Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:1
The third year - i. e., in the third year of his sojourn with the widow. The whole period of drought was three years and a half Luk 4:25; Jam 5:17 : of this, probably about one year was passed by Elijah in the torrent-course of Cherith, and two years and a half at Sarepta.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:3
Obadiah's name, "servant of Yahweh," indicates his religious character. It corresponds to the modern Arabic name Abdallah. Ahab could scarcely have been ignorant of Obadiah's faithfulness to Yahweh; and it tells in favor of the monarch's tolerance that he should have maintained an adherent of the old religion in so important an office. There seems to be no doubt that the worst deeds of Ahab's reign sprang less from his own free will and natural disposition than from the evil counsels, or rather perhaps the imperious requirements, of his wife.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:4
We have no details of Jezebel's deed of blood. Some have conjectured that it was the answer of Jezebel to Elijah's threat, and that the command given him to hide in Cherith alone saved him from being one of the victims. This view receives some support from Obadiah's act and words Kg1 18:13.
Fifty in a cave - The limestone formation of Judaea and Samaria abounds with large natural caverns, the size of which is easily increased by art. These "caves" play an important part in the history of the country, serving especially as refuges for political offenders and other fugitives Jdg 6:2; Sa1 13:6; Heb 11:38.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:5
Unto all fountains of water and unto all brooks - Rather, "to all springs of water and to all torrent-courses." The former are the perennial streams; the latter are the torrent-courses which become dry in an ordinary summer.
All the beasts - Rather, some, or, "a portion of our beasts."
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:9
Obadiah thinks that to execute this commission will be fatal to him Kg1 18:12.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:10
There is no nation ... - This is expressed in the style of Oriental hyperbole. What Obadiah means is: "there is no nation nor kingdom, of those over which he has influence, whither the king has not sent." He could scarcely, for example, have exacted an oath from such countries as Egypt or Syria of Damascus. But Ahab may have been powerful enough to expect an oath from the neighboring Hittite, Moabite, and Edomite tribes, perhaps even from Ethbaal his father-in-law, and the kings of Hamath and Arpad.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:17
Art thou he ... - Meaning, "Can it possibly be that thou dost venture to present thyself before me, thou that troublest Israel by means of this terrible drought?" The charge of "troubling" had never before been brought against anyone but Achan (marginal reference "e"); it was one which must have called to the prophet's recollection Achan's miserable fate.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:18
Instead of apologies, and pleas for pardon, Elijah meets the charge with a countercharge, and makes a sudden demand. "Gather to me," etc. This boldness, this high tone, this absence of the slightest indication of alarm, seems to have completely discomfited Ahab, who ventured on no reply, made no attempt to arrest the prophet, did not even press him to remove his curse and bring the drought to an end, but simply consented to do his bidding. There is no passage of Scripture which exhibits more forcibly the ascendancy that a prophet of the Lord, armed with His spiritual powers, could, if he were firm and brave, exercise even over the most powerful and most unscrupulous of monarchs.
Baalim - i. e., the various aspects under which the god, Baal, was worshipped, Baal-shamin, Baal-zebub, Baal-Hamman, etc.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:19
Carmel (Jos 12:22 note) was chosen by the prophet as the scene of the gathering to which he invited, or rather summoned, Ahab. Its thick jungles of copse and numerous dwarf-oaks and olives, would furnish abundant wood for his intended sacrifice. Here was a perennial fountain; and here again an ancient "altar of the Lord" Kg1 18:30, belonging probably to the old times of non-idolatrous high-place worship - perhaps an erection of one of the patriarchs. On the one hand, there would be a view of the Mediterranean, from where the first sign of rain was likely to come, and on the other of Jezreel, the residence of the court at the time, with its royal palace and its idol-temples, so that the intended trial would take place in the sight (so to speak) of the proud queen and her minions.
The prophets of Baal - The priests of Baal are so called not so much because they claimed a power of foretelling the future, as because they were "teachers" of the false religion, and more especially because they stand here in antagonism to the "prophet of the Lord," with whom they are about to contend.
The prophets of the groves, four hundred - Rather, "of the grove" - the prophets, or priests, attached to the "grove" - אשׁרה 'ăshêrāh - which Ahab had made, probably at Jezreel (marginal reference). The number 400 seems to have been one especially affected by Ahab. We again find 400 prophets at the close of his reign Kg1 22:6. The number 40 entered largely into the religious system of the Jews Kg1 6:17; Exo 26:19; Deu 25:3; Eze 41:2.
Which eat at Jezebel's table - Rather, "which eat from Jezebel's table." Oriental etiquette would not have allowed them to eat "at" the table of the queen, which was spread in the seraglio. They were fed from the superfluity of her daily provision, which was no doubt on a sumptuous scale. Compare Kg1 4:22-23.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:20
Local tradition places the site of Elijah's sacrifice, not on the highest point of the mountain (1,728 ft.), but at the southeastern extremity (1,600 ft.) of the ridge, where a shapeless ruin, composed of great hewn stones, and standing amid thick bushes of dwarf-oak, in the near vicinity of a perennial spring, is known to the Arabs as "El-Maharrakah," "the burning," or "the sacrifice." All the circumstances of the locality adapt it for the scene of the contest.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:21
The people were mute. They could not but feel the logical force of Elijah's argument; but they were not prepared at once to act upon it. They wished to unite the worship of Yahweh with that of Baal - to avoid breaking with the past and completely rejecting the old national worship, yet at the same time to have the enjoyment of the new rites, which were certainly sensuous, and probably impure.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:22
I, even I, only remain - He means, "I only remain in the exercise of the office of a prophet." The others (Compare Kg1 18:4) had been forced to fly and hide themselves in dens and caves of the earth; their voices were silenced; they had not ventured to come to Carmel. Elijah contrasts his solitary appearance on the side of Yahweh at the great gathering with the crowd of those opposed to him.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:24
The God that answereth by fire - God had frequently before consumed offerings with supernatural fire Lev 9:24; Jdg 6:21. The Baal-worshippers were no doubt in the habit of attributing thunder and lightning to their gods - the great Nature-power - and thus had no excuse for declining Elijah's challenge.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:25
Elijah gives precedence in everything to the Baal-priests, to take away all ground for cavil in case of failure. It is his object to make an impression on king and people; and he feels rightly that the impression will depend greatly on the contrast between their inability and the power given to him.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:26
And called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon - Compare the parallel in the conduct of the Greeks of Ephesus. Act 19:34. The words "O Baal, hear us," probably floated on the air as the refrain of a long and varied hymn of supplication.
They leaped upon the altar which was made - The marginal rendering is preferable to this. Wild dancing has always been a devotional exercise in the East, and remains so to this day; witness the dancing dervishes. It was practiced especially in the worship of Nature-powers, like the Dea Phrygia (Cybele), the Dea Syra (Astarte?), and the like.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:27
The object of Elijah's irony was two-fold;
(1) to stimulate the priests to greater exertions, and so to make their failure more complete, and
(2) to suggest to the people that such failure would prove absolutely that Baal was no God.
The force of the expressions seems to be, "Cry on, only cry louder, and then you will make him hear, for surely he is a god; surely you are not mistaken in so regarding him." He is "talking," or "meditating;" the word used has both senses, for the Hebrews regarded "meditation" as "talking with oneself;" "or he is pursuing;" rather, perhaps, "he hath a withdrawing," i. e., "he hath withdrawn himself into privacy for awhile," as a king does upon occasions. The drift of the whole passage is scornful ridicule of the anthropomorphic notions of God entertained by the Baal-priests and their followers (compare Psa 50:21). The pagan gods, as we know from the Greek and Latin classics, ate and drank, went on journeys, slept, conversed, quarrelled, fought. The explanations of many of these absurdities were unknown to the ordinary worshipper, and probably even the most enlightened, if his religion was not a mere vague Pantheism, had notions of the gods which were largely tainted with a false anthropomorphism.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:28
Elijah's scorn roused the Baal-priests to greater exertions. At length, when the frenzy had reached its height, knives were drawn, and the blood spirted forth from hundreds of self-inflicted wounds, while an ecstasy of enthusiasm seized many, and they poured forth incoherent phrases, or perhaps an unintelligible jargon, which was believed to come from divine inspiration, and constituted one of their modes of prophecy.
The practice of inflicting gashes on their limbs, in their religious exercises, was common among the Carians, the Syrians, and the Phrygians. We may regard it as a modification of the idea of human sacrifice. The gods were supposed to be pleased with the shedding of human blood.
Lancets - Lancets, in our modern sense of the word, can scarcely have been intended by our translators. The Hebrew word is elsewhere always translated "spears," or "lances;" and this is probably its meaning here.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:29
And they prophesied - Compare Kg1 22:12. The expression seems to be used of any case where there was an utterance of words by persons in a state of religious ecstasy.
Until the time of the offering etc - Rather, "Until toward the time." Elijah had built his altar by the actual time of the offering Kg1 18:36.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:32
He built an altar in the name of the Lord - i. e., calling, as he built it, on the name of Yahweh, and so dedicating it to His service.
Two measures of seed - literally, "two seahs of seed." The seah contained about three gallons.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:33
And he put the wood in order ... - He obeyed, that is, all the injunctions of the Law with respect to the offering of a burned sacrifice (marginal reference). He thus publicly taught that the ordinances of the Law were binding upon the kingdom of Israel.
Barrels - Rather, "pitchers" or "water-jars," such as the maidens used to carry on their heads (Gen 24:14-20. Compare Jdg 7:16, Jdg 7:19). The flooding the sacrifice and the trench with water would at once do away with any suspicion of fraud, and greatly enhance in the eyes of the people the marvelousness of the miracle. The unfailing spring at the eastern end of Carmel Kg1 18:19, was capable of furnishing as much water as he needed.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:36
At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice - i. e., probably "the ninth hour," or three o'clock. Thus there might still remain about five hours of light, during which the other events of the day were accomplished.
Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel - This solemn address would carry back the thoughts of the pious to the burning bush of Horeb, and the words there spoken (marginal references), for there only had this mysterious formula been used before. Its use now was calculated to stir their faith and prepare them in some degree for God's answering "by fire."
That I have done all these things at thy word - i. e., "That I have been divinely directed in all that I have done publicly as a prophet, in proclaiming the drought, in gathering this assembly, and in proposing this trial; that I have not done them of my own mind" (marginal reference).
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:37
That thou hast turned their heart - The hearts of the people were turning. Elijah speaks of them as already turned, anticipating the coming change, and helping it on.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:38
The fire of the Lord fell - This cannot have been a flash of lightning. It was altogether, in its nature as well as in its opportuneness, miraculous. Compare the marginal references for the conduct of the people.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:39
The Lord, he is the God - The people thus pronounced the matter to be clearly and certainly decided. Baal was overthrown; he was proved to be no god at all. The Lord Yahweh, He, and He alone, is God. Him would they henceforth acknowledge, and no other.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:40
Elijah required the people to show their conviction by acts - acts which might expose them to the anger of king or queen, but which once committed would cause them to break with Baal and his worshippers forever.
Elijah is said to have slain the "prophets of Baal," because the people killed them by his orders. Why they were brought down to the torrent-bed of Kishon to be killed, is difficult to explain. Perhaps the object of Elijah was to leave the bodies in a place where they would not be found, since the coming rain would, he knew, send a flood down the Kishon ravine, and bear off the corpses to the sea. Elijah's act is to be justified by the express command of the Law, that idolatrous Israelites were to be put to death, and by the right of a prophet under the theocracy to step in and execute the Law when the king failed in his duty.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:41
Get thee up, eat and drink - Ahab had descended the hill-side with Elijah, and witnessed the slaughter of the priests. Elijah now bade him ascend the hill again, and partake of the feast which was already prepared, and which always followed upon a sacrifice.
There is a sound of abundance of rain - Either the wind, which in the East usually heralds rain, had begun to rise, and sighed through the forests of Carmel - or perhaps the sound was simply in the prophet's ears, a mysterious intimation to him that the drought was to end, and rain to come that day.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:42
Ahab could feast; Elijah could not, or would not. Ascending Carmel not quite to the highest elevation Kg1 18:43, but to a point, a little below the highest, from where the sea was not visible, he proceeded to pray earnestly for rain, as he had prayed formerly that it might not rain.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:43
Tradition says that Elijah's servant was the son of the widow of Sarepta Kg1 17:23.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:44
A little cloud ... - Sailors know full well that such a cloud on the far horizon is often the forerunner of a violent storm.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 18:46
Divinely directed, and divinely upheld, Elijah, instead of resting, ran in advance of the king's chariot the entire distance of at least 16 miles to the entrance of Jezreel. He thus showed himself ready to countenance and uphold the irresolute monarch, if he would turn from his evil courses, and proceed to carry out the religious reformation which the events of the day had inaugurated.
The entrance of Jezreel - Modern "Zerin." Ahab had not removed the capital from Samaria Kg1 22:10, Kg1 22:37; but he had built himself a palace at Jezreel Kg1 21:1, and appears to have resided there ordinarily. A contemporary Assyrian inscription speaks of him as "Ahab of Jezreel."
Elijah's caution in accompanying Ahab only to "the entrance" is like that of the modern Arabs, who can seldom be induced to trust themselves within walls. He rested on the outskirts of the town, waiting to learn what Jezebel would say or do, knowing that it was she, and not Ahab, who really governed the country.