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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1And 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.
The third year - i. e., in the third year of his sojourn with the widow. The whole period of drought was three years and a half Luke 4:25; James 5:17 : of this, probably about one year was passed by Elijah in the torrent-course of Cherith, and two years and a half at Sarepta.
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 greatly:
Obadiah's name, "servant of Yahweh," indicates his religious character. It corresponds to the modern Arabic name Abdallah. Ahab could scarcely have been ignorant of Obadiah's faithfulness to Yahweh; and it tells in favor of the monarch's tolerance that he should have maintained an adherent of the old religion in so important an office. There seems to be no doubt that the worst deeds of Ahab's reign sprang less from his own free will and natural disposition than from the evil counsels, or rather perhaps the imperious requirements, of his wife.
4For it was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the LORD, that Obadiah took an hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water.)
We have no details of Jezebel's deed of blood. Some have conjectured that it was the answer of Jezebel to Elijah's threat, and that the command given him to hide in Cherith alone saved him from being one of the victims. This view receives some support from Obadiah's act and words 1 Kings 18:13.
Fifty in a cave - The limestone formation of Judaea and Samaria abounds with large natural caverns, the size of which is easily increased by art. These "caves" play an important part in the history of the country, serving especially as refuges for political offenders and other fugitives Judges 6:2; 1 Samuel 13:6; Hebrews 11:38.
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.
Unto all fountains of water and unto all brooks - Rather, "to all springs of water and to all torrent-courses." The former are the perennial streams; the latter are the torrent-courses which become dry in an ordinary summer.
All the beasts - Rather, some, or, "a portion of our beasts."
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, 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 me?
Obadiah thinks that to execute this commission will be fatal to him 1 Kings 18:12.
10As the LORD thy God liveth, there is no nation or kingdom, whither my lord hath not sent to seek thee: and when they said, He is not there; he took an oath of the kingdom and nation, that they found thee not.
There is no nation ... - This is expressed in the style of Oriental hyperbole. What Obadiah means is: "there is no nation nor kingdom, of those over which he has influence, whither the king has not sent." He could scarcely, for example, have exacted an oath from such countries as Egypt or Syria of Damascus. But Ahab may have been powerful enough to expect an oath from the neighboring Hittite, Moabite, and Edomite tribes, perhaps even from Ethbaal his father-in-law, and the kings of Hamath and Arpad.
11And 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 shall carry thee whither I know not; and so when I come and tell Ahab, and he cannot find thee, he shall slay me: but I thy servant fear the LORD from my youth.
13Was 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?
14And now thou sayest, Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here: and he shall slay me.
15And Elijah said, As the LORD 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?
Art thou he ... - Meaning, "Can it possibly be that thou dost venture to present thyself before me, thou that troublest Israel by means of this terrible drought?" The charge of "troubling" had never before been brought against anyone but Achan (marginal reference "e"); it was one which must have called to the prophet's recollection Achan's miserable fate.
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, and thou hast followed Baalim.
Instead of apologies, and pleas for pardon, Elijah meets the charge with a countercharge, and makes a sudden demand. "Gather to me," etc. This boldness, this high tone, this absence of the slightest indication of alarm, seems to have completely discomfited Ahab, who ventured on no reply, made no attempt to arrest the prophet, did not even press him to remove his curse and bring the drought to an end, but simply consented to do his bidding. There is no passage of Scripture which exhibits more forcibly the ascendancy that a prophet of the Lord, armed with His spiritual powers, could, if he were firm and brave, exercise even over the most powerful and most unscrupulous of monarchs.
Baalim - i. e., the various aspects under which the god, Baal, was worshipped, Baal-shamin, Baal-zebub, Baal-Hamman, etc.
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.
Carmel (Joshua 12:22 note) was chosen by the prophet as the scene of the gathering to which he invited, or rather summoned, Ahab. Its thick jungles of copse and numerous dwarf-oaks and olives, would furnish abundant wood for his intended sacrifice. Here was a perennial fountain; and here again an ancient "altar of the Lord" 1 Kings 18:30, belonging probably to the old times of non-idolatrous high-place worship - perhaps an erection of one of the patriarchs. On the one hand, there would be a view of the Mediterranean, from where the first sign of rain was likely to come, and on the other of Jezreel, the residence of the court at the time, with its royal palace and its idol-temples, so that the intended trial would take place in the sight (so to speak) of the proud queen and her minions.
The prophets of Baal - The priests of Baal are so called not so much because they claimed a power of foretelling the future, as because they were "teachers" of the false religion, and more especially because they stand here in antagonism to the "prophet of the Lord," with whom they are about to contend.
The prophets of the groves, four hundred - Rather, "of the grove" - the prophets, or priests, attached to the "grove" - אשׁרה 'ăshêrāh - which Ahab had made, probably at Jezreel (marginal reference). The number 400 seems to have been one especially affected by Ahab. We again find 400 prophets at the close of his reign 1 Kings 22:6. The number 40 entered largely into the religious system of the Jews 1 Kings 6:17; Exodus 26:19; Deuteronomy 25:3; Ezekiel 41:2.
Which eat at Jezebel's table - Rather, "which eat from Jezebel's table." Oriental etiquette would not have allowed them to eat "at" the table of the queen, which was spread in the seraglio. They were fed from the superfluity of her daily provision, which was no doubt on a sumptuous scale. Compare 1 Kings 4:22-23.
20So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel.
Local tradition places the site of Elijah's sacrifice, not on the highest point of the mountain (1,728 ft.), but at the southeastern extremity (1,600 ft.) of the ridge, where a shapeless ruin, composed of great hewn stones, and standing amid thick bushes of dwarf-oak, in the near vicinity of a perennial spring, is known to the Arabs as "El-Maharrakah," "the burning," or "the sacrifice." All the circumstances of the locality adapt it for the scene of the contest.
21And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.
The people were mute. They could not but feel the logical force of Elijah's argument; but they were not prepared at once to act upon it. They wished to unite the worship of Yahweh with that of Baal - to avoid breaking with the past and completely rejecting the old national worship, yet at the same time to have the enjoyment of the new rites, which were certainly sensuous, and probably impure.
22Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the LORD; but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men.
I, even I, only remain - He means, "I only remain in the exercise of the office of a prophet." The others (Compare 1 Kings 18:4) had been forced to fly and hide themselves in dens and caves of the earth; their voices were silenced; they had not ventured to come to Carmel. Elijah contrasts his solitary appearance on the side of Yahweh at the great gathering with the crowd of those opposed to him.
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 bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under:
24And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.
The God that answereth by fire - God had frequently before consumed offerings with supernatural fire Leviticus 9:24; Judges 6:21. The Baal-worshippers were no doubt in the habit of attributing thunder and lightning to their gods - the great Nature-power - and thus had no excuse for declining Elijah's challenge.
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.
Elijah gives precedence in everything to the Baal-priests, to take away all ground for cavil in case of failure. It is his object to make an impression on king and people; and he feels rightly that the impression will depend greatly on the contrast between their inability and the power given to him.
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.
And called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon - Compare the parallel in the conduct of the Greeks of Ephesus. Acts 19:34. The words "O Baal, hear us," probably floated on the air as the refrain of a long and varied hymn of supplication.
They leaped upon the altar which was made - The marginal rendering is preferable to this. Wild dancing has always been a devotional exercise in the East, and remains so to this day; witness the dancing dervishes. It was practiced especially in the worship of Nature-powers, like the Dea Phrygia (Cybele), the Dea Syra (Astarte?), and the like.
27And 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.
The object of Elijah's irony was two-fold;
(1) to stimulate the priests to greater exertions, and so to make their failure more complete, and
(2) to suggest to the people that such failure would prove absolutely that Baal was no God.
The force of the expressions seems to be, "Cry on, only cry louder, and then you will make him hear, for surely he is a god; surely you are not mistaken in so regarding him." He is "talking," or "meditating;" the word used has both senses, for the Hebrews regarded "meditation" as "talking with oneself;" "or he is pursuing;" rather, perhaps, "he hath a withdrawing," i. e., "he hath withdrawn himself into privacy for awhile," as a king does upon occasions. The drift of the whole passage is scornful ridicule of the anthropomorphic notions of God entertained by the Baal-priests and their followers (compare Psalm 50:21). The pagan gods, as we know from the Greek and Latin classics, ate and drank, went on journeys, slept, conversed, quarrelled, fought. The explanations of many of these absurdities were unknown to the ordinary worshipper, and probably even the most enlightened, if his religion was not a mere vague Pantheism, had notions of the gods which were largely tainted with a false anthropomorphism.
28And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.
Elijah's scorn roused the Baal-priests to greater exertions. At length, when the frenzy had reached its height, knives were drawn, and the blood spirted forth from hundreds of self-inflicted wounds, while an ecstasy of enthusiasm seized many, and they poured forth incoherent phrases, or perhaps an unintelligible jargon, which was believed to come from divine inspiration, and constituted one of their modes of prophecy.
The practice of inflicting gashes on their limbs, in their religious exercises, was common among the Carians, the Syrians, and the Phrygians. We may regard it as a modification of the idea of human sacrifice. The gods were supposed to be pleased with the shedding of human blood.
Lancets - Lancets, in our modern sense of the word, can scarcely have been intended by our translators. The Hebrew word is elsewhere always translated "spears," or "lances;" and this is probably its meaning here.
29And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.
And they prophesied - Compare 1 Kings 22:12. The expression seems to be used of any case where there was an utterance of words by persons in a state of religious ecstasy.
Until the time of the offering etc - Rather, "Until toward the time." Elijah had built his altar by the actual time of the offering 1 Kings 18:36.
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 that was broken down.
31And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the LORD came, saying, Israel shall be thy name:
32And 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.
He built an altar in the name of the Lord - i. e., calling, as he built it, on the name of Yahweh, and so dedicating it to His service.
Two measures of seed - literally, "two seahs of seed." The seah contained about three gallons.
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 put the wood in order ... - He obeyed, that is, all the injunctions of the Law with respect to the offering of a burned sacrifice (marginal reference). He thus publicly taught that the ordinances of the Law were binding upon the kingdom of Israel.
Barrels - Rather, "pitchers" or "water-jars," such as the maidens used to carry on their heads (Genesis 24:14-20. Compare Judges 7:16, Judges 7:19). The flooding the sacrifice and the trench with water would at once do away with any suspicion of fraud, and greatly enhance in the eyes of the people the marvelousness of the miracle. The unfailing spring at the eastern end of Carmel 1 Kings 18:19, was capable of furnishing as much water as he needed.
34And 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.
35And the water ran round 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, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.
At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice - i. e., probably "the ninth hour," or three o'clock. Thus there might still remain about five hours of light, during which the other events of the day were accomplished.
Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel - This solemn address would carry back the thoughts of the pious to the burning bush of Horeb, and the words there spoken (marginal references), for there only had this mysterious formula been used before. Its use now was calculated to stir their faith and prepare them in some degree for God's answering "by fire."
That I have done all these things at thy word - i. e., "That I have been divinely directed in all that I have done publicly as a prophet, in proclaiming the drought, in gathering this assembly, and in proposing this trial; that I have not done them of my own mind" (marginal reference).
37Hear 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.
That thou hast turned their heart - The hearts of the people were turning. Elijah speaks of them as already turned, anticipating the coming change, and helping it on.
38Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
The fire of the Lord fell - This cannot have been a flash of lightning. It was altogether, in its nature as well as in its opportuneness, miraculous. Compare the marginal references for the conduct of the people.
39And 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 Lord, he is the God - The people thus pronounced the matter to be clearly and certainly decided. Baal was overthrown; he was proved to be no god at all. The Lord Yahweh, He, and He alone, is God. Him would they henceforth acknowledge, and no other.
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.
Elijah required the people to show their conviction by acts - acts which might expose them to the anger of king or queen, but which once committed would cause them to break with Baal and his worshippers forever.
Elijah is said to have slain the "prophets of Baal," because the people killed them by his orders. Why they were brought down to the torrent-bed of Kishon to be killed, is difficult to explain. Perhaps the object of Elijah was to leave the bodies in a place where they would not be found, since the coming rain would, he knew, send a flood down the Kishon ravine, and bear off the corpses to the sea. Elijah's act is to be justified by the express command of the Law, that idolatrous Israelites were to be put to death, and by the right of a prophet under the theocracy to step in and execute the Law when the king failed in his duty.
41And Elijah said unto Ahab, Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain.
Get thee up, eat and drink - Ahab had descended the hill-side with Elijah, and witnessed the slaughter of the priests. Elijah now bade him ascend the hill again, and partake of the feast which was already prepared, and which always followed upon a sacrifice.
There is a sound of abundance of rain - Either the wind, which in the East usually heralds rain, had begun to rise, and sighed through the forests of Carmel - or perhaps the sound was simply in the prophet's ears, a mysterious intimation to him that the drought was to end, and rain to come that day.
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,
Ahab could feast; Elijah could not, or would not. Ascending Carmel not quite to the highest elevation 1 Kings 18:43, but to a point, a little below the highest, from where the sea was not visible, he proceeded to pray earnestly for rain, as he had prayed formerly that it might not rain.
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.
Tradition says that Elijah's servant was the son of the widow of Sarepta 1 Kings 17:23.
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, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not.
A little cloud ... - Sailors know full well that such a cloud on the far horizon is often the forerunner of a violent storm.
45And 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.
46And the hand of the LORD was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.
Divinely directed, and divinely upheld, Elijah, instead of resting, ran in advance of the king's chariot the entire distance of at least 16 miles to the entrance of Jezreel. He thus showed himself ready to countenance and uphold the irresolute monarch, if he would turn from his evil courses, and proceed to carry out the religious reformation which the events of the day had inaugurated.
The entrance of Jezreel - Modern "Zerin." Ahab had not removed the capital from Samaria 1 Kings 22:10, 1 Kings 22:37; but he had built himself a palace at Jezreel 1 Kings 21:1, and appears to have resided there ordinarily. A contemporary Assyrian inscription speaks of him as "Ahab of Jezreel."
Elijah's caution in accompanying Ahab only to "the entrance" is like that of the modern Arabs, who can seldom be induced to trust themselves within walls. He rested on the outskirts of the town, waiting to learn what Jezebel would say or do, knowing that it was she, and not Ahab, who really governed the country.