1 Kings 18

CHAPTER XVIII

Elijah is commanded by the Lord to show himself to Ahab, 1, 2.

Ahab, and Obadiah his steward, search the land to find

provender for the cattle, 3-6.

Obadiah meets Elijah, who commands him to inform Ahab that he

is ready to present himself before him, 7-15.

Elijah and Ahab meet, 16-18.

Elijah proposes that the four hundred and fifty priests of Baal

should be gathered together at Mount Carmel; that they should

offer a sacrifice to their god, and he to Jehovah; and the God

who should send down fire to consume the sacrifice should be

acknowledged as the true God, 19-24.

The proposal is accepted, and the priests of Baal call in vain

upon their god through the whole day, 25-29.

Elijah offers his sacrifice, prays to Gods and fire comes down

from heaven and consumes it; whereupon the people acknowledge

Jehovah to be the true God, and slay all the prophets of Baal,

30-40.

Elijah promises Ahab that there shall be immediate rain; it

comes accordingly, and Ahab and Elijah come to Jezreel, 41-46.

NOTES ON CHAP. XVIII

Verse 1. After many days-in the third year] We learn from our

Lord, Lu 4:25, that the drought which brought on the famine in

Israel lasted three years and six months. St. James, Jas 5:17,

gives it the same duration. Probably Elijah spent six months at

the brook Cherith, and three years with the widow at Sarepta.

I will send rain upon the earth.] The word haadamah

should be translated the ground or the land, as it is probable

that this drought did not extend beyond the land of Judea.

Verse 3. Obadiah feared the Lord greatly] He was a sincere and

zealous worshipper of the true God, and his conduct towards the

persecuted prophets was the full proof both of his piety and

humanity.

Verse 4. Fed them with bread and water.] By these are signified

the necessaries of life, of whatsoever kind.

Verse 5. Unto all fountains of water] All marshy or well-watered

districts, where grass was most likely to be preserved.

Verse 10. There is no nation or kingdom] He had sent through all

his own states and to the neighbouring governments to find out the

prophet, as he knew, from his own declaration, that both rain and

drought were to be the effect of his prayers. Had he found him, he

no doubt intended to oblige him to procure rain, or punish him for

having brought on this drought.

He took an oath] Ahab must have had considerable power and

authority among the neighbouring nations to require and exact

this, and Elijah must have kept himself very secret to have

shunned such an extensive and minute search.

Verse 12. The Spirit of the Lord shall carry thee] Obadiah

supposed that the Spirit of the Lord had carried him to some

strange country during the three years and a half of the drought;

and as he had reason to think that Ahab would slay Elijah if he

found him, and that the God of the prophet would not suffer his

servant to fall into such murderous hands, he took for granted

that as soon as he should come into danger, so soon would the

Spirit of the Lord carry him away, or direct him to some hiding

place.

Verse 13. When Jezebel slew the prophets] This persecution was

probably during the dearth, for as this bad woman would attribute

the public calamity to Elijah, not being able to find him, she

would naturally wreak her vengeance on the prophets of Jehovah who

were within her reach.

Verse 18. I have not troubled Israel] Here the cause of the

dearth is placed on its true ground: the king and the people had

forsaken the true God, and God shut up the heavens that there was

no rain. Elijah was only the minister whom God used to dispense

this judgment.

Verse 19. Gather to me all Israel] The heads of tribes and

families; the rulers of the people.

The prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty-the prophets of the

groves four hundred] The king and queen had different religious

establishments; the king and his servants worshipped Baal, the

supreme lord and master of the world, the sun. For this

establishment four hundred and fifty priests were maintained. The

queen and her women worshipped Asherah, Astarte, or Venus;

and for this establishment four hundred priests were maintained.

These latter were in high honour; they ate at Jezebel's table;

they made a part of her household. It appears that those eight

hundred and fifty priests were the domestic chaplains of the king

and queen, and probably not all the priests that belonged to the

rites of Baal and Asherah in the land; and yet from the following

verse we learn that Ahab had sent to all the children of Israel to

collect these prophets; but Jezebel had certainly four hundred of

them in her own house who were not at the assembly mentioned here.

Those of Baal might have a more extensive jurisdiction than those

of Asherah, the latter being constantly resident in Samaria.

Verse 21. How long halt ye between two opinions?] Literally,

"How long hop ye about upon two boughs?" This is a metaphor taken

from birds hopping about from bough to bough, not knowing on which

to settle. Perhaps the idea of limping through lameness should not

be overlooked. They were halt, they could not walk uprightly; they

dreaded Jehovah, and therefore could not totally abandon him; they

feared the king and queen, and therefore thought they must embrace

the religion of the state. Their conscience forbade them to do the

former; their fear of man persuaded them to do the latter, but in

neither were they heartily engaged; and at this juncture their

minds seemed in equipoise, and they were waiting for a favourable

opportunity to make their decision. Such an opportunity now,

through the mercy of God, presented itself.

Verse 22. I only, remain a prophet of the Lord] That is, I am

the only prophet of God present, and can have but the influence of

an individual; while the prophets of Baal are four hundred and

fifty men! It appears that the queen's prophets, amounting to four

hundred, were not at this great assembly; and these are they whom

we meet with 1Ki 22:6, and whom the king consulted relative to

the battle at Ramoth-gilead.

Verse 24. The God that answereth by fire] Elijah gave them every

advantage when he granted that the God who answered by fire should

be acknowledged as the true God; for as the Baal who was

worshipped here was incontestably Apollo, or the sun, he was

therefore the god of fire, and had only to work in his own

element.

Verse 25. For ye are many] And therefore shall have the

preference, and the advantage of being first in your application

to the deity.

Verse 26. From morning even until noon] It seems that the

priests of Baal employed the whole day in their desperate rites.

The time is divided into two periods: 1. From morning until noon;

this was employed in preparing and offering the sacrifice, and in

earnest supplication for the celestial fire. Still there was no

answer, and at noon Elijah began to mock and ridicule them, and

this excited them to commence anew. And, 2. They continued from

noon till the time of offering the evening sacrifice, dancing up

and down, cutting themselves with knives, mingling their own blood

with their sacrifice, praying, supplicating, and acting in the

most frantic manner.

And they leaped upon the altar] Perhaps it will be more correct

to read with the margin, they leaped up and down at the altar;

they danced round it with strange and hideous cries and

gesticulations, tossing their heads to and fro, with a great

variety of bodily contortions.

A heathen priest, a high priest of Budhoo, has been just showing

me the manner in which they dance and jump up and down, and from

side to side, twisting their bodies in all manner of ways, when

making their offerings to their demon gods; a person all the while

beating furiously on a tom-tom, or drum, to excite and sustain

those frantic attitudes; at the same time imploring the succour of

their god, frequently in some such language as this: "O loving

brother devil, hear me, and receive my offering!" To perform these

sacrificial attitudes they have persons who are taught to practice

them from their earliest years, according to directions laid down

in religious books; and to make the joints and body pliant, much

anointing of the parts and mechanical management are used; and

they have masters, whose business it is to teach these attitudes

and contortions according to the rules laid down in those books.

It seems therefore that this was a very general practice of

idolatry, as indeed are the others mentioned in this chapter.

Verse 27. At noon-Elijah mocked them] Had not Elijah been

conscious of the Divine protection, he certainly would not have

used such freedom of speech while encompassed by his enemies.

Cry aloud] Make a great noise; oblige him by your vociferations

to attend to your suit.

For he is a god] ki Elohim hu, he is the supreme

God, you worship him as such, he must needs be such, and no doubt

jealous of his own honour and the credit of his votaries! A strong

irony.

He is talking] He may be giving audience to some others; let him

know that he has other worshippers, and must not give too much of

his attention to one. Perhaps the word siach should be

interpreted as in the margin, he meditateth; he is in a profound

revery; he is making some god-like projects; he is considering how

he may best keep up his credit in the nation. Shout! let him know

that all is now at stake.

He is pursuing] He may be taking his pleasure in hunting, and

may continue to pursue the game in heaven, till he have lost all

his credit and reverence on earth.

The original words, sig lo, are variously translated; He

is in a hotel, in diversorio, VULGATE. Perhaps he is delivering

oracles, μηποτεχρηματιζειαυτος, SEPTUAGINT. Or, he is on some

special business. Therefore, cry aloud!

He is in a journey] He has left his audience chamber, and is

making some excursions; call aloud to bring him back, as his all

is at stake.

Peradventure he sleepeth] Rab. S. Jarchi gives this the most

degrading meaning; I will give it in Latin, because it is too

coarse to be put in English; Fortassis ad locum secretum abiit, ut

ventrem ibi exomeret; "Perhaps he is gone to the ______." This

certainly reduces Baal to the lowest degree of contempt, and with

it the ridicule and sarcasm are complete.

Among Asiatic idolaters their gods have different functions to

fulfil, and require sleep and rest. Vishnoo sleeps four months

in the year. Budhoo is represented in his temple as sleep, though

his eyes are open. Vayoo manages the winds; Varoona, the waters;

Indra, the clouds, &c.; and according to many fables in the

Pooranas, the gods are often out on journeys, expeditions, &c.

Verse 28. They cried aloud] The poor fools acted as they were

bidden.

And cut themselves after their manner] This was done according

to the rites of that barbarous religion; if the blood of the

bullock would not move him they thought their own blood might; and

with it they smeared themselves and their sacrifice. This was not

only the custom of the idolatrous Israelites, but of the Syrians,

Persians, Greeks, Indians, and in short of all the heathen world.

Verse 29. They prophesied] They made incessant prayer and

supplication; a farther proof that to pray or supplicate is the

proper ideal meaning of the word naba, which we constantly

translate to prophesy, when even all the circumstances of the time

and place are against such a meaning. See what is said on the case

of Saul among the prophets, in Clarke's note on "1Sa 10:5".

Verse 30. He repaired the altar of the Lord] There had been an

altar of Jehovah in that place, called, even among the heathens,

the altar of Carmel, probably built in the time of the judges,

or, as the rabbins imagine, by Saul. Tacitus and Suetonius

mention an altar on Mount Carmel, which Vespasian went to consult;

there was no temple nor statue, but simply an altar that was

respectable for its antiquity. "Est Judaeam inter Syriamque

Carmelus; ita vocant montem Deumque: nec simulachrum Deo, aut

templum situm tradidere majores: aram tantum, et

reverentiam."-TACIT. Hist. lib. ii., c. 78. A priest named

Basilides officiated at that altar, and assured Vespasian that

all his projects would be crowned with success.

Suetonius speaks to this purpose: "Apud Judaeam Carmeli Dei

oraculum consulentem ita confirmavere sortes, ut quicquid

cogitaret volveretque animo quamlibet magnum, id esse proventurum

pollicerentur." SUET. in Vespas. cap. 5. The mount, the absence of

a temple, no image, but a simple altar, very ancient, and which

was held in reverence on account of the true answers which had

been given there, prove that this was originally the altar of

Jehovah: though in the time of Vespasian it seems to have been

occupied by a heathen priest, and devoted to lying vanities.

Verse 31. Took twelve stones] He did this to show that all the

twelve tribes of Israel should be joined in the worship of

Jehovah.

Verse 32. He made a trench] This was to detain the water that

might fall down from the altar when the barrels should be poured

upon it, 1Ki 18:35.

Verse 33. Fill four barrels] This was done to prevent any kind

of suspicion that there was fire concealed under the altar. An

ancient writer under the name of Chrysostom, quoted by Calmet,

says that he had seen under the altars of the heathens, holes dug

in the earth with funnels proceeding from them, and communicating

with openings on the tops of the altars. In the former the priests

concealed fire, which, communicating through the funnels with the

holes, set fire to the wood and consumed the sacrifice; and thus

the simple people were led to believe that the sacrifice was

consumed by a miraculous fire. Elijah showed that no such knavery

could be practiced in the present case. Had there been a concealed

fire under the altar, as in the case mentioned above, the water

that was thrown on the altar must have extinguished it most

effectually. This very precaution has for ever put this miracle

beyond the reach of suspicion.

Verse 36. Lord God of Abraham] He thus addressed the Supreme

Being, that they might know when the answer was given, that it was

the same God whom the patriarchs and their fathers worshipped, and

thus have their hearts turned back again to the true religion of

their ancestors.

Verse 38. Then the fire of the Lord fell] It did not burst out

from the altar; this might still, notwithstanding the water, have

afforded some ground for suspicion that fire had been concealed,

after the manner of the heathens, under the altar.

Pindar's account of the Rhodians' settling is the isle of

Rhodes, and their first sacrifice there, bears a near affinity to

the account here given: the shower of gold descending on the

sacrifice offered up without fire, to show the approbation of

their god, is little more than a poetic account of the above

transactions.

καιτοιγαραιθουσαςεχοντες

σπερμανεβανφλογοςου

τευξανδαπυροιςιεροις

αλσοςενακροπολεικεινοισιμενξαν

θαναγαγωννεφελαι

πολυνυσεχρυσον

Pind. Olymp. Od. 7, ver. 86.

The Rhodians, mindful of their sire's behest,

Straight in the citadel an altar reared;

But with imperfect rites the Power addressed,

And without fire their sacrifice prepared;

Yet Jove, approving, o'er the assembly spread

A yellow cloud, that dropped with golden dews.

WEST.

Consumed the burnt-sacrifice] The process of this consumption is

very remarkable, and all calculated to remove the possibility of a

suspicion that there was any concealed fire. 1. The fire came down

from heaven. 2. The pieces of the sacrifice were first consumed.

3. The wood next, to show that it was not even by means of the

wood that the flesh was burned. 4. The twelve stones were also

consumed, to show that it was no common fire, but one whose agency

nothing could resist. 5. The dust, the earth of which the altar

was constructed, was burned up. 6. The water that was in the

trench was, by the action of this fire, entirely evaporated. 7.

The action of this fire was in every case downward, contrary to

the nature of all earthly and material fire. Nothing can be more

simple and artless than this description, yet how amazingly full

and satisfactory is the whole account!

Verse 39. Fell on their faces] Struck with awe and reverence at

the sight of this incontestable miracle.

And they said] We should translate the words thus: JEHOVAH, He

is the God! JEHOVAH, He is the God! Baal is not the God; Jehovah

alone is the God of Israel.

As our term Lord is very equivocal, we should every where insert

the original word , which we should write Yeve or Yeheveh,

or Yahvah or Yehueh, or, according to the points, Yehovah.

Verse 40. Let not one of them escape.] They had committed the

highest crime against the state and the people by introducing

idolatry, and bringing down God's judgments upon the land;

therefore their lives were forfeited to that law which had ordered

every idolater to be slain. It seems also that Ahab, who was

present, consented to this act of impartial justice.

Verse 41. Get thee up, eat and drink] It appears most evidently

that Ahab and the prophet were now on good terms, and this is a

farther evidence that the slaying of the false prophets was by the

king's consent.

Verse 42. Put his face between his knees] He kneeled down, and

then bowed his head to the earth, so that, while his face was

between his knees, his forehead touched the ground.

Verse 43. Look toward the sea.] From the top of Mount Carmel the

Mediterranean Sea was full in view.

Verse 44. There ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a

man's hand.] kechaph ish, like the hollow of a man's hand.

In the form of the hand bent, the concave side downmost. I have

witnessed a resemblance of this kind at sea previously to a

violent storm, a little cloud the size of a man's hand first

appearing, and this increasing in size and density every moment,

till at last it covered the whole heavens, and then burst forth

with incredible fury.

Mr. Bruce mentions a similar appearance in Abyssinia:-"Every

morning, in Abyssinia, is clear, and the sun shines. About nine a

small cloud, not above four hundred feet broad, appears in the

east, whirling violently round, as if upon an axis; but arrived

near the zenith, it first abates its motion, then loses its form,

and extends itself greatly, and seems to call up vapours from all

opposite quarters. These clouds, having attained nearly the same

height, rush against each other with great violence, and put me

always in mind of Elijah foretelling rain on Mount

Carmel."-Travels, vol. v., page 336, edit. 1806.

Verse 46. Ran before Ahab] Many think that Elijah ran before the

king in order to do him honour; and much learned labour has been

spent on this passage in order to show that Elijah had put himself

at the head of a company of chanters who ran before the king

reciting his praises, or the praises of God; a custom which still

exists in Arabian countries! I believe all these entirely mistake

the writer's meaning: Ahab yoked his chariot, and made all speed

to Jezreel. The hand of the Lord, or, as the Targum says, the

spirit of strength, came upon Elijah, and he girded up his

loins, that is, tucked up his long garments in his girdle, and

ran; and notwithstanding the advantage the king had by means of

his chariot, the prophet reached Jezreel before him. There is no

intimation here that he ran before the horses' heads. All this was

intended to show that he was under the peculiar influence and

inspiration of the Almighty, that the king might respect and fear

him, and not do or permit to be done to him any kind of outrage.

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