Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
1. the third year--In the New Testament, it is said there was no rain
"for the space of three years and six months"
The early rain fell in our March, the latter rain in our October.
Though Ahab might have at first ridiculed Elijah's announcement, yet
when neither of these rains fell in their season, he was incensed
against the prophet as the cause of the national judgment, and
compelled him, with God's direction, to consult his safety in flight.
This was six months after the king was told there would be neither dew
nor rain, and from this period the three years in this passage are
Go, show thyself unto Ahab--The king had remained obdurate and
impenitent. Another opportunity was to be given him of repentance, and
Elijah was sent in order to declare to him the cause of the national
judgment, and to promise him, on condition of his removing it, the
immediate blessing of rain.
2. Elijah went--a marvellous proof of the natural intrepidity of this
prophet, of his moral courage, and his unfaltering confidence in the
protecting care of God, that he ventured to approach the presence of
the raging lion.
there was a sore famine in Samaria--Elijah found that the famine was
pressing with intense severity in the capital. Corn must have been
obtained for the people from Egypt or the adjoining countries, else
life could not have been sustained for three years; but Ahab, with the
chamberlain of his royal household, is represented as giving a personal
search for pasture to his cattle. On the banks of the rivulets, grass,
tender shoots of grass, might naturally be expected; but the water
being dried up, the verdure would disappear. In the pastoral districts
of the East it would be reckoned a most suitable occupation still for a
king or chief to go at the head of such an expedition. Ranging over a
large tract of country, Ahab had gone through one district, Obadiah
3. Obadiah feared the Lord greatly--Although he did not follow the
course taken by the Levites and the majority of pious Israelites at
that time of emigration into Judah
he was a secret and sincere worshipper. He probably considered the
violent character of the government, and his power of doing some good
to the persecuted people of God as a sufficient excuse for his not
going to worship in Jerusalem.
4. an hundred prophets--not men endowed with the extraordinary gifts
of the prophetic office, but who were devoted to the service of God,
preaching, praying, praising, &c.
fed them with bread and water--These articles are often used to include
sustenance of any kind. As this succor must have been given them at the
hazard, not only of his place, but his life, it was a strong proof of
his attachment to the true religion.
7-16. Obadiah was in the way . . . Elijah met him--Deeming it imprudent
to rush without previous intimation into Ahab's presence, the prophet
solicited Obadiah to announce his return to Ahab. The commission, with
a delicate allusion to the perils he had already encountered in
securing others of God's servants, was, in very touching terms,
declined, as unkind and peculiarly hazardous. But Elijah having
dispelled all the apprehensions entertained about the Spirit's carrying
him away, Obadiah undertook to convey the prophet's message to Ahab and
solicit an interview. But Ahab, bent on revenge, or impatient for the
appearance of rain, went himself to meet Elijah.
17, 18. Art thou he that troubleth Israel--A violent altercation took
place. Ahab thought to awe him into submission, but the prophet boldly
and undisguisedly told the king that the national calamity was
traceable chiefly to his own and his family's patronage and practice of
idolatry. But, while rebuking the sins, Elijah paid all due respect to
the high rank of the offender. He urged the king to convene, by virtue
of his royal mandate, a public assembly, in whose presence it might be
solemnly decided which was the troubler of Israel. The appeal could not
well be resisted, and Ahab, from whatever motives, consented to the
proposal. God directed and overruled the issue.
19. gather . . . the prophets of Baal . . . the prophets of the
groves--From the sequel it appears that the former only came. The
latter, anticipating some evil, evaded the king's command.
which eat at Jezebel's table--that is, not at the royal table where she
herself dined, but they were maintained from her kitchen establishment
They were the priests of Astarte, the Zidonian goddess.
20. mount Carmel--is a bold, bluff promontory, which extends from the
western coast of Palestine, at the bay of Acre, for many miles
eastward, to the central hills of Samaria. It is a long range,
presenting many summits, and intersected by a number of small ravines.
The spot where the contest took place is situated at the eastern
extremity, which is also the highest point of the whole ridge. It is
called El-Mohhraka, "the Burning," or "the Burnt Place." No spot could
have been better adapted for the thousands of Israel to have stood
drawn up on those gentle slopes. The rock shoots up in an almost
perpendicular wall of more than two hundred feet in height, on the side
of the vale of Esdraelon. This wall made it visible over the whole
plain, and from all the surrounding heights, where gazing multitudes
would be stationed.
21-40. Elijah said unto all the people, How long halt ye?--They had
long been attempting to conjoin the service of God with that of Baal.
It was an impracticable union and the people were so struck with a
sense of their own folly, or dread of the king's displeasure, that they
"answered not a word." Elijah proposed to decide for them the
controversy between God and Baal by an appeal, not to the authority of
the law, for that would have no weight, but by a visible token from
Heaven. As fire was the element over which Baal was supposed to
preside, Elijah proposed that two bullocks should be slain and placed
on separate altars of wood, the one for Baal, and the other for God. On
whichever the fire should descend to consume it, the event should
determine the true God, whom it was their duty to serve. The proposal,
appearing every way reasonable, was received by the people with
unanimous approval. The priests of Baal commenced the ceremony by
calling on their god. In vain did they continue invoking their
senseless deity from morning till noon, and from noon till evening,
uttering the most piercing cries, using the most frantic
gesticulations, and mingling their blood with the sacrifice. No
response was heard. No fire descended. Elijah exposed their folly and
imposture with the severest irony and, as the day was far advanced,
commenced his operations. Inviting the people to approach and see the
entire proceeding, he first repaired an old altar of God, which Jezebel
had demolished. Then, having arranged the cut pieces of the bullock, he
caused four barrels or jars of water to be dashed all over the altar
and round in the trench. Once, twice, a third time this precaution was
taken, and then, when he had offered an earnest prayer, the miraculous
Jud 6:21; 13:20;
and consumed not only the sacrifice, but the very stones of the altar.
The impression on the minds of the people was that of admiration
mingled with awe; and with one voice they acknowledged the supremacy of
Jehovah as the true God. Taking advantage of their excited feelings,
Elijah called on them to seize the priestly impostors, and by their
blood fill the channel of the river (Kishon), which, in consequence of
their idolatries, the drought had dried up--a direction, which, severe
and relentless as it seems, it was his duty as God's minister to give
(De 15:5; 18:20).
The natural features of the mount exactly correspond with the details
of this narrative. The conspicuous summit, 1635 feet above the sea, on
which the altars were placed, presents an esplanade spacious enough for
the king and the priests of Baal to stand on the one side, and Elijah
on the other. It is a rocky soil, on which there is abundance of loose
stones, to furnish the twelve stones of which the altar was built--a
bed of thick earth, in which a trench could be dug; and yet the earth
not so loose that the water poured into it would be absorbed; two
hundred fifty feet beneath the altar plateau, there is a perennial
fountain, which, being close to the altar of the Lord, might not have
been accessible to the people; and whence, therefore, even in that
season of severe drought, Elijah could procure those copious supplies
of water which he poured over the altar. The distance between this
spring and the site of the altar is so short, as to make it perfectly
possible to go thrice thither and back again, whereas it would have
been impossible once in an afternoon to fetch water from the sea
[VAN DE VELDE]. The summit is one thousand feet above the Kishon,
which nowhere runs from the sea so close to the base of the mount as
just beneath El-Mohhraka; so that the priests of Baal could, in a few
minutes, be taken down to the brook (torrent), and slain there.
42. Ahab went up to eat and to drink--Ahab, kept in painful excitement
by the agonizing scene, had eaten nothing all the day. He was
recommended to refresh himself without a moment's delay; and, while the
king was thus occupied, the prophet, far from taking rest, was absorbed
in prayer for the fulfilment of the promise
put his face between his knees--a posture of earnest supplication
43. Go up now, look toward the sea--From the place of worship there
is a small eminence, which, on the west and northwest side,
intercepts the view of the sea
VELDE]. It can be
ascended in a few minutes, and presents a wide prospect of the
Mediterranean. Six times the servant went up, but the sky was
clear--the sea tranquil. On the seventh he described the sign of
44. Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man's
hand--The clearness of the sky renders the smallest speck distinctly
visible; and this is in Palestine the uniform precursor of rain. It
rises higher and higher, and becomes larger and larger with astonishing
celerity, till the whole heaven is black, and the cloud bursts in a
deluge of rain.
Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee
not--either by the river Kishon being suddenly so swollen as to be
impassable, or from the deep layer of dust in the arid plain being
turned into thick mud, so as to impede the wheels.
45. Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel--now Zerin, a distance of about
ten miles. This race was performed in the midst of a tempest of rain.
But all rejoiced at it, as diffusing a sudden refreshment over all the
land of Jezreel.
46. Elijah . . . girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab--It was
anciently, and still is in some countries of the East, customary for
kings and nobles to have runners before their chariots, who are tightly
girt for the purpose. The prophet, like the Bedouins of his native
Gilead, had been trained to run; and, as the Lord was with him, he
continued with unabated agility and strength. It was, in the
circumstances, a most proper service for Elijah to render. It tended
to strengthen the favorable impression made on the heart of Ahab and
furnished an answer to the cavils of Jezebel for it showed that he who
was so zealous in the service of God, was, at the same time, devotedly
loyal to his king. The result of this solemn and decisive contest was a
heavy blow and great discouragement to the cause of idolatry. But
subsequent events seem to prove that the impressions, though deep, were
but partial and temporary.