1 Kings 19:3
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.
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(3) 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.

19:1-8 Jezebel sent Elijah a threatening message. Carnal hearts are hardened and enraged against God, by that which should convince and conquer them. Great faith is not always alike strong. He might be serviceable to Israel at this time, and had all reason to depend upon God's protection, while doing God's work; yet he flees. His was not the deliberate desire of grace, as Paul's, to depart and be with Christ. God thus left Elijah to himself, to show that when he was bold and strong, it was in the Lord, and the power of his might; but of himself he was no better than his fathers. God knows what he designs us for, though we do not, what services, what trials, and he will take care that we are furnished with grace sufficient.The rapid movement of the original is very striking. "And he saw (or, "feared," as some read), and he rose, and he went, etc." The fear and flight of Elijah are very remarkable. Jezebel's threat alone, had not, in all probability, produced the extraordinary change but, partly, physical reaction from the over-excitement of the preceding day; and, partly, internal disquietude and doubt as to the wisdom of the course which he had adopted.

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.

3. he arose, and went for his life—He entered Jezreel full of hope. But a message from the incensed and hard-hearted queen, vowing speedy vengeance for her slaughtered priests, dispelled all his bright visions of the future. It is probable, however, that in the present temper of the people, even she would not have dared to lay violent hands on the Lord's servant, and purposely threatened him because she could do no more. The threat produced the intended effect, for his faith suddenly failed him. He fled out of the kingdom into the southernmost part of the territories in Judah; nor did he deem himself safe even there, but, dismissing his servant, he resolved to seek refuge among the mountain recesses of Sinai, and there longed for death (Jas 5:17). This sudden and extraordinary depression of mind arose from too great confidence inspired by the miracles wrought at Carmel, and by the disposition the people evinced there. Had he remained steadfast and immovable, the impression on the mind of Ahab and the people generally might have been followed by good results. But he had been exalted above measure (2Co 12:7-9), and being left to himself, the great prophet, instead of showing the indomitable spirit of a martyr, fled from his post of duty. 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.

And when he saw that,.... That her design and resolution were to take away his life; the Septuagint, Vulgate Latin, and Syriac versions read, "and he was afraid"; or frightened; he that had such courage as not to be afraid to meet Ahab, and contend with four hundred and fifty priests of Baal, and in the face of all Israel, who at first were not inclined to take his part, is now terrified at the threats of a single woman; which shows that the spirit and courage he had before were of the Lord, and not of himself; and that those who have the greatest zeal and courage for religion, for God, and his worship, his truths and ordinances, if left to themselves, become weak and timorous; and whether this is the true reading, or not, it was certainly his case by what follows:

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.

(m) , Sept. "secundum animam suam", Vatablus, Pagninus. (n) Travels, ut supra. (p. 204.)

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.
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 19:3But when Elijah saw (ויּרא), sc. how things stood, or the audacity of Jezebel, from which the failure of his work was evident, he rose up and went to Beersheba in Judah, i.e., Bir-seba on the southern frontier of Canaan (see at Genesis 21:31). The expression ליהוּדה אשׁר, "which to Judah," i.e., which belonged to the kingdom of Judah, for Beersheba was really allotted to the tribe of Simeon (Joshua 19:2), is appended not merely as a geographical indication that Elijah went outside the land, but to show that he meant to leave the kingdom of Israel, the scene of his previous labours, just as Jeremiah in a similar internal conflict gave utterance to the wish that he could leave his people, if he had but a lodging-place in the wilderness (Jeremiah 9:2). ויּרא is not to be altered into ויּירא, et timuit, after the lxx and Vulg., notwithstanding the fact that some Codd. have this reading, which only rests upon an erroneous conjecture. For it is obvious that Elijah did not flee from any fear of the vain threat of Jezebel, from the fact that he did not merely withdrawn into the kingdom of Judah, where he would have been safe under Jehoshaphat from all the persecutions of Jezebel, but went to Beersheba, and thence onwards into the desert there to pour out before the Lord God his weariness of life (1 Kings 19:4).

ילך אל־נפשׁו, he went upon his soul, or his life, i.e., not to save his life (as I once thought, with many other commentators), for his wish to die (1 Kings 19:4) is opposed to this; but to care for his soul in the manner indicated in 1 Kings 19:4, i.e., to commit his soul or his life to the Lord his God in the solitude of the desert, and see what He would determine concerning him.

(Note: G. Menken (christl. Homil. b. den Proph. Elias, p. 231) has given the following admirable explanation of אל נפשו fo so far as the sense is concerned: "For conscience sake, from conviction, out of obligation, not from fear. After all his former experience, and from the entire relation in which Elijah stood to God, it was impossible that he should be afraid, and not be firmly convinced that the God who had shut up heaven at his word, who had supplied him with bread and flesh for a whole year in the desert through the medium of ravens, who had supported him miraculously for years in a foreign land through the medium of a poor widow, who had concealed and rescued him for three years and a half from the search of the king, who had accredited and honoured him in the sight of all the people as His servant, who had given an immediate answer to his prayer for rain, could also defend him in this extremity, and rescue him from this danger, if such should be His will.")

- He left his servant in Beersheba, while he himself went a day's journey farther into the desert (Paran), not merely because he was so filled with weariness of life in his dark oppression, that he thought he should have no further need of his servant, and therefore left him behind in Beersheba, but that he might pour out his heart before God alone in the desert and yield himself up to His guidance. For however unquestionably his lamentation in 1 Kings 19:4, for example, expresses a weariness of life, this merely indicates the feeling which had taken possession of his soul after a day's journey in the barren desert. And even there he lays his wish to die before God in prayer; so that this feeling is merely to be regarded as one result of the spiritual conflict, which is bodily exhaustion had now raised to a height that it cannot have reached when he was in Beersheba. If, therefore, he did not start with the intention of making a pilgrimage to Horeb, he had certainly gone into the desert for the purpose of seeing whether the Lord would manifest His mercy to him, as He had formerly done to His people under Moses, or whether He would withdraw His hand entirely from him. After a day's journey he sat down under a רתם (construed here as a feminine, in 1 Kings 19:5 as a masculine), a species of broom (genista Retem in Forskl), which is the finest and most striking shrub of the Arabian desert, growing constantly in the beds of streams and in the valleys, where places of encampment are frequently selected for the sake of the shelter which they afford by night from the wind and by day from the sun (Rob. Pal. i. 299). למוּת...ויּשׁאל: and wished that his soul might die (a kind of accusative with infinitive; see Ewald, 336, b.), and said, עתּה רב, "Enough now; take, Lord, my soul, for I am not better than my fathers;" i.e., I have worked and endured enough, and deserve no longer life than my fathers. From this it appears that Elijah was already of a great age.

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