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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

1 Kings 18



Verse 12


‘I thy servant fear the Lord from my youth.’

1 Kings 18:12

I. All we know of Obadiah is contained in this chapter, and yet he was a great man in his day.—He was, it seems, King Ahab’s vizier, or prime minister, the first man in the country after the king. Of all his wealth and glory the Bible does not say one word. His wealth and power did not follow him to the grave, but by his good deed he lives in the pages of the Bible; he lives in our minds and memories; and, more than all, by that good deed he lives for ever in God’s sight. In the day when Elijah met him, Obadiah found that his prayers and alms had gone up before God, and were safe with God, and not to be forgotten for ever.

II. The lesson for us is to persevere in well-doing, for in due time we shall reap if we faint not.—Cast, therefore, thy bread upon the waters, and thou shalt find it after many days. Do thy diligence to give of what thou hast, for so gatherest thou to thyself in the day of necessity, in which with what measure we have measured to others God will measure to us again.

III. A doubt comes in here—what are our works at best.—What have we that is fit to offer to God? Bad in quality our good works are, and bad in quantity, too. How shall we have courage to carry them in our hand to that God who charges His very angels with folly, and the heavens are not clean in His sight? Too true if we had to offer our own works to God. But there is One who offers them for us—Jesus Christ the Lord. He cleanses our works from sin by the merit of His death and suffering, so that nothing may be left in them but what is the fruit of God’s own Spirit, and that God may see in them only the good which He Himself put into them.

—Canon Kingsley.


(1) ‘The story of Obadiah is full of useful and practical lessons. In spite of his environment, he presented a noble character and did a splendid work. People often cast the blame of their failures upon their circumstances. When inclined to do so, think of this noble hero of faith, and like him walk in the path of duty with firm step, in spite of all hindrances. The promise will be fulfilled in the experience of every one who earnestly resolves to live a high-toned and useful life. “My grace is sufficient for thee; for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Let us then be strong, and rise above opposing forces, and stand fast on the side of virtue and religion.’

(2) ‘We are astonished to find Obadiah in such a family. We do not know the history of his spiritual development further than this, “that he feared the Lord from his youth.” He was probably trained by a pious mother, who impressed her boy’s mind with the knowledge of the true God, and imprinted on his heart impressions that never were effaced. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” What an encouragement, both in the family and in the school, to imprint upon the plastic minds of children the truths of religion!’

(3) ‘The poor man must often have been in a great strait to reconcile his duty to Jehovah with his duty to his other master, Ahab. And Elijah shrewdly hinted at it, when he said, “Go, tell thy lord, behold Elijah is here!” Imagine a courtier of Oliver Cromwell trying to be true to the Commonwealth and to the cause of the exiled Stuarts! The life of policy and expediency is a species of rope-walking; it needs considerable practice in the art of balancing.’

(4) ‘Obadiah was in a very anomalous position, but we must not judge him too harshly for being in Ahab’s house, unless he was there at the expense of his testimony. Our loyalty to God does not involve leaving the service of men like Ahab, unless we are called upon to violate our conscience. The Apostle said distinctly that we were to abide in the calling in which we were when we became Christians.’

Verse 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.’

1 Kings 18:21

I. Most of us are so conscious of some lurking weakness, and so fearful of ourselves, that we are reluctant to pledge ourselves to any definite course of action.—The fact is plain, we do not like to make up our minds. And yet there is this awful law working itself out in the case of every one of us, that, whether we like it or not, our minds are being made up day by day.

The Jews in the time of Ahab found it most convenient to go with the fashion of the time and worship Baal; and when the really critical moment came, there was not a man who was prepared to make his choice between truth and falsehood. ‘The people answered him not a word.’

II. Let us take the warning of the story.—If it be true that life’s great matters are not settled by a single act of choice, but by the habit of choosing rightly: if it be true that one grand critical moment comes to but very few, and that that moment is only the last moment of a chain of other moments, each one of which is as important as its successor, then those who make the choice rightly are the men who look upon the two paths of principle and convenience, of interest and duty, as distinct as honour and shame, as good and evil. The Lord, He is the God, and Him they will serve.

Let us remember that every hour we must look upon as the deciding hour which we will serve, good or evil, Christ or Belial.

—Canon Jessop.


A crisis in Israel’s history.—Sin of idolatry general.—Worship of God all but forsaken for worship of Baal.—The story is deeply interesting.—The text is at once a reproof and a challenge; it is also an argument. It is aimed at two failings—indecision and inconsistency.

I. The modern Christian needs that some one should cry text in his ears. Public opinion is against indecision and inconsistency. Mr. Facing-both-ways is not a popular character, but he is a common one nevertheless, and he receives a good deal of encouragement from spirit of age. That spirit is for toleration—free field for every fad. But the moment we venture to rebuke unbelief we are ‘narrow.’ It is regarded as a sign of intellectual feebleness for a man to be sure of anything, and the result is a timid theology and a vague religion.

II. The waverers are touched by Elijah’s challenge. ‘If you really believe religion of humanity will regenerate world and supersede Christianity, live up to it.’

III. The convinced Christians must also heed the text. (1) It warns us that in belief and conduct we must guard against indecision and inconsistency, It reminds us also of necessity of supporting Christian profession by consistent life. ‘Making the best of both worlds’ will end in disaster. (2) How can we hope to attain high standard suggested by text? By (a) earnest prayer; (b) the guidance of God’s Word; (c) the services of the Church, and especially in the most sacred of them all.

Rev. Barton R. V. Mills.


I. Elijah’s message was limited to his age.—He was not a seer of the future; no prophecies, properly so called, have come to us through him. What strikes us specially in him is the remarkable unity of his aim. His one message was the assertion of the, to us, simple truth of the unity of the true God, and His sole absolute claim on His creatures. It was the union of a grand revelation with the intensest inward fire which formed the force that bore Elijah on.

II. We may learn from the history of Elijah: (1) that the rest we need is to be acquired only by secret communing with God Himself; (2) that strength sufficient to support us when we stand alone is to be found in that simple hold upon God, which seemed to be the one truth of Elijah’s teaching.

—Canon Carter.


(1) ‘The world is full of compromises. One might say, the world of this day is one great compromise. It hates nothing so much as Elijah’s choice. The world is lax; it must hate strictness: the world is lawless; it must hate absolute, unyielding law, which presses it: the world would be sovereign, keeping religion in its own place, to minister to its well-being, to correct excesses, to soothe it, when wanted. But a kingdom which, though not of the world, demands the absolute submission of the world, must of course provoke the world’s opposition.’

(2) ‘No man can serve two masters. One must choose between the god of sense and brute force, and the invisible, spiritual and eternal God. This choice is always being presented to us, between pleasure and duty, the lower and the higher, the easy and the arduous, flesh and spirit, the world and Christ, and to hesitate long between the two is, like a standard-bearer wavering between advance against the enemy and retreat to his own lines, practical defeat.’

Verse 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, bear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made.’

1 Kings 18:26

The conduct of the priests of Baal is in many respects well fitted to put to shame the disciples of Christ.

I. Notice, first, their zeal.—They were willing to suffer and cut themselves with knives and lancets till the blood gushed out. The zeal and self-devotion with which idolaters will act on their mistakes ought to put us to the blush for the lukewarmness and cowardice which we often display in acting on our truths. The men who cheerfully acted on the precepts of a sanguinary religion are confronted with those among us who will not submit to the precepts of a mild one.

II. Notice how the idolatrous priests persevered, in spite of the keen ridicule of Elijah.—In the matter of religion there is nothing which men find it so difficult to bear as ridicule. It can never be said that the priests of Baal had better reasons for being staunch in their adherence to their idol than the servants of God for confidence in His power and protection. They may be brought up as witnesses against us at the last if we show deficiency either in zeal or courage.

III. These priests furnish us with another lesson by their importunity.—They persisted in praying, though no answer was vouchsafed. The silence of their deity appears to have been with them nothing but a reason for greater importunity; they were all the more earnest because they had obtained as yet no answer. Thus they seem to have held fast the principle that the Divine unchangeableness is not an argument against, but for, the possible utility of importunate prayer. We must bring the supremacy of our God to the test to which the idolaters were ready to submit that of Baal. ‘The God that answereth by fire, let him be God.’ There are those amongst us who have other gods than Jehovah. But can they answer by fire? It is the promise, the characteristic, of the dispensation of the Spirit. Ask, and ye shall receive.

Canon Melvill.


(1) ‘There is nothing which men find it so difficult to bear as ridicule. They can brave a frown, but be quite daunted by a laugh; and a sneer will appal them, when they would not have shrunk from a sword. When we deal faithfully with the young, and set honestly before them the difficulties they will have to encounter, if they separate from the world and give themselves to the duties of religion, we always lay our main stress on the ridicule which they must expect to excite, requiring them to examine, before making their decision, whether they stand prepared to be counted “fools for Christ’s sake.” And it is mainly because this point is imperfectly examined, and the decision prematurely made, that we have so many instances of a falling away amongst the young—those who have begun to all appearance well, and with good promise of perseverance, relapsing, after a while, into the habits and associations which they had resolved to abandon. You will find that, in the majority of cases, the lapse is to be traced to the power of ridicule.’

(2) ‘Will not the very heathen rise up against us in the judgment, and condemn us, if they inflict upon themselves excruciating torments, and wear down the body by incessant exactions, just because they find themselves so directed by a fabulous theology; whilst we, with all the advantages of a full revelation, grudge those sacrifices which are to be a thousandfold compensated, and throw off those restraints which, after all, would but make us masters of ourselves?’


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Kings 18:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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