Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.Chap. 1 Kings 17:1-7. Elijah the Tishbite. His prophecy of a drought and its fulfilment (Not in Chronicles)
1. And Elijah the Tishbite] Elijah comes suddenly upon the scene and throughout the history his appearances are rare, sudden and brief. His history is most probably drawn from some independent narrative of the work of the prophets, and introduced here abruptly as soon as it begins to touch upon the reign of Ahab. The schools of the prophets seem to have had their origin in Samuel’s day, and were founded in various parts of the land, and in connexion with them Elijah appears in Israel. He is called the Tishbite because he was born at Thisbe in the tribe of Naphtali, a place known afterwards as the birthplace of Tobit (Tob 1:2). Josephus (Ant. viii. 13, 2) says he was ἐκ πόλεως θεσβώνης τῆς Γαλααδίτιδος χώρας, as if his birthplace had been in Gilead. For the connected history of Elijah, the student would do well to consult Mr (now Sir Geo.) Grove’s Article, Elijah, in Smith’s Dict. of the Bible.
who was of the inhabitants [R.V. sojourners] of Gilead] The Hebrew noun is found frequently in the phrase ‘a stranger and sojourner,’ cf. Genesis 23:4; Leviticus 25:35; Leviticus 25:47; and does not imply that the person spoken of was a native of the place mentioned thus. Hence there is no difficulty in understanding that Elijah, a native of the tribe of Naphtali, was a dweller for a time in Gilead. Such a man was likely to retire from the world and dwell alone among the mountain fastnesses. The Fathers (Epiphanius, Dorotheus, Isidore) represent Elijah as of a priestly family, but there is no warrant for the statement.
As the Lord God of Israel liveth] Elijah prefaces his message with his authority. He does not come in his own name, nor will the drought be of his bringing. He is but sent as the bearer of Jehovah’s word, the word of Him whom Israel had forsaken, but who alone was worthy to be called the Living God.
but according to my word] i.e. As God shall proclaim through me; cf. 1 Kings 18:41; 1 Kings 18:44. Josephus, having in mind the disappearance of Elijah after this message and his reappearance to Ahab before the coming of the rain, makes the prophet say that there should be no rain ‘except on his appearance’ εἰ μὴ φανέντος αὐτοῦ. He also states that this drought is mentioned by Menander in his history of Ethbaal, the king of the Tyrians. It endured, he says, for a whole year, but after that time, on the king’s earnest prayer, there came down abundant thunder showers. In Luke 4:25 and James 5:17, the duration of the drought in Israel is said to have been three years and six months. By such long-continued want of rain there the neighbouring countries must also have been affected.
The LXX. rendering εἰ μὴ διὰ στόματος λόγου μου, is a literal translation of the Hebrew.
And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying,2. came unto him] The LXX. explains that it was ‘unto Elijah,’ which could hardly be doubted from what follows.
Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan.3. and hide thyself] The prophet’s life would be in danger from the anger of the king and Jezebel, who would consider Elijah not merely the announcer but the cause of the drought.
by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan] The rendering gives a fair representation of what was commanded, but the word rendered ‘brook’ is נחל nahal, which is really a torrent-bed, a deep ravine down which in rainy times a strong stream flowed, but which at others was nearly if not entirely dry. Such would make a good hiding-place. The situation of Cherith has not been identified. Josephus gives no form of the name, only saying that Elijah stayed παρὰ χειμάρρῳ τινί = ‘by a certain torrent-bed.’ Nor does the description ‘that is before Jordan’ help us. It probably implies that the stream from the ravine emptied itself into the Jordan, and hence the valley looked towards the river. But whether on the west side or the east we cannot tell. If the interview with Ahab was in Samaria, and Elijah travelled thence toward the east (Josephus says in contradiction of the text ‘towards the south’) it appears most likely that he crossed the Jordan, and found his retreat in the wilder parts of Gilead, which would be more distant from Ahab and less frequented than any of the ravines in the hill country of Ephraim on the east of Jordan, and with which the prophet would most likely be familiar.
And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there.4. thou shalt drink of the brook] The drought had not yet dried it up, but soon it would do so.
I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there] Just as in 1 Kings 13:28 the appetite of the lion which had slain the false prophet was supernaturally checked, so that he tare neither the corpse nor the ass, so here the greedy birds were to bring into the valley enough food to suffice for the prophet’s wants as well as for their own. Their nests would be in the caves among which Elijah would find his best hiding-place. Many attempts have been made to explain away this verse by putting different vowel points to the word ערבים to interpret it as (1) merchants. This some Jews favoured as the raven was an unclean bird. But it is answer sufficient to this, that Elijah was not told to eat the ravens. (2) Arabians, interpreting it of travelling caravans from whom the prophet obtained what he needed to live on. But caravans keep as far away as they can from wild torrent-beds.
So he went and did according unto the word of the LORD: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan.5. he went and dwelt] The first of these verbs, and, of course, the conjunction, is omitted by the LXX.
And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook.6. And the ravens brought, &c.] According to the LXX., the ravens brought him ‘bread in the morning, and flesh in the evening.’ Jerome in his life of Paul the hermit (§ 10) relates that a raven thus supplied the hermit’s wants, “suspiciunt alitem corvum in ramo arboris consedisse, qui inde leniter subvolabat, et integrum panem ante ora mirantium deposuit.’ Those who have watched the habits of large birds like the raven can bear witness to the large supply which they bring home under ordinary circumstances, and for Elijah’s sustenance their natural energy was quickened.
And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land.7. because there had been [R.V. was] no rain] Not only had there been none, but the drought was continuing.
And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying,
Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee.8–16. Elijah sent to Zarephath and sustained by a widow woman (Not in Chronicles)
9. get thee to Zarephath] This was the city which was known in later times (Luke 4:26) as Sarepta. Josephus says it lay between Sidon and Tyre. There the enemy of Baal-worship would hardly be expected to have sought refuge.
and dwell there] These words are omitted in the LXX.
I have commanded a widow woman] A source of sustenance hardly less precarious than the supply of the ravens. As in the former case, so here, the command implies that God has prompted her to fulfil His purpose. Elijah has been called, from this event, the first Apostle to the Gentiles.
So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.10. gathering of sticks] R.V. modernizes the language by omitting the preposition. The abject poverty of the widow is seen from her coming forth to pick up any chance bits of wood which might have fallen from the trees outside the city walls.
And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand.11. And as she was going to fetch it] She is prepared to obey the request of the stranger. By her language in the next verse ‘As the Lord thy God liveth’ she accepts Elijah as a worshipper of Jehovah. The near neighbourhood of Phœnicia makes it easy to understand that the worship of Jehovah would be known to the inhabitants, and the woman would recognize an Israelite in Elijah both by speech and dress.
And she said, As the LORD thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.12. meal in a [R.V. the] barrel … oil in a [R.V. the] cruse] The definite article is expressed in the original, and represented by the LXX. The barrel and the cruse were the special domestic articles in every house, and would be spoken of definitely.
two sticks] i.e. some small quantity. Thus we often say ‘a couple’ when we do not mean ‘two’ only.
my son] The LXX. renders by the plural ‘sons,’ perhaps because it is said, in 1 Kings 17:15, that ‘she and he and her house did eat many days.’ Josephus gives the singular ‘my son’ as the Hebrew.
eat it, and die] The drought had already brought so poor a person to the point of starvation.
And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son.13. do as thou hast said] i.e. Set about preparing bread from the meal which remains, but instead of taking first for yourselves, bring what is first ready to me.
and bring it [R.V. adds forth] unto me] It appears from what follows that Elijah dwelt afterwards in the house of the widow, but at first he waited outside till she made ready the food, which it must have needed much faith to give forth for the supply of the stranger. For ‘after’ R.V. reads ‘after ward’ to bring the language into accord with modern usage.
For thus saith the LORD God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth.14. God of Israel] Omitted by the LXX., as are also, in the next verse, the words ‘according to the saying of Elijah.’
And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days.15. her house] She had enough for all their own needs and something over, which she could give to poorer relations. The whole history of the woman shews that she knew much of the religion of the God of Israel, though we are not told how she had been brought to the knowledge.
many days] There is no word for ‘many’ as the italics shew. The Hebrews used ‘days’ for a long time. Thus the same word is rendered in Genesis 40:4 ‘a season;’ in Numbers 9:22 ‘a year,’ i.e. the complete round of days. The margin of A.V. has ‘a full year’ in the present verse.
And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Elijah.
And it came to pass after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick; and his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him.17–24. Death and restoration of the widow’s son (Not in Chronicles)
17. his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him] Josephus interprets this expression as if the youth were only seemingly dead; τὴν ψυχὴν ἀφεῖναι καὶ δόξαι νεκρόν. Yet both the mother and the prophet speak in the narrative of the ‘slaying’ of the son. The soul was departed, and it is the breathing into man of the breath of life, which makes him ‘a living soul.’ All the language of Scripture speaks in the same tone. ‘When the breath of man goeth forth, he shall turn again to his earth.’
And she said unto Elijah, What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?18. What have I to do with thee?] Used by persons who wish him whom they address to depart from them. (Cf. 2 Samuel 16:10; Luke 5:8).
O thou man of God?] She recognizes the sacred character of Elijah, and feels that she is in presence of one who has closer communion with the Divine power than she. ‘Man of God’ becomes afterwards the distinguished appellation of Elijah and Elisha.
art thou come unto me to call [R.V. bring] my sin to remembrance?] The change of R.V. brings out a little more the woman’s thought. The man of God has been sojourning with her, and hence God’s attention, in her idea, has been more directed to her than it would otherwise have been. Her sin in this way has been brought to His remembrance, and so He has taken the life of her son as a punishment.
And he said unto her, Give me thy son. And he took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into a loft, where he abode, and laid him upon his own bed.19. And he took him out of her bosom] Her arms were clasped about the dead boy. We need not understand the expression as of a child who was still young enough to be carried in the arms, though the prophet was able to carry him into his own chamber.
into a loft] R.V. the chamber. The word is so rendered in 1 Kings 17:23, and the two should be made to agree.
And he cried unto the LORD, and said, O LORD my God, hast thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son?20. O Lord my God, hast thou also brought evil upon the widow] The LXX. omits ‘my God.’ In ‘also’ the prophet refers to the other evil which was brought on Israel and Phœnicia too by the drought. The widow had shewn such faith and obedience that we may regard the prophet’s question as of the nature of a petition ‘Let not this evil fall upon her.’
And he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the LORD, and said, O LORD my God, I pray thee, let this child's soul come into him again.21. And he stretched himself] As though he would give of his own vitality to restore the life of the boy. The LXX. reads ἐνεφύσησε τῷ παιδαρίῳ = ‘he breathed upon the child.’ This is an exposition of the later words which speak of the child’s soul returning to him.
And the LORD heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived.22. And the Lord heard [R.V. hearkened unto] the voice of Elijah] This is the more usual rendering of the verb followed by a preposition as here. Instead of this verse the LXX. (Vat.) has ‘and it was so, and the child cried out.’ The following words also, in 1 Kings 17:23 ‘and Elijah took the child,’ are omitted in that version.
And Elijah took the child, and brought him down out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him unto his mother: and Elijah said, See, thy son liveth.
And the woman said to Elijah, Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in thy mouth is truth.24. Now by this] R.V. omits the last two words. The italics of A.V. shew that there is nothing in the Hebrew for ‘by,’ and the word rendered ‘this’ is only a particle to strengthen the adverb ‘now.’ The same two words are rendered in A.V. by ‘now’ simply in Ruth 2:7 and should be so translated here. In 2 Kings 5:22 they are translated ‘even now.’
I know that thou art a man of God] She had so addressed him above in 1 Kings 17:18, but what she desires now to express is her firm assurance. The mercy of her son’s restoration spake more surely of God’s messenger than did the stroke of his death. Jewish tradition represents this boy as the servant who afterwards accompanied Elijah, and finally became the prophet Jonah. (See Jerome, Preface to Jonah.)
the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth] This is more than to say that the word which the prophet speaks is truth; or than that the word of the Lord is in his mouth. It expresses a conviction that the Lord Jehovah in whose name Elijah speaks is the true God. Whatever stage her religious belief had before reached, she now advances beyond it, and acknowledges Jehovah as truth itself.