Old Testament Lesson 27 (1 Kings 17–19)
June 26–July 2
THE PROPHET ELIJAH
● 1 Kings 17:1 The prophet appeared on the scene as he cursed King Ahab’s wicked people.
— “Elijah” means “My God is Jehovah.”
— He was a Tishbite—not a local person.
— Some scholars say that Elijah came from Tishbeh, in upper Galilee.
— Others suggest a different place—Gilead beyond the Jordan in the land given to the tribe of Gad.
● 2 Kings 1:8 A physical description of Elijah.
— He was a “hairy man” who wore a girdle of leather (“garment of skins”).
— Calling him “a hairy man” means he was dressed in a rough garment, probably made of either goat’s or camel’s hair—perhaps an animal’s skin with the hair still on it.
Elijah Seals the Heavens
● 1 Kings 16:28–33 The conditions in the kingdom of Israel during the time of Elijah. The ruler of the northern kingdom of Israel at this time was the wicked King Ahab, who followed his powerful and wicked father, Omri, to the throne. His own wicked tendencies were compounded by his marriage to Jezebel, a Phoenician princess. Ahab adopted her practice of Baal worship and encouraged his people to join him in the worship of this false god, Baal, and also Asherah and Ashtoreth. The most offensive aspects of the worship of Baal and Ashtoreth were the immoral fertility rites, which were usually performed in outdoor shrines prepared for that very purpose.
● 1 Kings 17:1 Elijah sealed the heavens because of the wickedness of Ahab and his people: “There shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.” Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “There is something very significant in that edict . . . The reason I put emphasis upon this is to impress you with the sealing power by which Elijah was able to close the heavens, that there should be no rain or dew until he spoke.”
● 1 Kings 17:2–7 After Elijah declared that no rain would fall in the kingdom, the Lord commanded him to flee to the Brook Cherith, where the Lord fed Elijah by sending ravens with food.
— W. Cleon Skousen said, “We do not know which of the Jordan tributaries the brook Cherith might have been, but apparently it was an obscure and isolated place where Elijah could hide safely without being accidentally discovered by soldiers, shepherds or passers-by. It was also a desolate place where no animal life existed, therefore Elijah was completely dependent upon the Lord for his sustenance.”
Miracles for the Widow of Zarephath
● 1 Kings 17:7–16 After the Brook Cherith dried up, the Lord prepared a widow in Zarephath to help Elijah.
— Zarephath was on the coast of the Mediterranean between Tyre and Sidon, in what is now Lebanon and was then Phoenicia, outside the boundaries of Israel (v. 9). This was the very same country that Jezebel came from—enemy territory for the prophet Elijah.
— 1 Kings 17:10–12 Among the major exports of Zarephath was grain and oil. That the widow had little of these two necessities of life indicates how severe and widespread the drought was.
— 1 Kings 17:13–16 Elijah promised that her barrel of flour and cruse of oil would not fail for the duration of the famine if she fed him. Her obedient response showed her great faith in the words of the prophet.
— Elijah’s request was not a selfish one, but rather a test of her faith (v. 13). Because she passed the test, Elijah’s promises to her were fulfilled.
— Luke 4:25–26 Jesus spoke of the faith of this woman in an attempt to open the eyes of his prejudiced countrymen.
— Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “[The widow’s response when Elijah asked her for food was an] expression of faith—as great, under these circumstances, as any I know in the scriptures . . . Perhaps uncertain what the cost of her faith would be . . . , she first took her small loaf to Elijah, obviously trusting that if there were not enough bread left over, at least she and her son would have died in an act of pure charity.”
— President Ezra Taft Benson said, “When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities . . . May God bless us to put [him] first and, as a result, reap peace in this life and eternal life with a fulness of joy in the life to come.”
● 1 Kings 17:17–24 Elijah subsequently raised her son from the dead.
— W. Cleon Skousen said, “It was during this interval of hiding and surviving on a bread and water diet that Elijah was unexpectedly accused of killing the son of his hostess. The boy was apparently quite young and when he became severely ill the widowed mother tried desperately to save him. But it was to no avail. As she finally saw the last breath of life go out of him she seized the boy in her arms and cried out against Elijah as though he had deliberately done this to punish her for some sin. In the most bitter anguish she demanded, “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?”
— The widow’s cry was more a plea for help than a criticism (v. 18). In essence she was saying, “I thought sheltering a prophet would bring blessings and protection; instead, tragedy has struck my home.”
— Elijah followed the strange procedure of bending over the child three times as he prayed for his life (vv. 20–22). Later, Elisha did something similar in restoring the dead child of the Shunamite (2 Kings 4:34), and Paul seems to have done the same thing in raising Eutychus (Acts 20:10). However, the Savior did not do this when he raised the dead.
ELIJAH CHALLENGES AHAB AND JEZEBEL
● 1 Kings 18:1 In the third year of the famine, the Lord commanded Elijah, “Go [show] thyself to Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth.”
● 1 Kings 18:2–16 Elijah promised to appear before Ahab, who was seeking to kill him.
— Obadiah was the king’s chamberlain or governor of his house (v. 3). As such it was his responsibility to arrange the king’s appointments. That is why Elijah told Obadiah to set up an interview with King Ahab.
— Whether this Obadiah, who “feared the Lord greatly” is the author of the Old Testament book of the same name is not known, but it is doubtful (v. 3).
— Obadiah was a devoted worshiper of Jehovah, despite the persecution of Jezebel. Secretly, he hid a hundred of the sons of the prophets in a cave and provided food and water for them (v. 4; see also v. 13).
— The fact that a king and his chief steward had to look for water and grass by themselves shows that the famine had become acute (vv. 5–6).
— Ahab knew that Elijah had brought this distress, so he had searched for him (v. 10). If a man reported seeing Elijah and the prophet had disappeared by the time Ahab got there, Ahab would kill the man who reported seeing him (vv. 11–16).
— Elijah promised Obadiah that he would appear before Ahab, removing any danger that Obadiah would be killed (v. 15).
● 1 Kings 18:17–18 Ahab blamed Elijah for Israel’s troubles.
Elijah Challenges Ahab and His Priests
● 1 Kings 18:19–21 Elijah challenged the priests of Baal to a demonstration of priesthood power, and Ahab gathered all of Israel and 850 false priests at Mount Carmel.
● When the people gathered to hear Elijah speak, he asked them, “How long halt ye between two opinions?” “Literally, [the phrase means] ‘How long hop ye about upon two boughs?’ This is a metaphor taken from birds hopping about from bough to bough, not knowing on which to settle (v. 21). . . . They dreaded Jehovah, and therefore could not totally abandon him; they feared the king and queen, and therefore thought they must embrace the religion of the state. Their conscience forbade them to do the former; their fear of man persuaded them to do the latter, but in neither were they heartily engaged. . . .”
— Matthew 6:24 Jesus taught the same principle. The word “mammon” refers to worldliness.
● 1 Kings 18:22–29 The priests of Baal failed to produce fire.
— The contest that Elijah proposed should have appealed to the prophets of Baal, since their god, the “Sun-god,” could surely send down fire if anyone could (vv. 22–24).
— The priests of Baal were so unscrupulous that they rigged their altars with fires beneath them to make the sacrifices appear to ignite spontaneously. One ancient writer said he “had seen under the altars of the heathens, holes dug in the earth with funnels proceeding from them, and communicating with openings on the tops of the altars. In [these holes] the priests concealed fire, which, communicating through the funnels with the holes, set fire to the wood and consumed the sacrifice; and thus the simple people were led to believe that the sacrifice was consumed by a miraculous fire.”
— When they could not produce fire, Elijah’s mocking words caused a renewed frenzy among Baal’s prophets (v. 27). “They continued from noon till the time of offering the evening sacrifice, dancing up and down, cutting themselves with knives, mingling their own blood with their sacrifice, praying, supplicating, and acting in the most frantic manner.”
● 1 Kings 18:30–35 Elijah drenched his own sacrifice and trenches with water. He undoubtedly did this to show them that there was no trickery and that the power of the Lord was manifest. It was a bold and dramatic move that demonstrated his absolute confidence in the power of the true God.
● 1 Kings 18:36–40 Elijah called down fire from heaven. His purpose in challenging the priests of Baal was to show that Jehovah was the only true God of Israel (vv. 36–37). When the fire came down, the people fell to the ground in fear, crying, “The Lord, he is the God” (vv. 38–39).
— “The fire proceeding from Jehovah, was not a natural flash of lightning, which could not produce any such effect, but miraculous fire falling from heaven . . . the supernatural origin of which was manifested in the fact that it not only consumed the sacrifice with the pile of wood upon the altar, but also burned up…the stones of the altar and the earth that was thrown up to form the trench, and licked up the water in the trench. Through this miracle, Jehovah not only accredited Elijah as His servant and prophet, but proved Himself to be the living God, whom Israel was to serve; so that all the people who were present fell down upon their faces in worship. . . .”
● 1 Kings 18:41–46 Elijah then unsealed the heavens because of their faithful response, and torrents of rain fell from the skies.
Elijah Flees for His Life to Mt. Sinai
● After this great miracle, Elijah expected the northern kingdom to repent of its evil ways. Ahab was affected, but Jezebel swore to slay Elijah for his part in the deaths of the priests of Baal.
● 1 Kings 18:13 Jezebel was an enemy to righteousness.
● 1 Kings 19:1–10 Even after the miraculous fire from heaven, she was moved only to anger and swore she would take Elijah’s life in revenge.
— Elijah fled, first into the territory of Judah (at Beersheba) and then to Mount Horeb (Sinai) 150 miles further south. Horeb and Sinai are two names for the same mountain.
— Discouraged, Elijah asked the Lord to let him die (v. 4).
— Elijah prayed and fasted for 40 days at Mount Horeb—“the mount of God” (vv. 7–8).
— Despite the people’s response to God’s spectacular display of power, Elijah felt that he was the only Israelite left who worshiped the true God (vv. 9–10).
— Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “When he was there, the Lord called upon him and asked him what he was doing there; and in his sorrow, because of the hardness of the hearts of the people, he told the Lord the condition, that he alone remained, that they sought his life to take it away. But the Lord showed him that there were others who had remained true unto him, even 7,000.”
The Still, Small Voice of God
● 1 Kings 19:11–13 The Lord comforted Elijah on Mount Horeb, speaking to him through a “still, small voice.” God’s voice is similarly described in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 17:45; 3 Nephi 11:3).
— President Ezra Taft Benson said, “Do you take time to listen to the promptings of the Spirit? Answers to prayer come most often by a still voice and are discerned by our deepest, innermost feelings. I tell you that you can know the will of God concerning yourselves if you will take the time to pray and to listen.”
— Elder Boyd K. Packer said, “Inspiration comes more easily in peaceful settings. Such words as quiet, still, peaceable, Comforter abound in the scriptures: ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ (Ps. 46:10). And the promise, ‘You shall receive my Spirit, the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which shall teach you the peaceable things of the kingdom.’ (D&C 36:2). Elijah felt a great wind, an earthquake, a fire. The Lord was not in any of them; then came ‘a still small voice’ (1 Kings 19:12).”
Final Assignments for Elijah
● 1 Kings 19:15–18 The Lord gave final assignments to Elijah.
— Jehovah is the God of many nations, as illustrated by Elijah’s anointing of a new king of Syria (v. 15).
● 1 Kings 19:19–21 Elijah designated Elisha as his successor, as commanded by God.
— Elisha must have been wealthy to have been plowing with twelve yokes of oxen, for each yoke pulled a plow and was driven by a servant (v. 19). The feast of two oxen also indicates wealth. Eating the oxen and burning their equipment symbolically represents Elisha’s rejection of worldly wealth as Elisha prepared to follow Elijah and to make the considerable material sacrifice involved in responding to the prophetic call.
1: Keil &Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, 10 vols. , 3:1:234.
2: Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible . . . with a Commentary and Critical Notes , 2:452.
3: Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 2:102.
4: The Fourth Thousand Years , 336.
5: In Conference Report, Apr. 1996, 39; or Ensign, May 1996, 29.
6: In Conference Report, Apr. 1988, 3, 6; or Ensign, May 1988, 4, 6.
7: The Fourth Thousand Years, 338.
8: The Holy Bible . . . with a Commentary and Critical Notes, 2:457.
9: The Holy Bible . . . with a Commentary and Critical Notes, 2:459.
10: The Holy Bible . . . with a Commentary and Critical Notes, 2:457.
11: Commentary on the Old Testament, 3:1:249.
12: Doctrines of Salvation, 2:106.
13: In Conference Report, Oct. 1977, 46; or Ensign, Nov. 1977, 32.
14: “Reverence Invites Revelation,” Ensign, Nov. 1991, 21.