I Kings 18

 

 

                        Elijah’s Return and the Ordeal at Carmel (vs. 1-46)

 

The preceding chapter having been exclusively occupied with the fortunes of Elijah

during his enforced absence of three and a half years from the land of Israel, we are

left to conjecture what the course of events in the northern kingdom during this

period of drought and suffering must have been. But it is not difficult to picture in our

minds the steadily increasing alarm and distress which the solemn ban he had

pronounced must have occasioned. At one time, it may be, especially if the prophet

up to that period had been unknown, both king and people, under the malign

influence of Jezebel, professed to regard his threatening with contempt, the more so

as the priests of Baal would not fail to assure them of the protection and blessing of

the Lord” of nature. But as the months and years passed by, and neither dew nor

rain fell — as the heavens were brass and the earth iron — and the pastures

languished, and the fruits of the earth failed, and the cisterns became dry, and man

and child and beast began to suffer the extremities of thirst, we cannot doubt that the

tone and temper of the country underwent a great change. At first, threats had been

freely uttered against Elijah, who was perversely regarded as the author of all this

misery, and that and the neighboring countries were scoured to find him. Moreover

reprisals were made on the system which he represented, by a fierce persecution of

the prophetic order, of which he was recognized as the head. But it is probable that

when the drought lasted into the third and fourth year, and when absolute ruin and

death stared the country in the face, that then defiance had given place to dread and

regret in every bosom, save, perhaps, that of the queen and the sycophants who

ate of her table. The conviction was steadily gaining possession of the minds of all

Israel that Baal and Ashtoreth were vanities, and that the Lord alone made the

heavens and covered them with clouds. The great drought, and the manifold

sufferings which it entailed — sufferings which the animated description of the prophet

Joel (ch. 1.) enables us to realize — were doing their work. The heart of the people

was being slowly turned backward, and in the third year of his sojourn at Zarephath

the time was ripe for Elijah’e return, which our author now describes, together with the

striking results which followed it. In the first fifteen verses, we have the meeting of

Elijah and Obadiah; in vs. 16-20, the meeting of Elijah and Ahab; vs. 21-38 describe

the ordeal of Mount Carmel; vers. 39, 40, its immediate results; while the remainder

of the chapter depicts Elijah’s prayer for rain, the bursting of the storm, and the return

to Jezreel.

 

1  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.  2  And Elijah went to shew himself unto Ahab. And there

was a sore famine in Samaria.  3  And Ahab called Obadiah, which was the

governor of his house.  (Now Obadiah feared the LORD greatly:  4 “For it

was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the LORD,” - a proof of

Obadiah’s devotion was this hiding of the prophets of the Lord - it is extremely

probable that this work of extermination was begun as an act of reprisals for the

drought denounced by Elijah.  Verse 13 almost implies that it had taken place during

his absence - “that Obadiah took an hundred prophets,” - This would lead us to

suppose that the great majority escaped.  That we find so large a number still in the

land, notwithstanding the exodus (II Chronicles 11:16), and the steady growth of

impiety, shows that God had not left Himself without witnesses - “and hid

them by fifty in a cave,” - Probably the division into two companies was partly

for the sake of security and partly for the sake of convenience. The greater the

number to be fed, the greater the chance of detection - “and fed them with bread

and  water.”)

 

5  And Ahab said unto Obadiah, Go into the land, unto all fountains of

water, and unto all brooks: peradventure we may find grass to save the

horses and mules alive,” - It has been inferred from Ahab’s concern for his

stud that he viewed the sufferings of his subjects with comparative indifference,

or at least regarded them as of altogether secondary importance. But this is a

too hasty conclusion. His subjects were, for the most part, as well able to find

water for themselves as he was for them, and he might safely trust to their instinct

of self preservation to do their best to meet the emergency.  But the dumb cattle,

confined to the stall, could not act for themselves -  “that we lose not all the

beasts.”  What Ahab means is that, unless they soon find fodder, they will have

to slaughter a portion of their animals.

 

6  So they divided the land between them to pass throughout it: Ahab

went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself.”

This personal inspection by the king and one of his chief officers marks the

extreme straits to which the Israelites were now reduced.

 

7  And as Obadiah was in the way, behold, Elijah met him: and he

knew him, and fell on his face, and said, Art thou that my lord Elijah?”

The humble obeisance and the terms in which he addresses him alike show

the profound reverence with which Obadiah regarded him, as well he might do,

considering the terrible power he wielded. The whole land was, so to speak, at

his mercy.  8  And he answered him, I am: go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah

is here.  9  And he said, What have I sinned, that thou wouldest deliver thy

servant into the hand of Ahab, to slay me?  10  As the LORD thy God

liveth,” - Obadiah uses precisely the same adjuration as the widow of Zarephath,

ch. 17:12. But then, though Jehovah was undoubtedly his God, He was in a more

special and intimate manner Elijah’s God. The oath corresponds well with the

prophet’s name, ( that is, Elijah – “my God is Jehovah”) - “there is no nation

or kingdom, whither my lord hath not sent to seek thee:”  - an exaggeration

but all that is meant is that all neighboring and accessible courts had been

communicated with. This search for Elijah shows that Ahab regarded him as the

author of the drought, and did not recognize it as sent by God - “and when

they said, He is not there; he took an oath of the kingdom and nation, that

they found thee not.”

 

11  And now thou sayest, Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here.  12  And

it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from thee, that the Spirit of the

LORD shall carry thee whither I know not; and so when I come and tell

Ahab, and he cannot find thee, he shall slay me:” - This is just what a prince

like Ahab, or any prince who was under the guidance of a Jezebel, would do, out

of sheer vexation at losing his prey when so nearly in his grasp - “but I thy servant

fear the LORD from my youth.”  As a God fearing man and a protector of the

prophets, Obadiah could not expect any special favor to expect from Ahab. It is

extremely unlikely that Ahab knew of Obadiah’s having protected the prophets.

He could hardly have maintained him in his post had he known that the steward

of the palace had thwarted the designs of his queen.

 

13 “Was it not told my lord what I did when Jezebel slew the prophets

of the LORD, how I hid an hundred men of the LORD's prophets by fifty

in a cave, and fed them with bread and water?  14  And now thou sayest,

Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here: and he shall slay me.  15 And Elijah

said, As the LORD of hosts liveth, before whom I stand,” - In addressing

Ahab it suited Elijah’s purpose better to give prominence to the idea that Jehovah

was “the God of Israel”- “I will surely shew myself unto him to day.”

 

16  So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him: and Ahab went to meet

Elijah.” - Very readily, it would seem. Anything was better than suspense and

famine. And Elijah’s very return contained in it a promise of rain.  (Compare

Psalm 110:3 – “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power  - but

for those who are not His people, IT WILL BE TOO LATE - CY – 2010)

 

17  And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto

him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel?” When at last they meet, the king is

the first to speak. “Art thou here?” he cries, almost frightened at the sound of his

own voice. “Art thou here, thou troubler of Israel?” Words have often served to

conceal men’s thoughts, often been a veil to hide their abject fears.  Now, we

have heard words like these, we have read of them in other mouths than Ahab’s.

It is a common charge against the prophets and people of God. The saints are

always in the wrong. It is always they who “turn the world upside down”

(Acts 17:6, 8); always they who do exceedingly trouble our city” (Ibid.

16:20). Our Lord was accused of sedition. The first Christians were called

enemies of the human race.” All manner of evil is said against them falsely

but they are blessed!  (Matthew 5:11) - Ahab only speaks “after his kind.”

He saw that Elijah had been instrumental in bringing down the drought and

the terrible famine which accompanied it. He never pauses to ask what moved

Elijah to call for a drought; what caused Elijah’s God to send it. The herald is

accused as the cause of the war. “There is nothing new under the sun.” The

same charge is made, and with the same unreason and perversity at the present

day. The lamb must have fouled the stream, whichever way it flows. If the John

the Baptist comes neither eating nor drinking, they say, “He hath a devil.” If the

Son of man comes eating and drinking, they say, “Behold a gluttonous man

 and a winebibber.”

 

 18  And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou,” - The change

from plural to singular is instructive.  Preceding kings and the people at large had

broken God’s commandments by the calf-worship, but Ahab alone had

introduced the Baal-cultus into the landAhab is taxed with the ruin of

his country and is speechless - “and thy father's house, in that

ye have forsaken  the commandments of the LORD, and thou hast

followed Baalim.”  This boldness, this high tone, this absence of the slightest

indication of alarm by Elijah, seems to have completely discomfited Ahab, who

ventured on no reply.  “The righteous are bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1).

There is no trace of fear in these words. The truth has nothing to fear. And the

truth it was then, and is now, that the trouble and suffering of the world

spring out of sin, out of forgetting and forsaking God. If men will leave

Him out of their thoughts and lives, their sorrows cannot but be multiplied

(Psalm 16:4). It is like leaving the sun out of our solar system — the world

would revert to primeval chaos. The French revolution shows the result of

the negation of God. (So secular humanism and progressivism in America

has wrought what we have today – circa 1960-2010 – CY – 2010) Communism

and Nihilism do the same. “There is no peace to the wicked.” (Isaiah 48:22)

But not only do they “pierce themselves through with many sorrows,” but they

trouble Israel (Ephesians 6:16), the peaceful people of God. But for them this

world would be a Paradise. It is they who make wretched homes and broken

hearts. It is they who necessitate our armies, our police, our jails, our poor

rates. It is they who sometimes make us wonder, with some of the ancients,

whether this earth is not really a place of punishment. But for them, and the

confusion and misery they cause, men would never ask “whether life is worth

living;” still less conclude that “the greatest good is never to have been born

into the world, and the next to die out of it as soon as possible.” We are

entitled, therefore, like Elijah, to denounce the godless and the vicious as

the enemies of society, as conspirators against the world’s peace and

 prosperity. “The only common disturber of men, families, cities, kingdoms,

 worlds IS SIN!  It is one of the arguments for our holy religion that, sincerely

 practiced, it ensures “the greatest possible happiness of the greatest possible

number.” It is the brand of ATHEISM that it brings trouble, uncleanness,

 selfishness, suffering, at its heels.  (Selah – CY – 2010)

 

19  Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel,” –

No one who has seen the locality can have any doubts as to which part of the

mountain was the scene of the sacrifice, or can fail to be struck with the singular

fitness of the place to be the theatre of this thrilling history. Carmel is rather a ridge

than a mountain, some twelve miles in length. Its western (or strictly NNW)

extremity is a bold headland, some 600 feet in height, which dips almost directly

into the waters of the Mediterranean. Its highest point, 1728 feet above sea level,

is about four miles from its eastern extremity, which, at an elevation of 1600 feet,

rises like a wall from the great plain of Esdraelon. It is at this point, there can be no

question, we are to place the scene of the burnt sacrifice. The identification has only

been effected in comparatively recent days (1852), but it is beyond dispute. Not

only does the Arab name which it bears — El Murahkah, the Burning, or

Sacrifice afford striking witness to the identity, but the situation and

surroundings adapt themselves with such wonderful precision to the requirements

of the narrative as to leave no reasonable doubt in the mind.  For:

 

  • it is a sort of natural platform, or pulpit, raised 1000 feet above the

            adjoining plain, and therefore well calculated to afford a view of the

            proceedings, or at least of the descent of the Holy Fire, to spectators of

            all Israel. The flame would probably be seen by Jezebel in her palace at

            Jezreel. This eminence is visible from Nazareth, some twenty miles away.

            In fact, it was in its way just as well adapted for the solemn vindication of

            the law which took place there as Jebel Sufsafeh (Mr. Horeb) was for

            the giving of the law.

 

  • A sort of plateau near the summit — the table land where the altars

            were built, would accommodate a vast number of spectators (v. 21).

 

  • There is a spring of water close at hand, less than 100 yards distant,

            a spring which is said to flow even in the driest seasons, which would

            supply the water of which we read in vs. 4, 33-35. Josephus (Ant.

            8:13, 5) says it came from the fountain.

 

  • The sea, though not visible from the plateau itself, is seen from a point

            some 300 feet higher, a detail which accords admirably with the account

            of vs. 42-44. It may be added that the place is still held sacred by the

            Druses, and reverenced by “Jews, Christians, Moslems, and Bedouin as

            the site of these miracles of Elijah”. The traveler, consequently, cannot

            doubt for a moment, as he stands on the table-land of El Murahkah

            and looks across the great plain to Jezreel and the heights of Galilee and

            Samaria, that he is on the very spot sanctified by the descent of the

            heavenly fire. It should be added, as explaining the selection of Carmel by

            Elijah, that its situation is central and convenient; that it is near the sea,

            from whence the rain clouds would come; that it is easy of access from

            Jezreel; and that it was not only a holy place from earlier times (II Kings

            4:23), but also had its altar of Jehovah, an altar, no doubt, in constant use

            when the people “sacrificed and burnt incense on the high places,”

            but which had in later days fallen into neglect, and was now broken down.

            It was every way, therefore, a most appropriate locality for the public

            vindication of the despised and outraged law of God. No place could be

            conceived more fitted by nature to be that wondrous battlefield of truth.

 

 and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the

groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel's table.”  All that is meant is that

they were fed by Jezebel’s bounty.

 

 20 “So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets

together unto mount Carmel.”  Ahab’s ready compliance with Elijah’s request,

notwithstanding the bitter hatred of the man which he had just betrayed, is easily

explained. It was not so much that he bowed before the spiritual supremacy of the

prophet, which impressed him, as that he hoped, from his reappearance, that he

was now about to speak the word (ch.17:1) and give rain upon the earth, and

Ahab was willing to take any measures which would conduce to that result. It

would take some days to collect the representatives of the tribes.

 

21 “And Elijah came unto all the people,” – Elijah is concerned not so

much with the king as the people of the Lord. His object was not to prove

that Ahab and not he had troubled Israel, but to prove that Jehovah was

 God and not Baal.  There is abundant room on the plateau, or wide upland

sweep, above referred to, to accommodate a large concourse of people -

 and said, How long halt ye between two opinions?” - “halt” is used in

the sense of “limp.”  The same word is used in v. 26 of the swaying, tottering

dance of the Baal prophets - “if the LORD be God, follow Him: but if

Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.”  Not

only were they awed by the presence of the king and the priests of Baal on

the one side, and of Elijah on the other, but they were “convicted by their

own consciences,” and so were speechless.

 

22  Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the

LORD;” - All that Elijah says is that he stood that day alone as a prophet of

Jehovah. The rest might well hesitate, after the fierce persecution which they had

undergone, to face the king and their bitter enemies, the Baal prophets. It must be

remembered that Elijah had had no opportunity of communicating with them, and he

may have been quite ignorant as to what number had remained steadfast and true

(see ch. 19:18).  One thing he knew, that he alone was left to prophesy, and to

confront the whole hierarchy of the false god - “but Baal's prophets are four

hundred and fifty men.”  It is clear, not only from the silence of this verse and

of v. 25, respecting them, but still more from the fact that they escaped in the

general slaughter (v. 40), that the prophets of Astarte were not present, and the

natural inference is that either Jezebel had forbidden their presence or that they

shrank from the ordeal. The Baal prophets would doubtless have been only too

glad to do the same, but they were under the immediate command of the king.

It is not certain that they had any forebodings of evil, or dreaded reprisals on

Elijah’s part, but they had had proof conclusive of his power and of their

impotence. We must remember that all through the triennium prayers and

sacrifices had, no doubt, been constantly offered with a view to procure rain.

We learn from Menander (Josephus, 8:13. 2) that even in Phoenicia

supplication had been made for rain by Ethabaal.

 

23  Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one

bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and

put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on

wood, and put no fire under:  24  And call ye on the name of your gods,”

As Elijah is still addressing the people, not the prophets of Baal (see v. 25),

this change of person is significant. He sorrowfully assumes that they have

taken Baal and Astarte for their gods - “and I will call on the name of the

LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let Him be God.” It must be

remembered that Baal claimed to be the Sun god and Lord of the elements and

forces of nature; while Jehovah had already, according to the law, identified

Himself with this token (Leviticus 9:24; I Chronicles 21:26; II Chronicles 7:1).

Indeed, this sign had a double fitness as a test of the true religion. It would not

only put the powers of the rival deities to the proof; it would also at the same time

decide which of the rival systems of worship was acceptable to the Supreme

 Being.  It is observable that there is no mention of rain. We might have expected,

after the long drought, that this would be the test. But that could not be promised

until the Lord had first been recognized as God.  “And all the people

answered and said, It is well spoken.”  Hebrew -  Good the word. They

accepted Elijah’s proposition, but whether eagerly or reluctantly it is difficult to say.

The Hebrew merely conveys that they admitted its fairness and reasonableness.

 

Having gained the assent of the people, for whose verdict he and the Baal

prophets were now contending, and who were, consequently, entitled to be

consulted as to the sign which would satisfy them, he turns to the band of

450 prophets, who, probably in all the bravery of their sacrificial vestments

(II Kings 10:22), occupied a separate position on the hill top, between

the king and the people, and repeats his proposal to them.

 

25  And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock

for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many;” - Every preeminence

and advantage which he gives to them will make his triumph, when it comes, all

the greater.  Elijah is anxious that their inability shall be fully manifested before

God’s power is revealed - “and call on the name of your gods, but put no

fire under.”  The repetition (v. 24) shows that the ordeal was proposed

separately to the people and the prophets.

 

26  And they took the bullock which was given them,” – they declined

to choose -  “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  -  or limped. Same word as that

translated “halt” in v. 21.  It seems more descriptive of what actually occurred,

i.e., of the reeling, swaying, bacchantic dance of the priests, which was probably

not unlike that of the dancing dervishes - “upon the altar which was made.”

 

27  And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said,

Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or

he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.

28  And they cried aloud,” – Hebrew -  in a great voice, as above. It was

not that they took Elijah’s words au serieux, (seriously) but his scorn led them

to redouble their efforts, if only to testify their faith in their god - “and cut

themselves after their manner” - Keil quotes from Movers, Phoniz. 1. pp.

682-83, a description of the religious dances offered to the Dea Syria. “A

discordant howling opens the scene. Then they rush wildly about in perfect

confusion, with their heads bowed down to the ground, but always revolving in

circles, so that the loosened hair drags through the mire; then they begin to bite

their arms, and end with cutting themselves with the two-edged swords which

they are in the habit of carrying. A new scene then opens. One of them, who

surpasses all the rest in frenzy, begins to prophesy with sighs and groans,” etc.

 with knives” – [Hebrew -  swords] “and lancets” -  [Hebrew - lances,

 spears. The Authorized Version is misleading. The instruments they used were

weapons of heavy-armed troops – “till the blood gushed out upon them.”

It is perfectly clear that their faith in Baal was sincere and profound. Making

due allowance for the fact that they were under the eyes of their king and patron,

and of representatives of the entire people, it is still impossible to doubt their

sincerity. Some of them, it is probable, were Phoenicians.  (“There is a way

which seemeth right unto a man but the end thereof are the ways of death-

Proverbs 14:12)

 

29  And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied

until the time of the offering” - Keil and Rawlinson would translate,

until towards the time,” - There is certainly some indefiniteness  in the words

twOl[}l" d[", until [the hour] for placing, etc., but we may well believe that

their dances and cries continued up to the moment of Elijah’s prayer  (v. 36) –

 of the evening sacrifice”  [Hebrew -  the Minchah, i.e., the meat offering

or unbloody sacrifice. In Genesis 4:3-6 the word would appear to be used of

any offering; but at a later day it was restricted to bloodless offerings.  Directions

as to the offering  of the Minchah are given, Exodus 29:38-41; Numbers 28:3-8.

The evening sacrifice  was probably offered then, as it certainly was at a later day,

at the ninth hour. (Acts 3:1; 10:3, 30, and see Josephus, Ant. 14:4. 3). Wordsworth

thinks this synchronism very significant, as suggesting that the true worship of

God was that of the temple going on in Jerusalem at that time - “that there

was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.”

 

30  And Elijah said unto all the people,” – Elijah is now done with the priests.

They have had their opportunity; his turn is come - “Come near unto me.” –

 Hitherto they had gathered round the altar of Baal, and some, it may he, had

joined their prayers to those of the priests (v. 24). In v. 21, he “drew near”

same word — to them. Now they must stand round the altar he is about to build.

He will have eyewitnesses and ear-witnesses. There must be no suspicion of

imposture - “And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the

altar of the LORD that was broken down.”  It has been already suggested

that this altar may have dated from the time when there was no house built unto

the name of the Lord. But it is just as likely that it had been restored, if not raised,

by some of the “seven thousand who had not bowed their knees unto Baal”

(ch. 19:18), or by some of the faithful remaining in Israel after the calf-worship

and the hostility between the two kingdoms had made worship at Jerusalem an

impossibility. Anyhow we can hardly be mistaken in holding that this was

one of the “altars” (ch.19:10), thrown down” by command of Ahab or

Jezebel. Elijah’s repairing it wag an act of profound significance. It showed

him as the restorer of the law and the true religion.

 

31  And Elijah took twelve stones,” - This number, too, was full of

significance. Not only would it carry back their thoughts to the giving of the law

(Exodus 24:4; 28:21), and to their fathers’ entrance into the promised land

(Joshua 4:3, 9), but it would remind them of the essential unity of the people,

notwithstanding the division of the kingdom.  The act was thus a protest against

the schism - “according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob,

unto whom the word of the LORD came, saying, Israel shall be thy name:”

The great idea is that the people are one, and are the Lord’s.  32  And with

the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD: and he made a

trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed.

33  And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and

laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it

on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood.  34  And he said, Do it the second

time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time.

And they did it the third time.  35  And the water ran round about the altar;

and he filled the trench also with water.”  The object of these repeated

drenchings of the victim and altar was to exclude all suspicion of fraud.  Some

of the fathers expressly state that the idolatrous priests of an earlier time were

accustomed to set fire to the sacrifice from hollow places concealed beneath the

altar, and it was an old tradition (found in Ephrem Syrus, and Chrysostom) that

the Baal prophets had concealed a man for that purpose beneath their altar, but

that he had died from suffocation

 

36  And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening

sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD” – [Hebrew –

Jehovah – not only does the sacred name stand at the head of Elijah’s prayer,

the name is mentioned three times -  “God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel,”

Two things are to be noticed here: first, that this formula had only once before

been used, and that by God Himself, before the giving of law, at the burning bush.

It was when God revealed Himself in flaming fire that He had proclaimed Himself

the God of Abraham, etc. Secondly, that the variation “Israel” is made designedly

(v. 31), not only to proclaim the Lord as the “God of Israel (ch. 17:1), but also

to suggest that the name and privileges of Israel belonged to all the sons of Jacob -

 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.”  Not only the

earlier proceedings of the day, but the three years’ drought, etc. The people could

hardly doubt that that, when done, everything was done according to the

Divine word.

 

37  Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou

art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.”

“He” – (Elijah the prophet) “shall turn the heart of the fathers” - (Malachi 4:5-6).

He speaks as if the miracle were already wrought (John 11:41), and the people

already repentant. His prayer is that they may understand that the prodigy about

to be performed was wrought for their conversion.

 

38  Then the fire of the LORD fell,” – [from Jehovah]. Not lightning, but

supernatural light and heat emanating from God Himself.  ( see Leviticus 9:24;

I Chronicles 21:26; II Chronicles 7:1; “our God is a consuming fire”

Hebrews 12:29] - “and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and

the stones, and the dust, and licked  up the water that was in the trench.”

 

39  And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they

said, The LORD, He is the God; the LORD, He is the God.”  The people

recognized in the fire, the token of the Divine Presence.

 

40  And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one

of them escape. And they took them:” – the people had hardly recovered

from their terror and awe before he proceeds to judgment -  “and Elijah

brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.”  Elijah

merely superintended the slaughter.  Josephus rightly explains: “they slew the

prophets at Elijah’s instigation.”

 

As the Lord’s prophet, as the vindicator and restorer of the law, there was no

other course open to him. If the Mosaic law was then written, and this very

incident is one of the proofs that it was then written; if, however it had fallen into

contempt or disuse, it was still binding upon Israel; and if Elijah was justified

in executing its provisions, and was required to execute them, however repugnant

they might be to his inclinations (Deuteronomy 27:26; Galatians 3:10), then he

could not have done otherwise than he did. For it was an essential part of that law,

it was an obligation that was laid, not once or twice, but on three separate

occasions (Exodus 22:20; Deuteronomy ch.13; 17:2-7), on the Jewish people, it

was a duty they were to perform, however distressing and harrowing it might be

(Deuteronomy 13:6-9), to provide that the worshipper of false gods, and

especially the teacher of such worship, should be put to death. It

was primarily, of course, the duty of the authorities, of the theocratic king

and his subordinates, to execute these injunctions. But the king of that age

was corrupt and powerless — nay, was himself idolatrous. So great was

the depravity of the time that the false prophet enjoyed the favor and

protection of the court, and the true prophet was everywhere being hunted

to death. The execution of this law, consequently, could not be expected

from the king. It must be executed, if at all, in spite of him, and in disregard

of his protests. It was only Elijah, therefore, could put it into force, and

Elijah only in the hour of his triumph. And the jus zelotyparum, the right

claimed by every faithful Jew to execute vengeance, after the example of

Phinehas (Numbers 25:11), upon any gross breach of the Divine law

committed in his presence, was not his only warranty; he held a

commission, higher than the king’s, as the prophet of the Most High.

He had just proved that the Lord He was God. It was now for him to prove

that God’s law was no dead letter. It was for him to cut off the men —

some of them renegades from the faith of Israel, some of them foreign

emissaries introduced into the land who had corrupted his countrymen,

and threatened the very existence of the true religion. It is necessary, therefore,

for those who challenge his conduct in this respect, who call him sanguinary,

vindictive, etc., to settle their account with the law which he obeyed, and,

indeed, with Him who has approved this deed, and has forewarned us

that He too will act in like manner (Luke 19:27). For this terrible retribution

is by no means an exceptional or isolated act, in contrast to the general spirit of

that dispensation; on the contrary, it is in thorough accord with the system out

of which it sprung. We gain nothing, therefore, by repudiating this one transaction.

For clearly, in the first place, it was allowed and approved of God, who

otherwise would hardly have answered the prayer which Elijah presently offered.

 

It is true that the spirit of Elias was not the spirit of Christianity (Luke 9:56), but it

is forgotten how different was the dispensation of Elijah from that of the New

Covenant. In that age idolaters must receive their just recompense of reward,

because the judgment to come had not then been revealed; because justice must be

measured out to men in this life. We do not avenge idolatry or irreligion now with

fire and sword, not because the thing is any the less sinful, but because the

duty has been taken out of our hands; because our religion instructs us to leave it

to Him who has said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord”

(Romans 12:19).  Thus were eradicated, 450 false teachers, who if given

amnesty, or who escaped, would run to Jezebel’s protection only “to renew

their efforts against truth, morality and religion.”

 

41  And Elijah said unto Ahab, Get thee up, eat and drink;” - It is extremely

probable that the excitement of the ordeal was so intense that the king had barely

tasted food all day long. Elijah now bids him eat if he can, after what he has

witnessed.  There is now, he suggests, no further cause for anxiety or alarm. The

people being repentant (vs. 39, 40), and the men who have brought a curse on

the land being cut off, the drought can now be abated - “for there is a sound

of abundance of rain.  42  So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah

went up to the top of Carmel; and he cast himself down upon the earth,

and put his face between his knees,  43  And said to his servant,” - of whom

we now hear for the first time. It is an old tradition that this was none other than the

son of the Sareptan, who was afterwards known as the prophet Jonah - “Go up

now,  look toward the sea.”  It is a striking confirmation of the theory which

identifies El Murahkah with the scene of Elijah’s sacrifice (as discussed earlier)

that the sea, though not visible from the plateau itself, is from the crest of the hill,

a few feet higher. Van de Velde writes, “On its west and northwest sides the

view of the sea is quite intercepted by an adjacent height. That height may

be ascended, however, in a few minutes and a full view of the sea obtained

from the top.” Similarly the latest authority, Mr. Condor: “The peak is a

semi-isolated knoll with a cliff some forty feet high, looking southeast ....

The sea is invisible, except from the summit, and thus it was only by

climbing to the top of Carmel, from the plateau where the altar may have

stood, that the prophet’s servant could have seen the little cloud,”  “And he

went up, and looked, and said, There is nothing. And he said, Go again

seven times.  44  And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said,

Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man's hand.

And he said, Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee

down that the rain stop thee not.”  After heavy rain (μv,G,) the Kishon,

which “collects the whole drainage of this large basin” (Conder), the Great Plain,

soon becomes an impassable swamp.(Judges 5:21), “I can tell you from experience

that in wet seasons it (the Wady) is extremely muddy, and then the Kishon causes

great tribulation to the muleteers. Rarely indeed do they get over it without some

of their animals sticking fast in its oozy bottom” (Thomson, L. and B. 2. p. 218).

 

45  And it came to pass in the mean while, that the heaven was black

with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode,

and went to Jezreel.  46  And the hand of the LORD was on Elijah;”

An impulse from on high impelled him to “gird up his loins” and go with the

king; a strength not his own sustained him whilst “he ran,” - the distance across

the plain to Jezreel is about fourteen miles; the royal chariot would drive furiously,

and whatever fleetness and endurance the prophet had acquired in the wilds of

Gilead, it seems hardly likely that, after the fatigues and excitement of that day, he

would have been able, without the hand of the Lord upon him, to keep ahead of

the chariot horses - “and he girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab” –

Thomson (vol. 2. p. 227) mentions an interesting illustration of this incident which he

witnessed. The forerunners of Mohammed All Pasha “kept just ahead of the horses,

 no matter how furiously they were ridden, and in order to run with the greatest ease

they not only girded their loins very tightly, but also tucked up their loose garments

under the girdle.” But such a spectacle is of common occurrence in the East.  

Elijah’s object was apparently twofold. First, to honor the sovereign whom he had

that day humbled in the presence of his subjects. The great prophet, by assuming

the lowly office of a footman, or forernnner (see ch. 1:5), would give due reverence

to the Lord’s anointed.   Secondly, he may have hoped by his presence near the

king and court to strengthen any good resolves which the former might have made,

and to further the work of reformation which he could not but hope the

proceedings of that day would inaugurate. That this tribute of respect would be

grateful to Ahab, who hitherto had only regarded Elijah as an adversary, it is

impossible to doubt. And that Elijah believed he had struck a death blow to the

foreign superstitions fostered by the court, and especially by the queen, is equally

certain -  “to the entrance” - The Arab aversion, which Elijah is supposed to

have shared, to entering cities, has often been remarked. But there were other and

deeper reasons why he should not adventure himself within the city. Probably the

same guiding hand which led him to Jezreel impelled him to lodge outside the

walls. It was impossible to say what Jezebel, in her transports of rage, might do.

After such a day, too, any prophet would shrink from familiar contact with men

and from the strife of tongues - “of Jezreel.”  Ahab had a residence here.

 

In the end here as it will be in the end of time, Truth and Consciousness of

Right and the Power of God’s Presence prevails.  Baal, the so called god of

nature is impotent to produce fire or rain.  In the 21st century, man continues

to extol false gods, often under the guise of “Mother Nature”.  God’s chastening

hand for three and one half years was not without effect.  The drought and the

famine prepared the people’s stubborn hearts for Elijah’s appeal, and disposed

them to decision. At another time he might have addressed Israel in vain. And

sorrow and pain, privation and bereavement are still not unfrequently

 found to dispose the rebellious mind to hear the message of God. “When

thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn

 righteousness (Isaiah 26:9,16).  Unfortunately, sometimes evil men still

resist.  Witness the fourth vial of wrath in Revelation 16:8-9.  May we profit

from God’s Word and His Holy Spirit and His Only Begotten Son, Jesus

Christ!  May we not have to experience His judgments to know Him!!!

 

May we today, as Elijah mused in the wilds of Gilead over the apostasy of

Israel, think of where the Unites States of America is going.  Elijah’s soul,

like Lot, no doubt was vexed with the news of Baal-worship, and he felt

constrained to cry to God, to make bare His arm and vindicate His outraged

honor.  May we also pray to God, in this age of godless materialism and

secularism, to enforce the penalties He has Himself denounced!  Even so,

come Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

 

 

 

                                                ADDITIONAL NOTES

 

                        On Obadiah, the Governor of Ahab’s House (vs. 3-4)

 

 

There are few things in these books of Scripture more surprising and suggestive than

the position of Obadiah in the palace of Ahab:

 

  • THE AGE. We have seen that during this reign (ch. 16:30, 33; 21:25), and

      especially in the capitol city of Samaria (ch.16:32), the wickedness of Israel

      had reached its zenith. From the accession of Jeroboam, and the schism

      which followed it, the northern kingdom had steadily gone from bad to

      worse, till its apostasy and impiety culminated under the malign influences

      of Ahab and Jezebel. Their joint reign marks a new departure in the religious

      history of the ten tribes. Hitherto men had worshipped the God of their

      fathers, though in an irregular and unauthorized way, and idolatry, though

      not unknown, had not been open and unblushing. Now, however, the

      whole nation, with but few exceptions, abandoned itself to the

      licentious worship of Phoenician gods, and the ancestral religion

      was proscribed, its altars were overthrown, and a determined effort

       was made to stamp out its prophets and professors. (Does this not

      sound like the attempts by secularists in the 21st century America?

      CY – 2010)

 

  • THE PLACE. We should expect, consequently — what Elijah really

            believed to be the case (ch. 19:10) — that to find a pious man we

            must search the land as with a lantern. We should expect to find some

            Abdiels, “faithful among the faithless found,” but we should look

            for them away from the haunts of men, in “caves and dens of the earth”

             in the brook Cherith, or the cottage of Zarephath, or  wandering about

            in sheepskins and goatskins,” - (Hebrews 11:37-38). But we should

            hardly hope to find them in the cities of Israel, in the broad light of day, in

            conspicuous positions, and least of all should we look for them in Samaria,

            where Satan’s seat was, the fortress and citadel of Baal.  Or if we were

            so sanguine, notwithstanding the godlessness of the times and the genius

            of the place, as to count on some saints in Samaria, we should never betake

            ourselves to the great men (Jeremiah 5:5); we should go in search of piety

            in the cottages of the poor. We should never dream of finding any followers

            of the Lord occupying an exalted station, living under the shadow of the

            palace, or in close contact with the determined and unscrupulous queen.

 

  • HIS POSITION. But if we were assured that even in Ahab’s palace,

            under the same roof with Jezebel, a devout and steadfast servant of

            Jehovah was to be found, we should certainly have expected to find him in

            some insignificant servitor, some poor retainer of the place. That any high

            official, that a minister of state could retain his piety in that cesspool of

            corruption, that hotbed of idolatry and immorality, and at the very time that

            Jezebel was cutting off the Lord’s prophets, would seem to us altogether

            out of the question. “What communion,” we should ask, “hath light

            with darkness? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?”

            (II Corinthians 6:15)

 

  • HIS PIETY. Yet we find that Obadiah, the intendant of the palace of

            Samaria, the trusted and faithful minister of Ahab, the “third ruler in the

            kingdom,” “feared the Lord greatly” (v. 3), and, though surrounded

            by Baal-worshippers, never bowed the knee to Baal; though risking his

            life by his devotion to Jehovah, yet served Him truly, and succored His

            prophets.  We have a parallel to this, and a still more striking instance

            of piety under the most adverse and discouraging circumstances in the

            New Testament.  We have something like it, indeed, in the case of Daniel

            and the three Hebrew children; something approaching it in the case of

            Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward (Luke 8:3); but we find a

            still closer analogue in the saints of Caesar’s household (Philippians

            4:22).  When we remember that the saints of Rome were the talk, the

            admiration, the patterns of the early Christian Churches “throughout the

            whole world” (Romans 1:8); that among the saints of Rome, those of the

            palace or of the barracks (Philippians 1:13) attached to Caesar’s palace

            on the Palatine, were conspicuous, at least (ch. 4:22) for their charity, for

            the crowning Christian grace of filadelfi>a, - Philadelphia

             brotherly love - the stamp and seal royal of the saints (John 13:35;

            I John 4:20); when we remember, too, that this was in Rome, at that

            period the very worst city in the world, the resort —their own writers

            being witness (May we not be so in this day and age of the anti-Christ –

            CY – 2010) — of all the knaves and charlatans and libertines of the

            empire; that this was in the year A.D. 63, when the palace of the Caesars

            was occupied by Nero, of all those born of women perhaps the meanest,

            basest, most infamous, most profligate; that this Nero was murderer of

            brother, murderer of mother, of wife, of paramour; persecutor and

            butcher  of the Christians, sworn foe of goodness and purity in every

            shape, patron and abettor of every kind of abomination, according to some

            the “Beast” of the Apocalypse; when we consider that under his roof, in

            the pandemonium which he had created around him, saints were found,

            meek followers of the unspotted Christ, we cannot but be impressed with

            the fact that the wisdom of God has preserved for our encouragement two

            conspicuous instances — one under the Old Dispensation, one under the

            New — of fervent piety living and thriving in a palace under the

             most adverse circumstances, amid the overflowings of ungodliness.

            And these facts may suggest the following lessons:

 

ü      Let every man, wherein he is called, there abide with God

      (I Corinthians 7:20, 24). The temptation to desert our post, because

      of the difficulties, seductions, persecutions it affords, is peculiarly

      strong, because it presents itself under the garb of a religious duty.

      We think we shall “one day fall by the hand of Saul” (I Samuel

      27:1). We fear the temptation may be too strong for us, and we

      consult, as we fancy, only for our safety, in flight. But we forget that

      every man’s life is a plan of God;” that we have been placed where

      we are by Him, and placed there to do His work.  We forget also

      that His “grace is sufficient” for us; that with every temptation

      He can make a way to escape (I Corinthians 10:13); that

                        He will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able to

                         bear; and that flight under such circumstances must be mere

                        cowardice and faithlessness.  It was a great mistake of the

                        hermits and the religious of a past age to leave the world because

                        it was so wicked, for this was to take the salt out of the earth,

                        (Matthew 5:13) and to leave it to corruption. If the men who

                        alone can leaven society shut themselves up in a cloister or a study,

                        it is simply leaving it to the devil to do his worst. This is not to fight,

                        but to flee. Except these abide in the ship, how can it be saved?

                        (Acts 27:31.) It is egregious selfishness to hide our candle under a

                        bushel, lest perchance the blasts of temptation should extinguish it.

                        Obadiah was called by the providence of God to be governor

                        of Ahab’s house. The post must have been one of extreme difficulty,

                        of constant trial and imminent peril. We see from vs. 10, 14 the kind

                        of man he had to deal with, and how, from day to day, he carried his

                        life in his hand. But he did not desert the state of life into which

                        it had pleased God to call him. He considered that he was there for

                        some good purpose; that he had a work to do which only he could

                        do, and he resolved to stop and do his duty. Perhaps he

                        remembered the ruler of Pharaoh’s house, and the deliverance he

                        wrought for Israel (Genesis 45:7-8), Anyhow, he waited and

                        endured, and at length the opportunity came. When Jezebel

                        would exterminate the Lord’s prophets, then the steward of the

                        palace understood why he had been placed in that perilous

                        and responsible position. It was that he might save much people alive.

                        (Genesis 50:20). Then he did what, perhaps, only he could have

                       

 

 

 

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