The Life of Elijah - Week 3
May 26, 2002 | Andy Davis
1 Kings 17:17-24
Contentment, Humility, Resurrection
Pastor Andy Davis preaches a verse by verse expository sermon on 1 Kings 17:17-24. The main subject of the sermon is the resurrection of the son of the widow of Zarephath.
- SERMON TRANSCRIPT -
Tonight we're going to resume our study in Kings, 1 Kings 17, but we're going to start in a few other places, so that we can support what happens in 1 Kings 17. So you can just put your finger in 1 Kings 17, we'll probably begin around verse 17 there, but I'd like to start instead in Hebrews chapter 11, so turn there. That's the faith chapter and you're familiar with that. But the story that we're going to read tonight in 1 Kings is referred to, obliquely, in Hebrews 11, but in a marvelous way. I think we can see some of the problems that Elijah and the widow at Zarephath faced, and how troubling is sometimes the providence of God.
Now, Hebrews 11, as I said, is a chapter given to exhort and encourage a suffering people. The Hebrews, the people to whom the book is written, were suffering persecution. They were being tempted to slide away from their faith, and so Hebrews 11 is written to give examples and demonstrations of faith in action, of faith that is powerful and strong. And so he brings one example after another of an act of powerful saving faith. And the whole chapter comes to a crescendo in verse 32 and following. Hebrews 11:32 and following, it says there, "And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned into strength, and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies." And then in verse 35, it says, "Women received back their dead, raised to life again." I think that's the reference to 1 Kings 17 and the widow at Zarephath. But if you keep reading, it says, "Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection." So right in verse 35, we have a pivot, don't we? From 32-35, it's nothing but success. It's conquering and victories, and weakness turned into strength, and one victory after another, culminating in this incredible miracle, "Women received back their dead, raised to life again." And then suddenly, there's this pivot and it says, "Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some face jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted, and mistreated. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains and in caves and holes in the ground." How can all of that be part of a life of faith? How can incredible triumphs, and victories, and soaring conquests like we're going to see in the next chapter, in 1 Kings 18, the conflict between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. What an incredible victory that was, and yet at the same time, tragedies and sorrows beyond description. How can they all be part of the life of faith? And yet here they are in Hebrews 11, just listed one right after the other. All of them part of God's providence for his people. "Women received back their dead, raised to life again. But others were sawn in two, and stoned, and put to death with the sword." All of it part of the life of faith.
Turn also, if you would, to John chapter 11 In John chapter 11, we had the familiar story of the man named Lazarus that was sick. And this is one of the most incredible chapters in the New Testament, showing the power of Jesus. It says there in 11:1, "Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. So the sister sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick.’" And verse four, "When he heard this, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it.’ Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus." Verse six, "Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days." Now, verse six begins with the word "yet" doesn't it? He loved them and yet he stayed. And I understand why that word is in there, because it runs contrary to the way we would arrange things. You would think love would seek to protect from all harm, to protect from sickness and death, and from suffering, wouldn't it? And so we understand why the word "yet" is in there, but as we read on, we could almost put the word "and" in there. "Jesus loved Martha, Lazarus and Mary and as a result, chose to stay where he was two more days." And both of them make sense, don't they? "When he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go back to Judea.’ ‘But Rabbi,’ they said, ‘a short while ago, the Jews tried to stone you, and you're going back there?’ Jesus answered, ‘Are there not 12 hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble for he sees by this world's light, it is when he walks by night that he stumbles for he has no light.’ And after he said this, he went on to tell them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to wake him up.’ His disciples replied, ‘Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.’ Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep." Now listen, verse 14, "Then he told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, and for your sake, I am glad.’” Now you just stop there and ponder that for a moment. "Lazarus is dead and I'm glad." Is that the Jesus you know? "I'm glad that Lazarus is dead." In what sense was he glad that Lazarus was dead? Well, only in this sense: that he might display his mighty power and glorify himself through it, not because he relished in the sadness of Martha and Mary. We'll see later that Jesus wept at the tomb. We're not covering that tonight, I'd love to just go right on into John 11. I love this chapter, I love them all, but we're studying 1 Kings 17 tonight. “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake, I am glad." Now looking at a group this size, I have no idea where God's providence is going to carry you this week. No idea what's going to come to you. It may be some of the first half of Hebrews 11:32-35, one victory after another, one triumph after another, one success after another, all of it done by faith. Or it may be the second half from verse 35 up through the end of the chapter, in which it's finally testified about you, that the world wasn't worthy of you, but all of it part of the life of faith, and all of it part of the providence of God, and God's ways are beyond tracing out. Ponder this, "Lazarus is dead, and for your sake, I am glad." Why? "Because I want to display my power and your weakness. I want to come into the middle of your tragedy and do something that you would never imagine, even if you were told. I'm going to raise Lazarus from the dead."
Well, you can see now the background of 1 Kings 17. Turn there if you would, and here we have the story of the first, the first resurrection from the dead recorded in Scripture. The first one. Now, we don't know if there were others, they're just not recorded in Scripture. This is the first time that God raises somebody from the dead in the Bible. And it being the first, it's rather remarkable, isn't it? How could anyone have enough faith to trust God for this kind of thing, when there was, as far as we know, no record of it before in human history? Let's begin at verse 17, 1 Kings 17. "Sometime later, the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. She said to Elijah, ‘What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?’ ‘Give me your son,’ Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, and carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. Then he cried out to the Lord, ‘Oh Lord, my God, have you brought tragedy also upon this widow I am staying with by causing her son to die?’ Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried to the Lord, ‘Oh Lord, my God, let this boy's life return to him!’ The Lord heard Elijah's cry and the boy's life returned to him, and he lived. 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.’ Then the woman said 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.’" What an incredible story, isn't it? A picture of God's power in the middle of tragedy? Now it says in verse 17, "Sometime later," what that does is connect to what had just happened. You remember the story that God had commanded Elijah to go to Ahab the King at the beginning of this chapter, and say, "As surely as the Lord lives, there'll be neither rain nor dew except at my word." And then he's commanded to disappear. Goes down to the Brook of Cherith, God provides for him by means of this little brook, and he also provides food through the ravens. The ravens bring him a little bit at a time and he eats from the beak of ravens, until finally the brook dries up and God commands Elijah to go to Zarephath to a certain widow there, and God had promised Elijah that he would provide for him through that widow.
And so Elijah gets up and travels through the desert. You have to trace it out on an atlas to find out what difficult journey that was, especially in a time of drought. And as he arrived there, there was a widow just outside the gates, as providence would have it, collecting sticks. Isn't it funny how God only tells Elijah just what he needs to know at any given moment? Never more than enough, just enough information to know what to do next. Why does God do that? Well, to keep us dependent on him, to keep us humble so that we continue to return again and again in prayer, and say, "God, what are my marching orders? What am I to do next? How shall I act? What shall I do?" He just says, "Go to Zarephath and there's a widow." Which widow? "Don't worry about it, you'll know." And so as he arrives there, there's a widow and she's collecting sticks. Elijah sees here and probably knows in his spirit, this must be the woman, and he goes up and says, "Please give me some water." the very thing that was like gold at that point. And she goes off immediately to begin to get him some water, and that was probably the sign. He said, "I know what I'll do, I'll go ask somebody for water. If they stone me, then I know that's not the widow... But if they're open to the water, they might be open to a little bit more." And so it was. He said, "Oh, by the way, if you would also prepare me a little cake and I'll eat it." And she said, "Now that's too much. I'll get you the water, but all I have is a little handful of flour and a little bit of oil, and I was planning to make my son and I one last meal, our final meal, and then we're going to die. We have nothing else. Nobody else in our village has anything else. It's all gone after that one little handful." And then he says, "Make me a cake anyway, because I have it from the Lord that your flower and your oil will not run out until God sends rain on the land again." She believes him by faith, takes him at his word, makes the cake, gives it to him, and God blesses. Day by day, day by day, just enough to eat, just enough meal in their hand, just enough oil to make those cakes. And then the next day, low and behold, there's another small amount at the bottom of the container again. That's no way to live here in America, we like abundance, we like enough and plenty to spare, but that's not God's way. Day after day, after day, he provides just enough for that day for Elijah and the widow.
And so we come verse 17, "Sometime later, the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing." Now, we don't have any idea what this illness was, perhaps some kind of a pneumonia or something that came on the child, but realize that back then there were no hospitals, no antibiotics. Basically when someone was ill, like Lazarus, they usually went on and died, unless God did a miracle, or unless God brought healing. The body's resilient, the immune system can handle almost anything, but some things are too much. There were no hospitals, there was no procedure for healing, and so this child had nothing they could do for him. "He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing." Now at this moment, she turns; the widow turns to Elijah, and basically in effect, at least verbally, beats on his chest and blames him for the death of her son. "What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come here to remind me of my sin and kill my son?" Now this is an amazing answer and it shows, I think, the work of God in her heart. She had been almost certainly a Baal worshiper, an idol worshiper, before Elijah came. And she had come, perhaps, to a faith in the living God by her time with Elijah. And she knew, even though Romans hadn't been written yet, the wages of sin is death. There's a connection between sin and death. And so a godly response to this is to say, "It must be because of my own sinfulness that this has come." And that's what she does. She sees a connection between sin and the death of her son. She's humble and she recognizes that, but she's also very frustrated, and I think very unfairly upbraids the prophet, blames him like, "You have come to kill my son." And isn't this remarkable? Because in a few moments later on, we're going to read how Ahab blames Elijah for the drought. "Here you are, you troubler of Israel," he'll say to him, as though it was somehow Elijah that had stopped up the rain. Not at all, he's just a messenger, but we tend to shoot the messengers, don't we? He's just a man of God living in her house. He has no power of life and death, and she's very unfairly upbraided him for the death of her son. Well, I love his humility at this point. His humility and his patience, he's gentle.
And I think it's remarkable how humble this man is. I mean, what has he eaten for the last several years? Think about it. We love variety, don't we? I'm not quite sure what the ravens brought, what kind of three meals a day it was, it was just enough to sustain him. Meanwhile, at the widow of Zarephath's house, "Well, what's for dinner tonight?" "Well, the same as last night." It's the bread and the cakes day after day, after day, the very thing that Israel had complained about. You remember the story in Numbers 11 says, "The rabble went with them and began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat. We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost. Also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.’” Oh, the days of garlic in Egypt. Yearning, again, for variety of food. "But now we've lost our appetite, and we never see anything but this manna. Day after day, nothing but manna.” This is the example of a heart of discontent, isn't it? And God was angry at Israel for their discontent. You don't see anything like this in Elijah. He eats at God's command and he eats what God provides. The providence of God for Elijah was the same food day after day, miraculously provided for he, and the widow, and the son, and so he's content. Contentment's a good thing, isn't it? Are you content with the providence of God? Are you content with what God gives you day after day? There's a secret to that, isn't there? The Apostle Paul talks about this. He talks about a gift in Philippians 4 that was given says, "Good, now we've got all that we need. You've provided for me. But realize I'm not saying this because I'm in want, for I've learned to be content whatever God provides for me. I've learned to be content; I've learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength." Paul also writes in 1 Timothy 6:6, "Godliness with contentment is great gain for we brought nothing into the world and can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we'll be content with that." Wouldn't you rather have contentment, a heart of contentment, happy with what God provides than have all the things you want? Isn't it better that way? And so it was with Elijah. And so we see his humility, a contentedness in accepting what God provides, and that prepared him to respond, I think, with humility to this woman. Now, she's very angry and very unfairly blames him and he says, "Give me your son." And just humbly, quietly takes this boy. "He takes the boy from her arms," in verse 19, "and carries him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed." Now, I have no idea what was going through Elijah's mind at this particular moment, I told you there's no record of a resurrection at this point. What was he going to do? But I know that he was intending to go up and pray. Now, 1 Kings 18 is one of the great chapters in the entire Bible, for there we have the climactic battle between good and evil, Elijah and the prophets of Baal. But before the work of the glory of God, God must prepare the man for the work of glory. He's got to get him ready, and these kind of incidents get him ready. He takes this boy who's dead, she's blaming him, and he goes upstairs to his perhaps some room, an apartment or something, that she had provided for him, much like Elisha had provided in his day. And he brings this boy up, and this is what he says, "He cries out to the Lord, ‘Oh Lord my God, have you brought tragedy also upon this widow I am staying with by causing her son to die?’" Now, it's very interesting what he says here. He does not ask the question we would ask, what is the question that immediately comes to your mind when you have a dark providence? When something comes to you that's contrary to what you would like? It's always the same, why? He does not say "why" here. Instead, he just brings it back to God, the sovereign God.
"He eats at God's command and he eats what God provides. The providence of God for Elijah was the same food day after day, miraculously provided for he, and the widow, and the son, and so he's content."
Now, I know that there's a theology that goes around today that says that God would never do something like this; that God would never bring to life and cause death. He would never bring prosperity and create disaster, God would never do that. God only ever intends what we consider to be good things, but that's not the God of the Bible. It's a God of our own making. And listen instead to what Job says to his wife, Job 2:10, "You are talking like a foolish woman," when she says, "Are you still holding onto your integrity? Curse God and die." She beats on his chest. "Are you still holding onto your integrity? Curse God and die," and he says, "You're talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?" “Ra'a,” usually translated evil, difficulty, strife, adversity, conflict, trouble, “In all this Job did not sin in what he said.” Do you understand? He did not sin in ascribing to God the things that had come to him, because ultimately they came from God. Now we know the devil tempted him, but it was ultimately from God. Or how about this in Amos 3:6, "When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?" And I've already alluded to this one Isaiah 45:7, "I formed the light and create darkness. I bring prosperity and create disaster. I, the Lord do all these things." Now, you might think, "That's not the God that I know." That may be, but it is the God who is, and it is the God of the Bible. And stop and ponder for a moment if it were not this way, that would mean that God is doing all the good things, and the devil's doing all the evil things, and they're kind of struggling it out, and God doesn't seem to have much control over it all, does he? And so the evil god does all these evil things, and so God has to parry with him over your life. The Bible doesn't portray God that way, God is sovereign over all things and Elijah knows it.
"God is sovereign over all things and Elijah knows it."
And he brings this child and spreads the child out before God and says, "‘Have you brought trouble also upon this widow I am staying with by causing her son to die?’ Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times, and cried to the Lord, ‘Oh Lord my God, let this boy's life return to him.’” What an audacious prayer, what an incredible thing that faith is claiming at this particular moment. No record in history of a resurrection and he says, "Oh God, let this boy's life return to him." Now, the Bible teaches very clearly that God scraped together the earth and formed the first man, remember? In the garden. And from the dust of the earth, he formed a man, and then breathed breath of life into his nostrils, and so Adam became a living being. And so this house of clay that you're living in is temporary dwelling, getting a little more ramshackle as time goes on perhaps. It's just a jar of clay in which we live. And this boy's life had been separated from his temporary dwelling place, and Elijah is praying that the boy's spirit would return to him. So it is also in Luke chapter eight, the resurrection story there of Jairus. It says there in Luke 8:52, you don't have to turn there, but it says, "Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for the little girl. ‘Stop wailing,’ Jesus said, ‘She's not dead but asleep.’ They laughed at him knowing that she was dead, but he took her by the hand and said, ‘My child, get up.’" Listen, Luke 8:55, "Her spirit returned into that former dwelling place." It's a mystery, isn't it? The relationship between our physical being and our spiritual being. But this boy's spirit had been separated from his body, and according to the prayer of Elijah, by faith, spirit returns and the child comes alive again. An audacious prayer, "Oh Lord my God, let this boy's life return to him."
"God is always ahead of us, we can never ask for something outside God's will. "
Can I ask you a question, what are you trusting God for? Is there anything in your life that only God can do? Are you stretching your faith and trusting him for things that you've never trusted him for before? I'm not even saying a resurrection like this, just something more than you were trusting him for a year ago, something that only God can do. Are you trusting him for something like that? Faith is audacious here, isn't it? Bold. "Oh God, let this child's life return." Verse 22, "The Lord heard Elijah cry, and the boy's life returned to him and he lived." Now, this is an amazing thing, isn't it? What is the relationship between Elijah's cry and God's action? I don't know. Do you think Elijah had an idea that God didn't? Is Elijah ahead of God? And God says, "Elijah, that's a great idea, a resurrection." It can't be. God is always ahead of us, we can never ask for something outside God's will. So I don't understand verse 22 and the relationship, all I know is there's a relationship. "The Lord heard Elijah’s cry," and as a result of that prayer offered in faith, this dead person was raised to life. "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 the woman said 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.’" Now, God did something great that day. It was a dark providence, wasn't it? It was a dark day. And how can it be that the same God who provides enough flour and oil for day after day survival, the very next day, the child dies. The same God gives life and death, but then he gives life again through the prayer of Elijah. This is the sovereignty of God. For myself, just telling you openly, I don't pray like this, but I need to. Let's learn to trust God for things that only he can do. Let's begin asking him for great and mighty things. Read through Hebrews 11 and see all the things that people trusted God for, and begin trusting him for things that only he can do.