April 19 Reading: I Kings 17-19 Commentary
“Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again.” (I Kings 18:36-37)
I Kings 17 – Elijah Begins His Ministry
In I Kings 17, Elijah the Tishbite from Gilead steps onto the stage. He served in the capacity of prophet to the people. And since the days of Moses, there had been no prophet like him.
The role of prophet in the Old Testament was a difficult and thankless job. Usually you were called on to deliver difficult news to kings or the people at large that they did not want to hear. That’s because the people continually lapsed into sin. So God called on prophets to try and turn their hearts back to God or else face the consequences of their sin.
Elijah had an impossible job, as he was called to confront the wicked King Ahab and the northern tribes of Israel about their sin. It was impossible because the 10 northern tribes never ever turned from their wicked ways once the kingdom of Israel was split in two. At least at times the southern kingdom of Judah was receptive and repentant and followed God.
But Elijah followed God’s calling anyway. He went to King Ahab and said, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word” (v. 1). This served as quite the challenge. In essence, Elijah was calling out the Canaanite god Baal because, in their belief structure, Baal governed the dew and the rain.
God supernaturally provided for Elijah by giving him food to eat and water to drink. He hid by the Brook Cherith, across the Jordan far away from Samaria. While there, God sent ravens to bring Elijah food (vv. 2-7).
Elijah and the Widow
After some time, the brook where Elijah was staying dried up because there was no rain (v. 7). So God came to Elijah again and told him to go live with a widow in Zarephath (v. 8). Elijah did so and met the woman gathering sticks by the city gate (v. 10).
Turns out, the woman had no food in her house. She was gathering sticks so that she could prepare the last meal for her and her son. After that, she anticipated both of them to starve to death.
Elijah told her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth” (vv. 13-14).
And so it happened as Elijah said. God performed a miracle so that she never ran out of oil or flour (v. 16). He provided for the needs of a pagan woman who chose to trust His Word. If God could do that for her, how much more will he provide for the needs of his children, to those who call him Lord? (see Phil. 4:19).
Elijah and Widow’s Son
Sadly, at some point, the woman’s son died. He became sick to the point that “there was no breath left in him” (v. 17). The woman thought she had sinned and that Elijah was somehow responsible for her son’s death (vv. 17-18).
When Elijah found out he said “Give me your son” (v. 19). He took the boy to the upper room of the house where he was staying and laid him on a bed. Then Elijah prayed, “O Lord my God, have You also brought tragedy on the widow with whom I lodge, by killing her son?” (v. 20) After stretching himself on the boy three times he cried out to the Lord saying, “O Lord my God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him” (v. 21).
And then the unthinkable happened. “Then the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came back to him, and he revived” (v. 22).
When the woman saw Elijah bring her son back down to her, she offered this testimony: “Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth” (v. 24).
She’d seen God work in her life before. That trust had wavered at the death of her son. But now, after another miracle, she knew without a doubt that the word of the Lord was true.
I Kings 18 – Elijah Confronts Ahab
God came to Elijah and said “present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the earth” (v. 1). It had been at least three years with little to no rain (v. 1). This lack of rain had caused a severe famine in Samaria (v. 2).
Ahab had a chief palace official named Obadiah who feared the Lord. He had secretly hid and fed 100 godly prophets when Jezebel ordered their massacre (vv. 3-4). On this occasion, Ahab and Obadiah agreed to divide the land and journey in separate directions to find water and grass to keep the king’s animals alive (vv. 5-6).
As Obadiah explored his route, he met Elijah (v. 7). Elijah asked him to arranged a meeting with Ahab (v. 8). Obadiah was hesitant, thinking that if he went to get Ahab, God might carry Elijah off somewhere else where he could not be found. Then Obadiah’s life would be in danger for misinforming the king (vv. 9-14). Elijah assured Obadiah that he will present himself to Ahab that very day.
Ahab was not pleased to meet Elijah. He called Elijah the “troubler of Israel” (v. 17). To this Elijah responded, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and have followed the Baals” (v. 18).
With that Elijah told Ahab to gather all the prophets of Baal and Asherah (the goddess of fertility) and meet Elijah on Mount Carmel (v. 19). God worked many extraordinary miracles through Elijah, including raising the widow’s dead son. This type of power had not been seen since the days of Moses. Now God would demonstrate his authority in a way that would leave no doubt who was the one true god.
Elijah’s Challenge to the Prophets of Baal
Ahab, Elijah, the false prophets and “all the children of Israel” had gathered at Mount Carmel (v. 20). Elijah explained the purpose of the gathering, in that he wondered how long the people would waver between worshipping the Lord and Baal (v. 21). No one answered when he asked the question.
Elijah’s proposed a contest to help them determine who they should follow. He explained it this way:
“I alone am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Therefore let them give us two bulls; and let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other bull, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it. Then you call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord; and the God who answers by fire, He is God” (vv. 21-24).
The people agreed this challenge was acceptable (v. 24). So Elijah let the prophets of Baal proceed first. They prepared their sacrifice and “called on the name of Baal from morning even till noon, saying, ‘O Baal, hear us!'” (vv. 25-26).
When Baal did not answer, Elijah began to mock them saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened” (v. 27). At this, they cried louder and even cut themselves trying to get Baal’s attention (vv. 28).
No fire ever came. “There was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention” (v. 29).
God’s Dramatic Answer to Elijah
Elijah had seen enough. He called on the people to come close to him (v. 30). He repaired a broken down altar (vv. 30-33) that had been used on the mountain before by true worshippers of the Lord (see I Kings 3:2-4).
Once the altar was complete, he cut up a bull and put the pieces on the altar and dug a trench around the altar (vv. 32-33). He ordered 12 pots filled with water be poured over the sacrifice. It was so much water that it filled up the trench he had dug (vv. 34-35).
At the time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah offered this prayer in the sight and hearing of all the people:
“Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again” (vv. 36-37)
No sooner had the words left his mouth then,
“…fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench” (v. 38).
The fire had the desired effect. “Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, ‘The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!'” (v. 39).
Elijah immediately ordered the people to seize the prophets of Baal. They took the prophets to the Brook Kishon and executed them all (v. 40).
The Drought Ends
God’s not done with miracles yet. Elijah told Ahab “Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of abundance of rain” (v. 41). Ahab did so but Elijah went to the top of Mount Carmel again to pray (v. 42). As he prayed, Elijah sent his servant to go look towards the sea to see if any rain was coming (v. 43).
Six times Elijah prayed and nothing came. On the seventh prayer attempt, the servant returned and said, “There is a cloud, as small as a man’s hand, rising out of the sea!” (v. 44). So Elijah told Ahab he’d better return to the city before the rain stopped him.
It happened that the sky became “black with clouds and wind and there was heavy rain” (v. 45). God had performed another miracle by sending rain.
And to end the day with one final miracle, “the hand of the Lord came upon Elijah; and he girded up his loins and ran ahead of Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel” (v. 46). Elijah outran Ahab’s chariot back to the city.
I Kings 19 – Elijah Flees from Jezebel
Despite the dramatic victory at Mount Carmel and the rain relief, all is not good for Elijah. When Queen Jezebel heard from Ahab that Elijah had executed the prophets of Baal, she ordered his execution. She sent a messenger to him saying, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time” (vv. 1-2).
When Elijah heard that, he fled for his life and went to Beersheba (v. 3). While there, he went into the wilderness and prayed that he might die. He was emotionally and physically spent and declared, “It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” (v. 4).
As he lay under a tree, an angel came to him twice with food and water. At the second encounter, the angel urged him to eat because of his upcoming journey (vv. 5-8). “So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb [aka Mt. Sinai], the mountain of God” (v. 8).
Upon arrival at Mt. Horeb, Elijah went into a cave. The Lord met him there and asked, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (v. 9). To that question, Elijah poured out his soul to God. In what sounds like a release of anguish (and maybe depression) over his circumstances, Elijah said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life” (v. 10).
God Comforts Elijah
Elijah thought he was all alone in his crusade for the Lord. That was not true as God was about to tell him. But He had to get Elijah’s attention first. So God told him to go to the mouth of the cave.
While standing there,
“…behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice” (vv. 11-12).
God could have been in the dramatic things Elijah saw. However, he came to Elijah quietly, in a still small voice. And He asked Elijah again, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (v. 13). Elijah repeated what he’d said previously about being the only prophet left and that the king and queen sought his life (v. 14).
The news Elijah received next must have been uplifting. God assured him that he was not alone. In fact, 7,000 people in the Northern Kingdom of Israel had not worshipped Baal (v. 18).
Additionally, Elijah was going to get some help. God instructed him to anoint “Elisha son of Shaphat” as a prophet. When that encounter happened in verses 19-21, Elisha offered a sacrifice of his oxen, using his wooden plow as fuel for the fire. He left his old as farmer behind and became Elijah’s servant.
Questions to Consider:
Have you ever had to confront someone about their sin? Were they receptive to what you had to say?
Following Christ requires sacrifices. In the end though, everything we leave behind will seem worthless when compared to the joy of knowing Christ and the benefits that come from serving Him.
Elisha left everything to follow the prophet Elijah. He said goodbye to his family and in an even more dramatic move, burned all his farming equipment. There was no going back to his old way of life, ever. What do you need to leave behind to follow the Lord with 100 percent of your heart?
What other points would you want to know about in our I Kings 17-19 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.