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Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary

1 Kings 18



Verse 3-4

1 Kings 18:3-4

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 welldoing, 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.

C Kingsley, Town and Country Sermons, p. 243.

Verse 6

1 Kings 18:6

I. There are but two ways; you must choose the one or the other. You must follow Ahab, or you must go with Obadiah. No man can serve two masters. Even the old Latins had a proverb, "Duos qui sequitur lepores, neutrum capit." Don't imagine for a moment that you are standing between right and wrong, like the embarrassed ass in Aesop's fable between two equal bundles of hay, as though the bias towards each side were equal. We all incline to the evil rather than the good. If a strong moral force does not govern the will, it is not difficult to tell which side will be chosen.

II. Choose for your associates those with whom you would wish to company all through life. Try and look below the surface, and read the character; and do not give your friendship to any one whom, in your deepest soul, you do not respect. It was an excellent advice which a father gave his son, "Make companions of few; be intimate with one; deal justly with all; speak evil of none."

III. Should your intimate associate prove to be of evil principles, part company with him at once. Pull up the instant you find you are off the road, and take the shortest way back you can find. If the call of duty places you for a time, as it did Obadiah, in bad company, God is able to protect you from the moral taint, as He kept Daniel pure in the midst of Babylon; but not a moment longer than is needful should you tarry in the place of danger, for St. Paul truly says, "Be not deceived; evil company doth corrupt good manners."

J. Thain Davidson, ForewarnedForearmed, p. 205.

Reference: 1 Kings 18:7-22.—J. R. Macduff, The Prophet of Fire p. 97.

Verse 12

1 Kings 18:12

It is not a little remarkable that while idolatry and wickedness reigned at the court of Ahab, Obadiah, a pious man and a devout worshipper of God, should have possessed such influence with the king as to be able to retain his high position and office as lord chamberlain, or mayor of the palace. No doubt it was in spite of his religion, and because, like Daniel at the royal court of Babylon, he was found to be thoroughly trustworthy and conscientious.

From the words of the text we may learn two valuable lessons:—

I. The importance of early decision for God. Obadiah was not a particularly young man at this time; that is plain from his language; but his religious earnestness had dated from early life. His piety took the complexion of an awe-inspiring sense of a personal God. This is the most wholesome force by which a man's life can be guided. When we are on the verge of moral suicide, it is the felt presence of a personal God that holds us back from the pit of pollution. When men abandon this ground, and think of the Deity only as the great presiding force in nature, there is no longer any sound basis of morality or virtue.

II. The second lesson is the importance of courage in openly avowing our religious decision. The first thing is to have sound principles, and the second thing is not to be ashamed of them. Obadiah's piety must often have put his life in danger; but, for all that, he did not disavow his faith in Israel's God. The fear of the Lord took away every other fear.

It is a great help to us, if our faith is genuine, to meet with a little opposition at times. A man is none the worse a Christian for having occasionally to stand up for his principles. It makes our religion more real, and gives us greater confidence in its power.

J. Thain Davidson, The City Youth, p. 97.

References: 1 Kings 18:12.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx., No. 1804; J. C. Harrison, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 209. 1 Kings 18:17, 1 Kings 18:18.—R. Heber, Parish Sermons, vol. ii., p. 104. 1 Kings 18:17-40.—Parker, Fountain, Feb. 8th, 1877, and vol. viii., p. 32. 1 Kings 18:20.—A. Mursell, Lights and Landmarks, p. 126.

Verse 21

1 Kings 18:21

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."

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.

A. Jessopp, Norwich School Sermons, p. 87

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.

T. T. Carter, Oxford Lent Sermons, 1869, p. 125.

Strange is it, if we think who God is, what Baal was, that such a choice should have ever had to be put to man; stranger yet that it should have had to be put to a people to whom God had declared His love for them, His individual care of them and of each soul among them.

Human nature remains the same now as then; God's claim on the sole allegiance of the creatures He has made remains the same; the temptingness of things out of God or contrary to God remains still the same; God's word speaks to our souls in histories: unlike in form, in their essence they are our very selves.

I. The world is still 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.

II. Satan's temptations still begin by compromise. He repeats what was so miserably successful in Paradise: "Hath God indeed said?" He would take us on our weak side. He sees how essential to love and faith in God are humility and purity, and he is wise enough to begin his attacks on either from afar off: on purity by something not felt to be sin; on humility by thoughts of not being behind the age. You hear of the "reign of law" in all the physical creation; but of a reign of law over yourselves, to infringe which is to violate nature itself, of this modern philosophy teaches nothing.

III. Choose Him who alone is to be yours; choose to be henceforth wholly His. Other lords may have had dominion over you. Say this day, with His converted people, "The Lord, He is the God; the Lord, He is the God."

E. B. Pusey, Parochial and Cathedral Sermons, p. 369.

The "halting between two opinions" is one of the evils of the times, to some extent of all times. The world is singularly fond of compromises, and the same spirit finds its way into the Church. The appeal of the text has to do both with principles and practice.

I. It calls for decision as to the truth itself. "If the Lord be God"—that was the first point on which the people were to satisfy themselves. The question which every hearer of the Gospel has to settle for himself is whether he will trust in Christ as his Saviour and serve Him as his Lord. The one condition laid down by Christ Himself, and, indeed, growing out of the nature of the requirement, is that the decision should be clear and absolute.

II. This decision should lead to entire consecration. "If the Lord be God, follow Him." The following of Christ means the consecration of the entire nature—that is, the service of every separate part of the being, and the whole of each.

J. Guinness Rogers, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxviii., p. 41.

References: 1 Kings 18:21.—Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, 3rd series, p. 63; W. Hay Aitken, Mission Sermons, 1st series, p. 185; F. W. Robertson, The Human Race, and Other Sermons, p. 87; A. Tholuck, Hours of Devotion, p. 234; W. Anderson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 309; W. Meller, Village Homilies, p. 219; Gresley, Practical Sermons, p. 319; H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Waterside Mission Sermons, 1st series, p. 77; R. Twigg, Sermons, p. 136; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii., No. 134; J. Natt, Posthumous Sermons, p. 155; New Manual of Sunday-school Addresses, p. 126; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 73; Congregationalist, vol. viii., p. 138; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 119, and vol. iv., p. 330; C. Wordsworth, Occasional Sermons, 7th series, p. 131; Contemporary Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 64; W. M. Taylor, Elijah the Prophet, p. 96. 1 Kings 18:21-40.—J. R. Macduff, The Prophet of Fire, p. 113.

Verse 22

1 Kings 18:22

I. The lesson of Elijah's history is the blessing and the glory of a constant will. It was this which made Elijah so great; it is this only which can make us great, for this is at the root of all true greatness. All actions of a seeming greatness which do not spring from this are nothing better than delusions and hypocrisy. Just so far as the will is truly purified by God's Holy Spirit and rules over all within us, just so far do we, as renewed men, rise up to the greatness of our redemption and answer to our own trial.

II. We may learn here further how this strength of character is gained. One has, as we say, naturally a far stronger character than another; but a constant will, that inner bond of humanity, is within the reach of all. Only let us strive after it aright. (1) We must remember that its right exercise is most properly a habit. All life is full of opportunities of choice, and as we choose in them and abide by our choice, such are we. (2) We should do common actions with an aim at great objects. Habitual converse with such objects is a testimony against the lower life within us, and strengthens mightily the sceptre of the will. He who acts for great objects is great indeed. (3) We must seek earnestly from God the strengthening and the purifying of our will by the renewing of His Holy Spirit. Every other strength of will than that which God gives is itself an evil; it has trodden out affection and fire, and the kindlings of the heart, instead of lifting all up with the glory of its own concentred energy.

S. Wilberforce, Sermons, p. 221.

Reference: 1 Kings 18:25-29.—S. Cox, Expository Essays and Discourses, p. 298.

Verse 26

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 under which we live, "Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire."

H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1514.

References: 1 Kings 18:28.—J. T. Jeffcock, Sermons in Town and Country, p. 56. 1 Kings 18:30-40.—Parker, vol. viii., p. 36. 1 Kings 18:36.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi., No. 1832. 1 Kings 18:38.—A. J. Griffith, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiv., p. 259. 1 Kings 18:38, 1 Kings 18:39.—J. M. Neale, Sermons in Sackville College, vol. iii., p. 40. 1 Kings 18:39.—G. Moberly, Parochial Sermons, p. 257; G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 34. 1 Kings 18:40.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii., No. 1058; Ibid., Evening by Evening, p. 200; H. W. Beecher, Plymouth Pulpit: Sermons, 10th series, p. 473. 1 Kings 18:40-46.—W. M. Taylor, Elijah the Prophet, p. 112. 1 Kings 18:41-46.—J. R. Macduff, The Prophet of Fire, p. 129; Homiletic Magazine, vol. xiii., p. 78. 1 Kings 18:42-44.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 99.

Verse 43

1 Kings 18:43

This is one of the parables of nature which we may apply in many directions. It expresses the truth that often out of seeming nothingness there arises the very blessing most desired.

(1) "There is nothing." So the disciples thought when, from the top of Olivet, they gazed into heaven after their departed Master. But was there indeed nothing to come? Yes, there was everything. That little cloud which had shrouded Him from their sight was full of blessings. Christ was gone, but Christendom and Christianity were coming. (2) "There is nothing." So we think as we look into the wide world and see no visible trace of its eternal Maker and Ruler. But the absence of any especial presence is itself an expressive indication of the spiritual nature of things Divine. Let us hold on, "knowing, fearing nothing; trusting, hoping all." (3) "There is nothing." So we say to ourselves as, in the blank desolation of sorrow, we look on the lonely work that lies before us. The voice that cheered us is silent, and the hand that upheld us is cold in the grave. But out of that tender memory comes at last a cloud of blessings. (4) "There is nothing." So it would seem as we look at the small materials with which we have to carry on the conflict against the great powers of nature. (5) "There is nothing." So we sometimes think as we look on the barren fields of theological and metaphysical controversy. (6) "There is nothing." So we think as we look on many a human spirit and think how little there is of good within it, how hard is the ground that has to be broken, how slight is the response that is to be elicited. (7) "There is nothing." So we think of the small effects which any effort after good can accomplish. Yet here also out of that nothingness often rises that little cloud not bigger than a man's hand, yet the very hand that relieves us, that grasps us, that saves us from perishing. "Be not weary in welldoing." "Patience worketh experience, and experience hope."

A. P. Stanley, Addresses and Sermons in America, p. 172.

References: 1 Kings 18:43.—Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 274; A. K. H. B., Towards the Sunset, p. 167. 1Ki 18—J. Foster, Lectures, 1st series, p. 206. 1 Kings 19:1-3.—J. M. Neale, Sermons in Sackville College, vol. iii., p. 47. 1 Kings 19:1-4.—J. R. Macduff, The Prophet of Fire, p. 143. 1 Kings 19:1-18.—Parker, Fountain, Feb. 22nd, 1877; W. M. Taylor, Elijah the Prophet, p. 129.


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Kings 18:4". "Sermon Bible Commentary".

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