Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
3 Kings (1 Kings) 19:1
The hope of completing his victory over the idolaters and overthrowing the worship of Baal, even in the capital of the kingdom, with which Elijah may have hastened to Jezreel, was frustrated by the malice of the queen, who was so far from discerning any revelation of the almighty God in the account given her by Ahab of what had occurred on Carmel, and bending before His mighty hand, that, on the contrary, she was so full of wrath at the slaying of the prophets of Baal as to send to the prophet Elijah to threaten him with death. This apparent failure of his ministry was the occasion of a severe inward conflict, in which Elijah was brought to a state of despondency and fled from the land. The Lord allowed His servant to pass through this conflict, that he might not exalt himself, but, being mindful of his own impotence, might rest content with the grace of his God, whose strength is mighty in the weak (Co2 12:8-9), and who would refine and strengthen him for the further fulfilment of his calling.
Elijah's flight into the desert and guidance to Horeb. - Kg1 19:1, Kg1 19:2. When "Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and all, how he had slain all the prophets (of Baal)," she sent a messenger to Elijah in her impotent wrath, with a threat, which she confirmed by an oath (see at Kg1 2:23), that in the morning she would have him slain like the prophets whom he had put to death. The early commentators detected in this threat the impotentia muliebris iracundiae, and saw that all that Jezebel wanted was to get rid of the man who was so distressing and dangerous to her, because she felt herself unable to put him to death, partly on account of the people, who were enthusiastic in his favour, and partly on account of the king himself, upon whom the affair at Carmel had not remained without its salutary effect.
But when Elijah saw (ויּרא), sc. how things stood, or the audacity of Jezebel, from which the failure of his work was evident, he rose up and went to Beersheba in Judah, i.e., Bir-seba on the southern frontier of Canaan (see at Gen 21:31). The expression ליהוּדה אשׁר, "which to Judah," i.e., which belonged to the kingdom of Judah, for Beersheba was really allotted to the tribe of Simeon (Jos 19:2), is appended not merely as a geographical indication that Elijah went outside the land, but to show that he meant to leave the kingdom of Israel, the scene of his previous labours, just as Jeremiah in a similar internal conflict gave utterance to the wish that he could leave his people, if he had but a lodging-place in the wilderness (Jer 9:2). ויּרא is not to be altered into ויּירא, et timuit, after the lxx and Vulg., notwithstanding the fact that some Codd. have this reading, which only rests upon an erroneous conjecture. For it is obvious that Elijah did not flee from any fear of the vain threat of Jezebel, from the fact that he did not merely withdrawn into the kingdom of Judah, where he would have been safe under Jehoshaphat from all the persecutions of Jezebel, but went to Beersheba, and thence onwards into the desert there to pour out before the Lord God his weariness of life (Kg1 19:4).
ילך אל־נפשׁו, he went upon his soul, or his life, i.e., not to save his life (as I once thought, with many other commentators), for his wish to die (Kg1 19:4) is opposed to this; but to care for his soul in the manner indicated in Kg1 19:4, i.e., to commit his soul or his life to the Lord his God in the solitude of the desert, and see what He would determine concerning him.
(Note: G. Menken (christl. Homil. b. den Proph. Elias, p. 231) has given the following admirable explanation of אל נפשו fo so far as the sense is concerned: "For conscience sake, from conviction, out of obligation, not from fear. After all his former experience, and from the entire relation in which Elijah stood to God, it was impossible that he should be afraid, and not be firmly convinced that the God who had shut up heaven at his word, who had supplied him with bread and flesh for a whole year in the desert through the medium of ravens, who had supported him miraculously for years in a foreign land through the medium of a poor widow, who had concealed and rescued him for three years and a half from the search of the king, who had accredited and honoured him in the sight of all the people as His servant, who had given an immediate answer to his prayer for rain, could also defend him in this extremity, and rescue him from this danger, if such should be His will.")
- He left his servant in Beersheba, while he himself went a day's journey farther into the desert (Paran), not merely because he was so filled with weariness of life in his dark oppression, that he thought he should have no further need of his servant, and therefore left him behind in Beersheba, but that he might pour out his heart before God alone in the desert and yield himself up to His guidance. For however unquestionably his lamentation in Kg1 19:4, for example, expresses a weariness of life, this merely indicates the feeling which had taken possession of his soul after a day's journey in the barren desert. And even there he lays his wish to die before God in prayer; so that this feeling is merely to be regarded as one result of the spiritual conflict, which is bodily exhaustion had now raised to a height that it cannot have reached when he was in Beersheba. If, therefore, he did not start with the intention of making a pilgrimage to Horeb, he had certainly gone into the desert for the purpose of seeing whether the Lord would manifest His mercy to him, as He had formerly done to His people under Moses, or whether He would withdraw His hand entirely from him. After a day's journey he sat down under a רתם (construed here as a feminine, in Kg1 19:5 as a masculine), a species of broom (genista Retem in Forskl), which is the finest and most striking shrub of the Arabian desert, growing constantly in the beds of streams and in the valleys, where places of encampment are frequently selected for the sake of the shelter which they afford by night from the wind and by day from the sun (Rob. Pal. i. 299). למוּת...ויּשׁאל: and wished that his soul might die (a kind of accusative with infinitive; see Ewald, 336, b.), and said, עתּה רב, "Enough now; take, Lord, my soul, for I am not better than my fathers;" i.e., I have worked and endured enough, and deserve no longer life than my fathers. From this it appears that Elijah was already of a great age.
In this disturbed state of mind he lay down and slept under a broom-tree. Then the Lord came with His power to the help of the despairing man. "An angel touched him (wakened him out of his sleep), and said to him: Arise, eat." And behold he saw at his head עגּת רצפים, a bread cake baked over red-hot stones, a savoury article of food which is still a great favourite with the Bedouins (see at Gen 18:6; Gen 19:3), and a pitcher of water, and ate and drank, and lay down again.
But the angel wakened him a second time, and called upon him to eat with these words: "for the way is too far for thee" (רב ממּך הדּרך, iter est majus quam pro viribus tuis - Vat.).
"Then he arose, ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to the mount of God at Horeb." As the angel did not tell him whither he was to go, and Elijah wandered to Horeb in consequence of this strengthening, it appears to have been his intention from the very beginning to go into the desert, and see whether the Lord would still further acknowledge him and his work; so that in the support and strength imparted by the angel he saw an indication that he was to follow the footsteps of the divine grace still farther into the desert, and make a pilgrimage to Horeb, with the hope that there perhaps the Lord would reveal to him His counsel concerning the further guidance of the people of His covenant, as He had formerly done to His servant Moses, and give him the necessary instruction for the continuance of his prophetic service. Horeb is called the mount of God here, as it was proleptically in Exo 3:1, as the place where the Lord confirmed the covenant, already made with the patriarchs, to their descendants, and adopted the tribes of Israel as His people and made them into a kingdom of God. The distance from Beersheba to Horeb is about 200 miles. Consequently Elijah would not have required forty days to travel there, if the intention of God had been nothing more than to cause him to reach the mountain, or "to help him on his say" (Thenius). But in the strength of the food provided by the angel Elijah was not only to perform the journey to Horeb, but to wander in the desert for forty days and forty nights, i.e., forty whole days, as Moses had formerly wandered with all Israel for forty years; that he might know that the Lord was still the same God who had nourished and sustained His whole nation in the desert with manna from heaven for forty years. And just as the forty years' sojourn in the desert had been to Moses a time for the trial of faith and for exercise in humility and meekness (Num 12:3), so was the strength of Elijah's faith to be tried by the forty days' wandering in the same desert, and to be purified from all carnal zeal for the further fulfilment of His calling, in accordance with the divine will. What follows shows very clearly that this was the object of the divine guidance of Elijah (cf. Hengstenberg, Diss. on the Pentateuch, vol. i. 171,172).
3 Kings (1 Kings) 19:9
Appearance of God at Horeb. - Kg1 19:9. When Elijah arrived at Horeb, he went into the cave (the definite article in המּערה, with the obvious connection between the appearance of God, which follows here, and that described in Exo 33:12., points back to the cleft in the rock, נקרת הצּוּר) in which Moses had stood while the glory of Jehovah passed by (see at Exo 33:22), and there he passed the night. And behold the word of the Lord came to him (in the night): "What doest thou here, Elijah?" This question did not involve a reproof, as though Elijah had nothing to do there, but was simply intended to lead him to give utterance to the thoughts and feelings of his heart.
Elijah answered: "I have striven zealously for Jehovah the God of hosts, for the children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, destroyed Thine altars, and killed Thy prophets with the sword; and I only am left, and they seek my life." In these words there was not only the greatest despair expressed as to the existing condition of things, but also a carnal zeal which would gladly have called down the immediate vengeance of the Almighty upon all idolaters. The complaint contained, on the one hand, the tacit reproof that God had looked on quietly for so long a time at the conduct of the ungodly, and had suffered things to come to such an extremity, that he, His prophet, was the only one left of all the true worshippers of God, and, on the other hand, the indirect appeal that He would interpose at last with His penal judgments. Because Elijah had not seen the expected salutary fruits of his zeal for the Lord, he thought that all was lost, and in his gloomy state of mind overlooked what he had seen a short time before with his own eyes, that even in the neighbourhood of the king himself there lived a pious and faithful worshipper of Jehovah, viz., Obadiah, who had concealed a hundred prophets from the revenge of Jezebel, and that the whole of the people assembled upon Carmel had given glory to the Lord, and at his command had seized the prophets of Baal and put them to death, and therefore that the true worshippers of the Lord could not all have vanished out of Israel. קנּא קנּאתי ליהוה recalls to mind the zeal of Phinehas (Num 25:11.), which put an end to the whoredom of the sons of Israel with the daughters of Moab. But whereas Phinehas received the promise of an everlasting priesthood for his zeal, Elijah had seen so little fruit from his zeal against the worshippers of Baal, that they actually sought his life. מזבּחתך are altars, which pious Israelites in the kingdom of the ten tribes had built in different places for the worship of Jehovah (see at Kg1 18:30).
The Lord replied to the prophet's complaint first of all by the manifestation of His control of the phenomena of nature (Kg1 19:11-13), and then by a verbal explanation of His design (Kg1 19:15-18).
In this divine revelation men have recognised from the very earliest times a repetition of the appearance of God which was granted to Moses upon Sinai. As God, in token of His grace, granted the prayer of Moses that he might see His glory, after he had striven zealously for the honour of the Lord when the people rebelled by worshipping the golden calf; so did He also display His glory upon Horeb to Elijah as a second Moses for the purpose of strengthening his faith, with this simple difference, that He made all His goodness pass by Moses, and declared His name in the words, "Jehovah, a gracious and merciful God," etc. (Exo 34:6-7), whereas He caused Elijah first of all to behold the operation of His grace in certain phenomena of nature, and then afterwards made known to him His will with regard to Israel and to the work of His prophets. This difference in the form of the revelation, while the substance and design were essentially the same, may be explained from the difference not only in the historical circumstances, but also in the state of mind of the two servants to whom He manifested His glory. In the case of Moses it was burning love for the welfare of his people which impelled him to offer the prayer that the Lord would let him see His glory, as a sign that He would not forsake His people; and this prayer was granted him, so far as a man is ever able to see the glory of God, to strengthen him for the further discharge of the duties of his office. Hidden in the cleft of the rock and shielded by the hand of God, he saw the Lord pass by him, and heard Him utter in words His inmost being. Elijah, on the other hand, in his zeal for the honour of God, which was not quite free from human passion, had been led by the want of any visible fruit from his own labour to overlook the work of the Lord in the midst of His people; so that he had fled into the desert and wished to be released from this world by death, and had not been brought out of his despair by the strengthening with meat and drink which he had received from the angel, and which enabled him to travel for forty days to the mount of God without suffering from want, a fact which was intended to remind him of the ancient God of the fathers, to whose omnipotence and goodness there is no end; so that it was in a most gloomy state of mind that he reached Horeb at last. And now the Lord designed not only to manifest His glory as the love in which grace and righteousness are united, but also to show him that his zeal for the honour of the Lord was not in harmony with the love and grace and long-suffering of God. "The design of the vision was to show to the fiery zeal of the prophet, who wanted to reform everything by means of the tempest, the gentle way which God pursues, and to proclaim the long-suffering and mildness of His nature, as the voice had already done to Moses on that very spot; hence the beautiful change in the divine appearance" (Herder, Geist der hebr. Poesie, 1788, ii. p. 52).
After God had commanded him to come out of the cave and stand upon the mountain (that part of the mountain which was in front of the cave) before Him, "behold Jehovah went by (the participle עבר is used to give a more vivid representation of the scene); and a great and strong tempest, rending mountains and breaking rocks in pieces, before Jehovah - it was not in the tempest that Jehovah was; and after the tempest an earthquake - it was not in the earthquake that Jehovah was; and after the earthquake fire - it was not in the fire that Jehovah was; and after the fire a still, gentle rustling." דקּה דּממה קול, literally the tone of a gentle blowing. On the change of gender in וחזק גּדולה רוּח, see Ewald, 174, e. - Tempest, earthquake, and fire, which are even more terrible in the awful solitude of the Horeb mountains than in an inhabited land, are signs of the coming of the Lord to judgment (cf. Psa 18:8.). It was in the midst of such terrible phenomena that the Lord had once come down upon Sinai, to inspire the people who were assembled at the foot of the mountain with a salutary dread of His terrible majesty, of the fiery zeal of His wrath and love, which consumes whatever opposes it (see at Exo 19:16.). but now the lord was not in these terrible phenomena; to signify to the prophet that He did not work in His earthly kingdom with the destroying zeal of wrath, or with the pitiless severity of judgment. It was in a soft, gentle rustling that He revealed Himself to him.
When Elijah heard this, he covered up his face in his cloak (אדּרת; see at Kg2 1:8) and went out to the entrance to the cave. And behold he heard the question a second time, "What doest thou here, Elijah?" and answered with a repetition of his complain (see Kg1 19:9, Kg1 19:10). - While the appearance of God, not in the tempest, the earthquake, and the fire, but in a gentle rustling, revealed the Lord to him as a merciful and gracious God, long-suffering, and of great goodness and truth (Exo 34:6), the answer to his complaint showed him that He did not leave guilt unpunished (Exo 34:7), since the Lord gave him the following command, Kg1 19:15.: "Go back in thy way to the desert of Damascus, and anoint Hazael king over Aram (see Kg2 8:12-13), and Jehu the son of Nimshi king over Israel (see Kg2 9:2), and Elisha the son of Shaphat prophet in thy stead" (see Kg1 19:19); and then added this promise, which must have quieted his zeal, that was praiseworthy in the feelings from which it sprang, although it had assumed too passionate a form, and have given him courage to continue his prophetic work: "And it will come to pass, that however escapeth the sword of Hazael, him will Jehu slay, and whoever escapeth the sword of Jehu, him will Elisha slay."
But in order that he might learn, to his shame, that the cause of the Lord in Israel appeared much more desperate to his eye, which was clouded by his own dissatisfaction, than it really was in the eye of the God who knows His own by number and by name, the Lord added: "I have seven thousand left in Israel, all knees that have not bent before Baal, and every mouth that hath not kissed him." מדבּרה המּשׂק, into the desert of Damascus (with the He loc. with the construct state as in Deu 4:41; Jos 12:1, etc.; cf. Ewald, 216, b.), i.e., the desert lying to the south and east of the city of Damascus, which is situated on the river Barady; not per desertum in Damascum (Vulg., Luth., etc.); for although Elijah would necessarily pass through the Arabian desert to go from Horeb to Damascus, it was superfluous to tell him that he was to go that way, as there was no other road. The words "return by thy way ... and anoint Hazael," etc., are not to be understood as signifying that Elijah was to go at once to Damascus and anoint Hazael there, but simply that he was to do this at a time which the Spirit would more precisely indicate. According to what follows, all that Elijah accomplished immediately was to call Elisha to be his successor; whereas the other two commissions were fulfilled by Elisha after Elijah's ascension to heaven (2 Kings 8 and 9). The opinion that Elijah also anointed Hazael and Jehu immediately, but that this anointing was kept secret, and was repeated by Elisha when the time for their public appearance arrived, has not only very little probability in itself, but is directly precluded by the account of the anointing of Jehu in 2 Kings 9. The anointing of Hazael and Jehu is mentioned first, because God had chosen these two kings to be the chief instruments of His judgments upon the royal family and people for their idolatry. It was only in the case of Jehu that a real anointing took place (Kg2 9:6); Hazael was merely told by Elisha that he would be king (Kg2 8:13), and Elisha was simply called by Elijah to the prophetic office by having the cloak of the latter thrown upon him. Moreover, the Messianic passage, Isa 61:1, is the only one in which there is any allusion to the anointing of a prophet. Consequently משׁח must be taken figuratively here as in Jdg 9:8, as denoting divine consecration to the regal and prophetic offices. And so, again, the statement that Elisha would slay those who escaped the sword of Jehu is not to be understood literally. Elisha slew by the word of the Lord, which brought judgments upon the ungodly, as we see from Kg2 2:24 (cf. Jer 1:10; Jer 18:7). The "seven thousand," who had not bowed the knee before Baal, are a round number for the ἐκλογν́ of the godly, whom the Lord had preserved for Himself in the sinful kingdom, which was really very large in itself, however small it might be in comparison with the whole nation. The number seven is the stamp of the works of God, so that seven thousand is the number of the "remnant according to the election of grace" (Rom 11:5), which had then been preserved by God. Kissing Baal was the most usual form in which this idol was worshipped, and consisted not merely in throwing kisses with the hand (cf. Job 31:27, and Plin. h. n. 28, 8), but also in kissing the images of Baal, probably on the feet (cf. Cicero in Verr. 4, 43).
3 Kings (1 Kings) 19:19
Call of Elisha to be a prophet. - Kg1 19:19. As he went thence (viz., away from Horeb), Elijah found Elisha the son of Shaphat at Abel-Meholah, in the Jordan valley (see at Jdg 7:22), occupied in ploughing; "twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he himself with the twelfth" (a very wealthy man therefore), and threw his cloak to him as he passed by. The prophet's cloak was sign of the prophet's vocation so that throwing it to him was a symbol of the call to the prophetic office.
Elisha understanding the sign, left the oxen standing, ran after Elijah, and said to him, "Let me kiss my father and my mother," i.e., take leave of my parents, and when I will follow thee. For the form אשׁקה see Ewald, 228, b. As he has ploughed his earthly field with his twelve pair of oxen, he was not to plough the spiritual field of the twelve tribes of Israel (Luk 9:62). Elijah answered, "Go, return, for what have I done to thee?" שׁוּב לך belong together, as in Kg1 19:15; so that Elijah thereby gave him permission to return to his father and mother. כּי signifies for, not yet (Thenius); for there is no antithesis here, according to which כּי might serve for a more emphatic assurance (Ewald, 330, b.). The words "what have I done to thee?" can only mean, I have not wanted to put any constraint upon thee, but leave it to thy free will to decide in favour of the prophetic calling.
Then Elisha returned, took the pair of oxen with which he had been ploughing, sacrificed, i.e., slaughtered them (זבח used figuratively), boiled the flesh with the plough, gave a farewell meal to the people (of his place of abode), i.e., his friends and acquaintance, and then followed Elijah as his servant, i.e., his assistant. The suffix in בּשּׁלם refers to הבּקר צמּד, and is more precisely defined by the apposition הבּשׂר, "namely, the flesh of the oxen."