The Lord, He Is God: An Exegetical Examination of 1 Kings 18:36-40 (Seminary Papers)

(The following is my term paper for Hebrew Exegesis/Hebrew III at Reformed Theological Seminary, submitted Spring 2021. Formatting not retained.)

In this paper, I will argue that 1 Kings 18:36-40 is one of the most important texts in the Old Testament demonstrating God’s jealous covenant faithfulness to his people and his unwillingness to allow other gods to receive the glory that he alone deserves. Although 1 Kings 18:36-40 is a relatively simple text, it contains a beautiful chiastic structure centered around the power of God over the power of false gods and his faithfulness to the people of Israel. Not only is 1 Kings 18:36-40 a significant text within 1 Kings itself, it is a significant text for the entirety of the Old Testament and even provides a foretaste of the return of Christ in the New Testament as well.

Reading Through the Text

For 1 Kings 17-18, I will list six subdivisions in the text: 17:1-7, 17:8-16, 17:17-24, 18:1-19, 18:20-40, and 18:41-46. My criterion for these divisions include 1) the unity of the text, 2) adequate size for proper interpretation, 3) completeness and resolution in the text, and 4) demarcations by surrounding material.[1]

I divide 1 Kings 17:1-7 into a section because the ESV, HCSB, and NASB95 separate verses 1-7 as it’s own unit. There is a unity to this section in that it describes the state of affairs before the drought and how the drought came about, and how the Lord prepares Elijah for the next phase of his ministry. The text begins with Elijah’s pronunciation of the drought and ends with the drought taking effect before Elijah’s eyes as the brook he was ordered to drink from dries up, which gives the unit resolution and, at seven verses, the unit is adequately sized for being understood. Additionally, this unit is demarcated by the ס at the end of verse 7, signaling the end of a division in the text. 

I divide 1 Kings 17:8-16 into a section because the ESV, HCSB, and NASB95 separates verses 8-16 into a unit in correspondence with the ס in verse 7. There is unity in this section in that the text is primarily concerned with the widow of Zarephath and her and her son’s lack of food. The text begins with the Lord promising to feed Elijah through a widow in Zarephath and ends with the word of the Lord being fulfilled as spoken by Elijah, which gives the unit resolution and, at eight verses long, is adequately sized for being understood. Additionally, the text is separated by the ס in verse 16, which includes the concluding phrase “according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah”, signaling the end of a division in the text.

I divide 1 Kings 17:17-24 into a section because the ESV, HCSB, and NASB95 separates verses 17-24 into a unit in correspondence with the ס in verse 16. There is unity to the section in that the text is primarily concerned with a shift in from the widow’s lack of food to the widow’s son and his illness, death, and miraculous resurrection. The text begins with begins with the illness and eventual death of the widow’s son and concludes with his resurrection by the Lord’s miraculous intervention through Elijah, which gives the unit resolution and, at seven verses long, is adequately sized for being understood. Additionally, the text is separated by the פ at the end of verse 24, and the widow’s declaration “Now I know that you are a man of God” concludes the end of her activity as the scene shifts to confronting Ahab and ending the drought.

I divide 1 Kings 18:1-19 into a section because the ESV and HCSB separate verses 1-19 into a unit in correspondence with the פ in 17:24; the NASB95 includes a further subdivision that I don’t believe is necessary. There is unity in the section in that the entire text is focused on Elijah and Ahab’s eventual confrontation and the confrontation itself, with all of the action and events taking place in orbit around the impending collision between Elijah and Ahab. The text begins with the Lord telling Elijah to go and show himself to Ahab and concludes with the beginning of the showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal, which gives the unit resolution. At 19 verses long, the section is lengthy, but the events and narrative are straightforward enough where the length does not pose too much of a problem for manageable interpretation. The text is segmented by the phrase “So Ahab sent” in response to Elijah’s command to gather the prophets of Baal and Asherah; there is no division in the Hebrew text, but given the size of the following section, this division is logical and keeps the text from becoming too large.

I divide 1 Kings 18:20-41 into a section because the ESV and the NASB separates verses 20-41 into a unit; the HCSB and NIV treat this unit and the subsequent unit as one complete unit, which I do not believe is necessary. There is unity in the section in that the entire text encapsulates the battle between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. The text begins with Ahab summoning the prophets of Baal and ends with their slaughter after the Lord proves his power and might to the people, which give the unit resolution. At 21 verses, this is the longest subtext in 1 Kings 17-18, but like the previous section, the straightforwardness of the narrative makes the length manageable. The text is segmented by the end of the prophets of Baal via their death and Elijah beginning the end of the drought; specifically, the phrase “and Elijah said to Ahab” shifts the narrative away from Mt. Carmel and the prophets of Baal towards the incoming resolution of the drought.

1 divide 1 Kings 18:41-46 into a section because the ESV and NASB separates verses 41-46 as a distinct unit. There is unity to the section in that the entire unit is focused on the end of the drought, having moved on from the destruction of the prophets of Baal. The text begins with Elijah telling Ahab that rain is coming and ends with the great rain that falls upon the land, giving the unit resolution and, at six verses long, is adequately sized for being understood. The text is segmented by the scene shift from Ahab and Elijah’s race to Jezreel to Ahab and Jezebel (now re-introduced into the text) recounting all that Elijah has done and Jezebel’s subsequent persecution.

Tabling the Text

For this paper, I began by segmenting and tabling the text in Hebrew (see attached Addendum A and B). These two exercises, although similar to each other, were essential to “sifting” the text to determine what features were important to focus on and which features were not as important to emphasize.

For segmenting the text, I began by dividing the text up into clauses, and by dividing up those clauses according to the main action line (narrative) and the off-action line (speech and parenthetical clauses). This exercise helped visualize the flow of the text and it’s relative split between narrative and speech, with the majority of the off-action material occurring in verses 36-37 and the majority of the main action line occurring in verses 38-40. This segmented text would be the basis for tabling the text in the next exercise.

For tabling the text, I took the segmented text and attached grammatical, syntactical, and semantic notes to each clause. This exercise yielded several important insights into the text, most notably through the lack of any major or unusual textual features. In the narration, the text is governed through straightforward waw-consecutive-imperfect verbs, and in Elijah’s speech, his use of fronting is infrequent and focused on emphasizing the immediacy of God’s vindication as a result of Elijah’s obedience. Aside from highlighting a few instances of interesting construct chains or non-Qal verbs, the most important conclusion gained from tabling the text is that the text is a relatively straightforward Hebrew text.

Contouring the Text

Once the text had been tabled, the next step was to contour the text, which involved visibly marking up the text to highlight repetitions of key verbs and significant grammatical repetitions. Below is the final version of the contoured text, with an explanation of the text immediately following:

In this text, the thick underline represents the main action line of the text, the yellow highlights are repetitions of אמר (“to speak, say”), green highlights are instances of repetition of ידע (“to know, observe”), red highlights are instances of repetition of נפל (“to fall, cause to fall”), purple highlights are instances of repetition of ענה (“to answer, testify”), and blue highlights are instances of significant grammatical repetitions. Earlier versions included markings for fronting and single instances of verbs, but as these yielded little additional insight into the text, they were omitted for the final version.

From this exercise, a significant observation emerged: each occurrence of the verb נפל also included an occurrence of grammatical repetition, with a string of definite direct object markers in the first instance and the repetition of יְהוָה֙ ה֣וּא הָאֱלֹהִ֔ים in the second instance. This suggests a possible chiastic structure of some kind, which led to the observation of Elijah speaking at the beginning and end of the text as the external chiastic pairing surrounding the internal chiastic pairing. This is reflected in the background shading of the text: the blue shading represents the A and A’ pairing of the structure, and the red shading represents the B and B’ of the structure. While segmenting and tabling the text confirmed that nothing unusual was present in this text, contouring it exposed the significance of what was present in the text.

Plotting the Text

Having observed a chiastic structure in the text, the next step was to plot the text according to the regions of the text and the flow of the text. The regions of the text were tentatively identified in the contoured text, but required clarification to determine the chiasm’s themes and the text’s flow.

As observed in the initial segmenting of the text, roughly the first half of the text consists of Elijah’s speech and the latter half is mostly narration, and this corresponds to the flow of the text as well. The pace of the story starts off relatively slow, with verses 36-37 consisting mostly of Elijah’s prayer to the Lord. Beginning in verse 38, however, the text begins to speed up, keeping an identical speed in verse 39 and exploding in verse 40, where just as much action occurs in a single verse as the rest of the story combined. The increase of speed in verse 40 also includes an increase in the amount of time covered in the text; verses 36-39 are relative scene-by-scene descriptions of events, where verse 40 includes the 450 prophets of Baal being seized, brought down Mt. Carmel to the brook Kishron, and slaughtered, covering several hours worth of events in a single verse.

In mapping the regions and flow of the text, another significant observation occurred in relation to the contoured text. Outside of נפל and אמל, the only other two verbs to be repeated twice were ידע (“to know, observe”) and ענה (“to answer, testify”) within Elijah’s prayer to the Lord. The speed of the text begins to increase in direct response to Elijah’s request for the Lord to answer and the people to know, beginning with the repeated instances of נפל and the people’s confession that the Lord is God and moving to the swift fallout for the prophets of Baal, whose god did not answer them and also know, along with the people, that the Lord is God – and that their end is near as a result.

In light of these observations, I list the regions of the text as following:

  1. A: Elijah prays for the fire of the Lord to fall and the people to know the Lord is God (v. 36-37)
  2. B: The fire of the Lord falls, answering Elijah’s prayer (v. 38)
  3. B’: The people of Israel fall in worship confessing the Lord is God (v. 39)
  4. A’: Elijah commands the prophets of Baal to fall by the sword (v.40)

These divisions correspond to the chiastic structure of the text and are thematically framed around the repeated verbs of the text. The central message highlighted in these divisions is that the Lord is a God who is jealous and faithful to his covenant people, and will not allow other gods to receive the glory for what only he can do. 

Historical Context

In order to understand the message of 1 Kings 18:36-40, it is important to understand the historical context of the text, the geographical context of the text, and what events immediately follow in the aftermath of the text. In this section, I will give a brief overview of the lineage of King Omri and his decedents, explain the significance of Mt. Carmel relative to the worship of both YHWH and Baal, and how the historical contextual material relates to the events immediately following the text.

In 1 Kings 16, King Omri of Israel begins his paper dynasty through his son Ahab and grandchildren Ahaziah and Joram. Omri was a wicked king and Ahab was even more wicked, and Ahab and his wife Jezebel made Baalism the state religion in Israel. In making Baal Israel’s God, Ahab had hoped to secure the provision of rain and food for the people, which makes Elijah’s proclamation of a drought in 1 Kings 17 not just a polemic against Baal worship in general, but an indictment against the nation of Israel as a whole for adopting Baal as it’s god[2]. Following the pronunciation of the drought, Elijah’s miracles with the widow in Zarephath directly challenge Baal’s promise to provide life and food. Long before the battle on Mt. Carmel, the Lord is providing his power and might over Baal through Elijah, giving a taste of what to expect at the climax of the battle.[3]

Mt. Carmel is a mountain range roughly 13 miles long along the coast of Israel, part of which extends into the Mediterranean Sea[4]. It is a fertile and forested mountain,[5] which naturally is sustained through rainfall and made for an appropriate site for the shrines of pagan Canaanite deities, namely Baal. With an average height of 1,000 ft above sea level and a peak of 1,700 ft above sea level, Mt Carmel was high enough to see lightning and storms easily.[6] The context of Mt. Carmel is significant for the clash between YHWH and Baal, the Canaanite god of storms, who bestowed rain as a blessing and punished with lightning (“fire from heaven”), who conquered a river and rose from the dead according to the annual harvest cycle. Mt. Carmel was a lush and fertile area, displaying the fruit of what Baal offered to give to the entire land, and the mountain was high enough to where lightning could be more easily seen, which makes it all the most spectacular when the Lord sends lightning to consume Elijah’s offerings since lightning purportedly was Baal’s weapon of choice, and why Elijah returned to the top of Mt. Carmel to see the coming storm from the Lord that would bring rain after Baal’s defeat. Both Elijah and Elisha’s ministries would be set against the backdrop of successfully doing everything Baal claims to do, but couldn’t.

Following the destruction of the prophets of Baal, the Lord provides “a great rain” (18:45) in full view of Ahab. Although this ought to have been enough for Ahab to repent of his idolatry and return to the Lord, Ahab doubles down on his idolatry through the influence of his wife Jezebel in the beginning of 1 Kings 19, who continues the persecution of the prophets of the Lord through calling for Elijah’s death. While this moment ought to have been a permanent wake-up call for the people of Israel to repent of their idolatry, the events of 1 Kings 18:36-40 will only briefly interrupt Israel’s descent into apostasy.

Literary Context

1 Kings 18:36-40 is one of the most important texts in the entirety of 1 Kings. It occurs as the climax of it’s immediate context and as the culmination of generations of unbelief and unfaithfulness of the people of God, and the aftermath of the events set a new direction for not only the rest of 1 Kings, but 2 Kings as well. In this section, I will give a brief overview of the literary context of 1 Kings 18:36-40 relative to it’s immediate context in 1 Kings 17-18, relative to the entirety of 1 Kings up to that point, and relative to the events that follow in 1 Kings 19.

Relative to the immediate context of 1 Kings 17-18, 1 Kings 18:36-40 is a subtext of 1 Kings 18:20-40. The prior subtext focuses on Elijah and Ahab’s encounter and preparations for the clash between Elijah and the prophets of Baal; 18:20-40 is the clash itself, with 18:36-40 being the climax of the clash in which Elijah/YHWH emerges victorious and the prophets of Baal are slain. The following section, 18:41-46, is the final section of 1 Kings 17-18, and aside from serving as the denouement of Elijah’s clash on Mt. Carmel, it serves as the chiastic pairing to 1 Kings 17:1-7; Elijah begins 1 Kings 17-18 by pronouncing that there will not be any rain in Israel, and concludes with Elijah telling Ahab to head to Jezreel “lest the rain stop you” as the Lord provides the promised rain for Israel’s repentance at Mt. Carmel.

Relative to the context of the book of 1 Kings up until that point, 1 Kings 18:36-40 is the climax of the Lord’s rebuke to Israel’s apostasy and descent into idolatry and Baalism. 1 Kings 1-11 focuses on Solomon and his own gradual descent into idolatry and abandonment of the Lord, which his two sons – Rehoboam and Jeroboam – will continue as the kingdom splits into northern/southern halves in 1 Kings 12. Jeroboam, who will rule the Northern kingdom, institutes a state religion with “an alternate Exodus tradition (Exodus 32), one that he can insinuate that has been unfairly stamped out by the priests in Jerusalem but represents a true Israelite faith.”[7]  1 Kings 13-15 show the gradual descent in idolatry through a succession of kings who “walk in the way of his father” before them, culminating in Omri and his son Ahab instituting Baalism into the state religion structure that Jeroboam instituted. After Elijah is introduced at the beginning of 1 Kings 17, 18:36-40 concludes the Lord’s significant rebuke against Israel, after tolerating their idolatry for several generations of successive kings. 

Relative to events that follow in 1 Kings 19, 1 Kings 18:36-40 is the immediate backdrop for the events that begin at the beginning of the chapter. After “Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword” (19:1), Elijah is then persecuted intensely by Ahab and Jezebel, and Elijah experiences a crisis of faith and depression as his “mountain-top experience” on Mt. Carmel results in a sharp increase of difficulty and hardship. The Lord takes care of Elijah and gives him another “mountain-top experience” as he prepares him for his final commissions as a prophet, and the chapter ends with the beginning of the transition between Elijah and Elisha, who now has become the prophet of the Lord in place of Elijah.

Canonical Context

In addition to being one of the most important texts of the book of 1 Kings, 1 Kings 18:36-40 is a major event within the entire Hebrew canon, and serves as a significant event in the history of the people of God prior to their exile into Babylon. In this section, I will give a brief overview of 1 Kings 18:36-40 relative to the Hebrew canon, to the Primary History of the Old Testament, to the book of Deuteronomy specifically, and to the New Testament.

Beginning with the Hebrew canon as a whole, it must be said that the Hebrew canon, unlike our English Bibles, treats 1 and 2 Kings as a single unit, the Kings, and is set in the middle of the Prophets division of the Hebrew canon. Within this division, the Kings serves as the final book of the Former Prophets subdivision, which covers the period of history before the destruction of both kingdoms and the exile into Babylon. Within 1-2 Kings itself, 1 Kings 17-18 functions as the center of the text, culminating in the narratives of Elijah and Elisha and the Lord’s polemical campaign against Baalism. Within 1 Kings 17-18, 1 Kings 18:36-40 is the climax of that campaign – the Lord is victorious over the prophets of Baal and the people briefly renew their covenant commitments to the Lord.

The Primary History of the Old Testament consists of everything that takes place between Genesis and the Kings, with the Kings covering an estimated 400 year’s worth of events and history prior to the exile.[8] 1 Kings begins with the ascension of Solomon and the construction of the temple, and 2 Kings ends with the destruction of that temple and both northern and southern kingdoms as the people of God are taken into exile. Within the Kings, 1 Kings 17-18 takes place at a critical checkpoint in the gradual decline of Israel, after King Omri and his son Ahab take the state religion framework that Jeroboam constructed and supplemented it with Baalism. Within 1 Kings 17-18, 1 Kings 18:36-40 is a rebuke to the people of God that serves as a warning of greater rebukes to come, foreshadowing the coming exile for failing to repent of the nation’s idolatry.

Relative to the book of Deuteronomy, 1 Kings 18:36-40 is a demonstration of the covenant faithfulness of God in the aftermath of God imposing covenant sanctions on the people of God for their idolatry. In Deuteronomy 11:13-17, Moses charges the Israelites to “love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul”, and that if they do this, the Lord “will give the rain for your land in its season…” (v 13). Moses warns the Israelites of the potential for their hearts to be deceived and to be turned to other gods, and should that happen, the Lord will shut up the heavens and not provide rain until the people repent. 1 Kings 17-18 is the warning of Deut 11:13-17 realized: the people’s hearts have turned after Baal, and Elijah shuts up the heavens and creates a drought. 1 Kings 18:36-40 is the promise of Deut 11:13-17 realized: the people confess the Lord is God and serve him with their whole being by putting away Baalism, and in the subsequent subtext the Lord provides the promised rain to the land and ends the drought brought by the people’s idolatry.

Relative to the New Testament, the Kings are parallel with the book of Acts in the New Testament in chronicling the events of God’s people under each respective covenant. Both books detail the loss of occupied land, but for different reasons: in the Kings, the land is lost due to idolatry and disobedience, but in Acts, the land is lost due to worship and obedience as the people of God begin traveling to the ends of the world to proclaim the Gospel[9]. 1 Kings 17-18 has no explicit parallel in Acts, but just as the Lord demonstrated his power in his polemic campaign against Baal through Elijah and Elisha, so the Lord will do through Peter, Paul, and the Apostles among the Gentiles and their gods. 

1 Kings 18:36-40 uniquely occupies two positions in the New Testament, both with respect to the covenant history but also with respect to the covenant epilogue. As history, the text’s parallel in Acts is found through the many “power” encounters between the apostles and those that opposed them, where the Lord mightily reveals his power and those present respond in faith and repentance. As a foretaste of the epilogue, the climax of Elijah’s battle on Mt. Carmel is a foretaste of Christ returns to destroy Satan, sin, and death, and not just the prophets of Baal, but all evildoers, will be destroyed forever; just as idolatry was temporarily stamped out through Elijah’s victory, idolatry will be permanently stamped out through Christ’s final victory.

Integrating Text and Life

In exegeting 1 Kings 18:36-40, the Lord has taught me much about my personal life and ministry, and to close this paper, I will explain how this passage instructs me on how to live my life and conduct myself in my ministry context, and how both relate to God’s redemptive work in Christ Jesus.

1 Kings 18:36-40 shows me that the Lord is glorified in faithful obedience to what he has commanded. The Lord does not require me to perform anything extravagant or extraordinary in my own strength or capacity in order to earn his grace or favor, unlike the prophets of Baal; the Lord desires simple obedience and is able and willing to work through the ordinary means of grace he has commanded to demonstrate his power and might in my life. The source of our passion in our worship ought to be based on the holiness and glory on God, not on how frantic we can work ourselves up to be.[10]

While the above insights have immense relevance for my ministry, the covenantal context of this passage is also of great comfort to me as well. The Lord is jealous for his people, and even when they give themselves over to idolatry and apostasy, the Lord will not allow his people to fully desert him, and will cause the hearts of the people to return to him in time. The Lord is mighty enough to use the weapons and conventions of the world or other idols against themselves to demonstrate his glory through his providential control over all things. Additionally, unlike Baal or the other modern idols of the world, the Lord can be fully depended on, and he will answer in a way that accomplishes his purpose for his church[11].

Finally, because of the redemptive work in Christ, my salvation is secured through my faith in Christ, and my obedience to him is now out of joy and gratitude rather than fear of punishment. Additionally, because of Christ’s redemptive work, I am secure in my Father’s hand, and nothing can snatch me out of it. Jesus Christ has transferred me from the kingdom of the world to his kingdom, and his kingdom will be victorious over the kingdoms of men and idols, no matter how fiercely they fight back or how “weak” Christ’s kingdom appears to be.

Bibliography

Devries, Simon J. 1 Kings. Vol. 12. 2nd ed. WBC. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004. 

Fee, Gordon D., and Robert L. Hubbard Jr., eds. The Eerdmans Companion to the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011.

Ryken, Philip Graham. 1 Kings. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Co, 2011. 

Schertz, Mary H., and Perry B. Yoder. Seeing the Text: Exegesis for Students of Greek and Hebrew. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 2001

Van Pelt, Miles V., and Fullilove, William B, ed. A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: The Gospel Promised. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016.

Youngblood, Ronald F., F. F. Bruce, and R. K. Harrison, Thomas Nelson Publishers, eds. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1995.


[1] Schertz, Mary H., and Perry B. Yoder. Seeing the Text: Exegesis for Students of Greek and Hebrew (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 2001), 23

[2] Currid, John D. Against the Gods: the Polemical Theology of the Old Testament. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 25

[3] Fullilove, William B. “1-2 Kings.” in A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: The Gospel Promised(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 223–246.

[4] Youngblood, Ronald F., F. F. Bruce, and R. K. Harrison, Thomas Nelson Publishers, eds. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1995), Logos edition

[5] Fee, Gordon D., and Robert L. Hubbard Jr., eds. The Eerdmans Companion to the Bible. (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), Logos edition

[6] Youngblood, Ronald F., F. F. Bruce, and R. K. Harrison, Thomas Nelson Publishers, eds. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1995), Logos edition

[7] Fullilove, William B. “1-2 Kings.” in A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: The Gospel Promised(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 223–246.

[8] Fullilove, William B. “1-2 Kings.” in A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: The Gospel Promised(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 223–246.

[9] Van Pelt, Miles V. “Introduction.” In A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: The Gospel Promised, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 23–42.

[10] Ryken, Philip Graham. 1 Kings. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Co, 2011), 501-502

[11] Devries, Simon J. 1 Kings. Vol. 12. 2nd ed. WBC. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 231.

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