1 Kings 17 - The Early Ministry of Elijah

 

A. Elijah prays for drought and experiences God's provision.

 

1. (1) Elijah tells of the Lord's judgment.

 

And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, "As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word."

 

a. Elijah the Tishbite: At this crucial time in the history of Judah and Israel, the Prophet Elijah suddenly appeared. He will become the dominant spiritual force in Israel during these dark days of Ahab's apostasy.

 

i. The name Elijah means, Yahweh is my God. In the days when Ahab's government officially supported the worship of Baal and other gods, even the name of this prophet told the truth.

 

ii. It was a crucial time in the history of Israel. It looked as if the worship of the true God might be completely eliminated in the northern kingdom. "The land swarmed with the priests of Baal and of the groves - proud of Court favour; glorying in their sudden rise to power; insolent, greedy, licentious, and debased. The fires of persecution were lit, and began to burn with fury." (Meyer)

 

iii. "The whole land seemed apostate. Of all the thousands of Israel, only seven thousand remained who had not bowed the knee or kissed the hand to Baal. But they were paralysed with fear; and kept so still, that their very existence was unknown by Elijah in the hour of his great loneliness." (Meyer)

 

b. There shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word: This was a dramatic demonstration against the pagan god Baal, who was thought to be the sky god, the god of the weather. Elijah showed that through his prayers to the God of Israel, Yahweh was mightier than Baal.

 

i. "The old religion against the new; the child of nature against the effeminate child of the courts; camel's hair against soft clothing; moral strength against moral weakness." (Meyer)

 

ii. Elijah was not merely the prophet of this drought - in the sense of prayer, he was the cause of the drought. He prayed and it happened. James 5:17-18 makes this clear: Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

 

c. As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand: This statement of Elijah gives us an understanding of the source of his strength. It was specifically said Elijah was a man with a nature like ours (James 5:17). Yet he showed a strength greater than most of us in our life with God. We must pay attention to these indications to the source of Elijah's strength.

 

i. As the Lord God of Israel lives: Everyone else felt that the Lord was dead, but for Elijah the Lord lived. He was the supreme reality of Elijah's life.

 

ii. Before whom I stand: He stood in the presence of Ahab, but he was conscious of the presence of someone greater than any earthly king. Gabriel himself could not choose a higher title (Luke 1:19).

 

2. (2-5) Elijah flees to Cherith.

 

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "Get away from here and turn eastward, and hide by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. And it will be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there." So he went and did according to the word of the Lord, for he went and stayed by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan.

 

a. Get away from here and turn eastward, and hide by the Brook Cherith: The drought announced by Elijah in the previous verse was a great threat to the northern kingdom of Israel and the reign of Ahab. Therefore his life was in danger, and God sent him to the Brook Cherith for his own safety.

 

i. God led Elijah one step at a time. He did not tell him to go to Cherith until he first delivered the message to Ahab. He did not tell him to go to Zarephath until the brook dried up at Cherith. God led Elijah by faith, one step at a time, and Elijah followed in faith.

 

ii. Hide by the Brook Cherith: Through this God taught Elijah the value of the hidden life. He had just become famous as an adversary of Ahab, so mighty that his prayers could stop the rain. At the moment of his new-found fame, God wanted Elijah to hide and be alone with God. "We must not be surprised, then, if sometimes our Father says: 'There, child, thou hast had enough of this hurry, and publicity, and excitement; get thee hence, and hide thyself by the brook - hide thyself in the Cherith of the sick chamber; or in the Cherith of disappointed hopes; or in the Cherith of bereavement; or in some solitude from which the crowds have ebbed away.' " (Meyer)

 

iii. "Elijah could not be alone, so long as he had God and himself to converse with. A good man is never less alone, than when alone." (Trapp)

 

b. And it will be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there: The escape to the Brook Cherith was for more than protection. It was also to train Elijah in dependence upon the Lord. In a season of drought, he had to trust that God could keep this brook flowing. He also had to accept food from the ravens, an unclean animal.

 

i. The name Cherith comes from the ancient Hebrew root meaning, to cut away, to cut up or off. This shows that God had some cutting to do in the life of Elijah during this period.

 

ii. I have commanded the ravens to feed you there: There is an emphasis on the word there. God promised that the ravens would feed Elijah has he stayed at Cherith. Of course, theoretically the ravens could feed him anywhere - but God commanded that it be at Cherith. Elijah perhaps wanted to be somewhere else, or be preaching, or doing anything else. Yet God wanted him there and would provide for him there.

 

3. (6) Elijah's provision.

 

The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the brook.

 

a. The ravens brought him bread and meat: Every bit of food that came to Elijah came from the beak of an unclean animal. Elijah had to put away his traditional ideas of clean and unclean or he would die of starvation. Through this, God taught Elijah to emphasize the spirit of the law before the letter of the law.

 

i. Charles Spurgeon drew two points of application from this event, likening the food the ravens brought to spiritual food. First, he recognized that God may bring a good word to us through an unclean vessel, a spiritually unclean like a raven. Second, that one can bring spiritual food to others and still be unclean spiritually themselves. "But see, too, how possible it is for us to carry bread and meat to Godís servants, and do, some good things for his church, and yet be ravens still!" (Spurgeon)

 

b. Bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening: As faithfully has He provided manna for Israel in the wilderness, God provided for Elijah's needs. He came to trust more than ever in the miraculous provision of God.

 

i. "A little boy, having read this incident with his widowed mother on wintry night, as they sat in a fireless room, beside a bare table, asked her if he might set the door open for God's ravens to come in; he was so sure that they must be on their way. The burgomaster of that German town, passing by, was attracted by the sight of the open door, and entered, inquiring the cause. When he learnt the reason, he said, 'I will be God's raven'; and relieved their need then and afterwards." (Meyer)

 

4. (7) Elijah and the dry brook.

 

And it happened after a while that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land.

 

a. After a while that the brook dried up: Elijah saw the flow of the brook slow down until it dried up. His source of water was gone.

 

i. "Ah, it is hard to sit beside a drying brook - much harder than to face the prophets of Baal on Carmel." (Meyer) He also mentions different kinds of drying brooks we might experience:

 

        The drying brook of popularity, ebbing away as from John the Baptist.

        The drying brook of health, sinking under a creeping paralysis, or a slow consumption.

        The drying brook of money, slowly dwindling before the demands of sickness, bad debts, or other people's extravagance.

        The drying brook of friendship, which for long has been diminishing, and threatens soon to cease.

 

ii. "Why does God let them dry? He wants to teach us not to trust in His gifts but in Himself. He wants to drain us of self, as He drained the apostles by ten days of waiting before Pentecost. He wants to loosen our roots ere He removes us to some other sphere of service and education. He wants to put in stronger contrast the rive of throne-water that never dries." (Meyer)

 

b. Because there had been no rain in the land: This was the drought Elijah prayed for. He did not pray for rain to come again, even for his own survival. He kept the purpose of God first, even when it adversely affected him.

 

B. God provides for Elijah through a widow.

 

1. (8-9) God calls Elijah to go to Zarephath.

 

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you."

 

a. Arise, go to Zarephath: God led Elijah from the dry brook to a Gentile city. This was an unusual and challenging move for Elijah to make.

 

i. God kept transplanting Elijah: From home, to Jezreel, to Cherith, to Zarephath. This transplanting made him stronger and stronger.

 

ii. We should also remember that this was the general region that the wicked queen Jezebel was from. "Elijah was visiting enemy territory and showing the power of God in an area where Baal was worshipped, though ineffective through drought." (Wiseman)

 

b. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you: Widows were notorious for their poverty in the ancient world. God told Elijah to go to a Gentile widow and receive provision; it probably seemed to make more sense to wait beside a dry brook.

 

i. When He rejected by His own people, Jesus used this example of Elijah's coming to the widow of Zarephath as an illustration of God's right to choose a people to Himself: Then He said, "Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow." (Luke 4:24-26)

 

2. (10-11) Elijah addresses a widow.

 

So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, indeed a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, "Please bring me a little water in a cup, that I may drink." And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, "Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand."

 

a. Indeed a widow was there gathering sticks: This showed that she was a poor woman, gathering meager scraps for firewood. Elijah perhaps thought that God would lead him to an unusual rich widow, but God led him to a poor Gentile widow.

 

i. "You learn this from the fact that she had not even firewood. Now, there was no reason why she should not have had that even in time of famine of bread, for there was no famine of wood, unless she had been extremely poor." (Spurgeon)

 

ii. God told Elijah (1 Kings 17:9) that He commanded a widow to feed the prophet. Yet this woman seemed unaware of the command. This shows how God's unseen hand often works. "She does not appear to have been at all aware that she was to feed a prophet. She went out that morning to gather sticks, not to meet a guest. She was thinking about feeding her son and herself upon the last cake; certainly she had no idea of sustaining a man of God out of that all but empty barrel of meal. Yet the Lord, who never lieth, spoke a solemn truth when he said, 'I have commanded a widow woman there.' He had so operated upon her mind that he had prepared her to obey the command when it did come by the lip of his servant the prophet." (Spurgeon)

 

b. Please bring me a little water in a cup . . . Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand: Elijah boldly put this request in faith. Common sense and circumstances told him that the widow would not give so generously to a Jewish stranger, but faith made him ask.

 

i. "This was certainly putting the widow's faith to an extraordinary trial: to take and give to a stranger, of whom she knew nothing, the small pittance requisite to keep her child from perishing, was too much to be expected." (Clarke)

 

ii. God indeed chose this woman, but He chose her for more than a miracle. He chose her for service. "The choice of this woman, while it brought such blessedness to her, involved service. She was not elected merely to be saved in the famine, but to feed the prophet. She must be a woman of faith; she must make the little cake first, and afterwards she shall have the multiplication of the meal and of the oil. So the grace of God does not choose men to sleep and wake up in heaven, nor choose them to live in sin and find themselves absolved at the last; nor choose them to be idle and go about their own worldly business, and yet to win a reward at the last for which they never toiled. Ah, no! the sovereign electing grace of God chooses us to repentance, to faith, and afterwards to holiness of living, to Christian service, to zeal, to devotion." (Spurgeon)

 

3. (12) The response of the widow of Zarephath.

 

So she said, "As the Lord your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die."

 

a. As the Lord your God lives: This polite address showed that she respected God, yet recognized that the God of Israel was Elijah's God and not her own.

 

b. I do not have bread: Elijah quickly found out that she was not only poor, but desperately poor. Elijah found her right before she was going to prepare her last morsel of food for herself and her son - and then resign themselves to death.

 

4. (13-14) Elijah's words to her.

 

And Elijah said to her, "Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord God of Israel: 'The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.'"

 

a. Do not fear: This was God's first word to the widow through Elijah. Her present crisis rightly made her afraid, and God wanted her to put away fear and put trust in Him.

 

b. Go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first: This was an audaciously bold request from the prophet. He asked this destitute widow to first give him something from her last bit of food. This seemed like the worst kind of predatory fund-raising.

 

c. The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth: This shows why Elijah could make such an audacious request. It was because God told him that He would provide a never-ending supply of food for the widow, her son, and Elijah himself. He asked the widow to put her trust in this great promise of God.

 

5. (15-16) The widow's obedience and God's great blessing.

 

So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and he and her household ate for many days. The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke by Elijah.

 

a. So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah: The widow actually did it - she willingly gave at great risk, based on her trust in the promise of God.

 

b. She and he and her household ate for many days: God fulfilled the promise to the widow, her son, and Elijah. God used her as a channel of supply and her needs were met as a result.

 

i. "Why did not God give her a granary full of meal at once, and a vat full of oil instantly? I will tell you. It was not merely because of Godís intent to try her, but there was wisdom here. Suppose he had given her a granary full of meal, how much of it would have been left by the next day? I question whether any would have remained, for in days of famine men are sharp of scent, and it would soon have been noised about the city, 'The old widow woman who lives in such-and-such a street, has a great store of food.' Why, they would have caused a riot, and robbed the house, and perhaps, have killed the woman and her son. She would have been despoiled of her treasure, and in four and twenty hours the barrel of meal would have been as empty as it was at first, and the cruse of oil would have been spilled upon the ground." (Spurgeon)

 

C. Elijah raises the widow's son.

 

1. (17-18) The widow's grief at the death of her son.

 

Now it happened after these things that the son of the woman who owned the house became sick. And his sickness was so serious that there was no breath left in him. So she said to Elijah, "What have I to do with you, O man of God? Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to kill my son?"

 

a. After these things that the son of the woman who owned the house became sick: We can imagine the happy days of provision in the household of the widow. Their needs were supplied by a continuing miracle of God. Yet those happy days were eventually covered by a dark shadow: the sickness and death of the widow's son.

 

i. The death of the son was a double blow to the widow. Not only did she suffer as any mother who loses a child, but she also suffered as one who lost her only hope for the future. The expectation was that her son would grow and provide for her in her old age. Now that expectation was shattered.

 

b. Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to kill my son? At the death of her son, the widow indirectly blamed Elijah. She more directly blamed herself and her unnamed sin. Whatever her sin was, the guilty memory of it was always close to her.

 

2. (19-20) Elijah's prayer.

 

And he said to her, "Give me your son." So he took him out of her arms and carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his own bed. Then he cried out to the Lord and said, "O Lord my God, have You also brought tragedy on the widow with whom I lodge, by killing her son?"

 

a. He took him out of her arms: This vivid detail shows that the widow clutched the dead child tightly in her arms.

 

b. The upper room where he was staying: The term upper room "refers to a temporary shelter or room on the roof, accessible from outside the house. Such structures are common in the Near East. This arrangement would allow the widow not only her needed privacy but would safeguard her reputation." (Patterson and Austel)

 

c. Then he cried out to the Lord: Elijah prayed with great heart and intimacy with God. He brought this seemingly unexplainable and irredeemable tragedy to God in prayer. Since he knew God led him to this widow, Elijah laid this tragedy on God and asked Him to remedy it.

 

3. (21-24) The son is raised from the dead.

 

And he stretched himself out on the child three times, and cried out to the Lord and said, "O Lord my God, I pray, let this child's soul come back to him." Then the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came back to him, and he revived. And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper room into the house, and gave him to his mother. And Elijah said, "See, your son lives!" Then the woman said to Elijah, "Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth."

 

a. He stretched himself out on the child three times, and cried out to the Lord: This was an unusual prayer technique, but Elijah had no precedent for this. It was not because of his prayer technique, but because of his faith that God answered this prayer.

 

i. There is an almost irresistible desire to embellish on these wonderful accounts of the power of God. Patterson and Austel speak of one such attempt: "Syriac translation, followed by Jerome, that the lad was the prophet Jonah is totally unsatisfactory and historically impossible (cf. 2 Kings 14:25)."

 

b. O Lord my God, I pray, let this child's soul come back to him: "A prayer full of powerful arguments. Thou art the Lord, that canst revive the child; and my God, and therefore wilt not, do not, deny me. She is a widow; add not affliction to the afflicted; deprive her not of the great support and staff of her age. She hath given me kind entertainment; let her not fare the worse for her kindness to a prophet, whereby wicked men will take occasion to reproach both her and religion." (Poole)

 

c. Then the Lord heard the voice of Elijah: The son was raised and God provided for the widow on every level - not only with the miraculous supply of food, but also with the resuscitation of her son.

 

i. "This first example in the Bible of revival from death cannot be explained away as contactual magic nor as the prophet's life-force transmitted by the mouth-to-mouth method of resuscitation." (Wiseman)

 

© 2004 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission