Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
3 Kings (1 Kings)
The prophets Elijah and Elisha
When Ahab, who was not satisfied with the sin of Jeroboam, had introduced the worship of Baal as the national religion in the kingdom of the tribes, and had not only built a temple to Baal in his capital and place of residence, but had also appointed a very numerous priesthood to maintain the worship (see Kg1 18:19); and when his godless wife Jezebel was persecuting the prophets of Jehovah, for the purpose of exterminating the worship of the true God: the Lord God raised up the most powerful of all the prophets, namely Elijah the Tishbite, who by his deeds attested his name אליּהוּ or אליּה, i.e., whose God is Jehovah. For however many prophets of Jehovah arose in the kingdom of the ten tribes from its very commencement and bore witness against the sin of Jeroboam in the power of the Spirit of God, and threatened the kings with extermination of their house on account of this sin, no other prophet, either before or afterwards, strove and worked in the idolatrous kindom for the honour of the Lord of Saboath with anything like the same mighty power of God as the prophet Elijah. And there was no other prophet whom the Lord so gloriously acknowledged by signs and wonders as Elijah, although He fulfilled the words of all His servants by executing the judgments with which they had threatened the rebellious, and whenever it was necessary accredited them as as His messengers by miraculous signs. - Although, I accordance with the plan of our books, which was to depict the leading features in the historical development of the kingdom, all that is related in detail of the life and labours of Elijah is the miracles which he performed in his conflict with the worshippers of Baal, and the miraculous display of the omnipotence and grace of God which he experienced therein; yet we may see very clearly that these formed but one side of his prophetic labours from the passing notices of the schools of the prophets, which he visited once more before his departure from the earth (2 Kings 2); from which it is obvious that this other side of his ministry, which was more hidden fro the world, was not less important than his public ministry before the kings and magnates of the land. For these societies of "sons of the prophets," which we meet with at Gilgal, Bethel, and Jericho (Kg2 2:3, Kg2 2:5; Kg2 4:38), had no doubt been called into existence by Elijah, by associating together those whose souls were fitted to receive the Spirit of God for mutual improvement in the knowledge and fear of Jehovah, in order to raise up witnesses to the truth and combatants for the cause of the Lord, and through these societies to provide the godly, who would not bow the knee before Baal, with some compensation for the loss of the Levitical priesthood and the want of the temple-worship. Compare the remarks on the schools of the prophets at Sa1 19:24. - The more mightily idolatry raised its head in the kindom of Israel, the more powerfully did the Lord show to His people that He, Jehovah, and not Baal, was God and Lord in Israel. In the prophet Elijah there were combined in a marvellous manner a life of solitude spent in secret and contemplative intercourse with God, and an extraordinary power for action, which would suddenly burst forth, and by which he acted as a personal representative of God (see at Kg1 17:1). In his person the spirit of Moses revived; he was the restorer of the kingdom of God in Israel, of which Moses was the founder. His life recalls that of Moses in many of its features: namely, his flight into the desert, the appearance of the Lord to him at Horeb, and the marvellous termination of his life. Moses and Elijah are the Coryphaei of the Old Testament, in whose life and labours the nature and glory of this covenant are reflected. As the thunder and lightning and the blast of trumpets and the smoking mountain bare witness to the devouring fire of the holiness of God who had come down upon Sinai to give effect to the promises He had made to the father, and to make the children of Israel the people of His possession; so does the fiery zeal of the law come out so powerfully in Moses and Elijah, that their words strike the ungodly like lightning and flames of fire, to avenge the honour of the Lord of Sabaoth and maintain His covenant of grace in Israel. Moses as lawgiver, and Elijah as prophet, are, as Ziegler has well said (p.206), the two historical anticipations of those two future witnesses, which are "the two olive-trees and two torches standing before the God of the earth. And if any one will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth and devoureth their enemies; and if any man will hurt them, he must therefore be slain. These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy, and have power over waters to turn them into blood, and to smite the earth with all kinds of plagues, as often as they will" (Rev 11:4.).Elijah was called to this office of witness to turn the heart of the fathers to the sons, and of the sons to their fathers (Mal 4:6), so that in his ministry the prophecy of the future of the kingdom of God falls quite into the backgrounds. Nevertheless he was not only a forerunner but also a type of the Prophet promised by Moses, who was to fulfil both law and prophets (Mat 5:17); and therefore he appeared as the representative of prophecy, along with Moses the representative of the law, upon the mount Transfiguration, to talk with Christ of decease which He was to accomplish at Jerusalem (Luk 9:31; Mat 17:3). - To continue his work, Elijah, by command of God, called Elisha the son of Shaphat, of Abel-Meholah, who during the whole of his prophetic course carried on with power the restoration of the law in the kingdom of Israel, which his master had begun, by conducting schools of the prophets and acting as the counsellor of kings, and proved himself by many signs and wonders to be the heir of a double portion of the gifts of Elijah.
Modern theology, which has its roots in naturalism, has taken offence at the many miracles occurring in the history of these two prophets, but it has overlooked the fact that these miracles were regulated by the extraordinary circumstances under which Elijah and Elisha worked. At a time when the sovereignty of the living God in Israel was not only called in question, but was to be destroyed by the worship of Baal, it was necessary that Jehovah as the covenant God should interpose in a supernatural manner, and declare His eternal Godhead in extraordinary miracles. In the kingdom of the ten tribes there were no priestly or Levitical duties performed, nor was there the regular worship of God in a temple sanctified by Jehovah Himself; whilst the whole order of life prescribed in the law was undermined by unrighteousness and ungodliness. But with all this, the kingdom was not yet ripe for the judgment of rejection, because there were still seven thousand in the land who had not bowed their knee before Baal. For the sake of these righteous men, the Lord had still patience with the sinful kingdom, and sent it prophets to call the rebellious to repentance. If, then, under the circumstances mentioned, the prophets were to fufil the purpose of their mission and carry on the conflict against the priests of Baal with success, they needed a much greater support on the part of God, through the medium of miracles, than the prophets in the kingdom of Judah, who had pwoerful and venerable supports in the Levitical priesthood and the lawful worship.
(Note: "Where the temple was wanting, and image-worship took its place, and the priesthood was an unlawful caste, it was only by extraordinary methods that the spreading evil could be met. The illegitimacy, which was represented here by the monarchy and priesthood, was opposed by the prophetic order as the representative of the law, and therefore also as a peculiarly constituted and strong body divided up into societies of considerable scope, and having a firm organization. And this prophetic order, as the only accredited representative of the law, also took the place of the law, and was therefore endowed with the power and majesty of the law which had been manifested in wonders and signs. Not only was the spirit of Moses inherited by Elijah and others, but his miraculous power also." - Haevernick, Einl. in d. A. Test. ii. 1, pp. 166,167. Compare Hengstenberg, Dissertation, vol. i. p. 186ff.)
It is only when we overlook the object of these miracles, therefore, that they can possibly appear strange. "If," as Kurtz has said,
(Note: Herzog's Cyclopaedia, Art. Elijah.)
"we take the history of our prophet as one living organic link in the whole of the grand chain of the marvellous works of God, which stretches from Sinai to Golgotha and the Mount of Olives, and bear in mind the peculiarity of the position and circumstances of Elijah, the occurrence of a miracle in itself, and even the accumulation of them and their supposed externality, will appear to us in a very different light. - Without miracle, without very striking, i.e., external miracles, their ministry would have been without basis, without a starting-point, and without hold." - The miracles are still more numerous in the history of Elisha, and to some extent bear such a resemblance to those of Elijah, that the attempt has been made to set them down as merely legendary imitations of the latter; but considered as a whole, they are more of a helpful and healing nature,whereas those of Elijah are for the most part manifestations of judicial and punitive wrath. The agreement and the difference may both be explained from Elisha's position in relation to Elijah and his time. By the performance of similar and equal miracles (such as the division of the Jordan, Kg2 2:8 and Kg2 2:14; the increase of the oil, Kg2 4:3. compared with Kg1 17:14.; the raising of the dead, Kg2 4:34. compared with Kg1 17:19.). Elisha proved himself to be the divinely-appointed successor of Elijah, who was carrying forward his master's work (just as Joshua by the drying up of the Jordan proved himself to be the continuer of the work of Moses), and as such performed more miracles, so far as number is concerned, than even his master had done, though he was far inferior to him in spiritual power. But the difference does not prevail throughout. For whilst the helpful and healing side of Elijah's miraculous power is displayed in his relation to the widow at Zarephath; the judicial and punitive side of that of Elisha comes out in the case of the mocking boys at Bethel, of Gehazi, and of Joram's knight. But the predominance of strict judicial sternness in the case of Elijah, and of sparing and helpful mildness in that of Elisha, is to accounted for not so much from any difference in the personality of the two, as from the altered circumstances. Elijah, with his fiery zeal, had broken the power of the Baal-worship, and had so far secured an acknowledgement of the authority of Jehovah over His people that Joram and the succeeding kings gave heed to the words of the prophets of the Lord; so that Elisha had for the most part only to cherish and further the conversion of the people to their God, for which Elijah had prepared the way.
First Appearance of Elijah - 1 Kings 17
The prophet Elijah predicts to Ahab, as a punishment for his idolatry the coming of a drought and famine. During their continuance he is miraculously preserved by God, first of all at the brook Cherith, and then at the house of a widow at Zarephath (vv. 1-16), whose deceased son he calls to life again (Kg1 17:17-24).
3 Kings (1 Kings) 17:1
Elijah the Tishbite is introduced without the formula "The word of the Lord came to ...," with which the appearance of the prophets is generally announced, proclaiming to king Ahab in the name of the Lord the punitive miracle of a drought that will last for years. This abrupt appearance of Elijah cannot be satisfactorily explained from the fact that we have not the real commencement of his history here; it is rather a part of the character of this mightiest of all the prophets, and indicates that in him the divine power of the Spirit appeared as it were personified, and his life and acts were the direct effluence of the higher power by which he was impelled. His origin is also uncertain. The epithet התּשׁבּי is generally derived from a place called Tishbeh, since, according to Tobit 1:2, there existed in Upper Galilee a Θίσβη ἐκ δεξιῶν Κυδίως, "on the right, i.e., to the south of Kydios," probably Kedesh in the tribe of Naphtali, from which the elder Tobias was carried away captive, although this description of the place is omitted in the Hebrew version of the book of Tobit issued by Fagius and Mnster, and in the Vulgate. And to this we must adhere, and as no other Thisbe occurs, must accept this Galilean town as the birthplace of Elijah; in which case the expression "of the settlers of Gilead" indicates that Elijah did not live in his birthplace, but dwelt as a foreigner in Gilead. For תּושׁב in itself by no means denotes a non-Israelite, but, like גּד, simply one who lived away from his home and tribe relations in the territory of a different tribe, without having been enrolled as a member of it, as is clearly shown by Lev 25:40, and still more clearly by Jdg 17:7, where a Levite who was born in Bethlehem is described as גּר in the tribe of Ephraim.
(Note: The supposition of Seb. Schmidt, with which I formerly agreed, namely, that Elijah was a foreigner, a Gentile by birth, after further examination I can no longer uphold, though not from the priori objection raised against it by Kurtz (in Herzog's Cycl.), namely, that it would show a complete misapprehension of the significance of Israel in relation to sacred history and the history of the world, and that neither at this nor any other time in the Old Testament history could a prophet for Israel be called from among the Gentiles, - an assertion of which it would be difficult to find any proof, - but because we are not forced to this conclusion by either התּשׁבּי or גלעד מתּשׁבי. For even if the Thisbeh in Tob. 1:2 should not be Elijah's birthplace, it would not follow that there was no other place named Thisbeh in existence. How many places in Canaan are there that are never mentioned in the Old Testament! And such cases as that described in Jdg 7:7, where the Levite is said to have left his birthplace and to have lived in another tribe as a foreigner or settler, may not have been of rare occurrence, since the Mosaic law itself refers to it in Lev 25:41. - Again, the lxx were unable to explain גלעד מתּשׁבי, and have paraphrased these words in an arbitrary manner by ὁ ἐκ Θεσβῶν τῆς Γαλαάδ, from which Thenius and Ewald conjecture that there was a Thisbeh in Gilead, and that it was probably the Tisieh (tsh) mentioned by Robinson (Pal. iii. 153) to the south of Busra = Bostra. The five arguments by which Kurtz has attempted to establish the probability of this conjecture are very weak. For (1) the defective writing מתּשׁבי by no means proves that the word which is written plene (תּושׁב) in every other case must necessarily have been so written in the stat. constr. plur.; and this is the only passage in the whole of the Old Testament in which it occurs in the stat. constr. plur.; - (2) the precise description of the place given in Tobit 1:2 does not at all lead "to the assumption that the Galilean Thisbeh was not the only place of that name," but may be fully explained from the fact that Thisbeh was a small and insignificant place, the situation of which is defined by a reference to a larger town and one better known; - (3) there is no doubt that "Gilead very frequently denotes the whole of the country to the east of the Jordan," but this does not in the least degree prove that there was a Thisbeh in the country to the east of the Jordan; - (4) "that the distinction and difference between a birthplace and a place of abode are improbable in themselves, and not to be expected in this connection," is a perfectly unfounded assumption, and has first of all to be proved; - (5) the Tisieh mentioned by Robinson cannot be taken into consideration, for the simple reason that the assumption of a copyist's error, the confusion of (Arabic) b with y (Tsieh instead of Thisbeh), founders on the long i of the first syllable in Tsieh; moreover the Arabic t corresponds to the Hebrew E and not to t.)
The expression "as truly as Jehovah the God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand (i.e., whom I serve; see at Kg1 1:2), there shall not fall dew and rain these years, except at my word," was a special application of the threats of the law in Deu 11:16-17; Deu 28:23-24, and Lev 26:19, to the idolatrous kingdom. האלּה השּׁנים, "these (ensuing) years," does not fix any definite terminus. In דברי לפי there is involved an emphatic antithesis to others, and more especially to the prophets of Baal. "When I shall say this by divine authority and might, let others prate and lie as they may please" (Berleb. Bibel). Elijah thereby describes himself as one into whose power the God of Israel has given up the idolatrous king and his people. In Jam 5:17-18, this act of Elijah is ascribed to the power of his prayers, since Elijah "was also a man such as we are," inasmuch as the prophets received their power to work solely through faith and intercourse with God in prayer, and faith gives power to remove mountains.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 17:2
After the announcement of this judgment, Elijah had to hide himself, by the command of God, until the period of punishment came to an end, not so much that he might be safe from the wrath and pursuit of Ahab and Jezebel, as to preclude all earnest entreaties to remove the punishment. "For inasmuch as the prophet had said that the rain would come at his word, how would they have urged him to order it to come!" (Seb. Schm.) He was to turn קדמה, eastward, i.e., from Samaria, where he had no doubt proclaimed the divine judgment to Ahab, to the Jordan, and to hide himself at the brook Cherith, which is in front of the Jordan. The brook Cherith was in any case a brook emptying itself into the Jordan; but whether upon the eastern or the western side of that river, the ambiguity of על־פּני, which means both "to the east of" (Gen 25:18) and also "in the face of," i.e., before or towards (Gen 16:12; Gen 18:16), it is impossible to determine with certainty. That it must signify "to the east of the Jordan" here, does not follow from קדמה with anything like the certainty that Thenius supposes. An ancient tradition places the Cherith on this side of the Jordan, and identifies it with the spring Phasaelis, which takes its rise in the slope of the mountains into the Jordan valley above the city of Phasaelis, and empties itself into the Jordan (cf. Ges. thes. p. 719, and V. de Velde, Reise, ii. pp. 273-4); whereas Eusebius, in the Onom. s.v. Chorat (Chorra'), places it on the other side of the Jordan, and Thenius thinks of the apparently deep Wady Rajib or Ajlun. All that can be affirmed with certainty is, that neither the brook Kanah (Jos 16:8; Jos 17:9), which flows into the Mediterranean, nor the Wady Kelt near Jericho, which Robinson (Pal. ii. p. 288) suggests, can possibly come into consideration: the latter for the simple reason, that the locality in the neighbourhood of Jericho was unsuitable for a hiding-place. Elijah was to drink of this brook, and the ravens by divine command were to provide him with bread and meat, which they brought him, according to Kg1 17:6, both morning and evening. It is now generally admitted that הערבים does not mean either Arabs or Orebites (the inhabitants of an imaginary city named Oreb), but ravens. Through this miracle, which unbelievers reject, because they do not acknowledge a living God, by whom, as the Creator and Lord of all creatures, even the voracious ravens are made subservient to His plans of salvation, Elijah was not only cut off from intercourse with men, who might have betrayed his place of abode to the king, but was mightily strengthened himself, through the confidence inspired in the almighty assistance of his God, for his approaching contests with the worshippers of idols, and for the privations and sufferings which awaited him in the fulfilment of his vocation.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 17:7
After some time this brook dried up for want of rain. Then the Lord directed His servant to go to the Sidonian Zarephath, and to live with a widow whom He had commanded to provide for him. ימים מקּץ does not mean post annum, for ימים merely derives this meaning in certain passages from the context (cf. Lev 25:29; Sa1 27:7; Jdg 17:10); whereas in this instance the context does not point to the space of a year, but to a longer period of indefinite duration, all that we know being that, according to Kg1 18:1, the sojourn of Elijah at Cherith and Zarephath lasted at least two years. Zarephath (Σαρέπτα, lxx) was situated on the Mediterranean Sea between Tyre and Sidon, where a miserable Mohammedan village with ruins and a promontory, Surafend, still preserve the name of the former town (Rob. iii. p. 413ff., and V. de Velde, Syria and Palestine, i. pp. 101-3, transl.).
3 Kings (1 Kings) 17:10
When Elijah arrived at the city gate, he met a widow engaged in gathering wood. To discover whether it was to her that the Lord had sent him, he asked her for something to drink and for a morsel of bread to eat; whereupon she assured him, with an oath by Jehovah, that she had nothing baked (מעוג = עגּה, ἐγκρυφίας, a cake baked in hot ashes), but only a handful of meal in the כּד (a pail or small vessel in which meal was kept) and a little oil in the pitcher, and that she was just gathering wood to dress this remnant for herself and her son, that they might eat it, and then die. From this statement of the widow it is evident, on the one hand, that the drought and famine had spread across the Phoenician frontier, as indeed Menander of Ephesus attests;
(Note: Josephus gives this statement from his Phoenician history: ἀβροχία τε ἐπ ̓ αὐτοῦ (sc., Ἰθοβάλου) ἐγένετο ἀπὸ τοῦ Ὑπερβερεταίου μηνὸς ἕως τοῦ ἐρχομένου ἔτους Ὑπερβερεταίου (Ant. viii. 13, 2). Hyperberetaeus answers to Tishri of the Hebrews; cf. Benfey and Stern, die Monatsnamen, p. 18.)
on the other hand, the widow showed by the oath, "as Jehovah thy God liveth," that she was a worshipper of the true God, who spoke of Jehovah as his God, because she recognised the prophet as an Israelite.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 17:13
In order, however, to determine with indisputable certainty whether this believing Gentile was the protectress assigned him by the Lord, Elijah comforted her, and at the same time desired her first of all to bake him a little cake משּׁם, i.e., of the last of the meal in the Kad and of the oil in the pitcher, and then to bake for herself and her son, adding this promise: Jehovah the God of Israel will not let the meal in the Kad and the oil in the pitcher fail, till He sends rain upon the earth again. And the widow did according to his word. She gave up the certain for the uncertain, because she trusted the word of the Lord, and received the reward of her believing confidence in the fact that during the whole time of the drought she suffered from no want of either meal or oil. This act of the pious Gentile woman, who had welcomed with a simple heart the knowledge of the true God that had reached her from Israel, must have been the source of strong consolation to Elijah in the hour of conflict, when his faith was trembling because of the multitude of idolaters in Israel. If the Lord Himself had raised up true worshipers of His name among the Gentiles, his work in Israel could not be put to shame.
The believing widow, however, received from the prophet not only a material blessing, but a spiritual blessing also. For, as Christ tells His unbelieving contemporaries to their shame (Luk 4:25-26), Elijah was not sent to this widow in order that he might be safely hidden at her house, although this object was better attained thereby than by his remaining longer in Israel; but because of her faith, namely, to strengthen and to increase it, he was sent to her, and not to one of the many widows in Israel, many of whom would also have received the prophet if they had been rescued by him from the pressure of the famine. And the miraculous increase of the meal and oil did not merely subserve the purpose of keeping the prophet and the widow alive; but the relief of her bodily need was also meant to be a preparatory means of quieting her spiritual need as well. On the Chethb תתּן, see at Kg1 6:19. In Kg1 17:15 the Keri והוּה היא is an unnecessary emendation of the Chethb והיא הוּא; the feminine form ותּאכל is occasioned primarily by the preceding verbs, and may be taken as an indefinite neuter: "and there ate he and she." The offence which Thenius has taken at ימים (days) has no foundation, if we do not understand the sentence as referring merely to their eating once of the bread just baked, but take it generally as signifying that in consequence of their acting according to the word of Jehovah, they (Elijah, the widow, and her family) ate for days, i.e., until God sent rain again (Kg1 17:14).
3 Kings (1 Kings) 17:17
The widow's deceased son raised to life again. - Kg1 17:17. After these events, when Elijah had taken up his abode in the upper room of her house, her son fell sick, so that he breathed out his life. וגו אשׁר עד, literally till no breath remained in him. That these words do not signify merely a death-like torpor, but an actual decease, is evident from what follows, where Elijah himself treats the boy as dead, and the Lord, in answer to his prayer, restores him to life again.
The pious woman discerned in this death a punishment from God for her sin, and supposed that it had been drawn towards her by the presence of the man of God, so that she said to Elijah, "What have we to do with one another (מה־לּי ולך; cf. Jdg 11:12; Sa2 16:10), thou man of God? Hast thou come to me to bring my sin to remembrance (with God), and to kill my son?" In this half-heathenish belief there spoke at the same time a mind susceptible to divine truth and conscious of its sin, to which the Lord could not refuse His aid. Like the blindness in the case of the man born blind mentioned in John 9, the death of this widow's son was not sent as a punishment for particular sins, but was intended as a medium for the manifestation of the works of God in her (Joh 9:3), in order that she might learn that the Lord was not merely the God of the Jews, but the God of the Gentiles also (Rom 3:29).
Elijah told her to carry the dead child up to the chamber in which he lived and lay it upon his bed, and then cried to the Lord, "Jehovah, my God! hast Thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, to slay her son?" These words, in which the word also refers to the other calamities occasioned by the drought, contain no reproach of God, but are expressive of the heartiest compassion for the suffering of his benefactress and the deepest lamentation, which, springing from living faith, pours out the whole heart before God in the hour of distress, that I may appeal to Him the more powerfully for His aid. The meaning is, "Thou, O Lord my God, according to Thy grace and righteousness, canst not possibly leave the son of this widow in death." Such confident belief carries within itself the certainty of being heard. The prophet therefore proceeds at once to action, to restore the boy to life.
He stretched himself (יתמדד) three times upon him, not to ascertain whether there was still any life left in him, as Paul did in Act 20:10, nor to warm the body of the child and set its blood in circulation, as Elisha did with a dead child (Kg2 4:34), - for the action of Elisha is described in a different manner, and the youth mentioned in Act 20:10 was only apparently dead, - but to bring down the vivifying power of God upon the dead body, and thereby support his own word and prayer.
(Note: "This was done, that the prophet's body might be the instrument of the miracle, just as in other cases of miracle there was an imposition of the hand." - Seb. Schmidt.)
He then cried to the Lord, "Jehovah, my God, I pray Thee let the soul of this boy return within it." על־קרבּו, inasmuch as the soul as the vital principle springs from above.
The Lord heard this prayer: the boy came to life again; whereupon Elijah gave him back to his mother.
Through this miracle, in which Elijah showed himself as the forerunner of Him who raiseth all the dead to life, the pious Gentile woman was mightily strengthened in her faith in the God of Israel. She now not only recognised Elijah as a man of God, as in Kg1 17:18, but perceived that the word of Jehovah in his mouth was truth, by which she confessed implicite her faith in the God of Israel as the true God.