3/8/03 1 Kings 17
1 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." 2 Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah: 3 "Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. 4 You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there." 5 So he did what the LORD had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. 6 The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. 7 Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. 8 Then the word of the LORD came to him: 9 "Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food." 10 So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, "Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?" 11 As she was going to get it, he called, "And bring me, please, a piece of bread." 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 and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it--and die." 13 Elijah said to her, "Don't be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.' " 15 She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah. 17 Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. 18 She said to Elijah, "What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?" 19 "Give me your son," Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. 20 Then he cried out to the LORD, "O LORD my God, have you brought tragedy also upon this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?" 21 Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried to the LORD, "O LORD my God, let this boy's life return to him!" 22 The LORD heard Elijah's cry, and the boy's life returned to him, and he lived. 23 Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, "Look, your son is alive!" 24 Then the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth."
Do we think that things have improved in the last ten years? The last fifty years?
We live in an age of increasing prosperity and possessions, but are people any happier?
Elijah lived around 850 B.C. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had split from the Southern Kingdom of Judah less than a hundred years before and was growing economically and politically. However, the nation was neglecting the Law given to God by Moses less than four hundred years before and was declining spiritually.
King Ahab was an example of this. We read in Chapter 16: 29 In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel twenty-two years. 30 Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. 31 He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. 32 He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. 33 Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him.
Politically, Ahab was one of the strongest kings of Israel. In his days Israel was at peace with Judah and maintained her dominion over Moab, which paid a considerable tribute (2 Kings 3:4). Ahab owes his prominence in the OT to the idolatry that occurred in Israel during his reign. "There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, urged on by Jezebel his wife" (21:25). His marriage to Jezebel, daughter of the king of the Zidonians, was politically advantageous but religiously disastrous. Jezebel introduced the idolatrous worship of Baal into Israel as well as the uninhibited orgies of the goddess Ashtoreth. She also instituted a severe persecution against the followers of the Lord and killed all the prophets of the Lord, except 100 that Obadiah hid (18:4; cf. 19:14).
God raised up a prophet, Elijah. A prophet is someone who speaks the words of God to a situation. This does not have to involve foretelling what will happen, although it may involve a warning that if people do not change something bad will happen.
Elijah warned what would happen if the King and the nation would not turn away from their worship of foreign gods. 17:11 "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."
God may have given Elijah this message directly. However, we know that there had already been six months of a three and a half year drought ( cf James 5:17 and 1 Kings 18:1 ). It could have been that Elijah interpreted the O.T. Law as a warning of this drought.
DT 11:13 So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today, to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul 14 then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil. 15 I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied. 16 Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. 17 Then the LORD's anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the LORD is giving you.
Just as a loving parent warns its child for its own good, so God warns His children. Unlike our country, in Israel rain was seen as a blessing from God and, if it was withheld it could indicate that something was wrong with the spiritual health of God's people. Sometimes it takes a disaster such as a drought to make people sit up and question what is going wrong. To look beyond the material to the spiritual.
There may be some similarities with the church in the West today. We ignore much of the gospel and are caught up in the affluence of the day and going along with the culture of the day and the political correctness that goes along with it. These are false gods as much as Baal was a false god two thousand eight hundred and fifty years ago. So the church in the West fails to take a stand on important issues of faith and to consider that God might judge it for its lack of faith. Our churches are declining and not attracting younger people. I am convinced there is a link.
In contrast, our African brothers and sisters, many of whom are poor and persecuted, have a vibrant faith and have a younger, growing church. Your average Anglican is now black and in his thirties. Why? Well it could have something to do with the fact that many of them consider the Bible to be authoritative and live their lives according to it.
We need prophets today to speak the word of God and to warn what will happen if we ignore it. Pastor Joe Wright of Kansas was asked to lead the State Senate in prayer. They were expecting the usual formal prayer to open the session but that is not what happened. The pastor used the moment as a confessional and prophetic opportunity. As he prayed there were some senators who got up and walked out. This is what he prayed:
"Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask Your forgiveness and to seek Your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, "Woe to those who call evil good," but that's exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values. We confess that: We have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it pluralism. We have worshipped other gods and called it multi-culturalism. We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle. We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery. We have neglected the needy and called it self-preservation. We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare. We have killed our unborn and called it a choice. We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable. We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem. We have abused power and called it political savvy. We have coveted our neighbour¹s possessions and called it ambition. We have polluted the airwaves with profanity and called it freedom of expression. We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment. Search us, O God, and know our hearts today; try us and see if there be some wicked way in us; cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent here by the people of Kansas, and who have been ordained by You, to govern this great state. Grant them Your wisdom to rule and may their decisions direct us to the centre of Your will... Amen."
The television news recently carried a story that many road accidents are caused by people driving under the influence of drugs. There is currently no effective method of testing for this, however.
Do we think that the government are being spoilsports by making it illegal to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol? No. Because the exercise of this 'freedom' invariably lead to injury, death and damage to property.
Similarly, God's ways are revealed for the good of everybody.
After his prophecy God sent Elijah into seclusion to emphasize the separation from God that the Israelites were experiencing because of their and their King's sin. Their sin is in contrast to the obedience of Elijah who obeys God. Some people think that God is a spoilsport and following Him means that you cannot enjoy life and that life is full of 'Thou shalt nots'.
Jesus said that he had come so that his followers may have abundant life ( John 10 :10 ).God is waiting to richly bless those who trust in Him and His word. Elijah is an example of this. Because he obeyed God he was blessed directly and through someone.
He walked fifteen miles to a ravine near to the Jordan River. Even though there had been six months of drought God provided Elijah with water from a brook and meat and bread from the ravens. There are echoes of God providing water, manna and quail in the desert for his people. Unlike them Elijah didn't complain and was faithful to God. He must have been encouraged when God was true to his word and , unlike many of his countrymen and women, Elijah ate and drank well.
This generous provision of God should lead to us being amazed and the power and the imagination of God in providing for his Elijah and his people.
At Theological College I studied with a student from Nigeria called Gabriel. He shared how difficult it was for him to make ends meet when he was a Pastor in Nigeria. Towards the end of the month he would often run out of money and food. He shared how it was not unusual for him to find, say a bag of rice on his doorstep in answer to his prayers. Despite this he, and his fellow Africans would go out of their way to be hospitable, even if this meant giving away the only food they had.
In contrasts we often take food for granted, and are sometimes less than hospitable with what we have. The P.C.C. decided that this Harvest there will be only be one, special morning service which will be followed by a hunger lunch where we will have soup and a roll and give what we would have spent on our Sunday meal to Tearfund. We will also do some activities linked with the Third World including looking at a video.
God then blessed Elijah through someone else. Not just anyone, but a foreigner. Not just any foreigner but one from Zarephath in Phoenician Sidon. You've heard the expression 'You can't tell a book by its cover'. Well this illustrates that you can't judge someone by where they come from. Ahab was a member of the Jewish people but was ungodly. The widow was from the same place as the evil Queen Jezebel but showed her faith in the God of Israel in difficult circumstances.
Elijah was led to the widow whom God had mentioned (v. 10). The prophet put a severe test before her (vv. 11-14). If she would first bake a small loaf for Elijah before seeing to her family's needs, God would honour her faith with a supply of flour and oil so long as the drought should last. Taking the prophet at his word, she obeyed; and everything happened as he had promised (vv. 15-16). This shows the obedience of a foreigner in giving up her last meal and God's providence again in giving her food and saving her and her son from starvation.
I guess many of us would have balked at giving our final meal to a stranger, even or especially if he promised that if we did this God would supernaturally continue to provide for us. We live in a culture that depends on the material and where, despite what Christians say, we tend to rely on what we can see and possess than on God. For example, if things are tight financially we might decrease our giving, or if we are too busy we may do less in the church or attend less frequently.
A couple, visiting in Korea, saw a
father and his son working in a rice field. The old man guided the heavy
plough as the boy pulled it.
"I guess they must be very poor," the man said to the missionary who was the couple's guide and interpreter.
"Yes," replied the missionary. "That's the family of Chi Nevi. When the church was built, they were eager to give something to it, but they had no money. So they sold their ox and gave the money to the church. This spring they are pulling the plough themselves."
After a long silence, the woman said, "That was a real sacrifice."
The missionary responded, "They do not call it a sacrifice. They are just thankful they had an ox to sell."
Where people sacrifice and rely on God he will bless them, not abandon them.
15 So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah.
This must have continued to encourage the faith of Elijah and built up his confidence in the prophetic ministry that God had called him into. It is only when we step out in faith that God can bless us. If we are not putting ourselves in situations where he can work supernaturally, then we cannot be surprised when he doesn't! I am not here talking about asking God for the answers to prayer that would make our lives easier, but the answers to prayer that is inspired by Him and will bring glory to His name.
God had saved Elijah, the widow and her son from starvation. Just as it seemed as if things were stable the son dies. The woman's husband had already died. She only had one son who would have been the 'breadwinner'. She would have been shattered emotionally and economically be her son's death. The woman is aware of her own sinfulness and thinks that is the reason for her son's death. This is not the way that God works. Jesus taught his followers about this in Luke 13:1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them--do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."
Sickness, accidents and death occur because sin is loose in the world. Rarely can an incident be linked to a specific sin. Death, which is separation from God, occurs because of sin. Everyone sins so everyone deserves death ( Romans 3:23 ). But, just as the son was covered by Elijah laying on him, so we, as believers are covered with the blood of Jesus shed for us. As Elijah pleaded with God for the life of the son, the blood of the Son ( of God ) cries out on our behalf to God to give us life. We remember and proclaim that in this Holy Communion Service today.
The life is restored to the widow's son. The active faith of Elijah had been rewarded. God had allowed the faith of the widow to be tested to the limits so that she could be confident in the true God. This caused her to declare, verse 24, "Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth."
The words of the prophet must be seen to be true to authenticate his ministry. I think the words "Preach the gospel at all times ... Use words only if necessary" have been attributed to St. Francis. I don't think he said, "The best vitamin for a Christian is B1."
Both these statements say that our words and deeds must go together. This doesn't mean that we should never grasp the opportunity to speak for God. But is does mean that we should always be living for Him. We should pray for ourselves, our fellow church members and clergy that our lives may be a living testimony to God in word and deed.
This account is one of a number in the Bible where the faith of someone who is not a Jew is an example to everyone of whatever race, age, or sex. For example the centurion whose servant was healed at a distance (Matthew 8) or the Canaanite woman with the possessed daughter (Matthew 15).
God will provide for anyone and everyone who will truly and radically trust in Him. God is faithful. He can do the 'impossible'. He will help to develop our faith by 'tests'. He will help us to live and witness for Him.
O Lord, my strength, make my life a daily witness, declaring in word, deed, and attitude that Jesus is alive. Lord, my own abilities will never be sufficient to accomplish this. So, I humbly pray, empower me by Your Holy Spirit, in Jesus name, Amen.