1 Kings 17

1 KINGS CHAPTER 17

Elijah Announces Drought

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible includes a helpful write up on Baal in order to help us achieve a better cultural context in which to consider the following events:

        • With his embrace of Baal and Canaanite religion, Ahab completed the strategic program initiated by his father, Omri. The alliance with Phoenicia brought not only commercial and military ties, but also state-sponsored religious syncretism. Yet, because prophets and Biblical authors were so consistently critical of Israel’s pagan practices, it must be assumed that to some degree Ahab simply made official what had for many years been unofficial popular religious practice.”

        • Baal and the large pantheon of Canaanite gods are not only attacked in the Biblical text but are also well represented in archaeological and textual records of the ancient Mediterranean world. Finds include statues, reliefs, high places, and a plethora of inscriptions and texts from the Levant and the Aegean. Baal, the god of fertility and storms, is depicted as a strident warrior bearing a lightning bolt. His annual death and revival is recorded in the Baal Cycle, a religious text from the ancient port city of Ugarit. After delivering the winter rains and the spring vegetation, Baal was vanquished for the summer by Mot, the deity of death, only to be resurrected in the following year. Baal’s life cycle coincided with the physical seasons and may also have reflected the ebb and flow of political power and cosmic equilibrium. Baal fought with other gods as well, such as Yamm, the chaotic deity of the sea, and usually had the support of his sister/consort Anat, a fierce goddess of war and sensuality.”

        • In accepting Baal, Ahab was simply bringing his kingdom closer to the mainstream of ancient Near Eastern thought and practice. In fact, most cities and kingdoms in the region had their local versions of Baal. In some cases, the deity had a different name or epithet based on local conditions but his qualities and the mode of his worship was for the most part the same. In many Syrian cities, e.g., he was named Hadad. Under Ahab, Israel became yet another Baal-worshiping nation-state.”

        • Perhaps Ahab and Jezebel exceeded all others simply by the degree or extent of their apostasy, but it may also be that the distinction was in what they attempted. In ancient polytheism deities existed in hierarchical structures, both politically and cosmically. Some gods were manifest in cosmic elements (sun, moon, storm, waters), and some had political clout among the council of the gods. Ruling deities were connected to large empires and national entities, while cities had their patron deities. Lower echelon deities typically served in connection with clans and families and at times ancestors were seen as divinized in some sense and capable of bringing protection and succor.”

        • Through much of the judges period and revived in the more recent monarchy, the worship of Baal and Asherah most likely arose to serve the people’s concerns about fertility. Yahweh would have still been viewed as their national god, but the mentality in the ancient world was to posit a variety of deities in a variety of functions rather than to have a single, all-purpose deity. In this past history, then, Yahweh would not have been replaced by Baal and Asherah, but they simply would have been brought alongside him. One possible variation with the movement led by Ahab and Jezebel is that rather than simply bringing Baal in as second-level fertility deity in conjunction with Yahweh as national deity, they were attempting to replace Yahweh as national deity with the Baal of Samaria. Standing against this attempted transition, Elijah becomes the champion of Yahweh’s kingship.”

      • Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, told King Ahab, “As surely as Yahweh lives, the God of Israel, before whom I stand, there will be no dew or rain in the years ahead except by my command!” Then the word of Yahweh came to him saying, “Leave here, travel eastward, and hide at the wadi Kerith east of the Jordan. You will drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to provide food to you there.” So he went and did as the word of Yahweh had instructed. He went and lived by the wadi Kerith, east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and in the evening, and he drank from the wadi.

        • ESV Study Bible writes, “Before this time no prophet addressed the house of Omri as Israel’s earlier royal houses had been addressed (cf 14:7-13; 16:1-4), but now Elijah is introduced. His announcement of doom on the house of Omri will be delayed, however, until 21:21-24. His first task is to tackle the problem of Baal worship…Chapter 17 provides the context- a divinely ordained drought- in which the climactic demonstration of the truth about God and the ‘gods’ will take place (18:16-40). This passage teaches that it is the Lord, not Baal or any other ‘god,’ who controls both life and death, both fertility and infertility…In Canaanite religion, Baal had authority over rain and fertility. The absence of rain meant the absence of Baal, who must periodically submit to the god of death Mot (during the dry season). This cyclical and polytheistic view of reality is the focus of Elijah’s challenges. Elijah worships a single God who lives and yet, while living, can deny both dew and rain to the land. The Lord, not Baal, brings fertility; and the Lord’s presence in judgment, not his absence in death, leads to infertility.”

        • HCSB adds, “’Gilead’ on the east side of the Jordan river and south of the Yarmuk river was wild, forested, and largely unsettled during this era…A ‘wadi’ is a stream that is dry most of the year, but which tended to have flash floods during the wet season.”

      • Guzik draws our attention to this interesting point, “Every bit of food that came to Elijah came from the beak of an unclean animal. Elijah had to put away his traditional ideas of clean and unclean or he would die of starvation. Through this, God taught Elijah to emphasize the spirit of the law before the letter of the law…Charles Spurgeon drew two points of application from this event, likening the food the ravens brought to spiritual food. First, he recognized that God may bring a good word to us through an unclean vessel, spiritually unclean, like a raven. Second, that one can bring spiritual food to others and still be unclean spiritually themselves.” Spurgeon said, “But see, too, how possible it is for us to carry bread and meat to God’s servants, and do, some good things for his church, and yet be ravens still!”

The Widow at Zarephath

      • After a while the wadi dried up because there hadn’t been any rain in the land. Then the word of Yahweh came to him saying, “Get up and go live in Zarephath in Sidonian territory. I have already commanded a widow who lives there to provide food for you.” So Elijah got up and went to Zarephath. When he came to the city gate, there was a widow gathering sticks. He called out to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a cup so that I can take a drink.” As she went to get it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a piece of bread.” But she replied, “As sure as Yahweh your God lives, I don’t have anything baked- only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. Right now I am gathering a couple of sticks to go home and make a meal for my son and myself. After we’ve eaten that we will die.” Then Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go and do as you have said, but first make me a little bread and bring it to me. Afterward, make something for yourself and your son, because this is what Yahweh, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not become empty and the jar of oil will not run out until the day Yahweh sends rain on the land.’” She went and did as Elijah had said and there was food everyday for her, Elijah, and her household. The flour jar did not become empty and the oil jug did not run out, in accordance with the word of Yahweh that He had spoken through Elijah.

        • ESV Study Bible writes, “The heartland of Baal worship in Sidon might have been thought by many to be a region over which Israel’s God could have no authority. Yet one discovers as the story unfolds that it is nevertheless an area also badly affected by the drought announced in v. 1…The Lord is God of all lands and can bring drought to all lands…”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “Elijah’s request would have been modest in terms of normal hospitality. At this time, however, it exposes the strain caused by drought and famine…Elijah is recognizable as an Israelite, and the Sidonian woman is greeting him in the name of his own god, as per common protocol. This statement does not indicate any belief of the woman in Yahweh.”

        • ESV Study Bible continues, “Against all parental instinct, the woman is asked to give Elijah something to eat first, before feeding herself and her son. This is to ask for a great step of faith.”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible adds, “The importance of this is to show Yahweh’s superiority to Baal. Not only could Yahweh provide food for his own prophet, he now sent that prophet up into Baal’s home territory, where there was a drought, to provide for Baal’s people.”

Elijah Raises the Widow’s Son

      • After this, the son of the woman who owned the house got sick. He got worse and worse until there was no breath left in him. She said to Elijah, “Man of God, what do you have against me? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”Elijah replied, “Give me your son.” He took him from her arms, carried him up to the upper room where he had been staying, and laid him on his own bed. Then he cried out to Yahweh saying, “O Yahweh my God, have You brought disaster even on the widow I am staying with by killing her son?” Then he stretched himself out over the boy three times and cried out to Yahweh, “O Yahweh my God, let this boy’s life come back to him!” Yahweh listened to Elijah’s voice, and the boy’s life came back into him, and he lived. Elijah took the boy, brought him down from the upper room and into the house, and gave him to his mother. Then Elijah said, “Look, your son is alive!” Then the woman said to him, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of Yahweh that you speak is true.”

        • NET Bible notes, “This episode is especially significant in light of Ahab’s decision to promote Baal worship in Israel. In Canaanite mythology the drought that swept over the region (v. 1) would signal that Baal, a fertility god responsible for providing food for his subjects, had been defeated by the god of death and was imprisoned in the underworld. While Baal was overcome by death and unable to function like a king, Israel’s God demonstrated his sovereignty and superiority to death by providing food for a widow and restoring life to her son. And he did it all in Sidonian territory, Baal’s back yard, as it were. The episode demonstrates that Israel’s God, not Baal, is the true king who provides food and controls life and death. This polemic against Baalism reaches its climax in the next chapter, when the Lord proves that he, not Baal, controls the elements of the storm and determines when the rains will fall.”

        • ESV Study Bible writes, “The widow appears to have been convinced of the truth of Elijah’s religion by the demonstration of God’s power in vv. 8-16…”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible says, “Following ancient Near Eastern custom, Elijah’s quarters were probably situated in a separate room accessed by an outside stairway. This arrangement maintained the woman’s reputation and offered Elijah a measure of privacy.” The same source comments, “Elijah plaintively expressed to God the fear that his presence caused the child’s death.”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible includes this interesting, even if unsettling, information regarding Elijah’s actions in bringing the child back to life, “This verse and 2 Kgs 4:34-35 are among the most blatant examples of magical procedures used by Israel’s prophets. Incantation literature from Assyria indicates the belief that demons exercise power over an individual by touching part to part. It is an expression of possession. Here Elijah is imitating that procedure to reverse the effects as vitality and life force are transferred. Nonetheless, here, as the prayer indicates, the power of Yahweh is at work. In the ancient world, sharp lines were not drawn between magic and religion. Both are related to interacting with the world of the divine. Incantations in the ancient world also represented attempts to tap the power of deity through words of power, but in Israel, unlike her neighbors, God could not be bound or obligated by such words or by accompanying rituals. As is often seen to be the case throughout the OT, Yahweh regularly uses ideas and practices that are familiar to the Israelites in their culture to accomplish his work.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible includes this remark regarding the same topic, “While it is unclear what life-giving power Elijah was trying to convey by his physical contact with the deceased boy, it is clear that his confidence was in the Lord. Elisha later performed a similar physical ritual when the Lord restored the dead son of the woman from Shunem (2 Kgs 4:32-37).”

      • The same source continues, “The miracle of the child’s raising rewarded Elijah’s faith and confirmed the mother’s initial confidence in God’s prophet. Her testimony may indicate that she put her faith in the Lord. Jesus cited her as an example of God’s concern for non-Israelites and as an indication that God’s messenger is often more easily received by others than by his own countrymen (Luke 4:24-26). The Scriptures repeatedly mention God’s care of widows as illustrating his care for needy people (Ex 22:21; Deut 10:18; 27:19; Ps 68:5; Isa 1:17; Jas 1:27).”

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