Bible Commentary

1 Kings 18

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

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(Read all of 1 Kings 18)

Verse 1

[1] 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.

The third year — Either, 1. From the time when he went to hide himself by the brook Cherith; six months before which time the famine might begin. And so this being towards the end of the third year, it makes up these three years and six months, James 5:17. Or, 2. From the time of his going to Sarepta, which probably was a year after the famine begun; So this might be in the middle of the third year, which also makes up the three years and six months.

Go to Ahab — To acquaint him with the cause of this judgment, and to advise him to remove it, and upon that condition to promise him rain.

Will send — According to thy word and prayer, which thou shalt make for it. Thus God takes care to maintain the honour of his prophet, and in judgment remembers mercy to Israel, for the sake of the holy seed yet left among them, who suffered in this common calamity.

Verse 2

[2] And Elijah went to shew himself unto Ahab. And there was a sore famine in Samaria.

Elijah went — Wherein he shews a strong faith, and resolute obedience, and invincible courage, that he durst at God's command run into the mouth of this raging lion.

Verse 3

[3] And Ahab called Obadiah, which was the governor of his house. (Now Obadiah feared the LORD greatly:

Obadiah — Being valued by Ahab for his great prudence and fidelity, and therefore indulged as to the worship of the calves and Baal. "But how could he and some other Israelites be said to fear the Lord, when they did not go up to Jerusalem to worship, as God had commanded?" Although they seem not to be wholly excusable in this neglect, yet because they worshipped God in spirit and truth, and performed all moral duties to God and their brethren, and abstained from idolatry, being kept from Jerusalem by violence, God bares with their infirmity herein.

Verse 4

[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.)

Prophets — This name is not only given to such as are endowed with an extraordinary spirit of prophecy, but to such ministers as devoted themselves to the service of God in preaching, praying, and praising God.

And fed — With the hazard of his own life, and against the king's command; as wisely considering, that no command of an earthly prince could over-rule the command of the king of kings.

Bread and water — With meat and drink. See how wonderfully God raises up friends for his ministers and people where one would least expect them!

Verse 7

[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?

And fell — By this profound reverence, shewing his great respect and love to him.

Verse 8

[8] And he answered him, I am: go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here.

Thy lord — Ahab: whom, though a very wicked man, he owns for Obadiah's Lord and king; thereby instructing us, that the wickedness of kings doth not exempt their subjects from obedience to their lawful commands.

Verse 9

[9] And he said, What have I sinned, that thou wouldest deliver thy servant into the hand of Ahab, to slay me?

He said — Wherein have I offended God, and thee, that thou shouldest expose me to certain ruin.

Verse 10

[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.

No nation — Near his own, where he could in reason think that Elijah had hid himself. It does not appear, that Ahab sought him, in order to put him to death: but rather in hopes of prevailing upon him, to pray for the removal of the drought.

Verse 12

[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.

Carry thee — Such transportations of the prophets having doubtless been usual before this time, as they were after it.

Slay me — Either as one that hath deluded him with vain hopes: or, because I did not seize upon thee, and bring thee to him.

But I, … — He speaks not these words, in a way of boasting; but that he might move the prophet to spare him, and not put him upon that hazardous action.

Verse 17

[17] And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel?

Ahab said — Have I at last met with thee, O thou disturber of my kingdom, the author of this famine, and all our calamities?

Verse 18

[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.

He answered — These calamities are not to he imputed to me, but thine and thy father's wickedness. He answered him boldly, because he spoke in God's name, and for his honour and service.

Ye — All of you have forsaken the Lord, and thou in particular, hast followed Baalim.

Verse 19

[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.

Send — Messengers, that this controversy may be decided, what is the cause of these heavy judgments.

All Israel — By their heads, or representatives, that they may be witnesses of all our transactions.

Carmel — Not that Carmel, in Judah, but another in Issachar by the midland sea, which he chose as a convenient place being not far from the center of his kingdom, to which all the tribes might conveniently resort, and at some distance from Samaria, that Jezebel might not hinder.

Prophets of Baal — Who were dispersed in all the parts of the kingdom.

Of the groves — Who attended upon those Baal's or idols that were worshipped in the groves, which were near the royal city, and much frequented by the king and the queen.

Verse 20

[20] So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel.

Ahab sent — He complied with Elijah's motion; because the urgency of the present distress made him willing to try all means to remove it; from a curiosity of seeing some extraordinary events; and principally, because God inclined his heart.

Verse 21

[21] 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.

And said — Why do you walk so lamely and unevenly, being so unsteady in your opinions and practices, and doubting whether it is better to worship God or Baal? If the Lord - Whom you pretend to worship.

Follow — Worship him, and him only, and that in such place and manner as he hath commanded you.

If Baal — If Baal can prove himself to be the true God.

Answered not — Being convinced of the reasonableness of his proposition.

Verse 22

[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.

I only — Here present, to own the cause of God. As far the other prophets of the Lord, many of them were slain, others banished, or hid in caves.

Verse 23

[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:

Let then, … — To put this controversy to a short issue.

Verse 24

[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.

By Fire — That shall consume the sacrifice by fire sent from heaven; which the people knew the true God used to do. It was a great condescension in God, that he would permit Baal to be a competitor with him. But thus God would have every mouth to be stopped, and all flesh become silent before him. And Elijah doubtless had a special commission from God, or he durst not have put it to this issue. But the case was extraordinary, and the judgment upon it would be of use not only then, but in all ages. Elijah does not say, The God that answers by water, tho' that was the thing the country needed, but that answers by fire, let him be God; because the atonement was to be made, before the judgment could be removed. The God therefore that has power to pardon sin, and to signify that by consuming the sin-offering, must needs be the God that can relieve us against the calamity.

Verse 25

[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.

Dress it first — And I am willing to give you the precedency. This he did, because if he had first offered, and God had answered by fire, Baal's priests would have desisted from making the trial on their part; and because the disappointment of the priests of Baal, of which he was well assured, would prepare the way for the people's attention to his words, and cause them to entertain his success with more affection; and this coming last would leave the greater impression upon their hearts. And this they accepted, because they might think, that if Baal answered them first, which they presumed he would, the people would be so confirmed and heightened in their opinion of Baal, that they might murder Elijah before he came to his experiment.

Verse 26

[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.

Dressed — Cut it in pieces, and laid the parts upon the wood.

From morning — From the time of the morning sacrifice; which advantage Elijah suffered them to take.

They leapt upon — Or, beside the altar: or, before it. They used some superstitious and disorderly gestures, either pretending to be acted by the spirit of their god, and to be in a kind of religious extasy; or, in way of devotion to their god.

Verse 27

[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.

Mocked them — Derided them and their gods, which had now proved themselves to be ridiculous and contemptible things.

Verse 28

[28] And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.

Cut themselves — Mingling their own blood with their sacrifices; as knowing by experience, that nothing was more acceptable to their Baal (who was indeed the devil) than human blood; and hoping thereby to move their god to help them. And this indeed was the practice of divers Heathens in the worship of their false gods.

Verse 29

[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.

Prophesied — That is, prayed to, and worshipped their god.

Verse 30

[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.

The altar — This had been built by some of their ancestors for the offering of sacrifice to the God of Israel, which was frequently done in high places.

Broken down — By some of the Baalites, out of their enmity to the true God, whose temple, because they could not reach, they shewed their malignity in destroying his altars.

Verse 31

[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:

Twelve stones — This he did, to renew the covenant between God and all the tribes, as Moses did, Exodus 24:4, to shew, that he prayed and acted in the name, and for the service of the God of all the Patriarchs, and of all the tribes of Israel, and for their good: and, to teach the people, that though the tribes were divided as to their civil government, they ought all to be united in the worship of the same God.

Israel — Jacob was graciously answered by God when he prayed to him, and was honoured with the glorious title of Israel, which noted his prevalency with God and men. And I, calling upon the same God, doubt not of a like gracious answer; and if ever you mean to have your prayers granted, you must seek to the God of Jacob.

Verse 33

[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.

With water — This they could quickly fetch, either from the river Kishon; or, if that was dried up, from the sea; both were at the foot of the mountain. This he did to make the miracle more glorious, and more unquestionable.

Verse 36

[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.

The evening sacrifice — This time he chose, that he might unite his prayers with the prayers of the godly Jews at Jerusalem, who at that time assembled together to pray.

Lord God of, … — Hereby he shews faith in God's ancient covenant, and also reminds the people, of their relation both to God and to the patriarchs.

Done these things — Brought this famine, gathered the people hither, and done what I have done, or am doing here; not in compliance with my own passions, but in obedience to thy command.

Verse 37

[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.

Hast turned — Let them feel so powerful a change in their hearts, that they may know it is thy work.

Back again — Unto thee, from whom they have revolted.

Verse 38

[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.

Consumed — Solomon's altar was consecrated by fire from heaven; but this was destroyed, because no more to be used.

Verse 39

[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.

They fell — In acknowledgment of the true God.

He is God — He alone; and Baal is a senseless idol. And they double the words, to note their abundant satisfaction and assurance of the truth of their assertion.

Verse 40

[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.

Elijah said — He takes the opportunity, whilst the peoples hearts were warm with the fresh sense of this great miracle.

The brook Kishon — That their blood might be poured into that river, and thence conveyed into the sea, and might not defile the holy land.

Slew them — As these idolatrous priests were manifestly under a sentence of death, passed upon such by the sovereign Lord of life and death, so Elijah had authority to execute it, being a prophet, and an extraordinary minister of God's vengeance. The four hundred prophets of the groves, it seems, did not attend, and so escaped, which perhaps Ahab rejoiced in. But it proved, they were reserved to be the instruments of his destruction, by encouraging him to go up to Ramoth-Gilead.

Verse 41

[41] And Elijah said unto Ahab, Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain.

Get up — From the river, where he had been present at the slaughter of Baal's priests, to thy tent: which probably was pitched on the side of Carmel.

Eat, … — Take comfort, and refresh thyself: for neither the king, nor any of the people could have leisure to eat, being wholly intent upon the decision of the great controversy.

For there is, … — The rain is as certainly coming, as if you heard the noise which it makes.

Verse 42

[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,

The top of Carmel — Where he might pour out his prayers unto God; and whence he might look towards the sea. He had a large prospect of the sea from hence. The sailors at this day call it cape Carmel.

Between his knees — That is, bowed his head so low, that it touched his knees; thus abasing himself in the sense of his own meanness, now God had thus honoured him.

Verse 43

[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.

Go — While I continue praying. Elijah desired to have timely notice of the first appearance of rain, that Ahab and the people might know that it was obtained from Jehovah by the prophet's prayers, and thereby be confirmed in the true religion.

Verse 44

[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.

Like a man's hand — Great blessings often rise from small beginnings, and showers of plenty from a cloud of a span long. Let us therefore never despise the day of small things, but hope and wait for greater things from it.

Verse 46

[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.

The hand, … — God gave him more than natural strength, whereby he was enabled to outrun Ahab's chariot, for so many miles together.

He girded, … — That his garments, which were long, might not hinder him.

Ran before Ahab — To shew how ready he was to honour and serve the king, that by this humble and self-denying carriage, it might appear, what he had done was not from envy or passion, but only from a just zeal for God's glory: that by his presence with the king and his courtiers, he might animate and oblige them to proceed in the reformation of religion: and, to demonstrate, that he was neither ashamed of, nor afraid for what he had done, but durst venture himself in the midst of his enemies.

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