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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

1 Kings 17

 

 

Verse 1

ELIJAH THE TISHBITE, 1 Kings 17:1-24.

1. Elijah the Tishbite — “This wonder-working prophet,” says Doran, (in Kitto’s Cyclopaedia,) “is introduced to our notice like another Melchizedek, (Genesis 14:18; Hebrews 7:3,) without any mention of his father or mother, or of the beginning of his days — as if he had dropped out of that cloudy chariot which, after his work was done on earth, conveyed him back to heaven.” Or, as Krummacher says, his sudden appearance is like lightning falling from the clouds, or a firebrand hurled by the hand of Jehovah. In the weird grandeur of his desert life, in the fiery spirit of his words, and the power of his public acts, he stands alone among the old prophets, and finds a compeer only as his spirit and power are reproduced in that greatest of the prophets, the herald of Messiah, who came crying in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 3:2. The miraculous element in the history of Elijah is noticeably large, and in this Rationalism can, of course, see nothing but the colored legends of a superstitious age. But there are obvious reasons why a prophet of Jehovah, appearing at that time, and having to oppose an almost triumphant idolatry that had usurped the kingdom of Israel, should be supported everywhere with extraordinary evidences of his divine mission. Whenever the powers of darkness appear incarnate in some such ruling personage as Jezebel, with her hosts of Baal and Asherah prophets, then our God provides an incarnation of his Divine Spirit and power, with suitable signs and wonders to confuse and confound the ministers of Satan. Such an incarnation was Elijah. Such, too, was Moses, in opposition to Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt. Such, indeed, was Jesus the Christ, appearing in that “fulness of the time” (Galatians 4:4) when such an incarnation as his alone could be was most opportune, inasmuch as legions of devils had actually taken possession of multitudes, and no power but that of his Divine voice and name could cast them out. And so it will be in the last times, when the good and the evil come to their final struggle, and that lawless one shall be revealed, “whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.” 2 Thessalonians 2:8. Extraordinary manifestations of wickedness demand extraordinary manifestations of the power of God.

Of the inhabitants of Gilead — By a slight change in the Masoretic punctuation we may read, Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbi of Gilead; and this is the reading of the Septuagint, Chaldee, and Josephus. Some have thought this place identical with the Thisbe mentioned in Tobit 1:2; but that was a town in Naphtali, while this was in Gilead. The most natural supposition, therefore, is, that Elijah was called the Tishbite from being a native or resident of a place in Gilead called Tishbi or Tishbeh, of which no other trace or mention is now known. The wild, irregular, Bedouin-like character of much of Elijah’s life is in noticeable keeping with his Gileadite origin. The tribes on the east of the Jordan soon fell into the habits of the original Bedouin inhabitants, whose wandering tent life and almost inaccessible mountain fastnesses made them in ancient times what they are now — a people of wild, unsettled habits.

As the Lord God of Israel liveth — A suggestive and significant formula, and somewhat peculiar to Elijah himself. His mission was to proclaim the living God in opposition to Ahab’s dead, senseless idols.

Before whom I stand — Words expressive of a sacred ministry and office, and used of the Levites who bore the ark. Deuteronomy 10:8. Solemn and sublime is the position of him who stands to minister before Jehovah, the living God.

Not be dew nor rain — This was a punishment which Jehovah had threatened in case of idolatry. Deuteronomy 11:16-17. St. James says, that Elijah “prayed earnestly that it might not rain.” James 5:17. So Divine judgments may come in answer to prayer; and the spirit of such prayer is the Elijah-spirit, which also breathes in the vindictive Psalms. The manner of Elijah’s praying for rain to come again is told at 1 Kings 18:42.

These years — No definite time is specified, but all is made dependent on the word of the Lord as uttered by the prophet. Ahab’s obstinacy continued the drought for three years and a half. See 1 Kings 18:1.


Verse 3

3. Hide thyself — “Elijah’s escapes from the hands of his enemies, and his departures into unknown places, are faint resemblances of the mysterious vanishings of our Lord after he had delivered some of those Divine messages which excited the anger of the people. Luke 4:29; John 8:59; John 10:39. Compare the promise to the Church of God. Revelation 12:6-14.” — Wordsworth.

The brook Cherith — This was some mountain stream running into the Jordan; but what was its locality, and whether on the east or west side of the Jordan, is unknown. Dr. Robinson makes it identical with Wady el Kelt, which rises amid the hills of the wilderness of Judea, and runs through the Jordan plain near Jericho. Others have suggested other streams on either side of the Jordan, but nothing sufficient has been brought forward to settle the question. Local traditions have uniformly placed it on the west of the river.


Verse 4

4. I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there — This plain and positive statement defies all attempts to explain the facts stated in 1 Kings 17:6 on nationalistic or naturalistic principles.


Verse 6

6. Ravens brought him bread and flesh — Many attempts have been made to explain away the obvious import of this verse. J.D. Michaelis explains it on natural principles, supposing the brook Cherith was a place where ravens were wont to congregate, and that Elijah took from their nests, morning and evening, the young hares and other food which they brought to their young. Others have explained ערבים, orebim, to mean Arabians; others, the inhabitants of some place named Orbo, or Oreb; and some have thought the word might mean merchants, from ערב, to traffic. But these explanations have the versions and all tradition against them. The text plainly records a miracle; all the more impressive from the fact that ravens, the most voracious of birds, furnish the prophet his supplies. Since the raven is a carrion bird, and a devourer of all manner of dead flesh, some have wondered how Elijah could eat without scruple all that was brought to him; but they absurdly assume that ravens miraculously sent by Divine command would bring what was common or unclean. Alike idle is it to require whether they obtained the bread and flesh through Obadiah (compare 1 Kings 18:4 ) or stole it from Ahab’s kitchen.

“When men disobey,” says Wordsworth, “God reproves them by the obedience of the inferior creatures. The old world disbelieved God’s warnings by Noah, would not go into the ark, and so perished in the flood; but the inferior animals went in and were fed there. Balaam was rebuked for his disobedience by the ass on which he rode. The disobedient prophet (1 Kings 13:26) was slain by the lion which God sent from the forest, and which spared the ass and the carcass of the prophet. The disobedience of Ahab and Israel was rebuked by the obedience of the ravenous birds in bringing food to Elijah. Jonah fled from God, and God sent the whale to bring him back to prophesy against Nineveh. The lions spared Daniel when his colleagues would have slain him. Christ was with the wild beasts in peace, (Mark 1:13,) when he was about to be rejected by mankind.”


Verse 7

7. After a while — Margin, At the end of days. He probably dwelt by the brook Cherith a year. See note on 1 Kings 18:1.


Verse 9

9. Zarephath — An ancient city about half way between Sidon and Tyre, called Sarepta in Luke 4:26, and at present Surafend. “It would seem,” says Dr. Robinson, “that the former city of Sarepta stood near the seashore; and that the present village bearing the same name upon the adjacent hills, has sprung up since the time of the crusades; the people having probably chosen to remove thither for the same reason, whatever it may have been, which has caused the abandonment of all the rest of the plain. In the rocks along the foot of the hills are many excavated tombs, once doubtless belonging to the ancient city.” The ancient site is marked by “broken foundations and irregular heaps of stones.”

I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee — The widow, like the ravens, supplies Elijah by Divine command; a command, however, not audibly laid upon them. As the ravens obeyed, unconscious of the Divine power that controlled them, so largely with this woman.


Verse 10

10. He came to the gate — An old tradition points out the spot on the south of the ancient city where Elijah first saw the widow, and the crusaders built a small chapel over the reputed spot of the widow’s house.

Gathering of sticks — A scene that often meets the traveller’s eye in Palestine.


Verse 12

12. As the Lord thy God liveth — This was a formula somewhat peculiar to Elijah, (see 1 Kings 17:1,) and her use of it indicates in her a knowledge and reverence of the God of Israel. But that she was a heathen, and not belonging to the tribes of Israel, seems evident from the manner in which she is mentioned in this passage, and also from the manner in which Jesus speaks of her in Luke 4:26. It is significant that in the time of famine Elijah finds a home and food in the land of Ethbaal, the father of the wicked Jezebel, (1 Kings 16:31,) and in the house of a poor heathen widow, in whom he finds, as Jesus found in a woman of this same land, (Matthew 15:28,) a faith unequalled in Israel

A barrel כד, a pitcher, a bucket, or jar, for holding meal or carrying water. Genesis 24:14 .

Cruse — A flask for holding liquids. See cut at 1 Samuel 26:11.

Two sticks — That is, a few sticks. So two sheep, (Isaiah 7:21;) and two days, (Hosea 6:2,) mean a few sheep and a few days.

Eat it, and die — A picture of uttermost woe and want; but a means of developing in her a noble faith.


Verse 13

13. Make me… a little cake first — Here was a sore trial of her faith. What! share her last morsel with a stranger?


Verse 14

14. Until… the Lord sendeth rain — It is evident the dearth extended into Phenicia, and Menander (in Josephus) says, that in the reign of Ethbaal there was a want of rain for a whole year.


Verse 15

15. She went and did according to the saying of Elijah — “It was one of those sudden recognitions of unknown kindred souls — one of those cross purposes of Providence — which come in with a peculiar charm to checker the commonplace course of ecclesiastical history. The Phenician mother knew not what great destinies lay in the hand of that gaunt figure at the city gate, worn with travel, and famine, and drought. But she listened to his cry, and saved in him the deliverer of herself and her son. It may be that this incident is the basis of the sacred blessing of the Prophet of prophets on those who, even by a cup of cold water, receiving a prophet in the name of a prophet, shall receive a prophet’s reward.” — Stanley.

And her house — There were others, then, in that household besides herself and son.


Verse 16

16. The barrel of meal wasted not — Here was an exhibition of that same Divine power that in the person of Jesus of Nazareth multiplied the loaves and fishes.


Verse 17

17. No breath left in him — This statement, together with the words of the prophet in 1 Kings 17:20-21, clearly show that the child was dead.


Verse 18

18. What have I to do with thee — Language of confusion, agony, and alarm. A consciousness of her past sins rises up and makes her look on this bereavement as a penal judgment, and on Elijah as the instrument of her woe! Like the disciples who regarded all human sorrow as a punishment for sin, (John 9:2,) she did not yet understand that it often serves to show forth the glorious power of God.

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Verse 19

19. A loft העליה, the aliyah; the upper chamber. “This is the most desirable part of an establishment, is best fitted up, and is still given to guests who are to be treated with honour. It is more retired than the lower apartments of the house, and, of course, appropriate for the restingplace of prophets. The poorer sort of houses have no aliyeh. We may infer from this word that the mode of building in Elijah’s time, and the custom of giving the aliyeh to the guest, were the same as now; also, that this widow was not originally among the very poorest classes, but that her extreme destitution was owing to the dreadful famine which then prevailed.” — Thomson.


Verse 20

20. Hast thou also brought evil — Not the language of reproach or complaint, but the emotional expression of profoundest sympathy with the widow’s affliction, and of the earnestness of Elijah’s faith and prayer.


Verse 21

21. He stretched himself upon the child three times — This procedure should be compared with Elisha’s in raising the son of the Shunammite woman, (2 Kings 4:34, note,) and Paul’s in restoring Eutychus, (Acts 20:10.) Elijah had no power, like Christ, to raise the dead by a single word of command; (Luke 7:14; Luke 8:54; John 11:43;) but confident that God would, through his agency, bring the child’s soul back again, he resorts to every rational means, and prays with greatest fervency for the desired result. Three was a sacred number; and the prophet’s thrice stretching himself upon the child was in keeping with the threefold form of daily prayer among the pious Israelites, (Psalms 55:17, Daniel 6:10,) and the threefold benediction of the high priest. Numbers 6:23.


Verse 22

22. The soul of the child came into him again — That which leaves the body when it dies is sometimes called the soul (Genesis 35:18) and sometimes the spirit, (Ecclesiastes 12:7,) and hence we may argue that, according to biblical psychology, soul and spirit are never separated from each other, though as regards their essential nature they may be distinguished. The question of the separate conscious existence and immortality of the disembodied soul is not involved in this text, but the distinction between soul and body is plainly recognised. More minute is the distinction between soul and spirit, the latter being the deathless, God-like principle in man, that distinguishes him from the whole irrational creation; the soul, the lower principle, the seat of the animal life and feeling, intermediate between spirit and body, and by the agency of which the spirit is able to control the movements of the body. “Plainly,” says Delitzsch, “according to Scripture, soul and spirit outlast the corruption of the body. Nevertheless, it is true of the soul, in a certain sense, that it dies. It dies so far as it was wont to centralize in itself the natural powers of the body, and to pervade the organs of the body with its own spirit-like life. It does not die, so far as it is of the spirit, (Matthew 10:28;) but it dies, so far as it has become of the body. Its life that has emanated from the spirit endures; but its life that is immanent in the body perishes with the body itself.” — Biblical Psychology, p. 469.


Verse 23

23. Thy son liveth — This is the first recorded instance of a resurrection from the dead. Many suppose that this youth became that servant of Elijah mentioned 1 Kings 18:43; 1 Kings 19:3. An old tradition affirms his identity with the prophet Jonah, who afterwards proclaimed the word of the Lord to Nineveh.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Kings 17:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/1-kings-17.html. 1874-1909.

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