It is the darkest of times in the history of Israel. First Kings 16:30 records that Ahab is king over Israel. He did evil in the sight of the Lord, more evil than all who were before him. Baal worship is increased, a false, pagan god of the land and Ahab also established Asherah worship (1 Kings 16:32-33). This is important background for understanding the events of 1 Kings 17. The first verse of chapter 17 is a declaration of a drought in the land. God used drought as a symbol of judgment. Listen to what was decreed historically.
Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the LORD is giving you. (Deuteronomy 11:16–17 ESV)
“When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you, if they pray toward this place and acknowledge your name and turn from their sin, when you afflict them, then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel, when you teach them the good way in which they should walk, and grant rain upon your land, which you have given to your people as an inheritance. (1 Kings 8:35–36 ESV)
Famine and drought devastate a nation’s economy and prosperity. This decree is going to make the prophet Elijah “the troubler of Israel” in the eyes of King Ahab. So we can see that Israel is under the specter of judgment with the drought decree. Elijah suddenly comes on the scene in this chapter. We have not read anything about him up to this point and we know nothing about him except what is told to us in verse 1.
Trusting God’s Word In Difficulties
God instructs Elijah to go to the east of the Jordan. The departure of Elijah continues the symbolism of judgment and doom on Israel. Not only is there a physical drought in the land bringing about a famine and loss of prosperity, but there is also a spiritual drought. The word of God has left the nation. God is no longer instructing these people because of their sins. So Elijah is sent away from the nation of Israel. Now, what is Elijah going to do to have food and drink during a severe drought and famine? God makes a promise to Elijah that he will drink from the brook on the east side of the Jordan and the ravens will feed him. Have you ever thought about the kind of trust that is required for such an instruction? I want you to trust that unclean, nasty ravens are going to bring you your food each day. Is there anyone who thinks they need to stock up the pantry before relying on this promise? Have you thought about the kind of food that a raven would be bringing you? They are not going to be bringing your Papa Johns and Outback specials. But the word of the Lord had made the decree (17:2), and thus is would be accomplished.
However, this does not mean things would be easy. The brook where Elijah is staying dries up. This reveals to us the severity of the drought. Now the brook is gone, the brook that God promised would be the place where you would drink water. Are you panicking now? Is there anyone questioning the good will and promises of God now? Notice the key phrase in verse 8: “The word of the Lord came to him.” Go to Sidon, well outside of Israel, and a widow is going to feed you there. We probably do not appreciate the ridiculous nature of this command. A widow cannot provide for herself. She could not go to Palm Beach State College, receive training, and enter the workforce. A widow in that day had no one to provide for her and no means to provide for herself. Being a widow was to be destitute. She is in big trouble, especially during a severe famine and drought.
So Elijah finds the widow and asks her to bring him a drink and a morsel of bread. She expresses to him the destitute condition she is in. She says that was gathering sticks to prepare a small bit of bread for herself and her son, and after they ate that they would die. This is the last of their food. This was about to be their last meal. They are starving to death, literally. Elijah tells her to make him some bread, and then make some bread for herself and her son. The reason is this: the promise of the word of the Lord, which is found in verse 14. The floor and oil will not dwindle until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth. Now, how many of us are going to believe those words? You have just enough food to eat for today and then you are going to die. Elijah calls for the widow to trust him and feed him first. If she does, her supply for food will continue to replenish itself. We learn from scriptures that this drought and famine lasted three and a half years. Will you trust God each day to replenish your supply of food? God had made a promise that he would do it. But would we believe it? Each day the oil and the flour were a reminder to the availability of God’s full provision to all who believe. Amazingly, provisions are being taken away from the people who had turned their hearts to Baal worship, and are being extended to a pagan Gentile who was willing to trust in the word of the Lord. God’s message was clear: give me everything you have and I will give you everything you need.
Trusting God’s Word For Life and Restoration
Giving everything we have does not merely include our possessions, but also includes our very lives. The widow’s son becomes sick and dies. Will we entrust our very lives to the hand of God? Will we believe in the promises of God to the point that we will place our lives on the line for his sake? You will notice that both the widow and Elijah are perplexed by the death of the son. The widow fears her sin has brought about her son’s death and wonders if Elijah is a punishment for that sin. We know from our recent studies that this is not the case (John 9:1-3; Luke 13:1-5). This is not the way God operates. “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10 ESV). God does not destroy people now for their sins. God is longsuffering and desiring all people to repent to receive life. Elijah is also concerned because the widow who has provided for him. It doesn’t make sense for God to be providing for the widow and her son by miracle every day only to have the son die.
But the scene has a much bigger point, which is realized in verse 24. God is able to bring life back from death and move people from disbelief to saving faith. God demonstrates his redemptive work with power over life and the resurrection. The resurrection gives the strongest proof for the power of God’s word which is to lead to life-changing faith. God works in this event to bring insight and understanding. Notice the widow says, “Now I know…” The resurrection is the “Now I know” moment for faith. The same was true for the disciples of Jesus.
When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:22 ESV)
Notice that the resurrection brought about faith so that they believed the scriptures and the words of Jesus. Resurrection is supposed to bring confidence to the word of the Lord. Resurrection gives us hope for the promises of God. Resurrection is the proof that what you believe in is not false. Because of the resurrection of her son, the widow is able to fully entrust herself to the word of the Lord. In the face of the unexplainable events and difficulties in life, the resurrection is the sure foundation to continue our trust in the Lord. Listen to a few scriptures that describe the impact of the resurrection of Jesus for our faith.
The resurrection of Jesus proves Jesus to be the Son of God, the King of the world. “…concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 1:3–4 ESV)
The resurrection of Jesus is reason why there can be regeneration in our lives. We have been born into hope for the unfading inheritance kept in heaven. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3–5 ESV)
The resurrection of Jesus is means by which we can make an appeal to God through baptism for a clean conscience. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (1 Peter 3:21 ESV)
The resurrection of Jesus confirms our belief that one day we will raise from the dead just like Jesus rose from the dead. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:4–5 ESV)
The resurrection of Jesus is the confirmation of our hope in the word of God. The resurrection proves that God can give life to our deadness. The apostle Paul powerfully declares that we are dead in our sins, separated from God, and unable to do anything about our spiritual condition. But God sent Jesus because God has the power to bring life to the dead. If God can bring life to the physically dead, then he can most certainly bring life to our spiritually dead souls (Ephesians 2:5). We are not beyond the reach of Jesus’ power. Faith is staking everything upon God’s word.
Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:21 NIV)