|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
18:21-40 Many of the people wavered in their judgment, and varied in their practice. Elijah called upon them to determine whether Jehovah or Baal was the self-existent, supreme God, the Creator, Governor, and Judge of the world, and to follow him alone. It is dangerous to halt between the service of God and the service of sin, the dominion of Christ and the dominion of our lusts. If Jesus be the only Saviour, let us cleave to him alone for every thing; if the Bible be the world of God, let us reverence and receive the whole of it, and submit our understanding to the Divine teaching it contains. Elijah proposed to bring the matter to a trial. Baal had all the outward advantages, but the event encourages all God's witnesses and advocates never to fear the face of man. The God that answers by fire, let him be God: the atonement was to be made by sacrifice, before the judgment could be removed in mercy. The God therefore that has power to pardon sin, and to signify it by consuming the sin-offering, must needs be the God that can relieve from the calamity. God never required his worshippers to honour him in the manner of the worshippers of Baal; but the service of the devil, though sometimes it pleases and pampers the body, yet, in other things, really is cruel to it, as in envy and drunkenness. God requires that we mortify our lusts and corruptions; but bodily penances and severities are no pleasure to him. Who has required these things at your hands? A few words uttered in assured faith, and with fervent affection for the glory of God, and love to the souls of men, or thirstings after the Lord's image and his favour, form the effectual, fervent prayer of the righteous man, which availeth much. Elijah sought not his own glory, but that of God, for the good of the people. The people are all agreed, convinced, and satisfied; Jehovah, he is the God. Some, we hope, had their hearts turned, but most of them were convinced only, not converted. Blessed are they that have not seen what these saw, yet have believed, and have been wrought upon by it, more than they that saw it.
Verse 35. And the water ran round [Heb. the waters went round] about the altar, and he filled the trench also [i.e., the trench, which was only partially filled with the water of the twelve כַּדִּים, he now filled to the brim] with water. [The object of these repeated drenchings of the victim and altar was to exclude all suspicion of fraud. It would almost seem as if tricks not unlike that practised year by year at the Greek Easter at Jerusalem were familiar to that age. Some of the fathers expressly state that the idolatrous priests of an earlier time were accustomed to set fire to the sacrifice from hollow places concealed beneath the altar, and it was an old tradition (found in Ephrem Syrus, and Chrysostom) that the Baal prophets had concealed a man for that purpose beneath their altar, but that he had died from suffocation (Stanley). Bahr, however, sees in these 3 x 4 vessels of water a symbolical act. The significance of this combination, he says, is unmistakable (cf. "Symbolik" 1. pp. 150, 169, 193, 205), though we cannot be certain as to the precise meaning of the prophetic act. His only suggestion is that it points to abundance of rain as the reward of keeping the covenant (Deuteronomy 28:12, 23). But all this is extremely precarious, and the more so as the pitchers may have been filled any number of times before the trench was full.]
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And the water ran round about the altar,.... There being such a large effusion of it on it;
and he filled the trench also with water; which surrounded the altar, so that it seemed impracticable that any fire should kindle upon it; and this gave full proof and demonstration there could be no collusion in this matter.
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