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In James 5:17, it states that Elijah prayed earnestly for the 3 1/2 year drought, but in 1 Kings 17:1 it appears to be prophesy, not prayer. Can someone explain?

James 5:17 (BLB) - Elijah was a man of like nature to us, and with fervent prayer he prayed for it not to rain, and it did not rain upon the earth three years and six months.

I know there was discussion on these verses back in 2018, but no answer to this particular question.

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    Welcome! Its a good question... but it would be improved if you included the quotes that you mention rather than referring us to them. See the Tour and Help sections for additional guidance about the group. Dec 20, 2023 at 19:26

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1 Kings 17

1 Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab: “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, during these years there shall be no dew or rain except at my word.”

The phrase "As the Lord lives" is very different from "Thus says the Lord." The latter begins a prophecy. The former begins a definitive statement by the speaker, not God. Elijah says, in effect, "A surely as there is a God in Heaven, as certain as day follows night, there will be no rain!"

James apparently thought - or may have been aware of a rabbinical teaching - that Elijah's statement was a negative wish, a type of prayer. This is echoed by Rashi in his commentary on this verse:

'As Adonoy [the Lord] lives.' - Why was this phrase placed here?... Achov said to Eliyahu, “Is it possible that the student’s curse [should be] fulfilled while Moshe our teacher’s curse was not fulfilled?

Rashi preserves an ancient tradition in which Ahab challenged Elijah's authority by calling his prediction a curse by a mere apprentice. Moses' curses were not always fulfilled, he reasoned; and Elijah is surely not as great as Moses.

Conclusion: James refers to Elijah's 'prayer' because although Elijah invoked God's name, his statement was not actually a prophecy. It was a confident declaration that God would support his ardent negative wish or prayer. Because Elijah's wish was in accord with God's will, his prediction did come true.

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  • +1. Your last sentence is crucial - Elijah was presumably inspired to pray such a prayer; just as he prayed for the drought to break, seven times before rain came! 1 Kings 18:42-44. This gives the other part of Elijah's statement - it was only at Elijah's "word" = prayer, that rain came.
    – Dottard
    Dec 20, 2023 at 21:31
  • Yes. Ordinarily we would read it as prophecy. The question was a good one because it made us look again. Dec 21, 2023 at 1:49
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1 King 17:1 NIV

Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”

James 5:17 NIV

Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.

Ellicott's Commentary enlighten the understanding of "prayed earnestly";

James supplies a lacuna in the story of Elijah. In 1Kings 17:1, the prophet simply and sternly tells Ahab "there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word." Further on (1 Kings 18:41-46) "there is a sound of abundance of rain." In our Epistle we read that Elias "prayed earnestly"--literally, prayed in his prayer, a Hebraistic form of emphasis (see margin). He asked for drought, and it lasted three years and a half, so that "there was a sore famine in Samaria." He prayed once more, and "the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain," and thus again "the Lord hearkened unto the voice of a man." Yet Elijah was no demi-god; we even learn how he shrank from his prophet's yoke, and longed to die. No one therefore may despair in his petitions but rather let his "requests be made known unto God;" for "men ought always to pray, and not to faint" (Luke 18:1).

From 1 King 17:1 to 1 King 18:1, we have these observations;

  1. In 1 King 17:1, Elijah proclaimed a drought to king Ahab without a specific duration.
  2. There was word of the Lord to Elijah in 1 King 17:2-5, instructed him hiding in the Kerith Ravine and he followed.
  3. The word of the Lord came to him again in 1 King 17:8-10, instructed him to stay with a widow in Zarephath and he followed
  4. The word of the Lord came to him the third time in 1 King 17:14, which is a message to the widow.
  5. In 1 King 17:20-22 Elijah prayed earnestly to the Lord to save the widow's son. The Lord heard him and granted his prayer.

1 King 17:1 is not a prophecy because it does not begin with "the Lord said" but "As the Lord the God of Israel lives", which is a declaration of a solemn oath. The widow declared similarly in 1 King 17:12 " “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar.....".

From the events, James recognizes that Elijah is a man of prayer because the Lord frequently responded to him. Additionally, we observed that Elijah's prayer for the revival of the widow's son is remarkable. This very earnestness in prayer is likely the reason James refers to him as such in James 5:17.

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