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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

1 Kings 19

 

 

Verses 1-18

Depressed At What Appeared To Be Failure Elijah Flees To The Mountain Of God In Horeb (Sinai) And Is Sustained And Recommissioned By YHWH (1 Kings 19:1-18).

Exultant because the battle appeared almost won, and, with King Ahab surely now convinced, Elijah probably felt safe back in Jezreel, but he was to be devastated the next day to receive a message from Jezebel that she intended to have him executed. While Israel as a people had recognised YHWH again, the establishment were still totally against Him. The sudden unexpected turnaround temporarily unbalanced him, and in his panic, he fled for his life, feeling that his cause was now hopeless. It was apparent that he had not really won after all, apart from in the hearts of the general populace. In spite of what had happened on Carmel, Ahab appeared not to be willing to protect him.

His initial destination was the sanctuary at Beersheba in the very south of Judah (compare Amos 5:5; Amos 8:14) where he knew that he would be safe, even from Jezebel’s long arm. But his ultimate destination was Horeb (Sinai), the mountain of God. At times of great stress godly people regularly seek out a hallowed place which they associate with God, and what better place than that where YHWH had made His covenant with Israel? Steeped in the Scriptures Elijah would see it as the very birthplace of the nation. And now that the nation had rejected YHWH he may well have decided that he wanted to go and die there, in the place where he knew that God had given a full manifestation of Himself to Moses and Israel (Exodus 3:1; Exodus 19-20). There was nothing left for him to do.

A gracious God sustained him on his journey, and when he did eventually arrive at Horeb it was to experience a remarkable vision and a new commission. He was to learn that God had not dispensed with him yet. The still small voice of God (which had yet preserved seven thousand men who had not bowed the knee to Baal) would continue to prevail. Indeed he himself was to anoint the very people who would finally root out Baalism once and for all. Thus he need not fear. YHWH’s will would be accomplished.

The chiasmus of this passage is slightly unusual in that in the second half there is a dual threefold repetition which is clearly revealed in the text (compare Numbers 22:15-40 for a similar chiasmus where important elements are repeated). We may analyse the whole as follows:

a And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword (1 Kings 19:1).

b Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, 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 (1 Kings 19:2).

c And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there (1 Kings 19:3).

d But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree, and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough. Now, O YHWH, take away my life, for I am not better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4).

e And he lay down and slept under a broom tree, and, behold, an angel touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat” (1 Kings 19:5)

f And he looked, and, behold, there was at his head a cake of bread baked on the coals, and a cruse of water. And he ate and drank, and laid himself down again (1 Kings 19:6).

e And the angel of YHWH came again the second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you” (1 Kings 19:7).

d And he arose, and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God (1 Kings 19:8).

c And he came there to a cave, and lodged there, and, behold, the word of YHWH came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9).

b And he said, “I have been very jealous for YHWH, the God of hosts, for the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and slain your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10).

a And he said, “Go forth, and stand on the mount before YHWH.” And, behold, YHWH passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before YHWH, but YHWH was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but YHWH was not in the earthquake, and after the earthquake a fire, but YHWH was not in the fire, and after the fire a still small voice (1 Kings 19:12).

c And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his robe, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:13).

b And he said, “I have been very jealous for YHWH, the God of hosts, for the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and slain your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:14).

a And YHWH said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you come there, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria, and Jehu the son of Nimshi shall you anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah shall you anoint to be prophet in your place. And it shall come about, that him who escapes from the sword of Hazael will Jehu slay, and him who escapes from the sword of Jehu will Elisha slay. Yet will I leave me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth which has not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:15-18).

Note that in ‘a we are reminded that Elijah had slain all the prophets of Baal with the sword and in the twin parallels we learn both of YHWH’s still small voice and of his plan to eradicate Baalism while preserving a chosen remnant of Israel for himself. In ‘b’ Jezebel seeks Elijah’s life and in the twin parallels Elijah complains of the fact to YHWH. In ‘c’ Elijah went to Beersheba, and in the twin parallels he went to a cave in Horeb and dwelt there. In ‘d’ he took a journey into the wilderness and sat under a juniper tree, and in the parallel he took a journey to Horeb, the mount of God. In ‘e’ the angel called on him to arise and eat, and in the parallel the same thing happened. Centrally in ‘f’ he found himself once more miraculously fed, as at the Wadi Cherith. It was a reminder that God was with him in his flight.

1 Kings 19:1

And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword.’

Ahab naturally recounted to the queen the amazing events he had witnessed, including the execution of the prophets of Baal.

1 Kings 19:2

Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, 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.’

But Jezebel was not impressed, Instead her anger spilled over as she considered what Elijah had done, and filled with a determination for revenge, and infuriated that he might be feeling that he had won, she immediately despatched a messenger in order to disillusion him and inform him that she intended to execute him as he had executed the prophets of Baal. The act was one of someone who was controlled by her emotions, hated the thought that anyone should think that they had got one over on her, and could not wait for the actual event. She wanted Elijah to know immediately what was in store for him, so that he could not gloat, and so that he would suffer in the meanwhile. In her view now that he was accessible he had made himself vulnerable. She had after all the whole paraphernalia of the state behind her. From a more sober person this might have been seen as giving Elijah the possibility of escape. From someone like Jezebel it was a sign of arrogance and exasperation. She had no intention that he should escape.

“So let the gods do to me, and more also.” Compare 1 Kings 20:10. This was clearly a standard oath.

1 Kings 19:3

And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.’

But when Elijah received the message he panicked and fled for his life. He knew that she would be as good as her word. And he rose and went to Judah where she would not be able to reach him, and what was more to the farthest point in Judah away from Jezebel. Beer-sheba was seen as the most southernmost town in Judah, as evidenced in the phrase ‘from Dan to Beer-sheba’. It was also a sanctuary frequented by Israelites (Amos 5:5; Amos 8:14).

But that was not his final destination because he had decided to make for Horeb, the place where YHWH had given His covenant to Israel, for he wanted to die there. The sudden turn of events had made him lose hope. So leaving his servant at Beer-sheba he travelled on into the desert wilderness beyond.

1 Kings 19:4

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree, and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough. Now, O YHWH, take away my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” ’

Having gone a days journey into the desert wilderness he sought the shade of a broom tree. This is a common Palestinian shrub which grows in sand places and can reach four metres (thirteen feet) in height. In the spring it has numerous white pea flowers. Sheltering under the tree from the excessive heat he asked that he might die. He felt that he had failed in his mission, and that there was nothing left for him but death. Such a request demonstrated his recognition that he had no right to take his own life. Life was sacred and belonged to God.

Such despair when what has seemed like amazing success turns into abject failure is natural to mankind. We are all prone to ever-exaggerate what concerns us most.

1 Kings 19:5

And he lay down and slept under a broom tree, and, behold, an angel touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat.” ’

Then he lay down and slept under a broom tree (not necessarily the same one, broom trees were the only shelter available), and found himself awoken by the touch of a hand. Opening his eyes he was aware of the Angel of YHWH watching over him. Compare how the same Angel of YHWH had watched over Ishmael and his mother in a similar situation in the wilderness of Beer-sheba (Genesis 16:7-13; Genesis 21:15-21). And the Angel said to him, ‘Arise and eat.’ God had seen the need of His servant for sustenance, and would not leave him to die. It was both an act of infinite compassion, and a pointed reminder to Elijah that God still had a purpose for him.

1 Kings 19:6

And he looked, and, behold, there was at his head a cake of bread baked on the coals, and a cruse of water. And he ate and drank, and laid himself down again.’

And when Elijah looked he saw placed by his head a cake of bread which had been baked on coals, and a jar of water. And he ate and drank as he had been bidden, and then laid himself down to rest again. He was totally exhausted. He had stretched himself beyond his limit.

1 Kings 19:7

And the angel of YHWH came again the second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.”

When he had slept again the Angel of YHWH came again a second time and touched him, and bade him ‘arise and eat’, pointing out that the journey on which he had set out was proving too much for him. How much better had he waited on YHWH rather than panicking.

It should be noted that these three verses about the Angel of YHWH sustaining him are central to the chiasmus. Without the sustenance provided by YHWH Elijah might well have died. But the very sustenance was proof that YHWH was with him, and had yet more for him to do.

1 Kings 19:8

And he arose, and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.’

So Elijah arose, and ate and drank, ‘and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God’. This may signify that he took what remained of the food and water with him, eking it out of his journey. Or it may be intended to suggest special divine endurance. For he had no food with him and the journey to Horeb was long an arduous in those conditions. ‘Forty days and forty nights’ often indicates a longish period of endurance. We can compare the forty days and forty nights of the rain at the time of the Flood (Genesis 7:12), and the forty days and forty nights twice spent by Moses in the Mount (Exodus 24:18; Exodus 34:28). Compare also the forty days (morning and evening) during which Israel were challenged by Goliath (1 Samuel 17:16). It was the indication of a crisis point in divine affairs.

Horeb was the area in which Mount Sinai was situated so that the range could also be called ‘Mount Horeb’ (Exodus 3:1; Exodus 17:6; Exodus 33:6; Deuteronomy 1:6; Deuteronomy 1:19; Deuteronomy 4:10; Deuteronomy 4:15; Deuteronomy 5:2; Deuteronomy 9:8; Deuteronomy 18:16).

1 Kings 19:9

And he came there to a cave, and lodged there, and, behold, the word of YHWH came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” ’

Arriving at Horeb Elijah sought out a cave where he could sleep, and there the word of YHWH came to him and asked him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

1 Kings 19:10

And he said, “I have been very jealous for YHWH, the God of hosts, for the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and slain your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” ’

His reply was to explain the situation as he saw it in Israel. He had fought jealously on behalf of YHWH of Hosts, in the face of the forsaking of the covenant by the people of Israel, in that they had thrown down his altars and slain his prophets with the sword, all mainly the work of Jezebel and her minions. And now he found himself alone and without help, and they were seeking to take away his life as well. That was why he had fled.

Note the emphasis on their forsaking the covenant. By doing so they had turned away from YHWH, the Deliverer of Sinai/Horeb.

1 Kings 19:11-12

And he said, “Go forth, and stand on the mount before YHWH.” And, behold, YHWH passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before YHWH, but YHWH was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but YHWH was not in the earthquake, and after the earthquake a fire, but YHWH was not in the fire, and after the fire a still small voice.’

Then YHWH told him to go out and stand on the Mount before YHWH. And when he had done so YHWH gave him a spectacular demonstration of power. First YHWH passed by and a great and strong wind tore at the mountains, causing rents to appear and breaking up rocks. But YHWH was not in the wind. (This clearly means that once the wind had manifested itself, Elijah heard no voice, for we have been told that it was caused by YHWH passing by. YHWH was in the wind, it was just that He did not speak to Elijah through the wind). The violent wind was followed by an earthquake. But similarly although YHWH was in the earthquake, there was no voice. YHWH was not intending to manifest Himself to Elijah in the earthquake. Then there was a flaming fire, but again, although YHWH was in the flaming fire, as He had been on Mount Carmel, it was not the way in which He would speak to Elijah. There was no voice in the fire. YHWH was not manifesting Himself in the fire. It will be noted that all three of these manifestations had been a part of original revelations by YHWH to Moses and Israel (Exodus 10:19; Exodus 15:10; Numbers 11:31; Exodus 19:16; Exodus 19:18; Exodus 24:17. See also Psalms 18:10-12; Psalms 29; Judges 5:4-5). And it will be noted especially that the fire was the means by which He had spoken on Mount Carmel. But the question was, who had really heard it? It had had an instant effect, but it would not be a permanent effect, except in the few. That was why Elijah was here, Because the fire had ‘spoken’ to Ahab but he had not really listened. Now, however, YHWH was manifesting Himself through a ‘still, small voice’. As a result of this voice men would listen. The point was being made crystal clear that YHWH was at that time speaking to those who would listen in Israel, not through devastating events, not through the spectacular fire on Mount Carmel, but through a ‘still, small voice’ within each heart, and through the mouths of His prophets.

1 Kings 19:13

And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his robe, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah? ” ’

We are probably to see the first part of this verse as occurring in response to the command to go forth in 1 Kings 19:11 (‘it’ being that command), what then followed having taken place once he had done so (which is why he wrapped his face in his robe in anticipation of a theophany). This allowed the repetition of the question to be emphasised. Alternately we may see him as having retired into the cave again after the manifestations but before hearing the still small voice, which, once he had hear it prompted him to go again to the mouth of the cave. In this case also it would emphasise the repetition of the question “What are you doing here, Elijah?”, and connect the two sets of verses together. The author was wanting to bring out the second question against the background of all that Elijah had witnessed because, having demonstrated his awesome power, because really Elijah should not have been there. He should have been out proclaiming YHWH so that His still small voice could work in people’s hearts. Now, however, it would emphasise Elijah’s new commission.

1 Kings 19:14

And he said, “I have been very jealous for YHWH, the God of hosts, for the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and slain your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” ’

Elijah gives exactly the same response as the first time. It is because Israel has deserted YHWH and he along is standing against the tide. The repetition is deliberately emphasising the awfulness of the situation. Who would have dreamed of such a situation of total rejection of YHWH when Solomon dedicated the Temple amidst such enthusiasm eighty years previously? But we also know that it is only partly true. This was Elijah’s false view of the situation. For at least one hundred prophets had not been slain, and the second man in the kingdom was also a true if secret believer. And there were many others as YHWH will now demonstrate. And that was where Elijah should have been. But now in His grace and compassion he will reveal that these people who have broken the covenant, who have thrown down the true altars, and who have sought to slay the prophets, are themselves about to face devastating judgment (apart from those who repent).

1 Kings 19:15-18

And YHWH said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you come there, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Aram (Syria), and Jehu the son of Nimshi shall you anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah shall you anoint to be prophet in your place. And it shall come about, that him who escapes from the sword of Hazael will Jehu slay, and him who escapes from the sword of Jehu will Elisha slay, and I will leave me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth which has not kissed him.”

YHWH’s reply was twofold. Firstly He named the names of the three agents through whom He intends finally to rid Israel of Baalism, and called on Elijah to anoint them, and secondly He emphasised that there were still a good number who had also heard, and would hear, the still, small voice. The point was not that the three would arise in the order indicated, but that YHWH would tackle the problem from three angles which would make sure that no one was missed. They would be dealt with either by external warfare at the hands of Aram, bringing judgment on the unbelieving in Israel, or by political cleansing by a Yahwist king, who would purge Israel of Baalism, or at the hands of His future prophet who would eventually take Elijah’s place. In the last case the ‘slaying’ by Elisha may refer to the work of conversion that would take place through his ministry so that they would cease to be worshippers of Baal. They would ‘die’ to Baal. Hazael and Jehu may well represent the wind, earthquake and fire, with Elisha being the finally relevant still small voice, for Elisha would do his ‘slaying’ with words, (although like Elijah he would no doubt arrange for executions where necessary).

And then he emphasised to Elijah that he was actually not alone. For YHWH had reserved for Himself in Israel seven thousand who had remained totally faithful to Him. Like the 144,000 in Revelation 7 this was not intended to be a literal number. Seven was the number of divine perfection, and ‘a thousand’ indicated a large number. Thus they formed the divinely ordained number who had neither worshipped Baal nor kissed his image, but had remained steadfastly true to YHWH.

That the anointing of Hazael (mentioned again in 2 Kings 8) was to take place immediately is apparent from the command to go ‘on his way’ into the ‘wilderness of Damascus’ (used as an illustration in the Qumran scrolls), although this did not prevent him first calling Elisha to follow him. We should notice that Scripture regularly records such commands and then continues on the assumption that the instruction would be carried out, without necessarily recording the fact (compare, for example, Exodus 17:1-7). Thus we are left to assume that Elijah sought Hazael out and anointed him. Abel-meholah where he was to find Elijah, lay in the Jordan valley sixteen kilometres south of Beth-shan, and proceeding to Aram via the Jordan valley was probably his safest route in view of the threat of Jezebel.

It is true that we have no record that Elijah did literally anoint any of the three persons mentioned above, but it may be assumed that he anointed Hazael and Elijah, and possibly also Jehu, simply because we are told of the definite command to do so. And when he did so Hazael and Jehu may well only have seen it as a blessing from a prophet. The anointing of Jehu may, however, be that mentioned in 2 Kings 9:2-3 the anointing being seen as taking place through Elisha, his representative.

Anointing was a regular method of setting someone apart for a holy purpose in the ancient world, and regularly indicated that the person had the status of a vassal. Thus Hazael the king of Aram was to be seen as YHWH’s vassal. The prophet in Isaiah 61:1 was also seen as ‘anointed’, and in his case it resulted in the Spirit of YHWH coming on him. The idea of being anointed, however, is rather that of being set apart to a holy task. It was therefore apposite for a prophet.


Verses 19-21

The Call Of Elisha (1 Kings 19:19-21).

In obedience to YHWH’s command Elijah then went to seek out Elisha as his successor. Arriving at the field where Elisha was ploughing he threw his robe over him. Elisha would know immediately what that signified. He was being called into his service by Elijah, to be under his command. Accordingly he asked permission to say goodbye to his parents, and held a feast at which relatives and neighbours all partook of his slain oxen. By this he made clear that he was finished as a ploughman, and was leaving his former manner of life. Then he followed Elijah and ministered to him (served him in accordance with his wishes).

Analysis.

a So he departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was ploughing, with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth, and Elijah passed over to him, and threw his robe on him (1 Kings 19:19).

b And he left the oxen, and ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me, I pray you, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you” (1 Kings 19:20 a).

c And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” (1 Kings 19:20 b).

b And he returned from following him, and took the yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen, and gave to the people, and they ate (1 Kings 19:21 a).

a Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered to him (1 Kings 19:21 b).

Note that in ‘a’ Elijah called Elisha, and in the parallel Elisha ministered to Elijah. In ‘b’ Elisha asked permission to say goodbye to his family, and in the parallel he said goodbye to his family. Centrally in ‘c’ Elijah gives him the option as to what he will do.

1 Kings 19:19

So he departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was ploughing, with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth, and Elijah passed over to him, and threw his robe on him.’

Leaving Horeb Elijah followed YHWH’s instructions and found Elisha, the son of Shaphat (probably short for Shaphat-yahu meaning ‘YHWH rules’), who was ploughing with twelve oxen. This was symbolic of the fact that from now on he would ‘plough’ with the twelve tribes of Israel, i.e. all Israel. The yoked oxen would stretch out before him, each yoked with another, pulling the plough, with assistants beside them to control them, and he would come at the rear with the twelfth ox. The fact that he had twelve oxen (which he was later able to slaughter) indicated that he was a comparatively wealthy man.

Having found Elisha Elijah then approached him and threw his prophetic robe, possibly made of goatskin, over him, before moving on. This was a symbolic gesture indicating his desire to have him under his authority, and calling on him, if he was willing, to come under his aegis.

The name Elisha has been found on a seventh century BC Ammonite seal (although not of course referring to this Elisha).

1 Kings 19:20

And he left the oxen, and ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me, I pray you, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?”

Elisha responded by running after Elijah. He declared himself willing to follow him, but asked first for permission to say a proper farewell to his family. Elijah’s reply was that he was free to do as he wished, for as yet he was not under his authority, (thus confirming that it was a symbolic gesture of appeal, not an act of magic).

1 Kings 19:21

And he returned from following him, and took the yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen, and gave to the people, and they ate. Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered to him.’

So Elisha returned to his family and no doubt explained the situation. Then he demonstrated once for all the completeness of his dedication by slaughtering his working animals, using the yokes as fuel in order to boil their flesh, and providing a feast, for his neighbours and relatives. After that there was no turning back. Then he arose and went after Elijah as his servant and disciple.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Kings 19:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-kings-19.html. 2013.

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