|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
17:1-7 God wonderfully suits men to the work he designs them for. The times were fit for an Elijah; an Elijah was fit for them. The Spirit of the Lord knows how to fit men for the occasions. Elijah let Ahab know that God was displeased with the idolaters, and would chastise them by the want of rain, which it was not in the power of the gods they served to bestow. Elijah was commanded to hide himself. If Providence calls us to solitude and retirement, it becomes us to go: when we cannot be useful, we must be patient; and when we cannot work for God, we must sit still quietly for him. The ravens were appointed to bring him meat, and did so. Let those who have but from hand to mouth, learn to live upon Providence, and trust it for the bread of the day, in the day. God could have sent angels to minister to him; but he chose to show that he can serve his own purposes by the meanest creatures, as effectually as by the mightiest. Elijah seems to have continued thus above a year. The natural supply of water, which came by common providence, failed; but the miraculous supply of food, made sure to him by promise, failed not. If the heavens fail, the earth fails of course; such are all our creature-comforts: we lose them when we most need them, like brooks in summer. But there is a river which makes glad the city of God, that never runs dry, a well of water that springs up to eternal life. Lord, give us that living water!
Verse 4. - And it shall be that thou shalt drink of the brook [There was clearly nothing miraculous about the supply of water. No miracle was wrought even to continue the supply, ver. 7]; and I have commanded [cf. ver. 9; Isaiah 5:6; Amos 9:3, etc.] the ravens to feed thee there. [Despite the general agreement of scholars that by ערבים we must understand "ravens," I think probability favours the meaning Orbites, i.e., inhabitants of Orbo. In support of the received rendering is the very powerful consideration, that it is the interpretation of all the versions (except the Arabic) and of Josephus, who, beyond all question, represented the belief current in his own time (Ant. 8:13. 2). It is also certain that elsewhere in Scripture we find some of the inferior animals supernaturally constrained to effect God's purposes, both of mercy and of judgment (1 Kings 13:24; 2 Kings 2:24; Daniel 6:22; 2 Peter 2:16), though never it must be said, in so rational and methodical a way. Nor can it rightly be contended that the words "I have commanded," צִוִתִי, imply human agency, for elsewhere we find the Almighty commanding (same word) the serpent (Amos 9:3) and the clouds (Isaiah 5:6; Psalm 78:23). It is not, however, a sufficient account of this narrative to say that the prophet merely helped himself to the food which the ravens, whose habitat was in the Wady Cherith, brought, day by day, to their nests and their young. For, not to insist on the words, מְבִיאִים לו bringing to him (ver. 6), the expressions '" bread (or food, לֶחֶם) and flesh," and "morning and evening" certainly point to something more than such a fortuitous supply. Whether the Orebim were "ravens" or not, they certainly acted in an intelligent and rational way: they brought food, that is to say, to the prophet, and they brought it for months together with unfailing regularity. But against this view the following considerations may be urged.
1. It is hardly in accord with God's usual way of working, that he should employ birds of the air and those unclean (Leviticus 11:15; Deuteronomy 14:14) and ravenous birds, to feed and succour His saints, rather than men or angels. Of course, no one who does not altogether repudiate the supernatural will deny for a moment that the Almighty could, had it seemed good to Him, have sustained His prophet by the instrumentality of ravens, just as easily as by any other means. But it appears to be almost a fixed principle of His dealings with men, not to resort to miracles when ordinary means will suffice; or if He does employ miracles, they are never bizarre or fantastic; they are not such as to suggest the idea of fable or legend; they are invariably the simplest and directest means to the end. And it is submitted that this prolonged and methodical ministry of ravens is altogether unlike God's method of procedure on other occasions. It was an angel succoured Hagar and Ishmael in their need (Genesis 16:7). It was an angel fed Elijah himself, a few years later (1 Kings 19:5, 6). They were angels who ministered to our blessed Lord after His long fast (Matthew 4:11). But God's,' chief means," it is always to be remembered, "is man." And it is to be carefully observed that when, about this very time, not one, but one hundred prophets were threatened, just as Elijah was, with death, no miracle was wrought to save their lives or to supply their wants, but they were fed by human agency, with bread and water (1 Kings 18:13). But it is still more significant that elsewhere in this narrative, which is characterized by the profoundest sobriety and reticence, there is what we may almost call a studied absence of the miraculous element. No miracle is wrought to protect Elijah against Jezebel, but he must consult for his own safety by flight. He is sent to the brook Cherith, because there is water there; in other words, God chose that hiding place in order to obviate the necessity for a miracle. And when the water of the brook dries up, no miracle is wrought to prolong the supply, but the prophet, at the risk of detection, must go forth and seek it elsewhere. And at Zarephath he is fed, not by ravens, but by human agency - by a widow woman. It is true a miracle appears to have been wrought, but the narrative has so little idea of effect and gives so little prominence to the supernatural that even that is doubted. To put the interpretation of "ravens," consequently, on the word ערבים, provided it will yield any other meaning, appears to be to do violence to the spirit of the context, and to the tenour of Scripture generally.
2. It is somewhat difficult to believe that such a prodigy as this, so altogether unique and irregular, would not have been mentioned, had it really happened, elsewhere in Scripture. The absence of all reference thereto is remarkable, when we consider how constantly the ministry of Elijah and its lessons (Luke 4:25, 26; Luke 9:54; James 5:17; Revelation 11:5, 6) are referred to in the New Testament; but when we observe what an admirable and unequalled illustration of God's providential care this incident would have supplied to some of our Lord's discourses, and notably to that of Luke 12:22 sqq., this silence becomes almost suspicious.
3. Despite the practical unanimity of the versions, the interpretation "ravens" has been disputed from very early times. St. Jerome among Christians, Rabbi Judah Hakkodesh and Kimchi amongst Jews - these are but some of those who have repudiated this rendering.
4. A very slight change in the vowel points - עַרְבִּים instead of ערְבִים - yields the meaning "Arabians." That a fugitive would readily find, not only shelter but sustenance among the Bedouin, whose generous hospitality and loyalty to strangers is proverbial, is obvious, and we knew that about this time some Arab tribes had dealings with the Jews (2 Chronicles 17:11); but without any change at all, a sufficient meaning may be extracted from the word. For we find that somewhere in the Ciccar, or plain of the Jordan, off which the Wady Cherith lay, was a rock Oreb (עורֵב, Judges 7:25), apparently east of the Jordan (Judges 8:1), but in any case, at no great distance from Bethabara (John 1:28). Now Beth-abara has been identified, almost to a certainty (Conder, "Tent-work," pp. 229-232) with the modern Abarah (i.e., passage or ferry), "one of the main fords of the Jordan just above the place where the Jalud river flowing down the valley of Jezreel and by Beisan, debouches into Jordan." But we learn from an ancient and independent source, the Bereshith Rabba (see Dict. Bib. ii. 464), that in the neighbourhood of Beisan, i.e., Bethshean, there was anciently a town named Orbo, עַרְבו - a word, it is to be observed, which preserves the radicals of עורֵב transposed. We may safely assume that these two places, Orbo and Oreb, were identical; that the former was the representative at a later day of the latter, or was the shape which the name assumed when bestowed on the hamlet, as distinct from the rock. The inhabitants of this place would, of course, be called עֹרְבִים, just as the in. habitants of Ziph were known as Ziphim (1 Samuel 26:1), or the men of Zidon as Zidonim (1 Kings 5:6). We find, consequently, that this word, which means "ravens," also designates the inhabitants of a village near Bethshean, and probably east of the Jordan; that is to say, in or near Elijah's native country of Gilead. And with this agree the testimonies of Rabbi Judah and Jerome already referred to. The former held that the Orebim were not ravens at all, but inhabitants of Orbo or the rock Oreb, while the latter says, with equal positiveness, Orbim, accolae villae in fini-bus Arabum, Eliae dederunt alimenta. It only remains for us to notice the perfect naturalness and consistency of the narrative thus interpreted. Elijah is bidden to go eastward; to hide in the Wady Cherith, where he would be among tribesmen or friends. For water, there is the brook; for food, the Orbites, whose name would be familiar to him, and whom he may have known, are commanded to feed him. He goes; he is received with Arab hospitality; the Eastern law of Dakheel, by which any man at any time is entitled to throw himself upon the mercy and protection of another, ensures his safety. The Orebim minister assiduously to his wants. Every morning before the dawn, every evening after dark, they bring him bread and flesh.]
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook,.... The water of that was to be his drink:
and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there; whereby he should be provided with food to eat; by whom are meant not angels in the form of ravens, as some; nor, as others, Arabians, for there were none of that people near him; nor, as others, merchants, the word being sometimes used of them, for this was not a likely method for privacy; nor, as others, the inhabitants of a place called Oreb, or Orbo; so the Arabic version calls them Orabimi; but we read of no such place near Jordan; the Jews (s) speak of a city of this name near Bethshean, from whence these Orebim came; and some of them (t) think they had their name from Oreb, in Judges 7:25 it seems better to interpret them of ravens, as we do, these creatures delighting to be in solitary places, in valleys, and by brooks; nor need it be any objection that they were unclean creatures by the law, since Elijah did not feed upon them, but was fed by them; and supposing any uncleanness by touch, the ceremonial law might be dispensed with in an extraordinary case, as it sometimes was; though it is very remarkable that such creatures should be employed in this way, which are birds of prey, seize on anything they can, live on carrion, and neglect their own young, and yet feed a prophet of the Lord; which shows the power and providence of God in it. Something like this Jerom (u) relates, of a raven bringing a whole loaf of bread, and laying it before the saints, Paulus and Antonius.
(s) Bereshit Rabba, sect. 33. fol. 29. 1.((t) T. Bab. Cholin. fol. 5. 1. Menasseh Ben Israel Conciliat. in Lev. quaest. 3.((u) In Vita Paul Erem. fol. 82. C.
1 Kings 17:4 Parallel Commentaries
1 Kings 17:4 NIV
1 Kings 17:4 NLT
1 Kings 17:4 ESV
1 Kings 17:4 NASB
1 Kings 17:4 KJV
Bible Hub: Online Parallel Bible