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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
1 Kings 19

 

 

Verse 1

ELIJAH’S FLIGHT TO HOREB, 1 Kings 19:1-18.

1. Ahab told Jezebel — The king was probably drawn towards Elijah in sympathy, and believed him to be a holy man of God. The mighty works of Divine power at Carmel, which his own eyes had witnessed, had convinced him that Jehovah was God, and Baal was no god worthy of respect. He might have thought to convince Jezebel of this by relating all that Elijah had done, but the wondrous tale only provoked the spirit of the idolatrous queen to the fiercest vows of revenge.


Verse 2

2. Jezebel sent a messenger — Here was lack of shrewdness and forethought, if she really wished and designed to carry out her threat, for such announcement of her purpose gave Elijah full opportunity to escape her, or prepare to meet her opposition. But it is possible that her object was to terrify him and drive him away from her city, and that she feared to cope with him otherwise, lest her own fate should be like that of the false prophets.

So let the gods do — “One of those tremendous vows which mark the history of the Semitic race, both within and without the Jewish pale — the vow of Jephthah, the vow of Saul, the vow of Hannibal.” — Stanley.


Verse 3

3. When he saw — Saw how things stood; saw the storm coming because of Ahab’s instability and lack of moral courage and firm principle to rule his house, and silence the rage of Jezebel.

He arose, and went for his life — Strange spectacle! the man at whose word but yesterday the life of Jehovah miraculously fell, and four hundred and fifty false prophets were slain, now flies for his life before the threat of an idolatrous queen! Jehovah seems to have left him for a season to himself. Perhaps there was danger that, like the apostle, he might become exalted above measure by the abundance of revelations and of power which were manifested through him, (2 Corinthians 12:7,) and it was needful to remind him by an impressive experience that he was still a man encompassed with human passions and infirmities. To many it may seem that a great opportunity to reform the worship of the kingdom was lost by Elijah’s flight. The people were convinced. Ahab was awed to reverent silence and submission. Only Jezebel and her Asherah priests seem to have remained an obstacle in the way of reform; and how easily might they have been removed by the Divine power which had already wrought such wonders! So we might judge. But there is a point beyond which Divine power will not multiply miracles, and the turning-point here was the instability of Ahab. He had the power, and ought to have shown the courage, to silence the ravings of his impious wife, and to command his household and the whole kingdom to keep the way of the Lord. But he was governed by his wife, became false to his deepest convictions of truth, and Jehovah would proceed no further at that time to magnify his name. But the moral lessons of the scene at Carmel have never been lost. Though failing to reform the king and the nation, they speak to every after age, and form a part of that Divine revelation which claims the admiration and reverence of all that desire to know and worship the true God.

Beersheba — The southern extremity of the Promised Land, and the home of the patriarchs.

Which belongeth to Judah — It was originally assigned to the tribe of Simeon, (Joshua 19:2;) whence it appears that the tribe had now become largely absorbed in the tribe of Judah.

Left his servant — He would be entirely alone; and in that utter solitude to which he fled, in which he might suffer hunger and many dangers, he wished to have no partaker of his sufferings.


Verse 4

4. A juniper tree — “A species of the broom plant, Genista roetam of Forskal. The Hebrew name רתם, rothem, is the same as the present Arabic name. The Vulgate, Luther, English Version, and others, translate it wrongly by juniper. It is the largest and most conspicuous shrub of the deserts of Sinai, growing thickly in the watercourses and valleys. The roots are very bitter, and are regarded by the Arabs as yielding the best charcoal. This illustrates Job 30:4, and Psalms 120:4. Our Arabs always selected the place of encampment, if possible, in a spot where it grew, in order to be sheltered by it at night from the wind; and during the day, when they often went on in advance of the camels, we found them not unfrequently sitting or sleeping under a bush of retem to protect them from the sun.” — Robinson.

Requested for himself that he might die — Literally, besought his soul to die. See note on 1 Kings 17:22.

It is enough — I have lived long enough and seen sorrows enough. From this some infer that Elijah was now advanced in years.

Take away my life — “Strange contradiction,” says Kitto. “Here the man who was destined not to taste of death flees from death on the one hand, and seeks it on the other.”

Not better than my fathers — With all the Divine power and glory revealed in me, I am still as fallible and weak as they, and deserve to live no longer.


Verse 5

5. An angel touched him — Though his flight into the desert was not authorized by any Divine command, like that which sent him to the brook Cherith or to Zarephath, still the angel of the Lord guards him in the way. Jehovah has not yet done with him, and he miraculously cares for him as he did for Jonah when he fled from duty.


Verse 6

6. A cake baken on the coals — Baked after the manner still common in the East, on smooth stones heated by coals of fire. Whether these provisions were prepared immediately by the angel, or by some traveller whom God led that way, we need not discuss, for either was possible. He who commanded the ravens to feed this prophet at the brook Cherith, might easily have put it into the heart of some passing Arab to leave the cake and the cruse of water at his head as he slept under the rothem shrub.


Verse 7

7. The journey is too great for thee — Too long for thee to accomplish without the nourishment of this God-given food. It is likely that Elijah commenced the desert journey with the purpose of going to Mount Horeb, but after the wearisome travel of a day he lay down despairing and exhausted, and wished to die. Then was given Divine help to finish his journey, for amid the sacred solitudes of Horeb God would teach him a lesson not to be forgotten.


Verse 8

8. Forty days and forty nights — He was miraculously sustained. On the same mountain Moses had twice fasted this same length of time, (Exodus 24:18; Exodus 34:28,) and in another wilderness Jesus did the same.

Matthew 4:2. “Elijah stands,” says Wordsworth, “at a middle point between Moses and Christ. He looks back to the law and forward to the Gospel. He restores the one and prepares the way for the other. He hears an echo of the terrors of the law in the wind, the earthquake, and the fire; he hears the far-off whispers of love in the Gospel in the still small voice.”

Horeb the mount of God — See on Exodus 3:1. It is remarkable that after the giving of the law there is no account of any Jew visiting this holy mount except Elijah.


Verse 9

9. Unto a cave — Hebrew, unto the cave. “There is nothing to confirm, but there is nothing to contradict, the belief [of the Arabs] that it may have been in that secluded basin which has long been pointed out as the spot, beneath the summit of what is called ‘the Mount of Moses.’ The granite rocks enclose it on every side, as though it were a natural sanctuary. No scene could have been more suitable for the vision which follows.” — Stanley.

What doest thou here, Elijah — Literally, What is to thee here?

That is, what is thy business here? Why hast thou left Israel, to whom I sent thee, and come to these mountains? How these words remind one of the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden of Eden and crying among the trees, “Adam, where art thou?” Genesis 3:8-9. It is, wherever uttered, the voice of the Spirit that convinces and reproves the world of sin, and of the love that chastens to reform.


Verse 10

10. I have been very jealous — Zealously avenging Jehovah’s honour by slaying those who have brought idolatry into Israel, and thus imitating the zeal of Phinehas the son of Eleazar. Numbers 25:1-13. This answer of Elijah betrays in him what some have called a “spirit of pious faultfinding,” and also a disposition to exalt himself above measure. He does not accuse Jehovah, but his words imply that he himself was the only saint in Israel, and it was too bad that Divine power had allowed idolatry so far to triumph. Elijah’s notions of the Divine government were manifestly shaped too much by external displays of awful power, and he needed to learn a profounder lesson of the Divine nature. This we must observe in order to understand the significance of the symbolical events that follow.


Verse 11

11. Go forth, and stand upon the mount — In order that, by impressive signs and symbols, I may teach thee a truer lesson of my nature and government, and send thee back to Israel a wiser man, a profounder prophet of my word, to finish the work I have for thee to do.

The Lord passed by — As he did by Moses in these same solitudes. Compare Exodus 33:21-23; Exodus 34:6. This whole scene that follows is largely a reproduction of what occurred to Moses, perhaps in the cleft of this same rocky cave, and the two ought to be compared together. When Moses saw the calf-worship his “anger waxed hot,” and he broke the tables of the law, and ground the golden calf to powder, and, as Elijah slew the Baal prophets, he slew three thousand men that day. Exodus 32:19-28. Then in his anguish and discouragement he prayed, “Forgive their sin — ; and if not, blot me out of thy book,” (Exodus 32:32,) and Jehovah condescended to make his glory and his goodness pass before him. He first awes Elijah by a fearful display of force.

A great and strong wind — A tremendous hurricane.

Rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks — Literally, tearing up the mountains and shivering the rocks. This is sometimes partially done by an ordinary wind storm among the awful crags of the Sinaitic mountains, and even then the spectacle is fearfully sublime.

The Lord was not in the wind — He was neither in the wind, the earthquake, nor the fire, in the sense in which he was in the “still small voice.” There was a sense in which he was in them all. They came and shook the mountains at his command; they were symbols of his mighty power. But there was a revelation of the Divine nature which God would now give to Elijah which these symbols could not convey, and in this sense Jehovah was not in them.


Verse 12

12. After the earthquake a fire — The whole mount quaked greatly, as in the days of Moses, (Exodus 19:18,) and the earthquake shock was followed now, as then, by the fiery glare of eastern lightning. Exodus 19:16; Exodus 19:18; Exodus 20:18.

A still small voice — Literally, A voice of a light stillness. Septuagint, Voice of a gentle breeze. Whether this was an articulate voice, or the sound of the soft wind that usually follows a storm among the mountains, it was in either case symbolical. It was something which Elijah heard and understood as a prelude to some further revelation. See exposition of these symbols under 1 Kings 19:18.


Verse 13

13. Wrapped his face in his mantle — Conscious of his infirmities and shortcomings, he was, like Moses, “afraid to look upon God.” Exodus 3:6. He began to realize that as yet he knew comparatively little of the Divine nature and will.

There came a voice unto him — It was the voice of Jehovah; perhaps the same as that whose soft whisper followed the lightning flash; but, if so, it now rose to a clearer and more intelligible sound.

What doest thou here — The Lord’s question and the prophet’s answer are repeated (compare 1 Kings 19:9) in order to deepen the impression of the scene. The repetition also shows Elijah still presuming to justify his flight. He was guilty of no wilful sin. His error was not one of the heart, but of the understanding; and his flight to Horeb, though not blameless, was largely the result of disappointment and discouragement. He had, indeed, been very zealous for the Lord, and had expected too much from the triumph at Carmel. Jehovah proceeds to show him there are other ways of taking off the wicked than by miraculous interference.


Verse 15

15. Return on thy way — Go forth into the fields of labour where my Spirit shall hereafter lead thee, and let my Spirit, not thy frail judgment, guide thee.

To the wilderness of Damascus — The wild country between Gilead and Damascus is probably meant. This was near Elijah’s early home, (see note on 1 Kings 17:1,) and a place whence he might easily go forth to utter the word of God to either Israelite or Syrian, and again quickly retire into solitude. The wilderness near where Israel’s and Jehovah’s interests are pending, not the wilderness of Horeb, is now the place where the prophet is needed. There must he instruct Elisha and other prophets in the revelations of the Divine nature which he has received.

When thou comest, anoint Hazael — Rather, (for these verbs are not in the imperative, like Go and Return,) and thou wilt come and anoint Hazael. It is the word of the Lord foretelling the agencies by which the wicked house of Ahab shall be destroyed. We know not that Elijah ever saw or anointed Hazael or Jehu, though he may have done so privately, as Samuel did Saul, (1 Samuel 9:27; 1 Samuel 10:1,) and no account of it have been preserved. But as this was actually done by Elisha (who was anointed prophet in Elijah’s room, 1 Kings 19:16) and another prophet whom Elisha, in turn, commissioned, the spirit and real import of this prediction was thoroughly fulfilled. 2 Kings 8:10-13; 2 Kings 9:1-7. This fulfilment by Elisha instead of Elijah was specially significant in this case, since it was partly the design of this communication at Horeb to indicate to Elijah, and through him to all who read this history, how manifold may be the agencies which accomplish the Divine purposes. Hence, too, Jehovah speaks in these words not to Elijah only, but also to his successors in office.


Verse 16

16. Jehu the son of Nimshi — See the fulfilment of this prophecy in 2 Kings 9:1-10.

Abel-meholah — A place in the Jordan valley not yet certainly identified with any modern town, but probably in the plain south of Bethshean. Here Gideon and his three hundred pursued the flying Midianites. Judges 7:22.


Verse 17

17. Hazael… Jehu… Elisha — These are to be the ministers of Divine vengeance against the house of Ahab — the swords of a Jew and a Gentile king, and the word of Elijah’s successor. Around these three names cluster the destinies of Israel for a whole generation, and hence their significance in this revelation to Elijah.


Verse 18

18. I have left me seven thousand — Better, as in the margin, I will leave seven thousand in Israel. That is, in the judgments that are to come by the hand of the ministers I have named, all Israel shall not be cut off. There will be found seven thousand who have never worshipped Baal. Here Elijah learns, to his confusion, that he is not the only Israelite who remains true to God. As seven is the covenant number, the number of perfection, the seven thousand need not be pressed here to mean an exact designation of the number of true worshippers of God in Israel, but a round number ever symbolical of the elect of God. So the apostle (Romans 11:4) uses it of that “remnant according to the election of grace,” the true Israel that embraced the saving truth of Christ. So, too, in all the history of the Church — in the darkest times of apostasy — the Lord reserves to himself his faithful seven thousand, though for a time they be driven by persecution into the wilderness, or into caves and dens of the earth.

Kissed him — It was an ancient practice to adore idols both by kissing them and kissing the hand at them. Compare Hosea 13:2.

The lessons Elijah learned at Horeb were full of instruction. The symbols of wind, earthquake, and fire, followed by the still small voice, have a wide and varied significance and application.

The central lesson of these symbols is, that there are mightier influences at work in human history than physical force. Men are ever prone to think otherwise, or, at least, to disregard this fact. That which is tangible to the outer senses — which blows and shakes and burns before the eyes of men, confounding and confusing, and, for the time, overwhelming and crushing all opposition — that is too apt to exhaust all our ideas of mightiness. We should, therefore, be reminded that in the silent workings of mind and heart there are often developed forces stronger than the whirlwind, mightier than the earthquake shock, and fiercer in their burnings than fires which many waters cannot quench. In this we may discover just the relation of miracles to the truth which they have often served to introduce or confirm. We are in danger of esteeming the former above the latter, whereas the law and the prophets and Christ have taught a different lesson. The seven thousand devout hearts in Israel are a mightier power for good than even all the miracles of Elijah. So, too, Jesus taught his disciples that it is better to have one’s name written in heaven than to have power to work miracles, (Luke 10:20,) and that the true believer, led by the Spirit, shall do even greater works than the Messiah.

The immediate application of this lesson was to Elijah’s undue estimate of the miracles at Carmel. He seems to have supposed that the answer by fire that consumed his sacrifice, and the mighty wind and rain that came so quickly after, together with the slaughter of the false prophets, would accomplish the speedy reformation of Israel; and because they did not, he yielded to discouragement and despair. His radical error was in placing too much confidence in the outward and the marvellous. So the still small voice, as it developed itself into the sure word of prophecy, showed him how groundless was his despair, how mistaken his notions of Jehovah’s ways, and how manifold might be other agencies of judgment yet at God’s command.

At the same time the lesson might remind him that the impious Jezebel from whom he fled, and who now, after all his work against her gods, seemed to be triumphant still, was trusting in the outward appearance of power at her command. She might array against him and his fellow-prophets all the forces of government, and all the pomp and pretensions of the idolatry to which she was devoted, but these would soon exhaust themselves, for God would not be in them. The wind and fire of her presumptuous wrath would soon pass by, and after all its fury was spent, there would rise the seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal; a silent force, perchance, but with God in them mightier far than all that could come against them.

But the deeper and grander lesson of these symbols is the contrast they present between the old dispensation and the new — the Law and the Gospel. The miracles of the exodus, the clouds and thunders and lightnings that attended the giving of the law at this same Sinai, and all the later marvels in the sacred history of Israel, only prepared the ear of men to catch more readily and appreciate more fully the gentle voice of Him who did not cry or lift up his voice in the streets, but still spake as no other man spake. The sweetest, holiest sound that ever steals upon the soul of man is the voice of the WORD that was made flesh; and that voice, ever speaking in the Gospel, shall go forth throughout the earth, and its words unto the end of the world, until all idols fall, and all tongues confess, that Jesus is the Christ.

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Verse 19

CALL OF ELISHA, 1 Kings 19:19-21.

19. Departed thence — Left the wilderness of Horeb to go to the wilderness of Damascus. 1 Kings 19:15.

Ploughing with twelve yoke of… before him — That is, ploughing in company with eleven other men who each had a plough and a yoke of oxen. This is still common in the East. It is not necessary to suppose, as many have done, that Elisha owned all the oxen, and that the men were merely his servants. Dr. Thomson speaks of seeing more than a dozen ploughs following one another as closely as possible. “To understand the reason of this,” he says, “several things must be taken into account. First, that the arable lands of nearly all villages are cultivated in common; then, that Arab farmers delight to work together in companies, partly for mutual protection, and in part from their love of gossip; and as they sow no more ground than they can plough during the day, one sower will answer for the entire company. Their little ploughs make no proper furrow, but merely root up and throw the soil on either side, and so any number may follow one another, and when at the end of the field, they can return along the same line, and thus back and forth until the whole is ploughed.”

He with the twelfth — “It is well that Elisha came the last of the twelve, for the act of Elijah would have stopped all that were in advance of him.”

Elijah passed by him — Rather, passed over to him. Perhaps he passed over the Jordan, having been journeying on the opposite shore.

Cast his mantle upon him — This was a symbolical act on the part of Elijah, investing Elisha with his own prophetic office. The sign was understood and the call obeyed.


Verse 20

20. Ran after Elijah — Elijah, as he cast his mantle on Elisha, walked rapidly away, and this was as much as to say, “Follow me.”

Let me… kiss my father and my mother — Elisha was at this time a young man, living with his parents, and probably unmarried. Like others who have been called with a holy calling, his heart yearns for his home and his kindred. Compare Matthew 8:21; Luke 9:61.

Go back again: for what have I done to thee — There is something uncertain and mysterious about these words. Here is no clear permission to go and kiss his parents farewell, and whether he did so or not is an unsettled question. Elijah would throw the whole responsibility of the matter on the conscience of Elisha. “Go home and stay there, if you have such desire; and as regards your duty in view of what I have done to you, settle that matter yourself.”


Verse 21

21. He returned back from him — But not, so far as we can learn, to kiss his father and mother. He went back to the spot where he had left his oxen, and made there a feast.

Took a yoke of oxen — Rather, the yoke of oxen; that is, the yoke with which he had been ploughing, and which was probably all that belonged to him.

The instruments of the oxen — The yoke and the plough used with the oxen. With these instruments he made the fire to cook the flesh. Compare the like use of instruments on Araunah’s threshingfloor, 2 Samuel 24:22.

Gave unto the people — What people? Doubtless his fellow-workmen in that field, and all in the same vicinity that could be readily summoned. Whether this field was near Elisha’s home, or whether his parents were present at this feast, does not appear. But this act of Elisha was a public declaration to the people that he now left his secular employment to become a prophet of Jehovah.

Went after Elijah — Who had gone slowly onward, or perhaps had lingered waiting for him in the distance.

Ministered unto him — Became his constant attendant and servant in place of the young man whom he had dismissed when he fled into the wilderness of Horeb. 1 Kings 19:3. He was afterward known and spoken of as “Elisha, the son of Shaphat, which poured water on the hands of Elijah.” 2 Kings 3:11.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Kings 19:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/1-kings-19.html. 1874-1909.

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Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
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