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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword.
2Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time.
The prophet had not long to wait before learning the intentions of the queen. A priest's daughter herself, she would avenge the slaughtered priests; a king's wife and a king's child, she would not quail before a subject. That very night a messenger declared her determination to compass the prophet's death within the space of a day.
So let the gods ... - A common oath about this time (marginal references). The Greek Version prefixes to this another clause, which makes the oath even more forcible, "As surely as thou art Elijah and I am Jezebel, so let the gods," etc.
3And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there.
The rapid movement of the original is very striking. "And he saw (or, "feared," as some read), and he rose, and he went, etc." The fear and flight of Elijah are very remarkable. Jezebel's threat alone, had not, in all probability, produced the extraordinary change but, partly, physical reaction from the over-excitement of the preceding day; and, partly, internal disquietude and doubt as to the wisdom of the course which he had adopted.
Beer-sheba is about 95 miles from Jezreel, on the very borders of the desert et-Tih. Elijah cannot possibly have reached it until the close of the second day. It seems implied that he traveled both night and day, and did not rest until he arrived thus far on his way. It was one of the towns assigned to the tribe of Simeon Joshua 19:2. The Simeonites were, however, by this time absorbed into Judah.
4But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.
Elijah did not feel himself safe until he was beyond the territory of Judah, for Ahab might demand him of Jehoshaphat 1 Kings 18:10, with whom he was on terms of close alliance 1 Kings 22:4. He, therefore, proceeds southward into the desert, simply to be out of the reach of his enemies.
A juniper-tree - The tree here mentioned רתם rethem is not the juniper but a species of broom (Genista monosperma), called "rethem" by the Arabs, which abounds in the Sinaitic peninsula. It grows to such a size as to afford shade and protection, both in heat and storm, to travelers.
Requested for himself that he might die - Like Moses and Jonah (marginal references). The prophet's depression here reached its lowest point. He was still suffering from the reaction of overstrained feeling; he was weary with nights and days of travel; he was faint with the sun's heat; he was exhausted for want of food; he was for the first time alone - alone in the awful solitude and silence of the great white desert. Such solitude might brace the soul in certain moods; but in others it must utterly overwhelm and crush. Thus the prophet at length gave way completely - made his prayer that he might die - and, exhausted sank, to sleep.
I am not better than my fathers - i. e., "I am a mere weak man, no better nor stronger than they who have gone before me, no more able to revolutionize the world than they."
5And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat.
An angel touched him - The friendly ministration of angels, common in the time of the patriarchs Genesis 18:2-16; Genesis 19:1-22; Genesis 28:12; Genesis 32:1, Genesis 32:24-29, and known also under the Judges Jdg 6:11-21; 13:3-20, was now extended to Elijah. Any other explanation of this passage does violence to the words. It is certainly not the intention of the writer to represent Elijah as relieved on this occasion by a human "messenger."
6And 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.
A cake baken on the coals - It is not implied that Elijah found a fire lighted and the cake on it, but only that he found one of the usual baked cakes of the desert, which form the ordinary food of the Arab at the present day.
At his head - The Hebrew word means simply "the place on which the head lies;" hence, the marginal rendering, "bolster."
7And 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.
Arise and eat ... - i. e., "Eat a second time, for otherwise the journey will be beyond thy powers." "The journey" was not simply a pilgrimage to Horeb, which was less than 200 miles distant, and might have been reached in six or seven days. It was to be a wandering in the wilderness, not unlike that of the Israelites when they came out of Egypt; only it was to last forty days instead of forty years.
8And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God.
The old commentators generally understood this to mean that Elijah had no other food at all, and compared this long fast with that of Moses and that of our Lord (marginal references). But the words do not exclude the notion of the prophet's having obtained such nourishment from roots and fruits as the desert offers to a wanderer, though these alone would not have sustained him.
9And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah?
A cave - Rather, "the cave." Some well-known cave must be intended - perhaps the "cliff of the rock" Exodus 33:22. The traditional "cave of Elijah" which is shown in the secluded plain immediately below the highest summit of the Jebel Mousa, cannot, from its small size, be the real cavern.
10And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.
I, even I only, am left - The same statement as in 1 Kings 18:22, but the sense is different. There Elijah merely said that he alone remained to execute the prophet's office, which was true; here he implies that he is the only prophet left alive, whereas a hundred had been saved by Obadiah 1 Kings Obadiah 18:4.
11And 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:
And behold, the Lord passed by - The remainder of this verse and the whole of the next are placed by the Septuagint, and by the Arabic translator, in the mouth of the Angel. But it seems best to regard the vision as ending with the words "before the Lord" - and the writer as then assuming that this was done, and proceeding to describe what followed.
12And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
A still small voice - literally, "a sound of soft stillness." The teaching is a condemnation of that "zeal" which Elijah had gloried in, a zeal exhibiting itself in fierce and terrible vengeances, and an exaltation and recommendation of that mild and gentle temper, which "beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." But it was so contrary to the whole character of the stern, harsh, unsparing Tishbite, that it could have found no ready entrance into his heart. It may have for a while moderated his excessive zeal, and inclined him to gentler courses; but later in his life the old harshness recurred in a deed in reference to which our Lord himself drew the well-known contrast between the spirits of the two Dispensations Luke 9:51-56.
13And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?
Mantle - The upper garment, a sort of short cloak or cape - perhaps made of untanned sheepskin, which was, besides the strip of leather round his loins, the sole apparel of the prophet (compare Matthew 3:4). For the action compare the marginal references.
There came a voice unto him ... - The question heard before in vision is now put again to the prophet by the Lord Himself. Elijah gives no humbler and more gentle answer. He is still satisfied with his own statement of his case.
14And 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.
15And the LORD said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria:
The answer is not a justification of the ways of God, nor a direct reproof of the prophet's weakness and despondency, nor an explanation or application of what Elijah had seen. For the present, he is simply directed back into the path of practical duty. His mission is not yet over, there is still work for him to do. He receives special injunctions with respect to Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha; and he is comforted with a revelation well adapted to rouse him from his despondency: there are seven thousand who will sympathize with him in his trials, and who need his care and attention.
The wilderness of Damascus - Probably the district north of the prophet's own country, between Bashan and Damascus itself, and which was known in later times as Iturea and Gaulanitis. Here the prophet might be secure from Jezebel, while he could readily communicate with both Israel and Damascus, and execute the commissions with which he was entrusted.
When thou comest, anoint - Rather, "and thou shalt go and anoint," Elijah performed one only of the three commissions given to him. He appears to have been left free to choose the time for executing his commissions, and it would seem that he thought the proper occasion had not arisen either for the first or the second before his own translation. But he took care to communicate the divine commands to his successor, who performed them at the fitting moment (marginal references).
16And Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room.
Jehu, the son of Nimshi - In reality the grandson of Nimshi. But he seems to have been commonly known by the above title 2 Kings 9:20; 2 Chronicles 22:7, perhaps because his father had died and his grand-father had brought him up.
Abel-meholah - See Judges 7:22 note. (Conder identifies it with Ain Helweh.)
Elisha ... shalt thou anoint - This is almost the only place where we hear of the anointing of prophets (compare 1 Chronicles 16:22 and Psalm 105:15).
17And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay: and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay.
Compare the marginal references.
Shall Elisha slay - i. e., With a spiritual slaying by the "word of the Lord," which is "sharper than any two-edged sword," and may be said to slay those whose doom it pronounces (compare the marginal reference; Jeremiah 1:10). Elisha does not seem, like Elijah, to have executed God's judgments on the guilty.
18Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.
Yet I have left me ... - Rather, as in the margin. "Seven thousand" faithful Israelites shall survive all the persecutions of Ahab and Jezebel, and carry down the worship of Yahweh to another generation. Elijah is mistaken in supposing that he only is left. The number is manifestly a "round" number, not an exact estimate. Perhaps it is, moreover, a mystical or symbolic number. Compare Revelation 7:5-8. Of all the symbolic numbers used in Scripture, seven is the most common.
Every mouth which hath not kissed him - Idolaters sometimes kissed the hand to the object of their worship Job 31:26-27; at other times they kissed the actual image (marginal reference).
19So he departed thence, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth: and Elijah passed by him, and cast his mantle upon him.
Plowing - Elisha's occupation is an indication of his character. He is emphatically a man of peace. He passes the year in those rural occupations which are natural to the son of a wealthy yeoman - superintending the field-laborers himself, and taking a share in their toils. He thus presents a strong contrast to the stern, harsh, rugged Gileadite, who is almost half an Arab, who seems to have no settled home, no quiet family circle, who avoids the haunts of men, and is content for months to dwell in a cavern instead of under a roof.
With twelve yoke of oxen - He was plowing in a field with eleven other plows at work, each drawn by one yoke of oxen. Plowing with a single pair of oxen was the practice in Egypt, in Assyria, in Palestine, and in modern times throughout Western Asia.
Passed by him - Rather, "crossed over to him." Perhaps it is meant that he crossed the stream of the Jordan.
Cast his mantle upon him - The action is explained as constituting a species of adoption, because a father naturally clothes his children. The notion of fatherhood and sonship was evidently understood between them 2 Kings 2:9-12.
20And he left the oxen, and ran after Elijah, and said, Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee. And he said unto him, Go back again: for what have I done to thee?
Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father ... - Not an unnatural request before following his new spiritual father. Elijah sees in his address a divided heart, and will not give the permission or accept the service thus tendered. Hence, his cold reply. See Luke 9:61-62.
Go back again ... - i. e., "Go, return to thy plowing ... why shouldest thou quit it? Why take leave of thy friends and come with me? What have I done to thee to require such a sacrifice? for as a sacrifice thou evidently regardest it. Truly I have done nothing to thee. Thou canst remain as thou art."
21And he returned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen, and gave unto the people, and they did eat. Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him.
Elisha returns to his oxen and laborers. He indicates his relinquishment of his home and calling by the slaughter of the particular yoke of oxen with which he had himself been plowing, probably the best beasts of the twelve, and by burning the "instruments," the p oughs and yokes, both made of wood. Next he feasts his people to show his gratitude for his call, Elijah apparently remaining the while; and then, leaving father and mother, cattle and land, good position and comfortable home, Elisha became the "minister" to the wanderer. Compare Exodus 24:13; Joshua 1:1.