than a profane neutrality in main oppositions of religion. To go upright in a wrong way is a less eyesore to God than to halt betwixt right and wrong. The Spirit wished that the Laodiceans were either hot or cold; either temper would be better borne than neither, than both. In reconcileable differences, nothing is more safe than indifferency both of practice and opinion; but in cases of so necessary hostility as betwixt God and Baal, he that is on neither side is the deadliest enemy to both. Less hateful are they to God that serve Him not at all, than they that serve Him with a rival.—Bp. Hall.

1Ki . The solitariness of the good.

1. A picture of indomitable bravery when menaced by overwhelming Numbers 2. Calls forth profound sorrow in view of the popular and prevailing iniquity.

3. Yearns for companions to share the bliss of a holy life.

1Ki . We see the god of the blind, mad world; and the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. The generation of to-day thinks itself elevated far above the Baal worship which in its nature was deification of nature and the world; and yet how often does it happen that it serves the creature rather than the Creator! Men no longer make gods out of wood and stone, but construct them out of their own thoughts, and worship their own ideas. The world wishes to hear nothing of the God who is holy and ready to sanctify the sinful heart of man; who is just, and metes to each man the measure which he deserves; who does not suffer Himself to be scorned; of the rebukes and chastisement of such a God as He has revealed Himself in His Word, the world makes nothing; and will only hear of a God who never rebukes or punishes, who is no avenging judge, who works no miracles, can hear no prayers. Elijah, could he return to earth, would scorn such a divinity no less than he did the idol Baal.—Lange.

—The people now find a voice. They had hesitated before, not wishing to decide between the two worships, or wholly to relinquish either. They now readily accept a proposition which promises them an exciting spectacle, and will relieve them of the trouble of making a decision by mental efforts of their own.—Speaker's Comm.

1Ki . The infatuation of idolatry.

1. May beguile minds of the highest order.

2. Incites its votaries to the most extravagant Acts 3. Is more resolute the less it succeeds.

4. Presents a painful picture of what self-deceived humanity may become.

1Ki . The sublimity and efficacy of true prayer.

1. If we consider the glorious Being to whom it is addressed (1Ki ).

2. If we contrast it with the wild iterations of raving idolaters (1Ki ). If we consider the practical good it seeks to confer on men (1Ki 18:37).

3. If we consider the remarkable answers vouchsafed (1Ki ).

1Ki . All knowledge and recognition of God is inseparable from the conversion of the heart to Him. That is the aim of every testimony and revelation of God, and for that every true servant of God should daily pray in behalf of those entrusted to his care. Elijah, unlike the priests of Baal, who called upon their god the whole day, used few words, yet was he heard, because in those few words he expressed infinite meaning, and his prayer came from the depths of a believing, unquestioning soul.

1Ki . What is the miracle of that fire which devoured the burnt offering and compelled the whole people to cry out: "The Lord He is God," in comparison with the miracle that God hath sent His Son into the world to kindle the greatest fire which has ever burnt in the world; compared with the miracle that the Word has become flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory? In Bethlehem, and upon Golgotha, the glory of the Lord is infinitely higher in its manifestation than upon Carmel.—Lange.

1Ki . The appeal of Elijah was to the people. He called upon them to inflict then and there, upon these ringleaders of the people in idolatry, the punishment which the law denounced, and such as would have been inflicted upon himself had the victory been on their side; and the king seems to have been too awestricken to interfere. From the character of Elijah, we have no doubt that he executed this act of blood heartily and with entire satisfaction. It is not for us to vindicate him; the only question is: Was this in accordance with the law and with the spirit of the times? It certainly was; and Britons, not so much as fifty years ago, performed under their own laws, with perfect peace of mind, upon far less heinous offenders, the deadly executions which we now regard with horror. If, then, in looking back upon the last generation, we make allowance for this great change of law and sentiment within so short a time, we must needs make the same allowance in surveying the more remote and less refined age in which Elijah lived.—Kitto.

—A fearful vengeance, surely! Does the thought occur to you—"If this book be, as is alleged, not a mere history of that which is strange and exceptional, but a revelation of permanent laws and principles, may not this act be pleaded in justification of any, even the most outrageous punishment of worshippers false, or thought to be false, that has ever taken place in any age of the Christian church?" I answer, I conceive this story is a revelation of permanent priniciples, just as I believe Elijah's declaration that there should be no rain nor dew, or his commanding the widow's cruse not to fail, is the revelation of a permanent principle. The one shows forth God's indignation against those who corrupt and demoralize a nation by trading in religious arts and fears, just as the others show God's continual government over the outward universe, and His protecting care over every person who dwells in it. The method in which the revelation of these truths was made belongs to a peculiar period of the world's history. In a general way, it may be said to belong to the whole Jewish dispensation, Including in that the period down to the destruction of Jerusalem. In another sense, it belonged to the special circumstances of the time in which Elijah was living. We do not need to have prophets executing these purposes of the Divine government, which famines, pestilences, revolutions execute without them, or those which are accomplished through the intervention of the ordinary minister of health and nourishment. But if no prophet had ever been commissioned to do one kind of work as well as the other, we should not have known to whom we might refer them. An infinite darkness would have rested both upon human and natural proceedings, which, except through our own fault and unwillingness to profit by God's illumition, does not rest upon them now.—Maurice.

—The sentence upon the idol-priests was a terrible but necessary one, which should serve us not as an example, but as a warning; for although under the new covenant superstition and unbelief, idol-worship and apostacy, are not chastised with fire and sword, yet there is not wanting a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries. Those who tread under foot the blood of the Lamb will shrink from the wrath of the Lamb (Luk ; Heb 10:27-31; Rev 6:16).—Lange.


Verses 41-46

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—

1Ki . Sound of abundance of rain—The cause of the curse of drought being now removed, the blessing came quick.

1Ki . Cast himself down upon the earth—Betook himself to prayer. This kept him from becoming elate, and indicated his deep concern for the mercy of God to come upon the stricken land.

1Ki . Hand of the Lord—Supernatural energy, and a Divine ecstacy. Entrance of Jezreel—Where Ahab had a summer palace (1Ki 21:1).—W. H. J.

HOMILETICS OF 1Ki

SUGGESTIVE PHASES OF THE PRAYING SPIRIT

I. It is quick to perceive the indications of coming blessing (1Ki ). "There is a sound of abundance of rain." To the keen, sensitive ears of the prophet, the splash of the long-wished for rain was already falling on the parched soil, and roaring along the hitherto empty torrent beds. He heard in reality, or by anticipation, the gentle wind sighing through the forest of Carmel, and waving the tree tops which have been poetically spoken of as so many bell summoning this lone worshipper to prayer: and in the East the wind is the precursor of the approaching shower. A certain Polish Jew, whose great musical genius raised him to eminence and wealth, had become so familiar with the different kinds of wood of which he made his flutes and reeds when in the capacity of a poor shepherd, that he knew every tree of the forest by the peculiarity of its sound. So, long practice in prayer sharpens every sensibility of the soul, and familiarizes it with the faintest indications, unheard by other ears, of the nearness and character of advancing benedictions.

II. It seeks retirement (1Ki ). "Elijah went up to the top of Carmel." Leaving Ahab to take his meal at the place where the sacrifice had been consumed, the prophet ascended not quite to the highest elevation, as appears from his words to his servant (1Ki 18:43), but to a point little below the highest, whence the sea was not visible. He needed to retire only a short distance to the West, and there, on the slope just below the summit, sequestered by bushes and trees, such as are still to be found there, he could pour out his heart to God in secret. Devotion needs times of quietness and solitude in order to store up spiritual strength for the bustle and conflict of life. How often is it said of the great prophet of mankind that "he went up into a mountain apart to pray!" And all who would catch his spirit and tone, in however humble a degree, must seek it in private communion (Mat 6:6).

III. It has ever some special subject for personal supplication. Elijah had prayed before that it might not rain, and a prolonged period of drought and famine was the answer. But now the great burden of his prayer was for the rain that had been so long withheld (Jas ).

1. This supplication was intensely earnest. "He cast himself down upon the earth and put his face between his knees" (1Ki ), by this unusual attitude indicating the extraordinary intensity of his prayer. The highest results of prayer can be attained only by fervent, agonising efforts. The greatness of the blessing sought stimulates the urgency of the petitioner.

2. This supplication was persevering (1Ki ). "Go again seven times." There was spiritual discipline here. Delaying is not denying. The blessing is withheld, partly to certify the fact that it comes from God, to show the necessity of hourly dependence, and to teach that, whatever apparent difficulties there may be in the way, "men ought always to pray, and not to faint." Six times the messenger returned with the disappointing intelligence, "There is nothing"; but the Tishbite's faith was undaunted; he had unswerving confidence in the prayer hearing God. Though he had the definite promise of God that rain should be sent (1Ki 18:1), and had caught with prophetic instinct the precursive sign of its coming (1Ki 18:41), yet he continued pleading with unabated earnestness. Persevering prayer wins the victory.

IV. It is privileged to witness substantial answers to prayer (1Ki ). "A speck at length darkens the distant heavens.

Comes a vapour from the margin, blackening over heath and holt,

Cramming all the blast before it, in its breast a thunderbolt.

It is the first that has been seen for three years and a half. It is abundantly visible in a sky which too clear, like a too beautiful cheek, tells there is surely something wrong. It rises higher and higher—it becomes broader and broader—it moves with amazing celerity. The glow of the sunset is lost in gloom. Long raven wings are extended all over the hill. The banks of the Kishon put on a ghastlier hue. It breaks; and there, amid a hoarse thanksgiving murmur from the forest around, rains down the grateful deluge—token that the prayers of the bent prophet have been graciously heard, and that his victory over Baal is now, in fire and water, visibly complete." Few of God's praying people but can refer to some period in their history when their prayers were answered with overwhelming copiousness.

V. It is the best preparation for active and important service (1Ki ). Divinely directed and divinely upheld, Elijah, instead of resting after the excitement and fatigues of the day, girded up his loins, and ran in advance of the king's chariot, which was no doubt driven at speed, the entire distance of at least sixteen miles to the entrance of Jezreel. He thus showed himself ready to countenance and uphold the irresolute monarch, if he would turn from his evil courses, and proceed to carry out the religious reformation which the events of the day had inaugurated (Speaker's Comm.). The stern and fiery-spirited prophet was, after all, a faithful and obedient subject; though severe in matters of religion, he was constitutional and loyal in matters of state. His aim was, not to injure king or people, but to defend and restore the worship of the God of Israel. Praying and working must never be disjoined. The best work is done by him who prays the best.

LESSONS:—

1. Some characters would have no greatness at all if it were not for their spirit of prayer.

2. Prayer should not be less, but more, earnest because of the evident approach of the answer.

3. Prayer is absolutely essential for efficiency in all Christian work.

GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES

1Ki . The rain. In this incident Elijah reaches the great crisis of his life. It was to him a time of suspense and anxiety. He would wonder whether God would now hear him by sending rain, as He had recently done by sending fire. If God should answer him this time, then his great work would be accomplished, and he should experience the joy of success. It was for this hour he had been living during the last few years. This was to be the crowning point of his life—that point in which the past and the future meet—when his soul would be filled with anxiety and concern as to the issue. Such were the feelings with which Elijah for the second time ascended Carmel to seek the manifestation of God's presence and power. Notice—

I. The object of his faith. To procure rain for the parched land Let us learn from his example to keep a clearly defined object before our faith. With regard to God—His fatherhood, His mercy and love, His nearness to us and readiness to help: with regard to our life—the conquering of sinful temper or passion, the increase of holiness and devotedness to God: with regard to our work—in the family, in the Sunday school class, in the pulpit.

II. The means by which he sought this object. The attitude of prayer. He might have been tempted to have left God to fulfil His own promise, but he did not. His faith was operative, and led him to pray earnestly. True faith will always influence us to labour and pray for its object. III The encouragement he received. "A sound of abundance of rain." This was an indication of God's nearness to him, and a token that his prayer would be answered. This sound, in all likelihood, was heard only by himself. And so is it ever with the man who has strong faith in God, and who lives in close union and intimate fellowship with Him. He has visions of God unseen by others. It is by such tokens that he is sustained and stimulated in the work God has given him to do.

IV. The discouragement he met with. "There is nothing." He hoped for intelligence of the clouds rising and bearing in their bosoms the plentiful showers; but there was no sign of them. The discouragement came to Elijah from the servant and the circumstances of the case; not from God—from Him he received encouragement and stimulus. Like the prophet, we receive discouragement every day from men and from circumstances. From men and things we receive constant disappointment; but from God we receive no disappointment—He never fails.

V. The perseverance he manifested. "Go again seven times." Many a one would have grown weary on being told by the servant two or three times, "There is nothing." But Elijah was not to be turned aside from his object by having to wait. He continues to watch and pray. While doing so he was the object of conflicting influences, of a discouraging and encouraging character; but by the assistance of the latter he was enabled to overcome the former, and to persevere. Like him we are exposed to the two classes of influences, but we are encouraged to persevere.

VI. The success realized. "There was a great rain." Though he had to wait, yet God heard him. Who can imagine the feeling of joy that would rush into the prophet's heart as he received the answer to his prayer? His character as a true prophet would be established, and God would be honoured by the steadfastness and perseverance of His servant.—The Study and Pulpit.

1Ki . Wretched man! He was no more touched by the great, heart searching events of the day, than if he had witnessed an interesting but very long play, after which refreshment is most welcome, and food tastes well. Yet where are not such Ahab souls to be found? Ah! woe to you who permit the strongest evidences, the most powerful appeals to conscience, and the most touching works of God, to glide before you like a magic-lantern before your eyes: you enjoy it a little, perhaps, but you bring home from the churches and meetings nothing except some complaints over the long divine service, or some matter for lively conversation or self-satisfied criticism, and a good appetite for the meal that now follows, and a gay looking forward to the pleasures and enjoyment which the evening of the Sabbath day will bring you. Who has greater cause than Ahab to seek solitude, fall down upon his knees and say, God be merciful to me, and blot out my sins after Thy great mercy, and make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us (Psa 51:3; Psa 90:15). But of all this, not a word. The rain alone was of importance to him, not the Lord and His mercy. How many like-minded ones in our day!—Krummacher.

1Ki . The sensitiveness of faith.

1. Is on the alert for answers to prayer.

2. Is conscious of the nearness of great blessings.

3. Prepares the soul for the reception and use of heavenly visitations.

4. Gives additional urgency to prayer.

—No ears but Elijah's could as yet perceive a sound of rain: the clouds were not yet gathered, the vapours were not yet risen, yet Elijah hears that which shall be. Those that are of God's counsel can discern either favours or judgments afar off. The slack apprehensions of carnal hearts make them hard to believe that as future which the quick and refined senses of the faithful perceive as present.—Bp. Hall.

—Glad and grateful must that moment have been to the many thousands of Israel, when the gasping earth that had for three long years suffered in dumb agony, drank in the refreshing flood of God; when the true church, who had beheld in that sky of brass and these furrows of iron the visible tokens of the Divine curse, now witnessed the heavens unfolding their black, inky scroll, with the joyful tidings that the curse was removed! Can we participate in this joy in a loftier spiritual sense? Do we see the curse of sin taken away; God propitiated; and from the rain with which He is filling the pools, are we drawing all needful supplies for our parched souls? If we are drooping and desponding; if our cry is, "My flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land where no water is"; we again echo Elijah's words, "Get thee up, for there is the sound of abundance of rain." Our privileges are many. The spirit of God is ever and anon moving "on the tops of the mulberry trees." The small clouds have been rising, and copious showers have fallen. Go, get thee, like Elijah, get thee to the oratory, pray that the cloud may spread, that it may stretch across the heavens!—Macduff.

1Ki . Elijah praying. We propose to consider the conduct of Elijah as suggestive of important lessons to the people of God in reference to a subject which claims their utmost solicitude, namely, the descent of spiritual blessing, the coming of a gracious rain upon the church and the world. Mark—I. The circumstances by which Elijah's prayer is distinguished.

1. The place to which he resorted. He "went up to the top of Carmel." It was a place of privacy, retirement, seclusion. Hence we read of those who did "hide themselves in the top of Carmel" (Amo ). It is by secret prayer manifestations of power and blessing are secured, and revivals ushered in. "Come! my people! enter into thy chambers, and shut thy door about thee!" "Enter into thy closet," &c. (Mat 6:6).

2. The attitude he assumed. "He cast himself down upon the earth," &c. Indicative of reverence, humility, fervour. Our prayers should be thus distinguished. Think of the majesty of the Being we address; the disparity existing between ourselves and Him; the infinite importance of the blessings sought (Isa ; Gen 19:27; Exo 3:5).

3. The faith which he exercised. That for which Elijah prayed, God had promised (1Ki ). The promise of God is faith's warrant. Prayer is the condition, the promise, the encouragement (Eze 30:3-7). Elijah believed God; hence he "said to his servant, Go up now, and look toward the sea," whence clouds and vapours usually arise. Oh! how unlike Elijah have we frequently been! How does his conduct proclaim, "Have faith in God."

4. The perseverance he manifested. Six times he sent his servant up the hill, and he sees nothing, brings no good news to his master; yet Elijah continues praying. Like his father Jacob, his conduct says, "I will not let thee go unless Thou bless me." (See 1Ki ; Psa 80:5-7; Psa 90:13-16.) Delays are not denials. "Though the vision tarry, wait for it." Send your prayers up the hill of Zion, not seven times, but seventy times seven. Though the cloud cannot be seen, the promise can.

"Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees,

And looks to that alone."

II. The success with which Elijah's prayer was crowned.

1. And it came to pass at the seventh time (44, 45). The cloud was small at first; but it was the precursor of "a great rain."

2. Every succeeding age has supplied examples equally remarkable. The disciples in the "upper room"; Cornelius at Csarea; Paul and Silas at Philippi; Peter in prison, &c.

3. Other instances besides those which the inspired record supplies—e.g., the Reformation of the sixteenth century; the Wesleys at Oxford; the Revival in America and Ireland in 1857; personal history. You prayed till you could praise—the blessing came, &c. III. The encouragement which Elijah's servant, and that of past ages, supplies to the church of the present day. Seen in the unchangeable character of God. "I am the Lord, I change not." What He was to Elijah on Mount Carmel, He is to us.

2. The unalterable efficacy of prayer. It is still the way of approach, the medium of success, the hand which moves the arm which moves the world.

3. The immutability of God's promises. The great rain which is to precede the world's harvest is the subject of explicit promise (see Isa ; Joe 2:29; Psa 72:6-8; Num 14:21).—The Lay Preacher.

1Ki . The worldly and the religions spirit—a contrast.

1. The worldly spirit finds relief in festivity; the religious spirit in prayer.

2. The worldly spirit is but temporarily affected by the most imposing spectacles of divine power; the religious spirit bows in reverence and humility before God.

3. The worldly spirit is more intent in looking for temporal results; the religious spirit for spiritual reformation.

1Ki . All that while is the prophet in his prayers, neither is any whit undaunted with that delay. Hope holds up the head of our holy desires, and perseverance crowns it. If we receive not an answer to our suits at the sixth motion, we may not be out of countenance, but must try the seventh. At last a little cloud arises out of the sea—a handbreadth. So many, so fervent prayers cannot but pull water out of heaven as well as fire: those sighs reflect upon the earth, and from the earth reflect upon heaven, from heaven rebound upon the sea, and raise vapours up thence to heaven again. If we find that our prayers are heard for the substance, we may not cavil at the quantity. From how small beginnings have great matters arisen! It is no otherwise in all the gracious proceedings of God with the soul. Scarce sensible are these first works of His spirit in the heart which grow up at last to the wonder of men and applause of angels.—Bp. Hall.

1Ki . "There is nothing." A common verdict.

1. Of the world concerning the church. 2. Of the church concerning the world.

3. Of the disappointed worshipper concerning idolatry.

4. Of the baffled inquirer concerning infidelity.

5. Of the surfeited votary concerning pleasure.

—Oftentimes we look in vain, and yet see nothing of the comfort of the Lord, nothing of His help and salvation. He leaves us awhile prostrated in dust and misery, does not at once, hearkening and comforting, raise us up, but appears as if the voice of our crying reached Him not. But if we do not lose our confidence in Him, if we re double our prayers and entreaties, He will not let us be ashamed (Isa ). He will comfort, help, and hearken to us at His own, the best time. A man must not weary of prayer, even though it appears to him useless (Jer 18:1; Col 4:2; Eph 6:1).—Menken.

—"Go again seven times." Here was an act of faith on Elijah's part, and on that of his servant, and also a prophecy. The cloud, which promised the long expected rain, appeared at the seventh time. The walls of Jericho fell down after they had been compassed seven times, on the seventh day (Jos ). Naaman was cleansed after he had washed seven times (2Ki 5:14). There are seventy-seven generations from Adam to Christ.—Wordsworth.

1Ki . All the merciful works of God seem small and unimportant in the beginning, but thence they are seen to be nobler and greater in the end. Let the man rejoice who sees even so much as a little cloud of divine mercy and peace arising upon the horizon of his life! The time approaches when this cloud will cover his whole heaven. When the hour strikes, help comes in with mighty power; and, to put thy mistrust to shame, it must come unexpectedly.—Lange.

1Ki . "There ariseth a little cloud like a man's hand." The gradual development of the greatest good.

1. In the world of nature.

2. In the world of mind.

3. In the spiritual sphere.

4. In the aggregate of national life.

5. In the conversion of the world to Christianity.

1Ki . Divine strength.

1. Increases the capacity for physical endurance.

2. Makes us willing to occupy the humblest position to gain over the morally weak.

3. Prepares us for future obedience and service.

—The picture of the fleet runner is suggestive to the Christian of many profitable thoughts, and chiefly of this, that loyalty to God is simply "running in the way of His commandments." And with this let nothing interfere. Let us run in the right spirit, stripped of every encumbrance, with concentration of purpose, in humble reliance on God. Elijah-like, in the way, His strength and support shall never be wanting; for, "the hand of the Lord" shall be on us; and then, in the end, we shall have, what at least at Jezreel Elijah had not, the chaplet of glory to crown our brow. There is an old eastern tale of the swift Persian Shatirs. To one his sovereign had promised the hand of a princess if he accomplished in running a certain feat. Girt as tightly as possible, when to stoop was death, he ran for miles like a gazelle in front of the royal train. Alarmed at his success, and fearing the promise would have to be kept, the monarch dropped his whip; but, scarce pausing in his progress, the adroit, skilful runner picked it up with his foot. Next the monarch dropped his ring, and finding that that he could not recover with his foot, the runner exclaimed, "O King, you have broken your word, but I am true to the last"—stooped to the ground, picked up the ring with his finger, gave a deep groan of pain, fell down, and expired. But with God and the runner in the Christian race there is no deceit. He who has said, "So run that ye may obtain," will confer the mark of the high calling of God on the humblest who reaches the goal at the last.—Howat.

—Elijah, a true shepherd, he goes after the lost sheep, and leaves them not when he sees the wolf coming; but the Lord, who is neither weary nor faint, giveth power and strength to the faint, and to them that have no might, so that no way is too far, no toil too heavy.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Kings 18:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/1-kings-18.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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