Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword.Chap. 1 Kings 19:1-8. Elijah’s flight to Horeb (Not in Chronicles)
1. And Ahab told Jezebel] The LXX. adds ‘his wife.’
and withal how] The construction in the original is here irregular. The words rendered ‘withal’ are omitted in nearly all the Versions. The expression translated ‘withal how’ is exactly the same as that which is rendered ‘all that’ in the previous clause, and does not suit the verb which follows. But it is not easy to explain the repetition with two different verbs, and no doubt the English translation gives the sense which was intended. He told his wife in general ‘all that’ Elijah had done and specially ‘all, how’ he had slain, &c.
Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time.2. Jezebel sent a messenger] The queen could not restrain herself in her rage. She cannot make arrangements for seizing Elijah at once, but lets him know that she is resolved to do so. The LXX. has no word for ‘a messenger,’ but enlarges the sentence by the words ‘If thou art Elijah, and I Jezebel, so let God &c.’ The message intimates that if he can be found he will be put to death on the morrow.
And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there.3. And when he saw that] The LXX. reading וַיִרָא instead of the text וַיַרָא renders by καὶ ἐφοβήθη, ‘and he was afraid.’ And this makes a good sense. But it is not necessary. Elijah saw (mentally) from the message which came to him, that he must be gone, if he would save his life. Moreover after the verb ‘to fear’ there usually follows a mention of the person who is feared.
and went for his life] i.e. To make sure of saving his life. It was no part of his duty to expose himself to unnecessary peril. The same phrase is found in 2 Kings 7:7 and nearly the same in Genesis 19:17. The Vulgate rendering ‘quocunque eum ferebat voluntas’ ‘wherever he felt inclined’ is certainly not what is meant.
and came to Beer-sheba, which belongeth to Judah] Beer-sheba was in the tribe of Simeon (see Joshua 19:2), though in Joshua 15:28 it is included among the uttermost cities of Judah. Here ‘which belongeth to Judah’ signifies ‘which is part of the kingdom of Judah.’ Elijah had thus escaped from Ahab’s dominions. The use of such a phrase shews that the writer of this narrative was an Israelite.
and left his servant there] The servant (according to Jewish tradition, the son of the widow of Zarephath) must have attended on him from Carmel to Jezreel, and from thence to the south of Judah. The prophet now desires solitude, and so dismisses him. In the need of spiritual communion with God no companion is desired. Even Jesus himself said to His disciples ‘Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder’ (Matthew 26:36).
But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.4. a day’s journey into the wilderness] The wilderness here spoken of is the desert of Paran, through which the Israelites had of old wandered from Egypt toward the promised land.
under a juniper tree] The LXX. merely represents the Hebrew name רֹתֶם by a transliteration ὑποκάτω Ραθμέν. The plant is one of the broom kind. It was stout enough to be used for fuel (Psalm 120:4), and in time of famine its roots could be eaten (Job 30:3-4). The last quoted passage marks it as a tree growing in the wilderness. The Hebrew says literally ‘one juniper tree,’ and thus depicts for us the desolate country just on the borders of the wilderness.
that he might die] The prophet had probably had some hope that Ahab would disown the idolatrous worship after the scene on Carmel and the destruction of the priests. Now he sees that the influence of Jezebel is as strong as ever, and the result is deep despondency and a longing to be removed from the struggle.
I am not better than my fathers] Elijah had probably reached a ripe age, and thinking his labours all fruitless, prays for removal. While there was work to be done, and as he thought, hope of success, he was a willing servant. It is only in the dark moment of seeming failure that his natural feeling of having wrought no reform, such as he longed for, wrings from him the cry in the text. We must not deem Elijah to blame for this feeling. The way in which God sent him comfort and sustenance shews us that the prophet’s conduct was not such as to merit rebuke. See a noble sermon on ‘Elijah’ by the late F. W. Robertson. Sermon VI. Second Series.
And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat.5. And as he lay and slept] Better, with R.V., ‘And he lay down and slept.’ The verb is the same as that which is so rendered at the close of the next verse. The description is of what Elijah did, not only of something which happened ‘as he lay.’
behold then] R.V. and behold. A change made necessary by the previous alteration.
an angel touched him] The LXX. omits ‘an angel,’ and so does the narrative of Josephus, which merely has διεγειράντος δʼ αὐτόν τινος.
And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again.6. and behold, there was] The R.V., following the Hebrew order, puts ‘at his head’ immediately after these words.
And the angel of the LORD came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee.7. because the journey is too great for thee] No mention has yet been made of the distance or place to which Elijah meant to go. It seems therefore more natural to conclude that the flight into the wilderness had been undertaken by the prophet merely because he thought that he would there be less likely to be found. And he appears to have made no preparation for a journey, but to have started without any store of food. In consequence of direction or prompting given during his rest he went forward to Horeb. No place was so suitable for a divine communication as that which was hallowed by God’s appearance unto Moses. The Vulgate rendering seems to imply what has been here said, that the direction for the future journey was a divine communication ‘grandis enim tibi restat via.’
And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God.8. in the strength of that meat] As Moses had been forty days on Sinai and had taken no food with him, so now Elijah, who was to be in many ways a counterpart of Moses, is divinely sustained by the food which had been supplied to him while he rested. The fasting of Jesus at the time of His temptation lights up these Old Testament histories, which were meant to preach to former ages the lesson which the Lord emphasises, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’
forty days and forty nights] A great deal has been written to shew that the journey from the edge of the wilderness of Paran to Mount Horeb could not have occupied forty days, even of very slow walking. But there is nothing in the verse to make it necessary to suppose that the writer intended such a sense. Elijah was wandering in despondency and seeking to hide himself. The time spent was not what was required for the journey only, but far more in meditation and prayer, and seeking from God a reason why all the toiling and testimony, which the prophet had bestowed, had proved so unproductive. The spiritual conflict of Elijah prefigures the spiritual conflict of Jesus.
unto Horeb the mount of God] So called because, above all other places, it was distinguished through God’s manifestations of His power and glory. The LXX. (Vat.) does not represent ‘of God.’
And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah?9–18. God’s revelation and direction to Elijah (Not in Chronicles)
9. unto a cave] The Hebrew has the article, and this is represented in the LXX. by τὸ σπήλαιον ‘the cave.’ It is very likely that by Elijah’s time tradition had fixed on a definite place as that ‘cleft of the rock’ in which Moses stood (Exodus 33:22) when Jehovah passed by. If this were so the place would be deemed very sacred, and would be most appropriate to that divine explanation now to be given to Elijah. For to him was to be presented another Theophany. Some have suggested, as an explanation of the definite description, that the cave had already become a resort of pilgrims to Horeb, but for this there appears no evidence.
What doest thou here?] An opportunity is given to Elijah to open his whole heart. The question here must have a different force from that which it bears after the manifestation of God’s presence in 1 Kings 19:13. Here it must signify ‘Why art thou thus cast down?’ ‘Has thy knowledge of Jehovah gone no farther than to see Him only in works of vengeance?’
And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.10. I have been very jealous] There is no boastfulness in these words. Elijah only opens his grief, and sets forth that he has done his utmost, but that, in spite of all, both king and people are still unrepentant.
have forsaken thy covenant] For ‘thy covenant’ the LXX. reads, in this verse but not in 14, ‘Thee.’ The portion of the covenant here referred to is Exodus 20:3, ‘Thou shalt have none other gods but Me.’ So forsaking the covenant is the same as forsaking God.
thrown down thine altars] Elijah’s language here implies that acceptable sacrifices had been offered to God in more places than one. In 1 Kings 18:30 the altar of Carmel is called ‘the altar of the Lord that was broken down.’ And there were probably many similar ones.
slain thy prophets] The people appear to have assented to such acts of Jezebel and her agents as are mentioned in 1 Kings 18:4. Elijah also immediately includes them with Jezebel as seeking his life to take it away.
I only, am left] Elijah speaks according to his own knowledge. No one had stood with him on Carmel. His words on that occasion (1 Kings 18:12) are the same as here.
Elijah’s reply seems to indicate that he saw nothing more which could be done, and for this reason had sought solitude and refuge in flight.
And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake:11. Go forth] The LXX. here adds αὓριον, to-morrow, and the narrative in Josephus (Ant. VIII. 13. 7) represents the prophet’s going forth as taking place on the day following the divine questioning. But these variations from the text may be, and probably are, due to a desire to assimilate the narrative to Exodus 34:2, where Moses is told to ‘be ready in the morning.’
stand upon the mount before the Lord] Elijah does not go forth (see 1 Kings 19:13) until he recognises the presence of the Lord in the still small voice. The violence of the wind and the earthquake and the devouring rage of the fire, he was made to feel, were not the proper manifestations of Jehovah, were not those tokens by which He would be known to His people, and consequently he abode still in the cave while they were raging. The Lord had not yet appeared.
And behold, the Lord passed by] The participial form of the verb עֹבֵר (literally is passing by) seems to require a modification of the translation. What appears to be meant is ‘the Lord is about to pass by and you shall be able at that time to recognise something of His true character, and to gain the instruction which you need from this revelation.’ The LXX. gives this sense, ἰδοὺ παρελεύσεται κύριος, ‘Behold the Lord will pass by.’ In that case these words belong to the preceding clause, and must be connected with the command to go forth, which the prophet obeyed when he found in which manifestation it pleased the Lord to be present. Thus the narrative of what occurred will commence at ‘And a great and strong wind, &c.’
And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.12. a still small voice] Literally, as in the margin of R.V. ‘a sound of gentle stillness.’ There is nothing to indicate to us whether the sound was articulate or not, nor is it said that the Lord was now present, but the action of the prophet shews that he knew the time was come for him to present himself before Jehovah. The Alex. LXX. adds ‘and the Lord was there,’ but the narrative is much more impressive without those words.’ For a similar recognition of God’s presence cf. Job 4:16 ‘there was silence and I heard a voice.’
And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?13. wrapped his face in his mantle] The revelation was not one for the eye, but for the spirit, of the prophet. Like Moses ‘he was afraid to look upon God’ (Exodus 3:6).
in the entering in of the cave] The command given before had been ‘Go forth and stand upon the mount,’ but this only applies to such an advance as would bring him out of the cave and into the open air, not to any climbing to the mountain top.
What doest thou here?] This repeated question seeks to know whether the prophet has understood the manifestations that have been made to him, and whether he is able to apply them to his own circumstances. The answer coming in the same words as before seems to declare that Elijah is still ignorant of what is meant. God therefore gives him direct charges which shall make it clear that, though his own success has not been such as he expected, yet God’s work is still going forward and that new agents are already prepared, in Jehovah’s design, for advancing it as He sees best.
And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.
And the LORD said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria:15. Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus] It seems from what follows that the margin of the R.V. gives the truer sense, viz. ‘by the wilderness to Damascus.’ Elijah was to go back through the wilderness, the way by which he had come to Horeb, and we see that he came first to Abel-meholah, which was on the west of the Jordan, not far from Bethshean (see note above on 1 Kings 4:12). Thus he was sent by God’s encouragement, and with His protection, through the land of Israel from which he had fled.
anoint Hazael to be king over Syria] So far as the Scripture record goes we have no notice that Elijah performed this command in its literal sense, Hazael being subsequently informed by Elisha (2 Kings 8:13) that the Lord had made known that he should become king over Israel, though even then he was not anointed. We must interpret the meaning of the command in accordance with the prophet’s action, judging that he understood what was intended by the words. The word ‘anoint’ is used concerning Jehu and Elisha as well as Hazael; and we know that Elijah did not anoint Elisha, though he could easily have done so, but only made known, by the act of casting his prophetic mantle upon him, that he was called to that office. In the same way then we may understand the rest of the divine order. Elijah was to receive assurance for himself, and to make known that assurance to others, as he found occasion, that God was still ruling Israel both from without and from within, and would call to the throne of Syria one who should execute His judgements upon His rebellious people, and to the throne of Israel one who should destroy Baal and his worship out of the land. We shall not err, it seems, if we suppose that the knowledge, which Elisha had (2 Kings 8:13) when he says ‘The Lord hath shewed me that thou shalt be king over Syria,’ was derived from Elijah’s communication, as also the instruction which led him, at a future day (2 Kings 9:1-2), to send one of the sons of the prophets to Ramoth-Gilead to anoint Jehu. Hence ‘anoint’ in the text becomes equivalent to ‘point them out as the anointed ones.’
On Hazael’s wars at a subsequent time with Israel and Judah, see 2 Kings 8:28-29. He subsequently invaded the territory of Israel and especially overran the district East of Jordan (2 Kings 10:32-33), and held Israel in subjection ‘all the days of Jehoahaz’ (2 Kings 13:3; 2 Kings 13:22). Through him, we are told, ‘the Lord began to cut Israel short’ (2 Kings 10:32), and there are many indications that this king was for Israel, the rod of God’s anger, a divinely appointed minister of His judgements.
For ‘anoint’ the R.V. reads thou shalt anoint, a change required by the Hebrew which is not an imperative.
And Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room.16. And Jehu the son of Nimshi] We learn from the account of Jehu’s anointing (2 Kings 9:2) that Nimshi was Jehu’s grandfather. He was ‘Jehu the son of Jehoshaphat the son of Nimshi.’ He was one of Ahab’s captains, and heard the sentence which Elijah pronounced against Ahab for the murder of Naboth (2 Kings 9:25-26). When Jehoram had succeeded Ahab, Jehu was anointed and conspired against him, and slew not only Jehoram but also caused to be slain seventy sons of Ahab, and the brethren of Ahaziah king of Judah, and all the worshippers of Baal. For the history of these doings see 2 Kings 10. It is clear that Jehu looked upon himself as God’s ordained instrument, and considered his actions as ‘zeal for the Lord.’ We may therefore conclude that there had been made known to him something of the message which the Lord here gives to Elijah, and that inspired by it, he rose against the house of Ahab. For details of Jehu’s history, see notes on 2 Kings 9:10.
of Abel-meholah] See above on 1 Kings 4:12. These words are omitted by the LXX. For the history of Elisha see 2 Kings chapp. 2–8. At the time of his call Elisha was probably a young man. His father and mother were still alive, and he was living with them.
prophet in thy room] These words would teach Elijah that he was not to expect the accomplishment of all God’s purpose during his own lifetime, but only to prepare a representative to be ready when it was God’s will to call him away. Till Elijah is about to be taken up into heaven (2 Kings 2) we read no more of Elisha than is told us in this chapter. He ministered unto Elijah and was ready to attend him on his last journey, and in those days of his ministration he doubtless received all the teaching which God had given to his master, and was made to see how the hand of God was ever working amidst His people.
And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay: and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay.17. shall Elisha slay] Here we come upon evidence that the language of these verses (15–18) is not to be pressed into a literal interpretation. In the second book of Kings the compiler gives us all that he thought needful of the life of Elisha, and there is nothing in it which accords with a literal acceptance of this verse. We read of none that were slain by the hand of Elijah’s successor. But his voice and his labours for the overthrow of false worship, and for making known, both to Israel and to the nations round about, that there was ‘no God in all the earth but in Israel’ (2 Kings 6:15) were constant, and by this ‘sword of his mouth’ he overthrew the foes of Jehovah. In this sense he fulfilled the declaration in the text, his work coming in and being effectual in places and ways where Hazael and Jehu wrought no deliverance.
Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.18. Yet I have left me] R.V. (and margin of A. V.) Yet will I leave me. And this is not only required by the Hebrew words, but for a true conception of the sense of the passage. Elijah had been witness of God’s might and power to execute judgement, in the wind, the earthquake, and the fire, and subsequently of the true presence of God in the still small voice which spake of mercy. He is now sent to make known who the ordained ministers of vengeance shall be, Hazael and Jehu being the embodiment of what was portrayed in the elemental fury which had passed before him. But after all came the voice which bare witness of Jehovah’s presence, and this Elijah is now told shall be made known hereafter in the multitude of those who, after all trials, shall still remain faithful. The LXX. renders ‘and thou shalt leave in Israel, &c.’
seven thousand in Israel] Used for an indefinite number. On this use of ‘seven’ cf. above 1 Kings 18:43. Also Proverbs 24:16; Matthew 18:21-22. The total was small compared with the whole people of Israel, but they were God’s ‘holy remnant,’ the seed of a purified congregation of the future.
hath not kissed him] That such was the nature of some part of the worship offered to false gods we can see from Hosea 13:2, ‘Let the men that sacrifice kiss the calves.’ Probably the Latin adoro is etymologically connected with this. For kissing as an act of religious homage, see also Psalm 2:12.
So he departed thence, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth: and Elijah passed by him, and cast his mantle upon him.19–21. The call of Elisha (Not in Chronicles)
19. So he departed thence] Josephus says, what the visit to Abelmeholah shews, that Elijah returned into the land of the Hebrews. He was instructed, comforted, and assured of safety. God, who had assigned him work to do, and given him hope therein, would not allow him to fall into the hands of his enemies.
plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him] He had servants with him to manage all the yokes but one, and to these people it was that he afterwards made a farewell feast. It is clear from the description that Elisha was the son of a wealthy father, and that the leaving all to follow Elijah was a trial to test the character of the future prophet.
Elijah passed by him] The Hebrew requires the rendering of the R.V. passed over unto him. Elijah left the road and crossed into the field where Elisha and his companions were plowing.
and cast his mantle upon him] The prophetic mantle was probably of a special character. In Zechariah 13:4 we are told that the prophets ‘shall not wear a rough garment (R.V. a hairy mantle) to deceive,’ and the whole description of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8) and the New Testament explanation thereof in the description of John the Baptist, bears out the idea that he wore such a mantle. It was this mantle which Elisha took up after the departure of Elijah into heaven, and the possession thereof, and the employment of it to divide the waters of the Jordan, caused the sons of the prophets to exclaim ‘The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha’ (2 Kings 2:15). To cast such a robe upon the shoulders of Elisha was to claim him, by a symbolical act, as one of the members of the prophetic band. This Elisha felt and acted on.
And he left the oxen, and ran after Elijah, and said, Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee. And he said unto him, Go back again: for what have I done to thee?20. kiss my father and my mother] He was sensible that the separation was to be permanent, and that a higher call than that of earthly parentage was laid upon him. This is the ground for his petition. Thus will he make known to his parents the reason of his departure.
Go back again: for what have I done to thee?] Elijah grants his request, but accompanies the permission with words which must remind Elisha that he cannot now stay amid his home duties, ‘Go back again,’ he says, ‘but let it be only for the filial leave-taking, for what have I done to thee? Have I not chosen thee to be my companion and helper? Is not God’s voice calling thee, through me, to do Him service?’
And he returned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen, and gave unto the people, and they did eat. Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him.21. And he returned back from [R.V. from following] him] Elisha clearly understood the permission which was given to him. He is allowed a short space for leave-taking, but the call is imperative, and he is to follow with all speed. Elijah goes his way, but leaves Elisha in no doubt whither he is going, and where he may be found.
and took a [R.V. the] yoke of oxen] The language in the original is definite, and no doubt refers to the particular pair of oxen which Elisha had himself been using.
and boiled their flesh] Thus he made a farewell feast to those with whom he had been working. Having a true conception of the great duty to which he was called, he would have them rejoice, and not sorrow, at his departure.
and gave unto the people] i.e. The plowmen, and other helpers in the work which they had been doing. There is nothing to guide us in deciding whether the feast was made at the place where the call was received, or whether it was a meal given in the home to which Elisha went to bid adieu to his parents. It seems however more natural to understand it of the latter. At such a parting meal the parents of him who was going away were hardly likely to be absent.
Because the word rendered ‘slew’ in this verse, is very frequently translated ‘sacrificed’ some have thought that the ceremony here described was a religious one. But there is no mention of an altar, which would have been necessary, nor of the devotion of any part of the slain beasts as an offering. The guests were invited to a family feast, after the patriarchal fashion, and joined in the festivities attendant on such an occasion. The parents of Elisha were perhaps likeminded with himself and felt the grandeur of the office to which he was called. In that case the feeling of joyous thankfulness would be the most prevalent.
went after Elijah, and ministered unto him] Josephus adds to the narrative, that ‘Elisha immediately began to prophesy.’ In the Scripture story he is not mentioned again till the departure of Elijah into heaven is close at hand (2 Kings 2:1). But we cannot doubt that he was the companion of Elijah from that day forward, and we are shewn something of the nature of the attendance and ministration here alluded to in 2 Kings 3:11, where we read of Elisha as he ‘which poured water on the hands of Elijah.’ The members of the prophetic school seem to have lived after the fashion of ‘Brethren of the common life,’ and the less prominent members did service of every kind for those who were at the head.