James 5:17

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

James 5:17 Meaning and Commentary

James 5:17

Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are
The apostle gives an instance of earnest and fervent prayer, and of the efficacy of it in Elias; who is the same with the prophet Elijah, or Elijah the Tishbite; who, by the Septuagint in ( Malachi 4:5 ) is called Elias, as here, and elsewhere, in the New Testament: of him James says, that he was a "man", contrary to the notion of some of the Jewish writers, who affirm, that Elijah was not born of a father and mother, but was an angel, who was clothed with the four elements of the world F5; but he was not only born, but born in sin, as others are, and was by nature no better than others; and he himself confesses that he was no better than his fathers, ( 1 Kings 19:4 ) . And the apostle further observes; concerning him, that be was "subject to like passions as we are"; both in body and soul; he was subject to hunger and weariness, and was fed by ravens, and by the widow of Zarephath, and by an angel; and he was subject to reproach, affliction, and persecution, being charged by Ahab as a troubler of Israel, and persecuted by Jezebel, who sought his life; he was a mortal man, and liable to death, and requested to die, and must have died, had it not been for the wonderful power of God, which translated him, that he should not see death; and he was not free from sinful passions, as impatience, fear, and unbelief, ( 1 Kings 17:20 ) ( 1 Kings 19:3-5 1 Kings 19:10 1 Kings 19:18 ) . And he prayed earnestly; or prayed in prayer; an Hebraism: it is said F6 of one, that (hytwlu ylu) , "he prayed his prayer"; and of others, that (Nytwlu Nalu) , "they prayed prayers"; though the phrase here seems to design something more than bare praying; a praying, not merely externally, or formally, and with the lip only, but with the Spirit, and with the understanding, and with the heart engaged in it, with inwrought prayer. The prophet prayed with much earnestness, with great vehemence and intenseness of Spirit, as this Hebraism denotes; his prayer was fervent, and it was constant, and importunate, and was continued till he had an answer: he may be thought to have prayed each of the seven times he sent his servant to look out for a sign of rain, ( 1 Kings 18:43 ) , he first prayed,

that it might not rain;
this is not recorded in express words, but may be gathered from ( 1 Kings 17:1 ) where he says, "as the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew, nor rain, these years, but according to my word"; so the passage is understood by the Jewish interpreters: the phrase, "before whom I stand", is paraphrased by one of them F7 thus; before whom I am used to stand, (hlyptb) , "in prayer"; and it is a common saying with the Jews, there is no standing ever mentioned, but prayer is intended; (See Gill on Matthew 6:5) And the other phrase, "according to my word", is, by another F8, interpreted to this sense, that the rain should not descend naturally, according to the custom of the world, but it should descend when Elijah (wyle llpty) , "prayed for it", and so it was:

and it rained not on the earth:
on the land of Israel, which is only meant; it rained in other parts of the world, for the drought in those times was not universal: and this was,

by the space of three years and six months;
which exactly agrees with the words of Christ, ( Luke 4:25 ) and this was in judgment upon the land of Israel, for the idolatry it was filled with in the times of Ahab: and this instance of prayer is mentioned, not with a view that it should be imitated; we are not to pray for judgments, unless we have a divine order for it, as Elijah had; but to show the efficacy of prayer made according to the will of God.


F5 Zohar in Gen. fol. 31. 1. & Imre Binah in ib.
F6 Ib. in Exod. fol. 4. 2. & in Numb. fol. 79. 2.
F7 R. David, Kimchi in loc.
F8 Vid. Laniado in loc.

James 5:17 In-Context

15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.
16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
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.
18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.
19 Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;

Footnotes 1

  • [a]. earnestly: or, in his prayer