The Prophet Series: Elijah, part 3

Posted: Fri. Dec, 9 2016

The Prophet Series: Elijah part 3


Elijah meets the woman at the gate.

1KI 17:10-13 So he arose and went to Zarephath, and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks; and he called to her and said, "Please get me a little water in a jar, that I may drink." And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, "Please bring me a piece of bread in your hand." But she said, "As the Lord your God lives, I have no bread, only a handful of flour in the bowl and a little oil in the jar; and behold, I am gathering a few sticks that I may go in and prepare for me and my son, that we may eat it and die." Then Elijah said to her, "Do not fear; go, do as you have said, but make me a little bread cake from it first, and bring it out to me, and afterward you may make one for yourself and for your son."

Elijah shows his complete trust in God. He walks amongst the busy part of the city and looks around, knowing that God will give him the eyes to see. His faith makes the eyes of his heart keen and able to discern. The fact that she is gathering sticks, meaning that she is searching for brushwood, reveals that she is very poor. She cannot afford to buy wood for a cooking fire. She has to scavenge for enough wood that the regular folks disregard in order to create enough heat to cook some cakes for her and her son, which she indicates will likely not be enough for them and they will die. And then Elijah asks this impoverished woman, busy with survival, for the most curious thing. He asks her to get him some water.

Elijah is very capable of getting his own water, but this is a test for her. She would have recognized him as a Jew and even likely as a prophet by the way he dressed. Would a woman from the land of Jezebel serve a Jew? This is an interesting precedent in the Bible. When Abraham sought a wife for his son Isaac he sent his servant to Mesopotamia, to find a girl from his own family. It was Rebekah, a Gentile at the time, who was willing to draw water for the servant and his camels and so serve Abraham. Are we willing to be servants to all? If we are then our reward will be great, as certainly the reward to this widow will be.

MAT 10:42 "And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you he shall not lose his reward."

On her way to get the water, Elijah increases the test. Knowing that she is very poor and so without much to eat, he asks her to give him bread made by her own hand. The famine in the land has been very great and she only has enough flour and oil for her son and herself, and even that will not be enough to prevent them from dying of starvation. This indeed is a greater test than fetching water. She has to be willing to sacrifice what could be her last meal, if we could call a small, thin piece of bread a meal. But Elijah says something very interesting to her and she could not have missed the implication: "Do not fear; go, do as you have said, but make me a little bread cake from it first, and bring it out to me, and afterward you may make one for yourself and for your son."

The promise is that there will be enough and that there will always be enough, for every time she returns to the bowls, the one will be full of flour and the other will be full of oil. But she must first make a cake out of the little she has and give it to the prophet. The abundance of flour that is to come is not at first shown to her. This is a great trial of her faith, and by her response, we can see why God sent Elijah to her. The miracle happens in her own home. Can we imagine her awe every time she goes to the bowl? Can we imagine the pleasure in her heart to see her son healthy and full when she was once sure that they would both wither and die? Her faith has made her and her household well, but this is just the start. Her faith has not yet seen the true source of Elijah's power.

1KI 17:14-16 For thus says the Lord God of Israel, 'The bowl of flour shall not be exhausted, nor shall the jar of oil be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain on the face of the earth.'" So she went and did according to the word of Elijah, and she and he and her household ate for many days. The bowl of flour was not exhausted nor did the jar of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke through Elijah.

Every trial is a chance to rest on a promise.

This woman would have known very little about Jehovah, which is quite the contrast to the Jews in Israel who have been taught the Torah from childhood and who still worship idols. Israel would not have done this thing that the widow had done. In child like faith she gives up her last meal to a prophet of Israel. And what comfort this must have been to Elijah to see faith in the strangest place, the land of Jezebel and the dynasty of Ethbaal. God does wonders. This history should be remembered when we experience the loss of anything in the trials of life. However, an even greater trial is to come to the widow in which she will fully see the God of Israel. The widow's beloved son becomes fatally ill.

It happens that when a trial is overcome and there is blessing in our lives as a result that soon enough that very blessing becomes another source of trial, which is in fact graver than the first. It's like a young married couple buying their first house and the excitement of that blessing fills them with joy when soon after the worries of the mortgage and the repairs and the effort of maintenance fills them with angst. They begin to wish that they had been initially turned down by the bank. The widow imagined that her son would die of starvation but then the miracle spared him only to live long enough to get fatally ill. What a cruel trick! We might imagine the widow preferring that he had died of starvation rather than have to see him prosper only to succumb to disease instead. Has the blessing of the miraculous flour bowl turned into a curse?

(Her son is young enough to be carried by her. We know he is weaned by the fact that he eats bread so he is somewhere in the vicinity of four or five years old.)

Her first reaction to his illness is that it was the result of her own sin.

1KI 17:17-18 Now it came about after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became sick; and his sickness was so severe, that there was no breath left in him. So she said to Elijah, "What do I have to do with you, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my iniquity to remembrance, and to put my son to death!"

"There is something in the immediate contact with the Divine, which, from its contrast, brings sin to our remembrance, an in consequence makes us feel as if it were impossible to stand unpunished before Him - until our thoughts of the divine holiness, which in this view seems as consuming fire, pass into the higher realization of the infinite love of God, which seeks and saves that which is lost." [Edersheim, Bible History, Old Testament]

Often man blames God for his calamity; either that God is cruel or that He hates him or that He is simply being overly rough on him. We can certainly "hear" the bitterness in her voice. Does she imagine that this would have never happened if the man of God had never come into her house? Does she think that it would have been better for her son to have died of want before Elijah's appearance than to have him spared only for Elijah to bring God in to their home who would discover her sin and then kill her son as punishment? Have you ever had thoughts similar to this? I have. But little did she know, as we also did not, that God has far greater plans than to make us suffer for our sins. She is certainly a sinner as are all of us, as is Elijah, but God is not punishing her, rather He is doing something very different. He is formally introducing Himself to her. In all of our trials, when disaster seems to be inevitable and all hell is in the process of breaking loose, we find later on that God was showing more of Himself to us and at the same time delivering us from our pain. We only find a bit more of how magnificent God really is.

1KI 17:19-22 And he said to her, "Give me your son." Then he took him from her bosom and carried him up to the upper room where he was living, and laid him on his own bed. And he called to the Lord and said, "O Lord my God, hast Thou also brought calamity to the widow with whom I am staying, by causing her son to die?" Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to the Lord, and said, "O Lord my God, I pray Thee, let this child's life return to him." And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived.

Elijah responds with action. It's not words that are going to deliver Israel in this part of their history. There have been plenty of words and there has been no response to them. God is going to deliver with deeds and teach by action.

It would help us to read between the lines a bit. Elijah has been in the widows home for many days. He would have been instructing her and her son in the ways of Jehovah. He was a messenger of peace to them and not judgment. We see this in his prayer: "O Lord my God, hast Thou also brought calamity to the widow with whom I am staying, by causing her son to die?" If he had been there for the purpose of judgment then he would have expected such a calamity, but rather he shows his confusion concerning it, that is until he sees his opportunity to ask God for the child's healing. Healing the boy would reveal the power of God to the widow and subsequently, through her testimony, the gospel of God will find its way through the home country of Jezebel. While Jezebel is in Samaria plotting the death of all who know and worship Jehovah, Jehovah is in her country revealing His grace and power to her kinsman.

Elijah witnesses the abundance of life, which belongs to youth in abundance, return to the child. I often picture the men of God who perform such miracles as being somewhat stoic when it happens, but I wonder why I think that? I now imagine Elijah's heart bursting with joy and excitement. I don't think he's ever done this before and it is, after all, the miracle of life. He has seen this child grow steadily more ill. As he has lived among them I can imagine that Elijah has some, if not a great deal of, affection for the child. Plus, he has to think that God could say "No" to his request, after all, he doesn't know the reason for the illness until after the child is healed. Elijah would have been full of excitement and awe of God. The child that he had to carry up the stairs will now walk down the stairs with Elijah under his own power. 

1KI 17:23-24 And Elijah took the child, and brought him down from the upper room into the house and gave him to his mother; and Elijah said, "See, your son is alive." Then the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth."

Picture the relief and joy of the mother as she sees her young son bound down the stairs and run into her arms. Her response to Elijah is true faith unto life and salvation. She knows that whatever Elijah has ever said to her has been as if God Himself had said it to her. She had learned it when first she received him; she had seen it day by day at her table when the flour bowl was always full; she had known it when God had done for her what she had not asked for. He answered her unspoken thought, her unuttered prayer, by showing that mercy and not judgment, love and forgiveness, not punishment and vengeance, were the highest means of God's dealings with her.

Elijah has also seen the power of God like he has never seen it before, and he will need this faith because now he must leave the relative peace and comfort of obscurity in the widow's home and he must jump back into the most intense part of the battle and face evil head on.

Merry Christmas,

Pastor Joe Sugrue

Grace and Truth Ministries