Lesson 34. The Illustration Of Elijah (James 5:17-18) PART 1

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

17. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months.

18. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

COMMENTARY

17. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months.

Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; therefore, he was subject to the same kind of passions as we are. This does not mean that Elijah was passionate in the sense in which that word is now commonly used; that is, that he was excitable or irritable, or that he was the victim of the same corrupt passions and tendencies to which other men are subject; but that he was similarly affected; that he was capable of suffering the same things, or being affected in the same manner. In other words, he was a mere man, subject to the same weaknesses and infirmities as other men. Compare the notes on Acts 14:15 at the bottom of this page.

The apostle is illustrating the effectiveness of prayer. In doing this, he refers to an undoubted case where prayer had such efficacy. But to this, it might be objected that Elijah was a distinguished prophet and that it was reasonable to suppose that his prayer would be heard. It might be said that his example could not be presented to prove that the prayers of those who were not favored with such advantages would be heard; and especially that it could not be argued from his case that the prayers of the ignorant and the weak, and of children and servants, would be answered. To meet this, the apostle says that he was a mere man, with the same natural propensities and infirmities as other men, and that, therefore, his case should encourage all to pray. It was an instance of the effectiveness of prayer and not an illustration of a prophet's power.

and he prayed earnestly - Greek, "He prayed with prayer" - a Hebraism, to denote that he prayed earnestly. Compare Luke 22:15. This manner of speaking is common in Hebrew. Compare 1 Samuel 26:25; Psalm 118:18; Lamentations 1:2. The reference here is undoubtedly to 1 Kings 17:1. In that place, however, it is not said that Elijah prayed, but that he said, "As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these three years, but according to my word." Either James interprets this as a prayer because it could be accomplished only by prayer, or he states what had been handed down by tradition as to how the miracle was produced. There can be no reasonable doubt that prayer was employed in the case, for even the Savior's miracles were accomplished in connection with prayer (John 11:41-42).

It would not rain - Not to gratify any private resentment of his, but as a punishment on the land for the idolatry which prevailed in the time of Ahab, famine was one of the principal methods by which God punished his people for their sins.

And it rained not on the earth - On the land of Palestine, for so the word earth is frequently understood in the Bible. See the commentary at Luke 2:1. There is no reason to suppose that the famine extended beyond the country that was subject to Ahab.

For three years and six months - See this explained in the commentary at Luke 4:25.

18. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

And he prayed again - The allusion here seems to be to 1 Kings 18:42, 1 Kings 18:45, though it is not expressly said there that he prayed. Perhaps it might be fairly gathered from the narrative that he did pray, or at least that would be the presumption, for he put himself into a natural attitude of prayer. "He cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees" (1 Kings 18:42). In such circumstances, it is to be fairly presumed that such a man would pray. Still, it is remarkable that it is not expressly mentioned and quite as impressive that James should have made his argument turn on a thing that is not explicitly mentioned but seems to have been a matter of inference. It seems probable to me, therefore, that there was some tradition on which he relied, or that it was a common interpretation of the passage in 1Kings, that Elijah prayed earnestly, and that this was generally believed by those to whom the apostle wrote. Of the fact that Elijah was a man of prayer, no one could doubt; and in these circumstances, the tradition and common belief were sufficient to justify the argument which is employed here.

And the heaven gave rain - The clouds gave rain. "The heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain" (1 Kings 18:45).

And the earth brought forth her fruit - The famine ceased, and the land again became productive. The case referred to here was indeed a miracle, but it was a case of the power of prayer, and therefore to the point. If God would work a miracle in answer to prayer, it is reasonable to presume that he will bestow upon us the blessings which we need in the same way.

PAUL PREACHES THE FIRST SERMON OF ACTS

Acts 14:15 And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein:

"We also are men of like passions (feelings) with you," they shouted. They were not about to be a part of such a sinful act. Herod Antipas had himself been given homage as a god, and he faired none too well for failing to deny it (Acts 12:22, 23). It seems to be human nature to want gods that can be seen and touched, gods in men's likeness. "Holy men" in every age yield to the temptation to be honored and adored. Not so with Paul and Barnabas. They had the natural, unaffected humility of all great men. The thought that ignorant people might be so misled as to take them for gods was so disgusting to them that before they said anything else, they made it unmistakably clear that they were human beings, no less and certainly no more. Ministers should follow the example of the apostles and take a warning from Herod.

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