Kings 19:1 Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.
The narrative has hinted that it is Jezebel, not Ahab, who wears the trousers. She will not be so easily cowed as her husband. Elijah has won the battle, but the outcome of the war is still uncertain.
Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done – ‘It is not said he told her what God had done, but what Elijah had done, as if he, by some spell or charm, had brought fire from heaven, and the hand of the Lord had not been in it.’ (MHC)
A bedraggled Ahab creeps back to Jezebel and tell her all that has happened. Without ado, she takes matters into her own hands.
With Davis, we can imagine the scene. “But Jezebel, honey, when Elijah prayed to Yahweh, fire came down and burned up everything right before our eyes!” The queen glares at him through mascara-laden lashes and with that familiar curl of her lips retorts, “So?” Davis comments, ‘This response surprises us if we have swallowed the education fallacy that pervades our culture and governments, i.e. get people the right information and it will change them. But it doesn’t.’ We Christians can sometimes suppose that if only we press the truth on people with the most winning arguments then they will just have to believe. But Jezebel tells us what the human heart is really like. There was a blaze of light on Mt Carmel, but until God opens your eyes you will remain in darkness. (cf. Jn 3:19) ‘This realisation must temper all our expectations in our evangelism, counseling and preaching.
1 Ki 19:2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”
1 Kings 19:3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there,
Elijah was afraid – According to Davis, the majority of Heb manuscripts have ‘Elijah saw how things were’ (very similar in the original). A few have ‘Elijah was afraid’, and these are followed by LXX and most modern translations as being a more natural rendering. AV, however, has ‘when he saw that’). If the correct meaning is ‘Elijah saw how things were’, then what he saw was presumably that the spectacular miracle of ch 18 had not persuaded everyone – not Ahab, certainly not Jezebel – to give up Baal and follow the Lord. Nothing was going to change in Israel after all. Jezebel would continue to wear the trousers and call the shots. ‘Elijah was not terrified by Jezebel but broken by her unrepentant paganism and by her continuing power throughout the nation.’
Elijah was afraid and ran for his life – his faith, strong in ch 18, has weakened for the time being. But then, he is not listening to the Lord now, but to Jezebel’s messengers and to his own anxieties. Like Jonah (1:1-3), he has traveled a long way without a divine itinerary.
He came to Beersheba in Judah – In the southern territory of Judah, 130 miles south of Jezreel.
1 Kings 19:4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”
He…prayed that he might die – Which is precisely what Jezebel had planned!
‘God, by an angel, fed him in that wilderness, into the wants and perils of which he had wilfully thrown himself, and in which, if God had not graciously succoured him, he would have perished. How much better does God deal with his froward children than they deserve! Elijah, in a pet, wished to die; God needed him not, yet he designed further to employ and honour him, and therefore sent an angel to keep him alive. Our case would be bad sometimes if God should take us at our word and grant us our foolish passionate requests.’ (MHC)
1 Kings 19:5 Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.”
Now the Lord resumes the initiative, and will lead Elijah back to the path of faithfulness.
1 Ki 19:6 He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.
1 Kings 19:7 The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.”
‘Elijah is to travel all the way to Mount Horeb (that is, Mount Sinai), the original site of God’s revelation to Moses. Horeb was in the arid Sinai Peninsula between Israel and Egypt, but the exact location is unknown.’ (Ex 3:1 17:6 33:6 Deut 1:2,6,19 4:10,15) (New Geneva)
1 Kings 19:8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.
He traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God – Horeb = Sinai. The journey re-enacts Israel’s wilderness wanderings, Num 14:33f and also Moses’ stay on the mountain, Ex 24:18. Would Elijah, like Moses, meet with the Lord on the mountain?
The view of Davis is that Elijah has come to Horeb, “Covenant Mountain” in order to file a charge against Israel of apostasy from the covenant.
1 Kings 19:9 There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
A cave – Lit. ‘the cave’. This might well be the spot which Moses occupied when the Lord passed by, Ex 33:22.
“What are you doing here, Elijah?” – ‘What are you running away from? Where are you running to? What do you want me to do for you right here and now?’ Davis sees in this, not a reproof, but an invitation – a tender invitation not only to state his case against Israel but also to unburden his own soul. The question is both covenantal and pastoral.
1 Kings 19:10 he replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
‘The food in the wilderness was a gentle reminder of the past, for Elijah seems to have forgotten the past – miraculous provision, resurrection, mighty acts of God on mountaintops. When invited by God to speak in v9, he mentions none of these, but talks only of Israelite apostasy and prophetic casualties, v10.’ (Provan)
“The Israelites have rejected your covenant” – but what of the Israelites restored to faith, 18:39?
“Broken down your altars” – But what of the altar rebuilt, 18:30-32?
“Put your prophets to the sword” – But what of the prophets of Baal killed?
‘Elijah’s memory is selective indeed. The resistance of one woman has in Elijah’s mind turned massive victory into overwhelming defeat.’ (Provan)
He needs to be reminded of the past, of who God is and what God has done. He needs to be reminded that he is far from only one left.
The view of Davis is that Elijah is not bemoaning a failed ministry, but lodging a formal charge of apostasy against Israel. This raises a question for us: ‘Do we really care that much about the infidelity of the professing church? Do its doctrinal indifference and idolatrous pragmatism ever get us upset for God’s sake?’
1 Kings 19:11 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
Wind…earthquake – ‘These phenomena were indications of God’s presence on Mount Sinai, (Ex 19:18,19 20:18 24:17 Deut 4:11,12 5:22-25) but God does not reveal himself to Elijah through them.’ (New Geneva)
1 Kings 19:12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
A gentle whisper – A possible translation is ‘a sound of silence’ (NBC)
For many, the message here is that God is more likely to communicate through a whisper than a shout. Or even, that a quiet, calm, contemplative life is more ‘spiritual’ than an active, busy one. Deut Vries (WBC) speaks for many when he says that this experience is ‘a rebuke not only for the biblical prophet, but for all religionists who rely on shoutings and flurries of action, while neglecting the way of quiet love, simple piety, and persuasive kindness.’ But the text tells us what the Lord did, not what he expected Elijah to do. It may be best to regard this voice, as Davis does, as revelatory rather than didactic. The ‘gentle whisper’ is the voice of Yahweh. ‘You may not find Yahweh in the spectacular explosions of “nature,” but you can be sure he is present in his quiet word given to his prophet(s), a word that directs history, vv15-17 and preserves a people, v18.’
‘Might this suggest that Yahweh will not be giving many dramatic, overt proofs of his reality, as at Carmel, ch 18, now that such revelation has been officially rejected? Instead his presence and reality will primarily be seen in his ongoing work of judgement, vv15-17 and grace, v18, which through his voice and his word he has disclosed to his prophet, cf Amos 3:7f. The “quietness” of Yahweh’s work does not mean he is not at work, but rather that the kingdom of God has gone into its mustard-tree mode.’ (Davis) Christians may crave signs, but God will seldom be present in the wind, earthquake and fire. We may long for high-spirited activity, but it is the prophets of Baal who work up religious frenzy. Biblical faith is content with the word.
1 Ki 19:13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
1 Kings 19:14 he replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
Davis (as previously mentioned) thinks that this is not a moan, but a formal accusation of breach of the covenant.
1 Kings 19:15 The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.”
The Lord’s response (again, to follow Davis) is not to rebuke Elijah for his assessment but to concur with it and to choose the instruments of judgement (two kings and one prophet).
1 Ki 19:16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.
1 Ki 19:17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu.
1 Kings 19:18 “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel-all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.”
I reserve seven thousand in Israel – This, says Davis, is the equivalent of Christ’s “I will build my church,” Mt 16:18. ‘Grace will have a remnant. The God of grace insists on it…and there is nothing any Jezebel can do about it. It is the infectious assurance, the defiant certainty, the holy dogmatism, of this text that keeps some of us on our feet.’
1 Ki 19:19 So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him.
1 Ki 19:20 Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and mother good-by,” he said, “and then I will come with you.” “Go back,” Elijah replied. “What have I done to you?”
1 Ki 19:21 So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his attendant.