I Kings 19

 

 

1  And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done,” – this communication

shows that Ahab’s heart was unchanged -  “and withal how he had slain

all the prophets with the sword.” We can readily understand with what a

sense of humiliation and shame the weak and excited king, who must have been

awed and impressed by the strange portent he had witnessed, would recount the

day’s proceedings to his imperious and headstrong consort, and with what intense

mortification and rage she must have heard of the triumph of the proscribed religion

and of the defeat and death of the priests of Baal. One might almost have expected

that the testimony of an eyewitness, and that her husband, to the greatness and

completeness of Elijah’s victory; that his unprejudiced, and indeed unwilling, account

of the sacrifices, of the descent of the heavenly fire, of the cries it wrung from the

people, etc., would have brought conviction to her mind and taught her how useless

it was to kick against the pricks.  But there are eyes so blinded (II Corinthians 4:4)

and hearts so steeled against the truth that no evidence can reach them, and

this fierce persecutor of the prophets had long been given over to a reprobate mind.

She listens to his story, but her one thought is of revenge.  2  Then Jezebel sent

a messenger unto Elijah,” – not to ask for forgiveness as should have happened,

but to threaten reprisals -  “saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if

I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time.”

This looks like a spur of the moment reaction as soon as she heard of what happened

with the prophets of Baal.   That night she could do nothing, nor perhaps could she

see her way clearly to compass his death on the morrow. But she will have him know

that he is not going to escape her, and that, whatever the effect on her husband, she

is unconquered and unrelenting. She does not stop to argue that he may take the

alarm and flee. But she must gratify her impotent rage forthwith by threatening him

with death the next day.  The act is a proof of her blind infatuation, of that infatuation

which God often employs to defeat the machinations of wicked men, and this view

is not to be lightly rejected.

 

3  And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life,” – Here is the man

who had that day faced alone king and priests and the entire people.  How is it that

he should have become all at once afraid of a bad woman?  We are distinctly told

that he “went for his life (vs. 4, 10), and that his flight seems to have been instant

and hurried.  History tells of many great souls, hardly less brave than Elijah, which

have succumbed to a sudden panic. Anyhow, it is evident that for the moment Elijah

had lost faith in God, (or wasn’t thinking – CY – 2010) otherwise he would certainly

have waited for the “word of the Lord,” which had hitherto invariably guided

his movements (chps. 17:2,8; 18:1). No doubt other emotions besides that of fear

were struggling in his breast, and prominent among these was the feeling of profound

disappointment and mortification. It is clear that he had hoped that the “day of

Carmelwould turn the heart of the entire nation back again (ch.18:37), and the

great shout of v. 39, and the subsequent execution, at his command, of the men

who had deceived and depraved the people, might well justify the most confident

expectations. We can readily imagine, consequently, how, especially after the

excitement and fatigues of that day, the threatening and defiant message of the

queen would seem the death blow of his hopes, and how, utterly dispirited and

broken down, he lost all trust, all faith, and, while fleeing for his life, “requested

 for himself that he might die” (v. 4) - “and came to Beersheba,” – the

southern boundary of Palestine (Joshua 15:28; II Samuel 24:7; Judges 20:1;

I Chronicles 21:2), allotted to the tribe of Simeon (Joshua 19:2), which tribe,

we gather from this passage (see also  II Chronicles 19:4), was now absorbed

in the southern kingdom.  Beer-sheba was about 95 miles from Jezreel and

Elijah cannot have reached it till the close of the second day. But we must

remember that his pace would be regulated by the powers of his servant,

probably a mere lad, so that it is hardly likely he could travel day and night

without stopping to rest, “which belongeth to Judah” -  One would think

that he would have fled to Judah but it is not certain that Jehoshaphat, with

his close alliance with Ahab (ch. 22:4; II Kings 8:18; II Chronicles 18:1),

would have sheltered the prophet. Indeed, it is remarkable, that the prophet

never took refuge in the southern kingdom. At one time he found a sanctuary

beyond the Jordan; at another in the kingdom of Tyre, but never in the realm of

Jehoshaphat. When he does come in haste to Beersheba, it is after a manner

which bespeaks his reluctance to set foot within that territory, even more than

if he had evaded it altogether.  The reason partly was, no doubt, that his mission

was to idolatrous Israel. Judah had both priests and prophets of its own -

and left his servant there.”  Probably because he wished to be alone with

God; possibly because the boy was then too exhausted to go further, and

there was no reason why he should be subjected to the uncertainties and

privations of desert life; hardly for the security of both. It is perhaps implied,

however, that the kingdom of Judah, though not a safe abode for Elijah,

would be for his servant. When we remember that this servant never rejoined

him, but that presently Elisha took his place, we can scarcely help wondering

whether he was afraid to accompany Elijah any longer (Acts 15:38).

 

4  But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness,” - It was not for

the sake of security alone that the prophet plunged into the “great and terrible

wilderness (Deuteronomy 1:19).  It is probable that from the first, Horeb,

the mount of God,” (v. 8) was in his thoughts. He may well have seen that he

was destined to be a second Moses; that he was raised up to assert and enforce

the covenant of which Moses was the mediator. We have seen already that he

cites the words spoken to Moses at the bush (ch.18:36); that to him as to Moses

there was granted an apparition of fire; we now find him rejected as Moses

had been before him (Acts 7:25, 35). How natural that, like Moses, he should

flee into the land of Midian, to the place where God had spoken with Moses

face to face - “and came and sat down under a juniper tree:” - the most

longed for and most welcome bush of the desert, abundant in beds of streams

and valleys, where spots for camping are selected, and men sit clown and sleep

in order to be protected against wind and sun – Although not affording complete

protection, it is very abundant -“and he requested for himself that he might

die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am

not better than my fathers.”  Strange contradiction! Here the man who was

destined not to taste of death, flees from death on the one hand and seeks it

on the other.  These words clearly reveal the great hopes Elijah had formed as

to the result of his mission, and the terrible disappointment his banishment had

occasioned him. Time was when he had thought himself a most special

messenger of Heaven, raised up to effect the regeneration of his country.  He

now thinks his work is fruitless, and he has nothing to live for longer.

 

5  And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel

touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat.” - Probably he had eaten

little or nothing since leaving Jezreel. Food was now what he most needed. This

circumstance suggests that the profound depression betrayed in his prayer

(v. 4) was largely the result of physical weakness.

 

6  And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals,

and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid

him down again.  7 And the angel of the LORD came again the second

time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is

too great for thee.”  And the journey is too great for us in 2011 – (CY –

12-31- 2010). Without Divine aid, without soul food, we too, shall faint by

the way.” But God has provided for us a gracious viaticum, a meat which the

world knows not of, flesh which is meat indeed, blood which is drink indeed

(John 6:55).  8 And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in

the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights” - Moses spent

forty days in Horeb, during which he “neither did eat bread nor drink water”

(Deuteronomy 9:9).  It is noteworthy how both Moses and Elias were

precursors of our Lord in a forty days’ fast (Matthew 4). The three great fasters

met gloriously on Tabor at the Transfiguration of Jesus (Luke 9:28-36).  It is not

implied that it took the prophet the whole of this time to reach Horeb, which is

only distant from Beersheba some 130 miles - “unto Horeb the  mount of God.”

 

9  And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there;” - Many commentators

identify this with “the cliff of the rock” where Moses was concealed while the

Lord “passed by” (Exodus 33:22), and the use of the same word, rbe[ in v. 11

certainly favors this view - “and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him,

and He said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah?” -  The question arises

as to whether this is a reproof from God or not.  It is true that the angel, instead of

reproving him, succored and strengthened him (vs. 6-7), but surely it does not

follow that God denies all grace and sustenance to His elect servants even

if they do, in a moment of despair, forget or distrust Him. Elijah may have

been strengthened for this very journey, because God would meet with him

and teach him the lessons of patience and trust he needed to learn, at the

mount of God” itself. And Elijah’s answer, especially when contrasted with

that of v. 14 (where see note), certainly betrays, not only irritation and despair,

but a carnal zeal which would gladly have called down the vengeance of the

Almighty upon all idolaters  - (Luke 9:54) - The question in itself, it is true,

does not necessarily impart censure — it might merely mean, “What wouldst

thou learn of me?” But when it is remembered that the prophet had been sent

 to every other destination by the “word of the Lord,” and that he had left

Jezreel without any such word — left it in terror and bitter disappointment and

sheer distrust of God — it does look as if the words conveyed a gentle reminder

 that he had deserted the post of duty, and had no right to be there!

 

10  And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts:”

And are our lamentations over the nonsuccess of our ministry, are they inspired

by the dishonor done to God, or the indifference manifested towards ourselves?

(I Samuel 8:7) - “for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant,

thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I,

even I only, am left;” - It must be confessed that the prima facie view is that

the Lord’s prophets had been well nigh exterminated. But we must take into

account the deep despondency with which Elijah spoke, and remember

the correction which his words received (v.18) - “and they seek my life,

to take it away.” In continuing to deal with whether God’s words are a

reproof to Elijah or not – The Apostle Paul speaks of him as pleading with

God against Israel (ejntugca>nei tw~| qew~| kata< tou~ jIsrah<l. (Romans

11:2), and certainly represents the crhmatismo>v he received as a

correction. And the idea which this verse, taken in connection with the

prophet’s flight (v. 3) and his prayer (v. 4), leaves on the unbiassed

mind certainly is that in his zeal for God he resented not only the growing

corruption of the age, but above all the frustration of his efforts to stay it.

What burdened and vexed his righteous soul was that in the very hour of

victory, when the people had confessed that Jehovah alone was God, he,

the one solitary witness for the truth, should be driven from his post to

escape as best he might, and to leave the covenant people to the baneful

influence of Jezebel and her army of false prophets. 

 

11  And He said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the

LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong

wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the

LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an

earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake:” - Once

before (Exodus 19:18) an earthquake accompanied the descent of God

upon the same mountain. The desert of Sinai, with the exception of the

Hammam Pharoun and other hot springs, affords no traces of volcanic

action. Everywhere there are signs of the action of water, nowhere of

fire.

 

12  And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire:

and after the fire a still small voice.”  What was the object and meaning of

this succession of signs? First, let us remember that Elijah was the prophet of

deeds. He taught his contemporaries not by word but by act. He is here taught

in turn by signs. There passes before him in the mountain hollow, in the black

and dark night, a procession of natural terrors - of storm, and earthquake, and fire.

But none of these things move him; none speak to his soul and tell of a present

God. It is the hushed voice, the awful stillness, overpowers and enchains him.

He is to learn hence, first, that the Lord is a God merciful and gracious, long

suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth” (Exodus 34:6); and secondly,

that as it has been with himself, so it will be with others; the name of the Lord

will be proclaimed in a voice of gentle silence (ib., ver. 5). The weapons of

His warfare, the instruments of religious progress, must be spiritual, not

carnal. Not in fire and sword and slaughter, but by a secret voice speaking

to the conscience, will God regain His sway over the hearts of Israel. The

striking similarity between this theophany and that which Moses saw in the

same place, or at no great distance from it, must not be overlooked, for this

constitutes another link between law giver and law restorer. The proclamation

of Exodus 34:3, 7 is the best exponent of the parable of vs. 11, 12. To each

was the vision of God granted after a faithful witness against idolatry, and after

a slaughter of idolaters; each was in a clift of the rock; in either case the Lord

passed by; the one was taught by words, the other rather by signs, but the

message in each case was the samethat judgment is God’s strange

 work, but that He will by no means clear the guilty (v. 17).

 

13  And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his

mantle,” – He was afraid to look upon God  - Conscience makes cowards of us

all “and went out, and stood ” – There was a lesson for Elijah here - that

amid the din and excitement and torture of drought and famine and fire and blood

the commands of God are less likely to be heard in the soul and obeyed, than in

the hour of peace and stillness. The drought and famine and sword have their work

to do, even as the tempest and the earthquake have theirs; but it is by the voice of

mercy and love that the hearts of men are turned back again. Not in the strong east

wind that parted the Red Sea, or the fire that swept the top of Sinai, or the earth-

quake that shook down the walls of Jericho would God be brought so near to man

as in the still small voice of the child of Bethlehem - in the entering in of

the cave.” Elijah hardly obeyed the letter of the command of v. 11 even then. Does

not this point to a rebellious and unsubdued heart? Is it not a confirmation of the

view taken above, that he fled to Horeb, full of bitter disappointment and murmuring

against God; and that the purpose of this revelation was not only to teach him as to

God’s dealings with men, but also to school and subdue his own rebellious heart?

 “And, behold, there came a voice unto him,” - The expression is different from

that of v. 9. There we read of the “word of the Lord,” - here of a “voice.” But

this is not to be identified with the “still small voice” of v. 12 - “and said,

What doest thou here, Elijah?”

 

14   And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts:

because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down

thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only,

am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”  Verbatim as in v.10.

What are we to understand from this repetition of the former answer? Has the

lesson of this theophany been lost upon him? Has he failed to grasp its significance?

It is probable that he only partially understood its meaning, and it certainly looks

as if he still felt himself an injured and disappointed man; as if the recollection of

the way in which his work had been frustrated still rankled in his soul. But though

the words are the same, it is possible, and indeed probable, that the tone was

entirely different; that instead of speaking, as he had spoken before, querulously

and almost defiantly, he now, catching his inspiration from the still small voice,

speaks with bated breath and profound self humiliation. The facts are the same.

He repeats them, because they and they alone explain why he is there, and

because he cannot see as yet how they are to be remedied. But he is now

conscious of a misgiving as to the wisdom and piety of his course. He feels

he has acted hastily and faithlessly, and has wanted to do God’s work in his

own rough way. He will go back, if it be God’s will; he will be content to

wait God’s time, and to follow His leading. The commission which is

straightway given him almost proves that he had experienced a change. It

implies that he is now fitted for his high ministry.

 

15  And the LORD said unto him, Go, return” -  this is God’s answer

to the question, “What doest thou here?-  “on thy way to the wilderness

of Damascus:” - He was to find a hiding place — we find the king of

Damascus at war with Ahab, ch. 20.or possibly a sphere for work, — he

would be near Hazael — in the rugged desert which stretches south and east of

the Syrian capital - “and when thou comest, anoint” - In the Hebrew the time

of the anointing is indefinite. This commission has long been a crux interpretum.

For neither Hazael, nor Jehu, nor Elisha, so far as we have any record, was ever

anointed by Elijah. Elisha was called by him to the prophetic office. Hazael, it is

barely possible, may have been anointed secretly, like David (I Samuel 16:3, 13),

but all that we gather from Scripture is, that he was called in an indirect way, and

certainly not anointed, by Elisha (II Kings 8:12-15). Jehu was certainly anointed,

but it was neither by Elisha nor Elijah (Ibid. 9:1, 6), but by one of the sons of the

prophets.  All we can say, consequently, is that the command was obeyed in the

 spirit, and no doubt in the best possible time and way. There may have been good

reasons, of which we know nothing, why Elijah should devolve the appointment of

the two kings upon his successor, and we can readily understand that the word

anoint” was, as in Judges 9:8, Isaiah 61:1, never meant to be construed literally.

For in the first place, we have no record elsewhere of the anointing of any prophet;

and secondly, it is remarkable that when Elijah might so easily have anointed Elisha,

he did nothing of the kind. It is clear, therefore, that he understood the word to

mean “appoint.” And the root idea of anointing, it must be remembered,

was the setting apart for the service of God (Exodus 29:6-7). Hence it was that

vessels (Exodus 30:26 sqq.), and even stones (Genesis 28:18), were anointed.

And when we find that these three persons were set apart sooner or later, and in

different ways, to fulfill the high purposes of God, that ought to suffice us. The

prophet is here taught by word much the same lesson that had been conveyed by

signs, in the preceding vision. No doubt there are additional particulars — the

vision dealt only with principles, the charge descends to details and prescribes

duties — but still the great lesson that souls are to be won, that God’s

kingdom is to be advanced, not by wrath and vengeance, by fire and sword,

but by meekness and gentleness, through the reason and the conscience, is

proclaimed. Hazael and Jehu, each was God’s instrument to punish; each

was like the sweeping storm or the devouring fire, each was an engine of

destruction; but by neither of these were the hearts Of men turned to the

Lord. It was the sword of Elisha, the sword of his mouth (Isaiah 11:4; 49:2;

Revelation 1:16; 2:16), that should constrain men to hide their faces and humble

themselves before God -  Hazael to be king over Syria:”

 

16  And Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over

Israel:” - The prophet thus learns that the house of Omri is to share the fate

of the dynasties which had preceded it. Jezebel’s triumph is not to endure: -

 and Elisha [My God is salvation. This name, borne by the successor of Elijah,

“My God is the Lord,” looks like a fresh revelation of God’s nature and

 purpose  of grace -  “the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah shalt thou

anoint to be prophet in thy room.”  So far from Elijah’s work being fruitless,

or from the prophetic order being extinguished, provision is now made for his

successor.

 

17  And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of

Hazael” – (See II Kings 8:12, 28; 10:32; 13:3, 22) “shall Jehu slay”

(Ibid. 9:24-33; ch.10; Isaiah 66:16) – “and him that escapeth from

the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay.”  Elijah might reasonably interpret

the commission to “anoint” Hazael, as a figure, seeing there is an undoubted

figure of speech here. Elisha was a man of peace. His sword was the

sword of the Spirit, the word of God.” It was by “the breath of his

lips he slew the wicked” (Isaiah 2:4; II Thessalonians 2:8; Hosea 6:5). Not

only are vs. 16-17 an interpretation, in some sort, of the vision, but they are an

answer to Elijah’s complaint (vs. 10, 14). The “children of Israel who had

forsaken the covenant should be punished by Hazael (II Kings 8:12, “I know

what thou wilt do unto the children of Israel,  and (Ibid.10:32); the

king and queen who had thrown down the altars and slain the prophets

should be slain, one by the sword of Syria, the other at the command of

Jehu; while to his allegation that the prophets were extinct and he was left

alone is opposed the ordination of a successor, and the mention of the

seven thousand” in v. 18.

 

18  Yet I have left me seven thousand” - not so much a round as a symbolical

number - “The remnant according to the election of grace” (Romans 11:5). It

is like the 144,000 and the 12,000 of Revelation 7:4-8. The prominent idea is

perhaps this: Though the children of Israel have forsaken My covenant, yet I have

kept and will keep it. It also suggests how the still small voice had been speaking

in the silence - “in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and

every mouth which hath not kissed him.”

 

                        “Yet in fall’n Israel are there hearts and eyes,

                           That day by day in prayer like thine arise,

                        Thou know’st them not, but their Creator knows.”

 

19  So he departed thence, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who

was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the

twelfth:” – Elisha is found not in his study, but in the field:  not with a book

in his hand, but the plow – “and Elijah passed by him, and cast his mantle

upon him.” – the rough hairy mantle had come to be recognized as the garb

of a prophet (Zechariah 13:4). The prophet’s cloak was a sign of the prophet’s

vocation. To cast the cloak to or upon Elisha was therefore an appropriate and

significant way of designating him to the prophetic office. When Elijah went to

heaven Elisha had the mantle entire. (II Kings 2:13)

 

20  And he left the oxen, and ran after Elijah,” - It is clear that Elisha both

understood the act, and made up his mind at once. No doubt he too had long

sighed and prayed over the demoralization of his country and the

dishonor done to his God. (Dear reader, whose side are you on?  Does it

bother you how America, too, has cast God’s laws behind her back?  Are

you aware of God’s awareness?  [see Ezekiel 9:4] – CY – 2010) - Elijah,

after casting the mantle, strode on, leaving it for Elisha to take or reject it.

The latter soon showed his choice by running after him -“and said, Let me,

I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee.

And he said unto him, Go back again: for what have I done to thee?”

There is not a word of reproof here.  Indeed, it would have been strange if there

had been. A greater readiness to obey the prophetic summons, Elisha could not

well have showed. Forthwith, as soon as he realized his call, “he left the

oxen and ran after” his new master. True, he asks permission — and why

should he not? for “grace is no enemy to good nature” — to give a parting

embrace to the father and mother to whom he owed his life, and whom he

had been required by God to honor. But there is no proof of “a divided

heart” here. If he had begged to be allowed to stay and bury his mother

and father (Luke 9:59-61) it might have been otherwise. But he suggests

nothing of the kind. He says: “One kiss, one farewell, and then I will follow

thee.”

 

21  And he returned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen, and slew

them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen, and

gave unto the people, and they did eat.” – The plough of the East is

extremely crude and slender, but the yoke, shaft, etc., would afford a fair supply

of wood. The scarcity of timber may have had something to do with this

application of the “instruments of the oxen;” but it is much more important to see

it in a symbolical act, expressive of Elisha’s entire renunciation of his

secular calling. This was for his servants, or peasants, neighbors or friends.

It was a farewell, not a religious feast. “Then he arose, and went after Elijah,

and ministered unto him.”  Elisha became Elijah’s  attendant, as Joshua had

been the minister of Moses (Exodus 24:13; Joshua 1:1), and as Gehazi

subsequently became servant to him. 

 

 

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