Bible Commentary: 1 Kings 17

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1 Kings 17

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Ahab and Elijah 

The great prophet Elijah is now introduced. Halley's Bible Handbook states: "Six chapters are given to Ahab's reign, while most of the kings have only a part of one chapter. The reason: it is largely the story of Elijah…. Elijah's 'rare, sudden and brief appearances, his undaunted courage and fiery zeal, the brilliance of his triumphs, the pathos of his despondency, the glory of his departure, and the calm beauty of his reappearance [in a vision] on the Mt. of Transfiguration, make him one of the grandest characters Israel ever produced'" (1965, note on 1 Kings 17). It is noteworthy that only two prophets appeared in the vision with Jesus in the transfiguration—Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:1-9 Matthew 17:1-9 [1] And after six days Jesus takes Peter, James, and John his brother, and brings them up into an high mountain apart, [2] And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. [3] And, behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking with him. [4] Then answered Peter, and said to Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if you will, let us make here three tabernacles; one for you, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. [5] While he yet spoke, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear you him. [6] And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. [7] And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. [8] And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only. [9] And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead.
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Elijah's ministry would be the pattern for later important ministries. Elijah's successor, Elisha, received Elijah's mantle with a mandate to carry on the same type of ministry—even completing some of the tasks given to Elijah. John the Baptist went "before [Jesus Christ] in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17 Luke 1:17And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
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). The rest of Luke 1:17 Luke 1:17And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
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adds further understanding of the overall perspective of the original ministry of Elijah. And in Malachi 4:5 Malachi 4:5Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:
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, God says: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD." Apparently, John the Baptist was the forerunner of an end-time Elijah figure, who would preach in the spirit and power of Elijah to prepare the way for Christ's second coming (compare Matthew 17:10-12 Matthew 17:10-12 [10] And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? [11] And Jesus answered and said to them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. [12] But I say to you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done to him whatever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them.
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In marrying Jezebel and accommodating her religion, Ahab allowed Baal worship to be reintroduced in a big way into Israel (1 Kings 16:31-33 1 Kings 16:31-33 [31] And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him. [32] And he reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. [33] And Ahab made a grove; and Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him.
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). Prior to this time, the Kingdom of Israel's apostasy had apparently been confined to the sin of Jereboam son of Nebat, who built the golden calves and established new worship centers in Dan and Bethel. Near the end of the wilderness wanderings under Moses, there had been a brief encounter with Baal of Peor in connection with the Balaam incident (Numbers 25:3-9 Numbers 25:3-9 [3] And Israel joined himself to Baalpeor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel. [4] And the LORD said to Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel. [5] And Moses said to the judges of Israel, Slay you every one his men that were joined to Baalpeor. [6] And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought to his brothers a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. [7] And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand; [8] And he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel. [9] And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand.
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; compare Revelation 2:14 Revelation 2:14But I have a few things against you, because you have there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication.
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). And some Baal and Ashtoreth worship had taken place in the rather disorganized period of the judges (Judges 2:11-19 Judges 2:11-19 [11] And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim: [12] And they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves to them, and provoked the LORD to anger. [13] And they forsook the LORD, and served Baal and Ashtaroth. [14] And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he delivered them into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them, and he sold them into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies. [15] Wherever they went out, the hand of the LORD was against them for evil, as the LORD had said, and as the LORD had sworn to them: and they were greatly distressed. [16] Nevertheless the LORD raised up judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them. [17] And yet they would not listen to their judges, but they went a whoring after other gods, and bowed themselves to them: they turned quickly out of the way which their fathers walked in, obeying the commandments of the LORD; but they did not so. [18] And when the LORD raised them up judges, then the LORD was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented the LORD because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them. [19] And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they returned, and corrupted themselves more than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them, and to bow down to them; they ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way.
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; Judges 3:7 Judges 3:7And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgot the LORD their God, and served Baalim and the groves.
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; Judges 6:25-32 Judges 6:25-32 [25] And it came to pass the same night, that the LORD said to him, Take your father's young bullock, even the second bullock of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the grove that is by it: [26] And build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of this rock, in the ordered place, and take the second bullock, and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the grove which you shall cut down. [27] Then Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as the LORD had said to him: and so it was, because he feared his father's household, and the men of the city, that he could not do it by day, that he did it by night. [28] And when the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was cast down, and the grove was cut down that was by it, and the second bullock was offered on the altar that was built. [29] And they said one to another, Who has done this thing? And when they inquired and asked, they said, Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing. [30] Then the men of the city said to Joash, Bring out your son, that he may die: because he has cast down the altar of Baal, and because he has cut down the grove that was by it. [31] And Joash said to all that stood against him, Will you plead for Baal? will you save him? he that will plead for him, let him be put to death whilst it is yet morning: if he be a god, let him plead for himself, because one has cast down his altar. [32] Therefore on that day he called him Jerubbaal, saying, Let Baal plead against him, because he has thrown down his altar.
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; Judges 8:33 Judges 8:33And it came to pass, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the children of Israel turned again, and went a whoring after Baalim, and made Baalberith their god.
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; Judges 10:6-16 Judges 10:6-16 [6] And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim, and Ashtaroth, and the gods of Syria, and the gods of Zidon, and the gods of Moab, and the gods of the children of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines, and forsook the LORD, and served not him. [7] And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he sold them into the hands of the Philistines, and into the hands of the children of Ammon. [8] And that year they vexed and oppressed the children of Israel: eighteen years, all the children of Israel that were on the other side Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead. [9] Moreover the children of Ammon passed over Jordan to fight also against Judah, and against Benjamin, and against the house of Ephraim; so that Israel was sore distressed. [10] And the children of Israel cried to the LORD, saying, We have sinned against you, both because we have forsaken our God, and also served Baalim. [11] And the LORD said to the children of Israel, Did not I deliver you from the Egyptians, and from the Amorites, from the children of Ammon, and from the Philistines? [12] The Zidonians also, and the Amalekites, and the Maonites, did oppress you; and you cried to me, and I delivered you out of their hand. [13] Yet you have forsaken me, and served other gods: why I will deliver you no more. [14] Go and cry to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation. [15] And the children of Israel said to the LORD, We have sinned: do you to us whatever seems good to you; deliver us only, we pray you, this day. [16] And they put away the strange gods from among them, and served the LORD: and his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel.
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; 1 Samuel 7:3-4 1 Samuel 7:3-4 [3] And Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, If you do return to the LORD with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts to the LORD, and serve him only: and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines. [4] Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth, and served the LORD only.
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; 1 Samuel 12:9-11 1 Samuel 12:9-11 [9] And when they forgot the LORD their God, he sold them into the hand of Sisera, captain of the host of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab, and they fought against them. [10] And they cried to the LORD, and said, We have sinned, because we have forsaken the LORD, and have served Baalim and Ashtaroth: but now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, and we will serve you. [11] And the LORD sent Jerubbaal, and Bedan, and Jephthah, and Samuel, and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and you dwelled safe.
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). Solomon had built altars to various pagan deities, some of which were equated at times with Baal (1 Kings 11:1-8 1 Kings 11:1-8 [1] But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites: [2] Of the nations concerning which the LORD said to the children of Israel, You shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in to you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon joined to these in love. [3] And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart. [4] For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. [5] For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. [6] And Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and went not fully after the LORD, as did David his father. [7] Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon. [8] And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed to their gods.
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). But since the days of Samuel, through the period of the kings up until Ahab (about 200 years), there is no specific mention of Israelite Baal worship taking place.

Now, however, Jezebel not only brings in Baal worship but attempts to destroy all of the prophets of God, 100 of whom are protected by the God-fearing governor of Ahab's house, as we will see in our next reading (1 Kings 18:3-4 1 Kings 18:3-4 [3] And Ahab called Obadiah, which was the governor of his house. (Now Obadiah feared the LORD greatly: [4] For it was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the LORD, that Obadiah took an hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water.)
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). So God sends one of the most famous prophets of the Bible, Elijah, to pronounce judgment on Ahab, beginning with a three-and-a-half-year drought (Luke 4:25 Luke 4:25But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land;
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; James 5:17-18 James 5:17-18 [17] 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. [18] And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.
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) and its resulting famine. The drought was apparently a forerunner and type of a future drought referred to in the book of Revelation (Revelation 11:3 Revelation 11:3And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and three score days, clothed in sackcloth.
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, Revelation 11:6 Revelation 11:6These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.
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). However, the end-time drought will be much greater in scope—as the dire events preceding Christ's return will be worse than any that have ever happened (Matthew 24:21 Matthew 24:21For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
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Amazingly, in the growing sparseness of the land, God wonderfully provides for His servant via special delivery from the birds of the air!

Ironically, Zarephath—Elijah's place of refuge during the latter years of the drought, where God miraculously provides for the widow and her son who take him in—was in the region of Sidon (see Luke 4:26 Luke 4:26But to none of them was Elias sent, save to Sarepta, a city of Sidon, to a woman that was a widow.
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), the same territory that Jezebel came from (1 Kings 16:31 1 Kings 16:31And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him.
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God's provision through the multiple miracles we see here should encourage our faith. He can take care of our needs even when it looks like it's impossible to meet them (see Matthew 6:25-34 Matthew 6:25-34 [25] Therefore I say to you, Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? [26] Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much better than they? [27] Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature? [28] And why take you thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: [29] And yet I say to you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. [30] Why, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? [31] Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? [32] (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things. [33] But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. [34] Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.
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