This chapter relates to us the further history of Elijah. The time being arrived for his appearance again before Ahab, the Lord commands him to go on this embassy. An account of this interview. Elijah demands a decision between the prophets of Baal and himself before all Israel, who is the God. The day of determination. The Lord's answering by fire. Israel convinced. Baal's prophets destroyed. And the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth.
(1) В¶ And it came to pass after many days, that the word of the LORD came to Elijah in the third year, saying, Go, shew thyself unto Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth.
This is a most beautiful chapter, in which the faith of Elijah is put to the strictest test. The Lord promised to visit Israel with the needed rain. After many days it is said: But from the apostle James's account we find that the draught had been for three years and six months. James 5:17.
(2) And Elijah went to shew himself unto Habakkuk. And there was a sore famine in Samaria. (3) And Ahab called Obadiah, which was the governor of his house. (Now Obadiah feared the LORD greatly: (4) For it was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the LORD, that Obadiah took an hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water.) (5) And Ahab said unto Obadiah, Go into the land, unto all fountains of water, and unto all brooks: peradventure we may find grass to save the horses and mules alive, that we lose not all the beasts. (6) So they divided the land between them to pass throughout it: Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself. (7) And as Obadiah was in the way, behold, Elijah met him: and he knew him, and fell on his face, and said, Art thou that my lord Elijah? (8) And he answered him, I am: go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here. (9) And he said, What have I sinned, that thou wouldest deliver thy servant into the hand of Ahab, to slay me? (10) As the LORD thy God liveth, there is no nation or kingdom, whither my lord hath not sent to seek thee: and when they said, He is not there; he took an oath of the kingdom and nation, that they found thee not. (11) And now thou sayest, Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here. (12) And it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from thee, that the Spirit of the LORD shall carry thee whither I know not; and so when I come and tell Ahab, and he cannot find thee, he shall slay me: but I thy servant fear the LORD from my youth. (13) Was it not told my lord what I did when Jezebel slew the prophets of the LORD, how I hid an hundred men of the LORD'S prophets by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water? (14) And now thou sayest, Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here: and he shall slay me. (15) And Elijah said, As the LORD of hosts liveth, before whom I stand, I will surely shew myself unto him to day. (16) So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him: and Ahab went to meet Elijah.
Reader! figure to yourself the poor, despised, solitary prophet, thus going to show himself to such a prince as Ahab, backed with a wife of such diabolical principles as Jezebel! Recollect what is here said, that during the long famine Jezebel had been destroying all the Lord's prophets; those that escaped had been hid in caves, and dared not to appear! Consider further that so dreadfully the famine raged, that the king himself went in search of any brook or fountain which could be found. And lastly, in order to view properly the intrepidity of Elijah, let the Reader recollect what Obadiah told Elijah when he met him, that diligent search had been made for him in every nation or kingdom where he could possibly send to enquire; plainly testifying thereby what Ahab would have done to Elijah had he got him into his hands. Let all these circumstances be considered; and then let the Reader pause with rue, and admire the greatness of that blessed principle of faith with which the Great Author of it endued his servant. Before we prosecute the chapter, I would detain the Reader to remark with me also, the graciousness of God in preserving to himself a seed in the earth in the worst of times: and moreover, when iniquity, as in this reign of Ahab, had ripened to such a degree, that his grace was still reserved for them to turn the hearts of his people back again! - I would beg the Reader also to behold in the character of Obadiah, how evidently the covenant promises of God must have wrought upon his mind, who in the very court of Ahab, and while governor of his house, yet followed the Lord. See the promise, Jeremiah 32:40. And lastly, before we proceed to the other part of the chapter, I request the Reader to consider how the heart of Elijah, in his zeal for the Lord's honour, and his love to the souls of the Lord's people, must have been burning with impatience during the long period of three years and half, and secretly praying that the awful judgment of famine, and the dreadful consequences thereof, might be sooner averted.
(17) В¶ And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel? (18) And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the LORD, and thou hast followed Baalim.
Observe the hardness and impenitency of the king! Observe the firmness and intrepidity of the prophet!
(19) Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel's table. (20) So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel.
How must the mind of this wretched man Ahab have been overruled so immediately to comply with the prophet's request. It is more than probable that Ahab thought, as Elijah had declared when he predicted the famine, that there should be no dew, nor rain, but according to his word, that Elijah would give that word on mount Carmel. No doubt, the Lord's hand was in the whole, and he overruled Ahab's mind to obey the prophet implicitly.
(21) В¶ And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.
This argument was very powerful for decision of character: but the question to an infidel would be still undetermined; Who is the Lord? This was settled by the ensuing miracle.
(22) Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the LORD; but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men. (23) Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: (24) And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.
Here the man of God brings the question home nearer, and puts it at once to a decision, so that every man confessed the mode of trial was fair. But Reader! think in what a frame of mind the servant of the Lord must have been to trust the whole event upon this issue. Surely Elijah manifested himself to have been a true son of him who against hope believed in hope, and showed to what a degree of stability his faith had brought him. Reader! can you and I look up with equal steadiness to Jesus, and say, Let that Jesus who answereth for my sins, let him be my God?
(25) And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under. (26) And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made. (27) And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked. (28) And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them. (29) And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.
Had Baal answered there would have been no opportunity for Elijah's trial. But this the Lord overruled, so that among 450 of their artful priests there should be no deception. And had Elijah first appealed to the Lord before the trial of Baal's priests, many of the deluded followers of Baal would not have been convinced, perhaps, but that Baal could have done the same. But by this plan of letting Baal's priests make their experiment first, the man of God took effectual means to make his triumph complete. The mockery of Baal's priests exactly corresponded to the ridiculous nature of their idol worship.
(30) And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down. (31) And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the LORD came, saying, Israel shall be thy name: (32) And with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed. (33) And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood. (34) And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time. (35) And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.
There is somewhat very solemn in this conduct of the prophet, when we consider what the expected event was to be. - The building, or repairing, the altar, intimated that the people had suffered it to go into ruins; and that it was not a new religion, but the religion of their fathers he aimed to bring them back to. The taking twelve stones was to show thereby, that though two of the tribes were away, yet the whole of Israel belonged to the God of Israel; these were very striking things in the plan Elijah observed. And the covering the whole of the sacrifice with water, which was to be consumed by fire, intimated with what ease the God of Israel could, and would accomplish, the purposes of his holy will: surely it must have had, a wonderful effect upon the minds of the people. It is probable that as mount Carmel was so near to the sea, and the long draught had made a scarcity of water, that the prophet had this water which was thrown over the sacrifice taken from the sea.
(36) And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. (37) Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.
There is a great beauty in this part of the relation; that it was at the time of offering the evening sacrifice; that solemn season appointed in the church, and observed by the faithful in all ages, and which, as it had an eye to the one all-sufficient and all-finished sacrifice of the Lord Jesus on the cross, so it corresponded to the same hour. See Daniel 9:21; Matthew 27:46, &c: Observe the prayer of Elijah! It is addressed to Jehovah in his covenant relations. And observe the object of it: The glory of the Lord; and the welfare of his people.
(38) Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
Observe the graciousness of God, and how faithfully he proved himself to be a prayer-hearing, and a prayer-answering God, agreeably to that sweet promise, Isaiah 65:24.
(39) And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God.
No doubt such a demonstration carried conviction to every heart; though it is to be feared that it did not carry conversion to many an heart that was present. Had Ahab felt as he ought, he must have dreaded lest the fire which consumed the sacrifice should have consumed him also. But alas! it is one thing to say, The Lord he is the God, and even to repeat it; and another to say, This God is our God, forever and ever, he shall be our guide even unto death. Reader! can you say this. Psalms 48:14.
(40) And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.
This sentence of Elijah's was in conformity to the law; and Ahab could not dare to deny it. See Deu_13:1-2; Deu_13:5. But it is evident by what follows in the next chapter, that had the sentence not have been executed in the moment, while all Israel were under the impression of this solemn scene, in all probability Baal's prophets would have escaped.
(41) В¶ And Elijah said unto Ahab, Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain.
Observe, Reader! the continuance of the divine graciousness. - The heavens shall give fire to prove God's sovereignty: and the heavens shall give rain to manifest his grace.
(42) So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees,
How lovely view doth this give us of the prophet. As soon as he had dispatched the public duties of the day, he hastens to private communion with God. Such, blessed Jesus, was thy unequalled example! Matthew 14:23.
(43) And said to his servant, Go up now, look toward the sea. And he went up, and looked, and said, There is nothing. And he said, Go again seven times. (44) And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man's hand. And he said, Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not. (45) And it came to pass in the mean while, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel. (46) And the hand of the LORD was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.
While the prophet was wrestling in prayer with God, his servant is sent on the lookout for the first sign of answers to his prayer. Six ineffectual searches were made; teaching, that though God waiteth to be gracious, yet for these things he will be enquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them. At length at the seventh look out a little cloud is seen, the day of small things. That is enough to the mind of the prophet. He knew that in the womb of that little cloud all the blessings he was praying for were contained, and would be brought forth. Oh! Reader! let you and I be continually on the lookout, for the Lord Jesus is everlastingly looking upon his people; let us catch at the smallest things of Jesus, for his promise, like himself, is yea and amen.
I WOULD pass over, methinks, many other considerations which this sweet chapter holds forth to view, to behold in the prophetic character of Elijah what a wonderful degree of faith the Lord God had given to him for the arduous service to which he was called. What firmness and magnanimity were manifested in his whole conduct! When the Lord commanded him to show himself to Ahab, not a word of request to be spared the unpleasant embassy, but an instant readiness to obey. And when in the first interview with Ahab the monarch accused him with being the troubler of Israel; with what zeal did he refute the charge, and return it home upon the king. Reader! shall not you and I, in the contemplation, look up and bless the great author and giver of such faith, and pray for a portion of the same blessed Spirit? But let us pass over these lesser instances of this most wonderful gift of God in the former part of Elijah's conduct, to behold him in the exercise of it, when singly and alone he stood at mount Carmel, opposed by 450 persons. Oh! what confidence must he have had in God as the God of Israel, that the Lord would answer by fire, consume the sacrifice, and dry up the water, when in the fulness of the Spirit's influence upon his heart he commanded to drench the whole in such a way as should call for one miracle upon another, to prove the Lord faithful. Who that reads this history of Elijah but must rejoice in beholding the great blessedness of faith which is capable of producing such things. And who but must be led to bless the great author of the principle itself, who both implanted that grace in the heart, and so graciously crowned it with divine approbation!
But Reader! while looking at the servant, let us look higher also, and contemplate the master. Yes! blessed Jesus! it is thou which art the sole author and giver of it. And therefore to thee would we ascribe all the glory. Had it not been for thy gracious undertaking, such is the human mind by nature, universally speaking, that not one spark of faith could ever have been kindled in the breast of any. Here every man is the same, without any predisposition, or inclination to believe. Nay, with every prejudice against it. - The water poured over the sacrifice of Elijah did not tend to damp the materials more than the prejudices, darkness, and natural hatred of our hearts tend to damp all divine impressions. Shall I not then, blessed Jesus, adore the riches of thy grace, in that thou condescendest to kindle a flame of faith in my heart, when everything that pride, ignorance, self-righteousness, and an unconscious state of my own condition, and thy suitableness as a Saviour, stood in opposition against it? Blessed Jesus! everlasting praise to thy dear name, like the sacrifice of the prophet, the fire of thy love and mercy hath descended from heaven and consumed all. And my soul hath been constrained to say not only, The Lord he is the God; but that the Lord is my light, my Jesus, my salvation, my God and Saviour forever.