Elijah and the Drought
by Eric Lyons, M.Min.
Twice in the New Testament one can read of the drought of Eljiah’s day that lasted for three and a half years. Jesus once referred to this famine while addressing fellow Jews in His hometown of Nazareth (Luke 4:25-26), while James mentioned it near the end of his epistle (5:17-18). Some have a problem with the drought of “three years and six months,” because 1 Kings 18:1 says: “The word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, ‘Go, present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the earth’” (emp. added). Soon thereafter, “there was a heavy rain” (18:45; cf. 18:15). The question is, did the rain come “in the third year” (1 Kings 18:1, emp. added) or after “three years and six months” (Luke 4:25; James 5:17)?
Previously, in 1 Kings 17:1, Elijah had prophesied to Ahab that “there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.” Afterward, God instructed Elijah to “turn eastward and hide by the Brook Cherith” (17:3). There he lived, eating the bread and meat that ravens brought him twice a day, until “the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land” (17:7). God then sent Elijah to Zarephath to live with a widow and her son. After the child became sick and died, Elijah raised him from the dead (17:17-24). Immediately following this event, the inspired historian wrote: “And it came to pass after many days that the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, “Go, present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the earth” (18:1, emp. added).
Those who contend that Luke 4:25 and James 5:17 contradict 1 Kings 18:1 (cf. Matheney and Honeycutt, 1970, 3:210) assume that “in the third year” refers to the drought. Yet, no proof exists for such an interpretation. First Kings 18:1 does not say, “...in the third year of the drought,” but only “in the third year.” Considering both the immediate context and the fact that originally there was no chapter break separating 1 Kings 17:24 and 18:1, the most natural reading is that Elijah was “in the third year” of his residence in Zarephath. Elijah, the widow, and her household ate of the miraculously replenished flour for “(many) days” (17:8-15, ASV). Some time later Elijah revived the widow’s son. Then, “it came to pass after many days that the word of the Lord came to Elijah” (18:1, emp. added). It is reasonable to conclude that Elijah spent more than two years in Zarephath, since it was “in the third year” that God sent Elijah away from Zarephath to confront Ahab.
The “three years and six months” to which Jesus and James referred includes the two-plus years Elijah was in Zarephath and the several months Elijah lived at Brook Cherith. Although skeptics would rather assume guilt on the part of the inspired historian, Jesus, and/or James, once again they are unable to present real evidence for a genuine Bible contradiction.
Matheney, M. Pierce and Roy L. Honeycutt, Jr. (1970), Broadman Bible Commentary: 1 Samuel-Nehemiah, ed. Clifton J. Allen (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press).