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Ordinary to Extraordinary – Elijah
3 – Deepening Faith
1 Kings 17:7-24
Bruce A. Hess
If you would, please take out the word of God and turn in it, in the Old Testament, to the book of 1 Kings and chapter number 17.
While you are turning there, I want to share with you an important passage that I think relates to what we are going to be looking at today. It comes from the book of James and chapter number 1 and verses 2-4. James writes there to the believing community, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Now, when you are talking about trials and difficulty, there are some interesting words that jump out at us here. One is the word, ‘joy.’ How do you have joy when you are encountering trials? When we are encountering trials—plural—the headaches, the heartaches, the hardships, the hassles, that come to us in life. But he says that we can have joy knowing something; and that is, that the testing of our faith produces endurance. Endurance is the idea of holding up under the weight of circumstances. It is staying power. It is spiritual tenacity. He says that we are to allow this endurance to have its result, and the result is, in our life we end up being mature and complete.
If I were going to summarize what he says in those verses, I would summarize it this way: the ability to endure trials is developed by enduring trials. That is how we gain spiritual tenacity. You see, men and women, God loves us so much He won’t allow us to remain spiritually static and God uses uncertainties in life to deepen our faith. And God employs changes and challenges and difficulties to develop us spiritually. One example of that we have before us is Elijah.
We are involved in a series of messages, there are going to be seven of them, entitled, “Ordinary to Extraordinary.” The title I’ve given to today’s message is, ‘Deepening Faith.’ I am going to read an extended part of 1 Kings 17, beginning with verse 7. I am going to read down through the end of the chapter. So, I invite you to follow along as I read.
“It happened after a while that the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and stay there; behold, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.” 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.” 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. For thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘The bowl of flour shall not be exhausted, not 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. 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 breathe 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!’
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. He called to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord my God, have You 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 You, let this child’s life return to him.’ The Lord heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived. 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.’”
Now, the outline we have for these verses that we are going to take a look at breaks into three parts. First of all, we have The Call to Development in verses 7-9. This is spiritual development that God wants him to have.
Then, we have Dire Circumstances and God’s Provision, in verses 10-16.
Then, thirdly, we are going to see Mission Impossible, number three, in verses 17-24.
So, let’s begin by looking at The Call to Development. We learn in chapter 17, in verse 7, that the brook, Cherith, this wadi, had dried up. Why had it dried up? Well, it tells us because there was no rain in the land. Why was there no rain in the land? Remember, he had gone to King Ahab and he said, “There is going to be neither rain nor dew all of these years.” So, the water dries up in this place where God had made provision for Elijah.
But, notice the next verse says, that then the word of the Lord came to him. He is basically saying, ‘Elijah, it is time for your next step in spiritual development.’ Men and women, faith is developed in stages and he had learned a lesson there at the brook, but now it was time to move on. So, he says, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon.”
We don’t know the exact location of the brook Cherith, but we know approximately where it was. To go from there to Zarephath was about a hundred-mile trip. No freeways, no bullet trains that you could utilize, at a time when there was scarce water in the land. He says, “I want you to go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon.” Oftentimes in our country we talk about ‘the Bible belt’ [an area of the U.S. where Christianity is a prominent part of everyday life] of America. Certain places are seen as the Bible belt. Well, this was the Baal belt. This is where Jezebel was from. God is basically saying, ‘I want you to go to Heathensburg. I want you to go to Baalsville. I want you to go to the very heart of the place where Baal worship flourishes.’
I don’t have to tell you that whenever you are in biographical literature, you have to sort of climb into the souls of people. No doubt this was totally nonsensical to Elijah. Are you kidding me? I’m probably a wanted guy out there and You are wanting me to go to Heathensburg? To Baalsville?’
‘I want you to go,’ He says, ‘to Zarephath.’ That word of the city “Zarephath” comes from a word that means smelting furnace. It is in a smelting furnace that you would put metal and it would be heated up and it would be purified. See the imagery here? I am sending you to the smelting furnace, Elijah. I’m going to turn up the heat. I’m going to do a little purification in your life. You need more faith development,’ is what God was saying to him.
He says, when you get there, verse 9, there is going to be a widow who will provide for you. Now that wasn’t real exciting because, you know, widows, much more than they are in our day, were at the total bottom of the barrel economically. Don’t you think, as he is walking that hundred miles, he might have been thinking, ‘God, I wish you had sent me to a wealthy person. I wish you were sending me someplace where they have a storehouse filled with crops and filets and fruit pies. I would much rather go there.’ But God doesn’t send him there. I wonder why?
Have you ever noticed in our life that when we are around some abundance, we have a tendency to rely on that abundance and that stuff, and even on our own abilities? But, boy, when you go to someone who has nothing we have to rely on God.
Now, there is no doubt at all that God was making a point in sending him to Zarephath and a widow in Zarephath. You might jot down Luke, chapter 4, verses 25 and 26, because there, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue. He reflects back on this event and as He is teaching the people in the synagogue, He says, “There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three and a half years…Yet, Elijah was not sent to one of them.” But he was sent to Zarephath. The people in the synagogue understood. Their reaction showed they understood what the point was. Because, what happens is when he makes that statement, it says the people in the synagogue were filled with rage, they drove Jesus out of the synagogue, up a hill, with the intention of throwing Him off a cliff.
What was the point of sending him to a widow in Zarephath? Well, God was sending the message that, ‘I care about the lost. I care about the lost that are considered unwanted. I care about the lost that are considered unreachable. I care about even those in Heathensburg.’
So, you have this Call to Development. Secondly, we have Dire Circumstances and God’s Provision, in verses 10-16. Look again at verses 10 and 11. He goes to Zarephath and when he came to the gate he sees a widow there who is gathering sticks. He says to her, ‘Hey, get me some water that I may drink.’ As she was going to get that, he called to her and said, “Please bring me a piece of bread in your hand.”
You know, if you’ve ever gone to a big city, especially, and people get off the airplane and they begin to get out of the secure area, there is always a bunch of people standing there with these little placards with names on them. He knew he was supposed to go to a widow in Zarephath but, she wasn’t going to be standing there with a placard, ‘Elijah, the Tishbite.’ Just waiting for him to show up. He needed to confirm which widow was the one that God had identified. So, he asks her these questions to confirm all of that. When he says, ‘Bring me a piece of bread,’ she replies, in verse 12, “As the Lord Yahweh your God lives, I have no bread.”
She recognizes Elijah as a follower of Yahweh. Why? We don’t really know. Was it because he had an accent? Was it due to some direction from the Lord? We don’t really know. But, she says, ‘I don’t have any bread. In fact, I am out here gathering a few sticks and here is my plan, I am going to go back home, I’m making a stick casserole and my son and I are going to eat it. It is our last meal and then we are going to die.’ How many people have ever had a stick casserole? Let me see hands. No, we haven’t had stick casseroles. But that is all she had, all she had.
Then, we have his reply. He said, ‘I have an assurance of the promise of God. Don’t fear. You just do as I have said. You make a little bread cake first; you bring it to me. Afterward you can make one for yourself and your son. “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.” He says, ‘I have confidence in God’s promise that He is going to sustain all three of us and He is going to do it in a miraculous way.’
So, what happens? Verse 15. “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.”
For days and days and weeks they lived off miracle biscuits. Every day they kept making them and every day the ingredients were still there.
See, God was developing Elijah’s spiritual life and deepening his faith. At the brook Cherith where the ravens were coming, the lesson he learned there is: God will take care of me. Now, with the widow there is another lesson he is learning and that is that God can use me to care for others. By the way, those are two lessons that we need to learn also. God will take care of me and God will use me to care for others. It is an amazing thing that we actually become the hands and feet of God.
We are not really sure exactly how long he was with this widow. The time frame is a little hard to follow. One thing we do know about the time frame is that from the time he showed up to King Ahab and said there is going to be no more rain or dew, until he shows up with Ahab again, is a period of some three and a half years. We know that.
How long was he at the brook Cherith with the ravens coming with the daily deliverance, two times a day? We don’t really know. Maybe it was a year, maybe a year before the water of that wadi dried up. But, if it was maybe a year, maybe it was two and a half years that Elijah was with this widow and her son. No doubt, during that time he drew close and connected to them. I mean, after spending loneliness, maybe for a year at the wadi, with just these ravens showing up, he actually had some relationship. I think he drew close to them.
No doubt, again, you have to kind of climb into their thinking here. No doubt he is thinking, ‘This is nice, I’m not just hanging out with the ravens anymore. I’m here with this widow and her son and we keep getting the miracle biscuits. Everything seems to be just smooth sailing right now.’ But the ability to endure trials is developed by enduring trials. It is how we gain spiritual tenacity. God loves us so much He won’t allow us to remain spiritually static. God uses uncertainties in life to deepen our faith and God employs changes and challenges and difficulties to develop us spiritually.
That leads us to Mission Impossible, number three, in verses 17-24. You notice in verse 17, it says, “Now it came about after these things.” What are the ‘after these things?’ Well, I think they involve “mission impossible,” number one. Mission impossible number one, was, ‘You go stay by this brook and ravens are going to cater to you two times a day.’ That is impossible. No, that was mission impossible, number one.
Mission impossible, number two, I think, was the bottomless biscuits. I mean, we have a little bit of flour here and a little bit of oil and we are just going to keep making biscuits every single day and it is never going to go empty? That’s right, that is mission impossible, number two.
Now, we are coming to mission impossible, number three. Notice again verse 17, “After these things 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.” How do you think she felt? You know what I think she was thinking? First it is my husband. You take my husband away from me and I am basically begging on the street, and now it is my only child?’ I think that was her emotional reaction.
There is some remarkably real and practical stuff in these verses here. Very real. First of all, it is important for us to understand a little bit of the backdrop of all of this with the god Baal. If you study about the god Baal you would know that the god Baal was known for being capricious and unpredictable, kind of like storms. He was just a capricious and unpredictable god; you would never know what he was going to do next. I think, in part of her thinking, she is beginning to wonder, ‘I thought Yahweh was maybe different from Baal, but it is beginning to look to me like Yahweh is also capricious and unpredictable.’
Look at verse 18. By the way, this is a very common thing, when a sudden, tragic event happens in someone’s life, she says 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!” If you’ve ever been around anybody that goes through this type of sudden, tragic event, there is often this very emotional response that people have. I have seen it when people have been in the hospital and sometimes their loved one has died and they just emotionally strike out. There is this anger that comes out at the shock and the hurt of the event. And sometimes, the anger is really not just at death, but it gets displaced to people. So, you will find them yelling about the doctor. ‘Why didn’t the doctor…’ This displaced angers comes out. Part of it is they are feeling this hurt and sometimes they even want to blame somebody. ‘Elijah, what are you doing here, you so-called man of God? Have you come here because of my own sin failures? Is that why this judgement has come to me, because I’ve screwed up? Now this is what I get, a dead son?’
You know what I’m talking about? We have as human beings this tendency to have this emotional response, but what I am fascinated by is what Elijah does not do. Sometimes when people strike out like that, we want to react ourselves and be very defensive back, or we want to start a long explanation, ‘Madam, let me just explain to you. Let me open up the Bible for a while and let me just tell you about a bunch of verses in the Bible right now. Let me give you an explanation as to why I…’ He doesn’t do any of that. He sees her agony. He sees the tears streaming down her face. He sees the limp, lifeless son in her arms. And he says to her, in verse 19, “Give me your son.” Then he takes him, carries him up into the upper room where he was staying and he lays him down on his own bed. Then, verse 20, he calls out to the Lord.
What I really like about this prayer of Elijah is that his first emotion in all of this is very transparent and honest. He doesn’t do this in front of the woman, but when he gets alone with the Lord, he really allows his own honesty to come out. Notice what happens there. He says, “Oh Lord my God, have You also brought calamity to this widow with whom I am staying?” I’ve been here for two plus years. I like these people, I love these people. And now You are causing her son to die! He actually feels free to express his emotion to God. He is basically saying, ‘I don’t know what’s up. I don’t know what You are doing. Why would You take her only child? I don’t understand this, God. I don’t get it at all.’
I don’t know where this comes from or where it emanates from, but sometimes in the Christian world, you know, the spiritual world out there, there is this idea that if you are spiritual—it is off limits to express your emotion to God. Like we can’t do that. If sometimes you struggle with that, I have a suggestion, and that would be, take a little tour through the book of Psalms some time. You will find there that the psalmists had this freedom, when they are alone with the Lord, to get honest with Him and let their emotions out.
Over the years, I’ve had people who are going through some very difficult situations and they really have, you can tell as you talk with them, there is just some emotion about what God is doing…I don’t understand. And more than one time, many times, I’ve actually told people, here is my suggestion: I would like you to consider doing this. Drive out towards Lake Thunderbird [a local lake in Oklahoma] I want you to find a quiet corner in some parking area, and I want you to sit there and then I want you to just share your emotions with the Lord. Just go ahead and let Him know what they are. God is a big boy; He can handle it.
That is what we see Elijah doing. He is alone with the Lord and he just lets his emotions out. We need to remember, and Elijah was remembering, even as he goes through this process, that when there are tragic events like this, that God is still always at work. We should never forget that God is always at work.
Ray Pritchard wrote this, he said, “Some people talk as if the tragedies of life are accidents in the universe, as if God turned His head away and something bad happened while God wasn’t looking. As if God tried to stop it but couldn’t.” He goes on to say, “A God like that is no God at all. I cannot worship an impotent, puny, man-made God who abdicates the throne of the universe and leaves us alone in our despair. That is not the God of the Bible.” See, even when these kinds of events happen, God is always at work.
Tony Evans has stated in a very simple fashion, he says this, “Everything in the universe is either caused by God or allowed by God and there is no third category.” It’s true. Everything in the universe is either caused by God or allowed by God and there is no third category.
When we are in the smelting furnace and the heat is on, when we are in the midst of difficulty and tragedy and pain, what we really need to do is, remember who God is. Psalms 46:1, the psalmist said this, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”
There is trouble and what does Elijah do? He runs to the Lord in prayer. How does he approach the Lord in prayer? I think there are some helpful principles here. We see that he prayed honestly there in verse 20. He really let the Lord know what his emotion was.
He prayed earnestly. We see that in verses 20 and 21. In the New American Standard, two times it says, “He called out to the Lord.” The New Living Translation says, “He cried out to the Lord.” There was earnestness in his prayer. Then, thirdly, he prayed specifically, in verse 21, “Let his life return to him.” That is a great way to run to the Lord in prayer, to pray honestly, pray earnestly, pray specifically.
Now, what ends up occurring? Well, verse 22, “The Lord heard the voice of Elijah, the life of the child returned to him…Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper room…gave him to his mother…said, “See, your son is alive,’” and the woman says, in verse 24, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”
Now, what is really happening here? Just as importantly, what can we learn from it? Well, I want to make a couple of observations. First of all, this event of a boy coming back from death, at this point in Biblical history, is totally unprecedented. It had never happened before. What does that tell us about Elijah’s prayer? There was boldness in this prayer. It wasn’t like he said, ‘You know, I’ve seen or heard about this happening.’ No, this had never happened before and he boldly asked for it to happen.
Also, we would want to observe that this was a unique event in Elijah’s ministry. This was not some sort of a “new norm” as there are some people out there who might want to say, ‘We should just regularly expect this to happen.’ This never happened again in Elijah’s ministry. This was a unique event.
The second thing that is important to note is: this was really a polemic against Baal. It was a refutation of Baal because Baal was to be the god who had control of life and death. This is pointing out, No, No, No, it is Yahweh who has the power of life over death, not Baal. Part of what I think is happening here is that Elijah understood that God had given a promise to sustain them, and he was just praying that promise back to God as we saw last week.
It is important to remember that God has never promised to heal in all situations. It is just not there in the Bible. But He has promised to provide strength in every situation. You can jot down 2 Corinthians, chapter 12, verses 8 and 9, where Paul is learning that message, as God says to him, “My grace is sufficient.”
At the brook, as his faith was deepening, he learned the lesson, God will take care of me.
With the widow, he learned the lesson that God can use me to care for others.
With the son, the lesson was, God can work through me to do impossible things.
The ability to endure trials is developed by enduring trials. It is how we gain spiritual tenacity. God loves us so much He won’t allow us to remain spiritually static. God uses uncertainties in life to deepen our faith. God employs changes and challenges and difficulties to develop us spiritually. When we are in the midst of the furnace, what should we do? Elijah says, run to the Lord in prayer.
The psalmist says, in Isaiah 41:10 “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about for I am your God, I will strengthen you, surely I will help you. I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. “
Gene Getz relates the story of a pastor by the name of Kefa Sempangi. He was pastor of a 14,000-member church in Uganda, back in 1973, when Idi Amin started his intense persecution there. Thousands of people were assassinated by Amin’s assassins and this is a little bit of the story of what happened to Pastor Kefa and his family, how they were spared from death.
“It was an Easter Sunday morning and he had preached that day to thousands of people who had come from miles around. At the end of the day, as the sun was going down, he closed the final service and then it happened!” I will read to you his description of it.
He writes, “I greeted several more friends then left for the vestry to change my clothes. I had to push my way through the crowd and when I finally arrived, I was exhausted. I was too tired to notice the men behind me until they had closed the door. There were five of them. They stood between me and the door, pointing their rifles at my face. Their own faces were scarred with the distinctive tribal cuttings of the Kakwa tribe. Although I had never seen them before, I recognized them immediately. They were the secret police, Amin’s assassins.
For a long moment, no one said anything. Then, the tallest man, obviously the leader, spoke. “We are going to kill you,” he said. “If you have something to say, say it before you die.” He spoke it softly, but his face was twisted with hatred. I could only stare at him. For a sickening moment I felt the full weight of his rage. We had never met before, but his deepest desire was to tear me to pieces.
My mouth felt heavy and my limbs began to shake. ‘They will not need to kill me,’ I thought to myself. ‘I’m just going to fall over. I’m going to fall over dead and I’ll never see my family again.’ From far away I heard a voice and I was astonished to realize that it was my own. ‘I do not need to plead my own cause,’ I heard myself saying, ‘I am a dead man already. My life is dead and hidden in Christ. It is your lives that are in danger. You are dead in your sins. I will pray to God that after you have killed me, He will spare you from eternal destruction.’
The tall one took a step towards me and then stopped. In an instant his face was changed. His hatred had turned to curiosity. He lowered his gun and motioned to the others to do the same. They stared at him in amazement, but they took their guns from my face. Then, the tall one spoke again, “Will you pray for us now?” he asked.
I thought my ears were playing a trick. I looked at him and then at the others. My mind was completely paralyzed. The tall one then repeated his question a little more loudly, I could see that he was becoming impatient. ‘Yes, I will pray for you.’ I answered. My voice sounded bolder even to myself. ‘I will pray to the Father in heaven, please bow your heads and close your eyes.’
The tall one motioned to the others again and together the five of them lowered their heads. I bowed my own head, but I kept my eyes open. This request seemed like a strange trick.
‘Father in heaven,’ I prayed, ‘You who have forgiven men in the past, forgive these men also, do not let them perish in their sins, but bring them to Yourself.’ It was a simple prayer, prayed in deep fear. But God looked beyond my fears and when I lifted up my head, the men standing in front of me were not the same men who had followed me into the vestry, something had changed in their faces.
It was the tall one who spoke. His voice was bold, but there was no contempt, ‘You have helped us and we will help you. We will speak to the rest of our company and they will leave you alone. Do not fear for your life. It is in our hands and you will be protected.’
I was too astonished to reply. The tall one motioned for the others to leave and he himself stepped into the doorway and turned to speak one last time. ‘I saw widows and orphans in the congregation. I saw them singing and giving praise. Why are they happy even when death is near?’
While it was difficult, I answered him and said, ‘Because they are loved by God. He has given them life and will give life to those they love because they died in Him.’ His question seemed strange to me, but he didn’t stay to explain, he shook his head in perplexity and walked out the door.”
“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. “
Let’s pray together. Father, we just thank You for the life of Elijah. We thank You that we all are going to go through this process of deepening faith. May we remember to run to You when the heat gets strong, in prayer, and to remember that Your love is greater, Your love is stronger than anything we will ever face on this planet. We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1 Kings 17:7-24
1. The Tony Evans quote was: Everything in the universe is either caused by God or allowed by God, and there is no third category. Discuss.
2. How about this for a probing question…Do I really believe God cares for Me? What would you cite as evidence for an affirmative answer.
3. Bruce started our study by drawing the principle from James 1:2-4 that the ability to endure trials is developed by enduring trials. This is how we gain spiritual tenacity. God loves us so much He won’t let us remain static spiritually. He uses uncertainties in life to deepen our faith. He employs changes, challenges and difficulties to develop us spiritually.
How does the above perspective help us in everyday life? Why do we often panic when life storms come upon us?
4. Have you ever witnessed someone, when facing a sudden tragic event, strike out at others in shock and anger looking for someone to blame, even God? What can we learn from Elijah about how we might respond…what to avoid and how to best encourage?
5. Share a time when God sent you on a “mission impossible.”
6. We saw that Elijah prayed honestly, earnestly and specifically. How can those principles be applied practically to your prayer life?
Have you ever followed the pattern of the Psalmists and relayed to God your honest emotions and perspective? Elaborate.
7. Do not fear for I am with you. Do not anxiously look about, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you. I will uphold you with my Righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10
How should this promise give encouragement when we are facing trials?