Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Elias.—James supplies a lacuna in the story of Elijah. In 1Kings 17:1, the prophet simply and sternly tells Ahab “there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.” Further on (1Kings 18:41-46) “there is a sound of abundance of rain.” In our Epistle we read that Elias “prayed earnestly”—literally, prayed in his prayer, a Hebraistic form of emphasis (see margin). He asked for drought, and it lasted three years and a half, so that “there was a sore famine in Samaria.” He prayed once more, and “the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain,” and thus again “the Lord hearkened unto the voice of a man.” Yet Elijah was no demi-god; we even learn how he shrank from his prophet’s yoke, and longed to die. No one therefore may despair in his petitions but rather let his “requests be made known unto God;” for “men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1).
It rained not on the earth.—This Orientalism need not be a snare to the most literal of readers. The punishment, because of Ahab and Jezebel, fell on their own kingdom, and not the whole world. In a similar hyperbole Obadiah told Elijah, concerning this very famine, “there is no nation, or kingdom, whither my lord hath not sent to seek thee” (1Kings 18:10).James 5:17-18. Elias was a man subject to like passions — To the like infirmities; as we are — In which sense the same word, ομοιοπαθης, is used, Acts 14:15. It literally signifies, suffering like things with another. Elijah, through natural infirmity, suffered as we do from diseases, from temptation, from persecution, &c. And he prayed earnestly — Greek, προσευχη προσηυξατο, in praying he prayed, that it might not rain — That, by being punished for their idolatry and murder of the prophets, they might be brought to true repentance for these crimes. And it rained not on the earth — That is, on the land of the ten tribes; for three years and six months — This is the period which our Lord likewise says the drought continued, Luke 4:25. It is said, indeed, (1 Kings 18:1,) that in the third year the word of the Lord came to Elijah, namely, concerning the rain. But this third year was computed from the time of his going to live at Zarephath, which happened many days after the drought began; as is plain from this, that he remained at the brook Cherith till it was dried up, and then went to Zarephath in the country of Sidon, 1 Kings 17:7; 1 Kings 17:9. Wherefore the three years and six months must be computed from his denouncing the drought, at which time that judgment commenced. See note on 1 Kings 18:1. And he prayed again — When idolatry was abolished; and the heaven gave rain — As is recorded 1 Kings 18., where we are told, that he cast himself down on the earth, and put his face between his knees, which was the posture of an humble and earnest supplicant. Thus Moses’s praying is expressed by his falling on his face, Numbers 16:4.Matthew 11:14; Matthew 16:14; Matthew 17:3, etc.
Was a man subject to like passions as we are - This does not mean that Elijah was passionate in the sense in which that word is now commonly used; that is, that he was excitable or irritable, or that he was the victim of the same corrupt passions and propensities to which other men are subject; but that he was like affected; that he was capable of suffering the same things, or being affected in the same manner. In other words, he was a mere man, subject to the same weaknesses and infirmities as other men. Compare the notes at Acts 14:15. The apostle is illustrating the efficacy of prayer. In doing this, he refers to an undoubted case where prayer had such efficacy. But to this it might be objected that Elijah was a distinguished prophet, and that it was reasonable to suppose that his prayer would be heard. It might be said that his example could not be adduced to prove that the prayers of those who were not favored with such advantages would be heard; and especially that it could not be argued from his case that the prayers of the ignorant, and of the weak, and of children and of servants, would be answered. To meet this, the apostle says that he was a mere man, with the same natural propensities and infirmities as other men, and that therefore his case is one which should encourage all to pray. It was an instance of the efficacy of prayer, and not an illustration of the power of a prophet.
And he prayed earnestly - Greek, "He prayed with prayer" - a Hebraism, to denote that he prayed earnestly. Compare Luke 22:15. This manner of speaking is common in Hebrew. Compare 1 Samuel 26:25; Psalm 118:18; Lamentations 1:2. The reference here is undoubtedly to 1 Kings 17:1. In that place, however, it is not said that Elijah prayed, but that he said, "As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these three years, but according to my word." Either James interprets this as a prayer, because it could be accomplished only by prayer, or he states what had been banded down by tradition as the way in which the miracle was effected. There can be no reasonable doubt that prayer was employed in the case, for even the miracles of the Saviour were accomplished in connection with prayer, John 11:41-42.
That it might not rain - Not to gratify any private resentment of his, but as a punishment on the land for the idolatry which prevailed in the time of Ahab. Famine was one of the principal methods by which God punished his people for their sins.
And it rained not on the earth - On the land of Palestine, for so the word earth is frequently understood in the Bible. See the notes at Luke 2:1. There is no reason to suppose that the famine extended beyond the country that was subject to Ahab.
By the space - For the time.
prayed earnestly—literally, "prayed with prayer": Hebraism for prayed intensely. Compare Lu 22:15, "With desire I have desired," that is, earnestly desired. Alford is wrong in saying, Elias' prayer that it might not rain "is not even hinted at in the Old Testament history." In 1Ki 17:1 it is plainly implied, "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." His prophecy of the fact was according to a divine intimation given to him in answer to prayer. In jealousy for God's honor (1Ki 19:10), and being of one mind with God in his abhorrence of apostasy, he prayed that the national idolatry should be punished with a national judgment, drought; and on Israel's profession of repentance he prayed for the removal of the visitation, as is implied in 1Ki 18:39-42; compare Lu 4:25.
three years, &c.—Compare 1Ki 18:1, "The third year," namely, from Elijah's going to Zarephath; the prophecy (Jas 5:1) was probably about five or six months previously.Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are; both of body and mind, natural and moral; and so, though he were righteous, yet he was not perfect; though an eminent prophet, yet but a man.
And he prayed earnestly; with that effectual, fervent prayer before mentioned. It is a Hebrew phrase, and notes vehemency, as Luke 22:15.
That it might not rain; this is not expressly mentioned in the history, but this apostle might have it by revelation, or by certain tradition well known in his age. Other passages of the like nature we meet with in the New Testament which are not in the Old: see 1 Timothy 3:8 Hebrews 12:21 Judges 1:9.
And it rained not on the earth; or, the land, viz. of the ten tribes, and the places bordering on them, as Sarepta, 1 Kings 17:9 Luke 4:25,26.
By the space of three years and six months: so Luke 4:25.
Question. How doth this agree with 1 Kings 18:1, where it is said, the word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year?
Answer. Most probably it was in the midst of the third year from his coming to Sarepta; and he was by the brook Cherith a year. 1 Kings 17:7, where the margin reads it, according to the Hebrew, at the end of days, i.e. the days of a year, as the phrase is often used, Genesis 4:3 Judges 17:10; so that his time spent in both places may well make up the
three years and six months. Malachi 4:5 is called Elias, as here, and elsewhere, in the New Testament: of him James says, that he was a "man", contrary to the notion of some of the Jewish writers, who affirm, that Elijah was not born of a father and mother, but was an angel, who was clothed with the four elements of the world (e); but he was not only born, but born in sin, as others are, and was by nature no better than others; and he himself confesses that he was no better than his fathers, 1 Kings 19:4. And the apostle further observes; concerning him, that be was "subject to like passions as we are"; both in body and soul; he was subject to hunger and weariness, and was fed by ravens, and by the widow of Zarephath, and by an angel; and he was subject to reproach, affliction, and persecution, being charged by Ahab as a troubler of Israel, and persecuted by Jezebel, who sought his life; he was a mortal man, and liable to death, and requested to die, and must have died, had it not been for the wonderful power of God, which translated him, that he should not see death; and he was not free from sinful passions, as impatience, fear, and unbelief, 1 Kings 17:20. And he prayed earnestly; or prayed in prayer; an Hebraism: it is said (f) of one, that , "he prayed his prayer"; and of others, that , "they prayed prayers"; though the phrase here seems to design something more than bare praying; a praying, not merely externally, or formally, and with the lip only, but with the Spirit, and with the understanding, and with the heart engaged in it, with inwrought prayer. The prophet prayed with much earnestness, with great vehemence and intenseness of Spirit, as this Hebraism denotes; his prayer was fervent, and it was constant, and importunate, and was continued till he had an answer: he may be thought to have prayed each of the seven times he sent his servant to look out for a sign of rain, 1 Kings 18:43, he first prayed,
that it might not rain; this is not recorded in express words, but may be gathered from 1 Kings 17:1 where he says, "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"; so the passage is understood by the Jewish interpreters: the phrase, "before whom I stand", is paraphrased by one of them (g) thus; before whom I am used to stand, "in prayer"; and it is a common saying with the Jews, there is no standing ever mentioned, but prayer is intended; See Gill on Matthew 6:5 And the other phrase, "according to my word", is, by another (h), interpreted to this sense, that the rain should not descend naturally, according to the custom of the world, but it should descend when Elijah , "prayed for it", and so it was:
and it rained not on the earth: on the land of Israel, which is only meant; it rained in other parts of the world, for the drought in those times was not universal: and this was,
by the space of three years and six months; which exactly agrees with the words of Christ, Luke 4:25 and this was in judgment upon the land of Israel, for the idolatry it was filled with in the times of Ahab: and this instance of prayer is mentioned, not with a view that it should be imitated; we are not to pray for judgments, unless we have a divine order for it, as Elijah had; but to show the efficacy of prayer made according to the will of God.Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Jam 5:17-18. James, wishing to show in the example of Elias the power of prayer, observes beforehand on the objection that, owing to his peculiar greatness (see Sir 48:1-15), the example of Elias was inapplicable to ordinary men, that Ἐλίας ἄνθρωπος ἦν ὁμοιοπαθὴς ἡμῖν.
ἄνθρωπος] is not here pleonastic (Schneckenburger), but denotes the point on which James insists, which is still more strengthened by ὁμοιοπαθὴς ἡμῖν. This idea contains no reference to the sufferings which Elias had to endure (Laurentius, Schneckenburger, Bouman), but signifies only of like disposition and nature; see Meyer on Acts 14:15; comp. also Wisd. of Song of Solomon 8:3, and Grimm on 4Ma 12:13. Lange inappropriately explains it “similarly conditioned.” Gebser assumes a contrast to δίκαιος, strangely explaining it: “having the same sentiments and passions as we; James inferred how much more will the prayer of a δικαίου avail.”
The history, to which James refers, is contained in 1 Kings 17:1; 1 Kings 18:1; 1 Kings 18:41 ff. The account of James differs in two points from the O. T. narrative; first, the point on account of which James appeals to Elias, namely his twofold prayer, is not mentioned; and, secondly, it is stated that it began to rain in the third year. Both in 1 Kings 17:1 and in 1Ki18:41, Elias only announces what will take place; in the first passage, that it will not rain these years, and in the second passage, that it will soon rain. Neither in what Elias says of himself in 1 Kings 17:1 : אֲשֶׁר עָמַדְתִּי לְפָנָיו, nor in what is related in 1 Kings 18:41, is it stated that Elias offered up such a prayer as James mentions; for although in 5:42 Elias is represented as praying, yet it is not hinted that the rain took place in consequence of his prayer, since rather the promise of rain (Jam 5:1) preceded the prayer. Yet those statements, and particularly the word of Elias in 1 Kings 17:2 : כִּי אִס־לְפִי דְבָרִי, are to be considered as the foundation of the statement of James, whether he followed a tradition (see Sir 48:2-3) or a view peculiar to himself.
With regard to the second deviation, the same statement concerning the duration of the drought is found in Luke 4:25 (see Meyer in loco), and in the Jalkut Schimoni on 1 Kings 16, where it is said: Anno xiii. Achabi fames regnabit in Samaria per tres annos et dimidum anni. It is certainly correct, as Benson remarks, that if the rain, according to the word of Elias, was stayed at the beginning of the rainy season, and it again began to rain in the third year at the end of the summer season, the drought would continue in all three and a half years; but according to the statement of James, the drought began with the prayer of Elias, and continued from that three and a half years. Accordingly, Wiesinger is wrong in finding in the remark of Benson a sufficient reconciliation of the difference.
προσευχῇ προσηύξατο] the same construction as ΘΑΝΆΤῼ ἈΠΟΘΑΝΕῖΣΘΕ, Genesis 2:17, LXX., as the Greek rendering of the Hebrew union of the infinite absolute with the finite tense, which the LXX. usually express by the union of the participle with the finite tense (see Winer, p. 317 f. [E. T. 427]). This addition of the substantive serves to bring out the verbal idea (de Wette), not to denote that the prayer of Elias was earnest (Schneckenburger, Wiesinger, Lange), but that nothing else than his prayer produced the long drought.
τοῦ μὴ βρέξαι] the genitive of design after ΠΡΟΣΗΎΞΑΤΟ, because the contents of the prayer agreed with its object. This construction corresponds to the frequent use of ἽΝΑ with verbs of asking in the N. T.; see Winer, p. 292 [E. T. 410].
ΒΡΈΧΕΙΝ] is here used, as in the later classics, impersonally; otherwise in Matthew 5:45; Genesis 2:5; Genesis 19:24. Baumgarten incorrectly supplies Ὁ ΘΕΌς as the subject.
ΚΑῚ ΟὐΚ Κ.Τ.Λ.] the result of the prayer. Schneckenburger: quis non sentit pondus dictionis ΤΟῦ ΜῊ ΒΡΈΞΑΙ, ΚΑῚ ΟὐΚ ἜΒΡΕΞΕΝ; comp. Genesis 1:3, fiat lux, et facta est lux.
ἘΠῚ Τῆς Γῆς] not on the land, i.e. Palestine (Grotius, Wolf, Baumgarten, Stolz, Lange, and others), but on the earth (Luther); comp. Luke 4:25 (Genesis 7:12).
 It is otherwise with regard to Luke 4:25, where the simple duration of time during which it would not rain is stated. has erred in making the prayer of Elias mentioned by him precede this whole period; whereas what is mentioned in 1 Kings 17:1, is that it commenced after the summer during which it had not rained. According to Lange, the reconciliation consists in this, that in 1 Kings 18 only the duration of the real famine is stated, which did not begin until one year after the announcement of the drought; but there is no indication of this statement.Jam 5:17. Ἡλείας: Elijah plays an immense part in the later Jewish literature, see Hamburger, op. cit., article “Elias”. With his mention here cf. Sir 48:1 ff.—προσευχῇ προσηύξατο: Hebraism cf. Luke 22:15; John 3:29, etc., etc.17. Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are] The word is the same as that used by St Paul in Acts 14:15. The reference to the history of Elijah (1 Kings 17:1; 1 Kings 18:1) is noticeable, as one of the coincidences on which stress has been laid as suggesting the inference that the Epistle was written by the son of Zebedee, whose thoughts had been directed to the history of Elijah by the Transfiguration, and who had himself referred to that history when he sought to call down fire from heaven on the village of the Samaritans (Luke 9:54). The inference is, at the best, uncertain. It is, perhaps, more to the purpose to note that the son of Sirach, with whose teaching that of the Epistle presents so many parallels, had dwelt with great fulness on the history of Elijah (Sir 48:1-12). It is remarkable that the Old Testament narrative does not directly state that the drought and the rain came as an answer to Elijah’s prayer, and that this is therefore an inference drawn by St James from the fact of the attitude of supplication described in 1 Kings 18:42. An interesting coincidence in connexion with this reference to Elijah’s history presents itself in the narrative given in Josephus (Ant. xviii. 8, § 6) of the troubles caused by Caligula’s insane attempt to set up his statue in the Temple at Jerusalem. Petronius, the then Governor of Judæa, was moved by the passionate entreaties of the people, and supported the efforts made by Agrippa I., who remained at Rome, to turn the Emperor from his purpose. It was one of the years of drought that brought about the great famine foretold by Agabus (Acts 11:28). No rain had fallen for many weeks, and the people—Christians, we may well believe, as well as Jews, though Josephus, of course, makes no mention of the former—were “instant in prayer,” calling upon the Lord God of Israel to send rain upon the earth. Suddenly rain fell in a plenteous shower from an almost cloudless sky. The earth was refreshed, and the pressing danger averted. Petronius, Josephus relates, was much moved by this manifestation, this Epiphany, of the Divine Power, and looked upon it partly as an answer to the prayers of the people, partly as the reward of the equity which he had shewn in dealing with them. According to the date which, on independent grounds, has here been assigned to St James’s Epistle, the event referred to must have happened but a few months before, or but a few months after, it. If before, he may well have had it in his thoughts. If after, it may well have been in part the effect of his teaching. Students of Church History will remember the strikingly parallel instance of the prayers of the soldiers of the Thundering Legion in the Expedition of Marcus Aurelius against the Marcomanni (Euseb. Hist. James 5:5. Tertull. Apol. c. 5).Jam 5:17. Ἠλίας, Elias) The whole effect of prayer is supernatural, and so far miraculous, though it does not appear so externally.—ὁμοιοπαθὴς, subject to like passions) The same word is used, Acts 14:15 : having the same πάθη, passions, the same afflictions of mind and body, which might not seem capable of such efficacy (ἐνέργεια).—προσευχῇ προσηύξατο, he prayed with prayer) While the idolatry of Baal flourished, he used prayer only, but that earnest: employing no other instrumentality for the production of this result. The Hebrew phrase itself, in which a verb is joined with a substantive or a quasi-substantive, always denotes something vehement: for instance, dying thou shalt die: shalt so die, that it may deserve to be called death.
 προσευχῇ προσηύξατο. Thus also Luke 22:15 : ἐκιθυμίᾳ ἐπεθύμησα, With desire I have desired; i.e. earnestly desired. John 3:29 : χαρᾷ χαἱρει, rejoiceth with joy; i.e. greatly rejoiceth. Also 1 Thessalonians 3:9.—T.Verses 17, 18. - Illustration of the last statement of ver. 16, from the case of Elijah, "a righteous man" under the old covenant, but one "of like passions with us," and therefore one from whose case it is lawful to argue to our own. Subject to like passions as we are. Ὁμοιοπαθὴς ἡμῖν: simply "of like passions with us;" cf. Acts 14:15, where it is used in just the same way. In the LXX. only in Wisd. 7:3. He prayed earnestly. Προσευχῇ προσηύξατο: a Hebraism, not infrequent in the New Testament (see Luke 22:15; John 3:29; Acts 4:17; Acts 5:28; Acts 23:14), in imitation of the Hebrew dissolute infinitive (cf. Winer, p. 584). For the incident alluded to by St. James, see 1 Kings 17:1; 1 Kings 18:1; but note
(1) that we are never told that the famine was in consequence of Elijah's prayer; and
(2) nothing is said of the duration of time (three years and a half) during which it rained not upon the earth. All we read is that "after many days the word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year;" but there is no clear indication from what period this "third year" is dated. With regard to
(1), it may have been St. James's own inference from the narrative, or may have been due to tradition. With regard to
(2), the very same time is mentioned by our Lord in his allusion to the same incident (Luke 4:25), "the heaven was shut up three years and six months." And as the same period is said to be given in the Yalkut Shimeoni on 1 Kings 16, it was probably the time handed down by tradition, being taken by the Jews as a symbol of times of tribulation (cf. Daniel 7:25; Daniel 12:7; Revelation 11:2).
The generic word; human like ourselves, this thought being emphasized by the succeeding epithet of like passions. See the same expression, Acts 14:15.
Of like passions (ὁμοιοπαθὴς)
Only here and Acts 14:15. There is some danger of a misunderstanding of this rendering, from the limited and generally bad sense in which the word passions is popularly used. The meaning is rather of like nature and constitution. Rev. puts nature in margin, which would be better in the text.
He prayed fervently (προσευχῇ προσηύξατο)
Lit., he prayed with prayer. See a similar mode of expression, Genesis 2:17 (Sept.), ye shall surely die (θανάτῳ ἀποθανεῖσθε); lit., ye shall die with death. Compare Luke 22:15; John 3:29; Acts 4:17. The addition of the cognate noun gives intenseness to the verb.
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