1 Kings 18:19
Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel to mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel's table.
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(19) Carmel.—The word signifies a “garden” or “park” (see Isaiah 29:17; Isaiah 32:15-16, &c.) and, when used for the proper name of the mountain, has commonly the article. Mount Carmel—rightly called “the park,” well planted and watered, of central Palestine—is a limestone ridge, with deep ravines thickly wooded, running north-west for about twelve miles from the central hills of Manasseh, so as to form the south side of the bay of Ptolemais, and almost to reach the sea, leaving, however, a space round which the southern armies constantly poured into the plain of Jezreel. It varies from 600 feet to 1,700 feet in height. Near its higher eastern extremity there is a place still called El Maharrakah, “the burning,” in view of the plain and city of Jezreel, and commanding from one point a glimpse of the sea, which is the traditional (and highly probable) scene of Elijah’s sacrifice. Carmel is previously mentioned in Joshua 19:26, as falling to Asher, and the existence of the altar of the Lord shows that, as was natural, it was made one of the “high places,” and, indeed, it appears to have been known as such even to the heathen. In the prophetic writings it is referred to as proverbial for its luxuriant pasturage and beauty. (See Isaiah 33:9; Jeremiah 4:26; Amos 1:2; Amos 9:3; Song of Solomon 7:6.) No more striking scene could well be found for the great drama of this chapter.

The prophets of the groves (Asherah) . . .—These, being probably the devotees of the female deity Astarte, seem to have been especially favoured by the queen. It is, however, to be noted that, in spite of Elijah’s challenge, they do not appear at all in the subsequent scene. (See 1Kings 18:22; 1Kings 18:40.)

1 Kings 18:19. Now therefore — That this great controversy between thee and me may be decided; that it may be determined who is the true God, and therefore the proper object of the people’s worship; that the true cause of these heavy judgments may be discovered and removed, and so the plague may cease; send messengers and gather all Israel — By their heads or representatives, that they may be witnesses of all our transactions; unto mount Carmel — Not Carmel in Judea, but another place of that name in the tribe of Issachar, by the midland sea, which he chose, because, being in the centre of Ahab’s kingdom, all the tribes might conveniently resort to it; and being at a distance from Samaria, Jezebel, he had reason to think, would not be present there to hinder his design. And as it was a very high mountain, (Amos 9:3,) and upon the sea, he might from thence discover the rain at its first approach. The prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty — Who were dispersed in all parts of the kingdom. The prophets of the groves four hundred — Who attended upon those idols that were worshipped in the groves which were near the royal city, and much frequented by the king and the queen. Mr. Selden understands by them the prophets of Astarte, the great goddess of the Zidonians, and renders his opinion very probable, by comparing many passages of Scripture together. Which eat at Jezebel’s table — Whom she sustained, most probably not always, but in this time of famine only, when, upon account of the extreme poverty that prevailed, they could not be supported by the offerings of the people, and the gains they made of them. But this sufficiently shows the infatuation and zeal of Jezebel for these idolatrous priests, that in a time of such famine she should take upon her to provide for eight hundred and fifty of them.18:17-20 One may guess how people stand affected to God, by observing how they stand affected to his people and ministers. It has been the lot of the best and most useful men, like Elijah, to be called and counted the troublers of the land. But those who cause God's judgments do the mischief, not he that foretells them, and warns the nation to repent.Carmel (Joshua 12:22 note) was chosen by the prophet as the scene of the gathering to which he invited, or rather summoned, Ahab. Its thick jungles of copse and numerous dwarf-oaks and olives, would furnish abundant wood for his intended sacrifice. Here was a perennial fountain; and here again an ancient "altar of the Lord" 1 Kings 18:30, belonging probably to the old times of non-idolatrous high-place worship - perhaps an erection of one of the patriarchs. On the one hand, there would be a view of the Mediterranean, from where the first sign of rain was likely to come, and on the other of Jezreel, the residence of the court at the time, with its royal palace and its idol-temples, so that the intended trial would take place in the sight (so to speak) of the proud queen and her minions.

The prophets of Baal - The priests of Baal are so called not so much because they claimed a power of foretelling the future, as because they were "teachers" of the false religion, and more especially because they stand here in antagonism to the "prophet of the Lord," with whom they are about to contend.

The prophets of the groves, four hundred - Rather, "of the grove" - the prophets, or priests, attached to the "grove" - אשׁרה 'ăshêrāh - which Ahab had made, probably at Jezreel (marginal reference). The number 400 seems to have been one especially affected by Ahab. We again find 400 prophets at the close of his reign 1 Kings 22:6. The number 40 entered largely into the religious system of the Jews 1 Kings 6:17; Exodus 26:19; Deuteronomy 25:3; Ezekiel 41:2.

Which eat at Jezebel's table - Rather, "which eat from Jezebel's table." Oriental etiquette would not have allowed them to eat "at" the table of the queen, which was spread in the seraglio. They were fed from the superfluity of her daily provision, which was no doubt on a sumptuous scale. Compare 1 Kings 4:22-23.

19. gather … the prophets of Baal … the prophets of the groves—From the sequel it appears that the former only came. The latter, anticipating some evil, evaded the king's command.

which eat at Jezebel's table—that is, not at the royal table where she herself dined, but they were maintained from her kitchen establishment (see on [319]1Sa 20:25 and [320]1Ki 4:22). They were the priests of Astarte, the Zidonian goddess.

Now therefore send, to wit, messengers, that this controversy between thee and me may be decided, the true cause of these heavy judgments discovered and removed, that so this plague may be removed.

Gather to me all Israel, by their deputies, or heads, or representatives, that they may be witnesses of all our transactions.

Unto Mount Carmel; not that Carmel in Judah, 1 Samuel 15:12, but another in Issachar by the midland sea, Joshua 19:26 Jeremiah 46:18; which he chose as a very convenient place, being not far from the centre of his kingdom, to which all the tribes might conveniently resort; and at some good distance from Samaria, that Jezebel might not hinder his design; and a very high mountain, Amos 9:3, and that upon the sea, whence he might have the opportunity to discover the rain at its first approach, which he did, 1 Kings 18:42, &c.

And the prophets of Baal; which were dispersed in all the parts of the kingdom.

The prophets of the groves; which attended upon those Baals or idols which were worshipped in the groves, which were near the royal city, and much valued and frequented by the king and the queen, 1 Kings 15:13 16:33 2 Kings 13:6, and therefore were maintained at the queen’s charges. Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto Mount Carmel..... No doubt but more discourse passed between Ahab and Elijah, though not recorded, before he made this motion to him; it is very probable, that after some dispute between them, who was the true God, and about idolatry, as the cause of want of rain, Elijah proposed to the king what he afterwards did to the people, to which he could not object; and being desirous of gratifying his curiosity, and especially of having rain, which the prophet might promise him in the issue of this affair, he agreed unto it; and therefore Elijah desired that all Israel might be convened, that it might be openly and publicly done, and to the conviction and reformation of them, which was what was chiefly designed; and he chose Carmel, a mountain in the tribe of Issachar, well situated for the people that came from all parts; and the rather this than Samaria, that he might meet with no obstruction from Jezebel, and from whence: he might be able to see the rain when coming, as he did. Of this mountain; see Gill on Jeremiah 46:18, to which may be added, the description of it by Mr. Sandys (n).

"Mount Carmel stretcheth from east to west, and hath its uttermost basis washed with the sea; steepest towards the north, and of an indifferent altitude; rich in vines and olives when farmed, and abounding with several sorts of fruits and herbs, both medicinal and fragrant, though now much overgrown with woods and shrubs of sweet savour.''

From the following solemn transaction at it, it seems in later times, to have become sacred, and was very venerable with the Heathens; from this mountain, a deity with them had the name of Carmel, and was worshipped here, without an image or a temple, only had an altar erected for it, in imitation of the God of Israel, worshipped here in like manner; here Vespasian sacrificed to this deity, assisted by the priest of it, Basilides, as Tacitus (o) relates; Suetonius (p) also makes mention of this deity, and of Vespasian's consulting its oracle, which gave him hopes of obtaining the empire; and from hence, in Popish times, there were an order of friars called Carmelites, instituted in the year 1180, pretending to be the successors of the children of the prophets Elijah left there:

and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty; who are supposed to be dispersed in the various parts of the kingdom, to teach and practise the worship of Baal, and encourage and spread it in the nation:

and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel's table; for it seems there were now more groves than that one Ahab first made, 1 Kings 16:33, for which such numbers were appointed to attend, and which, perhaps, were near Samaria, since they ate at Jezebel's table, and were a sort of domestic chaplains of her's. "Asheroth", we render "groves", the learned Selden (q) takes to be Ashtoreth, or Ashtareth, or Astarte, the goddess of the Zidonians, for whom, and so for these prophets, Jezebel might have a peculiar respect, see 1 Kings 11:5.

(n) Travels, l. 3. p. 158. Ed. 5. (o) Hist. l. 2. c. 78. (p) Vit. Vespasian. c. 5. (q) De Dis Syris Syntagm. 2. c. 2. p. 232, &c.

Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel's table.
19. all Israel] i.e. A representative body of the whole people.

unto mount Carmel] There seems to have been in Elisha’s time a residence on Mt. Carmel, where he dwelt. For the Shunammite goes thither to find him. Perhaps Elijah chose the place because there was an altar there, which had been used for the worship of Jehovah, but was now thrown down. The mountain was also easy of access, and the sea, from whence the signs of the coming rain would be seen, was visible from it.

and the prophets of Baal] These, as the narrative shews, were the priests who presided over the Baal worship, and with their office was mixed up, as we see from chap. 22, the profession of divination and soothsaying. Hence they are called prophets. The LXX. following the Jewish abhorrence for the name Baal, translate by τῆς αἰσχύνης, = of the shame, as if ‘Bosheth’ and not ‘Baal’ had been read by them.

the prophets of the groves] R.V. of the Ashêrah. See note on 1 Kings 14:15. Jezebel had introduced the female as well as the male divinity, so that nothing might be wanting to the complete observance of the worship to which she had been trained at home. The staff of priests, 850 for the two divinities, shews what an outlay was made for the perfection of the idolatrous rites.

which eat at Jezebel’s table] That the queen should shew them special favour, and feed them at her own board, was one of the surest ways of making the Baal-priests and their service popular. She no doubt also supplied funds for the support of those priests who were not in the royal city.Verse 19. - Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel [i.e., by representation, the heads of the people, elders, etc. Cf. 1 Kings 8:2, 65; 1 Kings 12:16, 18; 1 Kings 16:16, 17] unto Mount Carmel [Heb., as almost always, the Carmel, i.e., the park. Cf. 1 Samuel 25:1-5. It is "the park of Palestine." It is indebted for this name to the luxuriant vegetation - "the excellency of Carmel" (Isaiah 35:2) - which clothes its southern slopes (Porter, p. 371; Stanley, S. and P. pp. 352-54, and App. p. 14; Van de Velde, 1. pp. 317, 318). It is now generally called Mar (i.e., Lord or Saint) Elyas, after the great prophet. No one who has seen the locality can have any doubts as to which part of the mountain was the scene of the sacrifice, or can fail to be struck with the singular fitness of the place to be the theatre of this thrilling history. Carmel is rather a ridge than a mountain, some twelve miles in length. Its western (or strictly N.N.W.) extremity is a bold headland, some 600 feet in height, which dips almost directly into the waters of the Mediterranean. Its highest point, 1728 feet above the sea level, is about four miles from its eastern extremity, which, at an elevation of 1600 feet, rises like a wall from the great plain of Esdraelon. It is at this point, there can be no question, we are to place the scene of the burnt sacrifice. The identification has only been effected in comparatively recent days (1852), but it is beyond dispute. Not only does the Arab name which it bears - El Murahkah, "the Burning," or "Sacrifice" - afford striking witness to the identity, but the situation and surroundings adapt themselves with such wonderful precision to the requirements of the narrative as to leave no reasonable doubt in the mind. For

(1) it is a sort of natural platform, or pulpit, raised 1000 feet above the adjoining plain, and therefore well calculated to afford a view of the proceedings, or at least of the descent of the Holy Fire, to spectators of all Israel. The flame would probably be seen by Jezebel in her palace at Jezreel. This eminence is visible from Nazareth, some twenty miles away. "There is not a more conspicuous spot on all Carmel than the abrupt, rocky height of El Murahkah, shooting up so suddenly on the east" (Van de Velde, 1. pp. 322, 323). "The summit... commands the last view of the sea behind and the first view of the great plain in front" (Stanley). In fact, it was in its way just as well adapted for the solemn vindication of the law which took place there as Jebel Sufsafeh was for the giving of the law.

(2) A sort of plateau near the summit - the table land where the altars were built, etc. - would accommodate a vast number of spectators (ver. 21).

(3) There is a spring of water close at hand - less than 100 yards distant - and a spring which is said to flow even in the driest seasons, which would supply the water of which we read in vers. 4, 33-35. Josephus (Ant. 8:13, 5) says it came from the fountain.

(4) The sea, though not visible from the plateau itself, is seen from a point some 300 feet higher, a detail which accords admirably with the account of vers. 42-44. It may be added that the place is still held sacred by the Druses, and reverenced by "Jews, Christians, Moslems, and Bedouin as the site of these miracles of Elijah" (Thomson). The traveller, consequently, cannot doubt for a moment, as he stands on the table-land of El Murahkah and looks across the great plain to Jezreel and the heights of Galilee and Samaria, that he is on the very spot sanctified by the descent of the heavenly fire. It should be added, as explaining the selection of Carmel by Elijah, that its situation is central end convenient; that it is near the sea, from whence the rain clouds would come; that it is easy of access from Jezreel; and that it was not only a holy place from earlier times (cf. 2 Kings 4:23), but also had its altar of Jehovah, an altar, no doubt, in constant use when the people "sacrificed and burnt incense on the high places," but which had in later days fallen into neglect, and was now broken down. It was every way, therefore, a most appropriate locality for the public vindication of the despised and outraged law of God. "No place could be conceived more fitted by nature to be that wondrous battlefield of truth" (Tristram in Wordsworth)], and the prophets of Baal [so called not because they were Weissager und Verkunder (Bahr) of the god, nor yet because they were teachers and emissaries of his religion, but because of the prophetic frenzy (ver. 28) into which they worked themselves (Keil)] four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves [Heb. of the Asherah, i.e., of Astarte, not "grove," as 'Rawlinson. See note on 1 Kings 14:15] four hundred [Rawlinson remarks that "the number 400 seems to have been one especially affected by Ahab." He reminds us that we find 400 prophets at the close of his reign (1 Kings 22:6), and also remarks on "the prevalence of the number 40 in the religious systems of the Jews (Exodus 36:24, 26; Deuteronomy 25:3, etc.) " But when it is remembered that Baal's prophets were 450, and the prophets of 1 Kings 22:6 were about 400 men, the solitary instance of the 400 prophets of Astarte - who, by the way, were Jezebel's rather than Ahab's ministers - affords but a slender basis for his conclusion], which eat at Jezebel's table. [Heb. eaters of. There is nothing in the Hebrew to imply that they sat with her at the same board; and it is certain that this would be altogether repugnant to Eastern ideas of propriety. All that is meant is that they were fed by her bounty. See note on 1 Kings 2:7.] "And if it comes to pass (that) I go away from thee, and the Spirit of Jehovah carries thee away whither I know not, and I come to tell Ahab (sc., that thou art here) and he findeth thee not, he will slay me, and thy servant feareth the Lord from his youth," etc.; i.e., since I as a God-fearing man and a protector of the prophets cannot boast of any special favour from Ahab. מנּערי, from my youth up: "thy servant" being equivalent to "I myself." From the fear expressed by Obadiah that the Spirit of Jehovah might suddenly carry the prophet to some unknown place, Seb. Schmidt and others have inferred that in the earlier history of Elijah there had occurred some cases of this kind of sudden transportation, though they have not been handed down; but the anxiety expressed by Obadiah might very well have sprung from the fact, that after Elijah had announced the coming drought to Ahab, he disappeared, and, notwithstanding all the inquiries instituted by the king, was nowhere to be found. And since he was not carried off miraculously then (compare the לך and ויּלך, "get thee hence" and "he went," in 1 Kings 17:3, 1 Kings 17:5), there is all the less ground for imagining cases of this kind in the intermediate time, when he was hidden from his enemies. The subsequent translation of Elijah to heaven (2 Kings 2:11-12), and the miraculous carrying away of Philip from the chamberlain of Mauritania (Acts 8:39), do not warrant any such assumption; and still less the passage which Clericus quotes from Ezekiel (Ezekiel 3:12, Ezekiel 3:14), because the carrying of Ezekiel through the air, which is mentioned here, only happened in vision and not in external reality. If Obadiah had known of any actual occurrence of this kind, he would certainly have stated it more clearly as a more striking vindication of his fear.
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