James 5:17, 18: Reclaiming the Erring, Part 2

Verse 17:[1] Elias was a man (Acts 14:15) subject to like passions as we are, and (1 Kings 17:1) he prayed earnestly (or, in prayer[2]) that it might not rain: (Luke 4:25) and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.

[Elijah was a man like, etc., ὁμοιοπαθὴς ἡμῖν] This word occurs in Acts 14:15[3] and Wisdom of Solomon 7:3.[4] It is used by Plato,[5] Aristotle,[6] and Theophrastus[7] (Grotius). Liable to similar, or the same affections, or dispositions, or passions, as we (Pagnine, Beza, Piscator, Vorstius, thus Erasmus, Vatablus). Similarly passible as we (Estius), either, 1. in body (Estius, Gataker); he was liable both to death and to the evils of life (Grotius, similarly Estius), and to the troubles of the body, like hunger, thirst, etc. (Estius, similarly Gataker, Menochius). See 1 Kings 17 (Gataker). Thus Acts 14:15, ὁμοιοπαθεῖς, of like passions, that is to say, not immortal gods, as ye suppose (Estius). Or, 2. in soul (Estius out of Bede, Gataker); as it is evident from 1 Kings 17:20; 19:3, 4. Thus the best men are all subject to fear, unbelief, and impatience, like Abraham, Genesis 12, Moses,[8] and others, etc. (Gataker)

Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are; both of body and mind, natural and moral; and so, though he were righteous, yet he was not perfect; though an eminent prophet, yet but a man.

[And with prayer he prayed] That is, intently, or ardently, he prayed (Grotius, Piscator, thus Beza, Estius). A Hebraic repetition (Beza), or a Verbal added to a verb (Grotius); which signifies Vehemence[9] (Grotius).

And he prayed earnestly; with that effectual, fervent prayer before mentioned. It is a Hebrew phrase, and notes vehemency, as Luke 22:15.[10]

[That not, etc., τοῦ μὴ βρέξαι] Τοῦ, that is, ἕνεκα τοῦ, to the end that.[11] In Scripture, we only have ἀνομβρίαν, the lack of rain, foretold by Elijah, and then the rain (Grotius). That it rain not (Beza, Piscator, etc.). Question 1: Whence did James have this? Responses: 1. He was able to gather it from 1 Kings 17:1 and 18:42. He stood before God, that is, he prayed: and according to my word, that is, what he asked of God (certain interpreters in Gataker). 2. He had this by revelation (Grotius). 3. Tradition related that this was done according to his prayers (Grotius, thus Gataker), and this is of itself plausible. For the worship of Baal, everywhere received, from a man full of ardor for God (for, that he was such, the whole History shows), extorted a petition for punishment; and, on the other hand, with the people turned to better things, he readily turned himself toward milder things (Grotius). Question 2: Why did he thus pray? Response: For the punishment of idolatry and of the dreadful butchery of the Prophets and Saints, of which Ahab and the Israelites were guilty. Then, he did this with God both directing and approving. Therefore, this is extraordinary, not to be imitated by us (Gataker).

That it might not rain; this is not expressly mentioned in the history, but this apostle might have it by revelation, or by certain tradition well known in his age. Other passages of the like nature we meet with in the New Testament which are not in the Old: see 2 Timothy 3:8; Hebrews 12:21; Jude 9.

[Upon the land] Namely, of Israel or the Ten tribes (Grotius, Gataker out of Augustine), and its adjoining regions, like Sarepta, 1 Kings 17; Luke 4:25 (Gataker). Of this ἀνομβρίας, lack of rain, Menander makes mention in his history of the Phœnicians, as Josephus relates to us in Antiquities of the Jews 8:7[12] (Grotius).

And it rained not on the earth; or, the land, viz. of the ten tribes, and the places bordering on them, as Sarepta, 1 Kings 17:9; Luke 4:25, 26.

[Three years and six months] As it is sufficiently indicated in 1 Kings 17 and 18 (Junius). So also Luke 4:25; in which place see the things that are said (Grotius).

By the space of three years and six months: so Luke 4:25. Question. How doth this agree with 1 Kings 18:1, where it is said, the word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year? Answer. Most probably it was in the midst of the third year from his coming to Sarepta; and he was by the brook Cherith a year. 1 Kings 17:7, where the margin reads it, according to the Hebrew, at the end of days,[13] i.e. the days of a year, as the phrase is often used, Genesis 4:3;[14] Judges 17:10;[15] so that his time spent in both places may well make up the three years and six months.


Verse 18:[16] And (1 Kings 18:42, 45) he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.

[Again he prayed] 1 Kings 18:45 (Grotius, thus Estius). After the Priests of Baal had been killed, and the people recalled to God (Estius).

And he prayed again; after the destroying the prophets of Baal. Baal-worship especially gave occasion to his former prayer, which he puts up out of his zeal to God’s glory, then laid low by the Israelites’ idolatry, and a desire to have them by some exemplary punishment for their sin awakened to repentance. And the destruction of the idolaters, and reformation of the people, who now acknowledged the Lord to be God, might give occasion to this. And the heaven gave rain; i.e. the air or clouds, which had not been for three years before.

[The land gave, etc., ἐβλάστησε, etc.] It produced, or brought forth (Erasmus, Illyricus, Tigurinus, Pagine, Beza). It sprouted (Erasmus, Vatablus, Montanus, Castalio, Piscator). For ἀνομβρία, the lack of rain, was the cause of the want of produce, as we see in 1 Kings 18:2. Add Deuteronomy 28:12, 23, 24. On the other hand, seasonable rains are the cause of fecundity, Isaiah 30:23; James 5:7 (Grotius).

[1] Greek: Ἠλίας ἄνθρωπος ἦν ὁμοιοπαθὴς ἡμῖν, καὶ προσευχῇ προσηύξατο τοῦ μὴ βρέξαι· καὶ οὐκ ἔβρεξεν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἐνιαυτοὺς τρεῖς καὶ μῆνας ἕξ.

[2] Greek: προσευχῇ.

[3] Acts 14:15a:  “And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things?  We also are men of like passions with you (καὶ ἡμεῖς ὁμοιοπαθεῖς ἐσμεν ὑμῖν ἄνθρωποι)…”

[4] Wisdom of Solomon 7:3:  “And when I was born, I drew in the common air, and fell upon the earth, which is of like nature (ὁμοιοπαθῆ, which is of like passion, that is, which is trodden alike by all), and the first voice which I uttered was crying, as all others do.”

[5] Republic 409b; Timæus 45c.

[6] Nicomachean Ethics 1:5.

[7] Historia Plantarum 5:7:2.

[8] See, for example, Exodus 3 and 4.

[9] In Hebrew, the verb will sometime be preceded by the Infinitive Absolute form of the same verb in order to express emphasis.

[10] Luke 22:15:  “And he said unto them, With desire I have desired (ἐπιθυμίᾳ ἐπεθύμησα) to eat this passover with you before I suffer…”

[11] This construction, τοῦ followed by the infinitive, can be used to indicate purpose.

[12] Menander of Ephesus (flourished c. second century BC) wrote a history of Tyre.  It is lost, except for quotations in Josephus’ Antiquities and Against Apion.

[13] 1 Kings 17:7:  “And it came to pass after a while (מִקֵּ֥ץ יָמִ֖ים), that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land.”

[14] Genesis 4:3:  “And in process of time (מִקֵּ֣ץ יָמִ֑ים) it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.”

[15] Judges 17:10:  “And Micah said unto him, Dwell with me, and be unto me a father and a priest, and I will give thee ten shekels of silver by the year (לַיָּמִים), and a suit of apparel, and thy victuals.  So the Levite went in.”

[16] Greek: καὶ πάλιν προσηύξατο, καὶ ὁ οὐρανὸς ὑετὸν ἔδωκε, καὶ ἡ γῆ ἐβλάστησε τὸν καρπὸν αὐτῆς.

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