1 Kings 18

1 KINGS CHAPTER 18

Elijah Confronts Ahab

      • After a long time, the word of Yahweh came to Elijah in the 3rd year of the drought, saying, “Go and make an appearance before Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.” So Elijah went to make an appearance before Ahab.

        • ESV Study Bible says, “In ch. 17 Elijah has lived privately, first in the Transjordanian wilderness and then in a Sidonian home. Now he reappears in public. The drought is to end, but it must become clear beforehand, not only to the widow Zarephath but also to all Israel, who is God.”

        • Guzik writes, “This remarkable drought lasted three-and-one-half years by the fervent prayer of Elijah…Earlier, God told Elijah to hide himself. Now it was time to present himself. There is a time to hide and be alone with God, and there is also a time to present yourself to the world. Some wish to always remain hidden when they should step up and present themselves…Elijah simply obeyed God’s command. Though it happened through the prayers of Elijah, his prayers were sensitive to the leading of God. The drought did not begin or end as a result of Elijah’s will, but at God’s will.”

      • The famine was severe in Samaria, and Ahab had called Obadiah, who was the supervisor of the royal household. Now, Obadiah feared Yahweh greatly, and when Jezebel was killing off Yahweh’s prophets he took 100 prophets and hid them in two caves, 50 in each cave. He also brought them food and water. Ahab told Obadiah, “Go through the land to all the springs and wadis. Maybe we’ll find grass so that we can keep the horses and mules alive and not have to kill some of the animals.” They divided the land between them in order to cover it. Ahab went one way by himself and Obadiah went the other way by himself.

        • Guzik mentions, “This may be the same Obadiah whose prophecy against Edom is recorded among the Minor Prophets. It is a little difficult to be certain, because there were 13 Obadiahs in the Old Testament. The Hebrew name Obadiah means ‘Worshipper of Yahweh’ or ‘Servant of Yahweh’…An Obadiah was sent out by King Jehoshaphat of Judah to teach the law in the cities of Judah (2 Chronicles 17:7)…An Obadiah was one of the overseers who helped repair the temple in the days of Josiah, King of Judah (2 Chronicles 34:12)…An Obadiah was a priest in the days of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10:5).”

      • As Obadiah was walking along, Elijah met him. Obadiah recognized him, fell facedown on the ground, and said, “Is it you, my lord Elijah?” He answered, “It is I. Go and tell your lord that Elijah is here.” Obadiah replied, “How have I sinned that you would hand your servant over to Arab to kill me? As surely as Yahweh your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my lord has not sent someone to search for you. When they say, ‘He is not here,’ he makes them swear an oath that they could not find you. Now you say, ‘Go tell your lord, “Elijah is here.”’ But as soon as I leave you, the Spirit of Yahweh may carry you off somewhere that I don’t know. If I go tell Ahab I’ve seen you, and then he can’t find you, he will kill me. But I, your servant, have feared Yahweh since my youth! My lord, haven’t you been told what I did when Jezebel was killing Yahweh’s prophets? I hid 100 of Yahweh’s prophets, 50 to a cave, and provided them food and water. Now you say, ‘Go and tell your lord, “Look, Elijah is here.”’ He will kill me!” But Elijah said, “As surely as Yahweh of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will appear before Ahab today.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “Obadiah’s care for 100 of the Lord’s prophets may indicate a group of prophets such as had existed since Samuel’s time (1 Sam 10:5-18; 19:20, 24). Such groups met together for study and mutual spiritual encouragement and are mentioned several times (2 Kgs 4:1, 38; 9:1) Elijah and Elisha apparently exercised leadership in some of these groups (2 Kgs 2:3-7, 15; 6:1-7).

        • Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary makes the following remarks regarding these prophets, “The priests and the Levites were gone to Judah and Jerusalem, 2Ch 11:13,14, but instead of them God raised up prophets, who read and expounded the word. They probably were from the schools of the prophets, first set up by Samuel. They had not the spirit of prophecy as Elijah, but taught the people to keep close to the God of Israel…See how wonderfully God raises up friends for his ministers and people, for their shelter in difficult times.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “Ancient Near Eastern protocol called for the extradition of fugitives or runaway slaves, as noted in the famous treaty between Pharaoh Ramses II and the Hittite king Hattusilis (see ANET 200b, 203a). But Elijah had not had to seek asylum with a foreign king. God provided for his safety at Kerith Brook (17:3) and with the widow at Zarephath (17:9).”

      • So Obadiah went to Ahab and told him, then Ahab went to meet Elijah. When Ahab saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?” Elijah answered, “I haven’t brought trouble on Israel, but you and your father’s house have by abandoning Yahweh’s commands and following the Baals. Now send out messengers and gather all of Israel to meet me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel’s table.”

        • ESV Study Bible writes, “Ahab sees Elijah, the prophet who has pronounced God’s judgment, as the cause of the nation’s trouble. But Elijah rightly answers that Ahab, who has turned to other gods, is the true troubler of Israel. The relatively rare Hebrew verb ‘akar, ‘to trouble,’ is also found in 1 Sam 14:24-46, where there is also dispute about who is really the troubler of Israel. Is it Saul, who has bound the people under a foolish oath, as Jonathan claims (1 Sam 14:29; cf Judg 11:29-40), or is it Jonathan himself? On a previous occasion Israel had found and killed a man who was bringing ‘trouble’ on them, and had thus escaped God’s curse (Joshua 6-7); esp notice the use of ‘akar in Josh 6:18 and 7:25). These other stories make it clear that much is at stake in this debate about who truly has troubled Israel. Elijah’s claim is that the trouble has religious roots: the abandonment of the commandments of the Lord and the embrace of the Baals…Ahab, not Elijah, is the ‘Achan’ of this particular narrative…The identity of the ‘troubler of Israel’ in Joshua 7 had been settled in public before all Israel; similarly, all Israel is now gathered on Mount Carmel…”

        • On Mount Carmel, NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “It rises over 1600 feet above the Mediterranean Sea and defines both the western edge of the Jezreel Valley and the coastline of the sea. Known in Egyptian texts as ‘the antelope’s nose,’ it has been a key landmark for seafarers and land-based travelers since the third-millennium BC. It is one of the country’s most lush and evergreen regions, and in the winter one can see from its summit the snow-capped Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon ranges. These qualities and the mountains position between Phoenicia and Israel, the sea and the land, made it the perfect location for the religious and cultural showdown that was about to transpire.”

        • On the prophets of Baal and the prophets of Asherah, the same source continues, “Baal was the storm-god of Canaanite mythology, whereas Asherah was the consort of the patriarch El…In Ahab’s day, Asherah was recast as Yahweh’s consort, a syncretistic approach that opened the door for Baal worship. A series of ninth-century BC inscriptions from a fortified way station at Kuntillet ‘Arjud in the Negev wilderness sheds light on the issue. They include statements such as ‘Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah.’ Painted images of dancing figures and a deity sitting on a throne are strong indicators that some Israelites worshiped Asherah as a consort of El…”

The Contest on Mount Carmel

      • So Ahab sent messengers to all the people of Israel and summoned the prophets together at Mount Carmel. Then Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long are you going to limp around on two crutches? If Yahweh is God, follow Him, but if Baal is, follow him.” But the people did not say a word. Then Elijah said to the people, “I am the only one of Yahweh’s prophets left, but Baal has 450 prophets. Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one of the bulls for themselves, cut it into pieces, and place it on the wood but do not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull, place it on the wood, but I won’t set fire to it either. Then, you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of Yahweh. The god who answers by fire- He is God.” And all the people answered, “That sounds good.”

        • Guzik draws our attention to a very important point, “1 Kings 18:36 makes it clear that Elijah did all this at the command of God. This wasn’t his clever idea or strategy. This was a God-inspired plan that Elijah obeyed.”

        • The Hebrew idiom in verse 21 is translated variously. NET Bible’s text critical notes say, “’How long are you going to limp around on two crutches?’ (see HALOT 762 s.v.) In context this idiomatic expression refers to indecision rather than physical disability.” This is why many translations render the verse some variation of “how long will you waver between two opinions.” However, HCSB writes, “The phrase ‘two opinions’ uses the Hebrew word saif, which means ‘crutches made from two sticks.’ So an alternative translation might be, ‘How long will you limp about on two crutches?’ The point of this metaphor was not about wavering between two opinions, but about the damage Israel was doing to itself by refusing to follow the Lord.”

      • Was Elijah the only prophet left alive? It seems there are a few different ways to interpret what exactly Elijah means here:

        • As Guzik points out, “This was not true and Elijah had reason to know that it was not true. In the recent past, Obadiah told him that he sheltered 100 prophets of God against the persecution of Jezebel and Ahab.”

        • Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges says, “As in 1 Kings 19:10 for the same word. Elijah means that he is the only one who now stands forward in Jehovah’s name. No doubt there were others of those saved by Obadiah and in other ways, but in such dangerous days they kept out of sight.”

        • Benson Commentary offers another possible understanding, “As for the other prophets of the Lord, mentioned 1 Kings 18:13, we can hardly imagine that they, in general, were men actually inspired and invested with the prophetic character; but such only as were disciples of the prophets, and candidates for the office of prophecy…” This view aligns with the view on those “prophets” which Matthew Henry puts forward in his commentary cited previously. Namely, that these prophets, “…had not the spirit of prophecy as Elijah, but taught the people to keep close to the God of Israel.” So, perhaps they were more what we would call ministers.

        • ESV Study Bible writes, “The Lord’s association with fire is well attested in the OT (e.g., Lev 9:24; 10:2; Num 16:35). Some extrabiblical sources give evidence that Baal was thought of as a god who controls the lightning. The question here is, which of these claims about control over fire is true?”

      • Elijah told Baal’s prophets, “Since there are so many of you, choose one bull for yourselves and prepare it first. Then call on the name of your god, but don’t light the fire.” So they took a bull, as he had suggested, and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning until noon saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no sound, and no one answered. So they did their limping dance around the altar they had made. At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Yell louder! After all, he is a god. Maybe he is deep in thought, or using the bathroom, or on a journey. Maybe he’s asleep and must be awakened.” So they yelled louder and, following their customs, cut themselves with knives and spears until they were covered with blood. They kept on raving all afternoon until time for the evening offering, but there was no sound, no answer, no response.

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible explains, “The gods of Canaan, Mesopotamia, and Greece were understood to possess many human characteristics, including vices and some bodily functions. Elijah was therefore taunting the prophets with their own possible explanations for Baal’s indifference. A passage in the Baal Cycle from Ugarit describes the challenge of finding Baal when he is not in his house, and another text describes his death, an integral part of the annual cycle… Self-flagellation represents a more desperate attempt to invoke Baal’s presence, and it is a behavior that is well attested in the Canaanite, Hittite and Mesopotamia cultures. The shedding of blood draws the attention of the gods…”

      • Then Elijah told all the people, “Come near to me.” So all the people drew near to him. He repaired Yahweh’s altar that had been torn down: he took 12 stones, corresponding to the number of tribes of Jacob’s sons, to whom the word of Yahweh had come saying, “Your name will be Israel”- and he built an altar in the name of Yahweh with those stones. Then he dug a trench around the altar large enough to hold about 3 gallons. Then he arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces, and placed it on the wood. Then he said, “Fill four water jars and pour the water on the offering and on the wood. Then he said, “Do it a second time.” and they did it a second time. Then he said, “Do it a third time.” and they did it a third time. The water flowed down all sides of the altar and filled the trench.

        • On the unit of measurement in verse 32 (two seahs of seed), NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “A seah (7 quarts) is a dry measure usually used for cereals and grains, and its use in this verse is unclear. If this is the volume of the trench, it is a small trench. The reference may be to the size of a container used to hold that amount, as a reference to indicate the trench’s depth.”

        • ESV Study Bible says, “The whole area is saturated with water so that there is no possibility of natural combustion. If this offering is consumed in fire, it must be the Lord’s doing.”

        • Guzik adds, “In wanting to make a deep impression upon the people, Elijah required more of Yahweh than he did of Baal. Elijah did not even suggest to the prophets of Baal that they wet down their sacrifice once or twice, much less three times. Yet Elijah did this, confident that it was no harder for God to ignite a wet sacrifice than it was for Him to set a dry one ablaze.”

      • When it was time for the evening offering, Elijah the prophet approached the altar and said, “O Yahweh, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known today that You are God in Israel, and that I am Your servant, and that I have done all of these things at Your command. Answer me, O Yahweh! Answer me so that these people will know that You, O Yahweh, are God, and that You are turning their hearts back!” Then the fire of Yahweh fell and burnt up the offering, the wood, the stones, the dust, and licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell facedown on the ground and said, “Yahweh, He is God! Yahweh, He is God!” Then Elijah told them, “Seize the prophets of Baal! Don’t let a single one of them escape!” They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the wadi Kishon and slaughtered them there.

        • ESV Study Bible writes, “The fire of the Lord consumes not only the burnt offering and the wood but also the inflammable stones and the saturated dust, as well as the water that was in the trench. This cannot be the result of any natural phenomenon, since even lightning would not consume the stones. As all the people realize, this fire can only be a special work of God.”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “…The irony of Yahweh’s victory is all the more potent when one considers the Canaanite religious tradition that Baal controlled lightning and rain. In one passage from Ugarit, Baal states, ‘I understand lightning, which not even the heavens know.’ The lightning, however, is more than just an impressive show of power. The sacrifices were ostensibly offered along with petitions for rain, typically sent by storm-gods. The fire indicated that God was listening to and answering Elijah’s prayer, so that when the rain came in the following verses, it was clear that it was sent by Yahweh rather than by Baal…As a result of this contest, the petition of Elijah is heard (the sacrifice is consumed), Yahweh sends rain (the drought ends)…with Yahweh having demonstrated himself superior to Baal in Baal’s own terms.”

Yahweh Sends Rain

      • Then Elijah told Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink, because the sound of a heavy rainstorm can be heard.” So Ahab went to eat and drink, while Elijah went up to the summit of Mount Carmel. He bowed down to the ground and put his face between his knees. Then he told his servant, “Go up and look toward the sea.” So he went and looked and replied, “There is nothing there.” Elijah sent him to look 7 times, and on the 7th time the servant reported, “Look! A little cloud the size of a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” Then Elijah said, “Go tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’” Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind blew, and there was a downpour. Ahab rode toward Jezreel. But Yahweh’s hand was on Elijah, and he tucked his mantle under his belt, and ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.

        • Pulpit Commentary provides this explanation, “And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah [Same expression 2 Kings 3:15; Ezekiel 1:3; Ezekiel 3:14; Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 33:22; cf. also Exodus 9:3; Judges 2:15; Ruth 1:13; Acts 11:21; Acts 13:11. Some of the commentators understand the words of Divine guidance, some of a supernatural strengthening. There is no need to exclude either interpretation. 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,’ etc. 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 [i.e., gathered round his waist the abba, or ‘mantle’ – the…(cf. 1 Kings 19:13, 19; 2 Kings 2:13, 14) was so-called from its ample size – which would otherwise have impeded his movements. Probably this, apart from the girdle, was his sole garment.”

        • The same source continues, “His object was apparently twofold. First, to honour 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 forerunner (see note on 1 Kings 1:5), would give due reverence to the Lord’s anointed, like Samuel on a somewhat similar occasion (1 Samuel 15:30, 31). 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.”

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