1 Kings 19:1-212017-03-22T04:46:11+00:00

Biblical Commentary

1 Kings 19:1-21

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1 Kings 19:1-21

COMMENTARY:

1 KINGS 16-18: THE CONTEXT

Ahab succeeded his father Omri, a king who ” did that which was evil in the sight of Yahweh… (and who was) wickedly above all who were before him” (1 Kings 16:25).  Ahab then married Jezebel, the daughter of King Ethbaal of Sidon (the center of Baal worship), and began to worship Baal.  “Ahab did yet more to provoke Yahweh, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (16:33).

In chapter 17, Elijah confronted Ahab with the prophecy of a drought (17:1-7)—a prophecy aimed squarely at the heart of Baal worship, given that Baal was supposed to control fertility and rain.  The drought occurred as prophesied, plunging Israel into such want that Ahab found it necessary to join his servant, Obadiah, in searching for grass to keep the horses and mules alive (18:5).  Ahab was unaware that Obadiah was secretly sheltering God’s prophets whom Jezebel was trying to kill (18:4).

Elijah then challenged Ahab and the prophets of Baal to choose a bull and call on their god to bring fire to burn the bull offering.  Elijah would do the same, calling on Yahweh.  Then they would see which god was real (18:20 ff.).  They did that, and Yahweh proved himself on that mountain by consuming Elijah’s offering.  Then Elijah had the people seize the prophets of Baal, and he then killed them (18:40). After that, Elijah announced the coming of rain (18:41-46).  Ahab then went to Jezreel, his summer or vacation home, where Jezebel was in residence.

 1 KINGS 19:1-3. AHAB TOLD JEZEBEL ALL THAT ELIJAH HAD DONE

1Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.2Then Jezebel sent a messenger (Hebrew: mal·ake) to Elijah, saying, “So let the gods (Hebrew:elo∙him) do to me, and more also, if I don’t make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time!” 3When he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.

“Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done” (v. 1a).  Jezebel is far more assertive than Ahab, who tends toward passivity.  She advocates actively for Baal.  She has killed Yahweh’s prophets (18:4, 13), and fed four hundred fifty prophets of Baal and four hundred prophets of Asherah at her own table (18:19) until Elijah slew them at Mount Carmel.   Later, when Naboth refuses to allow Ahab to purchase Naboth’s vineyard, Jezebel will have Naboth killed so that she can give his vineyard to Ahab (21:1-16).  She is a dangerous woman.

“and how (Elijah) had killed all the prophets with the sword” (v. 1b).  See “The Context” above for an account of Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal.

“Then Jezebel sent a messenger (mal·ake) to Elijah” (v. 2a).  Jezebel sends a mal·ake to threaten Elijah with death, but soon (v. 5) God will send a mal·ake  to sustain Elijah’s life.

“So let the gods (elo∙him) do to me, and more also” (v. 2b).   The word for gods here, elo∙him, can refer to gods in general (which is the case here), but is also used in some books of the Old Testament to refer to the God of Israel.  In this book, however, the God of Israel is yhwh – Yahweh (v. 4)—the name used to identify God at the burning bush (3:14).

“if I don’t make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time” (v. 2c).

Jezebel’s threat is to make Elijah like one of the dead prophets of Baal—to kill him—”by tomorrow about this time.”  She invites the gods to take her life if she fails.  As it happens, neither Elijah nor Jezebel will die within the next day.

We aren’t sure why Jezebel sends a messenger to threaten Elijah instead of soldiers to kill him.  She has murdered before (18:4) and will do so again (21:7-14), so it certainly isn’t that she is squeamish.  Perhaps she is afraid of public reaction if she kills Elijah.  More likely, Ahab was sufficiently impressed with Elijah’s action on Mount Carmel that he won’t condone a plot to kill Elijah (although Jezebel is usually the dominant person in their relationship).  In any event, it appears that Jezebel, for the moment, is satisfied to frighten Elijah and to drive him into hiding.  At that, she will be highly successful.

“When (Elijah) saw that, he arose, and went for his life” (v. 3a).  Elijah’s life is a recurring theme this story.  He flees for his life.  In verse 4, he will say, “O Yahweh, take away my life.”  In verses 10 and 14 he will complain that his enemies “are seeking my life, to take it away” (Devries).

Our first response has to be befuddlement that Elijah, who so recently acted so decisively in behalf of Yahweh at Mount Carmel—and who saw his faithfulness so decisively vindicated—could be so easily intimidated by Jezebel’s threat.  It seems totally out of character for this courageous and resolute prophet to turn tail and run.  But the Old Testament is replete with stories of good faith gone bad.

But, when we examine our own lives, we find that we, too, have moments when our faith is strong and our actions are unwavering—but those are, all too often, followed by moments in which we succumb to temptation or despair.  It is, sadly, the human story.

“and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah” (v. 3b).  Elijah flees to Beer-sheba, 95 miles (150 km.) south of Jezreel—as far from Jezebel as he can get without leaving the historic Promised Land.  The author mentions that Beer-sheba belongs to Judah, which means that it is outside Ahab’s jurisdiction.

“and left his servant there” (v. 3c).  Elijah leaves his servant behind while he goes a day’s journey into the wilderness of Sinai to the south of Beer-sheba (see v. 4).  This links him to Moses, who left behind Joshua, his assistant, while he spoke with God (Exodus 33:11).

1 KINGS 19:4-9a.  IT IS ENOUGH; NOW, O YAHWEH, TAKE AWAY MY LIFE

4But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough. Now, O Yahweh (Hebrew: yhwh – Yahweh), take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.” 5He lay down and slept under a juniper tree; and behold, an angel(Hebrew: mǎl∙˒āḵˊ) touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat!” 6He looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on the coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7The angel of Yahweh (Hebrew: yhwh mǎl∙˒āḵˊ – angel of Yahweh) came again the second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.” 8He arose, and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the Mount of God. 9He came there to a cave (Hebrew: el·ham·mea·rah – to the cave), and lodged there;

“But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness” (v. 4a).  Given Elijah’s later journey to Horeb (v. 8), we can say with some assurance that Elijah’s journey into the wilderness is south into the wilderness of Sinai—the large desert area that separates Judah from Egypt.

“and came and sat down under a juniper tree” (v. 4b).  The broom tree is a large shrub or small tree that grows in Sinai, attains a height of about 10 feet (3 m.), and would provide a bit of welcome shade in that hot climate.

“and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough. Now, O Yahweh, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers'” (v. 4c).  Elijah’s plea sounds very much like that of Jonah, the reluctant prophet (Jonah 4:3)—although Jonah asked to die because of his success, while Elijah asks to die because of his failure.  Elijah’s plea for death also provides another link to Moses, who on one occasion complained to God:

“Why have you treated with your servant so badly?
Why haven’t I found favor in your sight,
that you lay the burden of all this people on me?
Have I conceived all this people?
Have I brought them forth,
that you should tell me, ‘Carry them in your bosom,
as a nurse carries a nursing infant,
to the land which you swore to their fathers?’
Where could I get meat to give to all this people?
For they weep to me, saying, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’
I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me.
If you treat me this way, please kill me right now,
if I have found favor in your sight;
and don’t let me see my wretchedness” (Numbers 11:11-15).

Elijah fled Jezebel to save his life, but he now asks Yahweh to let him die.  That is best explained by the fact that his flight from Jezebel was fueled by fear, which led to exhaustion.  Now his fatigue feeds his despair.

“for I am not better than my fathers” (v. 4d).  The meaning here is uncertain.  Elijah could be saying that he is no better than his ancestors, who are all dead, or he could be saying that he is no better than the prophets who preceded him.

“He lay down and slept under a juniper tree” (v. 5a).  Elijah’s fatigue led him to despair.  Our moods are profoundly affected by our physical state (fatigue, hunger, thirst, heat, cold, etc.).  Elijah falls asleep in the shade of the broom tree.

“and behold, an angel (mǎl∙˒āḵˊ) touched him, and said to him, ‘Arise and eat'” (v. 5b).  We can be sure that this is an angel instead of an ordinary messenger, because verse 7 specifies that it is an angel of the Lord.  When the angel touches Elijah, it is to give him the welcome news that there is food for him to eat.  Having slept to eliminate one cause of physical discomfort, he can now eat to eliminate another cause.  The angel doesn’t say that Yahweh has provided this food, but that is implied.

“He looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on the coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again” (v. 6).  This is not the first time that Elijah has experienced a miraculous meal.  Ravens brought him food at the Wadi Cherith (17:6) and the widow of Zarephath fed him from a jar of meal that was not emptied and a jug of oil that never failed (17:8-16).

This supernatural food in the wilderness is another link to Moses (manna in the wilderness – Exodus 16).  Elijah satisfies his hunger and thirst and then lies down again.

“The angel of Yahweh (yhwh mǎl∙˒āḵˊ – angel of Yahweh) came again the second time, and touched him, and said, ‘Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you'” (v. 7).  There is almost surely a period of time between Elijah’s first meal and this invitation to eat again—most likely a time when Elijah slept again.  This verse specifies that the messenger is an angel of Yahweh.  The angel touches Elijah again to invite him to eat again, and specifies that the food is to strengthen Elijah for a journey.

“He arose, and ate and drank” (v. 8a).  Elijah, revived by sleep, food, and water, no longer asks to die, but instead does as the angel asks—gets up, eats, drinks, and sets out on his journey.  We do not know the precise location of Horeb, but it is most likely in the central or southern part of the wilderness of Sinai, several days journey south of Beer-sheba.

“and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights” (v. 8b).  This is a link to Moses, who “stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water” (Deuteronomy 9:9).

“to Horeb the Mount of God” (v. 8c).  The mountain on which Moses remained forty days and forty nights was also called “God’s mountain” (Exodus 24:13) and is most likely Horeb.

“He came there to a cave (el·ham·mea·rah – to the cave), and lodged there (v. 9a).  Because the Hebrew has the definite article (the cave), scholars think that this might be another link to Moses—that this might be the “cleft of the rock” in which Moses hid to protect himself from the Lord’s glory (Exodus 33:22).

1 KINGS 19:9b-10. WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE, ELIJAH?

9b and behold, the word of Yahweh came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”10He said, “I have been very jealous for Yahweh, the God of Armies; for the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and slain your prophets with the sword. I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”

“and behold, the word of Yahweh came to him (v. 9b).  The word of the Lord is a mighty force that brought the creation into being (Genesis 1).  The word of the Lord coming to a prophet is typically an enabling call so that the prophet will proclaim the word of the Lord to others (Jeremiah 7:1; 18:1; 25:1).  That is the case here.

“What are you doing here, Elijah?” (v. 9c).  Yahweh might be simply inviting Elijah to express himself, or this could be a rebuke!  In one sense, a rebuke is inappropriate, because the angel of Yahweh sent Elijah to this place (v. 7)—but in another sense it is highly appropriate, because Elijah would still be in Israel, far to the north, if he had not wavered in his faith when Jezebel’s messenger delivered a death threat (v. 2).

“I have been very jealous for Yahweh, the God of Armies” (v. 10a).  In chapter 18, Elijah saw things from a God’s-eye perspective, and was thereby able to engage in victorious living in the face of great opposition.  In this chapter, however, he views the world from a worm’s-eye view, and hence sinks into despair.

In this verse, Elijah begins by establishing his own impeccable faith credentials.  He has been “very zealous for the Lord”—blameless.  He has done his part—has acted faithfully—has done what Yahweh asked.  Any remaining problems cannot be his fault.

“for the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and slain your prophets with the sword” (v. 10b).  Ain’t it awful!  In spite of my very best efforts, the world has gone to hell in a handbasket!  Is there any Christian servant who has not at some point felt this way?

“Prophets stand in the court of Yahweh to listen to the sentences passed and to offer briefs on behalf of the people.  Elijah is convinced that things are beyond repair, and he presents evidence for the prosecution” (Leithart, 141).

Elijah lists the problems.  The Israelites have forsaken Yahweh’s covenants.  They have thrown down Yahweh’s altars.  They have killed Yahweh’s prophets with the sword.  This is the truth, but far from the whole truth.  “What of the Israelites restored to faith (18:39); the altar rebuilt (18:30-32); the prophets ofBaal killed…with the sword (19:1)?  Elijah’s memory is selective indeed” (Provan, 145).  What about the hundred prophets saved by Obadiah.  Elijah knows about this, because Obadiah told him (18:13).

“I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (v. 10c).  This is the capstone of Elijah’s complaints.  He is alone—the sole remaining faithful Israelite—and “they” are seeking to kill him.  He has moved from being God-focused to being self-focused, and as a result exaggerates both his own importance and the danger that he faces.  He has claimed to be “very jealous for Yahweh” (v. 10a), but he now reveals his concern for his own health and welfare.

In verse 10b, Elijah specified that it was Israelites who were guilty of violence toward Yahweh and Yahweh’s prophets, and here he implies that it is Israelites who are seeking to kill him.  However, it was Jezebel (a Phoenician from Sidon) who threatened to kill him.  It was in response to her threat that he fled, but he fails even to mention her name.

1 KINGS 19:11-14. GO OUT AND STAND ON THE MOUNTAIN BEFORE YAHWEH

11He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before Yahweh.”

Behold, Yahweh passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before Yahweh; but Yahweh was not in the wind. After the wind an earthquake; but Yahweh was not in the earthquake. 12After the earthquake a fire passed; but Yahweh was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. 13It was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave. Behold, a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14He said, “I have been very jealous for Yahweh, the God of Armies; for the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and slain your prophets with the sword. I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”

“Go out, and stand on the mountain before Yahweh.’ Behold, Yahweh passed by” (v. 11a).  The mountain is Horeb (v. 8)—probably synonymous with Mt. Sinai, the place where Moses encountered God and received the tablets (Exodus 19ff.) ­­— and the place where the Lord protected Moses by covering him with his hand while the Lord’s glory passed by (Exodus 33:22).

“and a great and strong wind tore the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before Yahweh; but Yahweh was not in the wind. After the wind an earthquake; but Yahweh was not in the earthquake.After the earthquake a fire passed; but Yahweh was not in the fire (v. 11b-12a).  It is not unusual for God to reveal himself in dramatic ways.  At Mount Carmel, Yahweh revealed himself with a great fire that “fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench” (18:38). Now, at Mount Horeb/Sinai, Yahweh chooses to reveal himself in a different way.  He sends wind, an earthquake, and fire—phenomena associated with Baal, the storm-god—but Yahweh is not present in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire.

“and after the fire a still small voice” (Hebrew: daq·qah·dema·mah qol – a sound of a gentle whisper) (v. 12b). The King James Version says, “a still small voice”—a delightful phrase but not very accurate.

The sound of a gentle whisper contrasts dramatically with the rock-splitting wind and the earth-splitting earthquake and the roaring fire.

This verse doesn’t specify that Yahweh is to be found in the sound of a gentle whisper, but that is implied by the fact that the earlier disclaimer (“Yahweh was not in the wind…. Yahweh was not in the earthquake…. Yahweh was not in the fire”) is not repeated here.

One lesson here is that the Lord’s word needs no bombast to reveal the Lord—or to manifest the Lord’s power.  Very often, the Lord reveals himself to us in the quiet moments of our lives.

“It was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave” (v. 13a).  This response by Elijah further confirms that he experienced Yahweh’s presence in the sound of a gentle whisper.

“and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave” (v. 13a).  It appears that Elijah remained in his cave throughout the great demonstrations instead of going out and standing on the mountain as Yahweh commanded (v. 11a).  Now, however, the sound of a gentle whisper brings him from the recesses of the cave to its mouth.

“Behold, a voice came to him, and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?'” (v. 13b).  Once again (see v. 9), the voice asks Elijah what he is doing here—another implied rebuke.

“I have been very jealous for Yahweh, the God of Armies; for the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and slain your prophets with the sword. I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (v. 14).  Once again (see v. 10), Elijah gives the same response.  He has quickly forgotten the lesson of Mount Carmel (18:20ff.), and seems not to have gained much insight on Horeb/Sinai (19:11-12)

1 KINGS 19:15-18.  I WILL LEAVE SEVEN THOUSAND IN ISRAEL

15Yahweh said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. When you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. 16You shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi to be king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah to be prophet in your place. 17It shall happen, that he who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and he who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill. 18Yet will I leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth which has not kissed him.”

“Yahweh said to him, ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus'” (v. 15a).  Yahweh doesn’t allow Elijah to wallow in his misery, but instead orders him back into the fray.

Elijah is now way south—in the wilderness of Sinai, far to the south of Judah’s southern border.  Yahweh commands him to go way north—to the wilderness of Damascus in Syria, far north of Israel’s northern border.

“When you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria” (v. 15b).  Yahweh is providing for the succession of both kings and prophets.  “Hazael of Aram will replace Phoenicia (hence, Jezebel) as the northern threat to Israel.  Jehu’s dynasty will overthrow Ahab’s house.  Finally, Elisha will replace Elijah as prophet” (Hens-Piazza, 191).

Hazael will reign as king of Damascus for more than a half century.  There is no record of Elijah anointing him, however.  There is a record of Elisha (not Elijah) telling Hazael, “Yahweh has shown me that you will be king over Syria” (2 Kings 8:13).

“You shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi (ben·nim·si – son or grandson of Nimshi) to be king over Israel” (v. 16a).  Jehu means “he is Yahweh.”  Jehu is actually the son of Hanani (16:1) and the grandson of Nimshi.

Elijah will not anoint Jehu, but a young prophet appointed by Elisha (not Elijah) will do so (2 Kings 9:1-10).

Jehu will be with Ahab when Yahweh tells Ahab, “Surely I have seen yesterday the blood of Naboth, and the blood of his sons,’ says Yahweh; ‘and I will repay you in this plot of ground” (2 Kings 9:26).  By the time that Jehu becomes king, Ahab will already be dead (1 Kings 22:37-38), but Jehu will kill Joram, the son of Ahab (2 Kings 9:24ff.)—and King Ahaziah of Judah (2 Kings 9:27-28)—and Jezebel (2 Kings 9:30-37)—and Ahab’s descendants (2 Kings 10:1-17)—and the worshipers of Baal (2 Kings 10:18-31).

“and you shall anoint Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah to be prophet in your place” (v. 16b).  In the next few verses, Elijah will enlist Elisha as a follower, but there is no record of Elijah anointing Elisha to be his successor (unless we accept his throwing his mantle over Elisha as an anointing – v. 19).  It appears, then, that Elijah fails to do what Yahweh calls him to do in these verses—to anoint Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha. There will be no penalty for Elijah for this disobedience.  In fact, Elijah will enjoy the signal honor of ascending into heaven without dying (2 Kings 2:1-12).

Abel-meholah is south of the Sea of Galilee, so Elijah will either need to stop there on the way to the wilderness of Damascus or come back to Abel-meholah after visiting the wilderness of Damascus.

“It shall happen, that he who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and he who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill” (v. 17).  Elijah’s work has been and will continue to be important, but he must share it with others.  “Elijah must be content with being part of the plan and notthe plan itself” (Provan, 147).

“The purpose of making Hazael king of Aram (2 Kings 10:32-33) is to cut back Israel’s territory and mediate God’s judgment on Israel for its idolatry….  The second case (2 Kings 9:1-13) also relates to divine judgment as Jehu puts and end to Omri’s dynasty and initiates reforms that begin to turn back the inroads of Baal on Israel’s life” (Fretheim, 110).

“Yet will I leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth which has not kissed him” (v. 18).  Elijah has bemoaned his status as the sole surviving faithful worshiper of Yahweh (vv. 10, 14), but Yahweh now sets him straight.  There are “seven thousand in Israel” (presumably seven thousand men plus women and children) who “have not bowed to Baal” in spite of severe pressure from Jezebel and Ahab to do so.

We know that Jezebel has killed Yahweh’s prophets (18:4), so it seems likely that she would kill anyone who came to her attention as being faithful to Yahweh.  Faithfulness when faced with the threat of death is a very rigorous test of fidelity—a test that these seven thousand have passed with flying colors.

1 KINGS 19:19-21.  ELISHA WENT AFTER ELIJAH, AND SERVED HIM

19So he departed there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing, with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth: and Elijah passed over to him, and cast his mantle on him.20He left the oxen, and ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me please kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.”

He said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?”

21He returned from following him, and took the yoke of oxen, and killed them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen, and gave to the people, and they ate. Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and served him.

“So he departed there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing” (v. 19a).  The word Elisha means “God is salvation.”

“with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth” (v. 19b).  Elisha is not guiding a plow pulled by two dozen oxen, but is instead working alongside other workers, each of which has a yoke of oxen.  The other teams are ahead of Elisha, and he is working the twelfth team.  If all these oxen belong to him, he is quite prosperous.  However, as we will see in verse 21, he will slaughter one yoke of oxen, so it is possible that only one yoke of oxen belong to him.

“and Elijah passed over to him, and cast his mantle on him” (v. 19c).  This is the closest that Elijah comes to obeying Yahweh’s command to anoint Elisha as his successor (v. 16).  “The prophet’s mantlewas made of skin and covered with hair, probably of goat’s skin with the hair turned outward.  It was the distinctive clothing of the prophet (II Kings 1:8; Matt. 3:4; and especially Zech. 13:4)” (Smith, 165).  Elisha clearly interprets this gesture as a call to discipleship (v. 20a).  It has given rise to people today talking about one person inheriting another person’s mantle, by which they mean a transition from one person to another.

“He left the oxen, and ran after Elijah, and said, ‘Let me please kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you ‘” (v. 20a).  Elisha responds enthusiastically to Elijah, asking only that he be allowed to say a proper goodbye to his parents before leaving to follow Elijah.

Jesus alludes to this story when he responds to a request by a potential disciple to “first go and bury my father.”  Jesus responds, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:22; Luke 9:59).  A closer parallel is the potential disciple who says, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus responds, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).

“He said to him, ‘Go back again; for what have I done to you?'” (v. 20b).  We are not sure what to make of Elijah’s response.  It might be Elijah’s way of saying that he has done nothing to prevent Elisha from saying goodbye—or Elijah may be giving Elisha permission to say goodbye but warning him not to forget the important call to which Elijah has called him (Wiseman, 175).

“(Elisha) returned from following (Elijah), and took the yoke of oxen, and killed them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen, and gave to the people, and they ate (v. 21a).  This constitutes an irrevocable act by Elisha—a burning of his bridges, so to speak.  The oxen and their equipment (harness and yokes) form the core of his farming enterprise.  If he sold them and pocketed the money, he would always be able to return to his former way of life.  Or he could have allowed a friend to use the oxen so that he could reclaim them in the future.  By slaughtering the oxen and burning their equipment, he demonstrates his commitment to following Elijah.

In the New Testament, Jesus’ disciples will leave their boats and families to follow Jesus, but they will not burn their boats.

“Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and served him” (v. 21b).  This is another link to Moses.  Joshua became Moses’ assistant before inheriting his mantle (Exodus 33:11; Numbers 11:28; Joshua 1:1).

Yahweh already made it clear that Elisha is to be Elijah’s successor (v. 16), but Elisha must first serve an apprenticeship under Elijah’s guidance.  He will serve Yahweh for half a century (849-799 B.C) and will have a threefold ministry:  to “heal, prophesy, and complete Elijah’s assignments” (Myers, 329).

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.  The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament.  The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Brueggemann, Walter, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary:  1 & 2 Kings (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Incorporated, 2000)

Devries, Simon J., Word Biblical Commentary: 1 Kings, Vol. 12 (Dallas, Word Books, 2003)

Dilday, Russell H., The Preacher’s Commentary: 1 & 2 Kings (Nashville:  Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1987)

Farris, Lawrence W., in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary:  Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text.  The First Readings:  The Old Testament and Acts (Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)

Fretheim, Terence E., Westminster Bible Companion:  1-2 Kings (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 1999)

Hens-Piazza, Gina, Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries: 1-2 Kings (Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2006)

Hinton, Linda B., Basic Bible Commentary: First and Second Kings (Nashville:  Abingdon  Press, 1988)

House, Paul R., New American Commentary: 1, 2 Kings, Vol. 8 (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995)

Inrig, Gary, Holman Old Testament Commentary:  I & II Kings (Nashville:  Holman Reference, 2003)

Leithart, Peter, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible:  1 & 2 Kings (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006)

Myers, Allen C. (ed.), The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987)

Nelson, Richard D., Interpretation Commentary: I and II Kings (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1987)

Provan, Iain W., New International Biblical Commentary:  1 and 2 Kings (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1995)

Seow, Choon-Leong, The New Interpreters Bible: 1-2 Kings, Vol. III (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999)

Smith, Norman H. (Exegesis) and Sockman, Ralph W. (Exposition), The Interpreter’s Bible: Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Job (Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 1954)

Spence, H.D.M. and Exell, Joseph S., The Pulpit Commentary: I & II Kings, Vol. 5 (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, no date given)

Wiseman, Donald J., Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, 1 & 2 Kings (Downers Grove, Illinois:  Inter-Varsity Press, 1993)

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Copyright 2007, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan