I Kings 17:8–24

Our God Cares—Our God Reigns!

Laura Miguélez Quay

Linebrook Church

June 5, 2016

 

Last week in considering I Kings 18, I mentioned that there was a three-year drought sent by the LORD due to the disobedience of his people. In this morning’s passage we see that even Elijah, God’s prophet, is affected by the drought but we also see that in the midst of the drought God is able to care and provide for his faithful servant because God is ruler over all that exists. In the beginning of this chapter, the word of the LORD came to Elijah and, in this time of drought, he was told to hide in the Kerith Ravine where he could drink water from the brook and that by means of ravens, the LORD would supply him with food (2–4). In verse 6 we read: “The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.”[1] So despite the drought that caused water and food to be scarce, the LORD miraculously provided for Elijah.

But, in time, the brook dried up due to the ongoing drought and God’s Word again came to Elijah. He would continue to provide for Elijah but would now do so not with ravens but by means of a widow, as is recorded in verse 9: “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon[2] and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” Now Zarephath was a coastal town located between Tyre and Sidon.[3] More importantly for our purposes, it was in the territory ruled by Jezebel’s father Ethbaal.[4] If you’ll recall from last week, in I Kings 18 we saw how King Ahab and Queen Jezebel had led the people of Israel astray, causing them to follow after the god Baal and the goddess Asherah. So what the LORD directs Elijah to do is to go and reside in the heart of the land, where Queen Jezebel had been raised, and from which the Baal worship that King Ahab had adopted had come.

The LORD sent Elijah ito the hub of Baal worship to be provided for by a widow whom God would direct to feed him—though she may not have necessarily been personally aware of this divine direction. So notice that because God is God over all that exists, he is ruler over all that exists, whether ravens or widows. Just as the LORD had directed the ravens to supply Elijah with food (4)—and they did (6), so he directed a widow to supply Elijah with food (9)—and she did (15).

When Elijah arrived at the town gate in Zarephath, the nameless—at least to us—widow was there gathering sticks and Elijah asked her for a little water to drink (10). As she was going to fetch it for him, he further asked her for a piece of bread (11). One of the study Bibles I use pointed out that at this time the word “widow” was practically synonymous with the word “poor” because (in the ancient Near East) widows were largely unprotected by the law and easily exploited.[5] And this is certainly the case with this particular widow for we learn, in verse 12, that she and her son are literally at death’s door. “‘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 olive 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.’”

Now given where she was living I think it’s reasonable to assume that this widow was a follower of Baal and Asherah. Whether or not I’m right, at the start of this account she isn’t a follower of the LORD for she refers to him, in her reply to Elijah, as “the LORD your God.” Yet one of the things this passage reminds us of is that though God revealed himself in an exclusive way to Israel, the people he formed and set aside for himself, his concern, from the beginning, has ever been for all people, all of whom were not only made in God’s image but also were included in the LORD’s original promise to Abraham that through him all nations would one day be blessed[6]even the followers of Baal and Asherah. And though God’s promise is fulfilled ultimately during New Testament times and since when he sent his holy Spirit not only upon Jewish descendants of Abraham but also upon Gentiles, as represented by Cornelius,[7] even during the Old Testament period, we see God’s compassion similarly expressed not only towards Israelites, but also towards all who are needy, regardless of whether or not they are Israelites.

There’s a particular threesome we see God exhorting his people Israel to care for time and again in the Old Testament—the foreigners, the widows, and the fatherless. Early on Israel is told to care for foreigners because, during the Egyptian exile, they were foreigners in a foreign land. As such they were able to develop an insider’s appreciation for the unique challenges and mistreatment that is often the lot of foreigners. The widows are to be especially cared for, because as we’ve already noted, women who had lost their husbands would have had no means of maintaining themselves and were thereby subject to abuse and exploitation. So, too, was the case with those who were fatherless. So the LORD regularly reminded his people, Israel, to be mindful of those living on the margins—of those who were unable to provide for themselves. Listen to this sampling of Old Testament passages that brings this point home:[8]

Exodus 22:21–23: 21 “Do not mistreat or oppress a [1] foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. 22 “Do not take advantage of [2] the widow or [3] the fatherless. 23 If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.

Deuteronomy 10:17–19: 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of [1] the fatherless and [2] the widow, and loves [3] the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.

Deuteronomy 24:18–20: 18 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this. 19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for [1] the foreigner, [2] the fatherless and [3] the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the [1] foreigner, [2] the fatherless and [3] the widow.

Jeremiah 7:5–7: If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the [1] foreigner, [2] the fatherless or [3] the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever.

Zechariah 7:9–10:“This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress [1] the widow or [2] the fatherless, [3] the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’

Taking all of these passages into consideration, what we find in our passage this morning is a touching example in which we see God’s heart, his care and concern for his own people, as represented by Elijah as well as his care and concern for the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow, as represented by the widow and her son. The widow is not only a widow, but also a foreigner from Sidon, and her son is fatherless and so is also in need of protection and care. Again, this widow was in such dire straits that she had been thinking of using the last little bit of flour and olive oil she had as a final meal for herself and her son. But God had other plans. Elijah, God’s prophet, says to her in verse 13: “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf 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 sends rain on the land.’” How like God to create a situation in which, by miraculous means, he has a foreign widow and her fatherless son provide for God’s prophet, and, by means of that very prophet, also provide for them!

As the LORD had earlier miraculously provided for Elijah by means of the ravens bringing him bread and meat (4, 6), so now the LORD miraculously provides not only for his servant Elijah, but also for the foreign widow from Sidon, and her fatherless son by making sure that neither the jar of flour nor the jug of oil ever run out (16). Every day, we’re told in verse 15, “there was food…for Elijah and for the woman and her family.”

Now things go on like this for some time but one day they take a turn for the worse. We don’t know how much time has passed but are simply told in verse 17 “Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing.” What a terrible and tragic turn of events. So despite the miraculous provision of daily bread for herself and her son since the time Elijah had first come to her, just in the nick of time when they had been at death’s door, in the midst of her understandable grief over the loss of her son, the widow lashes out at Elijah, verse 18: “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”

We’re never ready to face death, are we? Death is never a welcome guest. I think that, deep down, we know—or at least intuit—that we have been made for life. Death is such an interruption, such a shock, such a slap in the face. And this is especially the case when death comes before someone has had a chance to live a full life. In her grief, the widow blames Elijah, whom she recognizes as a “man of God,” and questions his motives in coming to her. Did he come to “remind [her] of [her] sin” and to “kill [her] son?” Now both of these accusations are absurd because by means of Elijah, she and her son have been kept alive during this time of drought and need. And, so far as we know, Elijah had never gone out of his way to point out the widow’s sins to her. But I think her reaction isn’t unusual. She considered Elijah “religious” and concluded what people often conclude about those they see as being “religious”—that they should have special powers that causes things always to go their way and that being religious, they somehow think they’re better than those who aren’t.

But Elijah responded to her hurting and grieving heart rather than to her words. 19 “Give me your son,” he replied. And “he took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed.” Then Elijah turned to God on the widow’s behalf, crying out, “Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” (20). Elijah no more knows why this boy has died than does his mother. He feels the tragedy of the situation and begs for the boy’s life on his mother’s behalf. So he “stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, ‘Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!’” Now we don’t know why Elijah sought to heal the child in this manner. But it’s important to note—especially if I’m right about the widow being a follower of Baal—that Baal, the god whom King Ahab and his Phoenician Queen Jezebel followed was himself subject to the god of death, Mot. Baal followers assumed that during the dry season, Baal submitted himself to Mot only to later be revived again when water began to flow.[9] So when the LORD, the God not only of Israel but of all nations, revives the widow’s son, it shows not only that the LORD is Lord even over death but that he is God not only of Israel but of all nations, include the neighboring nation of Sidon where this widow resided.

And a wonderful outcome results after Elijah prays. In verse 22 we read, “The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived.” In Scripture whenever God hears someone, it means that he acts on that person’s behalf. Our God is a responsive God who loves us and hears our cries and prayers. So after the boy revived, “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!’”

And upon witnessing this further miracle—this miracle beyond that of having her daily bread provided for her each day during a time of drought—this widow from Sidon finally believes in God as she says 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.

This story from I Kings 17 is reminiscent of a New Testament account recorded in Luke 7:11–17.[10] There, Jesus—who is Christ, who is God—demonstrates a similar compassion toward a widow who has lost her son. Upon entering “a town called Nain”[11] (11), as “he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow” and was followed by a large crowd from town (12). Jesus’ heart goes out to her and he tells her not to cry (13). He touches “the bier they were carrying” upon which the son was laid and says “Young man, I say to you, get up!”[12] (14) and he does. And, as Elijah did, “Jesus gave him back to his mother” (15). And, as the widow in I Kings 17 did, the crowd responds in a similar fashion as she. “They were all filled with awe and praised God. ‘A great prophet has appeared among us,’ they said. ‘God has come to help his people’” (16). And “news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country” (17).

Brothers and sisters, there are some wonderful lessons to be drawn here:

First and foremost, is God’s nature. The God who made all that exists, the God who made you and me, is a God who cares for us even as he rules over us. We see this in his love and care for Elijah, the widow, and her son; and we see this in Jesus’—who is one with God and also God—love and compassion for a different widow and her son. And we can take comfort in knowing that God’s nature doesn’t change and so rest assured in his love and care for us. God knows our suffering. God knows our fears. And he wants, more than anything, for us to know him and turn to him in all circumstances.

Second, God is willing to use whatever means necessary to draw us to himself. Though by definition, miracles are the abnorm—they occur rarely and are easily recognizable as miracles because they violate the usual laws of nature—there are times when God will allow miracles to occur so that we might see that he is God even over nature. We see this in the account with Elijah as he miraculously uses ravens and provides a widow with an unending supply of flour and oil for food and in his bringing life back to the widow’s dead son; and we see this in Jesus’ life in similarly bringing a widow’s son back to life. Now in the case of Jesus, there are important differences with Elijah. Whereas Elijah asks God to revive the widow’s son, Jesus as God is able to revive the son himself. And elsewhere in the New Testament, we also see Jesus being God over nature as he stills the wind and the waves with but a word. I love a particular line in the hymn we’re going to close with, Be Still My Soul: “Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.” This is a wonderful reminder that God still reigns and continues to rule over this world in which we find ourselves.

A third point is that God cares especially for those who are unable to care for themselves—for the foreigners, the widows, and the fatherless. And so should we care especially for those who are unable to care for themselves, whether due to physical or emotional or mental or material limitations. We are called to care for each other—to display God’s character—to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep.[13] We should allow our experiences in life to guide us in caring for and expressing empathy towards others. And, when we do, others are often able to see and experience the love of God through us in a tangible way. 2 Corinthians 1:3–4 puts it this way: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

Finally, our passage this morning reminds us that because God’s nature is that he is living, he wants to give us his life[14]—by means of his only Son, Jesus Christ—that we might be able to enjoy him not only now but forever. Jesus desires not only to provide us with our daily bread, our daily needs, but to feed us with his very life. As stated in John 6:32, he is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.[15]

Brothers and sisters, as we celebrate communion this morning—as we are reminded of God’s sacrifice of his only Son that we might know him—let us thank our loving and gracious Father, Son, and Spirit for loving us so well—for caring for us so well.

Let us remember that he desires for us to turn to him at all times, knowing that he rules over all the world with love and compassion.

And let us seek to be those who express that very love and care not only to each other but especially to all who are in need.

Let us pray.

 

 

 

[1] God similary—and miraculously—supplied bread and meat to the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 16:8, 12–13).

[2] Sidon is the Greek name (“fishery”—also modern Arabic) for the ancient Phoenician port city of Sidonia in what is today Lebanon. Jezebel was the daughter of the King of Sidon. In Genesis, Sidon is a son of Canaan, a grandson of Noah—Genesis 10:15–19: 15 Canaan was the father of Sidon his firstborn, and of the Hittites, 16 Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, 17 Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, 18 Arvadites, Zemarites and Hamathites. Later the Canaanite clans scattered 19 and the borders of Canaan reached from Sidon toward Gerar as far as Gaza, and then toward Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim, as far as Lasha.

[3] NIV Study Bible.

[4] I Kings 16:29–33: 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 arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him.

[5] ESV study Bible, I Kings 17:9 note.

[6] Genesis 12:1–3: 1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

[7] Acts 10.

[8] Sa. Deuteronomy 14:28–29: 28 At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, 29 so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

 

[9] ESV study Bible, I Kings 17:1 note.

[10] See also a similar OT account with Elisha in II Kings 4:32–37: 2 Kings 4:32–37: 32 When Elisha reached the house, there was the boy lying dead on his couch. 33 He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the Lord. 34 Then he got on the bed and lay on the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out on him, the boy’s body grew warm. 35 Elisha turned away and walked back and forth in the room and then got on the bed and stretched out on him once more. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.36 Elisha summoned Gehazi and said, “Call the Shunammite.” And he did. When she came, he said, “Take your son.” 37 She came in, fell at his feet and bowed to the ground. Then she took her son and went out.

[11] NIV study Bible states this is the only mention of Nain and is located a few miles south of Nazareth.

[12] NIV Study Bible states this is the first of three instances of Jesus raising someone from the dead. The others are his raising of Jairus’s daughter (8:40–56; parallel in Mark 5:21–24, 35–43) and Lazarus (John 11:38–44).

[13] Romans 12:15.

[14] John 11:24–25: [raising Lazarus from the dead]: 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

[15] John 6:29–34: 29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” 30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ”32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

 

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