1 Kings 17: Ahab and Elijah
Ahab was the king, and Elijah was the Lord's prophet. But Ahab was not king of all the country as Solomon had been. After Solomon's death the Holy Land was divided into two kingdoms. One was Judah, and Jerusalem was its chief city; the other was Israel, and its chief city was Samaria on a beautiful hill a little northwest of Shechem. Can you find the two cities on your map? Samaria was the home of Ahab and his wife Jezebel.
Ahab and Jezebel were not a good king and queen. "Ahab did evil in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him." Jezebel was the daughter of the king of Zidon (you can find that city on the Mediterranean shore), and she did much to lead the people of Israel away from the Lord to worship Baal the sun-god, which was the favorite idol of the people of Zidon.
Elijah was the prophet. He was a man like John the Baptist whom we read of in the Gospels. You may think of him as looking much like John, a stern, brave man, with a coarse hairy mantle, and his own hair uncut and long. He spoke boldly, telling the people how wrong it was to worship idols, and calling them back to the worship of the Lord. You can imagine that Elijah was both feared and hated by the wicked king and queen.
One day Elijah was sent by the Lord to Ahab, to tell him that there would be drought and famine in the land because the people were so evil. For three years and six months there would be no rain. The fields would be dry, grain would not grow, fruit-trees would not bear fruit, the cattle and the people would have little water and little food and there would be great distress. Elijah spoke his message and then hid as the Lord told him to do by the brook Cherith, which was near the Jordan. There is a brook there now running in a deep wild gorge which is often thought of as Elijah's hiding-place. There he drank of the brook, and each morning and evening the ravens brought him bread and flesh. Some think the word means Arabs and not ravens, but in any case they were the Lord's servants caring for the prophet.
When after a time the brook dried up the Lord sent Elijah across the country to a little town called Zarephath on the seashore. Tyre and Zidon were sister cities on the Mediterranean shore. Zarephath was a little town between them. You must read the story, and I will not tell it to you beforehand, how Elijah was met at the city gate, how he was taken care of, and what the Lord gave him power to do for the household who were kind to him. We will read the whole chapter.
We must read our chapter twice, first stopping many times to think of things which have been happening between our last story and this, and to find places on the map; and then again to feel the full interest and beauty of the story. We are in the northern kingdom, Israel. Jeroboam has died and several kings who ruled for short times after him. Ahab and Jezebel are now king and queen, and Elijah is the Lord's brave, faithful prophet. Elijah the Tishbite, we read in the first line. It is not surely known where his town was. Some think it was in the tribe of Naphtali. Do you remember where the lot of that tribe was? But he was living beyond Jordan in the land of Gilead. He was sent by the Lord with a message to Ahab.
Ahabís home was in Samaria. In the Gospels, this is the name of a district in the middle of the country, but here it is the name of a city a little northwest of Shechem. It was on a broad-topped hill in the midst of a very fertile region. Omri the father of Ahab had bought the hill and built the city. (1 Kings 16:23-24) There are many ruins there today. Among them are columns that belonged to a colonnade on the brow of the hill, from which was a beautiful outlook.
But why was the king living in Samaria? The king's home was Jerusalem in the days of Solomon. When the kingdom was divided after the days of Solomon, Jerusalem remained the capital of the southern kingdom, and Samaria soon became the capital of the northern.
Before you finish reading the first verse you find that the prophet's message to Ahab was a warning from the Lord that there would be no dew or rain for some years except according to his word. If there were no rain, there would be no harvests; there would be famine in the land. Why was this to happen? It was because the people had turned away from the Lord to the worship of Baal the sun-god. Ahab's wife was Jezebel, a princess of Zidon, where Baal was much worshiped; and she used her power to lead the people of Israel away from the Lord to this idol.
In the broad valley to the north, between the ranges of Lebanon and Hermon, there are ruins of two great temples. In one of these there are three enormous stones, perhaps the largest ever used in building, one about sixty-four feet long and thirteen feet high and wide. A still larger stone, seventy-one feet long, is still lying in the quarry. These were temples of Baal, and the place is called Baalbek. The temples were built long after the days of Ahab and Elijah, but they suggest the power of that worship which had taken so strong a hold upon the nations about Israel, and which so often led the people away from the Lord.
After giving his message of warning to Ahab, Elijah was sent to hide by the brook Cherith. It was some brook near the Jordan. The brook Kelt runs out from the hills of Judea near Jericho, and this has often been looked at as Elijah's hiding-place. It is a very wild, deep gorge, so deep and rough that looking down from above you often cannot see the brook which you hear running in the bottom. There is today a little convent in the gorge built in memory of Elijah and of his hiding by the brook. This may be the place, but at any rate it was by some lonely brook that the prophet was cared for and protected from the angry king and queen.
Reading on, you learn that the brook dried up. It is no wonder, for the drought lasted long, in all three years and six months, as we learn from the Gospel. (Luke 4:25) Then Elijah was sent to Zarephath. How was he cared for at that place, and what blessings came to those who cared for him there? In the Gospel, Zarephath is called Sarepta, which is the Greek form of the name. You notice also that the name Elijah in the Gospel appears in its Greek form, Elias. Zarephath was a city of Zidon. It was on the shore between Tyre and Zidon, at the point where the beach sweeps farthest outward into the sea. The first hiding-place had been on the eastern border of the land; this was on the western.
We have read far enough to meet all the words which need study to understand, and all the places which you need to look up on the map. Let us read the chapter. It is a beautiful story of the Lord's protection and care for His prophet who boldly spoke His word and did His work, when the king and queen and nearly all the people were against him.
As it had been with Elijah, so it was with the Lord when He lived in this same country and walked over these same paths. He was hated by the rulers of the people because He told them of their sins, but He was loved by those of simple Gentile heart. The people of Nazareth were angry when He told them this, that He would do no mighty works for them, but for people more deserving.
1. Where were Gilead, Cherith, Zidon, and Zarephath? Who was Ahab?
2. Why did drought and famine come upon the land? How long did it last?
3. Where did Elijah stay during the first part of the famine? How was he cared for there?
4. Where did Elijah afterward find a home? What blessings did his presence bring?
5. How is this story referred to in the Gospel of Luke?
The Kingdom of Israel had separated from Judah and abandoned the worship and service of the Lord. When love of the Lord is absent, what other love comes in and takes possession of the heart? The love of self and of evil pleasure, and this is represented by the worship of Baal which gained so strong a hold upon the Kingdom of Israel. It was associated with sun worship. The sun in a good sense is a type of the Lord's Divine love, but in an evil sense it is a type of supreme self-love. We shall think of this again when we read in the next chapter of the choice between the Lord and Baal, and Elijah's words, "The God that answereth by fire, let him be God." (A. 2441; E. 324)
Jezebel, the patron of Baal's worship, is the impersonation of the love of self and of evil pleasure, which compels the kingly power, the reason, to do its will, as Jezebel incited Ahab to evil actions. Jezebel is named in Revelation as the type of the love of self and of evil pleasures. (Rev. 2:20; E. 159)
Gentle and refreshing rain was to the ancient people a picture of truth from the Lord received in a mind that is open toward Him. Dew was to them a picture of such truth perceived very gently in a time of quiet meditation. "My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew." (Deut. 32:1-2) "As the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven . . . so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth." (Isa. 55:10-11) The promised land was distinguished from the land of Egypt, as drinking water of the rain of heaven. (Deut. 11:10-11) Why would it now suffer from drought on account of worshiping Baal? The drought came because love of self and of evil pleasures closes the mind toward heaven, to the Lord's instruction, and to all interior perception of truth. A spiritual famine follows when there is none of the Lord's truth in the thought, and as a consequence no good works in the life. (R. 496; E. 644; A. 3579)
Read carefully the passage in Luke 4:25-26 in which the Lord compares His treatment by the people of Nazareth and by others of that day with the treatment of the prophet Elijah in the old time. It was the Lord's truth condemning evil and showing the way of duty which was hated, whether spoken by the prophet or by the Lord Himself. The spirit of self-love and self-indulgence is always angry with the Lord and with His Word which rebukes evil. But there were those who cared for the prophet in the evil days, and there were some who received the Lord and listened to His words. There were repentant publicans and sinners, and there were simple-hearted Gentiles who gladly received and followed Him, especially in the country beyond Jordan when He was rejected in Jerusalem. Such simple Gentile people were represented by those who were kind to the prophet, not in Samaria where Ahab ruled, but on the borders of the land. Simple, ignorant people, but ready to receive the Lord and to serve Him according to their power were represented by the ravens that ministered to Elijah at the Cherith. A spirit very conscious of its need and of its destitution of the bread of heaven is represented by the widow with her very little oil and meal as food for herself and her child. But by putting care for the Lord before care for herself the little was increased and was enough for every need. Where that spirit is there can be no drought or famine for the soul. (A. 866, 4844, 9198)