Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament1 KINGS 17
ELIJAH AND THE GREAT DROUGHT IN AHAB'S REIGN;
As we may judge from the appearance of Elijah along with Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration with our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 17:4), the great prophet Elijah was the most important character between Moses and the Messiah himself. This chapter and the following two chapters make up what is called the "Elijah Cycle"; but, "that expression has no critical importance."F1 It is significant that at the very moment when Israel was sinking into the shocking degradation of outright paganism, Elijah was the man whom God raised up to fight it.
Elijah's place in the N.T. reveals his importance. The forerunner of Christ was to come "in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17). God's two witnesses (Revelation 11:6) who have the power to shut the heavens that it rain not, and the power to turn water into blood, are clearly linked to Moses and Elijah. By his abrupt appearance in the Biblical narrative, "The Jews fancy that he was an angel sent from heaven,"F2 but James tells us that he was a man of like passions as ourselves (James 5:17).
"Elijah is the most `supernatural' figure in the historical books of the O.T., but that does not make him unhistorical."F3 "This chapter is filled with miracles. If we believe in God, we must recognize His limitless power. How these things were done we do not know. If we could understand them and explain them in terms of the ordinary, they would not be miracles. God was proving His power in the worst of times. For a nation with a bad king, God sent them a good prophet, Elijah."F4 "It was the very darkest hour in the spiritual history of Israel when a determined effort was being made to stamp out the faith of God's elect."F5
At certain religious observances of the Jews until this day, an empty chair is provided for the projected return of Elijah, as prophesied in Mal. 4:5, but Jesus Christ himself identified John the Baptist as that promised Elijah (Matt. 11:14; Mark 9:13). The Jews, however rejected that truth, on the basis that John the Baptist himself, in answer to the question, "Art thou Elijah"? had answered, "I am not" (John 1:21); and, of course, they refused to believe Jesus. They then opposed the Messiaship of Jesus on the basis that "Elijah must first come, and he has not come yet" (Mark 9:11).
The Pharisees were despicable hypocrites in pretending that Elijah had NOT come, because they certainly did know that he had come. Because Zacharias, one of their priests, had received the message from an angel of God before John the Baptist was born that, "He will go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17), using the identical words of Malachi's prophecy. Thus, through his holy angel, God had revealed to the entire Jerusalem establishment that the Elijah promised by Malachi would NOT be a literal resurrection of Elijah the Tishbite, but JOHN THE BAPTIST, who would go before the Lord (as the Herald of the Gospel Age) in the spirit and power of Elijah!
If one wonders how the Pharisees maneuvered John the Baptist into denying that he was Elijah, in all probability, the question they asked him was a crooked one. The text makes it clear that they did not ask him, "Art thou the Elijah who is promised to go before the Lord"? What they asked was, "Art thou Elijah THE TISHBITE"? These last two words are implied in the text.
Another very important element in Elijah's appearance so suddenly and dramatically in this passage is the fact that the name of his father is not given. Like Melchizedek of old, he appeared, having neither father nor mother (as far as records are concerned). "Coming from the land of Gilead in Trans-jordan near the edge of the desert ... he must have been in close touch with the old traditions of the God of Moses and the Fathers."F6 Indeed! Elijah, a Gentile, "At a time, when Israel was rejecting God for idols, here was a Gentile who was among those who had forsaken idols for God"!F7 He might even have been of a strain of Gentiles who had retained the knowledge of God and had never turned to idols.
The Jews did not discover, invent, evolve or develop monotheism. The conception of the one true and only God of all creation, monotheism, existed in the Garden of Eden, in Noah's ark, in Melchizedek, in Job, in Jethro, and in this Elijah, who did not learn it FROM Israel; he taught it TO Israel!
And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the sojourners of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As Jehovah, the God of Israel, liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.
As the Lord God of Israel liveth
This formula here appears for the first time. It asserts that Jehovah, not Baal, is the God of Israel, and that he is the LIVING God, such as Baal was not!F8
There shall not be dew nor rain these years
Drought was the threatened punishment for national idolatry (Deut. 11:16-17; 2 Sam. 2:3)F9
ELIJAH FLED TO THE BROOK OF CHERITH
And the word of Jehovah came unto him, saying, Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before the Jordan. And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there. So he went and did according unto the word of Jehovah; for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before the Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook. And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land.
Get thee hence, and turn eastward
(1 Kings 17:3). This was God's order for Elijah to get himself outside the jurisdiction of Ahab, who certainly would have murdered him if he could have found him.
That is before Jordan
(1 Kings 17:3). In the O.T. this expression always means east of.
I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there
(1 Kings 17:4). A statement such as this runs some writers wild. Impossible! Saga. legend ... myth!F10 However, as Snaith wisely said: More than human ingenuity is required in order to excise all the miraculous elements from these wonders.F11
The best explanation that rationalists have come up with is that the word here translated "ravens" can be translated "merchants" or "Arabians" as in Ezek. 27:27; 2 Chr. 21:16 and Neh. 4:7.F12 However, we reject out of hand any such effort to diminish what is written here.
Tatum's advice should be heeded: "Here we are face to face with a series of miracles and any attempt to explain one of them away still leaves us a number of others even more amazing. It is better to accept them by faith in an all-powerful God."F13 As Montgomery stated it in the International Critical Commentary, "The divine provision of the prophet's food was simply miraculous."F14 Amen!
And it came to pass. that the brook dried up
(1 Kings 17:7). When a nation suffers, God's people must also suffer. Elijah was NOT exempt from the effects of the terrible drought.
Charles G. Martin wrote that, "Outwardly the northern kingdom prospered under Ahab."F15 In support of that, he mentioned Ahab's ivory palace and Assyrian records that credit Ahab with contributing 2,000 chariots and 10,000 soldiers in the battle of Qarqar (833 B.C.), the new temple of Baal in Samaria, and all those pagan priests brought in by Jezebel, but this writer believes that none of those things indicates any real prosperity. Those who remember the terrible drought in the U.S.A. (a three-year drought) 1927-1929 that precipitated events ending in the stock market crash of November 1929 will also remember that the depression that followed lasted for at least six more years. The three-year drought in Israel eliminated all possibility of any real prosperity during Ahab's reign. Josephus wrote that, "The famine had seized upon the whole country, and there was a great want of what was necessary for sustenance."F16
ELIJAH FLEED TO SAREPTA, WHERE A WIDOW FED HIM
And the word of Jehovah came unto him, saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Sidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow there to sustain thee. So he arose and went to Zarephath; and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink. And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thy hand. And she said, As Jehovah thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but a handful of meal in the jar, and a little oil in the cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die. And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said; but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it forth unto me, and afterward make for thee and for thy son. For thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, The jar of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that Jehovah sendeth rain upon the earth. And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat [many] days. The jar of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of Jehovah, which he spake by Elijah.
Get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Sidon
(1 Kings 17:8). This was a long journey, from Gilead to the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon; but it was another area beyond the jurisdiction of Ahab. This place is the Sarepta of Luke 4:26, the modern Sarafend. It lay between Tyre and Sidon, and its nearness to the headquarters of Jezebel's father made it a safe, because unsuspected, hiding-place.F17 The lesson that Jesus Christ drew from this episode is that, A prophet unacceptable to his own people, may of necessity exercise his ministry among foreigners.F18 Thus, Elijah's actions here were a kind of prophecy of Jesus' ministry to certain Gentiles, such as the centurions and the Syro-Phoenician woman.
ELIJAH RESTORED THE WIDOW'S SON TO LIFE
And it came to pass after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick; and his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him. And she said unto Elijah, What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? thou art come unto me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son! And he said unto her, Give me thy son. And he took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into the chamber, where he abode, and laid him upon his own bed. And he cried unto Jehovah, and said, O Jehovah my God, hast thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son? And he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto Jehovah, and said, O Jehovah my God, I pray thee, let this child's soul come into him again. And Jehovah hearkened unto the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. And Elijah took the child, and brought him down out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him unto his mother; and Elijah said, See, thy son liveth. And the woman said to Elijah, Now I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of Jehovah in thy mouth is truth.
There was no breath left in him
(1 Kings 17:18). Anyone who has stopped breathing is, to all intents and purposes, dead. Although the text does not declare in that terminology that the child was dead, It is presumed from the woman's use of the words `slay my son' (1 Kings 17:18),F19 and by Elijah's use of similar words in 1 Kings 17:20.
Thou art come. to bring my sin to remembrance
(1 Kings 17:18). This thought of the child's mother was due to the ancient error of supposing that any kind of hardship or disaster was due to the sin of the person afflicted, an error that persisted in Israel until Jesus himself exposed it as a false view (John 9:3). We may believe that the death of this woman's son was also for the reason mentioned by Jesus, in the same verse, That the works of God might be manifest in him.
And he. carried him up into the chamber, where he abode
(1 Kings 17:19). This woman was a person of property, a householder, with a dwelling strong enough to have an upper chamber.F20 The upper chamber was on the roof, accessible by an outside stairway.F21
And the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived
(1 Kings 17:22). The word revived here is an intransitive verb, the first definition of which is, to come back to life again, to return to consciousness.F22
The word of Jehovah in thy mouth is truth
(1 Kings 17:24). This last word, from which Amittai is formed (Jonah 1:1), perhaps gave rise to the tradition that this boy was afterward known as the prophet Jonah. Amittai is held to have been this woman's husband.F23
Footnotes for 1 Kings 17
1: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 341.
2: Matthew Henry's Commentary, Vol. 2, p. 665.
3: Arthur S. Peake's Commentary, p. 302.
4: The Teachers' Bible Commentary, p. 202.
5: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 5a, p. 279.
6: The Layman's Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, p. 59.
7: Preacher's Homiletic Commentary, p. 265.
8: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 381.
9: Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary, p. 225.
10: The Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 3, p. 208.
11: The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 3, p. 146.
12: Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary, p. 225.
13: The Teachers' Bible Commentary, p. 202.
14: International Critical Commentary, Kings, p. 294.
15: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 446.
16: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, p. 267.
17: J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. 224.
18: The Layman's Bible Commentary, op. cit., p. 60.
19: The Broadman Bible Commentary, op. cit., p. 209.
20: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 295.
21: The Interpreter's Bible, op. cit., p. 147.
22: EBWD, p. 1078.
23: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 388.