1 Kings 17:2-
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.
We left Elijah last time beside the drying brook, and we saw that although it may perhaps have been tempting for him to set out for home, he stayed there.
He refused to allow his circumstances to come between himself and God.
Unbelief sees God through circumstances, like looking at the sun through a mist. It appears to be stripped of its power and glory.
With faith though, we can put God between ourselves and our circumstances,
and look at them through him.
Most of us would have become anxious and would have worn ourselves out with planning long before the stream stopped. As soon as it’s flow became noticeably less we would have begun to work out our next step.
Sadly, too often we rely on our own ideas. If Sarah fails to produce the promised child then Hagar’s son must be what God had intended. If Samuel does not come when we expect, we feel compelled to present the burnt offering ourselves. This can only lead to problems. We work out our solution, ask God’s blessing on it, and rush into it; and it is only when we are met with insurmountable obstacles that we cry out to him, wondering whether it really was God's will after all.
Often he extricates us because he is a merciful God, but if only we had the patience to wait for his plans to unfold, we would never have found ourselves in such a terrible mess. Undoing the results of wrong decisions is always a lot harder than making them. But that leaves us with another problem:
Why then are we given free will?
Surely life would be so much easier if we could simply wait for the Lord to tell us what to do in every situation? Wait for replies
Look at John 5v19: What did Jesus mean when he said ‘The son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing’?
He didn’t so much expect a detailed plan from his father to be followed exactly, moment by moment, but rather he followed the example set by his father, knowing instinctively what next step would please him. But he could only do that because of his closeness to the Father.
So it seems that often there are no easy answers, and no direct revelations.
We can however be open to the Lord’s leading: Jesus told us to pray ‘your will be done’
How do we find the Father’s will? By studying his word, and by waiting on the Lord until a firm conviction comes as a result of our praying.
And then occasionally the Lord breaks in with a direct command – and when that happens we know it is from him, it is clear and unmistakable, and we know we must obey.
1 Kings 17:7-
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.”
So we get our command, our word from the Lord, but it may be that we have got to leave some comfortable Kerith and go to unwelcome Zarephath. We have to leave our comfort zone and speak to someone, or take a first step, or maybe stop a habit; and we don't want to do it, the cost seems too much. Then as soon as we refuse to obey, the moment passes, and we realise it’s too late.
We all know that we do not earn salvation by our obedience; that is solely the gift of God, and we receive it by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ our Lord. But, being saved, we do have to obey. Our saviour wants us to obey him because of our love for him, because he wants us to receive his most precious gifts, and because he knows that by being willing servants we will receive a great reward.
As we study the Bible we will find that careful and willing obedience marks out those that we admire and hope to copy. The title Jesus used for himself was 'The Servant of God'. None of us can claim a higher purpose for our lives than that. And as servants, we have got to be obedient.
What lesson are we to learn from this? Perhaps the words of Mary, Jesus’ mother, to the servants at the wedding in Cana: "Do whatever he tells you."
And what did the Lord tell Elijah? V9 “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.”
If we decide that we are going wholeheartedly to obey the Lord, what will be the outcome? Perhaps, like Elijah, it will simply be 'Out of the frying pan, into the fire'. Zarephath means smelting-
Refining is never a pleasant or comfortable experience but it is the only way to remove impurities from precious metals -
Gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, lead and anything else that can withstand fire must be put through the fire, and then it will be clean. But it must also be purified with the water of cleansing. And whatever cannot withstand fire must be put through that water.
Do you remember Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace in Daniel? The flames only consumed those things that bound them, and as they walked loose in the fire, those around saw by their side one who looked like the Son of God. (Daniel 3:19-
Zarephath was outside the land of Canaan, about half way between Tyre and Sidon
There were some good reasons why Elijah would never have chosen this as the next step on his journey:
What do we know about the land of Phoenicia?
This was the northernmost part of Canaan given by God to the Israelites and had been allocated to the tribe of Asher (Joshua 19:24-
(. . . and because of this the people of Asher lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land. Judges 1:31-
Would they be happy to hand over a fugitive prophet?
Had it escaped the drought?
No – 1 Kings 17:12
How easy was it to get there?
The only way to reach it was by a dangerous journey of 80 miles through the heart of the land where there was a price on Elijah’s head.
Do we find it odd that God should choose someone in so obscure a place?
Why did God choose a starving widow in Phoenicia rather than one of the many starving widows in Israel? (Luke 4:24-
It was for no arbitrary reason that God chose her. We are sometimes confused and perplexed when God does not do what we would consider to be the obvious, and when his plans are so diametrically opposed to our own.
We need to remember that "my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8)". We forget that our plans relate to us and our immediate surroundings of time and space. God's purposes are for eternity.
A different thought. Look back at v9. In that culture was it ok for a man to be looked after by a widow?
No – it should be the other way round. And a widow belonging to a heathen people! He would not have minded so much if he could have provided for her, but it was not very pleasant to feel that he must depend on a widow who might have only had modest earnings or an inadequate supply of food.
Wouldn’t it be easier to just go back home?
But as we have seen, there is now no going back. Having placed himself in the Lord’s hands, his life has changed and he can only go where he is led.
Do we see here a parallel with the Christian life?
Lets read the section starting from verse 8:
1 Kings 17:8-
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.”
If Zarephath was a furnace, then it was going to be at it's hottest as Elijah came to the end of his journey.
As he travelled towards Zarephath he might have imagined the sort of home he was going to. If a widow had been commanded to support him in these hard times, surely she must be quite wealthy. Maybe she owned lands which he would be able to help her with. As he neared Zarephath he perhaps also wondered how he might recognise her.
It was probably nightfall when he reached the town, and there, at the city gate was a widow woman gathering a few sticks to prepare the evening meal.
To some it might have seemed a coincidence, but there is no such word in faith's vocabulary. This may not have been what Elijah was expecting, but he knew in his spirit that she was the widow of whom God had spoken.
By now Elijah would probably have been thirsty, hungry, and weary from a journey which had taken several days. However he never doubted that his needs would be amply satisfied, so verse 10:
He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?”
The widow did not appear surprised at Elijah's request. Look at the middle of verse 9: "I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food." Our idea of free will conflicts with Biblical truth. In answer to our prayers God can and will cause people to choose to take a course of action which may perhaps be alien to their natural inclination. To ‘supply Elijah with food’ would normally have been the last thing that the widow would have wanted to do.
But she immediately went to fetch a cup of cold water – and that itself was sacrificial giving.
Although encouraged by her willingness, Elijah wanted to prove that she really was the one to whom he had been sent. He had been told that she would feed him and so verse 11: he asked her to bring with her a piece of bread.
It was a modest request, but it was enough to trigger the release of her pent-
Imagine the devastating effect that this would have on one who was tired and hungry after his long trek. He was eagerly looking forward to God's bountiful provision and was led to one who was far worse off than himself.
The lesson here is that we must learn not to concentrate on what God is doing for us, we should consider what God wants to do through us for others. So now we will see God's hand at work in two ways: he will supply the widow's need, and also continue his refining work in Elijah. (Point at board – now write ‘What God’s doing for us’ – then change to ‘what God’s doing through us for others’)
1 Kings 17:13
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.
Elijah and the widow will shortly be living in the same house, and sharing the same provisions. For the widow the handful of meal, and the leftovers of oil is only enough for their final meal before they die of starvation. To Elijah, it will be enough to feed them all for the next three years.
Look again at verse 1 and verse 12. Here we see the same phrase but with different meanings: for the widow the words in verse 12 ‘As the LORD your God lives’ held no comfort. They were merely an expression, used as emphasis.
What would she probably say today?
‘for God’s sake – I haven’t got any bread’.
People often invoke the name of God or Jesus merely to add emphasis to the fact that they are helpless, or in trouble, or cross. Never realizing that the power of that same name could relieve their situation.
To Elijah the words ‘As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives’ were the bedrock of his whole existence. He knew the true and living God and relied on him totally. His lesson at Kerith meant that now for him empty jars held no terrors.
God had said that Elijah would be fed, and by that widow, and so it will be. And so he passes the next test of his faith: (Verse 14)
Elijah said to her "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.' "
When did the Lord tell Elijah that?
Perhaps only as he was standing there!
Remember what Jesus said to his Disciples: Matthew 10:19-
But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Or when God commissioned Moses: Exodus 4:12
Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.
Do we also believe that when faced with the most difficult circumstances, the Spirit will teach us what to say?
Do we believe that if we are at that point in God's plan where he wants us, then although it may seem impossible for us to survive, the impossible will be done?
Look at verse 13 again: 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.
The widow was being asked to first give up what she had, so that the Lord could give her what He had.
And so we read 1 Kings 17:15-
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.
If you would like to PRINT or copy this study, click HERE for the PDF version, then Rt Click, and select ‘Print’, or ‘Save as’