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I Kings 17-19    Listen Podcast

Enter...Elijah, the troublemaker (I Kings 17:1-7)

1 And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.”
2 ¶ Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying,
3 “Get away from here and turn eastward, and hide by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan.
4 And it will be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.”
5 ¶ So he went and did according to the word of the LORD, for he went and stayed by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan.
6 The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the brook.
7 And it happened after a while that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land.

The notoriously wicked King Ahab is ruler over Israel (Northern Kingdom). But he had a formidable foe: Highly revered in Israel's history is Elijah the Tishbite. We're not certain, but it is believed that "Tishbite" is a reference to his birthplace, an unknown location probably in Northern Israel. Elijah's first act recorded is to tell King Ahab (of the Northern Kingdom) that the rain is over until Elijah gives the word for it to resume. Then, in response to God's command, Elijah goes to hide - drinking brook water and eating food delivered by ravens. We should take note here that Samaria is less than 50 miles from Jerusalem. There is no recorded drought during the reigns of Asa and Jehoshaphat in Judah. This drought that Israel experienced under Ahab apparently was very isolated over just the land controlled by the Northern Kingdom - truly a miracle. However, the drought does cause the brook to dry up where Elijah is camped out.

Incidentally, Moses had warned Israel about the consequences of serving false gods back in Deuteronomy 11:13-17 (see notes). Just as has happened here, Moses had prophesied that God would withhold the rain and that famine would result.

Elijah lodges with the poor widow and her son (I Kings 17:8-24)

8 ¶ Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying,
9 “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.”
10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, indeed a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Please bring me a little water in a cup, that I may drink.”
11 And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, “Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.”
12 ¶ So she said, “As the LORD your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”
13 ¶ And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son.
14 For thus says the LORD God of Israel: “The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the LORD sends rain on the earth.’ ”
15 ¶ So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and he and her household ate for many days.
16 The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the LORD which He spoke by Elijah.
17 ¶ Now it happened after these things that the son of the woman who owned the house became sick. And his sickness was so serious that there was no breath left in him.
18 So she said to Elijah, “What have I to do with you, O man of God? Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to kill my son?”
19 ¶ And he said to her, “Give me your son.” So he took him out of her arms and carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his own bed.
20 Then he cried out to the LORD and said, “O LORD my God, have You also brought tragedy on the widow with whom I lodge, by killing her son?”
21 And he stretched himself out on the child three times, and cried out to the LORD and said, “O LORD my God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him.”
22 Then the LORD heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came back to him, and he revived.
23 ¶ And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper room into the house, and gave him to his mother. And Elijah said, “See, your son lives!”
24 ¶ Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is the truth.”

Having been camped somewhere east of the Jordan River, upon God's command, Elijah goes to lodge with a widow woman and her son who are extremely poor. She lives in Lebanon's territory near the coast and reports that she can't even provide a decent meal for him. How poor is she? She doesn't even have enough meal to sustain her son and herself. She's so poor that she tells Elijah, "I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die." Elijah tells her to prepare him food anyway, and a cooking miracle takes place; her cooking oil and meal just lasts and lasts and lasts.

All is well until the widow's son dies. Distraught, she blames Elijah. Elijah is instrumental in God raising her son from the dead. It is interesting, however, that God requires Elijah to labor a bit over this healing event. It is obvious that there was a lesson from God here for Elijah as well.

Time for Elijah's big day (I Kings 18:1-19)

1 And it came to pass after many days that the word of the LORD came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, “Go, present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the earth.”
2 ¶ So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab; and there was a severe famine in Samaria.
3 And Ahab had called Obadiah, who was in charge of his house. (Now Obadiah feared the LORD greatly.
4 For so it was, while Jezebel massacred the prophets of the LORD, that Obadiah had taken one hundred prophets and hidden them, fifty to a cave, and had fed them with bread and water.)
5 And Ahab had said to Obadiah, “Go into the land to all the springs of water and to all the brooks; perhaps we may find grass to keep the horses and mules alive, so that we will not have to kill any livestock.”
6 So they divided the land between them to explore it; Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself.
7 ¶ Now as Obadiah was on his way, suddenly Elijah met him; and he recognized him, and fell on his face, and said, “Is that you, my lord Elijah?”
8 ¶ And he answered him, “It is I. Go, tell your master, ‘Elijah is here.’ ”
9 ¶ So he said, “How have I sinned, that you are delivering your servant into the hand of Ahab, to kill me?
10 As the LORD your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my master has not sent someone to hunt for you; and when they said, “He is not here,’ he took an oath from the kingdom or nation that they could not find you.
11 And now you say, “Go, tell your master, ‘Elijah is here” ’!
12 And it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from you, that the Spirit of the LORD will carry you to a place I do not know; so when I go and tell Ahab, and he cannot find you, he will kill me. But I your servant have feared the LORD from my youth.
13 Was it not reported to my lord what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the LORD, how I hid one hundred men of the LORD’S prophets, fifty to a cave, and fed them with bread and water?
14 And now you say, “Go, tell your master, ‘Elijah is here.” ’ He will kill me!”
15 ¶ Then Elijah said, “As the LORD of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely present myself to him today.”
16 ¶ So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him; and Ahab went to meet Elijah.
17 ¶ Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?”
18 ¶ And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and have followed the Baals.
19 Now therefore, send and gather all Israel to me on Mount Carmel, the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”

Obadiah was Ahab's house manager. He feared God and hid 100 of God's prophets (in two locations) in caves because of Jezebel's reputation for killing God's prophets. He meets up with Elijah one day and is told that the big anticipated Elijah/Ahab meeting is imminent - just go tell Ahab to get ready. We discover in the conversation between Obadiah and Elijah that Ahab has had an all-points bulletin out on Elijah for the last three years - has been blaming Elijah for the drought and subsequent famine. When they finally get together, Ahab proves his ignorance of God when he says to Elijah in verse 17, "Is that you, O troubler of Israel?" Elijah prepares for the showdown - tells Ahab to gather all of Jezebel's false prophets for the big meeting. You will recall that Jezebel was the daughter of a big-time Baal-worshipping king north of Israel (Ethbaal, king of Sidon) who had been given to Ahab as his wife (I Kings 16:31, see notes); it was a political alignment between two nations. Jezebel is no ordinary woman; she has great ambition on her mind! She is, unfortunately, the woman behind the man in Ahab's case. Jezebel is perhaps the most notorious woman in the entire Bible.

Then...the big showdown (I Kings 18:20-46)

20 ¶ So Ahab sent for all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together on Mount Carmel.
21 And Elijah came to all the people, and said, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people answered him not a word.
22 Then Elijah said to the people, “I alone am left a prophet of the LORD; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men.
23 Therefore let them give us two bulls; and let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other bull, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it.
24 Then you call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD; and the God who answers by fire, He is God.” ¶ So all the people answered and said, “It is well spoken.”
25 ¶ Now Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one bull for yourselves and prepare it first, for you are many; and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under it.”
26 ¶ So they took the bull which was given them, and they prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even till noon, saying, “O Baal, hear us!” But there was no voice; no one answered. Then they leaped about the altar which they had made.
27 ¶ And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened.”
28 So they cried aloud, and cut themselves, as was their custom, with knives and lances, until the blood gushed out on them.
29 And when midday was past, they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice. But there was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention.
30 ¶ Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” So all the people came near to 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, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, “Israel shall be your name.”
32 Then with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD; and he made a trench around the altar large enough to hold two seahs of seed.
33 And he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood, and said, “Fill four waterpots with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice and on the wood.”
34 Then he said, “Do it a second time,” and they did it a second time; and he said, “Do it a third time,” and they did it a third time.
35 So the water ran all around the altar; and he also filled the trench 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 Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word.
37 Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that You are the LORD God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again.”
38 ¶ Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench.
39 Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The LORD, He is God! The LORD, He is God!”
40 ¶ And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal! Do not let one of them escape!” So they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the Brook Kishon and executed them there.
41 ¶ Then Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of abundance of rain.”
42 So Ahab went up to eat and drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; then he bowed down on the ground, and put his face between his knees,
43 and said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” ¶ So he went up and looked, and said, “There is nothing.” And seven times he said, “Go again.”
44 ¶ Then it came to pass the seventh time, that he said, “There is a cloud, as small as a man’s hand, rising out of the sea!” So he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot, and go down before the rain stops you.’ ”
45 ¶ Now it happened in the meantime that the sky became black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy rain. So Ahab rode away and went to Jezreel.
46 Then the hand of the LORD came upon Elijah; and he girded up his loins and ran ahead of Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.

Jezebel's Pagan Prophets

I Kings 18:19 identifies Jezebel's collection of pagan prophets as "...the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel’s table." The word "groves" in the KJV comes from the proper Hebrew name "Asherah," a Phoenician goddess - the female counterpart to Baal. Asherah first shows up in scripture all the way back in Exodus 34:13 and Baal in Numbers 22:41. Altogether, Jezebel hosted 850 of these pagan priests on a continuing basis.

Who has the better altar presence, Elijah or the 850 pagan prophets (450 Baal, 400 Asherah) of Jezebel? I know; let's do a test. Let's provide the altar and the sacrifice, but let God provide the fire. After all, you Baal worshippers, your gods can make fire...can't they? wasn't for the lack of effort that the pagan priests couldn't manufacture fire. Those pagans dressed and sacrificed a bull; they prayed all morning until noon...nothing. Then they danced (NKJV: "leaped") upon the altar...nothing. Then in verse 27 Elijah begins to mock them, suggesting that their god was busy or perhaps sleeping. That's when those pagan priests go the extra mile and begin to cut themselves "until the blood gushed out upon them." After a morning of noble efforts on behalf of their Baal, still...NOTHING! It was a tough day to be a priest of Baal.

After these cut-up and humiliated prophets to Baal miserably fail, Elijah has the altar soaked with water before he prays to bring fire down from Heaven. Whoooooooosh; all burned up! It had a tremendous impact on the spectators in verse 39, "...they fell on their faces; and they said, “The LORD, He is God! The LORD, He is God!" After the showdown, there was not the traditional, "Good game, good game, good game..." you you do after a gentlemen's contest. Actually, Elijah commanded that all these false prophets be put to death. Watch your back Elijah, I know someone who is going to be very unhappy (Jezebel) when she hears this story. And then there was rain. Elijah flees to Jezreel, about 20 miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee.

Run Elijah; Jezebel wants you (I Kings 19:1-18)

1 And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword.
2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.”
3 And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.
4 ¶ But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!”
5 ¶ Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat.”
6 Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again.
7 And the angel of the LORD came back the second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.”
8 So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.
9 ¶ And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 ¶ So he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”
11 ¶ Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake;
12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
13 ¶ So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
14 ¶ And he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”
15 ¶ Then the LORD said to him: “Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria.
16 Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place.
17 It shall be that whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and whoever escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill.
18 Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

When Jezebel hears about the watered-down altar/fire contest, she is steamed to discover that the losing team (her false prophets) were subsequently all executed by Elijah. Ooooooo! Tough loss! Elijah, fearing Jezebel, high tails it into the wilderness and literally asks God to take him on home; God declines, feeds him, and he takes off to spend 40 days in the same wilderness Moses had visited when he received the law in Horeb. That's the same place where the Israelites had made the golden calf. God speaks to him there, but not until after Elijah does a little bit of poor mouthing to God about how bad things are - seems everybody has forsaken God but him, and they all want to kill him. Yeah, I've felt like that sometimes; haven't you? And...then the big show in verse 11 - a mountain-splitting wind followed by an earthquake followed by a fire - right before Elijah's eyes, and then God spoke to him in "a still small voice." God's solution? Install new management - new king for Syria and Israel and a new prophet, Elisha, in Elijah's place; Elijah is commanded to go make it so. One more thing: God will leave a remnant in Israel of 7,000 who have not gone after Baal. As a matter of fact, Paul makes reference to this remnant in Romans 11:4 (see notes). What! Just 7,000 in that whole Northern Kingdom of Israel? Where'd everybody go? Answer: After false gods.

Elijah now has his marching orders:

Elisha throws a farewell cookout for his friends and family (I Kings 19:19-21)

19 ¶ So he departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth. Then Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle on him.
20 And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah, and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” ¶ And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?”
21 ¶ So Elisha turned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen and slaughtered them and boiled their flesh, using the oxen’s equipment, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah, and became his servant.

Elisha is plowing with his oxen when he gets the call from Elijah. He's pretty excited, but asks Elijah if he can do a proper farewell. Who needs the John Deere tractor (12 yoke of oxen) after this? He uses the yoke of his oxen to make the fire and kills his oxen to serve a really nice meal to his folks before he heads off to Bible School (Elijah Bible Institute). Take note: Elisha completely abandons his past as he pursues the ministry God had set before him inasmuch as he serves up his oxen for food and burns the yoke. This farewell party marks the beginning of a total commitment to God.