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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
1 Kings 18

 

 

Verse 1

ELIJAH’S MEETING WITH AHAB, AND CONTEST WITH THE FALSE PROPHETS, 1 Kings 18:1-40.

1. In the third year — Some time during the third year of Elijah’s stay at Zarephath. He probably dwelt by the Cherith about a year, and at Zarephath two years and six months: this would make the three years and six months mentioned by Jesus (Luke 4:25) and James. James 5:17. No definite time was mentioned when Elijah first announced the drought; (1 Kings 17:1;) rain was to return only according to the word of the Lord; but Ahab’s wickedness continued it through the long period here specified. These three years and a half suggest the “time, times, and the dividing of a time,” the prophetical period of the Church’s woes. Comp. Daniel 7:25; Daniel 12:7; Revelation 12:14.


Verse 2

2. Sore famine in Samaria — While it is clear, from 1 Kings 17:12-14, that the famine extended beyond the kingdom of Israel, it is still probable that it was especially oppressive in Samaria, and the provinces immediately adjacent.


Verse 3

3. Governor of his house — Literally, Obadiah, who was over the house; lord-chamberlain of the palace, an officer of high rank and great influence in the kingdom. This is specially remarkable in view of Obadiah’s marked piety, and the wickedness of the royal family.


Verse 4

4. When Jezebel cut off the prophets — Whence it appears that this woman had not only set up Baal-worship in Israel, but had also persecuted unto death the true prophets of Jehovah. This persecution she had probably ordered in vengeance and passion because Elijah could not be found, (1 Kings 18:10,) and on suspicion that they were privy to his concealment.

A hundred prophets — These were doubtless mostly members of the prophetical schools, now numerous in Israel. See note on 1 Samuel 10:5.

Hid them by fifty in a cave — That is, hid them in two caves, fifty in each cave. These were they “of whom the world was not worthy,” mentioned in Hebrews 11:38, as noble exemplars of faith.


Verse 6

6. They divided the land between them — This shows further how high was the position of Obadiah in the service and confidence of the king. It is said to be a custom in the East, when a public calamity reaches its highest point, for the king himself and his chief minister to go forth and seek relief.


Verse 7

7. Thou that my lord Elijah — His language, as well as his action, on meeting and recognising Elijah, was full of emotion and surprise. Is it thou, to find whom every royal device has been exhausted; thou, Elijah, in broad daylight, right here near the gates of Samaria!


Verse 9

9. What have I sinned — For Obadiah to announce the presence of Elijah to Ahab would, in his judgment, expose him to the suspicion that he had concealed him during all these years of famine, and thus draw down on him the wrath of the king and queen — a fate to which he deserved not to be exposed. It appears also, from 1 Kings 18:12, that this pious Israelite had a superstitious fear of Elijah.


Verse 10

10. No nation or kingdom — Ahab had sought far and near for the stern prophet, whom he regarded as the troubler of Israel. 1 Kings 18:17. “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.

Took an oath… that they found thee not — That is, he made each nation and kingdom through which he sought, swear to him that they had not found the prophet, and knew not the place of his concealment.


Verse 12

12. The Spirit… carry thee whither I know not — An allusion, perhaps, to the sudden disappearance of Elijah after his announcement of the drought to Ahab. 1 Kings 17:1. There seems to have been so much of the weird and solemn about Elijah as even to inspire the pious Obadiah with a fear of him.


Verse 13

13. Was it not told — So his hiding of the prophets had been reported to Ahab, but, perhaps, not to Jezebel. His tamer spirit would not rush to the extremes to which her fiery nature carried her, and he might naturally wish to check somewhat her persecution of the prophets. But Obadiah fears that if the king suspects him of intimacy with Elijah nothing will save him from the fury of Ahab’s wrath.


Verse 16

16. Obadiah went to meet Ahab — It was doubtless better that the king’s mind be a little prepared for the meeting with Elijah, by having the prophet’s presence pre-announced.


Verse 17

17. Art thou he that troubleth Israel — The question was equivalent to an affirmative. The king assumed, and charged it upon Elijah, that he had caused the famine. We might render: Art thou that Achar (Achan) of Israel? Compare Joshua 7:1, with 1 Chronicles 2:7.


Verse 18

18. Thou, and thy father’s house — Here observe, in one of its most noticeable forms, the stern and denunciatory attitude of the Old Testament prophets toward the unfaithful monarchy of Israel. The power of Elijah’s stern and fearless words changed the monarch’s anger into awe.

Baalim — This plural form of the word Baal may designate both the various images erected to him, and also the many aspects of character and power in which he was regarded by his worshippers.


Verse 19

19. Mount Carmel — See at Joshua 19:26. “Carmel was the peculiar haunt of Elijah. On its eastern summit, commanding the last view of the Mediterranean Sea and the first view of the great plain of Esdraelon, just where the glades of forest — the ‘excellency’ whence it derives its name — sink into the usual bareness of the hills of Manasseh, a rock is still shown bearing the name of Maharrakah — ’the sacrifice.’ On this rock stood an altar of Jehovah, (1 Kings 18:30,) which had, in all probability, been destroyed in the recent persecution. On this same spot, probably, long afterwards, Vespasian sacrificed when commanding the Roman armies in Palestine; and to this the Druses still come in yearly pilgrimage. 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 battlefield 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.” — Stanley.

Prophets of the groves — Rather, Prophets of Asheroth, the female divinity of the Zidonians, and often called Ashtoreth. 1 Kings 11:5-33; Judges 2:13; 1 Samuel 7:3-4. In this verse Baal and Asherah are mentioned together as in Judges 2:13. The one was the male, the other the female deity of the Phenicians. See note on 1 Kings 14:15. The prophets of Asherah were specially petted and patronized by Jezebel, though they seem not to have been quite as numerous as those of Baal. They ate at Jezebel’s table, were treated as members of the royal family. The multitude of false prophets here specified (850) shows the zeal and success with which the queen had introduced her national idolatry into the kingdom of Israel. The strong hold which the newly-introduced idolatry now had upon the kingdom shows, also, the demand there was for the miraculous vindication at Carmel of the true worship of Jehovah, and the overwhelming defeat and disgrace of the worship and worshippers of Baal.


Verse 21

21. How long halt ye between two opinions — Septuagint: How long limp ye on both your knees? That is, how long will ye totter and waver in your religious walk, now this side and then that, not knowing whether it be better to serve Jehovah or Baal, but rather trying to keep on good terms with both. Clarke, after some of the older interpreters, translates, How long hop ye about on two boughs? and explains the metaphor as taken from birds hopping about from bough to bough, not knowing on which to settle. “They dreaded Jehovah, and, therefore, could not totally abandon him; they feared the king and queen, and, therefore, thought they must embrace the religion of the State. Their conscience forbade them doing the former; their fear of man persuaded them to do the latter; but in neither were they heartily engaged.” So they answered him not a word.


Verse 22

22. I only — Strange contrast, and, apparently, unequal contest! Other true prophets may have been hidden in caves, (1 Kings 18:4,) but Elijah alone appeared for Jehovah on this occasion. On the one side stood the lone prophet with flowing beard and leathern girdle, (2 Kings 1:8,) on the other, four hundred and fifty splendidly robed (2 Kings 10:22) priests of Baal, and on the neighbouring slope were assembled thousands of Israelites to witness the memorable contest. It seems that for some reason the queen had kept her Asherah prophets away from the scene of conflict.


Verse 24

24. The God that answereth by fire — 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 in 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.


Verse 26

26. They leaped upon the altar — The word translated leaped is the Piel form of the same word rendered halt in 1 Kings 18:21. They danced and tottered around and upon the altar they had made, from morning till noon, and yet no answer from Baal. This, says Stanley, “is the exact picture of Oriental fanaticism, such as may still be seen in Eastern religions. 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.”


Verse 27

27. Mocked them — A mockery consisting of the most biting ridicule, irony, and sarcasm imaginable.

Cry aloud — Scream with a great voice. Your god cannot hear your low tones; he needs a mighty noise to call his attention to these parts, where his interests are sadly at stake!

For he is a god — Rather, For God is he! He is, of course, the Supreme Divinity! He must be that, or nothing at all.

He is talking — Talking with somebody else, and don’t know of the sore distress of his four hundred and fifty prophets here! Or שׂיחmay mean, as in the margin, He meditateth. He is all swallowed up in profound contemplation; in such a brown study that at present he knows nothing else!

He is pursuing — This is an erroneous rendering of שׂיג, which means a withdrawing, retirement. The idea here expressed euphemistically is, He has gone aside, that is, to do his need. “He covereth his feet in his summer chamber.” Judges 3:24.

He is in a journey — He has, perhaps, gone travelling, and ought to be called home again to take care of his worshippers, who are terribly annoyed by his absence!

He sleepeth — And he sleeps so soundly that it doubtless needs a great voice to start him up!


Verse 28

28. Cut themselves… till the blood gushed out — “The prophets of Baal took Elijah at his word. Like the dervishes, who eat glass, seize living snakes with their teeth, throw themselves prostrate for their mounted chief to ride over them — like the Corybantian priests of Cybele — like the fakirs of India — they now, in their frenzied state, tossed to and fro the swords and lances which formed part of their fantastic worship, and gashed themselves and each other till they were smeared with blood, and mingled with their loud yells to the… divinity those ravings which formed the dark side of ancient prophecy.” — Stanley.


Verse 29

29. They prophesied — In the manner described in the last verse. See note on 1 Samuel 18:10.

Until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice — Or, until towards the offering. The time is indicated only approximately. There is nothing in the Hebrew that answers to evening, which is here supplied by our translators; but the context shows that the evening sacrifice is meant, for from morning until after midday had the priests of Baal kept up their orgies. The evening sacrifice was offered “between the two evenings.” Exodus 29:39; Numbers 28:4. This expression also designates the time at which the paschal lamb was killed. See note on Exodus 12:6. The exact hour was disputed even by the ancients. It would seem from a casual remark of Josephus (Antiquties, 1 Kings 14:4; 1 Kings 14:3) to have been about the ninth hour, or three o’clock in the afternoon.


Verse 30

30. Come near — The people had, perhaps, withdrawn somewhat, being shocked at the wild dances and ravings of the false prophets, whose number, too, would not allow the people to approach so closely to the scene as when Elijah became the sole minister at the altar.

He repaired the altar of the Lord — One of those altars which had been erected and used before the days of Solomon, when “the people sacrificed in high places, because there was no house built unto the name of the Lord.” See 1 Kings 3:2. This altar must have been on the same summit where the priests of Baal had just been worshipping, but a little distance removed from the spot of their orgies. It had probably been broken down at the time of Jezebel’s persecution, (compare 1 Kings 18:4 with 1 Kings 19:10,) and Elijah repaired it in the manner described in the two following verses, for he would not use the altar which the false prophets had made, and had polluted with their hideous idolatries.


Verse 31

31. Twelve stones — Indicative of the twelve tribes; and like those which were taken out of the midst of Jordan and set up at Gilgal, (Joshua 4:3; Joshua 4:20,) a memorial of the national unity and Divine election of Israel.

Israel shall be thy name — Perhaps Elijah, while building the altar, audibly repeated these words in the ears of all the people, and would thus teach by word as well as symbol that the whole twelve tribes, not ten merely, were named Israel. The division of Israel into two kingdoms was the result of sin.


Verse 32

32. As great as would contain two measures of seed — This means, according to Thenius and Keil, that the space taken up by the whole trench was as large as that on which two measures of grain would ordinarily be sown. But this would have made the trench enclose a space incredibly large. The measures here mentioned are in the Hebrew seahs, containing at the lowest estimate about six quarts, and twelve quarts of grain would be more than enough to sow over the entire level space of the summit of el-Mohrakah, which is about twenty rods square. It is better, therefore, to understand that the trench itself would hold about twelve quarts of grain or water. It was dug to catch and hold the water which Elijah proposed to pour over the altar, and thus to show the people that there was no secret way of letting it off. It needed no large trench to answer this purpose, and no deep trench could easily be dug in that rocky surface; but the shallow soil now on the rock would be sufficient for a trench capable of holding three gallons, and the soil may have been deeper in Elijah’s time. “I myself observed,” writes Professor Mead, (Bibliotheca Sacra, 1873, p. 685,) “close to the Mohrakah, a rocky surface, artificially smoothed, about eight feet square, around the edge of which had been dug a groove an inch or two in depth. One might almost be tempted to find in that the foundation and trench of the very altar itself.”


Verse 33

33. Fill four barrels — These barrels were the common water jars which are still used in the East for carrying water, and probably contained from three to five gallons apiece. The original word ( כד) is the same as that used 1 Kings 17:12, designating the vessel in which the widow kept her meal. It is translated pitcher in Genesis 24:14-15, and Judges 7:16. The object of flooding the bullock and the wood with these vessels of water was manifestly to place the miracle about to be wrought beyond all question.


Verse 35

35. He filled the trench also — But in that time of terrible drought where could Elijah obtain such an amount of water? Some think from the neighbouring sea; but that was several miles distant from the traditional spot. Others think it might have been taken from the fountain near the spot which most travellers mention; but Thomson says that was nearly dry when he was there, and could not hold out through the dry season of one ordinary summer. More likely the water was brought from the “brook Kishon,” where Elijah slew the false prophets. 1 Kings 18:40. This flows close along the base of Carmel, and here is one of the largest perennial sources of that ancient river. “The strictly permanent Kishon is one of the shortest rivers in the world. You will find the source in the vast fountains called Saadiyeh, not more than three miles east of Haifa. They flow out from the very roots of Carmel, almost on a level with the sea, and the water is brackish. They form a deep broad stream at once, which creeps sluggishly through an impracticable marsh to the sea.” — Thomson. We need not suppose that the water was brought at this particular time, and that Elijah and the people waited by the altar while the carriers brought it from the Kishon, or even from the neighbouring fountain. We naturally suppose that in view of what would be needed, the necessary supply of water had been provided in the early part of the day.


Verse 36

36. At the time of… evening sacrifice — See note on 1 Kings 18:29. We may render, at the offering of the sacrifice, that is, when all the preparations had been made, and all things were ready for the offering of the sacrifice. The preparations of Elijah in building an altar, digging the trench, and preparing for the sacrifice need not have occupied a great deal of time, for 1 Kings 18:30; 1 Kings 18:33-34, show that he had the people around him at command, and multitudes were doubtless ready to render him any assistance he desired.

God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel — Thus he turns the heart of the children to the fathers. Malachi 4:6. Contrast the simplicity of his prayer with the frantic cries and orgies of the prophets of Baal.


Verse 37

37. Thou hast turned their heart back again — Back again from idols to thyself. The prophet thus anticipates the results of this contest, and thinks of the people as already reclaimed from their idolatrous practices.


Verse 38

38. The fire of the Lord fell — See marginal references. This miraculous fire descended from heaven in flaming proof that it was no result of fraudulent practice. Chrysostom says he was personally knowing to fraudulent practices of idolaters whereby fire was kindled on the altar by means of a concealed excavation underneath; and an old tradition says that these priests of Baal had a man hidden under their altar on Carmel, but he was suffocated before he could kindle the fire. “There is an exultant triumph in the words in which the sacred historian describes the completeness of the conflagration. The fragments of the ox on the summit of the altar first disappear; then the pile of wood, heaped from the forests of Carmel; next the very stones of the altar crumble in the flames; then the very dust of the earth that had been thrown out of the trench; and lastly, the water in the trench round the altar is licked up by the fiery tongues, and leaves the whole place bare.” — Stanley.


Verse 39

39. Fell on their faces — Overwhelmed with the convincing display of Divine power and glory.

The Lord, he is the God — Better, Jehovah, he is the God! The God; that is, the only God, for Baal had failed to prove himself a god at all.


Verse 40

40. Take the prophets of Baal — Take them prisoners; lay hold upon them as criminals worthy of immediate death. The order was addressed to the obedient multitude, now all enthusiasm to vindicate Jehovah’s honour.

Down to the brook Kishon — Which flows along the very base of Carmel. See note on 1 Kings 18:35. “With regard to the place where the slaughter took place, there is general agreement. The path down the mountain, after passing the fountain,… continues with no great windings almost directly towards Tell Kussis, a commanding hill on the opposite side of the Kishon, but very near it. It is a spur from the hills which bound the plain of Esdraelon on the north, close by where the plain contracts into the narrow valley which connects it with the plain of Akka. Its name, signifying hill of the priests, is not improbably derived from the fact of the slaughter of the prophets of Baal, which must have taken place near it.” — PROF. MEAD, in Bibliotheca Sacra, 1873, p. 685.

Slew them there — Here we may see some retaliation for Jezebel’s slaughter of the prophets of Jehovah. See 1 Kings 18:4. But we must not judge this act of Elijah on the principles of Christian ethics, but by the spirit and letter of the Mosaic economy. The law commanded that the devotees of idolatry should be punished with death. See Deuteronomy 13:1-15; Deuteronomy 17:2-4; Deuteronomy 18:20. And so great was the passion with which the people, at the order of Elijah, helped to execute the law in this case, that Ahab, who was present, had no power or apparent disposition to interfere. On the moral principle involved in this slaughter of the Baal prophets, see notes on 1 Kings 2:24; 2 Samuel 12:31.


Verse 41

THE GREAT STORM, 1 Kings 18:41-46.

41. Eat and drink — On the mountain, near the place of the contest, probably a great feast was spread, and had been waiting some time the result of the conflict. During the protracted and exciting contest of the day there had been no time and no disposition to partake of food.

A sound of abundance of rain — Literally, A voice of a splash of rain. The prophet heard it in his inner ear; a prophetic presentiment of sound.


Verse 42

42. Cast himself down — Elijah’s attitude in prayer has been understood in two ways. Some maintain that he placed himself in a sitting posture, thus bringing his knees near his chin, and making it comparatively easy for him to put his face between his knees. Chardin and Shaw observed certain Orientals in this posture while engaged in devout meditation. This attitude, however, though suitable for meditation, would be less appropriate for prayer. Others therefore think that he first kneeled down, and then bowed his head forward, so that his face would have been brought near to the ground, and may have even touched it. This latter view is favoured by the word יגהר, here rendered cast himself down, which implies prostration, not sitting. The word occurs again only in 2 Kings 4:34-35, where it is used of Elisha’s stretching himself upon the dead child of the Shunammite. This prostrate attitude of Elijah’s was in keeping with that earnestness in prayer of which St. James speaks. James 5:17. Both king and prophet returned to the top of Carmel, the one to feast, the other to pray. The prophet, “while he was praying, withdrew himself from the very highest point of the summit, leaving Ahab to take his meal at the place where the sacrifice had been consumed. Elijah 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, poured out his petitions for rain.” — Mead.


Verse 43

43. His servant — Tradition says it was the Zidonian widow’s son whom he had raised from the dead. See note on 1 Kings 17:23.

Go up now — To the eminence just above him, whence, over the western ridge, may be seen a wide view of the Mediterranean Sea.

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. Joshua 6:15-20. Naaman was cleansed after he had washed seven times. 2 Kings 5:14. There are seventy-seven generations from Adam to Christ.” — Wordsworth.

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Verse 44

44. Go up, say unto Ahab — The king was yet on the lofty summit; the prophet still remained in his nook of prayer.

That the rain stop thee not — By causing the streams to rise so suddenly, and to such a degree, as to prevent all crossing.


Verse 45

45. Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel — A distance of about twelve miles. The site of Jezreel is preserved in the modern village Zerin, which occupies a noble site on the western point of Mount Gilboa, about one hundred feet above the plain, and commands a wide view of the surrounding country. It is first mentioned in Joshua 19:18, as belonging to the tribe of Issachar, but its chief fame is in its association with Ahab, who made it his royal residence. It did not supersede Samaria, but here Ahab built a palace, (1 Kings 21:1,) and it was the summer residence of his dynasty for three successive reigns.


Verse 46

46. Hand of the Lord was on Elijah — He was in the Spirit, and he and all around him were conscious that the mighty power of God was with him.

Girded up his loins — Twisted the leather garment which he wore (2 Kings 1:8) tightly about him, that he might run more freely.

Ran before Ahab — “As the Bedouins of his native Gilead would still run, with inexhaustible strength.” “The mode of doing honour to Ahab by running before his chariot was in accordance with the customs of the East, even to this day. I was reminded of this incident when Mohammed Ali, with a large army, came to Jaffa to quell the rebellion of Palestine. The officers were constantly going or coming, preceded by runners, who always kept just in advance of the horses, however furiously they were ridden; and in order to run with greater ease, they not only girded their loins very tightly, but also tucked up their loose garments under the girdle, lest they should be incommoded by them. Thus, no doubt, did Elijah. The distance from the base of Carmel across the plain to Jezreel is not less than twelve miles, and the race was probably accomplished in two hours in the face of a tremendous storm of rain and wind.” — Thomson. This “running” was a humble and servant-like act on the part of Elijah, and was probably done to convince Ahab that the stern and fiery-spirited prophet, whom he had so much hated, was a faithful and obedient subject, having no desire to injure the king or his people, but zealous to defend the honour and worship of the God of their fathers.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Kings 18:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/1-kings-18.html. 1874-1909.

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Thursday, November 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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