Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
B.—Elijah at Mount Carmel
1 KINGS 18:1–46
1AND it came to pass after1 many days, that the word of the Lord [Jehovah] came to Elijah in the third year, saying, Go, shew thyself unto Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth. 2And Elijah went to shew himself unto Ahab. And there was a sore famine in Samaria. 3And Ahab called Obadiah, which was the governor of his house. (Now Obadiah feared the Lord [Jehovah] greatly: 4for it was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord [Jehovah], that Obadiah took an hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty2 in a cave, and fed them with bread and water.) 5And 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.3 6So they divided the land between them to pass throughout it: Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself.
7And as Obadiah was in the way,4 behold, Elijah met him: and he knew him, and fell on his face, and said, Art thou that my lord Elijah? 8And he answered him, I am: go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here. 9And he said, What have I sinned, that thou wouldest deliver thy servant into the hand of Ahab, to slay 10me? As the Lord [Jehovah] 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; 11he 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. 12And it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from thee, that the Spirit of the Lord [Jehovah] 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 [Jehovah] from my youth. 13Was it not told my lord what I did when Jezebel slew the prophets of the Lord [Jehovah], how I hid a hundred men of the Lord’s [Jehovah] prophets by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water? 14And now thou sayest, Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here: and he shall slay me. 15And Elijah said, As the Lord [Jehovah] of hosts liveth, before whom I stand, I will surely shew myself unto him to-day.
16So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him: and Ahab went to meet Elijah. 17And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel? 18And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord [Jehovah], and thou hast followed Baalim. 19Now 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. 20So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto Mount Carmel.
21And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions?5 if the Lord [Jehovah] be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. 22Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord [Jehovah]; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men.6 23Let 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 24bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and call7 ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord [Jehovah]:8 and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken. 25And 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. 26And 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. 27And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking,9 or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked. 28And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives [swords] and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them. 29And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until10 the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.11
30And 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 [Jehovah] that was broken down. 31And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob,12 unto whom the word of the Lord [Jehovah] came, saying, Israel shall be thy name: 32and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord [Jehovah]: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed. 33And 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. 34And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time. 35And the water ran around about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water. 36And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice,13 that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, Lord [Jehovah] 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. 37Hear me, O Lord [Jehovah], hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord [Jehovah] God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. 38Then the fire of the Lord [Jehovah] 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. 39And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord [Jehovah], he is the God; the Lord [Jehovah], he is the God. 40And 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.
41And Elijah said unto Ahab, Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain.14 42So 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, 43and 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. 44And 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,15 and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not. 45And it came to pass in the mean while,16 that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel. 46And the hand of the Lord [Jehovah] was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.
Exegetical and Critical
1 Kings 18:1. And it came to pass, &c., &c. The whole of the eighteenth chapter is distributed in three sections; the middle one of which is the chief (1 Kings 18:21–40); the first (1 Kings 18:1–20) is introductory to the second (1 Kings 18:21–40), and the last (1 Kings 18:41–46) forms the sequel to the transaction narrated in the second. The first verse refers distinctly to 1 Kings 17:1. It states when and how the drought announced by Elijah came to an end. The statement in Luke 4:25, and in James 5:17, according to which it did not rain for the space of three years and six months, seems to contradict the words in the third year. The same statement occurs also in the tractate Jalkut Schimoni; hence several interpreters (Schmidt, Michaelis, Keil) adopt the rabbinical conjecture that Elijah was a year at the brook Cherith, and that he remained two years in Sarepta, and that in the third year Jehovah’s command came to him to show himself unto Ahab. But it is very improbable that Elijah remained a whole year (מִקֵּץ יָמִים, 1 Kings 17:7, cannot mean this) at Cherith, and that the reckoning should be made from the sojourn at Sarepta to the date of his reappearing, and not from his announcement of the drought, to which the text refers so explicitly. Benson regards the New Testament statement as a complete settlement of the Jewish tradition. As in each year there are two rainy seasons, so the six months before the prediction (1 Kings 17:1), in which it did not rain, are taken into the account, while, in our passage, the reckoning is from the second rainy season. According to Lange (on James 5:17), the equalization lies in this, that in the account in 1 Kings 18. the exact period of the famine is stated; but it is very natural that the famine should have begun a year after the prediction of the drought, i. e., after the failure of the early and of the latter rain. In this first year the people still lived on the harvest of the preceding year. The וְ in וְאֶתְּנָה is not = that (Luther, Vulg.) nor = for, but, as in Gen. 17:20; Deut. 15:6 = and then. When Ewald says that after another year of drought “Ahab himself at last called Elijah back,” he is in direct contradiction with the words, Go hence and show thyself to Ahab, as also with 1 Kings 18:9 sq.
1 Kings 18:2–6. And there was a sore famine in Samaria. From here to 1 Kings 18:6 there is a parenthetical remark, for “an explanation of the circumstances which brought about the meeting between Elijah and Ahab” (Keil). Even in the residence in Samaria the famine was so pressing during the drought that the king himself, with his “palace-master” (see on 1 Kings 4:6)—“the governor of his house”—traversed the land to find food for his horses and mules. “Entirely without reference to the Old Testament, Menandros (Joseph. Antiq.8, 13, 2) makes mention of a severe drought of a year under the Syrian king Ithobal, a contemporary of Ahab” (Ewald). The name Obadiah is a proper name of frequent occurrence in the Old Testament (1 Chron. 3:21; 7:3; 8:38; 9:16; 2 Chron. 17:7; 34:12; Ezra 8:9, &c.), and does not here, on account of 1 Kings 18:4, mean, as Thenius supposes, “chosen.” The prophets who are mentioned in 1 Kings 18:4 were, for the most part, “prophet-scholars,” i. e., members of the association of the prophets (Prophetenvereine), cf. on 2 Kings 2. If Obadiah alone delivered a hundred, their number must have been considerable. Their persecution and extermination was the work of the fanatical, idolatrous Jezebel, whom Ahab allowed to rule and manage. Hess and Menken suppose that she was incited thereto by her idolatrous priests, who represented to her that the public calamity would not end until the prophets, from the secret influence of whom it proceeded, were put out of the way. This conjecture, however, is not necessary, on account of the character of Jezebel, who, from the start, was bent upon the abolition of the Jehovah-worship. The caverns in which Obadiah concealed the prophets were certainly not near Samaria, but were, perhaps, on Mount Carmel, “which is full of clefts and grottoes” (Winer, R.-W.-B. I. s. 212).
1 Kings 18:7–16. And as Obadiah was in the way, &c. He recognized the prophet at once by his peculiar clothing (cf.2 Kings 1:7, 8). The profound reverence which he showed to him allows us to conclude that there was a personal acquaintance, and, in any event, it is an evidence of the high consideration in which even then Elijah was held, at least upon the part of the worshippers of Jehovah, which could scarcely be accounted for only on the ground of his prediction of the drought (1 Kings 17:1). The words הַאַתָּה זֶה cannot be translated, Art thou not my lord Elijah? (Luther), or with the Sept., εἰ σὺ εἶ αὐτός κύριέ μου ’Ηλία; for he had already recognized him, and had fallen on his face before him. It is rather a question of wonder: Art thou, who hast been looked for everywhere in vain, here? (1 Kings 18:10). The reply of Obadiah in 1 Kings 18:9 is explained by 1 Kings 18:12. The statement in 1 Kings 18:10, that Ahab had set on foot inquiries after the prophet in every kingdom, is “an hyperbole prompted by inward excitement and fear” (Keil), but which, nevertheless, is an evidence of the great bitterness and hatred of Ahab. From the anxiety of Obadiah lest the spirit of Jehovah should suddenly carry the prophet away, it has been concluded that something like it had previously occurred, but which has not been related to us (Von Gerlach, Seb. Schmidt, and others). Keil remarks, on the other hand: Elijah was not snatched away after the prediction of the drought, and there is no more reason for supposing a case of this kind during the interval, when he was concealed from his enemies. Obadiah certainly had not in his mind a simple going away, nor does the expression suggest “a wind-storm” (Dereser), nor a mere inward movement from above (Olshaus., Acts viii. 39), but divine power. The concluding statement in 1 Kings 18:12 does not mean he has not as “a God-fearing man and a protector of the prophets any special favor to expect at the hands of Ahab” (Keil), but rather he believes that, as a true servant of Jehovah, for his own and for the sake of the prophet, he deserves, least of all, death. He does not express a doubt of the truthfulness of Elijah, but he supposes that “he will be exposed to a danger from which God will rescue him by an abreption, while he himself will thereby be placed in the greatest peril in respect of Ahab” (Menken). By the expression in 1 Kings 18:13, he seeks to justify his refusal to fulfil Elijah’s commission, and to say that he will suffer a death he does not merit, but he does not mean to boast of his action, or to claim any reward. The צְבָאוֹת with יְהוָֹה (see Keil on 1 Sam. 1:3), elevates the solemnity of the oath (cf. on 1 Kings 17:1). הַיּוֹם means here: at this time, now (1 Sam. 14:33; 2 Kings 4:8), not to-day (Luther, De Wette).
1 Kings 18:17–20. And it came to pass when Ahab saw Elijah, &c. As Ahab went, at Obadiah’s instigation, to meet the prophet, and not the prophet to meet him, Ahab’s query does not mean “Dost thou dare to appear before me?” (Thenius), but, rather, Do I meet thee at last, thou bringer of trouble? עָכַר does not, as in Gen. 34:30; Josh. 6:18; 7:25, mean here, to perplex, as Luther translates. Ahab lays all the blame of the famine upon Elijah, not merely because he had predicted the drought, but he had added that it would come to an end only at his word, without thinking that the prophet had done this only in the name and at the command of Jehovah. In the reply of Elijah (1 Kings 18:18) the plural form בְּעָלִים is not, with Gesenius, to be understood of images or statues of Baal, but of the various surnames of Baal according to their special signification—Baal-Berith, Baal-Zebul (Winer, R- W.-B. I. s. 120). Elijah’s desire (in 1 Kings 18:19) probably admits of a closer explanation in respect of its ground and purpose; it was not so much on account of Ahab as to influence the whole people to another course—it was to bring all Israel to a decision. That was the right point of time when the longing for deliverance from the famine was universal. Elijah appointed Carmel as the place of assemblage, probably because its situation was central, and it was also near the sea, from which quarter rain-clouds came. There was, moreover, an altar to Jehovah there, as on other conspicuous high places, but which, like other such altars, had been thrown down in consequence of the introduction of the Baal-worship (cf. 1 Kings 18:30 and 1 Kings 19:10). The whole of Israel, i. e., the heads of the tribes and families, and the elders as the representatives of the people (1 Kings 8:1–62). The prophets of Baal (cf. 1 Kings 18:26 sq.) are the priests of Baal, who were likewise the god’s soothsayers and foretellers. As the male divinity, Baal had more priests than the female. That the Astarte-priests ate at Jezebel’s table, i. e., were entirely supported by her (see 1 Kings 2:7), is expressly remarked, because therein her blind, fanatical passion for the worship of idols is shown over against the prophets of Jehovah, whom she persecuted and murdered (1 Kings 18:4). When, according to 1 Kings 18:20, the enraged and excited king at once acceded to the demand of Elijah, this is quite in harmony with his character as he often exhibited it subsequently. He bowed before the spiritual supremacy of the prophet, which impressed him. Notwithstanding his apparent scorn, he had a secret fear of Elijah since the prediction of the drought had been verified (1 Kings 17:1), and all the sacrifices of the priests of Baal to avert the famine had been in vain.
1 Kings 18:21. And Elijah came, &c. Ewald, whom Thenius follows on the ground of the Septuag., translates the question of the prophet to the people: “How long will ye go limping on both hocks, i. e., always staggering about hither and thither insecurely between truth and falsehood, Jahve and Baal?” But סעפים is never used in the sense of ἰγνύαι, i. e., hocks, which translation Schleusner properly pronounces a mera conjectura. The root סָעַף means to divide, to dissever, and all the derivatives point back to this signification. The סֵעֲפִים, Ps. 119:113, are those which are divided within themselves, the double-minded or ambiguous. In Ezek. 31:6: סְעַפּוֹת means branches, because these are the divided tree, and in Isai. 2:21; 57:5, the clefts of the rocks are named סְעִפֵי הַסְּלָעִים. The Vulg. hence translates rightly, Usquequo claudicatis in duas partes? Keil, “up to the two parties (Jehovah and Baal).” This agrees perfectly with the word פָסַח, i. e., to go over from one to another, and על is here with פסח, as in 1 Kings 18:26, where it cannot possibly mean “to the.” But when Keil remarks further: The people were wishing to harmonize the Jehovah worship and that of Baal, not to stand, by means of the Baal worship, in hostile opposition to Jehovah, he is evidently mistaken. The people rather were divided between the two forms of worship, that of Jehovah and that of Baal; to the latter belonged also the Astarte-cultus, which it was impossible to identify or reconcile with the Jehovah-worship. The persecution and extermination of the Jehovah prophets by Jezebel must have shown the people, most explicitly, that between the two religions the most decisive antagonism existed. Jeroboam’s calf-worship might still seem to be Jehovah-worship, but the Baal and Astarte worship, never. The large number of the “sons of the prophets” shows that, in spite of Ahab and Jezebel, the people were divided into two parties.
1 Kings 18:22–25. It by no means follows from the לְבַדִּי “that those also who had been concealed by Obadiah were discovered and destroyed” (Thenius). cf.2 Kings 2:3, 5. Elijah means to say: All the other prophets have been murdered, or are reduced to a state of inactivity: I stand here alone over against four hundred and fifty priests of Baal; what, humanly speaking, can one do against so many? Be this as it may, the issue will decide all the more certainly with whom rests the Right יָתַר as in Gen. 32:35; Jos. 18:2. To the four hundred and fifty Baal priests the Sept. adds: καὶ οἱ προφῆται, τοῦ ἄλσους τετρακόσιοι, which Thenius holds to be original, but is here evidently filled out from 1 Kings 18:19. In 1 Kings 18:25 and in 1 Kings 18:40, moreover, the priests of Baal only are named. A thrice repeated omission of the Astarte-priests cannot be explained by the rule, a potiori fit, etc., least of all in 1 Kings 18:40; they might indeed have been summoned, but under the protection of Jezebel they might have been able to escape the requisition of Ahab (Keil). As the issue was a decision between the worship of Jehovah and that of Baal, Elijah employed, in connection with it, an Acts of sacrifice, because both amongst the Jews and also the heathen, sacrifice was the explicit expression of all worship. The significance of fire in sacrifice was the reason why he suspended the decision upon the fire which should consume the offering; it wafts the sacrifice upwards, and, as it were, presents it to the deity. Should the latter send the fire, this would be a sign not only of power, but also that the sacrifice was accepted and well-pleasing. Besides this, fire, especially that which came from heaven, was the general symbol of deity. Baal also was the God of heaven, of the sun, and of fire (heaven-fire-sun-god). If he could not consume the offering, that would show him to be no God. The cutting in pieces, 1 Kings 18:23 and 33, belongs, according to Lev. 1:6, to the proper dressing of every burnt-offering. After the people had signified their agreement to the proposition of Elijah he proceeded further (1 Kings 18:25); and, to avoid all appearance of encroachment or of partisanship, he allowed the priests of Baal a choice between the two “bullocks,” as also precedence in the act of sacrifice, giving as a reason: for ye are many.This was scarcely said “somewhat scoffingly” in the sense of “the crowd shall have the precedence! You are the prevailing religious party in Israel” (Menken), but wholly in earnest; he, only one, will take no advantage of the many; they shall not feel themselves slighted. When, too, as he himself knew in advance, the vanity, the nothingness of Baal became manifest, the impression produced by his offering would be all the greater, while inversely the priests of Baal, under every kind of pretext, would have wholly omitted the sacrifice.
1 Kings 18:26–29. And they took the bullock, &c. By וַיְפַסְּחוּ the dance customary at heathen sacrifices is indeed suggested to us (see with Keil the passage from Herodian Hist. v. 3). The view prevails that limping, “in derision of the unaided sacrificial dance of the Baal priests,” stands here for dancing (Gesenius); but neither here nor in 1 Kings 18:21 does it denote ridicule. It expresses only the reeling to and fro; “the dance, as we may infer from its climax in 1 Kings 18:28, 29, may have had somewhat of the bacchantic, reeling way about it” (Thenius); the Sept. has διέτρεχον, the Vulgate transiliebant, and here ridicule disappears. This first follows in 1 Kings 18:27; here we are simply informed of what actually happened. Elijah is not the subject in עָשָה; it is impersonal. Nearly all the versions seem to have read, with many MSS., עָשׂוּ. In 1 Kings 18:27 Elijah urges the Baal priests to cry louder, and gives as his chief reason: in your opinion he is the real, true God; he must be hindered in some way, so that, as yet, he has not heard you. The thrice repeated כִּי heightens the effect of the discourse. שִׂיחַ means neither loquitur (Vulg.), nor: he imagines (Luther), nor: ἀδολεσχία ἀυτῷ ἐστίν (Sept.); but it denotes turning within one’s self, reflection, meditatio, and then, also, sadness (1 Sam. 1:16; Ps. 142:3). Thenius: his head is full; perhaps, better yet: he is out of humor. שִׂיג the Vulg. wrongly gives: in diversario est; it means secessio (from שׂוּג to withdraw, 2 Sam. 1:22), euphemistic expression for: he is easing himself. Everything that Elijah here derisively attributes to Baal must not, with Movers (Rel. der Phöniz. s. 386), be regarded as that which the Baal priests actually believed of him as the sun-god (his journeys, labors, sleeping), for it had ceased to be a matter of sport. They cried louder (1 Kings 18:28), so that Baal, by hearing, might stultify the derision. By וַיִּתְגֹּדְדוּ, we must not understand a mere “nicking with knives and punches” (Luther); for חֶרֶב means sword, and רֹמַח the lance belonging to heavy armor (Ezek. 39:9; Jer. 46:4). The פָּסַח, 1 Kings 18:26, changed into a weapon-dance, which custom many ancient writers mention (cf. Doughty, Analect. Sacr. p. 176), and Movers (as cited s. 682), after them, describes more particularly. This custom assuredly has not, as Movers supposes, its reason in the consciousness of “committed sins,” but in the superstition that blood, especially the blood of priests, has a special virtue, moving, even compelling the divinity (Plutarch De superstit.: Bellonœ sacerdotes suo cruore sacrificant, cf. Symbol. des Mosais. Kultus II. s. 223, 262). In 1 Kings 18:29, וַיִּתְנַבְּאוּ is commonly translated: and they raved; in the sense: their behavior reached to a sort of mania. But 1 Sam. 18:10; Jer. 29:26, places to which an appeal is made, cannot prove that נבא means, in itself, μαίνεσθαι; the Sept. never translating it so. The Baal priests are constantly called here נְבִאִים, and as such, they prepared the sacrifice, danced around the altar, called upon Baal, wounded themselves; all that they then did, and the time they consumed, is summed up when it is said that יִתְנַבְּאוּ; this word does not refer to anything besides. Piscator: fuit vero quum prœteriisset meridies, ut prophetas agerent, &c. They went on with their various functions until past noon, yet without any result. מִנְחָה is here not specially food (vegetable) offering (Luther), but it denotes offering generally (Gen. 4:3–5), and here the usual daily evening sacrifice, which, nevertheless, as is to be seen from 1 Kings 18:36 and 40 sq., was not offered first at dusk, but before it (Numb. 28:4). The Sept. adds to 1 Kings 18:29: “And Elijah the Tishbite said to the prophets of the idols, Stand back! I will now make ready my offering. And they stood back and went away,” an addition which does not at all “bear the unmistakable stamp of genuineness” (Thenius), but is plainly a supplementary gloss.
1 Kings 18:30–32. And Elijah said unto all the people, &c. Elijah did not, designedly, build a new altar, but repaired the old one (see above on 1 Kings 18:19), and meant thereby to show that the issue of the day was the restoration of the ancient Jehovah-worship, for cultus is expressed synecdochice per altare (Petr. Martyr). He shows, moreover, still more explicitly the object of the restoration and renewal of the broken covenant (1 Kings 19:10), in that, as Moses had once done at the conclusion of the covenant (Exod. 24:4), in like manner he repaired the altar “with twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel.” This was a declaration in act, that the twelve tribes together constituted one people, that they had one God in common, and that Jehovah’s covenant was not concluded with two or with ten, but with the unit of the twelve tribes. Since the kingdom of the ten tribes named itself “Israel,” over against the other tribes, it is expressly remarked that Jacob, the one progenitor of the entire people, had received from Jehovah the name “Israel,” i. e., God’s soldier, because he commanded his entire house: Put away from you the strange gods (Gen. 35:2, 10 sq.). Only the people who did as he did had a claim to this name. In 1 Kings 18:32 the בְּשֵׁם יְהוָֹה is not to be connected with the remote יִבְנֶה; he built in the name, i. e., by the command, of Jehovah (for everything that he did, he did no less by the command of Jehovah), but with the immediately preceding מִזְבֵּחַ; he built this that Jehovah might reveal and authenticate himself; as inversely, according to Exod. 20:24, an altar was to be built where Jehovah had revealed and authenticated himself. The ditch was not designed as a hedge, “so that the people might not press too much upon the altar” (Starke); it was made rather to receive the water (1 Kings 18:34, 35), תְּעָלָחas , 2 Kings 20:20; Is. 7:3; 22:9; 36:2; Ezek. 31:4, means properly aqueduct. Not only was the altar to be soaked, but it was to be surrounded with water, so as to remove all suspicion about the burning of the sacrifice. Impostures of this kind occurred certainly in later heathendom. The author of the Orat. in Eliam (I. p. 765), attributed to Chrysostom, says: “I speak as an eye-witness. In the altars of the idols, there are beneath the altar channels, and underneath a concealed pit; the deceivers enter these, and blow up a fire from beneath upon the altar, by which many are deceived, and believe that the fire comes from heaven.” The words כְּבֵית סָאתַיִם זֶרַע are not altogether clear. Keil and Thenius translate: like the space whereon one can sow two seahs of grain. But בית never signifies a superficies measure, but that which holds something; and one does not measure a ditch by a superficial space which it covers, but according to its capacity for holding; hence Gesenius here: a ditch which could hold two seahs. The ditch, then, was about as deep as the grain-measure containing two seahs. The seah is the third part of an ephah; according to Thenius, two Dresden pecks; according to Bertheau=661.92, according to Bunsen 338.13 Paris cubic inches. Without doubt the ditch was so near the altar that the water poured upon it flowed into it and remained there. Elijah took upon himself the preparation of the sacrifice, jure prophetico, minoribus legibus exsolutus, ut majores servaret (Grotius). The levitical priest was no longer in the kingdom of Israel (2 Chron. 11:13; 13:9).
1 Kings 18:33–35. And said, Fill four barrels (cad) &c., &c. כַּד is a pail (Gen. 24:14) without definite measure. The solemnity and the emphasis with which the prophet commands the soaking with water stamp this act as prophetic, i. e., as a significant religious act, done for some other than the merely negative purpose “of cutting away all ground of suspicion of the possibility of some cheat” (Keil). The form of the transaction shows this. For when the prophet orders thrice four cads of water poured upon an altar composed of thrice four stones, the intention—i. e., the significance of this combination of numbers—is unmistakable. The numbers three and four, as well singly as in their combination with each other, in seven and twelve, meet us constantly in the cultus, where the significance is beyond all question. (See above. Cf. my Symbol. des Mos. Kultus I. s. 150, 169, 193, 205.) But we can conclude nothing definitely, with full certainty, respecting the meaning of the prophetic act. Perhaps the abundant soaking of the altar bearing the sign-number of the Covenant people with 3×4 cads of water expresses what is promised in Deut. 28:12 to the Covenant people if they observe the covenant: “Jehovah shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven, to give rain unto thy land in his season;” after, on account of the breach of the covenant, “thy heaven over thy head was brass, and the earth under thee was iron” (Deut. 28:23). Elijah is not the subject to מִלֵּא 1 Kings 18:35 (“he caused the trench to be filled with water,” as De Wette and Keil translate); but מָיִם, which also is elsewhere construed with the singular (Numb. 20:2; 24:7; 33:14; Gen. 9:15); Luther: and the trench also was full of water. There was so much water that it ran over the altar and filled likewise the trench. The question, whence so much water could have been obtained, in such a drought, cannot shake the trustworthiness of the narrative. It is plain, from 1 Kings 18:40, that the brook Kishon was near, and was not dried up. Its supply of water was very abundant. Cf.Judg. 5:21, and the passage from Brocard (in Winer, R.- W.-B. Bd. I. s. 660): Cison colligit plures aquas, quia a monte Ephraim et a locis Samariœ propinquioribus atque a toto campo Esdrelon confluunt plurimœ aquœ et recipiuntur in hunc unum torrentem. (Cf. also Robinson, Palest. III. p. 114, 116.) Carmel, moreover, was full of grottoes and caves (Winer, “some say 2,000”); if there were water anywhere, it would be there. Van de Velde (in Keil on the place) has proved that the place where the sacrifice was offered is at the ruin El Mohraka, and that here is a covered spring: “under a dark, vaulted roof, the water in such a spring is always cool, and the atmosphere cannot evaporate it. I can understand perfectly that while all other springs were dried up, here there continued to be an abundance of water, which Elijah poured so bountifully upon the altar.”—[Really this is very unsatisfactory, and not to the purpose.—E. H.]
1 Kings 18:36, 37. And at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, &c.—The time of day was that appointed for the daily sacrifice. In his prayer Elijah calls Jehovah, not his God, as in 1 Kings 17:20 sq., but the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel (i. e., Jacob, 1 Kings 18:31, with unmistakable reference to Exod. 3:15). This designation of God points to him as the God who had concluded the covenant of promise with the progenitors of the entire people, and brings to mind the proofs of the grace which Israel had shared from the first. Here where the broken covenant was to be renewed and cemented afresh in this designation, both the assurance and the entreaty are expressed that the God who had declared himself to the patriarchs would now, as to these, so also to his whole people, declare himself. In Israel, i. e., that thou alone art God, and as such wilt be recognized and honored in Israel. And I am thy servant, i. e., that I do not speak and act in my own cause and in human strength, but in thy cause (Septuag. διά σε), and in thy name, as well in respect of what has happened hitherto as what shall happen hereafter. The הֲסִבֹּתָ in 1 Kings 18:37 does not depend upon בִּי, and is not to be translated, “so turn thou their heart around” (De Wette), but “that that which shall happen is ordained by thee for their conversion” (Thenius).
1 Kings 18:38–40. Then the fire of the Lord fell, &c., i. e., a fire effected, produced by Jehovah. The text certainly does not say, as is commonly thought, a stroke of lightning from heaven; and Keil remarks, as against this opinion, a natural stroke “could not have produced such an effect.” We can conclude nothing definite of the how of the wonder. To give full expression to the intensity of the fire it is stated that even the stones and the ground were burned, i. e., according to Le Clerc, in calcem redegit. Usually it is supposed that the earth means that which was thrown up in the building of the altar, but it can also be that with which the altar, built of twelve stones, was filled up (Exod. 20:24). The impression which the event produced upon the people was overpowering, and must have filled them all with contempt and wrath against the priests of Baal, so that Ahab, even had he desired it, could not have prevented their destruction. That Elijah did not slaughter them in his own person is self-evident; he demanded it on the ground of the law (Deut. 13:9). Josephus, ἀπέκτειναν τοὺς προφήτας ’Ηλιά τοῦτο παραινέσαντος. It is more than rash when Menzel maintains that the people seized the Baal priests (we must remember that there were 450 of them), and “delivered them to the prophet to be slain by his own hand.” The Kishon empties itself at the foot of Carmel into the sea. Not where the sacrifice was offered were the Baal priests to be put to death, but by the stream which could carry their blood and corpses from the land and lose them in the sea.
1 Kings 18:41–45. And Elijah said unto Ahab, &c. From the words, Get thee up, it follows that Ahab had gone to Kishon, and was present at the execution of his Baal priests; but he had scarcely joined in the shout of the people (1 Kings 18:39). Whether the words “eat and drink” are to be interpreted as derisive (Krummacher, Thenius) is very doubtful. The prophet may well have derided the dead idol Baal; but that he should have mocked the king, whom he wished to win over, is scarcely credible, and does not agree with what is mentioned in 1 Kings 18:46. According to Ewald, Elijah invited him “to eat of the sacrifice offered to Jehovah, and thereby to strengthen himself;” but the offering, apart from the consideration that it was a burnt-offering, of which nothing was eaten, was entirely consumed (1 Kings 18:39). Others think that the king had eaten nothing during the suspense of the issue of the contest, from the morning until the evening; hence Elijah advised him to return quickly, before the coming storm hindered him, to the place of the sacrifice, where preparation had been made for his needs (Keil, Calw. Bib.). But the sense of the words of the prophet was, Be of good heart (Luke 12:19). Israel has turned back again to his God, soon the famine will come to an end; already I hear (in spirit) the rain rushing. רֹאשׁ (1 Kings 18:42) does not mean here top, summit, but it denotes the outermost promontory towards the sea. Both Elijah and Ahab went from Kishon “up;” the former betook himself to the promontory, which was not so high as the place where the altar stood, and Ahab had his tent. Hence Elijah could say to his servant: Go up and say to Ahab, &c. To the promontory, however, Elijah betook himself, because thence one could look far across the sea, and first be assured when rain-clouds were forming in the distance. Here he bowed himself down and concealed his face, to abstract his eyes from everything outward and visible, and to turn himself wholly and completely to what was inward. It was the natural, involuntary expression of sinking into the most earnest, wrestling prayer; and there is no reason why, with Keil, we should refer to the dervishes, amongst whom Shaw and Chardin have found similar prayer-postures. Elijah did not wish, in order to be alone in prayer, and so to strengthen himself, to look at the sea; he commissioned his servant with that. Probably he promised to give him information in a very short time; and when the servant, at the outset, saw nothing, he said to him, Go again seven times, i. e., make no mistake, though it be a matter of seven times. Seven times is here as in Matt. 18:21; cf.Ps. 119:164; 12:7; Prov. 24:16. Elijah wished also to be informed of the first appearing of a cloud before any one else observed it, to notify Ahab, and to convince him that the rain, as he had predicted in 1 Kings 17:1, would be the consequence of his prophetic word (prayer). Thenius remarks on 1 Kings 18:44: “A very little cloud on the farthest horizon is, according to sea accounts, often the herald of stormy weather.” The doubled עַד־כֹּה in 1 Kings 18:45, according to Maurer and others, means: until so and so far, and is a form of speech borrowed from the quick moving of the hand also: before a man turns his hand. But the rain did not come so swiftly. According to Exod. 7:16, and Is. 17:14, עַד־כֹּה means: until now, up to this moment. Gesenius: in the mean while; so also De Wette and Winer.
1 Kings 18:45. And ran before Ahab, &c. [But Ahab went towards Jezreel.] He had there a summer palace (1 Kings 21:2). The city was situated in the tribe Issachar (Is. 19:18), in the elevated plane of the same name, about from five to six miles (seventeen to twenty Eng.) distant from Carmel. He betook himself thither, because Jezebel was then at this summer residence, and he wished to let her know the news (1 Kings 19:1). The form of expression, the hand of Jehovah, &c., 1 Kings 18:46, occurs also in 2 Kings 3:15; Ezek. 1:3; 3:14, 22; 8:1; 33:22; 37:1; and as in all these places it denotes an inward impulse excited by God, so there is no reason why here it should be understood of a wonderful accession of natural bodily strength, which enabled him, as the older interpreters thought, to run in advance of the royal chariot, as it required the swiftest course (J. Lange, Calmet, and others). Over and above the ordinary use of the form of expression, what makes against it is, that it does not stand before וַיָּרָץ, but before וַיְשַׁנֵּם; but for the girding of the loins no extraordinary strength was requisite. The prophet concluded, from a higher divine impulse, to accompany Ahab, and made himself ready. The object and motive was neither to bring the king unharmed to his residence (S. Schmidt), nor “to furnish him a proof of his humility” (Keil), or “to serve him in this fashion as a courier” (Berleb. Bib.); rather he went before him “as his warning conscience” (Sartorius), as “a living tablet, reminding him of all the great things which the God of Israel had done by his prophets” (Krummacher). There “was reason for supposing that he (Ahab) would cast off the yoke of his scandalous wife, and give himself thenceforth wholly to Jehovah. The prophet wished to stand by his side, counselling and helping him in his resolution, and to miss no opportunity when the king, left to himself, might become a victim to the corrupting influence of Jezebel” (Von Gerlach). The servant whom Elijah had with him on Carmel (1 Kings 18:43), and whom, on the flight from Jezreel into the wilderness, he left at Beersheba (1 Kings 19:3), must have been with him on the road from Carmel to Jezreel; so much the less can we suppose that a miracle carried the prophet thither.
Historical and Ethical
1. The day on Carmel was the central-point and climax in the public career of the prophet Elijah. If his peculiar calling and his place in the history of redemption were, essentially, to restore the broken covenant with Jehovah, and to lead Israel back again from idolatry to the recognition of Jehovah (see Hist. and Ethic. on chap. 17), it was necessary that there should be a decisive action in the matter; and for this no moment was more appropriate than after Ahab as well as the whole people had become bowed down and humiliated in consequence of the famine of several years, which the Baal-priests were not able to remedy. This decision took place on Carmel; and in the most solemn way, before king and people. It was a day of judgment, and of the most splendid triumph over the Baal-worship, which received a blow from which it never again recovered. On this account, too, this day has great meaning for the entire Old Testament history, and marks an epoch in the divine economy of redemption. A just comprehension of all the particulars narrated can be gained only from this stand-point, which must be kept steadily in sight.
2. The decision whether Baal or Jehovah be the true God was not brought about in the way of indoctrination, or by a warning and threatening discourse; it is connected rather with an actual declaration of Jehovah’s, prayed for from him. This mode of decision was not chosen accidentally or arbitrarily, but was founded in the nature of the Old Testament economy, and corresponded with the special relations there prevailing. The Old Testament religion recognizes Him only as the true, living God, who declares and reveals himself as such. The gods of the heathen, who serve the creature instead of the Creator (Rom. 1:25), are deified nature-forces and world-powers. Over against these, the God who can create as He wills, who has made heaven and earth and all that therein is, reveals and declares Himself thereby, in that He proclaims His absolute power over all created things, and his infinite exaltation above nature and the world. Such declarations (authentications) are, in Scripture language, “wonders.” Jehovah as the only true and living God is hence so often designated as the God “who alone doeth wonders” (Ps. 72:18; 77:15; 86:10; 98:1; 136:4); He is not bound up in the laws and forces of nature, but is absolutely independent of it, both as its Creator and also its sovereign. By the “wonder” it is that He stands above all the gods of the heathen, which, over against Him, are but deified nature-powers, absolutely without (personal) power, and can do no “wonders.” The conception of the self-declaring and of the revelation of God is connected, in the God-consciousness of the Israelites, with the conception of the wonder, and every extraordinary declaration is accompanied, more or less, by wonders; as the choice to be a peculiar people, the exodus from Egypt, the giving of the law on Sinai, which were prized as tangible witnesses of the true, living God, and were placed beside the creation. As now the decision was to be made upon Carmel, whether Jehovah or Baal (i. e. deified human nature-force) were the true living God, so here there was a self-declaration of Jehovah as of the God who is lifted up above the world and all that is in it, i. e., who doeth wonders. It was a nature-wonder which brought the people (especially Israel, inclined to nature-life, see above) to the confession: Jehovah, He is the God! and as here the matter involved was a devotion and prayer, this wonder was connected with sacrifice, the palpable expression and centre of all prayer. It is well worth our while to notice the difference between the Israelitish God-consciousness and that of the modern deistic or rationalistic. The latter knows nothing of “the wonder” and pronounces it absolutely impossible. To it, the just true God is He who doeth no wonders, i. e., who is bound up with the laws of nature and of the world, and, consequently, cannot declare and reveal himself in his absolute being above the world, and in His creative omnipotence. According to the Israelitish conception of God, such a God is not the living, but a dead, powerless god, because he is not lifted absolutely above the world. That God works wonders, and through them announces and reveals Himself, does not rest upon a false, low notion of the divine being, but, on the contrary, presupposes the loftiest conception of God.
3. The prophet Elijah appears, in the present portion of his history, both at the acme of his activity as the restorer of the broken covenant, and also in his whole personal grandeur as the peculiar and true hero amongst the prophets of the Old Testament. All that he said and did gives evidence of a courage and strength of faith which is scarcely paralleled in the entire history of the divine economy. To the call: Go show thyself to Ahab, he is obedient, without questioning and objections about the consequences, being assured that not a hair can fall from his head without the will of God. While Obadiah himself, who still retained the favor of the king, trembled before his wrath, and was afraid of his life, Elijah goes fearlessly to meet his angry, powerful foe, who had already sought for him everywhere in vain, and who had permitted the murder of so many prophets; and when Ahab meets him in a stern and threatening way, he is not terrified, he does not bow down, but declares boldly to his face: Thou art the cause of all the misery of Israel. Alone, and without any human protection, he went to Carmel to meet all Israel and the 450 Baal-priests, his bitterest enemies. He does not flatter the people, but puts to their conscience the cutting question, How long halt ye upon both sides? and with the army of priests he undertakes to do battle alone. He ridicules their idols and their whole conduct. The only weapon he employs in the contest is prayer; before the vast assemblage he calls upon his Lord and God, as humbly, so equally confidently. He is assured of an answer. After the decision from on high is obtained, and all the people returned to the God of their fathers, he hands over, resolutely, the propagators of the idolatry to judgment, and his heavy task is done. Then first he beseeches Jehovah, in the solitude, that He will be gracious again to the repentant people, and will relieve them from their distress. When the longed-for rain comes on, he advises the departure of the king, and in joyful hope of further fruits of this fought-for victory, refreshed and quickened, he runs before him to the residence in Jezreel, where Jezebel the murderess of the prophets was sojourning. Independent now as Elijah appears in everything, there are analogies with the history of him to whom, as the founder of the covenant, its restorer naturally points. Like Elijah, Moses also dwelt for a long time amongst strangers, and in retirement receives the call: Go hence, I will send thee to Pharaoh, &c. (Exed. 3:11); he concludes the covenant before and with the people collected at Mount Sinai; he builds an altar with twelve stones and offers there a sacrifice; the whole people, with one voice, answer him: All the words which Jehovah hath spoken will we do, &c. (Exod. 24:3 sq.); as by the erection of the golden calf the covenant was broken, he caused the Levites, who had polluted themselves by the worship of the calf, to be punished; but then he earnestly beseeches Jehovah to turn away the punishment from the people, and again to be gracious unto them (Exod. 32).
4. That Elijah ridiculed the calling upon Baal might seem unworthy of a prophet and man of God, from whom rather sympathy with error might be expected. But this ridicule did not proceed at all from a frivolous sentiment; it was rather the expression of the gravest religious resoluteness and of the profoundest earnestness. Over against the one God, to whom only true being appertains (יהיה), all other gods are not, to all of whom, in common, the conception of nothingness belongs, and who are to be designated with various expressions as not being, cf. אֱלִילִם, Lev. 19:4; 26:4; אָוֶן ,אַיִן, Is. 41:24, 29; חֶבֶל, Deut. 32:21; Jer. 2:5; 8:19, &c. The most resolute contempt and rejection of idolatry is thus expressed, which consists in this, viz., that man makes what is nothing, the not-existing, his highest and best—his God. If now it be the calling and task of the prophets and men of God to do battle with idolatry, and to represent it in its thorough perverseness and blameworthiness, it is quite proper to hold it up to contempt; this is done by ridicule, which, when reasons and proofs are unavailing, is the most effective instrument. The prophets have a divine right of ridicule of idolatry, which they often employ (cf. Isa. 40:17 sq.; 41:7; 44:8–22; 46:5–11; Jer. 10:7 sq.) in the sense in which it is said by the holy God Himself that he mocks and ridicules the ungodly (Ps. 2:4; 37:13; 59:9). As, in the time of Ahab, idolatry was so strong and powerful that it threatened to overwhelm the worship of the true God, so in the moment when a choice was to be made between Baal and Jehovah, the opportunity was at hand to make by ridicule the worship of idols contemptible. Krummacher remarks very appositely upon this: “What a free, undaunted courage does it presuppose, what inward repose and elevation, what an assured confidence of the genuineness and truth of his cause, and what a firm certainty that he will win,—that at his momentous appearance upon Mount Carmel Elijah can employ ridicule!”
5. The slaughter of the priests of Baal is in many ways adduced as a serious objection against the prophet, and is characterized as “fanatical hardness and cruelty” (Winer, R.-W.-B. I. s. 318). But it appears otherwise if instead of taking the stand-point of the New Testament or of modern humanitarianism, we occupy that of the Old Testament and of the prophet. The first and supremest command of the Israelitish covenant declares: I am Jehovah, thy God; thou shalt have none other gods before me: upon it rest the choice and the separation from all peoples, the independent existence of the nation; with it stands and falls its world-historical destiny. The actual rejection of this command carried with it per se exclusion from the peculiar and covenant people, and was hence punished with death (Exod. 22:19; Deut. 13:5–18; 17:2–5). But idolatry had never been so rampant in Israel as under Ahab. It was not merely tolerated, but had become the State-religion and threatened to overwhelm the adoration of the one true God, and so at the same time to destroy the covenant, and to take from Israel its character as the chosen, peculiar people. Elijah was called to restore the broken covenant, and to put an end to idolatry. Through the extraordinary, wonderful assistance of God, he had in fierce battle achieved this result—that the people turned again to Jehovah their God. To make this permanent, it was necessary that an effectual bar should be placed against any further activity of the foreign supporters and representatives of the idolatry. Now, if ever, the attestation of Jehovah ought not to be fruitless; satisfaction should be made to the law, and execution take place. The restoration of the covenant, without the slaughter of the Baal-priests, was but half accomplished. As every ἀποκατάστασις is in its nature more or less a κρίσις (Mal. 4:5 sq.), so also was the day upon Carmel a day of judgment. Elijah there stood, not as a private person, nor as a leader of a popular party, but as the second Moses, as an executor of the theocratic law. The objection about hardness and fanaticism falls not upon him, but upon the law, the consequences of which he executed; and he who blames him must object to the whole Mosaic institution as hard and fanatical. When even he who was gentle and lowly of heart says: “But those mine enemies which would not that I should reign over them, bring them hither, and slay them before me” (Luke 19:27), certainly still less can it be concluded from the slaughter of the Baal-priests that Elijah was a cruel, blood-thirsty man, especially when proofs to the contrary are at hand (1 Kings 17:9–24). According to these, we must rather think “how hard, how terribly hard this procedure must have been to a man like Elijah; how powerfully it must have gone .… against his whole natural feeling” (Menken). When Knobel (as above s. 77) maintains that Elijah returned to Israel “chiefly to revenge the murder of the prophets by the slaughter of the Baal-and-Astarte-priests,” this is a gross slander upon the prophet, whom not thoughts of murder and of revenge, but the calling of his God, whose behests he fulfilled in spite of the attending danger, carried to Carmel. It is quite beside the mark to explain Elijah’s conduct by the “retaliation-right” (Michaelis, Dereser, and others); for that Jezebel had murdered the prophets at the instigation of the Baal-priests is an unproved assumption. For the rest, Keil very properly observes: “From this act of Elijah’s to desire to deduce the right of the bloody persecution of heretics would be not only an entire misunderstanding of the difference between heathen idolaters and Christian heretics, but also a morally wrong confounding of the New Testament, evangelical stand-point with the Old Testament, legal (stand-point), which Christ, in Luke 9:55, blamed in his own disciples.” Very truly does the Berleburg. Bib. say, on this place, “The economy of the new covenant does not allow one to imitate Elijah.”
6. King Ahab, in the present section, appears indeed as saying and doing but little, yet even here the traits of his character, which become more prominent in the subsequent course of the history, can be plainly recognized. The period of the famine, which Elijah had announced to him as a retributive judgment, did not bring him to reflection, still less to repentance. He is very anxious about his cattle, but not about his people. He does not himself murder the prophets, but nevertheless he permits his wife. He looks about for Elijah, in the foolish fancy that he, and not God, is the cause of the famine, and with the preposterous intention of forcing him to make it rain. His highest official, Obadiah, to whom he intrusted his horses and mules, cannot trust him, and is compelled to fear that he may be unrighteously put to death by him. He carries himself with all severity and anger towards the prophet, who freely encounters him, as one who has the power of life and death; nevertheless he does not venture to seize him: he rather bows before him, as the latter encounters him reprovingly with his brave message, and he does at once what Elijah bids him. He was present upon Carmel with the great assemblage; but that which there made an affecting impression upon the whole people left him, as it seems, unmoved. He witnessed the slaughter of his Baal priests, and in no way hindered it. We hear nothing of him than that “he went up from the brook Kishon to eat and drink.” In respect of the news that rain was coming, what to him was most important, he started thereupon to get back to his summer residence, and to tell everything that had happened to his wife. When we sum up all these things, it is evident that he was a man utterly without character, at one time highflying and impetuous, at another feeble and without power of resistance, occupied only with what is on the surface, without moral pose, without receptivity for religious and higher things.
7. Obadiah’s meeting with Elijah, which forms the introduction to the day upon Carmel, affords us a glimpse into the condition of things which preceded this day. The thing which especially strikes us is not so much the great general misery in consequence of the long drought, as the fact rather, that in this time when the prophets were driven from the court, and their extermination was a settled matter, at the court itself there should have been a man of the highest official station who feared Jehovah so much that he ventured upon the risk of hiding not less than a hundred prophets, and of supplying them with food during the general distress. The Calw. Bibel says justly: “We are at a loss at which to wonder the most—the God-fearing man at the court, or at the king who tolerated him there;” and Menken observes very truly: “So we see in this history that even in the most corrupt times there are some who are free from the general corruption, who remain in their faith in God, in their fear of God, oftentimes even where one would least of all suspect and look for such.” It is characteristic of the biblical history that it brings out such cases into prominence, as in this instance, with unmistakable design. But it must no less strike one, that in that period of the deepest religious apostasy and of bloody persecution, the number of the prophets was so great that Obadiah alone secured the safety and cared for a hundred of them. A long time gone, under Jeroboam, the ordained supporters of the Jehovah-worship, the priests and levites, had departed from all Israel into Judah (2 Chron. 11:13); and now that, under Ahab, a formal idolatry had spread, the number of the prophets so increased that Jezebel was not able to destroy them all; they were a silent, hidden power, which defied all the outward power of the idol-serving fanaticism. Who does not recognize therein the wonderful ways of the fidelity of God in the guiding of His people?
8. The recent criticism explains the statement now in hand, chiefly on account of the miracle narrated in it, as fabulous or poetical. “As a matter of fact,” says Thenius (on 1 Kings 18:46), “it can be seen that, in answer to Elijah’s prayer, rain followed after a long drought, and that the people, convinced afresh on this occasion of the power of Jehovah, prepared a great blood-bath from amongst the idolatrous priests.” According to Bunsen (Bibelwerk V. 2. s. 539), it appertained to Elijah “to go through the land as the prophet of the Eternal, and as the awakening leader of the people.… In the presence of the Baal-party he inspires and rouses the people, who, before the living spirit which is in man, recognize the nothingness and the moral baseness of the masquerade and legerdemain, and of the incomprehensible solemnities of the Baal-worship, and at the word of Elijah the 450 Baal-priests were slaughtered at the brook Kishon.” Ewald (as above s. 539) finds in the delineation of the contest “of the great champion of Jehovah and of the Baal-prophets, as it were the antithesis of the beginning of the one and of the other religion, represented not without earnest raillery. They who in their mind and work do not sacrifice to the true God, build the altar, and prepare the sacrifice, and call loudly upon their god and worry themselves, the more vain their trouble, so much the more vehement and senseless it becomes, as if somehow by dint of importunity the thing desired might come from heaven: but nevertheless with all their trouble and with all their excitement they cannot bring down from Heaven the fire which they seek, and which alone would repay them for their trouble. Elijah otherwise.” The whole is also a prophetico-poetic garment of a general religious truth. Eisenlohr, as usual, agrees with this (as above, s. 177). He explains the consuming of the sacrifice by fire from heaven as “a beautiful image for the burning eternal power which is imparted from above to every truth, over against the death which everything fabricated, false, lying, bears within itself;” that “no voice, nor answer, nor heed was there,” is “the inimitable delineation of the emptiness and vanity of heathenism, which is overladen with every species of superstition, and is vanquished by self-torture.” In respect of these various views we refer generally to our preliminary remarks upon chap. 17; in details, however, the following comes into the account. The whole account, excepting 1 Kings 18:38, contains nothing which can with any reason be objected to as unhistorical. This portion of the history of Elijah especially bears completely the impress of the usual simple Hebrew way of historical composition, and it would not occur to any one to regard it as legendary did it not contain 1 Kings 18:38. The miracle here narrated is not such as could be wanting without detriment to the whole, and to the further historical development about the famine, as may be maintained in respect of this or of the other miracle; it is not subordinate, is not a side-matter, but the chief criticism acknowledges that at the day on Carmel “there was a noticeable sudden decision,” and that “a mighty upturning of things took place” (Eisenlohr); that “here a victory was won which, at that day, could not have been greater and more beneficial” (Ewald). But this victory was the immediate effect of that miracle, and as generally the day upon Carmel forms the central point and climax of Elijah’s activity, so again this day culminates in “the fire of Jehovah,” which consumed the sacrifice. All that is said before and after refers to this fact; he who lowers it takes the heart out of the body of the whole narration, and then nothing is left but either to interpret it as a fraud, or to look upon the whole as fiction. The view that Elijah “alone and by nothing but the power of his spirit and word achieved the prodigious wonder of a complete alteration of the then posture of the ten tribes” (Ewald) is most emphatically contradicted by the day upon Carmel. He was the prophet of action and not of speech. Even here, at the climax of his career, we hear only a few isolated expressions from him, but no prophetic discourse with which he sought to indoctrinate or to convince the people. To his impressive question: How long halt ye, &c., the people kept silence; they accepted his proposition to obtain an attestation of Jehovah, but only after it took place did they fall down and cry, overpowered: Jehovah, He is God! Where in the whole history of Elijah is there even a trace that he “inspired and roused” (Bunsen) the people by public discourse; and how does it happen that this people of the ten tribes, who were inclined to nature-worship, and since the days of Jeroboam were addicted to the worship of images and even of idols, and were dull about spiritual impressions, should have at once “recognized the nothingness and perverseness of the Baal-worship in presence of the living spirit which is in men (sic)”? An extraordinary act alone could have produced within this people such a sudden, complete revolution that they actually put to death the priests of Baal, who were of the highest consideration and under the royal protection. To regard this latter as an effect of the rain which had come (Thenius) is an arbitrary perversion of the historical order. Not the rain, but the return of Israel to their God was the mark of the day upon Carmel: the punishment of the drought ought and could cease only when this end was reached. The rain followed not before the “blood-bath,” but after it; before it rained, something extraordinary must have happened to rouse wrath in such a degree against the Baal-priests. But supposing that the rain produced the abrupt overturn, this itself, “had it followed Elijah’s prayer,” would have been essentially a miracle; we must then grant that Elijah appears, “when he announces now a drought and then rain, and both happen conformably with his prediction, as a nature-expert” (Knobel I. s. 56): but in this event his prayer for rain would have been an intentional deception of the people and jugglery. The interpretation, finally, according to which the transaction upon Carmel is a poetic image of the consuming power of divine truth (Eisenlohr) is a desperate reversion to the old allegorical method of interpretation, with which one can make what one pleases out of history.
Homiletical and Practical
1 Kings 18:1–16. KRUMMACHER: Elijah and Obadiah What brought Elijah from Zarephath; what happened at this time at the court at Samaria; how Elijah and Obadiah met.—BENDER: The return of Elijah to his native country: (1) the effect of divine chastisement upon Israel; (2) the expedition of Ahab; (3) the meeting of the prophet with Obadiah.
1 Kings 18:1. KRUMMACHER: Let no one imagine that God will lead us into any darkness whatsoever, without also arranging how we may be supported through it. He never calls upon us to walk through darkness, unless He Himself is our staff and stay, and thick and heavy as may be the night with which we are veiled, He leaves us here and there always a gleam of light, which tells us there will be a dawn to the darkness. Hence the promise: I will send rain.
1 Kings 18:2. STARKE: God’s commandments must be obeyed, and neither death nor danger avoided. Where there is living faith, there is also obedience and courage (Ps. 91:1–4). The great famine in Samaria, both bodily and spiritual. Daily bread was scarce, for the land was dried up and unfruitful, but the bread of life, the word of God, was likewise scarce, for the nation itself was dried up, and those who would have sown the seed of the Word were persecuted, and compelled to silence and concealment. Woe to that country and people upon whom famine, bodily and spiritual, both fall, and who yet are driven by neither to repentance and conversion.
1 Kings 18:3. The God-fearing Obadiah. (1) The time in which he lived. (A time of apostasy, of godlessness, and a licentious idol worship. In times when unbelief has grown universal and is the prevailing fashion, and represents enlightenment and civilization, not to swim with the stream, but greatly to fear the Lord, is as noble and great as it is rare; we may then say with truth: “Although all shall be offended, yet will not I,” &c.) (2) The place. (At the court of an Ahab and a Jezebel; not in a remote, lonely place, but in the midst of the world, where he saw and heard nothing good, surrounded by godless men, and exposed to every temptation to godlessness, frivolity, rioting, and licentiousness. To be pious with the pious, to maintain one’s faith in the midst of the faithful, is not difficult; but in the midst of the world, to preserve one’s self unspotted from it, to keep a pure heart, and have God before our eyes and in our hearts, wherever the Lord places us, this is indeed greatly to fear the Lord.) (3) The position which he took. (He filled one of the highest offices, was one of the most distinguished men of the kingdom, to whom nothing was wanting which pertains to an indolent, careless life. The noble and powerful often fancy that the fear of the Lord is fitted only for common people, for the poor, the lowly, and the oppressed. But God is no respecter of persons; the first in this world are often last in the kingdom of heaven. He is indeed exalted who, whilst he stands upon the highest pinnacle of earthly fame, can still say with St. Paul: I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for, &c.) Ahab calls Obadiah, because he reposes singular confidence in him.—MENKEN: The world may hate and persecute, nay, even scorn a God-fearing man for his fear of God, but must feel and acknowledge at heart, if not with the mouth, that this very man is truer, more reliable, and better in every way than the whole throng of idle, wanton, though perhaps witty and polished people, whose law is their own pleasure, and whose God is their belly or their pride. More than one godless king can be found, who desires God-fearing men for his ministers and counsellors; and many a prince, although himself no Christian, holds in his service a Christian, and esteems him more highly than the others who are not Christian; and many more than one unbelieving and godless king, who respects piety and the fear of God in the person of one of his generals.—KRUMMACHER: It is not an unusual occurrence that in times when there is no use for triflers, suddenly the hated sect are brought to power, and the fierce opponents of the Gospel are rejoiced to have in their midst a few Galileans whom they can take into their secret counsels. The Lord often has His true disciples and worshippers where they are least expected, in courts and high offices, and they, their innermost hearts untouched, serve him with soft and quiet spirits, without any display of piety or without excitement.—STARKE: When good and conscientious men occupy exalted worldly or ghostly positions, so long as conscience does not require them to lay down their offices they must retain them, for although they may not be able to do much good, they still may have many opportunities to prevent evil.
1 Kings 18:4. STARKE: Good and righteous servants of God can have no bitterer or fiercer enemies than ungodly, licentious women (Matt. 14:8; Mark 6:24). KRUMMACHER: In our Ahab and Jezebel days there is no lack of those who are persecuted on account of their creed, and exposed to misery. Many a preacher must leave his pulpit, many a professor his chair, nay, many an handicraft’s man his bench and workshop, because he is a Christian. But it was Obadiah’s to make an offensive and defensive alliance! The proof of a godly fear: (a) Especially by works (Jas. 2:14–17); religious words and feelings without deeds are leaves without fruit; by their fruits ye shall know them (Matt. 7:16–21). (b) Especially by works of self-denying love, which are done in secret (Gal. 5:6); by such works the Lord recognizes His own (John 13:34; 1 John 4:8).—MENKEN: Obadiah could not do this without great risk, and the exposure of his own person to great danger.… neither, in that extreme famine, could he maintain those hundred prophets without great expenditure of his own substance..… Obadiah not only preserved the lives of a hundred innocent men,—he saved a hundred worshippers of Jehovah, and, yet more, a hundred men who, immediately the persecution was over, and the Baal-worship in Israel destroyed, became useful to the ignorant and bewildered people as their instructors in doctrine. Thus although Obadiah, as the lieutenant of the royal watch, could not do much for the kingdom of God by direct testimony and instruction, yet indirectly he did a great deal, by preserving these witnesses for the truth, at the peril of his own life and at the expense of his own fortune. Thus many people, by the maintenance of the witnesses for evangelical truth, by the spread and promotion of the Christian Scriptures, etc., do much for the kingdom of God and the truth, which otherwise they could not do, and lay up a reward in heaven, if they do not shun disgrace, nor prefer earthly and perishable gains to the celestial and imperishable.
1 Kings 18:5–6. STARKE: Godless masters often care more for their horses and hounds than for their subjects.—KRUMMACHER: Pitiful man! Anxious care for the life of his horses, and the maintenance of his stables; this is all that the three and a half years of chastisement of the Almighty had called forth in his soul.… How often does one think of a person—“Now he will be quite a different person”.… and then, behold! where one hopes to find at length thoughts of God and eternity, there are only thoughts of horses and mules; and in place of holy emotions, instead of aspirations, prayers, and reflections upon the great and eternal interests of life—you find a thick swarm of pitiful cares and considerations which hover about the soul, and hover with it into an awful eternity. Ahab and Obadiah both journey on together through the land, but each goes his own way alone; a picture of their life-journey: Ahab walks in the broad, Obadiah in the narrow path; the latter alone leads to the green pastures and still waters which refresh the soul (Ps. 23:2–3).
1 Kings 18:7–15. Obadiah’s meeting Elijah, a divine leading for the strengthening of the one and the proving of the other. That Elijah, journeying on his weary way, should meet the very man who was the only true friend of the prophet at the court, was no more accidental than that Obadiah, going forth in search of provender for the cattle, should find the man who was to test severely his faith and his fear of God.
1 Kings 18:7. STARKE. Obadiah, himself a distinguished man, addressed the prophet as “My Lord,” not out of mere courtliness and courtier-like flattery, but in evidence of his reverence for the man of God, and to show that he did not regard scornfully a servant of God, as was the custom with all the courtiers of that day.—He who greatly fears the Lord will likewise honor and reverence those whose vocation it is to make known the Lord’s name, and preach his word (Luke 10:16; John 13:20).
1 Kings 18:8, 9. The courage of Elijah, and the fear of man shown by Obadiah. Even those who fear the Lord, and walk by faith, are sometimes in the hour of peril overcome by an agony of fear, which bows them down as reeds before a whirlwind. Peter, who first threatened with the sword, became suddenly terror-stricken before a damsel. It is good for us to recognize our human weakness, for this knowledge preserves us from over-security, and leads us to pray: Lord, strengthen our faith.—CALW. BIBEL: Exclaim not against Obadiah, for in a hundred ways thou thyself showest no more faith. Eager and busy as the world is to pursue and get rid of the true servants of God, who oppose their sins and unbelief, they move neither hand nor foot to seek and find them when in want.
1 Kings 18:12. If we permit ourselves to be overcome by the fear and dread of man, our senses become so bewildered, and our imagination so excited, that we lose, in our self-made fancies, a clear view of our own position.
1 Kings 18:13. MENKEN: This is not the speech of an idle self-glorification, anxious to display the good which has been done, to the first person approaching—it is the speech of truth and honest uprightness, the speech of a noble spirit greatly excited, which would not thus speak of itself except in a moment of great excitement. An appeal to any special pious or good actions done by a man, when made not in pharisaical self-justification nor self-commendation, but conscientiously, and in self-defence, with all humility, is unobjectionable. As St. Paul says (1 Cor. 15:10; 2 Cor. 11:21 sq.), From my youth up.—MENKEN: So much the more easily then when a man, could he greatly fear the Lord, and preserve his fear of God under great temptations. What is done and practised in youth will remain the rule of old age; so it is with the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom. Therefore Prov. 6:20–23; cf. 2 Tim. 3:15.
1 Kings 18:15–16. A strong resolute word of faith exercises power over the heart: it strengthens the weak, supports the tottering, encourages the fearful, and tranquillizes the anxious-minded.—STARKE: A teacher must not shrink from his office through fear or cowardice, let tyrants look grim as they may (1 Pet. 3:14).
1 Kings 18:17–20. KRUMMACHER: Salvation out of the very lion’s jaws, (a) The wonderful protection experienced by Elijah: (b) the unjust accusation made against him; (c) the bold reply which he made; (d) the quiet power which he exercised.—BENDER: Elijah’s second encounter with Ahab; (a) the king’s reproach to the prophet; (b) the prophet’s reply to the king.—WIRTH: The meeting with Ahab. (a) The grievance and the counter-grievance; (b) the commanding prophet and the submissive king.
1 Kings 18:17. Ahab sees Elijah, but he, the fierce, powerful king, sword in hand, and a great retinue, dares not to lay hand upon the solitary, unarmed man standing before him, for: The heart of the king in the hand of the Lord is as a water-brook, he directs it whither he will (Prov. 21:1).—KRUMMACHER: The Lord our God knows how to shut the lions’ mouths, and the same God who surrounded Elijah with a fiery wall, who saved Moses from the clutches of Pharaoh, and Daniel out of the lions’ den, still lives, and will unto this day be a wall of defence to his children and disciples.—If those, &c.—MENKEN: Men are disposed to seek the cause of their misery everywhere in the wide world rather than in themselves, where only it exists; but it is the peculiar error of the world to lay the charge of all the misfortune and turmoil of the world upon the most innocent and best of men..… Thou art he that troubleth Israel, says Ahab to Elijah. We find this man a stirrer up of the people, was the lying accusation of the enemies of Jesus; and under the name, “enemies of the human race,” were the first Christians hunted, persecuted, and slain.—STARKE: When the godless work mischief, the good and pious must often bear the blame (Amos 7:10; Acts 16:20).—J. LANGE: Here one sees the evil fashion of the children of this world, and of great men seduced by false prophets in their judgments of the righteous servants of God. For, though the latter move on quietly, orderly, and circumspectly, yet ever making appeal to the conscience by their testimony to the truth, whilst the former are ever disquieted, though they will yield no place to the truth, but rage against it and prejudice the higher powers against it,—still the latter are the disturbers of Israel, even as the lamb troubled the water for the wolf.—CALW. BIB.: In our days true believers are thus unjustly accused as Rationalists, Philosophers, and Freethinkers. They are called Jesuits, corrupters of the people, obscurantists, and blockheads, &c.
1 Kings 18:18. J. LANGE: This is the true way for a righteous servant of God—let him, according to the necessities of the case and the given circumstances, testify boldly to the pure truth, without fear of man, but preserving all due reverence for authority. Such a testimony, given with due boldness, produces a much greater impression than if the truth is spoken with half covert and mumbled utterance.—KRUMMACHER: This Elijah-speech is seldom now heard in the world. The earth is filled with flatterers and sinners, who not only gather round the palaces of the great, but crowd into smaller societies, and even creep into the pulpits of God’s church..… Much greater things should we behold if this noble and wholesome—“Thou, thou art the man of death!” were not entirely dead and silent. Elijah is thus a pattern for all repentance-preachers, in that he admonishes every one, bewailing misfortune and ruin, of his especial ruin (Jer. 3:39), and does not generalize over common sinfulness: even so did Nathan with David, John with Herod, and Paul with Felix.—MENKEN: Elijah is silent concerning all the other sins of Ahab and his family—concerning their luxury, their pride, their injustice, and the whoredom and witchcraft of Jezebel—(2 Kings 9:22). He pointed out to the king the chief cause, the real source from which had sprung all the other evils to himself and his family, and wherein lay the misdoing which had brought such a plague upon Israel. The misdoing was this—that they had forsaken the word of God, the commandments, the testimony, and the claims of the Lord, and had followed after Baal..… No truth is more general or surer amongst men than this—that contempt of God and his word brings with it inevitable ruin and decay—and the history of the human race sets forth and teaches no truth more clearly or more fearfully.
1 Kings 18:19, 20. KRUMMACHER: How the scene changes: The slave has become king, the king a slave; the subject commands, the monarch obeys. Here is the concealed sceptre in the hands of the children of the spiritual kingdom, and the skill and marvellous power which they exercise upon earth.—Here it says: A single little word can confound him. We can do nothing against the truth, &c. (2 Cor. 13:8). If it strike the conscience of a man, he cannot resist its pricks.—Whilst the prophets are compelled to hide in holes, and live on bread and water, the priests of Baal sit at the king’s table and live in pomp and pleasure. So likewise has it come to pass in Christendom. But much better is it to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season (Heb. 11:25).
1 Kings 18:21–45. Elijah upon Mount Carmel. (a) How he rebuked the divided belief of his nation, and exhorted them to a decision; (b) how he brought to shame the idol-worship, and exalted the name of the Lord; (c) how he executed a heavy judgment upon the lying prophets, and besought from God merciful showers upon the earth.
1 Kings 18:21–39. The decision upon Carmel. (a) The division among the people (1 Kings 18:21–24); (b) the strife of the four hundred and fifty priests of Baal (1 Kings 18:25–29); (c) the victory of the one man (1 Kings 18:30–39).
1 Kings 18:21–24. KRUMMACHER: Elijah and the people upon Carmel. (a) How rebuked; (b) how he scorned; (c) how he believed. WIRTH: The assembling of the people upon Carmel. (a) One against four hundred and fifty; (b) the questioning of the people; (c) the reasonable proposal.
1 Kings 18:21. The halting between two opinions, (a) What this means (Matt vi. 24); (b) what are its results (Jas. 4:4; Rev. 3:16); cf. the hymn book of LEHR.: “Was hinket ihr, betrogene Seelen,” &c.—MENKEN: How hateful in the sight of the Lord is this “halting,” this neutral state amongst Christians, where one does not yield himself up to God and his cause with his whole soul, does not renounce unholy sin, the world, the spirit, and service of his age. How completely God demands an undivided heart we plainly see where he says to the lukewarm, “Because thou art indifferent, leanest to both sides, and dost not espouse one side, since I will not overlook everything, therefore I will spue thee out of my mouth.”—KRUMMACHER: Indifference is the order of the day, now in this, now in that form. Whole-heartedness and determination in the divine life a rare pearl. Woe to thee, thou wavering generation, who thinkest to share thy love and service between God and the world, and dost lean now to this, now to that side. The Lord says: He who is not with me is against me (Luke 11:23). In our day, the man who holds entirely with Him is esteemed partial; it is thought to be might and wisdom for a man to hover between two parties, and leave it undecided whether He be mere man, like ourselves, or the only begotten Son of God. So that, finally, halting between two opinions is more esteemed than this Christianity. “But uncertainty and lukewarmness are the most pitiable of all weaknesses. Lord, teach us to tread in safer paths! Grant us now a new, firm spirit” (WIRTH). For it is a precious thing to have the heart fixed (Heb. 13:9). There is no reconciliation between belief and unbelief; to strive to unite both is a vain effort (2 Cor. 6:14, 15). The people answers him not.—CALW. BIB.: Thus on many a Sunday does many a congregation remain dumb before their preachers. The people were silent and confounded, since they could not answer, especially to Joshua (Jos. 24:15); but to-day, if one cries out to the multitude: How long, &c., they say, What will the priest? We are good Christians.
1 Kings 18:22. MENKEN: In cases where faith and reverence for God are concerned, no human authority or majority of voices avails; one opposed to a thousand may be right, and each individual has the right to acknowledge and maintain his belief in the truth against thousands. He is lost whose convictions depend upon the authority of man or of numbers. He who intrenches himself firmly in his faith in God and his holy word, must also resolve to stand alone and be forsaken by the world, for faith is not a thing for everybody.
1 Kings 18:23, 24. He alone is the true and living God who shows himself in divine acts. A religion which means nothing of the saving, beneficent works of God cannot proceed from the living God. Christianity is therefore the true religion, because it publishes the great work of God in Christ (Ps. 111:6). Not words and doctrine only, but divine works are the foundation of our salvation.
1 Kings 18:25–40. KRUMMACHER: The fire upon Carmel. We see the god of the blind, mad world, and the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob.
1 Kings 18:25–30. WIRTH: The assembling of the people upon Carmel. (a) The vain crying aloud to Baal; (b) the rebuilding of the fallen altar of the Lord.
1 Kings 18:25–39. The twofold sacrifice upon Carmel. (a) The sacrifice of the priests of Baal; (b) the sacrifice of the prophet.
1 Kings 18:25–29. The service of Baal. (a) The resistance; (b) the manner and way of the worship. The generation of to-day thinks itself elevated far above the Baal worship, which in its nature was deification of nature and the world, and yet, how often does it happen that it serves the creature rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25). Men no longer make gods out of wood and stone, but construct them out of their own thoughts, and worship their own ideas. The world wishes to hear nothing of the God who is holy, and ready to sanctify the sinful heart of man; who is just, and metes to each man the measure which he deserves; who does not suffer himself to be scorned, but rebukes and chastises of such a God as He has revealed himself in His word the world makes nothing, and will only hear of a God who never rebukes or punishes, who is no avenging judge, who works no miracles, can hear no prayers. Elijah, could he return to earth, would scorn such a divinity no less than he did the idol Baal.
1 Kings 18:25. For you, the many. Thus, even as Elijah allowed them the numbers which gave them due rank in man’s eyes, so it becomes most evident to us that numbers have no influence in God’s sight (Luke 12:32).
1 Kings 18:27. Righteous and unrighteous scorn (vide Histor. 4).
1 Kings 18:28, RICHTER: At the present day, Indians and other heathens fancy they can win the favor of their deities by fire-tortures and self-torments. Satan demands far greater and heavier sacrifices than God. It is an heathenish error to believe that we can appeal to God, or become reconciled to or merit aught from Him by any outward corporeal act, and yet this error prevails in manifold forms in Christendom. Some think to make themselves pleasing to God and to obtain His mercy by the repetition of many prayers; others, through fasts and painful pilgrimages; yet others by self-inflicted tortures and penances. The sacrifice pleasing unto God is (Ps. 51:19) within, and the gift of the heart. All outer works are dead and useless. Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh, with the lusts and affections thereof (Gal. 5:24; Is. 5:3–5).
1 Kings 18:26, 29. Well for us if we recognize that God who sleeps not nor is silent when we call upon Him de profundis, who hears the voice of our weeping, and listens when we open our hearts unto Him. Greatly can we rejoice in Him, that if we pray according to His will He will hear us (1 John. 5:14; cf. Ps 121:4, 130:1).
1 Kings 18:30–40. Elijah at the height of his mission, (a) He rebuilds the broken altar. (b) He calls on the Lord, who hears him. (c) He executes judgment upon the idolatrous priests.
1 Kings 18:30. WIRTH: The altar of the Lord is ruined in many places, in many houses, in many hearts, ye servants of the Lord, ye directors of congregations, ye teachers of youth, ye fathers and mothers.
1 Kings 18:31 sq. Even as the altar which Elijah built out of the twelve stones reminded the nation of its old covenant, that its twelve tribes together should frame a building unto God, so every church edifice should remind us that we,—built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles, Jesus Christ being the corner-stone,—fitly framed together, should grow into an holy temple, an habitation of God, through the spirit (Eph. 2:20 sq.).
1 Kings 18:34. Every shadow of delusion or deception must be removed from anything done for the honor of God and the glorification of His name.
1 Kings 18:36–39. The prayer of Elijah. (a) Its purport. (He prays for the glorification of God and the conversion of the hearts of the people.) (b) Its granting. (The Lord declares Himself, and all the people acknowledge Him.)
1 Kings 18:36. The God of the old covenant is the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, because to them was the promise given. The God of the new covenant, upon whom we as Christians should call, is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, because in Him are all the fulfilled promises, the yea and amen (2 Cor. 1:20).
1 Kings 18:37. All knowledge and recognition of God is inseparable from the conversion of the heart to Him. That is the aim of every testimony and revelation of God, and for that every true servant of God should daily pray in behalf of those intrusted to his care.—Elijah, unlike the priests of Baal, who called upon their god the whole day, used few words, yet was he heard, because in those few words he expressed infinite meaning, and his prayer came from the depths of a believing, unquestioning soul.
1 Kings 18:38, 39. The fire of the Lord upon Mount Carmel. (a) Its significance. (b) Its efficacy. What is the miracle of that fire which devoured the burnt-offering and compelled the whole people to cry out: “The Lord He is God,” in comparison with the miracle that God has sent His son into the world to kindle the greatest fire which has ever burnt in the world; compared with the miracle that the Word has become flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, even the glory of the only-begotten Son, full of grace and truth? In Bethlehem and upon Golgotha the glory of the Lord is infinitely higher in its manifestation than upon Carmel, wherefore should all tongues confess that Jesus Christ the Lord is the glory of God the Father.
1 Kings 18:39. The joyful recognition: The Lord He is God! (a) What is herewith recognized, and what promised (cf. the hymn: “Sei Lob und Ehr,” &c., 1 Kings 18:8 and 9).
1 Kings 18:40. See Hist, and Critical. 5. The sentence upon the idol-priests was a terrible but necessary one, which should serve us, not as an example, but as a warning; for although, under the new covenant, superstition and unbelief, idol-worship and apostasy are not chastised with fire and sword (Luke 9:54–56), yet there is not wanting a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries (Heb. 10:27–31). Those who tread under foot the blood of the Lamb will shrink from the wrath of the Lamb (Rev. 6:16).
1 Kings 18:41–46. KRUMMACHER: The prayer upon Carmel. (a) The preparation for it; (b) the prayer itself; (c) the granting of it.—WIRTH: The end of the divine chastisement upon Israel. (a) How the prophet announces this end; (b) how he supplicates; (c) how the Lord sends merciful rain.—The prayer of the righteous availeth much when it is earnest (James 5:16). Elijah a just man, his prayer an earnest one, and therefore effectual (Ps. 145:18, 19). The king and the prophet on the evening of the day upon Carmel. (a) Ahab goes up to eat and to drink, Elijah goes up to pray in solitude; (b) Ahab rode on to Jezreel, Elijah suffers him not to go alone, but runs thither before him.
1 Kings 18:41, 42. KRUMMACHER: Wretched man! He was no more touched by the great, heart-searching events of the day, than if he had witnessed an interesting but very long play, after which refreshment is most welcome and food tastes well. Yet where are not such Ahab-souls to be found? Ah! woe to you who permit the strongest evidences, the most powerful appeals to conscience, and the most touching works of God to glide before you like a magic-lantern before your eyes: you enjoy it a little, perhaps, but you bring home from the churches and meetings nothing except some complaints over the long divine service, or some matter for lively conversation or self-satisfied criticism, and a good appetite for the meal which now follows, and a gay looking-forward to the pleasures and enjoyment which the evening of the Sabbath-day will bring you.—Who has greater cause than Ahab to seek solitude, fall down upon his knees and say, God be merciful to me and blot out my sins after Thy great mercy (Ps. 51:3), make us glad according to the days wherein Thou hast, &c. (Ps. 90:15)? But of all this not a word. The rain alone was of importance to him, not the Lord and His mercy. How many like-minded ones in our day!
1 Kings 18:42. MENKEN: From the earnestness, the ardor, the abasement of Elijah, we may take pattern from his attitudes in this prayer.… The outward posture, indeed, is of the least consequence; bowing of the knee and outward mien, as well as even the words of the mouth, avail little, be they great or small, stately or humble; but the man who prays without reverence to God, and is ashamed to let it be seen in his life, is no better than the heathen who knows not God.… In comparison with this the prayers of most men are cold, dead—without reverence and devotion, without earnestness and longing. Many a one thinks that when his eyes are heavy with sleep, when he has neither strength nor mind for any one earthly pursuit or affair, when everything besides is done, then he is in a fitting mood for prayer; that when he lies drowsily on his bed, in the morning or evening, that he is fit to commune with the Divine Majesty! That is entitled “prayer”! Is it a wonder that men should pray thus for an half century without having any experience in real prayer, and, in the end, knowing nothing of what prayer is and should be?
1 Kings 18:43. MENKEN: Oftentimes we look in vain and yet see nothing of the comfort of the Lord, nothing of His help and salvation; He leaves us awhile prostrated in dust and misery, does not at once, hearkening and comforting, raise us up, but appears as if the voice of our crying reached Him not. But if we do not lose our confidence in Him, if we redouble our prayers and entreaties, He will not “let us be ashamed” (Is. 49:23). He will comfort, help, and hearken to us at His own, the best time.—STARKE: A man must not weary of prayer, even though it appears to him useless. (Jer. 18:1; Col. 4:2; Eph. 6:1.)—KRUMMACHER: The dear God is not always at hand when we come before Him with our prayers, but generally allows us to stand awhile at the door, so that it frequently seems as if “there was nothing there.” Then do we begin to reflect, and become conscious that we properly have a right to ask nothing, but that, if anything be granted, it is in sheer mercy.
1 Kings 18:44, 45. STARKE: All the merciful works of God seem small and unimportant in the beginning, but thence they are seen to be nobler and greater in the end.—KRUMMACHER. Let the man rejoice who sees even so much as a little cloud of divine mercy and grace arising upon the horizon of his life! The time approaches when this cloud will cover his whole heaven.—CALW. BIB.: When the hour strikes, help comes in with mighty power, and, to put thy mistrust to shame, it must come unexpectedly.—The mighty rain after the prolonged drought seems to call out to Ahab and to all the people: Behold the mercy and the severity of God: severity to those who have perished, and mercy to you so long as you deserve mercy, otherwise thou also wilt be hewn down (Rom. 11:22).
1 Kings 18:46. Elijah a true shepherd. He goes after the lost sheep, and leaves them not when he sees the wolf coming; but the Lord, who is neither weary nor faint, giveth power and strength to the faint and to them that have no might, so that no way is too far, no toil too heavy.—CRAMER: The righteous are often rejoiced by means of the Holy Spirit, and hope for the conversion of many, but are afterwards obliged to confess, with great heaviness of heart, that the prince of this world is powerful with many men, holds them in captivity, and finally plunges them into ruin.
1 Kings 18:1.—[A few MSS. supply the preposition, and read מימים.
1 Kings 18:4.—[Nine MSS. repeat the word חֲמִשִּׁים, according to the usual formula, as in 1 Kings 18:13.
1 Kings 18:5.—The k’ri מֵהַבְּהֵמָה is plainly to be preferred to the k’tib מֵן בְּהֵמָה. [It is also the reading of many MSS. and editions.
1 Kings 18:7.—[The Sept. emphasize very strongly the privacy of this interview: “And Obadiah was in the way alone, and Elijah came alone to meet him.”
1 Kings 18:21.—[For the meaning of the words עַל־שְׁתֵּי הַסְּעִפִּים see the Exeg. Com. The rendering of the Sept., “how long halt ye on both knees,” is certainly expressive.
1 Kings 18:22.—[The Sept. adds “and the prophets of the grove four hundred” (the Alex. Sept. omits the number) from 1 Kings 18:19.
1 Kings 18:24.—[קָרָא בְשֵׁם אֱלֹהִים “denotes the solemn invocation of the Deity,” Keil. Cf. Gen. 4:26; 12:8; 1 Cor. 1:2, &c.
1 Kings 18:24.—[The Sept. lessen much the force of this contrast, by adding “my God.”
1 Kings 18:27.—[שִׂיהַ bears either the sense of conversation (as in the Vulg.), see 2 Kings 9:11; or of meditation. The latter seems rightly preferred by our author. On the meaning of this and the following words see the Exeg. Com.
1 Kings 18:29.—[Here the לְ in לַעֲלוֹת is not to be overlooked: עַד לַעֲלוֹת means not “till the offering,” but “till towards the offering,” i.e., till towards the time of the offering, for 1 Kings 18:36, Elijah had completed all preparations for his offering at the time of the evening sacrifice, Keil.
1 Kings 18:29.—[The Sept. curiously modifies 1 Kings 18:29. Instead of mid-day they have τὸ δειλινόν; the Vat. Sept. omits “that there was neither voice,” &c., to the end of the ver.; and both recensions make the addition given in the Exeg. Com.
1 Kings 18:31.—[Eight MSS., followed by the Sept., substitute the name Israel.
1 Kings 18:36.—[The Vat. Sept. omits the mention of the time, and the Alex. substitutes the name Jacob for Israel.
1 Kings 18:41.—[The Sept. quite poetically translates, “there is a sound of the feet of rain.” The word here used גֶֹּשֶם is that denoting heavy rain.
1 Kings 18:44.—[The word chariot, supplied in the A. V., is implied in the אֱסֹר in this connection, and is given in several of the VV.
1 Kings 18:45.—[On the meaning of the phrase עַד־כֹּה וְעַד־כֹּה see the Exeg. Com. It is generally rendered in the VV. literally as in the Vulg. huc atque illuc.—F. G.]
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.