1 Kings 17

CHAPTER XVII

Elijah's message to Ahab concerning the three years' drought, 1.

He is commanded to go to the brook Cherith; where he is fed by

ravens, 2-7.

He afterwards goes to a widow's house at Zarephath, and

miraculously multiplies her meal and oil, 8-16.

Her son dies, and Elijah restores him to life, 17-24.

NOTES ON CHAP. XVII

Verse 1. Elijah the Tishbite] The history of this great man is

introduced very abruptly; his origin is enveloped in perfect

obscurity. He is here said to be a Tishbite. Tishbeh, says Calmet,

is a city beyond Jordan, in the tribe of Gad, and in the land of

Gilead. Who was his father, or from what tribe he sprang, is not

intimated; he seems to have been the prophet of Israel peculiarly,

as we never find him prophesying in Judah. A number of apocryphal

writers have trifled at large about his parentage, miraculous

birth, of his continual celibacy, his academy of the prophets,

&c., &c., all equally worthy of credit. One opinion, which at

first view appears strange, bears more resemblance to truth than

any of the above, viz., that he had no earthly parentage known to

any man; that he was an angel of God, united for a time to a human

body, in order to call men back to perfect purity, both in

doctrine and manners, from which they had totally swerved. His

Hebrew name, which we have corrupted into Elijah and Elias, is

Alihu, or, according to the vowel points, Eliyahu; and

signifies he is my God. Does this give countenance to the

supposition that this great personage was a manifestation in the

flesh of the Supreme Being? He could not be the Messiah; for we

find him with Moses on the mount of transfiguration with Christ.

The conjecture that he was an angel seems countenanced by the

manner of his departure from this world; yet, in Jas 5:17, he is

said to be a man ομοιοπαθης, of like passions, or rather with real

human propensities: this, however, is irreconcilable with the

conjecture.

There shall not be dew nor rain these years] In order to remove

the abruptness of this address, R. S. Jarchi dreams thus:-"Elijah

and Ahab went to comfort Hiel in his grief, concerning his sons.

And Ahab said to Elijah, Is it possible that the curse of Joshua,

the son of Nun, who was only the servant of Moses, should be

fulfilled; and the curse of Moses, our teacher, not be fulfilled;

who said, De 11:16, 17:

If ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them, then

the Lord's wrath shall be kindled against you; and he will shut up

the heaven that there be no rain? Now all the Israelites serve

other gods, and yet the rain is not withheld. Then Elijah said

unto Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand,

there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my

word." This same mode of connecting this and the preceding

chapter, is followed by the Jerusalem and Babylonish Talmuds,

Sedar Olam, Abarbanel, &c.

Verse 3. Hide thyself by the brook Cherith] This brook, and the

valley through which it ran, are supposed to have been on the

western side of Jordan, and not far from Samaria. Others suppose

it to have been on the eastern side, because the prophet is

commanded to go eastward, 1Ki 17:3. It was necessary, after such

a declaration to this wicked and idolatrous king, that he should

immediately hide himself; as, on the first drought, Ahab would

undoubtedly seek his life. But what a proof was this of the power

of God, and the vanity of idols! As God's prophet prayed, so there

was rain or drought; and all the gods of Israel could not reverse

it! Was not this sufficient to have converted all Israel?

Verse 4. I have commanded the ravens to feed thee] Thou shalt

not lack the necessaries of life; thou shalt be supplied by an

especial providence. See more on this subject at the end of the

chapter. See Clarke on 1Ki 17:24.

Verse 6. And the ravens brought him bread and flesh] The

Septuagint, in the Codex Vaticanus, and some ancient fathers,

read the passage thus:-καιοικορακεςεφεροναυτωαρτουςτοπρωι

καικρεατοδειλης, And the crows brought him bread in the

morning, and flesh in the evening: but all the other versions

agree with the Hebrew text. This is the first account we have of

flesh-meat breakfasts and flesh-meat suppers; and as this was the

food appointed by the Lord for the sustenance of the prophet, we

may naturally conjecture that it was the food of the people at

large.

Verse 7. The brook dried up] Because there had been no rain in

the land for some time, God having sent this drought as a

testimony against the idolatry of the people: see De 11:16, 17.

Verse 9. Get thee to Zarephath] This was a town between Tyre and

Sidon, but nearer to the latter, and is therefore called in the

text Zarephath which belongeth to Sidon; or, as the Vulgate and

other versions express it, Sarepta of the Sidonians. Sarepta is

the name by which it goes in the New Testament; but its present

name is Sarphan. Mr. Maundrell, who visited it, describes it as

consisting of a few houses only on the tops of the mountains; but

supposes that it anciently stood in the plain below, where there

are still ruins of a considerable extent.

Verse 12. A handful of meal in a barrel] The word cad is to

be understood as implying an earthen jar; not a wooden vessel, or

barrel of any kind. In the East they preserve their corn and

meal in such vessels; without which precaution the insects would

destroy them. Travellers in Asiatic countries abound with

observations of this kind.

The word cruse, tsappachath, says Jarchi, signifies what

in our tongue is expressed by bouteille, a bottle. Jarchi was a

French rabbin.

Verse 13. But make me thereof a little cake first] This was

certainly putting the widow's faith to an extraordinary trial: to

take and give to a stranger, of whom she knew nothing, the small

pittance requisite to keep her child from perishing, was too much

to be expected.

Verse 16. The barrel of meal wasted not] She continued to take

out of her jar and out of her bottle the quantity of meal and oil

requisite for the consumption of her household; and without

carefully estimating what was left, she went with confidence each

time for a supply, and was never disappointed. This miracle was

very like that wrought by Jesus at the marriage at Cana in

Galilee: as the servants drew the water out of the pots, they

found it turned into wine; and thus they continued to draw wine

from the water-pots till the guests had been sufficiently

supplied.

Verse 17. There was no breath left in him] He ceased to breathe

and died.

Verse 18. To call my sin to remembrance] She seems to be now

conscious of some secret sin, which she had either forgotten, or

too carelessly passed over; and to punish this she supposes the

life of her son was taken away. It is mostly in times of adversity

that we duly consider our moral state; outward afflictions often

bring deep searchings of heart.

Verse 21. Stretched himself upon the child three times] It is

supposed that he did this in order to communicate some natural

warmth to the body of the child, in order to dispose it to receive

the departed spirit. Elisha, his disciple, did the same in order

to restore the dead child of the Shunammite, 2Ki 4:34. And St.

Paul appears to have stretched himself on Eutychus in order to

restore him to life, Ac 20:10.

Let this child's soul come into him again] Surely this means no

more than the breath. Though the word nephesh may sometimes

signify the life, yet does not this imply that the spirit must

take possession of the body in order to produce and maintain the

flame of animal life? The expressions here are singular: Let his

soul, nephesh, come into him, al kirbo, into

the midst of him.

Verse 22. And the soul] nephesh, of the child came into him

again, al kirbo, into the midst of him; and he revived,

vaiyechi, and he became alive. Did he not become alive from

the circumstance of the immaterial principle coming again into

him?

Although ruach is sometimes put for the breath, yet

generally means the immortal spirit, and where it seems to

refer to animal life alone, it is only such a life as is the

immediate and necessary effect of the presence of the immortal

spirit.

The words and mode of expression here appear to me a strong

proof, not only of the existence of an immortal and immaterial

spirit in man, but also that that spirit can and does exist in a

separate state from the body. It is here represented as being in

the midst of the child, like a spring in the centre of a machine,

which gives motion to every part, and without which the whole

would stand still.

Verse 24. The word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth.] Three

grand effects were produced by this temporary affliction: 1. The

woman was led to examine her heart, and try her ways; 2. The power

of God became highly manifest in the resurrection of the child; 3.

She was convinced that the word of the Lord was truth, and that

not one syllable of it could fall to the ground. Through a little

suffering all this good was obtained.

THE subject in the fourth verse of this chapter deserves a more

particular consideration.

I have commanded the ravens to feed thee.-It is contended that

if we consider orebim to signify ravens, we shall find any

interpretation on this ground to be clogged with difficulties. I

need mention but a few. The raven is an unclean bird, And these ye

shall have in abomination among the fowls-every raven after his

kind; Le 11:13-15; that is, every

species of this genus shall be considered by you unclean and

abominable. Is it therefore likely that God would employ this

most unclean bird to feed his prophet? Besides, where could the

ravens get any flesh that was not unclean? Carrion is their

food; and would God send any thing of this kind to his prophet?

Again: If the flesh was clean which God sent, where could ravens

get it? Here must be at least three miracles: one to bring from

some table the flesh to the ravens; another, to induce the

ravenous bird to give it up; and the third, to conquer its

timidity towards man, so that it could come to the prophet without

fear. Now, although God might employ a fowl that would naturally

strive to prey on the flesh, and oblige it, contrary to its

nature, to give it up; yet it is by no means likely that he would

employ a bird that his own law had pronounced abominable. Again,

he could not have employed this means without working a variety of

miracles at the same time, in order to accomplish one simple end;

and this is never God's method: his plan is ever to accomplish the

greatest purposes by the simplest means.

The original word orebim has been considered by some as meaning

merchants, persons occasionally trading through that country,

whom God directed, by inspiration, to supply the prophet with

food. To get a constant supply from such hands in an extraordinary

way was miracle enough; it showed the superintendence of God, and

that the hearts of all men are in his hands.

But in answer to this it is said, that the "original word never

signifies merchants; and that the learned Bochart has proved

this." I have carefully read over cap. 13, part. ii., lib. 2, of

the Hierozoicon of this author, where he discusses this subject;

and think that he has never succeeded less than in his attempt to

prove that ravens are meant in this passage. He allows that the

Tyrian merchants are described by this periphrasis, ,

the occupiers of thy merchandise, Eze 27:27; and asserts that

orebim, per se, mercatores nusquam significat, "by itself,

never signifies merchants." Now, with perfect deference to so

great an authority, I assert that oreby, the contracted form

of orebim, does signify merchants, both in Eze 27:9

and Eze 27:27, and that

maarab signifies a place for merchandise, the

market-place or bazaar, in Eze 27:9, 13, 17, 19; as also the

goods sold in such places, Eze 27:33; and therefore that

for aught proved to the contrary, signify merchants in the text.

As to Bochart's objection, that, the prophet being ordered to go

to the brook Cherith, that he might lie hid, and the place of his

retreat not be known, if any traders or merchants supplied his

wants, they would most likely discover where he was, &c., I think

there is no weight in it; for the men might be as well bound by

the secret inspiration of God not to discover the place of his

retreat, as they were to supply his wants; besides, they might

have been of the number of those seven thousand men who had not

bowed their knees to the image of Baal, and consequently would not

inform Ahab and Jezebel of their prophet's hiding place.

Some have supposed that the original means Arabians; but Bochart

contends that there were no Arabians in that district: this is

certainly more than he or any other man can prove. Colonies of

Arabs, and hordes and families of the same people, have been

widely scattered over different places for the purpose of temporal

sojournment and trade; for they were a wandering people, and often

to be found in different districts remote enough from the place of

their birth. But, letting this pass merely for what it is worth,

and feeling as I do the weight of the objections that may be

brought against the supposition of ravens being the agents

employed to feed the prophet, I would observe that there was a

town or city of the name of Orbo, that was not far from the place

where Elijah was commanded to hide himself. In Bereshith Rabba, a

rabbinical comment on Genesis, we have these words

ir hi bithchom Beithshean, veshemo Orbo;

"There is a town in the vicinity of Beth-shan, (Scythopolis,) and

its name is Orbo." We may add to this from St. Jerome, Orbim,

accolae villae in finibus Arabum, Eliae dederunt alimenta; "The

Orbim, inhabitants of a town in the confines of the Arabs, gave

nourishment to Elijah." Now, I consider Jerome's testimony to be

of great worth, because he spent several years in the holy land,

that he might acquire the most correct notion possible of the

language and geography of the country, as well as of the customs

and habits of the people, in order to his translating the sacred

writings, and explaining them. Had there not been such a place in

his time, he could not have written as above: and although in this

place the common printed editions of the Vulgate have corvi,

"crows or ravens;" yet in 2Ch 21:16, St. Jerome translates the

same word , "the Arabians;" and the same in Ne 4:7; it is

therefore most likely that the inhabitants of Oreb or Orbo, as

mentioned above, furnished the aliment by which the prophet was

sustained; and that they did this being specially moved thereto by

the Spirit of the Lord. Add to all these testimonies that of the

Arabic version, which considers the words as meaning a people,

[Arabic] Orabim, and not ravens or fowls of any kind. In such a

case this version is high authority.

It is contended that those who think the miracle is lost if the

ravens be not admitted, are bound to show, 1. With what

propriety the raven, an unclean animal, could be employed? 2. Why

the dove, or some such clean creature, was not preferred? 3. How

the ravens could get properly dressed flesh to bring to the

prophet? 4. From whose table it was taken; and by what means? 5.

Whether it be consistent with the wisdom of God, and his general

conduct, to work a tissue of miracles where one was sufficient? 6.

And whether it be not best, in all cases of this kind, to adopt

that mode of interpretation which is most simple; the wisdom,

goodness, and providence of God being as equally apparent as in

those cases where a multitude of miracles are resorted to in order

to solve difficulties?

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