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Bible: What Does 1 Kings 17-19 Teach Us About Elijah the Prophet and the Prophets of Baal?

Updated on September 15, 2016

Elijah in the Wilderness

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God's Providence


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Elijah the Tishbite

Elijah the Tishbite now enters the picture, confronting King Ahab with news of a drought from the LORD—a disaster which only his word can end (v. 1).

Anticipating Ahab's reaction, God prepares a hideout for His spokesman by the Brook Cherith (vv. 2-3).

From those waters Elijah drinks for awhile, and divinely-appointed ravens feed him (v. 4).

The prophet obeys God’s word, and he survives well enough until the brook dries up (vv. 5-7).

[From what source did the ravens obtain “bread”?

What kind of food did they provide for Elijah?

Did they kill small animals, and drop them at his feet?]

Afterwards, Yahweh directs Elijah to the widow of Zarephath in Sidon (vv. 8-9).

He finds her gathering sticks (kindling?) which she was planning to use to help "fry" her and her son's final meal (vv. 10,12).

Knowing that they would all survive if she obeyed his directive, the prophet of God asks her to feed him first (vv. 10-11).

He assures her that she would have enough for herself and her son after she served him (v. 13).

As support for this claim, Elijah even quotes Yahweh's promise (v. 14).

Because the widow believes the prophet's (and thus God's) word, she serves Elijah, and her household eats for many days (vv. 15-16).

Elijah Revives Widow's Son

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Later, her son somehow becomes comatose (v. 17); unfortunately, she blames (or seems to blame) the prophet for it (v. 18).

[Her words, however, may simply express the grief of a hysterical mother about to lose her only son].

Elijah personally ministers to the small child, interceding for him before God (vv. 19-20).

[The prophet's words suggest that he may have believed that God had been unfair to the widow].

The LORD mercifully revives the boy, and the man of God returns him to his mother (vv. 21-23).

This latest miracle convinces the widow that Elijah is a prophet, and that God's word is the truth (v. 24).

[Why was not the flour-oil wonder enough evidence for her?

Perhaps the fact that she was a Sidonian woman, and not an Israelite, may serve to explain her incredulity, at least in part].

Jezebel and Ahab

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1 Kings 18

In the third year of the drought, Yahweh sends Elijah to Ahab with good news: "Rain is coming soon" (v. 1).

As the prophet journeys on the road (v. 2), he meets a fellow man of God, faithful Obadiah (v. 7a).

[Earlier, the latter had rescued one hundred fifty seers from Jezebel's clutches (v. 4); however, now he serves as steward under Ahab, who has just commissioned him to find pasture for his horses and mules (vv. 3, 5-6)].

After Obadiah does Elijah great homage (v. 7b), he seems to have second thoughts about this display of honor when his “lord” orders him to tell Ahab where he is (v. 8).

Again, Elijah hears someone accuse him of bringing calamity into his life, but this time its source is unexpected (v. 9; cf. 17:18).

Obadiah believes that God has been purposely frustrating Ahab, whisking Elijah away from danger every time the king would learn his hiding place and seek to capture him (vv. 10-12a).

As a God-fearing man, Obadiah merely wants assurance that he will not lose his life for being the next messenger of deception to the king (vv. 12b-14).

Having received that certainty from Elijah, the prophet relays his lord's message to Ahab (vv. 15-16).

False Prophets


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Soon thereafter, the king pays Elijah a short, confrontational visit, which ends with the latter issuing a challenge to Ahab and Jezebel's counselors-- the prophets of Baal and Asherah (vv. 18-19).

All Israel assembles at Mount Carmel to witness the big showdown between Elijah's God and the "god" of the four hundred-fifty false prophets (v. 20).

[Jezebel's “buddies” apparently balked at the opportunity to "strut their stuff"; perhaps they realized that they were not in the same league as Elijah, though they undoubtedly offered a face-saving excuse instead (v. 22)].

What they probably did not expect—a penetrating rebuke from Yahweh's only remaining prophet—silences them (v. 21).

After stressing to his audience just how outnumbered he is, Elijah sets down the procedure and rules for the contest to which Israel readily agrees (vv. 22-24).

He allows the prophets of Baal to take first crack at calling down fire from their god to consume their bull (v. 25).

Hours of dancing, chanting, occasional holy mockery from Elijah, and customary bloodletting later, the bull remains undisturbed (vv. 26-29).

[The author emphasizes that no Voice sounded forth. No god answered; Baal paid no attention because it could not].

After his abominable opponents complete all their frenzied, gruesome display, Elijah calmly prepares the people for a revelation of Yahweh's power.

Assembling them together, he gathers twelve stones—one for each tribe of Israel—and rebuilds the altar (vv. 30-32a).

Next, the prophet orders the excavation of a deep trench around the altar.

After his helpers fill it with wood and the bull’s limbs, he asks them to pour twelve pots full of water into the trench until it overflowed (vv. 32b-35).

That evening Elijah reverently and simply asks the LORD to reveal Himself to those in attendance (vv. 36-37).

Yahweh's fire consumes not only the sacrifice, but also the wood, stones, dust, and water in the trench (v. 38).

Overcome with wonder, the people uniformly confess the LORD's deity. Then at Elijah's command, they round up the false prophets and execute them at the Brook Kishon (vv. 39-40).

Aware now that rain is on the way, Elijah permits Ahab to sup before he sends him back to Jezreel (vv. 41-42a).

Seven times the prophet dispatches his servant to the top of Carmel to watch the sky for clouds (vv. 43b-44).

On the final trip the fellow sees a small formation arising from the sea; therefore, Elijah tells him to inform Ahab that the defeated king's departure time “draweth nigh” (v. 44).

A violent storm soon rages as Ahab rides back to Jezreel (v. 45). Supernaturally energized, Elijah runs ahead of the king (v. 46).

Elijah's Replacement


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I Kings 19

After Jezebel learns of Elijah's exploits from her demoralized husband, she threatens to take the prophet's life within a day (vv. 1-2).

Inexplicably (for he had just won a great spiritual battle against a host of false prophets), Elijah “hightails” it south to Beersheba (v. 3a).

[Is his behavior so inexplicable? People let down their guard to celebrate.

When saints put off their armor, it is the time of greatest vulnerability to attack].

Leaving his servant behind, the prophet seeks further isolation in the wilderness where he bitterly bemoans his failure (v. 4).

Twice Yahweh's Angel rouses him to a prepared meal, so that he might survive his long trek to Horeb (vv. 5-8).

While sheltering in a cave at this historic mountain, Elijah receives a moving revelation from the LORD.

Quietly and tenderly, yet with penetrating force, God inquires, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" (v. 9).

Rather than admit that he had lost his nerve, the prophet attempts to justify his decision to flee, saying, in essence, "I was merely trying to save the life of the last faithful prophet left in Israel" (v. 10).

Yahweh patiently directs him to stand on the mountain.

Then He sends three frightening forces against it: a strong wind, an earthquake, and a fire (vv. 11-12a).

Elijah runs into the cave for cover, for the text states that he "went out and stood" at its entrance only when he heard "the still small voice" (v. 12b-13a).

Once again, God asks the prophet, "What are you doing here, Elijah?", and Elijah repeats his rationalization (vv. 13b-14).

The LORD then responds, in essence, "All right, son. It's time to get back to work.

"First, I want you to anoint a new Syrian king, then a new Israelite king, and finally, someone to replace you.

These three servants will execute all Baal worshipers. And by the way, Elijah, you are not alone; I still have seven thousand true believers in Israel" (vv. 15-18).

Leaving the mountain, he finds Farmer Elisha plowing with his oxen, and he throws his mantle on him; by this action, Elijah indicates that God has chosen the young fellow as his successor (v. 19).

When Elisha wishes to say good-bye to his parents, Elijah allows him (v. 20).

[His response, "What have I done to you?" is idiomatic and rather enigmatic also].

Once Elisha provides dinner for "the people," he follows Elijah and becomes his servant (v. 21).

© 2013 glynch1

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    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      The Elijah episodes are very interesting, showing both his strengths and his cowardice. The author's emphases are good additions to the presentation. Thank you for dutifully sticking to your task.

    • glynch1 profile image
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      glynch1 3 years ago

      Thank you as always, MsDora. Elijah shows me how courageous a believer can be when he is trusting the Lord as well as how self-pitying he can be when things go against him.

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