God has wanted us to see that Israel and Judah, the two nations that were to be God’s people and represent God, had lost their way. Kings are rising up but only making matters worse, leading the nation into deeper sins. At the moment, the attention is on the northern nation called Israel. The king at that time is Ahab and he will rule for 22 years. He did more evil than any of those who were before him. The sins of the children are outpacing the sins of the parents. Each leader cares less about God than the one before him. It is a dangerous time for those who are trying to be faithful to the Lord. Living in a time like this is going to require a lot of faith. It is during these times that an important question is going to be asked of those who claim to love God. How much faith do you have?
Elijah Comes (17:1)
The very first words of chapter 17 are startling. All of the sudden we have someone named Elijah on the scene. We are not given any warm up or background about Elijah. Elijah suddenly arrives and delivers God’s word to Ahab, the most wicked king that Israel has ever seen. Here is what he said:
As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” (1 Kings 17:1 ESV)
God’s word is that is there will not be rain or moisture for years until Elijah says so. Now there are some important things to consider about this declaration. First, drought is a divine judgment for covenant disobedience (cf. Deuteronomy 11:16-17; 28:23-24; 1 Kings 8:35). The people of Israel were to understand that a drought meant that the nation was sinning and rejecting God’s covenant. This is what Elijah proclaims. God says no more rain. Second, drought was economic doom for a nation. No rain meant no food, no way to care for your animals, and a complete disaster for everyone who lived during those times. Imagine if our country had no rain across it for years. It would be the end of our agriculture and farming systems. Food would be gone and prices would skyrocket for anything that was still available. But just as sudden as Elijah arrives, he is also told to hide himself.
Elijah Hides (17:2-6)
After saying these words, God tells Elijah to go hide himself. It is a dangerous time to be a follower of God. God tells Elijah to go to the east of the Jordan to hide there. Just as there will be a famine in the land because of the drought, there is also going to be a drought from hearing God’s word (cf. Amos 8:11). No more rain and no more words from God. Elijah will go to the wilderness. But listen to what God says will happen. God says that he has commanded the ravens to feed him there. Please think about what God said. Go hide away from everyone while this drought happens and God will send unclean birds (ravens are primarily scavengers) to feed you. Logically, this does not sound like a good plan. Wait for birds to feed you. But look at verse 5. “So he went and did according to the word of the Lord.” Notice that God did exactly what he said. Ravens brought Elijah bread and meat every morning and evening. Elijah had the faith to believe in what God said. But notice that Elijah represents Israel in the wilderness. Elijah is the faithful follower being provided for by God while in the wilderness. But the nation is not provided for because of their sins.
Elijah Leaves (17:7-16)
Now everything is going to be fine at this point, right? Elijah has nothing to worry about, right? Look at verse 7. The brook dried up. No more water for Elijah to drink. The water runs dry. God tests our trust. God wants to see what we will do when the brook dries up. God is not going to make it easy for his people. God does not make it easy even for Elijah. God is not forgetting Elijah. God is challenging Elijah. Do you panic or do you trust God? God could have kept that brook flowing with water for Elijah to enjoy. But God tests our trust. But Elijah will be tested even further. Listen to what God says to Elijah as the solution. Look at verse 9.
God tells Elijah to go to Sidon and a widow will feed you there. Please listen to that command and think about what God said. God wants Elijah to leave the nation of Israel and go to Sidon, the home turf of Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, and the land of Baal worship. Further, go to Sidon and a widow is going to feed you. Friends, we know that a widow is not a provider. Being a widow in ancient times was like having a death sentence. This is the problem for Naomi in the book of Ruth. This is why the church was commanded to care for true widows because in ancient times widows had no way to provide for themselves. A widow is not a provider and especially not during a famine and drought. But God says to go to this widow and she is going to feed him. The command is not that he is going to go and feed her. No, she is going to feed him. Would you go? Look at verse 10. Elijah goes to Zarephath in Sidon. He trusts God and goes.
What Elijah finds is exactly what we would expect him to find. He sees a widow carrying sticks and asks her for a drink of water. She was going to get him a drink when he also asks a small piece of bread. She now tells him about her helpless situation. She says that she has nothing but a little flour and a little oil. She is gathering sticks so that she could make a little cake for herself and her son and then die of starvation. The widow is completely hopeless and is about to die. But look at what Elijah tells her in verses 13-14. Do not be afraid. Go make a bread for me and then make something for you and your son. The Lord, the God of Israel says that the flour and oil will not run out until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.
What would you do? Now her faith is being challenged and she did not grow up with the God of Israel. She is a Gentile. She is a Sidonian. She would likely be a Baal worshiper. But she is told to not be afraid but believe that because the God of Israel says that the flour and oil will not run out, that it will not run out. Just go feed Elijah first. In verse 15 we see that she did exactly as Elijah told her. There was food every day for Elijah and for herself and her son. The flour and the oil did not run dray, just as God said through Elijah.
But Will You Still Believe? (17:17-24)
But the next thing we are told is that the son dies. What looked like hope and help through Elijah now appears to be pain and loss. You can imagine that you thought life was going to be great because Elijah is staying with you. Oil and flour continue to be provided every day. But the son dies. Tests of our trust are never easy. She goes to Elijah in verse 18. “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” (NIV) Have you come to point out my sins? Elijah, is it your purpose to call attention to my sins? This is important because she connects sin as the cause of the son’s death.
Elijah takes the dead son, which is an unclean action, and carries him to the upper room and laid him on the bed. Elijah will intercede on behalf of the Gentile woman. He even seems to have a hard time with what God has done. Elijah cries out to the Lord, “Have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” But he also places sovereignty over the situation in God’s hands. Then he stretches out over the boy three times and prays for the boy’s life to return to him. Verse 22 tells us that the Lord listened to Elijah and the boy’s life returned to him. Elijah picks up the child and takes him down to his mother, telling her, “Your son is alive.” The woman responds, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.” Elijah shows power over the unclean by touching the boy’s body. But even more, Elijah shows power over death. Now think about how massive this act is. As great as Moses was, he never raised anyone from the dead. God has the power to give life. God can rescue from death. God is able to break through sin.
I want us to notice the repetition of the text so that we will see the key point of this chapter. Everyone is challenged to trust God. Will you dare to trust God? Elijah has to stand before Ahab and tell him the terrible news that it is not going to rain for years, destroying the economic strength of the nation. Will you dare to trust God in a drought and famine? Will you dare to trust God by going to a brook and having ravens bring you food? Will you dare to trust God when the brook runs dry? Will you dare to trust God when told to let a widow provide for you? Will you dare to trust God by giving what is left of your bread to the prophet rather than feeding yourself and your son? Will you dare to trust God even if your child dies? Will you trust God to believe that God has power over sin and death?
The whole chapter is presented as the challenge to trust God. But your trust will always be tested. Trusting in God does not mean a lack of suffering. Instead, everyone is suffering through these tests of trust. Everyone is challenged to not be afraid but to believe in God. Please notice this truth: God perplexes as he provides. Everything that happens in this chapter is perplexing. Why would you let the brook run dry while you are caring for Elijah, Lord? Why would you let the son die while providing for the widow, Lord? God is perplexing as he provides. Both the widow and Elijah are repeatedly tested through perplexing circumstances. In fact, think about verse 24. “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.” The “now I know” revelation did not come when the flour and the oil were being provided for her daily. The “now I know” moment came through agonizing experiences. Both the widow and the prophet are saved by faith. They dare to trust God, even in perplexing circumstances, as their trust is tested again and again. We are repeatedly called to dare to trust God. From Job trusting through his suffering and loss to Peter walking on the water, we must dare to trust God. How much faith do you have? Will you dare to trust God with your life, even when life does not make sense? Elijah is a person like us who trusted in the living God during wicked days of Israel.