We left the prophet Elijah wrapt up in obscurity. It does not appear
that either the increase of the provision or the raising of the child
had caused him to be taken notice of at Zarephath, for then Ahab would
have discovered him; he would rather do good than be known to do it.
But in this chapter his appearance was as public as before his
retirement was close; the days appointed for his concealment (which was
part of the judgment upon Israel) being finished, he is not commanded
to show himself to Ahab, and to expect rain upon the earth,
1 Kings 18:1.
Pursuant to this order we have here,
I. His interview with Obadiah, one of Ahab's servants, by whom he sends
notice to Ahab of his coming,
1 Kings 18:2-16.
II. His interview with Ahab himself,
1 Kings 18:17-20.
III. His interview with all Israel upon Mount Carmel, in order to a
public trial of titles between the Lord and Baal; a most distinguished
solemnity it was, in which,
1. Baal and his prophets were confounded.
2. God and Elijah were honoured,
1 Kings 18:21-39.
IV. The execution he did upon the prophets of Baal,
1 Kings 18:40.
V. The return of the mercy of rain, at the word of Elijah,
1 Kings 18:41-46.
It is a chapter in which are many things very observable.
The Character of Obadiah; Elijah's Interview with Obadiah.
B. C. 906.
1 And it came to pass after many days, that the word of the
LORD came to Elijah in the third year, saying, Go, show thyself
unto Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth.
2 And Elijah went to show himself unto Ahab. And there was a
sore famine in Samaria.
3 And Ahab called Obadiah, which was the governor of his
house. (Now Obadiah feared the LORD greatly:
4 For it was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the
LORD, that Obadiah took a hundred prophets, and hid them by
fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water.)
5 And Ahab said unto Obadiah, Go into the land, unto all
fountains of water, and unto all brooks: peradventure we may find
grass to save the horses and mules alive, that we lose not all
6 So they divided the land between them to pass throughout it:
Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by
7 And as Obadiah was in the way, behold, Elijah met him: and he
knew him, and fell on his face, and said, Art thou that my lord
8 And he answered him, I am: go, tell thy lord, Behold,
Elijah is here.
9 And he said, What have I sinned, that thou wouldest deliver
thy servant into the hand of Ahab, to slay me?
10 As the LORD thy God liveth, there is no nation or kingdom,
whither my lord hath not sent to seek thee: and when they said,
He is not there; he took an oath of the kingdom and nation,
that they found thee not.
11 And now thou sayest, Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is
12 And it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from thee,
that the Spirit of the LORD shall carry thee whither I know not;
and so when I come and tell Ahab, and he cannot find thee, he
shall slay me: but I thy servant fear the LORD from my youth.
13 Was it not told my lord what I did when Jezebel slew the
prophets of the LORD, how I hid a hundred men of the LORD's
prophets by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water?
14 And now thou sayest, Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is
here: and he shall slay me.
15 And Elijah said, As the LORD of hosts liveth, before whom
I stand, I will surely show myself unto him to day.
16 So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him: and Ahab went to
In these verses we find,
I. The sad state of Israel at this time, upon two accounts:--
1. Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord
(1 Kings 18:4),
1 Kings 18:13.
Being an idolater, she was a persecutor, and made Ahab one. Even in
those bad times, when the calves were worshipped and the temple at
Jerusalem deserted, yet there were some good people that feared God and
served him, and some good prophets that instructed them in the
knowledge of him and assisted them in their devotions. The priests and
the Levites had all gone to Judah and Jerusalem
(2 Chronicles 11:13,14),
but, instead of them, God raised up these prophets, who read and
expounded the law in private meetings, or in the families that retained
their integrity, for we read not of any synagogues at this time; they
had not the spirit of prophecy as Elijah, nor did they offer sacrifice,
or burn incense, but taught people to live well, and keep close to the
God of Israel. These Jezebel aimed to extirpate, and put many of them
to death, which was as much a public calamity as a public iniquity, and
threatened the utter ruin of religion's poor remains in Israel. Those
few that escaped the sword were forced to abscond, and hide themselves
in caves, where they were buried alive and cut off, though not from
life, yet from usefulness, which is the end and comfort of life; and,
when the prophets were persecuted and driven into corners, no doubt
their friends, those few good people that were in the land, were
treated in like manner. Yet, bad as things were,
(1.) There was one very good man, who was a great man at court,
Obadiah, who answered his name--a servant of the Lord, one
who feared God and was faithful to him, and yet was steward of the
household to Ahab. Observe his character: He feared the Lord
(1 Kings 18:3),
was not only a good man, but zealously and eminently good; his great
place put a lustre upon his goodness, and gave him great opportunities
of doing good; and he feared the Lord from his youth
(1 Kings 18:12),
he began betimes to be religious and had continued long. Note, Early
piety, it is to be hoped, will be eminent piety; those that are good
betimes are likely to be very good; he that feared God from his youth
came to fear him greatly. He that will thrive must rise betimes. But it
is strange to find such an eminently good man governor of Ahab's house,
an office of great honour, power, and trust.
[1.] It was strange that so wicked a man as Ahab would prefer him to it
and continue him in it; certainly it was because he was a man of
celebrated honesty, industry, and ingenuity, and one in whom he could
repose a confidence, whose eyes he could trust as much as his own, as
1 Kings 18:5.
Joseph and Daniel were preferred because there were none so fit as they
for the places they were preferred to. Note, Those who profess religion
should study to recommend themselves to the esteem even of those that
are without by their integrity, fidelity, and application to business.
[2.] It was strange that so good a man as Obadiah would accept of
preferment in a court so addicted to idolatry and all manner of
wickedness. We may be sure it was not made necessary to qualify him for
preferment that he should be of the king's religion, that he should
conform to the statues of Omri, or the law of the house of Ahab.
Obadiah would not have accepted the place if he could not have had it
without bowing the knee to Baal, nor was Ahab so impolitic as to
exclude those from offices that were fit to serve him, merely because
they would not join with him in his devotions. That man that is true to
his God will be faithful to his prince. Obadiah therefore could with a
good conscience enjoy the place, and therefore would not decline it,
nor give it up, though he foresaw he could not do the good he desired
to do in it. Those that fear God need not go out of the world, bad as
[3.] It was strange that either he did not reform Ahab or Ahab corrupt
him; but it seems they were both fixed; he that was filthy would be
filthy still, and he that was holy would be holy still. Those fear God
greatly that keep up the fear of him in bad times and places; thus
Obadiah did. God has his remnant among all sorts, high and low; there
were saints in Nero's household, and in Ahab's.
(2.) This great good man used his power for the protection of God's
prophets. He hid 100 of them in two caves, when the persecution was
hot, and fed them with bread and water,
1 Kings 18:4.
He did not think it enough to fear God himself, but, having wealth and
power wherewith to do it, he thought himself obliged to assist and
countenance others that feared God; nor did he think his being kind to
them would excuse him from being good himself, but he did both, he both
feared God greatly himself and patronised those that feared him
likewise. See how wonderfully God raises up friends for his ministers
and people, for their shelter in difficult times, even where one would
least expect them. Bread and water were now scarce commodities, yet
Obadiah will find a competence of both for God's prophets, to keep them
alive for service hereafter, though now they were laid aside.
2. When Jezebel cut off God's prophets God cut off the necessary
provisions by the extremity of the drought. Perhaps Jezebel persecuted
God's prophets under pretence that they were the cause of the judgment,
because Elijah had foretold it. Christianos ad leones--Away with
Christians to the lions. But God made them know the contrary, for
the famine continued till Baal's prophets were sacrificed, and so great
a scarcity of water there was that the king himself and Obadiah went in
person throughout the land to seek for grass for the cattle,
1 Kings 18:5,6.
Providence ordered it so, that Ahab might, with his own eyes, see how
bad the consequences of this judgment were, that so he might be the
better inclined to hearken to Elijah, who would direct him into the
only way to put an end to it. Ahab's care was not to lose all the
beasts, many being already lost; but he took no care about his
soul, not to lose that; he took a deal of pains to seek grass, but none
to seek the favour of God, fencing against the effect, but not
enquiring how to remove the cause. The land of Judah lay close to the
land of Israel, yet we find no complaint there of the want of rain; for
Judah yet ruled with God, and was faithful with the saints and
by which distinction Israel might plainly have seen the ground of God's
controversy, when God caused it to rain upon one city and not upon
but they blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts, and would not
II. The steps taken towards redressing the grievance, by Elijah's
appearing again upon the stage, to act as a Tishbite, a
converter or reformer of Israel, for so (some think) that
title of his signifies. Turn them again to the Lord God of hosts, from
whom they have revolted, and all will be well quickly; this must be
Elijah's doing. See
1. Ahab had made diligent search for him
(1 Kings 18:10),
had offered rewards to any one that would discover him, sent spies
into every tribe and lordship of his own dominions, as some
understand it, or, as others, into all the neighbouring nations and
kingdoms that were in alliance with him; and, when they denied that
they knew any thing of him, he would not believe them unless they swore
it, and, as should seem, promised likewise upon oath that, if ever they
found him among them, they would discover him and deliver him up. It
should seem, he made this diligent search for him, not so much that he
might punish him for what he had done in denouncing the judgment as
that he might oblige him to undo it again, by recalling the sentence,
because he had said it should be according to his word, having
such an opinion of him as men foolishly conceive of witches (that, if
they can but compel them to bless that which they have bewitched, it
will be well again), or such as the king of Moab had of Balaam. I
incline to this because we find, when they came together, Elijah,
knowing what Ahab wanted him for, appointed him to meet him on Mount
Carmel, and Ahab complied with the appointment, though Elijah took such
a way to revoke the sentence and bless the land as perhaps he little
2. God, at length, ordered Elijah to present himself to Ahab, because
the time had now come when he would send rain upon the earth
(1 Kings 18:1),
or rather upon the land. Above two years he had lain hid with
the widow at Zarephath, after he had been concealed one year by the
brook Cherith; so that the third year of his sojourning there, here
(1 Kings 18:1),
was the fourth of the famine, which lasted in all three years and six
months, as we find,
Such was Elijah's zeal, no doubt, against the idolatry of Baal, and
such his compassion to his people, that he thought it long to be thus
confined to a corner; yet he appeared not till God bade him: "Go and
show thyself to Ahab, for now thy hour has come, even the time
to favour Israel." Note, It bodes well to any people when God calls
his ministers out of their corners, and bids them show themselves--a
sign that he will give rain on the earth; at least we may the
better be content with the bread of affliction while our eyes see
3. Elijah first surrendered, or rather discovered, himself to Obadiah.
He knew, by the Spirit, where to meet him, and we are here told what
passed between them.
(1.) Obadiah saluted him with great respect, fell on his face, and
humbly asked, Art thou that my lord Elijah?
1 Kings 18:7.
As he had shown the tenderness of a father to the sons of the prophets,
so he showed the reverence of a son to this father of the prophets; and
by this made it appear that he did indeed fear God greatly, that
he did honour to one that was his extraordinary ambassador and had a
great interest in heaven.
(2.) Elijah, in answer to him,
[1.] Transfers the title of honour he gave him to Ahab: "Call him thy
lord, not me;" that is a fitter title for a prince than for a prophet,
who seeks not honour from men. Prophets should be called
seers, and shepherds, and watchmen, and
ministers, rather than lords, as those that mind duty
more than dominion.
[2.] He bids Obadiah go and tell the king that he is there to speak
with him: Tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is forth-coming,
1 Kings 18:8.
He would have the king know before, that it might not be a surprise to
him and that he might be sure it was the prophet's own act to present
himself to him.
(3.) Obadiah begs to be excused from carrying this message to Ahab, for
it might prove as much as his life was worth.
[1.] He tells Elijah what great search Ahab had made for him and how
much his heart was upon it to find him out,
1 Kings 18:10.
[2.] He takes it for granted that Elijah would again withdraw
(1 Kings 18:12):
The Spirit of the Lord shall carry thee (as it is likely he had
done sometimes, when Ahab thought he had been sure of him) whither I
know not. See
2 Kings 2:16.
He thought Elijah was not in good earnest when he bade him tell Ahab
where he was, but intended only to expose the impotency of his malice;
for he knew Ahab was not worthy to receive any kindness from the
prophet and it was not fit that the prophet should receive any mischief
[3.] He is sure Ahab would be so enraged at the disappointment that he
would put him to death for making a fool of him, or for not laying
hands on Elijah himself, when he had him in his reach,
1 Kings 18:12.
Tyrants and persecutors, in their passion, are often unreasonably
outrageous, even towards their friends and confidants.
[4.] He pleads that he did not deserve to be thus exposed, and put in
peril of his life: What have I said amiss?
1 Kings 18:9.
(1 Kings 18:13),
Was it not told my lord how I hid the prophets? He mentions
this, not in pride or ostentation, but to convince Elijah that though
he was Ahab's servant he was not in his interest, and therefore
deserved not to be bantered as one of the tools of his persecution. He
that had protected so many prophets, he hoped, should not have his own
life hazarded by so great a prophet.
(4.) Elijah satisfied him that he might with safety deliver this
message to Ahab, by assuring him, with an oath, that he would, this
very day, present himself to Ahab,
1 Kings 18:15.
Let but Obadiah know that he spoke seriously and really intended it,
and he will make no scruple to carry the message to Ahab. Elijah swears
by the Lord of hosts, who has all power in his hands, and is
therefore able to protect his servants against all the powers of hell
(5.) Notice is hereby soon brought to Ahab that Elijah had sent him a
challenge to meet him immediately at such a place, and Ahab accepts the
challenge: He went to meet Elijah,
1 Kings 18:16.
We may suppose it was a great surprise to Ahab to hear that Elijah,
whom he had so long sought and not found, was now found without
seeking. He went in quest of grass, and found him from whose word, at
God's mouth, he must expect rain. Yet his guilty conscience gave him
little reason to hope for it, but, rather, to fear some other more
dreadful judgment. Had he, by his spies, surprised Elijah, he would
have triumphed over him; but, now that he was thus surprised by him, we
may suppose he even trembled to look him in the face, hated him, and
yet feared him, as Herod did John.
Elijah's Interview with Ahab.
B. C. 906.
17 And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said
unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel?
18 And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and
thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of
the LORD, and thou hast followed Baalim.
19 Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount
Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the
prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel's
20 So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered
the prophets together unto mount Carmel.
We have here the meeting between Ahab and Elijah, as bad a king as ever
the world was plagued with and as good a prophet as ever the church was
1. Ahab, like himself, basely accused Elijah. He durst not strike him,
remembering that Jeroboam's hand withered when it was stretched out
against a prophet, but gave him bad language, which was no less an
affront to him that sent him. It was a very coarse compliment with
which he accosted him at the first word: Art thou he that troubleth
1 Kings 18:17.
How unlike was this to that with which his servant Obadiah saluted him
(1 Kings 18:7):
Art thou that my lord Elijah? Obadiah feared God greatly; Ahab
had sold himself to work wickedness; and both discovered their
character by the manner of their address to the prophet. One may guess
how people stand affected to God by observing how they stand affected
to his people and ministers. Elijah now came to bring blessings to
Israel, tidings of the return of the rain; yet he was thus affronted.
Had it been true that he was the troubler of Israel, Ahab, as
king, would have been bound to animadvert upon him. There are those who
trouble Israel by their wickedness, whom the conservators of the public
peace are concerned to enquire after. But it was utterly false
concerning Elijah; so far was he from being an enemy to Israel's
welfare that he as the stay of it, the chariots and horsemen of
Israel. Note, It has been the lot of the best and most useful men
to be called and counted the troublers of the land, and to be
run down as public grievances. Even Christ and his apostles were thus
2. Elijah, like himself, boldly returned the charge upon the king, and
proved it upon him, that he was the troubler of Israel,
1 Kings 18:18.
Elijah is not the Achan: "I have not troubled Israel, have
neither done them any wrong nor designed them any hurt." Those that
procure God's judgments do the mischief, not he that merely foretels
them and gives warning of them, that the nation may repent and prevent
them. I would have healed Israel, but they would not be healed.
Ahab is the Achan, the troubler, who follows Baalim, those accursed
things. Nothing creates more trouble to a land than the impiety and
profaneness of princes and their families.
3. As one having authority immediately from the King of kings, he
ordered a convention of the states to be forthwith summoned to meet at
Mount Carmel, where there had been an altar built to God,
1 Kings 18:30.
Probably on that mountain they had an eminent high place, where
formerly the pure worship of God had been kept up as well as it could
be any where but at Jerusalem. Thither all Israel must come, to give
Elijah the meeting; and the prophets of Baal who were dispersed all the
country over, with those of the groves who were Jezebel's domestic
chaplains, must there make their personal appearance.
4. Ahab issued out writs accordingly, for the convening of this great
(1 Kings 18:20),
either because he feared Elijah and durst not oppose him (Saul stood in
awe of Samuel more than of God), or because he hoped Elijah would bless
the land, and speak the word that they might have rain, and upon those
terms they would be all at his beck. Those that slighted and hated his
counsels would gladly be beholden to him for his prayers. Now God
made those who said they were Jews and were not, but were of the
synagogue of Satan, to come, and, in effect, to worship at his feet,
and to know that God had loved him,
Elijah's Trial of the False Prophets; the Destruction of Baal's Prophets.
B. C. 906.
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.
22 Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a
prophet of the LORD; but Baal's prophets are four hundred and
23 Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose
one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on
wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other
bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under:
24 And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the
name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be
God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.
25 And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one
bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many;
and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under.
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, hear us. But there was no voice,
nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was
27 And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and
said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he
is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he
sleepeth, and must be awaked.
28 And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner
with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.
29 And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they
prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening
sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor
any that regarded.
30 And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And
all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of
the LORD that was broken down.
31 And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of
the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the LORD
came, saying, Israel shall be thy name:
32 And with the stones he built an altar in the name of the
LORD: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would
contain two measures of seed.
33 And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces,
and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with
water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood.
34 And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the
second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did
it the third time.
35 And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the
trench also with water.
36 And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the
evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said,
LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this
day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant,
and that I have done all these things at thy word.
37 Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that
thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart
38 Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt
sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked
up the water that was in the trench.
39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces:
and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD,
he is the God.
40 And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let
not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought
them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.
Ahab and the people expected that Elijah would, in this solemn
assembly, bless the land, and pray for rain; but he had other
work to do first. The people must be brought to repent and reform, and
then they may look for the removal of the judgment, but not till then.
This is the right method. God will first prepare our heart, and
then cause his ear to hear, will first turn us to him,
and then turn to us,
Deserters must not look for God's favour till they return to their
allegiance. Elijah might have looked for rain seventy times seven
times, and not have seen it, if he had not thus begun his work at the
right end. Three years and a half's famine would not bring them back to
God. Elijah would endeavour to convince their judgments, and no doubt
it was by special warrant and direction from heaven that he put the
controversy between God and Baal upon a public trial. It was great
condescension in God that he would suffer so plain a case to be
disputed, and would permit Baal to be a competitor with him; but thus
God would have every mouth to be stopped and all flesh to become silent
before him. God's cause is so incontestably just that it needs not fear
to have the evidences of its equity searched into and weighed.
I. Elijah reproved the people for mixing the worship of God and the
worship of Baal together. Not only some Israelites worshipped God and
others Baal, but the same Israelites sometimes worshipped one and
sometimes the other. This he calls
(1 Kings 18:21)
halting between two opinions, or thoughts. They
worshipped God to please the prophets, but worshipped Baal to please
Jezebel and curry favour at court. They thought to trim the matter, and
play on both sides, as the Samaritans,
2 Kings 17:33.
Now Elijah shows them the absurdity of this. He does not insist upon
their relation to Jehovah--"Is he not yours, and the God of your
fathers, while Baal is the god of the Sidonians? And will a nation
change their god?"
No, he waives the prescription, and enters upon the merits of the
cause:--"There can be but one God, but one infinite and but one
supreme: there needs but one God, one omnipotent, one all-sufficient.
What occasion for addition to that which is perfect? Now if, upon
trial, it appears that Baal is that one infinite omnipotent Being, that
one supreme Lord and all-sufficient benefactor, you ought to renounce
Jehovah and cleave to Baal only: but, if Jehovah be that one God, Baal
is a cheat, and you must have no more to do with him." Note,
1. It is a very bad thing to halt between God and Baal. "In
reconcilable differences (says bishop Hall) nothing more safe than
indifferency both of practice and opinion; but, in cases of such
necessary hostility as betwixt God and Baal, he that is not with God
is against him." Compare
The service of God and the service of sin, the dominion of Christ and
the dominion of our lusts, these are the two thoughts which it is
dangerous halting between. Those halt between them that are unresolved
under their convictions, unstable and unsteady in their purposes,
promise fair, but do not perform, begin well, but do not hold on, that
are inconsistent with themselves, or indifferent and lukewarm in that
which is good. Their heart is divided
whereas God will have all or none.
2. We are fairly put to our choice whom we will serve,
If we can find one that has more right to us, or will be a better
master to us, than God, we may take him at our peril. God demands no
more from us than he can make out a title to. To this fair proposal of
the case, which Elijah here makes, the people knew not what to say:
They answered him not a word. They could say nothing to justify
themselves, and they would say nothing to condemn themselves, but, as
people confounded, let him say what he would.
II. He proposed to bring the matter to a fair trial; and it was so much
the fairer because Baal had all the external advantages on his side.
The king and court were all for Baal; so was the body of the people.
The managers of Baal's cause were 450 men, fat and well fed
(1 Kings 18:22),
besides 400 more, their supporters or seconds,
1 Kings 18:19.
The manager of God's cause was but one man, lately a poor exile, hardly
kept from starving; so that God's cause has nothing to support it but
its own right. However, it is put to this experiment, "Let each side
prepare a sacrifice, and pray to its God, and the God that answereth
by fire, let him be God; if neither shall thus answer, let the
people turn Atheists; if both, let them continue to halt between
two." Elijah, doubtless, had a special commission from God to put
it to this test, otherwise he would have tempted God and affronted
religion; but the case was extraordinary, and the judgment upon it
would be of use, not only then, but in all ages. It is an instance of
the courage of Elijah that he durst stand alone in the cause of God
against such powers and numbers; and the issue encourages all God's
witnesses and advocates never to fear the face of man. Elijah does not
say, "The God that answers by water" (though that was the thing
the country needed), but "that answers by fire, let him be God;"
because the atonement was to be made by sacrifice, before the judgment
could be removed in mercy. The God therefore that has power to pardon
sin, and to signify it by consuming the sin-offering, must needs be the
God that can relieve us against the calamity. He that can give fire can
give rain; see
III. The people join issue with him: It is well spoken,
1 Kings 18:24.
They allow the proposal to be fair and unexceptionable "God has often
answered by fire; if Baal cannot do so, let him be cast out for a
usurper." They were very desirous to see the experiment tried, and
seemed resolved to abide by the issue, whatever it should be. Those
that were firm for God doubted not but it would end to his honour;
those that were indifferent were willing to be determined; and Ahab and
the prophets of Baal durst not oppose for fear of the people, and hoped
that either they could obtain fire from heaven (though they
never had yet), and the rather because, as some think, they worshipped
the sun in Baal, or that Elijah could not, because not at the
temple, where God was wont thus to manifest his glory. If, in this
trial, they could but bring it to a drawn battle, their other
advantages would give them the victory. Let it go on therefore to a
IV. The prophets of Baal try first, but in vain, with their god. They
covet the precedency, not only for the honour of it, but that, if they
can but in the least seem to gain their point, Elijah may not be
admitted to make the trial. Elijah allows it to them
(1 Kings 18:25),
gives them the lead for their greater confusion; only, knowing that the
working of Satan is with lying wonders, he takes care to prevent a
fraud: Be sure to put no fire under. Now in their experiment
I. How importunate and noisy the prophets of Baal were in their
applications to him. They got their sacrifices ready; and we may well
imagine what a noise 450 men made, when they cried as one man, and with
all their might, O Baal! hear us, O Baal! answer us; as it is
in the margin: and this for some hours together, longer than Diana's
worshippers made their cry, Great is Diana of the Ephesians,
How senseless, how brutish, were they in their addresses to Baal!
(1.) Like fools, they leaped upon the altar, as if they would
themselves become sacrifices with their bullock; or thus they expressed
their great earnestness of mind. They leaped up and down, or
danced about the altar (so some): they hoped, by their dancing, to
please their deity, as Herodias did Herod, and so to obtain their
(2.) Like madmen they cut themselves in pieces with knives and
(1 Kings 18:28)
for vexation that they were not answered, or in a sort of prophetic
fury, hoping to obtain the favour of their god by offering to him their
own blood, when they could not obtain it with the blood of their
bullock. God never required his worshippers thus to honour him; but the
service of the devil, though in some instances it pleases and pampers
the body, yet in other things it is really cruel to it, as in envy and
drunkenness. It seems, this was the manner of the worshippers of Baal.
God expressly forbade his worshippers to cut themselves,
He insists upon it that we mortify our lusts and corruptions; but
corporeal penances and severities, such as the Papists use, which have
no tendency to that, are no pleasure to him. Who has required these
things at your hands?
2. How sharp Elijah was upon them,
1 Kings 18:27.
He stood by them, and patiently heard them for so many hours praying to
an idol, yet with secret indignation and disdain; and at noon, when the
sun was at the hottest, and they too expecting fire (then if ever), he
upbraided them with their folly; and notwithstanding the gravity of his
office, and the seriousness of the work he had before him, bantered
them: "Cry aloud, for he is a god, a goodly god that cannot be
made to hear without all this clamour. Surely you think he is talking
or meditating (as the word is) or he is pursuing some deep thoughts,
(in a brown study, as we say), thinking of somewhat else and not
minding his own matter, when not your credit only, but all his honour
lies at stake, and his interest in Israel. His new conquest will be
lost if he do not look about him quickly." Note, The worship of idols
is a most ridiculous thing, and it is but justice to represent it so
and expose it to scorn. This will, by no means, justify those who
ridicule the worshippers of God in Christ because the worship is not
performed just in their way. Baal's prophets were so far from being
convinced and put to shame by the just reproach Elijah cast upon them
that it made them the more violent and led them to act more
ridiculously. A deceived heart had turned them aside, they
could not deliver their souls by saying, Is there not a lie
in our right hand?
3. How deaf Baal was to them. Elijah did not interrupt them, but let
them go on till they were tired, and quite despaired of success, which
was not till the time of the evening sacrifice,
1 Kings 18:29.
During all that time some of them prayed, while others of them
prophesied, sang hymns, perhaps to the praise of Baal, or rather
encouraged those that were praying to proceed, telling them that Baal
would answer them at last; but there was no answer, nor any that
regarded. Idols could do neither good nor evil. The prince of the
power of the air, if God has permitted him, could have caused fire
to come down from heaven on this occasion, and gladly would have
done it for the support of his Baal. We find that the beast which
deceived the world does it. He maketh fire come down from heaven in
the sight of men and so deceiveth them,
But God would not suffer the devil to do it now, because the trial of
his title was put on that issue by consent of parties.
V. Elijah soon obtains from his God an answer by fire. The Baalites are
forced to give up their cause, and now it is Elijah's turn to produce
his. Let us see if he speed better.
1. He fitted up an altar. He would not make use of theirs, which had
been polluted with their prayers to Baal, but, finding the ruins of an
altar there, which had formerly been used in the service of the Lord,
he chose to repair that
(1 Kings 18:30),
to intimate to them that he was not about to introduce any new
religion, but to revive the faith and worship of their fathers' God,
and reduce them to their first love, their first works. He could not
bring them to the altar at Jerusalem unless he could unite the two
kingdoms again (which, for correction to both, God designed should not
now be done), therefore, by his prophetic authority, he builds an altar
on Mount Carmel, and so owns that which had formerly been built there.
When we cannot carry a reformation so far as we would we must do what
we can, and rather comply with some corruptions than not do our utmost
towards the extirpation of Baal. He repaired this altar with twelve
stones, according to the number of the twelve tribes,
1 Kings 18:31.
Though ten of the tribes had revolted to Baal, he would look upon them
as belonging to God still, by virtue of the ancient covenant with their
fathers: and, though those ten were unhappily divided from the other
two in civil interest, yet in the worship of the God of Israel they had
communion with each other, and they twelve were one. Mention is made of
God's calling their father Jacob by the name of Israel, a prince
(1 Kings 18:31),
to shame his degenerate seed, who worshipped a god which they saw could
not hear nor answer them, and to encourage the prophet who was now to
wrestle with God as Jacob did; he also shall be a prince with God.
Thy face, O Jacob!
There he spoke with us.
2. Having built his altar in the name of the Lord
(1 Kings 18:32),
by direction from him and with an eye to him, and not for his own
honour, he prepared his sacrifice,
1 Kings 18:33.
Behold the bullock and the wood; but where is the fire?
God will provide himself fire. If we, in sincerity, offer our
hearts to God, he will, by his grace, kindle a holy fire in them.
Elijah was no priest, nor were his attendants Levites. Carmel had
neither tabernacle nor temple; it was a great way distant from the ark
of the testimony and the place God had chosen; this was not the altar
that sanctified the gift; yet never was any sacrifice more acceptable
to God than this. The particular Levitical institutions were so often
dispensed with (as in the time of the Judges, Samuel's time, and now)
that one would be tempted to think they were more designed for types to
be fulfilled in the evangelical anti-types than for laws to be
fulfilled in the strict observance of them. Their perishing thus is the
using, as the apostle speaks of them
was to intimate the utter abolition of them after a little while,
3. He ordered abundance of water to be poured upon his altar, which he
had prepared a trench for the reception of
(1 Kings 18:32),
and, some think, made the altar hollow. Twelve barrels of water
(probably sea-water, for the sea was near, and so much fresh water in
this time of drought was too precious for him to be so prodigal of it),
thrice four, he poured upon his sacrifice, to prevent the suspicion of
any fire under (for, if there had been any, this would have put it
out), and to make the expected miracle the more illustrious.
4. He then solemnly addressed himself to God by prayer before his
altar, humbly beseeching him to turn to ashes his burnt-offering
(as the phrase is,
and to testify his acceptance of it. His prayer was not long, for he
used no vain repetitions, nor thought he should be heard for his
much speaking; but it was very grave and composed, and showed his
mind to be calm and sedate, and far from the heats and disorders that
Baal's prophets were in,
1 Kings 18:36,37.
Though he was not at the place appointed, he chose the appointed
time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, thereby to
testify his communion with the altar at Jerusalem. Though he expected
an answer by fire, yet he came near to the altar with boldness, and
feared not that fire. He addressed himself to God as the God of
Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, acting faith on God's ancient covenant,
and reminding people too (for prayer may prevail) of their relation
both to God and to the patriarchs. Two things he pleads here:--
(1.) The glory of God: "Lord, hear me, and answer me, that it may be
known (for it is now by the most denied or forgotten) that thou
art God in Israel, to whom alone the homage and devotion of Israel
are due, and that I am thy servant, and do all that I have done,
am doing, and shall do, as thy agent, at thy word, and not to
gratify any humour or passion of my own. Thou employest me; Lord, make
it appear that thou dost so;" see
Elijah sought not his own glory but in subserviency to God's, and for
his own necessary vindication.
(2.) The edification of the people: "That they may know that thou
art the Lord, and may experience thy grace, turning their
heart, by this miracle, as a means, back again to thee, in
order to thy return in a way of mercy to them."
5. God immediately answered him by fire,
1 Kings 18:38.
Elijah's God was neither talking nor pursuing, needed not to be either
awakened or quickened; while he was yet speaking, the fire of the
Lord fell, and not only, as at other times
1 Chron. xxi. 26; 2 Chron. vii. 1)
consumed the sacrifice and the wood, in token of God's
acceptance of the offering, but licked up all the water in the
trench, exhaling that, and drawing it up as a vapour, in order to
the intended rain, which was to be the fruit of this sacrifice and
prayer, more than the product of natural causes. Compare
He causeth vapours to ascend, and maketh lightnings for the
rain; for this rain he did both. As for those who fall as victims
to the fire of God's wrath, no water can shelter them from it, any more
than briers or thorns,
But this was not all; to complete the miracle, the fire consumed the
stones of the altar, and the very dust, to show that it
was no ordinary fire, and perhaps to intimate that, though God accepted
this occasional sacrifice from this altar, yet for the future they
ought to demolish all the altars on their high places, and, for their
constant sacrifices, make use of that at Jerusalem only. Moses's altar
and Solomon's were consecrated by the fire from heaven; but this was
destroyed, because no more to be used. We may well imagine what a
terror the fire struck on guilty Ahab and all the worshippers of Baal,
and how they fled from it as far and as fast as they could, saying,
Lest it consume us also, alluding to
VI. What was the result of this fair trial. The prophets of Baal had
failed in their proof, and could give no evidence at all to make out
their pretensions on behalf of their god, but were perfectly non-suited
Elijah had, by the most convincing and undeniable evidence, proved his
claims on behalf of the God of Israel. And now,
1. The people, as the jury, gave in their verdict upon the trial, and
they are all agreed in it; the case is so plain that they need not go
from the bar to consider of their verdict or consult about it: They
fell on their faces, and all, as one man, said, "Jehovah, he is
the God, and not Baal; we are convinced and satisfied of it:
Jehovah, he is the God"
(1 Kings 18:39),
whence, one would think, they should have inferred, "If he be the God,
he shall be our God, and we will serve him only," as
Some, we hope, had their hearts thus turned back, but the generality of
them were convinced only, not converted, yielded to the truth of God,
that he is the God, but consented not to his covenant, that he should
be theirs. Blessed are those that have not seen what they saw
and yet have believed and been wrought upon by it more than those that
saw it. Let it for ever be looked upon as a point adjudged against all
pretenders (for it was carried, upon a full hearing, against one of the
most daring and threatening competitors that ever the God of Israel was
affronted by) that Jehovah, he is God, God alone.
2. The prophets of Baal, as criminals, are seized, condemned, and
executed, according to law,
1 Kings 18:40.
If Jehovah be the true God, Baal is a false God, to whom these
Israelites had revolted, and seduced others to the worship of him; and
therefore, by the express law of God, they were to be put to death,
There needed no proof of the fact; all Israel were witnesses of it: and
therefore Elijah (acting still by an extraordinary commission, which is
not to be drawn into a precedent) orders them all to be slain
immediately as the troublers of the land, and Ahab himself is so
terrified, for the present, with the fire from heaven, that he dares
not oppose it. These were the 450 prophets of Baal; the 400 prophets of
the groves (who, some think, were Sidonians), though summoned
(1 Kings 18:19),
yet, as it should seem, did not attend, and so escaped this execution,
which fair escape perhaps Ahab and Jezebel thought themselves happy in;
but it proved they were reserved to be the instruments of Ahab's
destruction, some time after, by encouraging him to go up to
1 Kings 22:6.
Rain Sent on the Land.
B. C. 906.
41 And Elijah said unto Ahab, Get thee up, eat and drink; for
there is a sound of abundance of rain.
42 So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to
the top of Carmel; and he cast himself down upon the earth, and
put his face between his knees,
43 And said to his servant, Go up now, look toward the sea. And
he went up, and looked, and said, There is nothing. And he
said, Go again seven times.
44 And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said,
Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man's
hand. And he said, Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot,
and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not.
45 And it came to pass in the mean while, that the heaven was
black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab
rode, and went to Jezreel.
46 And the hand of the LORD was on Elijah; and he girded up his
loins, and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.
Israel being thus far reformed that they had acknowledged the Lord to
be God, and had consented to the execution of Baal's prophets, that
they might not seduce them any more, though this was far short of a
thorough reformation, yet it was so far accepted that God thereupon
opened the bottles of heaven, and poured out blessings upon his land,
that very evening (as it should seem) on which they did this good work,
which should have confirmed them in their reformation; see
I. Elijah sent Ahab to eat and drink, for joy that God had
now accepted his works, and that rain was coming; see
Ahab had continued fasting all day, either religiously, it being a day
of prayer, or for want of leisure, it being a day of great expectation;
but now let him eat and rink for, though others perceive no sign
of it, Elijah, by faith, hears the sound of abundance of rain,
1 Kings 18:41.
God reveals his secrets to his servants the prophets; and yet, without
a revelation, we may foresee that when man's judgments run down like a
river God's mercy will. Rain is the river of God,
II. He himself retired to pray (for though God had promised rain, he
must ask it,
and to give thanks for God's answer by fire, now hoping for an answer
by water. What he said we are not told; but,
1. He withdrew to a strange place, to the top of Carmel, which
was very high and very private. Hence we read of those that hide
themselves in the top of Carmel,
There he would be alone. Those who are called to appear and act in
public for God must yet find time to be private with him and keep up
their converse with him in solitude. There he set himself, as it were,
upon his watch-tower, like the prophet,
2. He put himself into a strange posture. He cast himself down on his
knees upon the earth, in token of humility, reverence, and importunity,
and put his face between his knees (that is, bowed his head so
low that it touched his knees), thus abasing himself in the sense of
his own meanness now that God had thus honoured him.
III. He ordered his servant to bring him notice as soon as he discerned
a cloud arising out of the sea, the Mediterranean Sea, which he had a
large prospect of from the top of Carmel. The sailors at this day call
it Cape Carmel. Six times his servant goes to the point of the
hill and sees nothing, brings no good news to his master; yet Elijah
continues praying, will not be diverted so far as to go and see with
his own eyes, but still sends his servant to see if he can discover any
hopeful cloud, while he keeps his mind close and intent in prayer, and
abides by it, as one that has taken up his father Jacob's resolution,
I will not let thee go except thou bless me. Note, Though the
answer of our fervent and believing supplications may not come quickly,
yet we must continue instant in prayer, and not faint nor desist; for
at the end it shall speak and not lie.
IV. A little cloud at length appeared, no bigger than a man's hand,
which presently overspread the heavens and watered the earth,
1 Kings 18:44,45.
Great blessings often arise from small beginnings, and showers of
plenty from a cloud of a span long. Let us therefore never despise
the day of small things, but hope and wait for great things from
it. This was not as a morning cloud, which passes away (though Israel's
goodness was so), but one that produced a plentiful rain
and an earnest of more.
V. Elijah hereupon hastened Ahab home, and attended him himself. Ahab
rode in his chariot, at ease and in state,
1 Kings 18:45.
Elijah ran on foot before him. If Ahab had paid the respect to Elijah
that he deserved he would have taken him into his chariot, as the
eunuch did Philip, that he might honour him before the elders of
Israel, and confer with him further about the reformation of the
kingdom. But his corruptions got the better of his convictions, and he
was glad to get clear of him, as Felix of Paul, when he dismissed him,
and adjourned his conference with him to a more convenient season. But,
since Ahab invites him not to ride with him, he will run before
(1 Kings 18:46)
as one of his footmen, that he may not seem to be lifted up with the
great honour God had put upon him or to abate in his civil respect to
his prince, though he reproved him faithfully. God's ministers should
make it appear that, how great soever they look when they deliver God's
message, yet they are far from affecting worldly grandeur: let them
leave that to the kings of the earth.
Matthew Henry "Verse by Verse Commentary for '1 Kings' Matthew Henry Bible Commentary".