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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

1 Kings 17

 

 

Verse 1

A STERN MESSAGE

‘And Elijah … said unto Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before Whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.’

1 Kings 17:1

This miracle of the drought is one of the few which have received the countersign and imprimatur of our Blessed Lord. The statement that ‘the heaven was shut up three years and six months’ ‘in the days of Elias’ (St. Luke 4:25) does not rest on the unsupported authority of the compiler of the Books of Kings, or the unknown writer from whom he derived it. We are told that this history is largely fabulous, but this part of the ‘fable’ at any rate has been accepted by Him Who is ‘the Truth.’ What are the uses of this narrative?

I. Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.—It was in the fullness of time that Moses, the founder of the Law, appeared. It was also in the fullness of time that Elijah, the restorer of the Law, came upon the scene. The darkness is greatest just before the dawn. ‘The greatest prophet is reserved for the worst age. Israel had never such an impious king as Ahab, nor such a miraculous prophet as Elijah. The God of the spirits of all flesh knows how to proportion men to the occasion.’

II. The weak confound the strong.—‘God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty’ (1 Corinthians 1:27). ‘Elijah the Tishbite … of Gilead.’ ‘Can any good thing come out of Gilead?’ the men of Israel might contemptuously ask. It was from the wild uplands, not from the Holy City, not from the schools of the prophets, that the greatest of the prophets came. How often are we taught this lesson, ‘that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty are called’! The vessels of God are cast ‘in the clay ground’ (1 Kings 8:46).

III. Those who honour God, He will honour.—For why is he, the Gileadite peasant, chosen to this high distinction? Was it not because he had chosen the Lord to be his God? Surely the name ‘Elijahu,’ ‘My God, Jehovah is He,’ is not without significance. His choice was made (cf. 1 Kings 18:21). The cry he would wring from Israel, ‘The Lord, He is the God’ (v. 39) was the echo of his own heart’s cry. He had avouched the Lord to be his God, and the Lord had avouched him to be His prophet.

IV. The dominion over nature belongs to God.—It was claimed for Him by Elijah; it is everywhere claimed for Him in scripture (see e.g. Leviticus 26:4; Deuteronomy 11:17; Psalms 147:8; Jeremiah 5:24; Acts 14:17).

V. National sins are punished by national calamities.—Nations, as such, have no existence except in this world. In the life to come nationalities will be fused into one great brotherhood. Consequently, if national sins are to be punished at all, they must be punished now. And so they are, by famine, and sword, and pestilence (Ezekiel 14:21). Witness the United States in 1860. Witness France in 1870. Witness Turkey in 1880, and in more recent times, witness Russia—the nation which has persecuted God’s ancient people.

—Rev. Joseph Hammond.

Illustrations

(1) ‘The R.V. suggests that Elijah was of a pilgrim race, and certainly he learnt to stand by himself in fellowship with the living God. He was ever standing in His presence chamber, like the archangel Gabriel, who uses the same words of himself in his address to the mother of our Lord. Oh, that we might always stand in the presence of the living God! The God of an undivided Israel, the ideal Israel.’

(2) ‘I must not be all sternness. The “wild north-easter” is one of the winds of God, and it has its necessary and beneficent uses. But garden and field would be blighted if it blew from the outset of January to the close of December. I must allow “the sweet south” to breathe through my heart, my speech, my behaviour. Yet neither must I be all gentleness. “Temper, sir,” said Edmund Burke, once in the House of Commons to Lord Grey, “is the state of mind suited to the occasion.” There are times when I do well to be angry and I must not forget that I read even of the wrath of the Lamb.’


Verse 7

THE DRY BROOK

‘The brook dried up.’

1 Kings 17:7

I. This is one of the benedictions of disaster: that it sets us face to face with the realities of life.—We come into an irresistible recognition of the fact that there is something more valuable than money, and more precious than pleasure. Day by day we are busy doing our day’s work, occupied with the small interests which crowd our time, set upon transitory purposes, taken up with matters of the moment. And these things seem the only realities there are. God is out of sight and out of mind. Heaven and hell are theological expressions. Prayer is of no practical value. But we can put our hand on the round face of the gold sovereign. We can be absolutely sure of the existence of a sovereign. That, anyhow, is real.

And then comes trouble. And what a change that makes! What a reversal of all our valuations! Can money help us? Can society console us? O Baal, hear us! But there is no voice, nor any that answers. And here is the drought and the famine, and the brook is dried up because there is no rain in the land. Then we begin to think. And we remember God. And we change the emphasis of our life, and put it in a better place. And the dry brook teaches the lesson which it taught in Ahab’s day, the lesson of the supremacy of God, the lesson of the infinite seriousness of life.

II. But Elijah knew that lesson.—There was no need to teach that to Elijah. Let the other brooks dry up; but this brook Cherith at Elijah’s feet, surely God will keep that full of water. Morning and evening came the ravens, bringing breakfast and supper to the hungry prophet, and he drinks the water of the brook. God is taking care of Elijah. The hot sun glares out of the sky, but the deep valley is in the shadow. The famine tightens its hold upon the starving people, but Elijah neither thirsts nor hungers. And he paces up and down in his solitary valley, safe and satisfied, and rejoices, like Jonah, to imagine the fearful execution of the sentence of the indignant God.

But by and by the drought touches Elijah. ‘The brook dries up.’ Here is one of the hardest things to understand in the hard problem of pain. I mean this strange impartiality. If the brook had dried up in front of Ahab’s palace, that would have been right. We could see plainly enough what that was for. But when the brook dries up at the feet of the only good man in the whole country, that is quite a different matter. ‘There was no rain in the land,’ and that affected Elijah’s brook just as it affected Ahab’s. Sometimes there is a pestilence in the land, and the saint suffers like the sinner. All the time there is trouble in the land, of one sort or another, and the trouble touches the good just as it touches the bad. There is no difference. And we wonder why. No doubt but Elijah, standing on the bank of the dry brook, wondered why.

III. The dry brook taught Elijah the lesson of fellowship.—Out goes Elijah into the suffering world. Hungry and thirsty he takes his journey across the country. He knows now what starvation means. A great pity begins to take possession of his heart. He thinks now about that great famine in quite another way, and wants it ended. And presently he is standing on the top of Carmel, and looking up into the hot sky, and praying God for rain.

It is essential that whoever would be a helper of men must first have fellowship with men. He must go out among them and know them. He cannot stay apart in any pleasant seclusion, having no experience of the hunger and thirst which devours the life of man; he must himself bear our sicknesses and carry our sorrows. We must first love him before he can be of help to us. And we can love him only when he first loves us.

Illustrations

(1) ‘Elijah must have felt it trying to his faith to see the brook vanishing before his eyes. The ravens brought him food, it is true, but when one blessing is being withdrawn from us we do not always comfort ourselves with those we have. It is easy for us to forget God’s mercy on one side when it is veiled in trouble or loss on another.’

(2) ‘The prophet, like the people, suffers from the famine. The great and powerful, and the holy and noble, are one with the rest of humanity, and are not exempted from the sorrows and troubles which press upon the obscure, the lowly, and even the sinful. It is a beneficent law; for it saves men from the inhumanity of power and pride, and, as it were, forces us to suffer with, and so to have sympathy with our brethren.’


Verse 9

THE UNEXPECTED IN LIFE

‘Arise, get thee to Zarephath.… I have commanded a widow woman to sustain thee.’

1 Kings 17:9

I. Notice how God often takes us by unexpected roads.—From Cherith, by the command of God, Elijah was sent to the little town of Zarephath. Now Zarephath was a Sidonian town. It lay on the sea-coast between Tyre and Sidon. It was not a place where the true God was worshipped; it was a haunt and home of foul idolatry. It was indeed the last place in the world where we should look for a prophet of Jehovah. Of course, as we look back on it to-day, we can see the meaning of the command of God. Here Baal was worshipped, in all his horrid foulness, and Elijah was to be the antagonist of Baal. Where better, then, could he see the moral death that would creep upon Israel if she turned to Baal, than in this city where that worship was supreme? All this is very plain to us to-day; but it was not plain to the prophet when he went there. Like Joseph, when he was carried down to Egypt, Elijah was led by an unlooked-for road. Yet just as Joseph, by that unlikely path, was brought to his true sphere and highest honour, so it was in this leading of Elijah. It is well that we all should carry that in mind. We are often led by paths we would not choose. Like St. Paul, we essay to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of God in Providence suffers us not. And we think it hard, as Paul and Elijah did, until we find ‘He knoweth the way that we take,’ for Macedonia is better than Bithynia, and we would have failed but for our years in Zarephath.

II. Notice how God is often using us when we know it not.—This widow woman never thought of God when she acted so kindly to the alien prophet. She did what she could for him out of her kindly heart—how was she to know that his promises were true? And she did it (or at least she thought she did) just because it pleased her, and of her own free will. Yet all the time, although she knew it not, she was obeying the Divine commandment—‘I have commanded,’ the Lord had said to Elijah, ‘a widow woman to sustain thee there.’ Let us be taught, then, that our service of the King is a far wider thing than sometimes we imagine. When we are kind and charitable and good and loving, we are carrying out some mandate of the Master. Lord, when did we see Thee hungry or in prison—when did we see Thee sick and visited Thee? ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto Me.’

Illustrations

(1) ‘Not unseldom God bids His servants hide themselves towards the sunrising, but in these periods of enforced seclusion, He makes Himself responsible for the supply of their want. The brook may dwindle, only to reveal other resources. Not nature only, but human hearts are at the disposal of our Master, Who can make a cruse of oil and an handful of meal outlast a famine. Our one aim must be to know God’s plan and live on it, then no good thing can fail.’

(2) ‘There is a terrible epitaph on an old Roman tomb, “Quod edi et hibi, mecum habeo”—what I ate and drank I have with me. But I am certain that the widow of Sarepta would never write that upon her headstone. She had learned the truth of these words of John Wesley, “What I gave away, I have still.”

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Kings 17:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/1-kings-17.html. 1876.

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