I Kings 17 Story of Elijah and the widow at Zarephath
Sermon by Oleg Zhigankov, 2007
First Book of Kings tells of Solomon’s great kingdom and the early history of the divided monarchy. Together with 2 Kings, this narrative surveys over four centuries of history, outlining the Israelite monarchy from Solomon to the end. It traces the failure of the Israelite nation to maintain her covenant with God. The Books of Kings tell the sad story of Israel’s tragic destruction because of her refusal to be faithful to God.
Those books contain mostly historical narrative. However, they are much more than history. The author tied the historical narratives together with grand religious convictions. The Books present Israel’s past from a prophetic and theological point of view. The books trace the consequences of sin as opposed to the benefits of obedience. And also there is a great amount of God’s grace, covering all the sins and iniquities.
It is interesting that the book’s primary concern is faithfulness and loyalty to God, not political chronicle. This means the book gives little attention to the important political achievements of Ormi, Jeroboam II, and Uzziah. On the other hand, he is intensely interested in the religious apostasy of the kings, and in the religious reforms of Jehu, Hezekiah, and Josiah. The book has little to say about Omri’s important reign in Israel. But the book devotes long narratives to Omri’s son Ahab, who was less significant politically. But the ideological conflict between the Hebrew faith and Canaanite Baalism took place during Ahab’s reign.
The first chapters of 1 Kings describe the height of Israel’s political and military power. Only during Solomon’s reign did Israel become a major player in the arena of international power politics. But Israel’s brief period of strength and prestige was ruined by Solomon’s religious apostasy. Solomon’s unfaithfulness to the covenant erased all the great accomplishments of his reign. Shortly after his death, Israel’s period of glory was over. Though it was the nation’s greatest moment politically, it was remembered in the Bible as one of its most tragic. This is a story of missed opportunities.
You know, we all live in a world of missed opportunities. The world of missed opportunities had been created for us already by the sins of people, even sometimes by the sins of our parents and grandparents. That’s the environment we’ve got. How can something decent grow in it? Just as it’s been growing at the time of the Kings, at the time of the great drought that happened during the time of Elija.
There is a story found right in the midst of that drought, right at the midst of those calamities, that might help us to look at our situation differently, that might help us to gain the spiritual classes and look at what’s happening around us differently – with hope and joy.
I Kings 17 Story of Elijah and the widow at Zarephath
This woman was at a desperate situation. She’ve lost everything, and the next immediate thing for her to lose would be her life, and the life of her son. And that’s the end of it. And between her and this end is a handful of flour left in the jar, and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. Is there anybody here who is so desperate?
But Elijah said to her: “Don’t be afraid! There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again! This woman didn’t see, yet, how is it possible, but she believed. And when I say an easy or uneasy word ‘believe’, I mean she didn’t just believed, she did as Elijah said, and made this step – she has given from herself the last bread. And then she received it back in full measure.
You see, she didn’t realize why this drought is. Why is it that her husband died? Why is it that she and her son were starving? When we read the Scripture we know that those things happening because of the mess the sin produced around us and in us. But this knowledge is not very comforting. There isn’t much good news there. But here’s the good news – God is able to bring you a blessing through different situations. When you look at the story you notice, that her son, who didn’t have a lack in food now, is still dying. And he would die even if there wouldn’t be this crisis. Things are happening all the time. But the thing is that by means of that disaster, by means of the drought, by means of the misery the Lord sent to this poor widow the man of God, and through him – the resurrection of her son. There wouldn’t be resurrection, if it wouldn’t be for that drought. I don’t think that woman enjoyed the drought, but after a while she had all the reasons to thank God for it. She’s got her son alive!
The problem with us is that we don’t usually see the hand of God in the midst of our crisis. And if we don’t see it, we can’t hold to it. If it was you whom Elijah asked for bread, would you have given it to him? When he was stretching his hand toward you, would you rather believe, that he’s here to take, or to give? Would you show him at the door, or invite him in? You see, we all need to learn to recognize the hand of God, and to hold to it, not to run away. Just like Jacob, as he’s been struggling with God, he still recognized God’s hand, and said: I won’t let you go till you bless me.
Let’s learn how to recognize God’s hand in our life, in our tribulation. One of the reasons the books of Kings was given to us is to teach us to recognize the hand of God beyond ordinary and extraordinary things, in the midst of our happiness and our miseries.
All the important stories in the Bible, those, that are especially important, repeat themselves one way or another. Different people make the same mistakes, and it means that it is a danger for you. Different people received salvation in a similar way – probably, this is a way for us to go, too.
Prophet Elisha has asked his teacher, the great prophet Elijah to inherit a double share of his spirit. Thus, there are two similar stories that happened to him.
In 2 Kings 4:1-7
Each story has a similar pattern but different emphasis. The first story teaches us first of all to recognize, that sometimes the hand that stretches to you asking for help is actually there to help you – maybe in the least likely way, but to rescue you. It teaches us to recognize that hand. It is a hand of the prophet, not the hand of the thief. It is clean and strong. Everybody or nearly everybody could recognize the prophet Elijah at those days. But not many would accept him, receive him at their home. It was a risky business. Also, there was a reward for his head. So, the woman could benefit by betraying him.
Brothers and sisters, we also think sometimes that we’ll benefit by breaking the prophetic word, by turning away from the Scripture, from the righteousness, because they appeared to us too demanding, begging to give up our last piece of bread. But in reality the prophetic hand is here to help us, to guide, to provide the most needed daily bread – both spiritual and physical. In every situation there is a way to chose to take this hand by faith, or to reject it, to exchange it for the reward from the prince of this world. This reward became a burden for Judah. The reward from God, however, is saving lives.
The second story – it is also a story of deliverance and salvation. This time the story sounds even more hopeless. The woman just lost her husband, she had nothing, not even food; all she had were her two sons and a huge debt. And now the creditor was after her and her two sons. I hate to tell you this, but at that time, at the time of that drought, cannibalism became wide spread in Israel. (2 Kings 6:26-31) And even here Elisha was blamed. It’s always like this. You do the right thing, you get all the blame. But this time the woman knows for sure that Elisha is the prophet, because her husband used to be a prophet too. So, the bad things are happening to the prophets and their wives too, sometimes. Nevertheless, the emphasis of this story is not that much on recognizing the hand of God and accepting it, but on how much blessings we can accommodate.
Today, and each time as you come to the Lord and to His Church by faith, you can bring with you all the empty jars you can get. Borrow some from the neighbours, also. Take a look at your empty jars of patience, of peace, of joy, of forgiveness, of restoration. Maybe, as you are looking for your jar with patience, maybe you’ll find, that it is not just empty, but broken. Go to your neighbours and borrow an empty jar. Look at others and see what impatience does to them. Look at others and see what greed does to them. Look at others and see, what does the lack of joy, forgiveness, happiness does to them. And then bring them, by faith, to the Church. Every word of God that we hear – is a precious drop of oil into our jars. You get as much as you open for Him. You receive only what you bring, your empty jars and recognize, they are empty, and you need to recognize that they need to be filled. What are your empty jars? What are your broken jars? Did you bring them here, or you left them home? What is it in your heart that needs to be filled?
And right after this story there is another story, slightly different, but profoundly similar. The story of Elisha and the woman from Shunem.
This time the woman was wealthy, not starving. It was she, not Elijah, this time who provided for food. (2 Kings 4:8-36). You see, it is not necessarily to be desperate, or to feel desperate, to be able to receive some help. She was doing all right. But, as you know, there are never such things as everything is all right. There is always something. She had no children.
This time the story has an emphasis not on some immediate consequences. There is no apparent miracle happening at first. No bread mysteriously appears, no jars filled with oil. But things are going differently. In one year the woman receives a child. Some qualify it as a miracle, some don’t, but it doesn’t matter – she received what she needed. And then she got it back. Probably, because she wasn’t sure that the baby was given her as a miracle, she was given another opportunity to appreciate God’s goodness in resurrecting her son.
The Lord had resurrected her son, the widow’s son because He wants all the sons and daughters of His to be resurrected. And this is the most profound work that He makes for us. Not just sustaining at the time of trouble, but saving out of what seems to be inevitable – saving from death. Those are the long time consequences of God’s interference with our lives. There are some situations when we don’t see the hand of God immediately. The day that woman had opened the door of her house for the prophet Elisha she had no idea that one day it will result in her gaining and regaining a son. And another thing about this story is that it doesn’t end here, in chapter 4 – it only ends in chapter 8, when we almost forgot already about this woman her family. 2 Kings 8:1-6.
Brothers and sisters, often we don’t see what’s really happening, how can we benefit from the situation. But as we read those inspired stories, we know, they are being preserved for us, so that we could learn to see what’s going on behind the scenes. That we could trust God, to accept, by faith, that His hand is there to help us, that we are to bring our empty jars to be filled – to be redeemed from slavery, from being eaten. Those stories, those divine words present us the life situations from the divine perspective.
And although it is much easier to read the prophetic account of the events of past than to see a similar pattern in your life, to see God working in your life, in your situation, to believe, that there’ll be enough of bread and oil till the drought is over, to be sure, that you are not sold or abandoned, and that if we don’t betray the prophetic word, but accept it at our homes, one day, maybe as the years are passing by, we’ll be richly blessed.
Some say the events will go this way, some – other way, but whichever way they went, those are the dead end ways. And those are rather predictable ways – there are many scenarios of the quick and complete destruction. And how about unpredictable extra factors? Such as new conflicts? New diseases? New and enormous sun radiation? Genetically engineered food. The end could be behind the corner. We don’t know. But we know, it is a time for Elijas. I understand and agree that the Church is a hospital. Yes, there is a war going on, and the Church is a hospital for spiritually wounded, for those, who want to really heal their wounds, and not just to cover them with alcohol or some sort of Prozak. Yes, that’s the place to go for wounded. But the Church should also be a military base. If there is a spiritual war, and we are taking sides at this war, we need to have our military bases. This is the Church. There is a room for widows and children, but there is also a room for Elijas and Elishas.
Sometimes, overwhelmed by different situations, I cry to the Lord almost as bitterly as Elija did. And then the Lord comforts me with my brothers and sisters who have filled their jars with Lord’s provided peace, comfort, salvation, blessing, that they are ready to offer this precious oil to others. They are ready to share, ready to serve. Ready to be Elijas and Elishas – big or small. Who said that at the last days the Lord will not provide us with extra grace? He will. There is a drought in the land, just as at the times of Elija. This time the drought is worse – because it is spiritual. You know, what are some symptoms of this spiritual drought that I see and which scare me more than any other drought? Tell me, if I’m wrong – people are deeply unhappy these days. They are so deeply, fundamentally upset. They don’t enjoy life anymore. They need more and more external stimulants, such as coffee, TV, shopping, whatever, just too somehow keep them on track. I just feel sorry for people leaving these days. Sorry for the young people as well, because they’ve been deprived from so much happiness. The happiness has been substituted by the fake, illusion, or dream. There is the spiritual drought around us, because of our sins, because of the sins of all humans. But, if you, like Elijah, worship the true Lord of Heaven, you’ll always have your little stream of happiness. Sometimes it may seem that it will dry out, disappear. But remember: soon, there’ll be rain, a late, and a long expected rain.
Psalm 86…Wednesday October 26th, 2011
DEVOTED TRUST IN TIMES OF DEEP TROUBLE
Guard my life
You are forgiving and good O Lord, abounding in love to all who call upon you.
Hear…listen….in the day of trouble I will call to you
Teach me your way O Lord and I will walk in your truth
Give me an undivided heart.
You O Lord are compassionate and gracious
Turn to me and have mercy on me; grant strength…help me and comfort me
Sometimes our trouble or pain is so great that all we can do is cry out to God
“Guard my Life”
And often when there is no relief in sight, all we can do is acknowledge the greatness of God and wait with anticipation for that which He alone can accomplish. The conviction that God does answer prayer will sustain us amidst difficult times.
He is alive and able to do mighty deeds for those who love him.
The Lord alone is worthy to receive glory and honor and power
THE LORD ALONE IS GOD and JESUS IS THE ONLY WAY TO SO ENCOUNTER HIM WITH THE DESIRES OF OUR HEART BEING FULFILLED AS WE SO ACKNOWLEDGE JESUS AS THE WAY THAT OUR HEART SO LONGS TO EXPERIENCE THE REALITY OF THE LOVE AND PRESENCE OF GOD Psalm 86:8-10
There are many religions whose founders are dead
JESUS WHO CAME FROM GOD BEING THE SON OF GOD AND A PART OF THE GOD HEAD; DIED AND ROSE IN VICTORY FROM THE DEAD THAT WHOSOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM SHALL HAVE LIFE AS GOD HAS SO INTENDED
Catch a glimpse of vibrant spiritual vitality
We see two requests made in
“Teach me your way and give me an undivided heart”
Each request has a God centered purpose; that the person praying would “walk in your truth and fear your name”
It is vital we ask him to increase our awareness and improve our response to that which He reveals and so enlightens us in giving us true discernment which is a gift of the Holy Spirit
‘BLESSED ARE THE PURE IN HEART FOR THEY WILL SEE GOD”
We pray but need to be sensitive to signs that God releases for we need to be aware that he knows our situation no matter how desperate it becomes and that He truly does care. Psalm 86:17
God forgives all our shortcomings and His love is boundless reaching forth to impart mercy to all who call upon Him
The Lord then leads us in His way and teaches us His precepts that we may walk steadfast in His truth.
As we so abide in Christ we will have an undivided heart that we will truly focus on Him that will ultimately affect every aspect of our life and being
The comfort of the Holy Spirit lifts us above life’s problems
TEACH ME THY WAY, O LORD
God desires our heart to be fully and singly devoted to Him which involves commitment continuing to choose God above all else.
HE WHO SEEKS HIM SHALL FIND AND SO ENCOUNTER THE AWESOME BENEFITS OF THE FATHER’S LOVE AND CARE
Study by Charlotte…October 2011