And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)He arose, and went for his life.—The sudden reaction of disappointment and despondency, strange as it seems to superficial observation, is eminently characteristic of an impulsive and vehement nature. His blow had been struck, as he thought, triumphantly. Now the power of cool unrelenting antagonism makes itself felt, unshaken and only embittered by all that had passed. On Ahab and the people he knows that he cannot rely; so once more he flees for his life.
Beer-sheba. (See Genesis 21:14; Genesis 21:33; Genesis 22:19; Genesis 28:10; Genesis 46:1, &c.)—This frontier town of Palestine to the south is little mentioned after the patriarchal time. The note that “it belonged to Judah” is, perhaps, significant. Judah was now in half-dependent alliance with Israel; even under Jehoshaphat, Elijah might not be safe there, though his servant—traditionally the son of the widow of Zarephath—might stay without danger.1 Kings 19:3. And when he saw that, he arose and went for his life — That is, to save his life: whereby may be intimated, that he did not flee from Jezreel by the hand or direction of the Lord, by which he had come thither; but because of his own fear and apprehension of danger. One would have expected, after such a public and sensible manifestation of the glory of God, and such a clear decision of the controversy depending between him and Baal, to the honour of Elijah, the confusion of Baal’s prophets, and the universal satisfaction of the people; after they had seen both fire and water come from heaven at the prayer of Elijah, and both in mercy to them; the one, as it signified the acceptance of their offering; the other as it refreshed their inheritance which was weary; that now they should all, as one man, have returned to the worship of the God of Israel, and taken Elijah for their guide and oracle; that he should from thenceforward have been prime minister of state, and his directions laws both to the king and kingdom: but it is quite otherwise; he is neglected whom God honoured; no respect is paid to him; no care taken of him; but on the contrary, the land of Israel, to which he had been and might have been so great a blessing, is soon made too hot for him. As we do not read of any command from God to Elijah to flee on this occasion, some have been of opinion that it was a great fault in him to do so; and that he ought, by all means, to have ventured all consequences, trusting in the divine protection, and to have pushed the advantage he had gained by his miracle, by endeavouring to lead the people entirely to destroy the worship of Baal, and to restore that of Jehovah. “Shall we praise him for this?” (namely, fleeing for his life,) says Henry; “We praise him not. Where was the courage wherewith he had confronted Ahab and all the prophets of Baal? nay, which kept him by his sacrifice, when the fire of God fell upon it? He that stood undaunted in the midst of the terrors both of heaven and earth, trembles at the impotent menaces of a proud, passionate woman. Lord, what is man? He could not but know that he might be very serviceable to Israel at this juncture; and had all the reason in the world to depend upon God’s protection while he was doing God’s work; yet he flees. In his former danger God had bid him hide himself, (1 Kings 17:3,) therefore he supposed he might do it now.” The truth is, as St. James observes, He was a man subject to like passions as we are; and probably it was with a view to this part of his behaviour, that the apostle made that reflection. Elijah knew Jezebel, that she was fierce, cruel, vindictive, and implacable; that in slaying the priests of Baal he had incurred her displeasure; and that to revenge herself she had all the power of the kingdom under her command. These notions made such an impression upon his spirits, as deprived him of that manly resolution, otherwise so remarkable: nor was there wanting a wise design of Providence, in suffering this timidity to fall upon his servant; it was to show him his natural imbecility, and the necessity he had at all times of the divine assistance, which alone could fortify him with a spirit of intrepidity. It was to suppress all the little sentiments of pride and arrogance which might possibly arise in his breast upon the contemplation of the gifts and graces bestowed on him, and the many great miracles which were wrought by his hands; that if he did glory he might glory in the Lord, and not dare to take any part of his honour to himself. See 2 Corinthians 12:7.” — Calmet and Dodd. And came to Beer-sheeba and left his servant there — Because he would not expose him to those perils and hardships which he expected; and because he desired solitude, that he might more freely converse with God.
Beer-sheba is about 95 miles from Jezreel, on the very borders of the desert et-Tih. Elijah cannot possibly have reached it until the close of the second day. It seems implied that he traveled both night and day, and did not rest until he arrived thus far on his way. It was one of the towns assigned to the tribe of Simeon Joshua 19:2. The Simeonites were, however, by this time absorbed into Judah.Went for his life, i.e. to save his life; or, according to his soul, or mind; whereby it may be intimated, that he did not flee from Jezreel by the hand or direction of the Lord, by which he came thither, 1 Kings 18:46, but because of his own fear and apprehension of danger; for this may seem to be an act of human frailty. For God had brought him hither, and his presence might seem very necessary here to encourage and engage the king and people to go on to destroy the priests of the groves, and to purge out idolatry; and his withdrawing, as we see, did discourage all the rest, and occasioned their return to idolatry again; and having had such a late and ample experience of God’s all-sufficiency in protecting him against the king and four hundred and fifty of Baal’s priests, and the current of the people incensed against him for the famine, he had little reason to fear the threats of an impotent woman, whom God could cut off in a moment. But Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, Jam 5:17, which probably is said with respect to his fear and discontent, manifested here and 1 Kings 19:4. And lest he should be exalted above measure (which was also Paul’s case, 2 Corinthians 12:7) for his eminent gifts, and graces, and miraculous works, God saw fit to withdraw his grace, and to leave him to himself, that he might be sensible of his own impotency and sinfulness, and might not dare to take any part of God’s honour to himself.
Which belonged to Judah; either, first, To the tribe of Judah, according to the first division; for Simeon’s part, in which Beer-sheba was, was afterwards taken out of it. Or, secondly, To the kingdom of Judah.
Left his servant there; partly, that he might abide there in safety; and partly, that he should wait there till his return: partly, because he would not expose him to those perils and hardships which he expected; and partly, because he desired solitude, that he might more freely converse with God.
he arose and went for his life; fled to save his life, at a time when he was much wanted to encourage and increase the reformation from idolatry, and to preserve the people from relapsing who were converted; and through the miracles that had been wrought by him, and for him, he had great reason to trust in the Lord: or "he went unto", or "according to his own soul" (m); according to his own mind and will, not taking counsel of God, or any direction from him; and so Abarbinel interprets it:
and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah; to the tribe of Judah; for though it was in the inheritance of Simeon, yet that was within the tribe of Judah, Joshua 19:1, or to the kingdom of Judah, over which Jehoshaphat reigned, and so might think himself safe, being out of the dominions of Ahab, and reach of Jezebel; but yet he did not think so, his fears ran so high that he imagined she would send some after him to search for him, and slay him privately, or make interest with Jehoshaphat to deliver him up, there being friendship between him and Ahab; for though this place was eighty four miles from Jezreel, as Bunting (n) computes it, he left it:
and left his servant there; he took him not with him, either lest he should betray him, or rather out of compassion to him, that he might not share in the miseries of life that were like to come upon him.And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)3. And when he saw that] The LXX. reading וַיִרָא instead of the text וַיַרָא renders by καὶ ἐφοβήθη, ‘and he was afraid.’ And this makes a good sense. But it is not necessary. Elijah saw (mentally) from the message which came to him, that he must be gone, if he would save his life. Moreover after the verb ‘to fear’ there usually follows a mention of the person who is feared.
and went for his life] i.e. To make sure of saving his life. It was no part of his duty to expose himself to unnecessary peril. The same phrase is found in 2 Kings 7:7 and nearly the same in Genesis 19:17. The Vulgate rendering ‘quocunque eum ferebat voluntas’ ‘wherever he felt inclined’ is certainly not what is meant.
and came to Beer-sheba, which belongeth to Judah] Beer-sheba was in the tribe of Simeon (see Joshua 19:2), though in Joshua 15:28 it is included among the uttermost cities of Judah. Here ‘which belongeth to Judah’ signifies ‘which is part of the kingdom of Judah.’ Elijah had thus escaped from Ahab’s dominions. The use of such a phrase shews that the writer of this narrative was an Israelite.
and left his servant there] The servant (according to Jewish tradition, the son of the widow of Zarephath) must have attended on him from Carmel to Jezreel, and from thence to the south of Judah. The prophet now desires solitude, and so dismisses him. In the need of spiritual communion with God no companion is desired. Even Jesus himself said to His disciples ‘Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder’ (Matthew 26:36).Verse 3. - And when he saw that [Heb. and he saw and arose, etc. But the LXX. has καὶ ἐφοβήθη, and the Vulgate timuit, and it is to be observed that this meaning, "and he feared," can be extracted from this word וירא without any change of radicals, for the full form יִירָא is occasionally abbreviated into יִרָא; see 1 Samuel 18:12; 1 Samuel 21:13; 2 Kings 17:28. A few MSS. have here וייּרא and it certainly suits the context better. Bahr, who interprets, "he saw how matters stood," i.e., that she meant him to flee, is not justified in asserting that this expression would require an accusative of the person feared. (See, e.g., Genesis 3:10; Genesis 15:1; Genesis 18:15.) Both he and Keil furthermore object to this interpretation that it is contrary to actual fact, neither of them being willing to allow that Elijah was afraid. Bahr says it is inconceivable that the man who had that day faced alone king and priests and the entire people should have become all at once afraid of a bad woman, and he explains Elijah's flight as caused by the discovery that he could not carryon his work of reformation, and by the absence of any intimation (like that of 1 Kings 18:1) that he was to stay and hazard his life. But apart from the fact that we are distinctly told that he "went for his life" (cf. vers. 4, 10), and that his flight seems to have been instant and hurried, history tells of many great souls, hardly less brave than Elijah's, which have succumbed to a sudden panic. Anyhow, it is evident that for the moment Elijah had lost faith in God, otherwise he would certainly have waited for the "word of the Lord," which had hitherto invariably guided his movements (1 Kings 17:2, 8; 1 Kings 18:1). No doubt other emotions besides that of fear were struggling in his breast, and prominent among these was the feeling of profound disappointment and mortification. It is clear that he had hoped that the "day of Carmel" would turn the heart of the entire nation back again (1 Kings 18:37), and the great shout of ver. 39, and the subsequent execution, at his command, of the men who had deceived and depraved the people, might well justify the most sanguine expectations. We can readily imagine, consequently, how, especially after the excitement and fatigues of that day, the threatening and defiant message of the queen would seem the death blow of his hopes, and how, utterly dispirited and broken down, he lost all trust, all faith, and, while fleeing for his life, "requested for himself that he might die" (ver. 4)], he arose, and went for his life [Keil is compelled, by his refusal to allow that Elijah was actuated by fear, to render these words, "went to commit his soul to God in the solitude of the desert." But the men meaning is settled for us by the like expression in 2 Kings 7:7; nor does Jeremiah 44:7 lend any support to Keil's view. Gesenius compares τρέχειν περὶ ψυχῆς. Od. 9:423. The A.V. exactly represents the meaning], and came to Beer-sheba [Genesis 21:31; Genesis 26:33. The southern boundary of Palestine (Joshua 15:28; 2 Samuel 24:7; Judges 20:1; 1 Chronicles 21:2, etc.), allotted to the tribe of Simeon (Joshua 19:2), which tribe, we gather from this passage (see also 2 Chronicles 19:4), was now absorbed in the southern kingdom. (See note on ch. 11:31.) Wordsworth suggests that "perhaps he resorted to Beer-sheba in order to strengthen his faith with the recollection of the patriarchs who had dwelt there," etc. But if that had been his object, a journey to the place was hardly necessary, and it is clear that he only passed through it on his way to Mount Sinai. "Beer-sheba was about 95 miles from Jezreel" - Rawlinson, who adds that Elijah cannot have reached it till the close of the second day. But we must remember that his pace would be regulated by the powers of his servant, probably a mere lad (LXX. παιδάριον), so that it is hardly likely he could travel day and night without stopping to rest], which belongeth to Judah [It is part of Keil's argument in proof that Elijah did not flee from fear of Jezebel, that, had such been the case, he would have remained in the kingdom of Judah, where he would have enjoyed the protection of Jehoshaphat. But it is by no means certain that this prince, considering his close alliance with Ahab (1 Kings 22:4; cf. 18:10; 2 Kings 8:18; 2 Chronicles 18:1), would have sheltered the prophet. Indeed, it is remarkable, as Blunt has well pointed out (Coincid. pp. 183, 184), that the prophet never took refuge in the southern kingdom. At one time he found a sanctuary beyond the Jordan; at another in the kingdom of Tyre, but never in the realm of Jehoshaphat. When he does come in haste to Beer-sheba, "it is after a manner which bespeaks his reluctance to set foot within that territory, even more than if he had evaded it altogether." The reason partly was, no doubt, as Wordsworth says, that his mission was to idolatrous Israel. Judah had both priests and prophets of its own], and left his servant [There is no warrant for the assertion (Stanley) that "one only of that vast assembly remained faithful to him, the Zidonian boy of Zarephath." The identity of this boy with the servant is by no means certain; nor is the defection of the people at all proven] there. [Probably because he wished to be alone with God; possibly because the boy was then too exhausted to go further, and there was no reason why he should be subjected to the uncertainties and privations of desert life; hardly for the security of both (Blunt). It is perhaps implied, however, that the kingdom of Judah, though not a safe abode for him, would be for his servant. When we remember that this servant never rejoined him, but that presently Elisha took his place, we can scarcely help wondering whether he was afraid to accompany Elijah any longer (cf. Acts 15:38).] 1 Kings 18:1) in sending rain; and continued in prayer till the visible commencement of the fulfilment of his prayer was announced by his servant, who, after looking out upon the sea seven times, saw at last a small cloud ascend from the sea about the size of a man's hand.
(Note: V. de Velde has shown how admirably these circumstances (1 Kings 18:43, 1 Kings 18:44) also apply to the situation of el Mohraka: "on its west and north-west side the view of the sea is quite intercepted by an adjacent height. That height may be ascended, however, in a few minutes, and a full view of the sea obtained from the top" (i. p. 326).
The peculiar attitude assumed by Elijah when praying (James 5:18), viz., bowing down even to the earth (יגהר) and putting his face between his knees, probably the attitude of deep absorption in God, was witnessed by Shaw and Chardin in the case of certain dervishes (vid., Harmar, Beobachtungen, iii. pp. 373-4).
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