Introduction and Timing
7 And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land. 8 And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, 9 Arise, get thee to ||Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee. 10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink. 11 And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand. 12 And she said, As the LORD thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die. 13 And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son. 14 For thus saith the LORD God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth. 15 And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days. 16 And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Elijah.
This week I am pleased to announce that we will begin the second sermons series I have preached. I tend to avoid sermon series, but as I was preparing this sermon, God spoke to me through the study itself and prompted me to preach through the life of Elijah. For the next five weeks, or four after today, we shall learn of the life of Elijah and his great ministry. I say great, because Elijah is one of two men to never die.
Some historical background to set the stage for todays message and the scene for the next month to follow. Two hundred years ago (from the events in this passage) a civil war tore through the united kingdom of Israel, diving the kingdom into the Northern
Kingdom, Israel, consisting of the ten tribes of Israel, and the Southern Kingdom, Judah, consisting of the two tribes. Though Judah has had a on again, off again pattern with righteous and wicked kings, Israel has had, to date, nineteen wicked kings. Two centuries later, Israel sees the worst king take the throne, Ahab, finds a young women of Sidon very attractive. Ahab marries Jezebel of Sidon and for the first time, Israel becomes a nation where everyone has their own gods.
Of the wickedness Jezebel introduces to Israel, idolatry and child sacrifices to ba’al are among them. Ba’al and Asherah, Jezebels two favorite gods promised Israel prosperity and protection in a time of constant war when the people felt most vulnerable. This has led to a nation that has moved far from God and a situation that needed remedy.
To address the situation, God calls for Himself a prophet, Elijah the Tishbite to bring judgement to the land and pronounce the one true God. Elijah’s entire ministry dealt with the following two questions: Is there only one God? And if so, which God is the one true God? As we move through this series over these next five sermons, we will examine these questions. Who is the one true God? Elijah will challenge the gods of ba’al and Asherah, and will show a wicked nation the power of the only God. In addition, Elijah’s name literally means “The Lord is God”, setting us up to show that His life will prove the deity and truthfulness of our God. If you’ve ever asked the questions, Is there a God? Is the Christian God the true God? Or is the Christian God the only God? I encourage you to show up weekly through the end of this series. This is also a great series to bring people with these questions to.
If you have your Bibles with you, please open them to 1 Kings 17:7-16. While you are turning there, some quick background on this passage. In verse one of this chapter, we are introduced to Elijah for the first time in the Bible. He begins his ministry saying in this first verse, “said unto Ahab, As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word. ”, With holding the rain for three years. During the famine, God commands him saying, in verse three to six, “3 Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. 4 And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there. 5 So he went and did according unto the word of the LORD: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. 6 And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook. ”
After some time, and how long is not mentioned, God dries up the brook with the lack of rain and commands Elijah to move on to Sidon. When the “rivers” in our live dry up, that is to say, when God closes one door in which He provides for us, we can be certain that He will open another. Just as God commanded the ravens to provide food for him (verse four) and as we’ve seen the ravens provide (verse six), we too shall see that if God could provide by the birds, He will continue to provide by miraculous means.
Let us examine in our text today four aspects of our God and by the way His grace and mercy works through us and with us. As we examine these four aspects of how Gods grace works in us, let us also be acutely aware of a major lesson that God teaches Elijah and that all who wish to serve Him need to learn – Complete dependance on God.
A Command Is Given/God of the Outsider – V.9
9 Arise, get thee to ||Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee.
The first point I want to discuss is that God is the God of the outsider. You may wonder, “well pastor, what do you mean by that?” I mean, that God is the God of the outsider. Although it may be true, admittance into the Kingdom requires membership in the family, God openly welcomes all into the family. In this first topic today, let us examine where it is that God sent Elijah to.
Arise, get thee to Zarephath – The name, Zarephath, means “smelting house, a place of fiery trials.” It is through his journey to and time here in which Elijah would experience many, “fiery” indeed, trials. His journey begins from the brook of Cherith, a hundred miles away, and ends in Zarephath, of Zidon. Zidon, if you would remember, is the home place of Jezebel of whom plays a crucial role in starting this mess that warranted Elijah’s ministry.
It is here in Zarephath that God says, “I have commanded a widow to sustain thee.” Upon initial reading, if you were to stop here and ponder without knowledge of the other verses, you may initially gain the impression that God has picked out a wealthy widow, someone of status to sustain Elijah. For surely, in a famine where families are struggling to provide, a widow must be of wealth if she is to provide for three. Such was not the case, as we will discuss here a bit later.
It was rather the selection of this widow, though, that captures my attention. It captivates me, not just due to the uniqueness of the account, but the first sermon that Christ preached was on this account of Elijah’s life. Place a book mark or a paper on this page and turn with me to Luke 4:25-26:
“But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; 26 But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. ”
To summarize Christs expression, were there not many widows in Israel during this famine? Was Israel not God’s promised people? But it was not to the widows of Israel, of the insiders club, that Elijah was sent to, it was to an outsider, to a women in Zarephath, a city of Sidon. It was this teaching, that for the first time, Jesus made for Himself enemies. It was always the teaching that included gentiles and sinners into the fold of God that pushed the religious elite, the pharisees and the Sadducees over the edge.
This widow, she was an outsider in every way. She was a gentile, making her a racial outsider. She was pagan, making her a religious outsider. As a women, she would have been a gender outsider, and as a widow, she would have been a social/economical outsider. If anything, this women’s idol worship should have excluded her, in our comprehension of God, from the grace of God. But God seeks to show us all that we have idols in our life we have worshipped above Him and He seeks to include us. It was this women, this idol worshipper, this outsider that God sent His prophet too. It was through His act of mercy and compassion that the outcast was reached and became an insider.
I love Charles Spurgeon’s quote on this, for he says “But if there be sovereignty in the choice, I cannot omit another thought akin to it. What undeservingness there was in the person! She was no Hannah. I read not that she had smitten the Lord’s enemies, like Jael, or had forsaken the gods of her country, like Ruth. She was no more notable than any other heathen. Her idolatry was as vile as theirs, and her mind as foolish and vain as that of the rest of her countrymen. Ah, and in the objects too, of God’s love, there is nothing whatever that can move his heart to love them; nothing of merit, nothing which could move him to select them. Hark! how the blood-bought ones all sing before the throne. They cast their crowns at the feet of Jehovah, and unitedly say, “Not unto us, not unto us, but unto thy name be all the glory for ever.” There is no divided note in heaven upon this matter. Not one spirit in glory will dare to say that he deserved to come there. They were strangers once, and they were sought by grace. They were black, and they were washed in blood. Their hearts were hard, and they were softened by the Spirit. They were dead, and they were quickened by divine life. And all the reasons for this gracious work in and upon them are to be found in the breast of God, and not at all in them. Simple as this truth seems, and lying as it does at the very basement of the gospel system, yet how often is it forgotten! Ah! men and brethren, ye are saying, “I would come to Christ if I had a better character. I think that God would love me if there were some good works, and some redeeming traits in my character.” Nay, but hear me, my brother, God loveth not man for anything in man. The saved ones are not saved on account of anything they did; but simply because he will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and he will have compassion on whom he will have compassion. Thou art in as good a place as any other unregenerate sinner on the face of the earth; why should not God have mercy upon thee? Thy merits or thy demerits have nought to do with the matter. If God intends to bless, he looks not to what thou art. He finds his motive in the depth of his own loving will, and not in thee. Oh! canst thou believe it, that black, and filthy, and diseased, and leprous though thou be, the love of God can shed itself abroad in thy heart? O my trembling hearer! do not despair, for he is able to save unto the very uttermost. ”
In our discussion of outsiders, have you considered the genealogy of Christ? A quick history on genealogies – it was by them that one would attempt to show why he was worthy to rule. It was by them that one could show “awesomeness” was just in their blood. In an attempt to make oneself look better than he is, it was not uncommon to remove from your genealogy questionable names. Even King Herod did so, to make sure his ancestry looked “polished up”.
It is here that we find a difference in Christ – For Christ did not cover His genealogy. As we read it, we discover two things that are out of ordinary. We discover multiple women, who were never listed in ones records, and we discover women of very questionable pasts as well. We discover Rahab, the gentile prostitute who laid with her father in law. We discover Ruth, the Moabite. And we discover Bathsheba, who committed adultery with David.
Our God is the God of outsiders. The greats and the lowest are listed side by side, because God does not admit us based on what we can do, or have done. He admits us based on what He has done. Of the many differences between our God and the God of other religions, even, sad as it may be, some so called Christian religions, is that our God accepts the outsiders. The so-called gods of false religious systems favors and rewards the insiders. Heaven is for those who earn it. Dwelling with God is for those who are deemed worthy to enter the temple get sealed to their spouse. These false systems teach you that their god “loves” you because you can keep their rules, or because you give so much money, or donate so much time. Our God is the God of outsiders, and accepts us on the merits of His own heart, not ours. Because the truth be told, whether you are Jew or Gentile, we are all outsiders to God.
The Trial of Faith – VV.10-13
10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink. 11 And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand. 12 And she said, As the LORD thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die. 13 And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son.
And so, the second point I want to address is the trials of faith. Elijah obeys God, getting up and traveling for a hundred miles to this city in Sidon. We see as he enters in through the gate, he sees this widowed women gathering sticks.
Oh, how we may have been wrong to assume this widowed women wealthy. For all has been taken from her. She has been left without money, without a servant, yeah, she was so poor, she had not wood. Here she is, gathering wood, and Elijah makes request of her, “Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water.”
Please remember, Elijah has travelled a hundred miles, in a desert and a famine. I’m sure he is thirsty and hungry, as he remembers God’s word to him, “I have commanded a widow there to sustain thee.” So Elijah calls out to her as she fetches him some water, “Fetch me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread.”
The poor women, whose son was left lying in the bed, weak and sickly. Who having no money, nor wood for cooking, cries out “Let me make my last cake of bread that I and my son may eat and die.” We know how Elijah responded, but how many of us would have cried out, “oh God, why did you send me here? For this widow have not to sustain me, but is ready to die!”
It seems suddenly, that circumstance would prevent the word of God from going forth. We, as this women, must not allow the physical circumstances before our eyes to prevent us from performing what God has asked and trusting what He has promised. Remember a few weeks ago, I preached the message, “Eyes to See”, and we discussed Elisha’s servant, who feared for the physical army before them, seeing not the massive angelic host in the spirit sent there to protect them. We must not allow what the physical eyes tell us to override what the spiritual eyes say to be true.
But as we discussed last week, we shall notice again, that God works best in us when we are empty. How joyful the day when your flour jar is down to the last handful, and your oil cruse with just enough oil to pour on your last bread! How joyful that day, when you say “all hope is lost”, but then God’s power is make perfect and He touches your life. Let us look past this physical despair to the physical despair of the soul – As long as we are full of our own merits, how shall God truly fill us with living waters? We shall find that we must be emptied of self, of our pride, shall we be filled up with God.
My favorite pastor, Charles Spurgeon again has something to say,
“Ah, my dear friends, this is just where sovereign grace finds us all—in the depth of poverty and misery. I do not mean, of course, temporal poverty, but I mean spiritual distress. So long as we have a full barrel of our own merits, God will have nothing to do with us. So long as the cruse of oil is full to overflowing, we shall never taste the mercy of God. For God will not fill us until we are emptied of self.”
I think the true trial of faith comes long after this point, after we have been filled, and have experienced of our great God. After we have been accustomed to receiving of His goodness and suddenly, things go opposite of what we would expect. I think it is then, that we truly display our faith. But God presents to the widowed women a moment, a time to develop her faith. Shall she make her last morsel and die? Or an offer, a moment of help – Your gods, even ba’al and Asherah, cannot provide for you, but I can. For Elijah says “Fear not, go and do as thou has said, but make for me first a little cake, and bring it to me, and then make for you and your son.”
Now, Elijah says more, we shall read of that in verse fourteen. But it is now that this women can display her faith. I do find it is in these lowest of moments we are most readily willing to test our faith. I find in these moments, when it seems we shall die anyways, that we can truly trust in God and allow Him to show Himself to us. Elijah offers this opportunity. Let us continue with verses fourteen and fifteen, that we may see promises and faith in action.
Faith and Promises – VV.14-15
14 For thus saith the LORD God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth. 15 And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days.
Elijah, as many might say, was in denial. “I know it looks empty, thou women, but I promise it’s not.” Many would have just called him desperate, blind to the “truth”. What’s that saying I have again? Do not confuse the facts with the truth? The facts in this case are what the physical eyes could see – Surely, there was only a handful of flour in the jar. But the facts are not always the truth. Again, I shall say, we must not allow what the physical eyes tell us to prevent us from following the spiritual eyes.
Surely, Elijah says, “This flour and this oil shall not run out until the Lord sends rain upon the earth.” The women, who has never experienced God before, and who knows not this man of God, has no reason to believe. She has no experience or judgement to act accordingly to this mans words, but she has enough faith to believe what he is proclaiming.
I am convinced then, that the meal she gave him was not of her meal but was of her store. It was not of what she should eat but was a miraculous provision. The first installment, if you will, of a years’ worth of food. Here, Christianity presents itself, not as see fully and then believe, but see, even just a little, and believe, to see the rest.
It is after this manner that all blessings of God are received. We do not earn them, nor do we deserve them. But we are outsiders, whom God chooses to bestow gifts upon. Though we do not work for the blessings, we must indeed have faith to receive the blessings. Imagine for just one moment, if the women have instead said, “Go thy way and allow me to die.” It was not of works the women received of her blessings, but of her faith that God would provide. If we are to receive of God, we must be willing to trust in God that His word shall not return empty. We must be willing to say, “God, I don’t know how you will do it, but I will trust that you will do it.” For we have but two choices, to say “I will trust,” or to say, “leave me to die.” Surely, as we trust, we shall also see reward.
Reward – V.16
16 And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Elijah.
For our final point today, I want to discuss the reward. The barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail. Day by day, Elijah, the widow, and her son continued to eat. Each morning, they opened that lid, and there was but a handful of flour. Each afternoon, they opened that lid, and there was but a handful of flour. And the same things each morning. Though meal after meal, and day by day, there continued to be but a handful of flour, it never ran out. And here is the reward of the widows faith.
Some may ask, why not fill the barrel and cruse? Why not give the entire years of supply upfront? Well, to that we have a very good answer.
First – Doing so would not teach dependance upon God. For how quickly shall one forget where the supply came from. For day by day, there was a reminder of God providing. They never lacked, but they only had sufficient for the day.
Second – flour is and was well known to become infested with meal worms. By thinking ahead and always providing for what was needed, God saved the household from dealing with food that had become wasted.
Third – To protect the widow from those who would rob and injure her if the city found out there was a large supply. Human tendencies have never changed, and we know it would not have been an issue of sharing, but an issue of robbing so that she had none left for her house.
I point these out to show that God not only provides, but God knows how to best provide. God looks after our interest. God protects, and looks ahead where we may only look to our desires and immediate needs.
With one last quote, let us hear once again from Charles Spurgeon,
“And so if thou believest, thou wilt say, “I have believed.” Yes, it was taken out of your barrel, but still it was not your believing, it was an act of faith wrought in you. Here is a poor man with a withered arm: he wants to have that restored. Now, you will imagine that the first thing Christ will say to him will be, “Man, I will make thy withered arm alive; I will once more nerve it so that thou shalt have power to lift it.” Nay, he does not say any such thing. But before he gives the man the power he says to him, “Stretch out thy hand!” Suppose he had cried out, “Sir, I cannot;” his withered arm would have hung dangling at his side till he died. But instead of that the command came; the man had the will to obey, and suddenly he had the power, for he stretched out his withered hand. What! say you, did he stretch out that hand of his own might? No, and yet he was commanded to do it. And so if you are willing to believe, if now your hearts say, “I would believe, I would repent,” the power shall come with the will, and the withered hand shall be stretched out.”
Elijah, selected of God to prove the existence of one true God, is sent first to an outsider, a widowed women in Zarephath, in the home country of the wicked Jezebel. God demonstrates first and importantly in this account of Elijah’s ministry that He is the God of the outsider, and works through the meaning of His Holy Word to show us that we are all outsiders. Elijah will endure fiery trials while he stays in Zidon, and the first of which is to help in the development of the widows faith.
Elijah, obeying God, and having experienced God’s provision in the brook, heads to Zarephath and meets the widow at the gate, where she is collecting wood to make her final meal and die. Thirsty and hungry, he requests of the women that she would provide some water and bread that he may be replenished. The poor widow, tired and worn informs Elijah, “I am sorry, I have but a handful of flour and shall make a final morsel for my son and I, that we shall die.”
It is here, in which Elijah appeals to her need, and informs her, “your gods could not save you, but surely, my God can provide.” In his first of many, Elijah will demonstrate that there is only one true God and it is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He will demonstrate the power of the one true God through a simple command and miracle. “Make for me, a little cake, and then make for yourself; for thus saith my God, that He shall sustain thee and your flour and oil shall not run out until He sends rain again upon the earth.”
We have demonstrated that God works best in us when we are emptied of self, when we are low and humble, emptied of our pride. God will work to develop our faith through trials, and His purpose is to show us our spiritual needs that only He can fill. When we have faith and act accordingly, we shall see that such faith is rewarded.
I want to discuss, for one quick moment, how this applies to you, the believer. Our God, as demonstrated, is the God of the outsider. That makes us, as His followers, a friend of the outsider. I see too often, and it’s frustrating, that Christians associate only with those of the church. It was Christ who said, in Luke 5, “my business is with the sinners.” Let us not get caught up in the trap of looking down on those who belong not to our group. But let us show them the true nature and character of our God, of whom we belong. That He wants them, that He loves them, and that He accepts them. That is not to say we shall not preach of the sin, but it is to say that God shall do the work to correct the sin.
Never does God demand of us, “Become thou perfect, and then ask me for forgiveness.” No, He says, “I demonstrated my love for you in this: that while you were still a sinner I died for you.” Although God want’s the sinner the way He is, God also wants to change the sinner. But before we can change the world, we must show the world that we care for them.
Even now, God has reached us, and has brought us into the fold. But let us be careful not to fill our vessels up of self. Let us guard against becoming prideful. Let us rather remain meek, and humble. Let us boast in our God, and give Him the credit and glory for what we accomplish. Let us not forget that it is Him that sustains us, and carries us. Let us not say, “yea, it is of my works, that I got here.” Nor let us say “It is because of my faith.” But let us rejoice and say, “It is of my God who loved me and found reason in His own heart, that I am blessed the way that I am.” Let us remember, it is not that we believed, but it was the act of faith that God Himself wrought in us.
We shall trust, and we shall be rewarded. I know that I have been rewarded in this life, and I know that I shall be rewarded so much more. But the greatest reward, my greatest joy, is that I have confidence of the free and precious gift, the gift of eternal life in the presence of my God. My greatest reward is knowing that I deserve the pits of hell, but that my God has pulled me from that curse and has instead given me what I could never deserve.
For we know that God is much greater than multiplying a barrel of flour or a cruse of oil. For we know that God is much greater than a temporary resurrection of a son (which we shall discuss next week.) For though our earthly blessings are real and true, though God may multiply our oil or flour, they are but temporary blessings. The fulness of the reward we receive is knowing the God of the resurrection.
Do you feel like an outcast? Do you perhaps feel unloved? Abandoned? Your not! Jesus came for you! Do you feel worthless? Your not, for Jesus died paid for your sins with His blood. Jesus wants you, the outcast. This isn’t a social club for the worthy, in fact, the requirement for this club is one we all have in common – unworthiness.
We just need you to believe, even a little. God’s grace initially seems demanding rather than bestowing. With the women, His grace first presented itself as a request. Fetch, I pray thee, a little water. Make for me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread. And it’s the same with the grace we receive today, for initially it may seem demanding. Repent and be converted to Jesus. Believe and thou shall be saved.
As God was the provider for the outcast widow, so God wants to be a provider to you as well. It begins with accepting Him. With admitting that Jesus is God in the flesh. Believing that He came down to die on the cross, having lived a sinless life, and rose again the third day to give you victory over sin and death. And confessing that you are a sinner and cannot save yourself. Confessing that your ways are wrong, and that you would like a change of heart.
Jesus said, “whosoever shall confess me before men, I will confess before the Father above.” It is written, that “whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” Paul tells us how this is done. “Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, and thou shall be saved.” There is a period after that. If you desire salvation, to no longer be an outcast, but to be one who belongs to and is loved by God, let me help you with that. It begins with that belief and confession. And then you need to ask Christ into your heart.
If you are ready for that, if you are ready to confess Christ before the world and make Him Lord and savior over your life, you can begin the journey today in our closing prayer. Please ask God into your life with me in the first half of the prayer, where you can follow after me. Then be ready to truly live that out, making Him Lord over your life. Be ready to confess Him before your fellow men.