1 Kings 18
Benson Commentary
And it came to pass after many days, that the word of the LORD came to Elijah in the third year, saying, Go, shew thyself unto Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth.
1 Kings 18:1. The word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year — Our Lord and St. James say, the drought continued three years and six months, (Luke 4:25; James 5:17;) nor do they contradict what is here asserted: for, we must remember, that as Egypt had usually no rain, but was watered by the river Nile, so the land of Canaan had generally none, except twice a year, which they called the early and latter rain. The former of these, termed יורה, joree, quod terram quasi erudiat et informet ad producendam semen, because it, as it were, instructed and taught, that is, prepared, the earth to bring forth the seed, was the autumnal rain, and fell in the month answering to our October. The latter was termed מלקושׁ, malkosh, quasi collectionis pluvia, the rain of reaping and ingathering, because, falling about the vernal equinox, in the month answering to our March, it prepared the corn for harvest, by causing the ears to fill and ripen. Now, at the beginning of the drought, Ahab might very probably impute the want of rain to natural causes; but when, after six months, neither the former nor the latter rain fell in its season, he began to be enraged at Elijah, as the cause of this national judgment; which forced him, at God’s command, to save his life by flight. And from that time the three years here mentioned are to be computed; though from the first notice which Elijah gave to Ahab of this approaching calamity, to the expiration of it, were certainly three years and a half. During the first of the three years here referred to by the historian, Elijah was by the brook Cherith, and the two latter at Zarephath; near the end of which God took pity on the country, having fulfilled the threatening denounced by his prophet, and thereby set his seal to the truth of his word. Saying, Go show thyself to Ahab — It does not appear that either the miraculous increase of the provision, or the raising of the dead child, had caused Elijah to be taken notice of at Zarephath, otherwise Ahab would easily have discovered him: but now the days appointed for his concealment being finished, he is commanded to come out of his obscurity, and to show himself to the king; in consequence of which, his appearance soon became as public as before his retirement was close. I will send rain on the earth — According to thy word, and in answer to thy prayer. He was to acquaint Ahab with the cause of the judgment, and to advise him to remove that cause; and on that condition to promise him rain. Thus God took care to maintain the honour of his prophet, and in judgment remembered mercy to Israel, for the sake of the holy seed yet left among them, who suffered in this common calamity.

And Elijah went to shew himself unto Ahab. And there was a sore famine in Samaria.
1 Kings 18:2. Elijah went — In this he showed strong faith, resolute obedience, and invincible courage, in that he durst, at God’s command, run into the mouth of this raging lion. There was a sore famine in Samaria — Which made it the more dangerous for him to appear in Ahab’s presence; lest, being so sorely afflicted, he should in his rage cause him to be killed before he could deliver his message to him.

And Ahab called Obadiah, which was the governor of his house. (Now Obadiah feared the LORD greatly:
1 Kings 18:3. Obadiah, who was governor of his house — Intrusted with the management of the affairs of his family, and highly valued by him on account of his singular prudence and fidelity. Now Obadiah feared the Lord greatly — Was a truly pious man, and worshipped Jehovah alone, with sincere and fervent affection to his service. This circumstance, one might have supposed, would have made Ahab discard, if not persecute him; but it is likely he found him so very useful a servant, that for his own advantage, he connived at his not worshipping Baal and the calves. But, it will be said; “How could he and some other Israelites be said to fear the Lord, when they did not go up to Jerusalem to worship, as God had commanded?” Although they seem not to be wholly excusable in this neglect, yet because they worshipped God in spirit and in truth, and performed all moral duties to God and their brethren, and abstained from idolatry, being kept from Jerusalem by violence, God bore with their infirmity herein.

For it was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the LORD, that Obadiah took an hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water.)
1 Kings 18:4. When Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord — The name of prophets was not only given to such as were endowed with an extraordinary spirit of prophecy, but to such ministers of religion as devoted themselves to the service of God, in preaching, praying, and praising him. There were schools of these prophets, it is likely, still remaining in Israel; but Jezebel endeavoured both to destroy the schools, and those that were brought up in them, in order that none might be left to instruct the people in the true religion. Obadiah — hid them by fifty in a cave — At the hazard of his own life, and against the king’s command; wisely considering that no command of an earthly prince could overrule the command of the King of kings. And fed them with bread and water — Sent them meat and drink privately every day. See how wonderfully God raises up friends for his ministers and people, where one would least expect them!

And Ahab said unto Obadiah, Go into the land, unto all fountains of water, and unto all brooks: peradventure we may find grass to save the horses and mules alive, that we lose not all the beasts.
1 Kings 18:5-6. Go unto all fountains of water, and unto all brooks — About which grass was most probably to be found in that great drought; that we lose not all the beasts — Many, it appears, were already dead for want of grass, which he hoped they might find in such moist places, sufficient to preserve, at least, a part of the rest. Ahab went one way by himself — Not daring to trust any other, Obadiah excepted; lest, being bribed by such as had grass for their own use, they should not give him a true account.

So they divided the land between them to pass throughout it: Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself.
And as Obadiah was in the way, behold, Elijah met him: and he knew him, and fell on his face, and said, Art thou that my lord Elijah?
1 Kings 18:7-8. He knew him, and fell on his face — Showing his great respect and love to him, by this profound reverence. Art thou that my lord Elijah? — As Obadiah had showed the tenderness of a father to the sons of the prophets, so he showed the reverence of a son to this father of the prophets; and by this he made it appear, that he did indeed fear the Lord greatly, in that he did such honour to one that was God’s extraordinary ambassador, and had a great interest in heaven. Go tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here — Thus, though Ahab was a very wicked man, he owns him for Obadiah’s lord and king; thereby instructing us, that the wickedness of kings doth not exempt their subjects from obedience to their lawful commands.

And he answered him, I am: go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here.
And he said, What have I sinned, that thou wouldest deliver thy servant into the hand of Ahab, to slay me?
1 Kings 18:9-10. What have I sinned, &c. — Wherein have I so offended God, and thee his prophet, that thou shouldest inflict this punishment upon me, and thus expose me to certain ruin? For that he concluded would be the effect of such a message delivered by him to Ahab, as he shows by what follows. There is no nation or kingdom, &c. — Namely, near to his own, where he could in reason think Elijah had hid himself. We must often understand general expressions with such limitations. He took an oath of the kingdom and nation, &c. — Such was the inveteracy and eagerness with which Ahab sought Elijah, that he was not content with merely sending messengers throughout his own and the neighbouring kingdoms to seek him, but even required an oath of the chief persons in each kingdom, (having obtained the consent of the ruling powers therein for that purpose,) that they did not know any thing of him; and probably further, that they would immediately deliver him up, if they should find that he had come among them. But God’s providence was greater than Ahab’s malice, and effectually secured the prophet, notwithstanding all he could do.

As the LORD thy God liveth, there is no nation or kingdom, whither my lord hath not sent to seek thee: and when they said, He is not there; he took an oath of the kingdom and nation, that they found thee not.
And now thou sayest, Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here.
And it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from thee, that the Spirit of the LORD shall carry thee whither I know not; and so when I come and tell Ahab, and he cannot find thee, he shall slay me: but I thy servant fear the LORD from my youth.
1 Kings 18:12. The Spirit of the Lord shall carry thee whither I know not — Shall snatch thee away from hence, so that thou shalt not be found; instances of such sudden transportations of the prophets, by an invisible power, to places far distant from those where they were, having undoubtedly occurred before this time, as we know they did after. See the margin. He shall slay me — Either as an impostor that has deluded him with vain hopes, or rather, because I did not seize upon thee forthwith, and bring thee to him. But I thy servant fear the Lord from my youth — He speaks not these or the following words in a way of boasting; but only for his own necessary vindication and preservation, that he might move the prophet to spare him, and not put him upon that hazardous action; which yet, it appears, he was resolved to perform, if Elijah peremptorily required it.

Was it not told my lord what I did when Jezebel slew the prophets of the LORD, how I hid an hundred men of the LORD'S prophets by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water?
And now thou sayest, Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here: and he shall slay me.
And Elijah said, As the LORD of hosts liveth, before whom I stand, I will surely shew myself unto him to day.
1 Kings 18:15-16. As the Lord of hosts liveth — Who commands all creatures in heaven and earth. He mentions this title as his shield, under the protection of which he durst venture to come, and did come, into Ahab’s presence; before whom I stand — Whom I serve as one of his ministers; I will surely show myself to him to-day — For a greater king than he, the Lord of all things, will preserve me. So Obadiah went to meet Ahab — The solemn oath of Elijah made him readily obey; as convincing him fully that the prophet seriously intended to see Ahab, which he before suspected he did not. No doubt it was a great surprise to Ahab to hear that Elijah, whom he had so long sought and not found, was now found without seeking.

So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him: and Ahab went to meet Elijah.
And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel?
1 Kings 18:17-18. Art thou he that troubleth Israel? — Have I at last met with thee, O thou disturber of my kingdom, the author of this famine, and of all our calamities? He answered, I have not troubled Israel — These calamities are not to be imputed to me, but to thine and thy father’s wickedness. They trouble a nation who break the laws of God, not they who keep and defend them. Elijah answered him boldly, because he spake in God’s name, and for his honour and service. Ye — All of you; have forsaken the commandments of the Lord — The whole nation almost had cast off the yoke of the divine law, as in other points, so especially in deserting his service, and worshipping idols. And thou — Thou, their king in particular; hast followed Baalim.

And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the LORD, and thou hast followed Baalim.
Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel's table.
1 Kings 18:19. Now therefore — That this great controversy between thee and me may be decided; that it may be determined who is the true God, and therefore the proper object of the people’s worship; that the true cause of these heavy judgments may be discovered and removed, and so the plague may cease; send messengers and gather all Israel — By their heads or representatives, that they may be witnesses of all our transactions; unto mount Carmel — Not Carmel in Judea, but another place of that name in the tribe of Issachar, by the midland sea, which he chose, because, being in the centre of Ahab’s kingdom, all the tribes might conveniently resort to it; and being at a distance from Samaria, Jezebel, he had reason to think, would not be present there to hinder his design. And as it was a very high mountain, (Amos 9:3,) and upon the sea, he might from thence discover the rain at its first approach. The prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty — Who were dispersed in all parts of the kingdom. The prophets of the groves four hundred — Who attended upon those idols that were worshipped in the groves which were near the royal city, and much frequented by the king and the queen. Mr. Selden understands by them the prophets of Astarte, the great goddess of the Zidonians, and renders his opinion very probable, by comparing many passages of Scripture together. Which eat at Jezebel’s table — Whom she sustained, most probably not always, but in this time of famine only, when, upon account of the extreme poverty that prevailed, they could not be supported by the offerings of the people, and the gains they made of them. But this sufficiently shows the infatuation and zeal of Jezebel for these idolatrous priests, that in a time of such famine she should take upon her to provide for eight hundred and fifty of them.

So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel.
1 Kings 18:20. So Ahab sent, &c. — He complied with Elijah’s motion, because the urgency of the present distress made him willing to try all means to remove it; from a curiosity of seeing some extraordinary events; and, principally, because God inclined his heart.

And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.
1 Kings 18:21. How long halt ye between two opinions? — Hebrew, סעפים, segnipim, thoughts or considerations. Why do ye walk so lamely and unevenly, being so unsteady in your opinions and practices, as doubtful which to choose, Jehovah or Baal; sometimes serving one, and sometimes the other, and sometimes joining both together? Not only some Israelites worshipped God, and others Baal; but the same Israelites sometimes worshipped one, and sometimes the other. They worshipped God, perhaps, that they might please the prophets; and Baal to please Jezebel, and obtain favour at court. Now Elijah shows them the absurdity of this; he doth not insist on their relation to Jehovah, Is he not yours, and the God of your fathers; but Baal the god of the Zidonians, and will a nation change their God? Jeremiah 2:11. No; he waves the prescription, and enters upon the merits of the cause: there can be but one God, but one infinite, and but one supreme: there needs but one God, one omnipotent, one all-sufficient: what occasion of addition to that which is perfect? Now, if upon trial, it appear that Baal is that one, infinite, omnipotent being; that one supreme Lord, and all-sufficient Benefactor; you ought to renounce Jehovah, and cleave to Baal only: but if Jehovah be that one God, Baal is a cheat, and you must have no more to do with him. Apply this to the service of God, and the service of sin; the dominion of Christ, and the dominion of our lusts: these are the two thoughts or considerations, which it is dangerous halting between. Those do so that are unresolved under their convictions; unstable and unsteady in their purposes; promise fair, but do not perform; begin well, but do not hold on; that are inconsistent with themselves, indifferent and lukewarm in that which is good. Their heart is divided, (Hosea 10:2,) whereas God will have all or none. Now we are fairly put to our choice, whom we will serve, Joshua 24:15. If we can find one that has more right to us, or will be a better master to us than God, we may take him at our peril. God demands no more from us, than he can make out a title to. The people answered him not a word — Being convinced of the reasonableness of his proposal. They could say nothing to justify themselves, and they would say nothing to condemn themselves; but, as persons confounded, were entirely silent.

Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the LORD; but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men.
1 Kings 18:22. I only remain a prophet of the Lord — Namely, here present, publicly to own and plead the cause of God. As for the other prophets of the Lord, mentioned 1 Kings 18:13, we can hardly imagine that they, in general, were men actually inspired and invested with the prophetic character; but such only as were disciples of the prophets, and candidates for the office of prophecy. But if they were even prophets, in the proper sense of the word, many of them doubtless had been slain by Ahab or Jezebel, and others banished, or hid in caves. Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men — He opposes himself only to these, because, it seems, these only were present; the prophets of the groves not being permitted by Jezebel, (through her pride and obstinacy, or care and kindness to them,) to go as far from the royal city as Carmel.

Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under:
1 Kings 18:23. Let them therefore give us two bullocks — He proposes to decide the controversy, not by God’s word, because that was either despised and rejected, or grossly neglected, and therefore unknown and of no authority with the king or people; but by a miracle, to the evidence of which all that had common sense must needs submit.

And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.
1 Kings 18:24. The God that answereth by fire — That sendeth down fire to consume the sacrifice presented to him: this the people knew the true God used to do. It was a great condescension in God, that he would permit Baal to be a competitor with him; but thus God would have every mouth to be stopped, and all flesh become silent before him: and Elijah doubtless had a special commission from God, or he durst not have put the matter to this issue. But the case was extraordinary, and the judgment upon it would be of use, not only then, but in all ages. Elijah does not say, The God that answers by water, though that was the thing the country needed, but that answers by fire, let him be God — Because the atonement was to be made, before the judgment could be removed: the God, therefore, that has power to pardon sin, and to signify that by consuming the sin-offering, must needs be the God that can relieve us against the calamity. “If, as it is generally believed, Baal was the idol of the sun, or that power whom his worshippers supposed to preside over the element of fire, the reason of Elijah’s proceeding is still more obvious, as it afforded a full proof that Jehovah, the God of nature, was alone the sovereign Lord and Ruler of all its operations, and of those of fire among the rest.” — Dodd. All the people answered, It is well spoken — Even the Baalites themselves, partly because they could not, without great reproach to themselves and Baal, refuse so fair and equal a motion; and partly because they were confident of Baal’s power and divinity, having probably had some experiments of supernatural and extraordinary things done in his worships by God’s just and wise permission, for the hardening of that wicked people in their idolatry; as God hath in several ages suffered lying wonders to be wrought by the devil and his angels, for a similar reason.

And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under.
1 Kings 18:25. Choose ye one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first — I give you the precedence, because I am single, and you are many. It was wise in Elijah to put them upon sacrificing first; because, if he had offered first and God had answered by fire, Baal’s priests would have desisted from making the trial on their part; and because the disappointment of the priests of Baal, of which he was well assured, would prepare the way for the people’s attention to his words, and cause them to entertain his success with more affection; and this coming last would leave the greater impression upon their hearts. And this they accepted, because they might think that if Baal answered them first, which they presumed he would, the people would be so confirmed and heightened in their opinion of Baal, that they might murder Elijah before he came to his experiment.

And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made.
1 Kings 18:26. They took the bullock which was given them — Which, being chosen by them, was now put into their hands by those who had the beasts in their custody till they were taken away for sacrifice; and dressed it — Cut it in pieces, and laid the parts upon the wood. From morning — From the time of the morning sacrifice; which advantage Elijah suffered them to take. They leaped upon — Or, beside the altar; or, before it. They used some superstitious and disorderly gestures; either pretending to be actuated by the spirit of their god, and to be in a kind of religious ecstasy, or in a way of devotion to their god.

And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.
1 Kings 18:27. And it came to pass at noon — When they had long tried all means in vain. Elijah mocked them — He derided them and their god, that he might awaken them out of their stupidity, and expose them to all the bystanders as deceivers of the people, in leading them to worship such senseless and contemptible things. Cry aloud, for he is a god — As you suppose: but what a god, who cannot be made to hear without all this clamour! Either he is talking — Or meditating, as the Hebrew is, thinking of something else, and not minding his own important concerns, when not only your credit, but all his honour lies at stake, and his interest in Israel. Or he is pursuing — His enemies, or hunting and pursuing the prey. He is employed about some other business, and is not at leisure to mind you. For, being a god of a small and narrow understanding, he cannot mind two things at once; and you are unreasonable to expect it from him. Or he is in a journey, &c. — The worship of idols being a most ridiculous thing, it is perfectly just to represent it so, and expose it to scorn. And “nothing can be imagined more cutting and sarcastic than these words of the prophet, in which he ridicules, in the finest manner possible, their wretched, false, and derogatory ideas of the Deity. The two last notions of being asleep and not at home, how absurd soever they may be, when applied to the Deity, were certainly such as several idolaters conceived of their gods, as appears from various passages in Homer; in one of which, (Iliad 1. 18:423,) he tells us, that Thetis could not meet with Jupiter, because he was gone abroad, and would not return in less than twelve days; and at the conclusion of that book he gives us an account of the manner in which the gods went to sleep. How debasing ideas these compared with that awful intelligence which revelation gives us of the true God, who neither slumbereth nor sleepeth; but who, everywhere present, is, at all times, conscious even of the secrets of the heart; at all times ready to hear, and able to grant the petitions of his people!” — Dodd.

And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.
1 Kings 18:28. They cried aloud — They were so far from being convinced and put to shame by the just reproach which Elijah cast upon them, that it made them the more earnest and violent in their proceedings, and induced them to act more ridiculously. A deceived heart having turned them aside, they could not deliver their souls by inquiring, Is there not a lie in our right hand? And cut themselves after their manner, &c. — Observe their zeal! They mingled their own blood with their sacrifices; as knowing by experience, that nothing was more acceptable to their Baal (who was indeed the devil) than human blood; and hoping thereby to move their god to help them. And this indeed was the practice of divers heathen in the worship of their false gods. Plutarch, in his book De Superstitione, tells us that the priests of Bellona, when they sacrificed to that goddess, were wont to besmear the victim with their own blood. The Persian magi, according to Herodotus, used to appease tempests and allay the winds by making incisions in their flesh. They who carried about the Syrian goddess, as Apuleius relates, among other mad pranks, were every now and then cutting and slashing themselves with knives, till the blood gushed out; and even to this very day, we are informed, in Turkey, Persia, and in several parts of the Indies, there are a kind of fanatics who think they do a very meritorious service, and highly acceptable to the deity, by cutting and mangling their own flesh.” — Calmet, and Picart’s Religious Ceremonies.

And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.
1 Kings 18:29. They prophesied, &c. — That is, prayed to, or sung hymns in honour of their god, falling into strange contortions, as if they were excited and actuated by some divine power. Until the time of the evening sacrifice — Here termed the sacrifice by way of eminence, (for in the Hebrew there is nothing for evening,) because it was more solemn and public, and more frequented than the morning sacrifice; of which divers reasons may be given. See Exodus 12:6; Psalm 141:2; Acts 3:1. Nor any that regarded — Hebrew, אין קשׁב, ein kasheb, there was no attention; either of their god who was so far from answering that he did not mind any of their words or actions; or of the people, who were now tired out with so long attention and expectation; and therefore, more readily deserted them, and drew near to Elijah and his altar at his call.

And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down.
1 Kings 18:30. Elijah said, Come near unto me — Come away from these impudent deceivers to me, and expect from me the satisfaction of your desire. He repaired the altar of the Lord — An altar which probably had remained from the time of the judges; at least, it had been built by some of their ancestors, for the offering of sacrifices to the God of Israel, which was frequently done in high places, of which, it is probable, Carmel was once one of the most eminent in the whole kingdom. This altar Elijah now repaired, because it had been broken down, doubtless, by some of the Baalites out of their enmity to the true God, whose temple they could not reach, and therefore showed their malignity in destroying his altars. “Both Tacitus and Suetonius speak of the God of Carmel, whom Vespasian went to consult when he was in Judea; but they tell us, that there was neither temple nor statue upon the mountain, except one altar only, plain, but venerable for its antiquity. The altar of Carmel seems to have had its original from this altar of the true God, which the ancient Hebrews first erected, and Elijah afterward repaired; and which even the heathen held in such veneration, that when they came to be masters of the country, they would not so much as place an image by it.” — Dodd.

And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the LORD came, saying, Israel shall be thy name:
1 Kings 18:31. Elijah took twelve stones — This he did, with a view to renew the covenant between God and all the tribes, as Moses did, Exodus 24:4; to show, that he prayed and acted in the name and for the service of the God of all the patriarchs, and of all the tribes of Israel, and for their good: and to teach the people, that though the tribes were divided as to their civil government, they ought all to be united in the worship of the same God, and in the same religion. Israel shall be thy name — Jacob was graciously answered by God when he prayed to him, and was honoured with the glorious title of Israel, which noted his prevalency with God and men. And I, calling upon the same God, doubt not of a gracious answer; and if ever you mean to have your prayers granted, you must seek to the God of Jacob. And if you would recover the honour which was once conferred on Jacob, and continued a long time to his posterity, you must return to that God from whom you are revolted.

And with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed.
1 Kings 18:32-33. With the stones he built an altar — With the assistance of the people, who now readily yielded their helping hands. In the name of the Lord — By the authority of God and for his worship. He made a trench, as great as would contain two measures of seed — As capacious, say some, as a sack that would contain that quantity, namely, two third parts of an ephah. Others understand the words as meaning a trench of sufficient breadth and circuit to sow therein that quantity of seed, or about twenty pounds’ weight of barley: which must have been very large indeed. Fill four barrels with water — This they could quickly fetch, either from the river Kishon; or, if that was dried up, from the sea; both were at the foot of the mountain. This he did to make the miracle more glorious, and more unquestionable; to show that there was no fallacy in it, no fire concealed in or about the altar; but that the lightning which was to consume the sacrifice came from heaven; and came at Elijah’s invocation; and Josephus tells us, that Elijah invited the people to draw near, that they might search and spy everywhere, if they could find any fire secretly conveyed under the altar. Antiq. lib. 8. cap. 7.

And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood.
And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time.
And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.
And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.
1 Kings 18:36-37. At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice — This time he chose, that he might unite his prayers with the prayers of the godly Jews at Jerusalem, who at that time assembled together to pray. Lord God of Abraham, &c. — Hereby he shows his faith in God’s ancient covenant, and also reminds the people of their relation both to God and to the patriarchs, I have done these things — Brought this famine, gathered the people hither, and done what I have done, or am doing here, not in compliance with my own passions, but in obedience to thy command: for his shutting up heaven by his prayers, and afterward killing the priests of Baal, would of necessity expose him to great envy and reproach, which made this public vindication of his conduct necessary, as it was also effectual, being witnessed from heaven. That thou hast turned their heart back again — Let them feel so powerful a change in their hearts, that they may know it is thy work, and may show that they are brought back again to thee, the only living and true God, from whom they have revolted.

Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.
Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
1 Kings 18:38. The fire of the Lord fell — And not only, as at other times, (see the margin,) consumed the sacrifice and the wood, in token of God’s acceptance of the offering, but licked up all the water that was in the trench, exhaling and drawing it up as a vapour, to descend (with other water, to be raised from the adjoining sea) in the intended rain, which was to be the fruit of this sacrifice and prayer, more than the product of natural causes. And this was not all. To complete the miracle, the fire consumed the stones of the altar, and the very dust, to show that it was no ordinary fire, and perhaps to intimate that though God accepted this occasional sacrifice from this altar, yet for the future they ought to demolish all the altars on their high places, and for their constant sacrifices make use of that at Jerusalem only. Moses’s altar and Solomon’s were consecrated by fire from heaven; but this was destroyed, because it was to be used no more. We may well imagine, what a terror this fire struck on guilty Ahab, and all the worshippers of Baal, and how they fled from it as far and as fast as they could, saying, in their hearts, Lest it consume us also, Numbers 16:34.

And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God.
1 Kings 18:39. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces — In acknowledgment and adoration of the true God; and all, as one man, cried out, Jehovah, he is the God — He alone; and Baal is a senseless idol. And they repeated the words to signify their abundant satisfaction, and assurance of the truth of their assertion. And some, we may hope, had their hearts so turned back as to be determined that he should be their God, and that they would serve him only, Joshua 24:24. But it is certain the generality of them were convinced only, not converted; they yielded to the truth of God, that he is the God, but consented not to his covenant that he should be their God. Blessed are they, who have not seen what they saw, and yet have believed, and been influenced more than they that saw it.

And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.
1 Kings 18:40. Elijah said, Take the prophets of Baal — He takes the opportunity of ordering the execution of these idolaters, while the people’s hearts wore warm with the fresh sense of this great miracle. And they took them — For the people, in that fit of zeal wherein they now were, readily obeyed Elijah’s command, and executed the sentence he pronounced. And Ahab could make no opposition, being himself also, it is likely, astonished at the stupendous miracle. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon — That their blood might be poured into that river, and thence conveyed into the sea, and might not defile the holy land. And slew them there — Or, ordered them to be slain by the people. As these idolatrous priests were manifestly under a sentence of death, passed upon such by the sovereign Lord of life and death, so Elijah had authority to execute it, being a prophet, and an extraordinary minister of God’s vengeance. The four hundred prophets of the groves, it seems, did not attend, and so escaped, which perhaps Ahab rejoiced in: but it proved, they were reserved to be the instruments of his destruction, by encouraging him to go up to Ramoth-Gilead.

And Elijah said unto Ahab, Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain.
1 Kings 18:41. Get thee up — From the river, (where he had been present at the execution of Baal’s priests,) to thy tent; which probably was pitched on the side of Carmel. Eat, &c. — Take comfort, and refresh thyself: for neither the king nor any of the people could have leisure to eat, being wholly intent upon the decision of the great controversy. For there is a sound of abundance of rain — The rain is as certainly and speedily coming, as if you did actually see it, or hear the noise which it makes.

So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees,
1 Kings 18:42. Elijah went up to the top of Carmel — Where he might pour out his prayers unto God; and whence he might look toward the sea. He had a large prospect of the sea from hence: the sailors at this day call it Cape Carmel. Between his knees — That is, bowed his head so low, that it touched his knees; thus abasing himself in the sense of his own meanness, now God had thus honoured him.

And said to his servant, Go up now, look toward the sea. And he went up, and looked, and said, There is nothing. And he said, Go again seven times.
1 Kings 18:43. Go up now, &c. — While I continue praying. Look toward the sea — Whence clouds and vapours usually arise. Elijah desired to have timely notice of the first appearance of rain, not out of vanity, but that Ahab and the people might know that it was obtained from Jehovah by his prayers, and thereby be confirmed in the true religion. He looked and said, There is nothing — We must not be dejected for some disappointments; but, though the answer of our fervent supplications do not come presently, yet we must continue instant in prayer, waiting on God, and not faint or grow weary, for at the end the vision shall speak and not lie.

And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man's hand. And he said, Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not.
1 Kings 18:44. There ariseth a little cloud like a man’s hand — Which presently overspread the heavens, and watered the earth. Great blessings often rise from small beginnings, and showers of plenty from a cloud of a span long: let us therefore never despise the day of small things, but hope and wait for greater things from it.

And it came to pass in the mean while, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel.
And the hand of the LORD was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.
1 Kings 18:46. The hand of the Lord was on Elijah — God gave him more than natural strength, whereby he was enabled to outrun Ahab’s chariot for so many miles together. And he girded up his loins — That his garments, which were long and loose, like those in use in that country, might not hinder him. And ran before Ahab — To show how ready he was to honour and serve the king; that by this humble and self-denying carriage, it might appear, what he had done was not from envy or passion, but only from a just zeal for God’s glory; that by his presence with the king and his courtiers, he might animate and oblige them to proceed in the reformation of religion; and, to demonstrate, that he was neither ashamed of, nor afraid for what he had done, but durst venture himself in the midst of his enemies. But surely, if Ahab had paid the respect to Elijah that he deserved, he would have taken him into his chariot, as the eunuch did Philip, that he might honour him before the elders of Israel, and confer with him further about the reformation of the kingdom: but his pride and ambition, and other corrupt dispositions, got the better of his conviction; and he was glad to get quit of him, as Felix of Paul, when he dismissed him, and adjourned his conference with him to a more convenient season.

Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

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