************ Sermon on 1 Kings 17:7-16 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 3, 2003
1 Kings 17:7-16
"The Faith of an Outsider"
Israel, if you remember, was suffering from a drought. The Lord's curse continued to cut its sharp lines throughout the land. Every day and every night it was the same story: "The heavens declare the anger of God; the skies proclaim the heat of His wrath."
During the drought God sent the prophet Elijah to the brook Cherith. Elijah drank from the brook and the ravens fed him there twice each day.
Our Scripture reading tells us that "Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land" (1Ki 17:7). It was time for Elijah to move on. Then the word of the Lord came to him: "Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food." (1Ki 17:9).
Did you catch what God said? He said, "I have commanded a widow ..." Earlier, He told Elijah that He ordered the ravens to feed him. God's Word can make demands in any and every situation and expects to be obeyed – even by ravens and by heathen women. "Go at once to Zarephath ... I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food."
I God Passed Over Israel
A A couple of questions come to mind here. Why did Elijah have to leave the brook Cherith? And, why did he have to go to Zarephath?
We cannot say Elijah had to leave Cherith because the brook was dry. The wondrous power of God is not stopped by a little dried out brook. He is the God Who rips open rocks and fills the brooks with swirling waters. He is the God Who provided for His people for 40 years in the wilderness. He commands and controls all the forces of nature. Even the ravens listen to His commands. He can make flour and oil multiply. Without His will, no brook could ever dry up.
We can only conclude that God dried up the brook because He wanted Elijah to move to another location.
God sent Elijah to Zarephath. Why this place. As Jesus tells us in our text, there were many widows in Israel who would gladly have looked after Elijah. Why the widow in Zarephath? Why didn't God make use of Obadiah or others of the 7000 faithful who also would have looked after Elijah with gladness?
Obviously, God wanted to give Israel (and the church) a message. God revealed something by sending Elijah to a widow in Zarephath.
B Zarephath was a small costal town outside of Israel's borders. It was north of Israel on the Mediterranean Sea. To get there from Cherith, Elijah had to cross over the Jordan and pass through all of the northern kingdom of Israel.
What we see is that God was passing His people by. It was and is God's people who have the privilege and the responsibility of ministering to the prophets of the Word. But God did not want to make use of Israel's services. He passed His people by and chose a woman outside of Israel to look after His prophet. A heathen widow would be Elijah's hostess. Israel was no longer God's co-worker. That privilege was now being enjoyed by an outsider. The Word of the Lord would be sustained by a widow of Zarephath and not by God's own people!
How humiliating this was for the people of the Lord. It should have been Israel that protected and preserved and sustained and looked after the prophet of the Word. But instead an outsider is picked to do Israel's job.
C Zarephath was not only outside of Israel, but it was also a city that belonged to Sidon. Sidon was controlled by the heathen king Ethbaal, the father of Jezebel. Imagine that: Elijah was told to seek refuge within the domain of a heathen king. Elijah was told to go to a land where Baal was worshiped. He was to go to a land opposed to Jehovah. He was to go to a land that represented a great threat to the people and service of the Lord. He was to go to that land and live there, in enemy territory, in the domain of Satan. The Word of God was to be supported and sustained in a kingdom ruled by Satan.
Do you see what the Lord God was doing? He was mocking and making fun of Satan and the power of darkness. Satan's servant was used by God to preserve the servant of the Word. Satan's tool was used by God to protect the Word of the Lord. We are reminded here, then, of the weakness and futility of God's enemies.
II The Faith of the Widow
A In obedience to God's Word, Elijah went to Zarephath; and when he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. Somehow Elijah knew that this was the widow, the outsider, that God had picked for sustaining the Word.
He started off with a small request: "Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?" (1Ki 17:10). As she was going to get it, he called, "And bring me, please, a piece of bread" (1Ki 17:11). It quickly became obvious that this was no small request. In fact, Elijah made a huge, big demand of this widow. He asked her to make a fantastic sacrifice.
The rain that did not fall in Israel did not fall in the lands surrounding Israel either. This meant poor or no crops, a shortage of food, and high prices. For widows and other poor people that meant a lack of life's most basic necessities.
The widow explained her situation to Elijah: that she lived in extreme poverty, that she had only enough flour and oil for one last meal, that she and her son were going to eat that last meal and then die.
Even after her explanation Elijah still insisted on the little bit she had left. We can say here without exaggeration that Elijah asked her to give him everything – and he refused to settle for anything less.
At first thought we might think Elijah was selfish. Maybe that was the widow's first thought too. But bear in mind Elijah's position: he was a prophet of God. He was not simply begging for food on his own behalf. Oh no! He was appealing to the widow to serve the Word of the Lord. It was that Word which was making a claim on all that she had.
Elijah's claim, seen in this light, was not so extraordinary after all. In fact, it was the same demand that the Lord has always made of Israel. It is the same demand that God makes of us and all His people. God always demands our all. He is never satisfied with a less than total response. For God it has always been and always will be all or nothing!
The Lord has always asked everything of His people. In Canaan, life in its entirely was to be consecrated to the Lord. From day to day and year to year, the Lord demanded of His people that they totally consecrate themselves to Him. All their wealth, their land, their crops, their children, their whole life was to be dedicated to the Lord.
The Lord, through Elijah, was demanding the same thing of this outsider, a widow from Zarephath.
B God, however, was not going to leave this widow with an empty stomach if she does obey the Lord's call to serve the Word of the Lord:
(1Ki 17:13-14) 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. (14) For 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.'"
C What would the widow do? Would she submit to God's Word? Would she have the faith to believe God's promise spoken by Elijah that the oil and flour would not run out?
Now that Elijah has spoken she has to make the biggest decision of her life. She would have to respond with a deed of faith or a refusal of unbelief. Her very first reaction to the Word of the Lord would show either conversion or aversion. The Word of the Lord would either make her repent or harden her heart. It would either draw her nearer or push her further away.
The very next step she would take would mean yes or no, right or left, life or death. Either she would sacrifice everything and thereby get it all back – and much more – or she would hang on to what she had and die.
She did not have a few weeks to think this difficult decision over. She had to make up her mind right then and there. What would she do? And, what did her son want her to do?
Now, what would you do if you were this woman? Imagine that you met someone for the first time. Let's suppose this person claims everything in the name of the Lord. What would be your response?
D What did she do? Recorded in our Scripture reading is one of the most remarkable verses in all of the Bible:
(1Ki 17:15) 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.What a tremendous and amazing faith. She obeyed. She preserved the Word of the Lord. And God miraculously kept food in her house.
She had never seen Elijah before. She never before had seen the miraculous power of God at work. Yet, she made a total and complete sacrifice. She gave up all she had for the Lord. This sort of sacrifice is totally impossible for any normal person facing starvation and death. This sort of sacrifice is especially impossible for a mother facing the death of her own child.
The widow of Zarephath was not a normal woman. She had something extra. She had faith. By faith she submitted to God's Word. By faith she fed the Lord's servant.
This past week I read of a church in the eastern U.S. that displayed similar faith:
Topic: FaithWhat amazing, tremendous faith. Would you have shown up for that prayer meeting?
Title: Faith Can Move Mountains
A small congregation in the foothills of the Great Smokies built a new sanctuary on a piece of land willed to them by a church member. Ten days before the new church was to open, the local building inspector informed the pastor that the parking lot was inadequate for the size of the building.
Until the church doubled the size of the parking lot, they would not be able to use the new sanctuary. Unfortunately, the church with its undersized lot had used every inch of their land except for the mountain against which it had been built.
In order to build more parking spaces, they would have to move the mountain out of the back yard. Undaunted, the pastor announced the next Sunday morning that he would meet that evening with all members who had "mountain moving faith." They would hold a prayer session asking God to remove the mountain from the back yard and to somehow provide enough money to have it paved and painted before the scheduled opening dedication service the following week.
At the appointed time, 24 of the congregation's 300 members assembled for prayer. They prayed for nearly three hours. At ten o'clock the pastor said the final Amen. "We'll open next Sunday as scheduled," he assured everyone. "God has never let us down before, and I believe He will be faithful this time too."
The next morning as he was working in his study there came a loud knock at his door. When he called "come in," a rough looking construction foreman appeared, removing his hard hat as he entered.
"Excuse me, Reverend. I'm from Acme Construction Company over in the next county. We're building a huge shopping mall. We need some fill dirt. Would you be willing to sell us a chunk of that mountain behind the church? We'll pay you for the dirt we remove and pave all the exposed area free of charge, if we can have it right away. We can't do anything else until we get the dirt in and allow it to settle properly."
The little church was dedicated the next Sunday as originally planned and there were far more members with "mountain moving faith" on opening Sunday than there had been the previous week!
The widow of Zarephath had that kind of faith. She didn't complain about the size of the sacrifice. She did not question Elijah's sanity. "She went away and did as Elijah had told her." Nowhere in Israel did Elijah see such faith.
E There is a message here for Israel and the church. Israel was suffering under a drought because she did not have faith in God and His Word. Israel had rejected God in favor of Baal and the other heathen gods. God's people did not keep the faith.
However, in the kingdom of Ethbaal, deep within the domain of Satan, there was a woman. This woman was not one of God's people. This woman did not know of God's wondrous dealings with Israel. Yet, she was confronted by God's Word and she submitted. She gave God her all. She had faith.
The widow of Zarephath is meant to put God's people to shame. An outsider has faith while God's people do not. The widow of Zarephath is meant as an example. We are to follow her example of faith – a faith that did not question or complain, a faith that gave all to God. An outsider, a widow, her faith puts us to shame, her faith is an example to us.
You see, congregation, God demands the same of us that He demanded of the widow of Zarephath and of Israel. He demands our whole life – our wealth, our possessions, our family, our homes, our businesses, our all. God dares us to do what He dared the widow to do – to give it all over to Him. As the widow of Zarephath found out, no sacrifice is too big to make for our God.
You might wonder what this story has to do with us.
When we turn to our text in Luke 4 we see that Jesus used the widow of Zarephath in His teaching. Just like in the time of Elijah, God's people were rejecting God's Word. This time, however, the Word was Jesus. In other words, what happened at the time of Elijah also happened at the time of Jesus and it happens today as well – God's people reject God's Word.
By means of the story of the widow we hear Jesus saying two things. First, that once again God may have to bypass His people – and He did when He had the Gospel brought to the Gentiles. Second, that an outsider has faith while God's own people do not – that too happened when we see the leaders of Israel rejecting the Lord while sinners and tax collectors flocked around Him.
My brothers and sisters, let us make sure we are never by-passed by God because of unbelief. Let us respond to God's Word by imitating the faith of an outsider – a faith that stops nothing short of giving God our all.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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