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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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1 KINGS 19

THE EXTREME DISCOURAGEMENT AND DEPRESSION OF ELIJAH


 
Verses 1-4
And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel send a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to-morrow about this time. And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper-tree: and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, It is enough; now, O Jehovah, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.

Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah
(1 Kings 19:2). Whatever Ahab was, he was no king, but a malleable tool in the hands of the wicked Jezebel. If Ahab had been the possessor of any ordinary intelligence, he would thoroughly have understood that Baal (including everything connected with his pagan religion) was fraudulent, helpless and extremely sinful. Therefore, we must conclude that he did know the truth; and that, if he had really been a king, he would have promptly expelled, or put to death (as the Law commanded) those four hundred priests of the Asherah who had ignored his command to assemble on Carmel and have taken the government of Israel away from his pagan wife.

Ahab did not have the guts to do any of these things, and when Elijah saw what the situation actually was, then the most terrible and depressive discouragement imaginable came upon the prophet, and he fled the domain where Jezebel ruled.

When Jezebel heard the details of the grand confrontation between her 450y pagan priests and Elijah, and how it had been terminated in their execution, if she had been anything else except a dedicated enemy of God Himself, she would have renounced paganism and have accepted the true faith in God.

"There are eyes so blinded (2 Corinthians 4:4) and hearts so steeled against the truth that no evidence can reach them; and this fierce murderer of the prophets had long been given over to a reprobate mind. She listened to Ahab's account, but her one thought centered on how she might achieve the vengeful murder of Elijah."F1 There is no way to change such a person.

In the small town of Indiahoma, Oklahoma, this writer once preached for a few days. And someone requested him to visit a man and to discuss the hope of his becoming a Christian. The man promptly said, "If Jesus Christ himself stood right where you stand and invited me to become a Christian, I wouldn't do it!" That remark concluded the interview.

And when he saw that, he arose and went for his life
(1 Kings 19:3). Moffatt's rendition here has, Elijah arose in terror and ran for his life. The RSV has, He was afraid. and went for his life. All recent versions are similar, but we still prefer the ASV, because whatever Elijah was, he was NO coward. He was simply getting out of a hopeless situation, and no one except a fool would have done anything else! If his action here had been cowardice, as implied in the recent versions, how can we account for the fact that God never even allowed the man to die. And, when only two men of all human history stood by Jesus Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration, how did it come to pass that Elijah was one of them?

"It is obvious that Elijah did not flee from any fear of the vain threat of Jezebel, from the fact that he did not merely withdraw into the kingdom of Judah, where he would have been safe under Jehoshaphat from all the persecutions of Jezebel, but went to Beer-sheba, and thence into the wilderness, there to pour out before the Lord the weariness of his life."F2

This writer agrees with Keil that it was discouragement, NOT FEAR, that drove Elijah to flee, having once himself experienced in the year 1965 the overwhelming frustration and discouragement that resulted from what appeared to be a HOPELESS situation. (This is discussed in the records of that year in my memoirs, The Tales of Coffman). This writer did not flee to Beersheba, but to Canada!

Under a juniper tree. he requested for himself that he might die
(1 Kings 19:3). Jonah also made this same request of the Lord (Jonah 4:3); but in neither instance did the Lord grant the petition.

It is enough
(1 Kings 19:4). Keil believed that Elijah meant, I have endured tribulation enough, and Lange thought it meant, I have lived long enough.F3 The more likely meaning is, Enough has already been done to convince Israel of the living God's supremacy and of the worthless vanity of Baal. This also harmonizes with the next sentence.

I am no better than my fathers
(1 Kings 19:4). This was true, as far as bringing back Israel to the true faith was concerned.F4

AN ANGEL OF JEHOVAH MINISTERED TO ELIJAH


 
Verses 5-8
And he lay down and slept under a juniper-tree; and, behold, an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. And he looked, and, behold, there was at his head a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again. And the angel of Jehovah came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for thee. And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God.

"The emotional experiences through which the prophet had so recently passed had left their marks upon him."F5 Not only that, the physical strain of that 17-mile run to Jezreel and the journey to his location in the wilderness had also exhausted the prophet's strength.

The angel of Jehovah came the second time
(1 Kings 19:7). This character in the O.T. is equivalent in many ways to an appearance of God Himself; and it is unreasonable to suppose that Elijah was, in any manner, disobedient to the will of God in his flight from Jezreel. This double ministry of the angel of Jehovah forbids such a notion.

The journey is too much for thee
(1 Kings 19:7). Hammond did not see the journey mentioned here as the projected journey to Horeb, but rather as a reference to the journey Elijah had already made.F6 We believe, however, that the angel did in fact instruct Elijah to go to Horeb, else why should he have gone? An angel was taking care of him where he was!

That Elijah was actually instructed by the angel of Jehovah to go to Horeb also appears to be implied in the mention of that place in the very next words, and also in the provision of the food that would enable him to fast on the forty-day trip to Horeb, a distance estimated by Martin as, "about one hundred miles."F7 Matheney also agreed that the provisions provided by the angel, "Strengthened Elijah for the long journey to Horeb."F8

There also appears just here an inconsistency between the supposed journey of "forty miles" to Horeb, as estimated by Barlow,F9 or a "hundred miles" as estimated by Martin, and the fact that the forty days mentioned in the text seems to project a much longer journey than either of those distances could have required.

The answer to this problem lies in the false location of Mount Horeb, which for 200 years has been supposed to be located at the southern portion of the Sinaitic peninsula, but which according to recent research has been located in southern Arabia, where Paul said it was (Galatians 4:25).

The confirmation of this true location of Horeb is fully documented and proved by Larry Williams in his new book, The Mountain of Moses (New York: Wynwood Press, 1990). He identified Horeb as AL LAWZ, due east of the traditional Sinai, and across the southern extremity of the Gulf of Aqaba.F10 We shall cite other passages in this chapter which support Williams' identification of Horeb.

In this light, it is easy to see why forty days would have been required for Elijah to go to Horeb, because he would have had to pass around the northern extremity of the Gulf of Aqaba.

ELIJAH RESIDED IN A LARGE CAVE AT MOUNT HOREB


 
Verses 9-14
And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of Jehovah came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for Jehovah, the God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword: and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before Jehovah. And, behold, Jehovah passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before Jehovah; but Jehovah was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but Jehovah was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but Jehovah was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for Jehovah, the God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.

And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there
(1 Kings 19:9). There is no cave on the traditional Mount Sinai. What is sorely missing at all of the other potential locations of Mount Sinai is the all-important cave of Elijah.F11 Oh yes, the supporters of the Sinaitic Peninsula location point out a narrow grotto, although at some distance from Sinai, but identified as the abode of Elijah.F12 However, that could not possibly be the cave of Elijah.

Why? In the first place, it was not on Horeb, but some distance away. But, more than that, "One formidable difficulty in the way of that identification, is that the (alleged) `cave' is only just large enough for a man's body";F13 and that simply cannot be harmonized with the statement in 1 Kings 19:13 that, "Elijah went out and stood in the entrance to the cave"!

Williams located the cave of Elijah, which is a real cave, not far from the summit of JABAL AL LAWZ in Arabia.F14

A still small voice
(1 Kings 19:12). God wanted Elijah to know that while force and spectacular demonstrations are sometimes necessary, God's real work is accomplished by the `still small voice' calling men to do God's will.F15

Some of the recent versions have changed this traditional rendition, "a still small voice," but, they have not improved it. "It may be altered to read, `a gentle murmuring sound," or "a sound of gentle stillness, but no expression is as full of the awe and mystery of the original as the phrase, `a still small voice.'"F16

It appears that another instruction to be derived from the contrast of the wind, the earthquake and the fire with the "still small voice," is that many of the problems related to God's dealings with his rebellious human children cannot be solved quickly. Elijah demanded an immediate solution to the problem of idolatry. "How long go ye limping between the two sides" (1 Kings 18:18)? He demanded of the people, much the same prompt decision as did Joshua, who said, "Choose ye this day whom ye will serve" (Joshua 24:15), but neither Joshua nor Elijah could force the issue to a conclusion in one day, or even in one generation. The nearly infinite patience with man's sins is a mark of God's love of the human creation.

What doest thou here, Elijah?
(1 Kings 19:13). Elijah's answer (1 Kings 19:14) was identical with the answer he gave to the same question in 1 Kings 19:10. It appeared to be that he had difficulty accepting the reality of his failure to do what he had hoped to do in bringing Israel back to the true faith, and there seemed to be, on his part, a resignation to the fact of its utter impossibility. However, the Lord would shock him out of his state of idleness.

GOD'S INSTRUCTIONS FOR ELIJAH TO GO BACK TO WORK


 
Verses 15-18
And Jehovah said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when thou comest, thou shalt anoint Hazael to be king over Syria; and Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room. And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay; and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay. Yet will I leave [me] seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.

Go, return on thy way
(1 Kings 19:15). From this, Elijah was to learn that, Man may not abandon his duties, even when they are irksome, and when they seem to be hopeless.F17

Elisha. shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room
(1 Kings 19:16). God teaches here that there is no such thing as a NECESSARY man; man, even at his best estate, is altogether vanity; but God is all in all. God buries His workmen, but his work goes on.F18

The three things that God commanded Elijah to do are nowhere stated in the O.T. as having been done by Elijah, but this is no problem. We may be certain that Elijah indeed obeyed the heavenly commandments, even if our extremely-abbreviated records do not tell us anything about how or when he did so. Furthermore, the fact of some other person being cited as anointing Jehu at a later time is probably another anointing.

Yet will I leave me seven thousand in Israel
(1 Kings 19:18). The apostle Paul made reference to this passage as proof that in spite of the general apostasy of the whole Israel, God still retained the loyalty of seven thousand persons who had not bowed the knee to Baal (Romans 11:4). Seven thousand is a perfect number and probably should be understood as a larger but indefinite multitude. Right here is the beginning of the doctrine of the Righteous Remnant which receives so much attention in Isaiah (Isa. 6:13; 10:20-23).

And every mouth which hath not kissed him
(Baal) (1 Kings 19:18). Kissing Baal was the usual form in which this idol was worshipped, not merely by throwing kisses with the hand but also by actually kissing the idol itself.F19 Hosea speaks of the cries that were shouted in the pagan sanctuaries, Let the men that sacrifice KISS THE CALVES! (Hosea 13:2).

ELIJAH CASTS HIS MANTLE UPON ELISHA


 
Verses 19-21
So he departed thence, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing, with twelve yoke [of oxen] before him, and he with the twelfth: and Elijah passed over unto him, and cast his mantle upon him. And he left the oxen, and ran after Elijah, and said, Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee. And he said unto him, Go back again; for what have I done to thee? And he returned from following him, and took the yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen, and gave unto the people, and they did eat. Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him.

Plowing with twelve yoke of oxen
(1 Kings 19:19). This indicates that Elisha's father was a man of wealth, having either twelve sons, or one son and eleven servants who were tilling his fields. The fact that Elisha ran after Elijah indicated his WILLINGNESS to accept the challenge of following the prophet, but, as he said to Elijah, he wished to bid the family a formal farewell.

Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother
(1 Kings 19:20). Some have compared this with the request of that would-be-disciples of Jesus who said, Suffer me first to go and bury my father (Luke 9:61-62), but there is no resemblance between the two events. Elisha merely wished to have a farewell banquet with his friends and family, but that disciple mentioned in Luke was proposing that he would follow Jesus at some indefinite future time when he had remained at home until his father died, and after that, he would follow Christ.

Go back again; for what have I done to thee
(1 Kings 19:20). Keil interpreted these words to mean, This was Elijah's permission for Elisha to return to his father and mother. The words can only mean that, `I have not wanted to put any constraint upon thee, but I leave it to thy free will to decide in favor of the prophetic calling.'F20

Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him
(1 Kings 19:21). The farewell party was no great delay, perhaps a day or two. There were countless occasions in that intimate relationship between these two great prophets when Elijah could have anointed him, and most certainly did do so, as God had commanded. As for the anointing of Hazael and Jehu, Elijah probably instructed his erstwhile servant Elisha to accomplish that; and thus Elijah did it also, as one is said to do what he induces others to do.

Although the translation of Elijah when God took him up into heaven is not related until 2 Kings 2, we have the practical end of Elijah's prophetic career here.

As noted earlier, we are face to face with the supernatural throughout the narrative of the three chapters just concluded. And we wish to affirm our conviction that all of the wonders mentioned here are authentic actions of the eternal and omnipotent God, and that these unique actions were necessary in the circumstances, necessary to God's preservation of that faithful remnant of the children of the patriarchs through whom the Christ would be born.

No one, absolutely NO ONE, who does not believe in the supernatural can ever hope to be a Christian (Hebrews 11:6)! This makes belief in the supernatural the great issue of our times -- and of all times.

Dr. Robert Flynt, President of the University of Scotland, once said: "The one great question regards the supernatural; in the final analysis, all other questions fade into the cosmic background." Is there anything higher in all of this universe than a human being? God pity the fool who is able to give that question a negative answer!


Footnotes for 1 Kings 19
1: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 5a, p. 456.
2: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 3a, p. 253.
3: Preacher's Homiletic Commentary, Kings, p. 301.
4: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 448.
5: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 334.
6: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 459.
7: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 448.
8: The Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 3, p. 213.
9: Preacher's Homiletic Commentary, p. 301.
10: The Mountain of Moses, map, p. 160.
11: Larry Williams, The Mountain of Moses, (New York: Wynwood Press, 1990), p. 94.
12: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 460.
13: Ibid.
14: Larry Williams, op. cit., p. 162 (map).
15: George DeHoff's Commentary, Vol. 2, p. 285.
16: F. W. Farrar in Expositor's Bible, First Kings, p. 435.
17: Ibid., p. 436.
18: Ibid., p. 437
19: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, op. cit., p. 260.
20: Ibid., p. 461.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Kings 19". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=1ki&chapter=019>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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