Elijah – As Human As We Are: Our Obedience, God’s Provision
THE SCRIPTURE: 1 Kings 17:1-16
“Now Elijah, who was from Tishbe in Gilead, told King Ahab, “As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives—the God I serve—there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!”
2 Then the Lord said to Elijah, 3 “Go to the east and hide by Kerith Brook, near where it enters the Jordan River. 4 Drink from the brook and eat what the ravens bring you, for I have commanded them to bring you food.”
5 So Elijah did as the Lord told him and camped beside Kerith Brook, east of the Jordan. 6 The ravens brought him bread and meat each morning and evening, and he drank from the brook. 7 But after a while the brook dried up, for there was no rainfall anywhere in the land.
8 Then the Lord said to Elijah, 9 “Go and live in the village of Zarephath, near the city of Sidon. I have instructed a widow there to feed you.”
10 So he went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the gates of the village, he saw a widow gathering sticks, and he asked her, “Would you please bring me a little water in a cup?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called to her, “Bring me a bite of bread, too.”
12 But she said, “I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.”
13 But Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid! Go ahead and do just what you’ve said, but make a little bread for me first. Then use what’s left to prepare a meal for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!”
15 So she did as Elijah said, and she and Elijah and her family continued to eat for many days. 16 There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah.”
- Elijah was a very important figure in Old Testament and referred to in the New. The Old Testament was described in Jesus time as “The Law and the Prophets”. The two main characters were Moses (representing the law) and Elijah (the prophets).
- So, a key person – but New Testament says he was “as human as we are” (NLT translation). Title of the message. Let’s read that Scripture:
“The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. 17 Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! 18 Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.” James 5:16b – 18.
- Just like us, as human as we are (other time word used is in Acts 15).
So, as we study this most famous of Old Testament prophets, remember he was just like us so be encouraged.
- The Books of Kings give the history of Israel from Solomon onwards until the captivity. After Solomon’s death, the nation divided into 2, each gradually falling away from God (with occasional godly kings) to serve idols – became like the Canaanites they had dispossessed – a constant danger for the church in our culture - absorbed into their culture rather than remaining godly until both nations were sent into exile. The centre of the books of Kings however, focusses on 2 prophets, as if to say this is what God is doing, Elijah and Elisha, where God showed that he was still in charge and moving and creating godly communities in the middle of the general ungodliness – again like the church today.
- Elijah appeared out of nowhere – speaks confidently and boldly, knowing he has the word of the Lord, because he served (or stood in the presence of) God. This is his way of describing prayer. He said “there will not be rain or dew in Israel except at his word”. Hearing God through his word. This he said to King Ahab who, together with his wife Jezebel, were serving Baal who was the Canaanite god of storms, rain and fertility. The prophetic word was a direct challenge to this idol. Prophetic words still come to us to call us away from idolatry in its modern forms of consumerism, sexual permissiveness, nationalism etc.
- God then instructs Elijah to go into the desert by a wadi (a stream that only functions in rainy season). Ravens will then bring you meat and bread – strange for a raven to do this – it’s a scavenger. A good meal because meat twice a day! God’s abundant provision for his prophet. Elijah obeyed.
- The wadi dried up. God sent Elijah 90 miles into the nation that Jezebel came from. To the poorest of the poor in that land. A widow with nothing left. Elijah asked her to feed him first – normal in Middle East hospitality but extreme when this was all she had left. God provided – the flour and oil never ran out. Later, the widow’s son died. Man of God have you come to cause God to remember my sins and let my boy die – superstition? Elijah prayed, touching the dead body (contrary to the law) and the boy lived. Mercy of God overcomes legalism.
WHAT WE LEARN FROM THIS?
- Elijah was obedient to God despite immense pressure. He spoke God’s word boldly to the King. He went to the desert and to Zarephath, exactly as God instructed him – even though these were far from the obvious places to go. James says “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power” referring to Elijah (just like us but also righteous). What does that mean for us today?
- We are regarded as righteous in Christ by grace.
- However, we are called, by the power of the Spirit, to live obedient, righteous lives.
- Both equally stressed in Scripture. If we stress ii at the expense of i, it leads to legalism and my good works. Contrary to the gospel. If we stress i at the expense of ii it results in “cheap grace” (Deitrich Bonhoeffer), grace is free but not cheap (Heinrich Heine quote). Disciples are to obey everything Jesus commanded the original 12. Prayers of righteous people in both respects have great power.
- God always provides for those who serve him. This is not prosperity gospel – a wadi in the desert – relying on ravens every morning and evening (though did get meat). We can have confidence in that too whatever our circumstances. The promise to a generous people is, “And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others”. 2 Cor 9:8.
- God usually works from the margins not the centre.
- The opposite of today’s celebrity culture. God here worked through a prophet from Gilead (across the Jordan, far from Samaria or Jerusalem, the 2 capitals), through a Gentile, very poor widow in a village outside Israel. God is always on the move but usually through insignificant people and places where (today) we Westerners would not expect. “If the word is rejected in Samaria, he finds a place where it will be welcomed in Zarephath; if he is ignored and despised in Los Angeles, he will go to work in Lagos.” Peter Leithart.
- In this story, God is also at work outside Israel, in the desert and in modern day Lebanon. God is still doing that today, where the real growth of his gospel is taking place, without much publicity, across the world.