James 5:17

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. James 5:17

James just said in the previous verse that “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Now, to show that this is supported by Scripture, he turns back to the idea of rains which he spoke of in verse 5:7. This time, it is concerning a drought upon the land at the time of Elijah. He says, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.”

Here James uses a word found only elsewhere in Acts 14:15. It signifies similar passions or feelings. Thus, Elijah was just like anyone else. Being called as a prophet of God does not change the fact that he carried the same propensities, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes as any other person. And yet, despite his standard human nature, James says that “he prayed earnestly that it would not rain.”

The Greek reads in a standard Hebraic way of expression saying, “he prayed with a prayer.” Such repetition is a way of intensifying what is said. The prayer is not recorded in Scripture, but his statement that it would not rain is. There is no reason to assume that James is adding to Scripture by saying this. Any such drought would come as a response to Elijah’s prayer.

In John 11, Jesus said that Lazarus would rise. He could have simply called out for him to do so, but before he did, it says that He spoke to the Father in a prayer of thanks. James has made a logical deduction, based on the words of Elijah, that a prayer was what initiated the extended drought over the land. This becomes more obvious based on what will be said in the next verse, where James refers to Elijah’s prayer which ended the famine.

Finally, James shows the effectiveness of the prayer of this man whose nature was just like ours. He notes that “it did not rain on the land for three years and six months.” This is a treasure for us in the New Testament. The account of Elijah and the drought in 1 Kings doesn’t give the amount of time that the drought lasted; it merely says first in 1 Kings 17 –

“And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.’” 1 Kings 17:1

It next says in 1 Kings 18 –

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.’” 1 Kings 18:1

All it says is “in the third year.” However, Jesus says in Luke 4 –

“But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; 26 but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.” Luke 4:25

James repeats the words of Jesus, but this must have been commonly understood by the people. If Jesus erred in His words, He would have been called out by the people for His inaccuracy. As both Jesus and James give a specific time period, and as there is no record of their words being called into question, then there must be a reasonable explanation for the specificity of what they have said. Albert Barnes provides an obvious conclusion concerning the matter –

“Three years and six months – From 1 Kings 18:1, 1 Kings 18:45, it would seem that the rain fell on the ‘third year’ – that is, at the ‘end’ of the third year after the rain had ceased to fall at the usual time. There were two seasons of the year when rains fell in Judea – in October and April, called the ‘early’ and ‘latter’ rain; consequently there was an interval between them of six months. To the three years, therefore, when rain was withheld ‘at the usual times,’ are to be added the previous six months, when no rain fell as a matter of course, and consequently three years ‘and six months’ elapsed without rain.”

What Albert Barnes rightly deduces is that the land normally did not receive rain for six months each year. At the end of those six months, the people would be in high anticipation of the coming rains. However, Elijah told the people that the anticipated rains would not come. Instead, there would be a famine. This continued until the beginning of the normal rain season three years later. Thus, the entire period of there being no rain came to be three years and six months.

One cannot say that James is incorrect when he says, “and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months.” Elijah did not say, “It will not rain for three years and six months.” He simply said, “there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.” It is irrelevant that the drought was three years from the time he spoke. What matters is that he spoke and the rains were withheld. The first six months being a normal cycle of no rain are simply added to his words, thus making a total of forty-two months for Israel’s time of famine.

Thus, the rains which finally came for Israel would have been the standard rains, normally expected at that time of year. The lesson had been given, the people were taught their lesson, and the normal cycle of life would – from that time forward – begin once again.

Life application: There are quite a few instances in the Bible where it is important to read both testaments in order to get the full picture of a particular issue. Certain psalms which record no author in the Old Testament are credited to David in the New. Various facts about Abraham and other OT figures can only be known by studying Acts, Hebrews, etc.

The point is that Elijah was merely a man. He may have been a prophet chosen by God, but he is only a man. By his word, it didn’t rain. James is saying that we are humans just like Elijah and therefore have the ability, by faith, to have effective prayer lives which can truly move mountains. If you feel your prayers are not being answered, make sure they align with God’s will and then have faith that they are heard and will be responded to according to His great plan for us.

In 2007 in Georgia, rainfall stopped and water became scarce. The leader of the state, Sonny Perdue, spoke these words on the capitol steps, “We do believe in miracles. We believe you are the miracle Creator – the Creator that established the water and the land, and the air, and even us. God, we need You, we need rain.” The next day it rained. Yes, God hears and responds to the prayers of His people when they humble themselves.

What a great and awesome God You are! That You would bend Your ear to the people You created and respond according to their pleas is simply amazing! How can we not praise You and give You the glory You are due! Thank You for the rain, thank You for healing, thank You for attending to our every need when asked in faith, and when it is according to Your will. Glory to You, O God! Amen.

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