1 Kings 18:28
And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.
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(28) Lancets—should be lances. This self-mutilation, common in Oriental frenzy, was possibly a portion, or a survival, of human sacrifice, in the notion that self-torture and shedding of human blood must win Divine favour—a delusion not confined to heathen religions, though excusable only in them.

1 Kings 18:28. They cried aloud — They were so far from being convinced and put to shame by the just reproach which Elijah cast upon them, that it made them the more earnest and violent in their proceedings, and induced them to act more ridiculously. A deceived heart having turned them aside, they could not deliver their souls by inquiring, Is there not a lie in our right hand? And cut themselves after their manner, &c. — Observe their zeal! They mingled their own blood with their sacrifices; as knowing by experience, that nothing was more acceptable to their Baal (who was indeed the devil) than human blood; and hoping thereby to move their god to help them. And this indeed was the practice of divers heathen in the worship of their false gods. Plutarch, in his book De Superstitione, tells us that the priests of Bellona, when they sacrificed to that goddess, were wont to besmear the victim with their own blood. The Persian magi, according to Herodotus, used to appease tempests and allay the winds by making incisions in their flesh. They who carried about the Syrian goddess, as Apuleius relates, among other mad pranks, were every now and then cutting and slashing themselves with knives, till the blood gushed out; and even to this very day, we are informed, in Turkey, Persia, and in several parts of the Indies, there are a kind of fanatics who think they do a very meritorious service, and highly acceptable to the deity, by cutting and mangling their own flesh.” — Calmet, and Picart’s Religious Ceremonies.

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.Elijah's scorn roused the Baal-priests to greater exertions. At length, when the frenzy had reached its height, knives were drawn, and the blood spirted forth from hundreds of self-inflicted wounds, while an ecstasy of enthusiasm seized many, and they poured forth incoherent phrases, or perhaps an unintelligible jargon, which was believed to come from divine inspiration, and constituted one of their modes of prophecy.

The practice of inflicting gashes on their limbs, in their religious exercises, was common among the Carians, the Syrians, and the Phrygians. We may regard it as a modification of the idea of human sacrifice. The gods were supposed to be pleased with the shedding of human blood.

Lancets - Lancets, in our modern sense of the word, can scarcely have been intended by our translators. The Hebrew word is elsewhere always translated "spears," or "lances;" and this is probably its meaning here.

21-40. Elijah said unto all the people, How long halt ye?—They had long been attempting to conjoin the service of God with that of Baal. It was an impracticable union and the people were so struck with a sense of their own folly, or dread of the king's displeasure, that they "answered not a word." Elijah proposed to decide for them the controversy between God and Baal by an appeal, not to the authority of the law, for that would have no weight, but by a visible token from Heaven. As fire was the element over which Baal was supposed to preside, Elijah proposed that two bullocks should be slain and placed on separate altars of wood, the one for Baal, and the other for God. On whichever the fire should descend to consume it, the event should determine the true God, whom it was their duty to serve. The proposal, appearing every way reasonable, was received by the people with unanimous approval. The priests of Baal commenced the ceremony by calling on their god. In vain did they continue invoking their senseless deity from morning till noon, and from noon till evening, uttering the most piercing cries, using the most frantic gesticulations, and mingling their blood with the sacrifice. No response was heard. No fire descended. Elijah exposed their folly and imposture with the severest irony and, as the day was far advanced, commenced his operations. Inviting the people to approach and see the entire proceeding, he first repaired an old altar of God, which Jezebel had demolished. Then, having arranged the cut pieces of the bullock, he caused four barrels or jars of water to be dashed all over the altar and round in the trench. Once, twice, a third time this precaution was taken, and then, when he had offered an earnest prayer, the miraculous fire descended (Le 9:24; Jud 6:21; 13:20; 1Ch 21:26; 2Ch 7:1), and consumed not only the sacrifice, but the very stones of the altar. The impression on the minds of the people was that of admiration mingled with awe; and with one voice they acknowledged the supremacy of Jehovah as the true God. Taking advantage of their excited feelings, Elijah called on them to seize the priestly impostors, and by their blood fill the channel of the river (Kishon), which, in consequence of their idolatries, the drought had dried up—a direction, which, severe and relentless as it seems, it was his duty as God's minister to give (De 15:5; 18:20). The natural features of the mount exactly correspond with the details of this narrative. The conspicuous summit, 1635 feet above the sea, on which the altars were placed, presents an esplanade spacious enough for the king and the priests of Baal to stand on the one side, and Elijah on the other. It is a rocky soil, on which there is abundance of loose stones, to furnish the twelve stones of which the altar was built—a bed of thick earth, in which a trench could be dug; and yet the earth not so loose that the water poured into it would be absorbed; two hundred fifty feet beneath the altar plateau, there is a perennial fountain, which, being close to the altar of the Lord, might not have been accessible to the people; and whence, therefore, even in that season of severe drought, Elijah could procure those copious supplies of water which he poured over the altar. The distance between this spring and the site of the altar is so short, as to make it perfectly possible to go thrice thither and back again, whereas it would have been impossible once in an afternoon to fetch water from the sea [Van De Velde]. The summit is one thousand feet above the Kishon, which nowhere runs from the sea so close to the base of the mount as just beneath El-Mohhraka; so that the priests of Baal could, in a few minutes, be taken down to the brook (torrent), and slain there. They cried aloud; as if Elijah had spoken the truth, and their god needed rousing.

Cut themselves; mingling their own blood with their sacrifices; as knowing by experience, that nothing was more acceptable to their Baal (which was indeed the devil) than human blood, and hoping hereby to move their god to pity and help them. And this indeed was the practice of divers heathens in the worship of their false gods, as is manifest both from Scripture, as Leviticus 19:28 Deu 14:1 1 Kings 18:28, and from the express testimonies of Plutarch, Lucian, Apuleius, and many others.

And they cried aloud,.... Trying to make him hear, if possible:

and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them; so the priests of Heathen deities used to slash themselves on their shoulders, arms, and thighs, in their devotions to them, as many writers observe (z), fancying their gods were delighted with human blood; particularly the priests of Bellona (a), and the worshippers of the Syrian goddess (b), and of the Egyptian Isis (c).

(z) Vid. Kipping. Antiqu. Roman. l. 1. c. 10. p. 202. (a) Tertul Apolog. c. 9. Lactant. Institut. l. 1. c. 21. (b) Apulei Metamorph. l. 8. (c) Herodot. Euterpe, c. 61. Manetho. Apotelesm. l. 1. ver. 243, 244. Seneca de vita beata, c. 27.

And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.
28. And they cried aloud] Not recognizing the mockery of Elijah, but admitting that Baal might be overtaken by the necessities or occupations implied in the prophet’s words.

after their manner] For devotees to wound and mutilate themselves in the worship of their divinities was common in other cults beside that of Baal and Ashêrah.

with knives and lancets] R.V. lances. The former of these nouns is commonly rendered ‘sword,’ though it is also used of other instruments for cutting, as of a razor (Ezekiel 5:1), and an axe (Ezekiel 26:9). The second is constantly employed for ‘spear’ in connexion with ‘shield’ of a fully-armed soldier. The Baal-dance was most likely performed by the chief devotees with weapons in their hands, and with these it was that in their frenzy they wounded themselves.

Verse 28. - And they cried aloud [Heb. in a great voice, as above. It was not that they took Elijah's words au serieux, but his scorn led them to redouble their efforts, if only to testify their faith in their god. The frantic cries of the Greek Easter (see Porter, 1:168; Conder, 176-178) in Jerusalem, the prayers of the pilgrims for the descent of the holy fire, may help us to realize the scene here described], and cut themselves [cf. Deuteronomy 14:1; Jeremiah 16:6; Jeremiah 41:5; Jeremiah 47:5] after their manner [Keil quotes from Movers, Phoniz. 1. pp. 682-83, a description of the religious dances offered to the Dea Syria. "A discordant howling opens the scene. Then they rush wildly about in perfect confusion, with their heads bowed down to the ground, but always revolving in circles, so that the loosened hair drags through the mire; then they begin to bite their arms, and end with cutting themselves with the two-edged swords which they are in the habit of carrying. A new scene then opens. One of them, who surpasses all the rest in frenzy, begins to prophesy with sighs and groans," etc. In the "Contemporary Review," vol. 27, pp. 371 sqq., Bishop Caldwell has graphically described the devil dances of Southern India - a description which may be read with profit in this connexion. One sentence may be transcribed here: "He cuts and hacks and hews himself, and not unfrequently kills himself there and then." Kitto mentions "the furious gashes which the Persians inflict upon themselves in their frantic annual lamentation for Hossein." Rawlinson says this was also common among the Carians and Phrygians] with knives [Heb. swords] and lancets [Heb. lances, spears. The A.V. is misleading. The instruments they used were weapons of heavy-armed troops. For רְמָחִים, see Numbers 25:7; Judges 5:8; Jeremiah 46:4], till the blood gushed out upon them. [Heb. until the shedding of blood upon them. It is perfectly clear that their faith in Baal was sincere and profound. Making due allowance for the fact that they were under the eyes of their king and patron, and of representatives of the entire people, it is still impossible to doubt their sincerity. Some of them, it is probable, were Phoenicians. "Of one thing I am assured - the devil dancer never shams excitement" (Caldwell).] 1 Kings 18:28As no answer had been received before noon, Elijah cried out to them in derision: "Call to him with a loud voice, for he is God (sc., according to your opinion), for he is meditating, or has gone aside (שׂי, secessio), or is on the journey (בּדּרך, on the way); perhaps he is sleeping, that he may wake up." The ridicule lies more especially in the הוּא אלהים כּי (for he is a god), when contrasted with the enumeration of the different possibilities which may have occasioned their obtaining no answer, and is heightened by the earnest and threefold repetition of the כּי. With regard to these possibilities we may quote the words of Clericus: "Although these things when spoken of God are the most absurd things possible, yet idolaters could believe such things, as we may see from Homer." The priests of Baal did actually begin therefore to cry louder than before, and scratched themselves with swords and lances, till the blood poured out, "according to their custom" (כּמשׁפּטם). Movers describes this as follows (Phnizier, i. pp. 682,683), from statements made by ancient authors concerning the processions of the strolling bands of the Syrian goddess: "A discordant howling opens the scene. They then rush wildly about in perfect confusion, with their heads bowed down to the ground, but always revolving in circles, so that the loosened hair drags through the mire; they then begin to bite their arms, and end with cutting themselves with the two-edged swords which they are in the habit of carrying. A new scene then opens. One of them, who surpasses all the rest in frenzy, begins to prophesy with signs and groans; he openly accuses himself of the sins which he has committed, and which he is now about to punish by chastising the flesh, takes the knotted scourge, which the Galli generally carry, lashes his back, and then cuts himself with swords till the blood trickles down from his mangled body." The climax of the Bacchantic dance in the case of the priests of Baal also was the prophesying (התנבּא), and it was for this reason, probably, that they were called prophets (נביאים). This did not begin till noon, and lasted till about the time of the evening sacrifice (לעלות עד, not עלות עד, 1 Kings 18:29). המּנחה עלות, "the laying on (offering) of the meat-offering," refers to the daily evening sacrifice, which consisted of a burnt-offering and a meat-offering (Exodus 29:38.; Numbers 28:3-8), and was then offered, according to the Rabbinical observance (see at Exodus 12:6), in the closing hours of the afternoon, as is evident from the circumstances which are described in 1 Kings 18:40. as having taken place on the same day and subsequently to Elijah's offering, which was presented at the time of the evening sacrifice (1 Kings 18:36).
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