We read in James that:

James 5:17

Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.

But we also read in 1 Kings:

1 Kings 18:1

And it came to pass after many days, that the word of the LORD came to Elijah in the third year, saying, Go, show thyself unto Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth

According to the story in 1 Kings (the source for the new testament writers) the drought lasted less three years. How can we reconcile the two passages?


There are three ways to reconcile the two passages.

First, the word of the LORD came to Elijah in the third year. In the third year could mean at some time during the third year. For example, Scripture describes David's 7-year reign from Hebron as 7-years and 7-years and 6-months (ESV):

And the time that David reigned over Israel was forty years. He reigned seven years in Hebron and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. (1 Kings 2:11)

six were born to him in Hebron, where he reigned for seven years and six months. And he reigned thirty-three years in Jerusalem. (1 Chronicles 3:4)

Both statements are in agreement; one is more precise than the other.

Second, as some commentators note [1 Kings 18:1] there is a natural 6-month dry period period between the early and latter rains. Elijah's prediction there would be a drought would not be recognized until after the first 6-months had passed. That is, the first 6-months without rain are normal; they are not part of a drought. Therefore a 3-year drought will always take 3-years and 6-months since a period of no rain for exactly 3-years is only a 2 1/2 year drought plus the normal 6-months between the early and latter rains.

Third, Jesus stated the drought was 3-years and 6-months:

But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, (Luke 4:25)

James is using the precise amount of time of 3-years and 6-months Jesus stated.

  • I think I just heard a mic drop! +1
    – Ruminator
    Oct 29 '18 at 0:00

Read very carefully and you will find no contradiction. 1 King 17:1 "there shall not be dew nor rain these year"

1 Kings 18:1 "... the word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year,... I will send rain upon the earth."

James 5:17 "it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months."

  • Good concise answer. +1
    – user25930
    Oct 29 '18 at 21:37

Famine covered years 887-884 BC Ahab's reign 890-868 BC.

  • Hi, welcome to the BHSE community! Could you explain your answer a little more? Thanks! Dec 5 '18 at 0:22

The proclamation was made first, drought ended after by some months, not right away. Like Agabus proclaiming a famine will happen. It did, but not immediately. Prophecy foretells the future, not necessarily immediate.


I think the question arises from counting the years this way: In the example of the child, in his first year of life he is months 0-12. At the end of the year we celebrate the first birthday and say the child is 1. When he completes the second year we say he is 2. And when he completes the third year we celebrate that he is now 3. By the time he is 3 years and six months he is in his 4th year of life.

  • 1
    This is not a very clear answer. How long was the drought? How is your answer then compatible with both passages?
    – curiousdannii
    Nov 15 '16 at 2:57
  • Well, we have 2 different accounts of the length of the drought. I cannot answer definitely whether it ended within 3 years or at 3 years 6 months. My guess is that the two different periods of time correlate to actual drought (meaning a count of days since the last rainfall) and the perception of drought (meaning that it takes awhile for cisterns to run dry and crops to fail). So there are two ways of experiencing drought and two ways of recording the experience.
    – K. Dozier
    Nov 15 '16 at 17:33

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