From a sermon series on 1 Kings by See Huang Lim, a missionary at IBF.
We have been going through 1 Kings for a while. Today’s passage is the starting point of the prophet Elijah’s ministry. From it I would like to draw 4 points: 1) God’s unexpected way of provision, 2) worshipping God in the midst of hardship, 3) how Elijah points us to Jesus, and 4) the widow’s act of faith and obedience. Let us pray.
[Read 1 Kings 17:1-16]
Here is a brief summary of the background. Verse 1 tells us that God permitted a drought to happen in the land of Israel as a sign of judgment for the nation’s idolatry. This was a dark time, in which people were dying from a natural disaster. Spiritually, they were dead as well.
Unexpected Ways of Provision
My first main point is that God provides for us in unexpected ways sometimes.
In the midst of God’s punishment on Israel, God calls Elijah. When God calls, He also provides. Today, many church pastors receive regular salaries, even if they are not high salaries. But Elijah didn’t even have that, although he was God’s full-time prophet. Instead, God sent ravens to bring him daily necessities. Later, God used a widow to support Elijah.
Using ravens is quite unusual. Because ravens are considered unclean creatures by Jewish law. Widows, on the other hand, are marginalized people without financial means of supporting themselves, not to mention supporting others.
This passage shows that God is unique in the way He provides. He has creative ways to surprise us. He does that to show us that He is in control, not us. If God uses an unexpected way to provide for you, just be thankful!
Worshipping God in the Midst of Hardship
My second point is that we can continue to worship and follow God in the midst of problems.
Two chapters after this, chapter 19 verse 18 tells us that there was a remnant of 7,000 believers in Israel. This tells me that despite the 3-year drought, they remained faithful to God. We know little about them. Did they also receive food from ravens? Maybe. Maybe not. They may not have experienced a clearly supernatural event like Elijah did. All we know is that they chose to not bow down to Baal, the foreign god who was promoted by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel.
What this shows me is that sometimes God also His people to go through hardship. Sure, it’s not wrong to expect miracles. But God doesn’t always give us the easy solution.
One person I think of is Nabeel Qureshi, a Christian apologist who worked for Ravi Zacharias Ministries in North America. Nabeel was from a Muslim background. He recently died of stomach cancer at the age of 34, though he had prayed for God’s healing. Many Muslims made fun of him when he was ill, saying, “That’s what you get for betraying Allah.” Yet, the love of Jesus enabled him to face death courageously. Although it was sad how he died at such a young age, he inspired many Christians for the way he still praised God even when facing cancer.
Are you going through hardship? If we are, then let’s find solace from other believers and seek God’s comfort through prayer.
Perhaps we also need to move from saying “God, please remove my trouble” to “God, may Your will be done and may I grow closer to You even at this time.” God will sustain us until His work in us is complete.
The Elijah Points Us to Jesus
My third point is that Elijah’s journey to Zarephath points us to Jesus. And Jesus points us to reach out to the world.
Why did God send Elijah to Zarephath? Surely there were many widows in Israel too! Why should Elijah go to a foreign country?
Hundreds of years later, Jesus reflected on the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. This is what Jesus said, in Luke 4:24-27: “‘Truly I tell you,’ he continued, ‘no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
Jewish people listening to Jesus’ words were angered. Why? Because they viewed themselves as God’s people and with exclusive rights to His blessings. They were afraid of losing their special privilege to foreigners. They failed to recognize that God’s plan is to include the entire world in His salvation.
But Jesus included non-Jews as part of God’s people. His death and resurrection made it possible for all people have a relationship with God regardless of their ethnicity. He is not just God of the Jews but all nations.
Jesus’ final command in Matthew 28:18-20 was this: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
What does this mean for us? It doesn’t mean everyone should be a missionary overseas. Our mission may be here, in our own country. And even if you want to share the gospel with foreigners, you can do it in your own country too.
I heard about a Pakistani man who became a Christian in Japan. He had a Christian work colleague from the Philippines, who spent time getting to know him and earning his respect. The Pakistani man became a believer. Eventually he returned to Pakistan and became a pastor. Of all places, would you have guessed that he came to know Christ in Japan?
To summarize, Elijah points us to Jesus, whose mission was to bring all people groups to God. Today, who is God calling you to reach out to?
The Widow’s Faith and Obedience
My last point is about faith and obedience. This was demonstrated in the widow, who obeyed Elijah’s requests and commands from the Lord.
Now, the requests made to her were actually quite strange. Imagine if you ran out of money in your wallet; what would you do? Most of us would go to the ATM. Or borrow money from our family members. Few of us would go to a beggar on the street and say, “Please give me your last 500 yen!” But that is what Elijah did, basically. He asked a stranger to share the last of her food. Not just that, Elijah said: I’ll eat first, and then you eat whatever is left.
Actually, you could say the widow was strange too. A normal person would refuse Elijah. So why did she obey Elijah’s request, sacrificing part of her final meal?
That’s because she recognized Elijah as a prophet of the God of Israel. How she realized that, we don’t know. But she must have believed enough to obey God’s request although it was costly to her.
The last verse of this story shows us that she may have had doubts. See verse 24: After everything that happened, “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.’”
The story ends happily. Because she acted in faith, she experienced miracles and encountered the true God.
This summer I met a young man in Malaysia who wants to follow God even though it is costly. He’s not actually from Malaysia but was visiting the country for a holiday. He became a Christian recently, but he hasn’t told his family yet because they are Muslim. Revealing his faith will become a crisis for his family and he may face persecution from other Muslims in his community. Yet he doesn’t want to hide his faith forever and pretend to be a Muslim. So now, he is waiting for God to show the right time to talk with his parents and siblings.
I’m amazed by his courage. I think his faith is real, because he’s willing to face his family’s anger, grief, and rejection.
James 2:26 says, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” So the question is, do our beliefs translate into actions that please God? Each of us is called to a journey of faith that would require us to trust in God’s Word and obey it at a cost.
Thankfully though, our obedience isn’t without God’s provision. When Elijah asked for food from the widow he also promised that God would provide. She had to take the step of obedience first though, before she could see the miracle of provision. God doesn’t expect us to obey out of our own abilities and strength. Instead, as God promised Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
To close, I would like to share about a woman I know who reminds me of the points from today’s passage.
She’s a missionary in an African country where the summer heat can go up to 50 degrees Celsius. When she was a teenager, God gave her a desire to do foreign missions. When it was finally time to go to this African country, God provided the funds from many different people. Today, he continues to sustain her work there in promoting basic education.
Before going, she prepared herself with years of training. She even changed her lifestyle at home, such as eating less rice and sleeping with air-conditioner. When in Africa, she had to deal with harsh weather and malaria, learn 3 foreign languages, and be contented with lousy Internet connection.
But when you meet her, you wouldn’t guess that she is this kind of person who works in Africa. Even her family thought she wasn’t an adventurous or tough kind of person.
Still, she has the joy and fulfillment of following God’s path for her. While she has had to make sacrifices, she also experiences God’s goodness. And she gets a chance to see God’s hand working among people of the world.
Likewise, we have a chance to experience this – even in our own home and neighborhood. Shall we ask God for help to walk the path he has for us?