TRUST IN GOD AS THE SOVEREIGN OF LIFE, THE SUSTAINER OF LIFE AND THE SOURCE OF LIFE
Israel’s apostate condition had blossomed into full foliage with the widespread adoption of Baal worship. Pagan practices were overtaking the land at a rapid pace. King Ahab and his wicked wife Jezebel were a blight on the nation. But God would not remain silent. The sudden intervention of Elijah highlights the importance of his judgmental message of coming drought by the Word of the Lord. The gauntlet has been thrown down and it will soon be evident to all that the fertility god of Baal stands impotent before the true sovereign of the universe. God alone can be trusted for all of our needs.
Mordechai Cogan: The present chapter is the first part of a larger canonical unit that extends to 1 Kgs 19; it comprises all that remains of the life work of the prophet Elijah, introducing him without fanfare in 17:1 and concluding with the appointment of Elisha as his successor in 19:19–21.
Thomas Constable: The three scenes in the Elijah narrative (chs. 17—19) form one story in which we can see the rising powers of the prophet. In each succeeding episode of the story he confronted an increasingly difficult problem. In this way God developed his faith and taught the reader the importance of trust and obedience.
Dale Ralph Davis: Yahweh is at work preserving life and yet in every segment some frustration, some obstacle arises, that threatens to prevent his work: the wadi dries up (v. 7); or the channel of supply is herself destitute (vv. 10b–12); or death attacks one of their lives that has been preserved to date (vv. 17–18). Rip verses 17–24 from the rest of the chapter and you wreck what seems to be a deliberate, cohesive literary pattern. In verses 17–18 death itself seems to assault Yahweh’s reputation as life-giver and this climactic difficulty must be resolved (vv. 19–22) as the previous hindrances (vv. 7, 10b–12) were. Verses 17–24 are simply interlocked with verses 2–16 and must not be separated from them.
Iain Provan: The threat of death has twice been overcome. The Lord has proved to be sovereign over all the world, controlling both life and death. Elijah and the widow seem convinced; for when death does eventually catch up with the family, both know that it must be the Lord’s doing. The woman speaks of it obliquely, blaming God’s prophet for reminding God of her sin (v. 18). Elijah, on the other hand, speaks directly of the Lord’s action against the family (causing her son to die, v. 20). The essential difference is that the woman apparently thinks this the end of the matter (v. 18), while Elijah is not content to let it rest (vv. 19ff.). Here is the ultimate test of the Lord’s authority. It is one thing to rescue people from the jaws of death, but can he do anything when death has clamped tight its jaws and swallowed the victim up? He can act across the border from Israel in Sidon, but is there a “border” that he ultimately cannot cross, a kingdom in which he has no power? When faced by “Mot,” must the Lord, like Baal, bow the knee? Elijah knows the answer, even if the woman does not, and so he prays and the boy’s life is restored (v. 22). Even the underworld is not a place from which the Lord can be barred (Ps. 139:7–12). Life can storm even death’s strongest towers and rescue those imprisoned there (cf. the further echoes of the story in Luke 7:11–17; Acts 9:32–43; 20:7–12; Heb. 11:35).
I. (:1-6) TRUST IN GOD AS THE SOVEREIGN OVER ALL LIFE WHO ALONE IS WORTHY OF WORSHIP
A. (:1) The Curse of God Against Baal-Worshiping Ahab –
God (not Baal) is Sovereign over Nature
“Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab,
‘As the LORD, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand,
surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.’”
MacArthur: His name means “the Lord is God.” The prophet Elijah’s ministry corresponded to his name. He was sent by God to confront Baalism and to declare to Israel that the Lord was God and there was no other. Elijah lived in a town called Tishbe, E of the Jordan River in the vicinity of the Jabbok River. . . Elijah had prayed for the drought (cf. Jas 5:17) and God answered. It lasted 3 years and 6 months according to James (5:17). The drought proved that Baal, the god of the rains and fertility, was impotent before the Lord.
John Whitcomb: Like a meteor suddenly flashing across the darkened sky, Elijah appears on the scene without genealogy, without historical background, and without warning. One thunderous judgment from heaven through his lips and he disappeared without a trace . . .
God permitted neither debate nor dialogue between His prophet and Ahab, the apostate king of Israel . . . Not that the nation had no warning at all. Centuries before, Moses had said that national apostasy would cause the rains to cease (Deut. 11:17; 28:24). And now that Jehovah had been officially repudiated, His providential blessings upon this land came to an end.
Wiersbe: For the next three years, the word of Elijah would control the weather in Israel!
Dale Ralph Davis: The rain delay will also strike a blow at the alleged prowess of Baal. However one cuts it Baal was a fertility god, a storm god, who, among other life-giving activities, sent rain to fructify the earth. In Canaanite mythology Lady Asherah thanked El for permitting Baal to have his own palace since
“Now Baal will begin the rainy season,
the season of wadis in flood;
and he will sound his voice in the clouds,
flash his lightning to the earth.”
Such meteorological displays were signs of Baal’s vitality. Elijah’s ‘no dew or rain’ then constitutes a challenge to Baal. Ahab and Israel will now be able to see what sort of fertility god Baal is. If he cannot produce in the area of his expertise, in his specialty, his reputation will suffer a shattering blow. Baal’s deity will shrivel as the cracks in the fields get wider. Elijah so much as says that Yahweh has decided to shut Baal’s faucet off. Yahweh has decreed that Baal will pale.
William Barnes: This threat was dire indeed, since rain (and dew) were crucial for Palestinian agricultural prosperity, in clear contrast to both the lands of Egypt and Mesopotamia, where great rivers were used to irrigate the land. In Palestine, the rains would generally fall during the wet winter season (early rains in late October, and the latter rains tapering off by March or April, but with much variation possible year by year); these rains were essential, especially for the cereal crops raised in this region of the Near East. The dew was crucial, too; it often falls heavily in Israel throughout the year, and it is also important for agricultural success, especially for the grapes, which ripen throughout the dry summer season (Baly 1974:44–46).
B. (:2-6) The Care of God for His Faithful Prophet –
God is Sovereign over the Birds (Ravens)
1. (:2-4) Command to Trust God for Miraculous Provision of Food and Water
“And the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 3 ‘Go away from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 4 And it shall be that you shall drink of the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there.’”
R. D. Patterson: To impress the message and its deep spiritual implications further on Ahab and all Israel, God sent Elijah into seclusion. Not only would Ahab’s frantic search for the prophet be thwarted, but Elijah’s very absence would be living testimony of a divine displeasure (cf. Ps 74:1, 9). Moreover Elijah himself had much to learn, and the time of solitude would furnish needed moments of divine instruction.
David Guzik: There is an emphasis on the word there. God promised that the ravens would feed Elijah as 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.
2. (:5-6) Commitment to Trust God for Miraculous Abundant Provision
“So he went and did according to the word of the LORD, for he went and lived by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 6 And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he would drink from the brook.”
Donald Wiseman: Our obedience is an essential aspect of God’s protecting grace. The means God uses may be varied.
William Barnes: These are generous provisions; rarely would meat be eaten daily by the common people, still less, twice a day. The LXX reads “bread” (with no mention of meat) in the morning, and “meat” (with no mention of bread) in the evening, which is more typical of the Middle Eastern diet (Cogan 2001:427); this possibly represents a more original text (but note that it is parallel with Exod 16:8, as pointed out by Cogan). In any case, the emphasis here is on the abundant nature of God’s provision for his servant.
II. (:7-16) TRUST IN GOD AS THE SUSTAINER OF LIFE WHO WILL NEVER LET YOU DOWN
A. (:7-9) Change of Plans – New Venue for God’s Provision
1. (:7) Water Source at Cherith Dried Up – No Surprise
“And it happened after a while, that the brook dried up,
because there was no rain in the land.”
Wiersbe: It has well been said that the will of God will never lead us where the grace of God cannot keep us and care for us, and Elijah knew this from experience. (see Isa. 33:15-16.)
Meyer: 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 river of throne-water that never dries. . . God kept transplanting Elijah: From home to Jezreel to Cherith to Zarephath. This transplanting made him stronger and stronger.
2. (:8-9) Widow of Zarephath Becomes God’s Surprising Instrument of Provision
“Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 9 ‘Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and stay there; behold, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.’”
A destitute widow is a surprising choice for providing resources; God loves to use our weakness to magnify His strength.
MacArthur: A town on the Mediterranean coast about 7 mi. S of Sidon. Elijah was sent to the live there, in a territory controlled by Ahab’s father-in-law, Ethbaal. In this way, he showed the power of God in the very area where the impotent Baal was worshiped, as He provided miraculously for the widow in the famine (vv. 10-16).
Matthew Henry: The place he is sent to, to Zarephath, or Sarepta, a city of Sidon, out of the borders of the land of Israel, v. 9. Our Savior takes notice of this as an early and ancient indication of the favor of God designed for the poor Gentiles, in the fullness of time, Luke 4:25, 26. Many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, and some, it is likely, that would have bidden him welcome to their houses; yet he is sent to honor and bless with his presence a city of Sidon, a Gentile city, and so becomes (says another theologian) the first prophet of the Gentiles. Israel had corrupted themselves with the idolatries of the nations and become worse than they; justly therefore is the casting off of them the riches of the world. Elijah was hated and driven out by his countrymen; therefore, lo, he turns to the Gentiles, as the apostles were afterwards ordered to do, Acts 18:6. But why to a city of Sidon? Perhaps because the worship of Baal, which was now the crying sin of Israel, came lately thence with Jezebel, who was a Sidonian (ch. 16:31); therefore thither he shall go, that thence may be fetched the destroyer of that idolatry, ‘Even out of Sidon have I called my prophet, my reformer.’ Jezebel was Elijah’s greatest enemy; yet, to show her the impotency of her malice, God will find a hiding-place for him even in her country. Christ never went among the Gentiles except once into the coast of Sidon, Matt 15:21.”
B. (:10-12) Challenge of Faith for the Desperate Widow of Zarephath
1. (:10-11) Hard Request by Elijah for Subsistence Level Provisions
a. (:10a) Random Meeting = Divine Appointment
“So he arose and went to Zarephath, and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks;”
b. (:10b) Request for a Little Water
“and he called to her and said,
‘Please get me a little water in a jar, that I may drink.’”
c. (:11) Request for a Piece of Bread
“And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, ‘Please bring me a piece of bread in your hand.’”
William Barnes: These were modest requests (contrast the provisions of “bread and meat” twice a day in 17:6, MT) but still far beyond the widow’s ability to supply. Those perhaps dismayed by Elijah’s seeming selfishness here should be reminded that Yahweh had commanded Elijah to do this (17:9). Elijah, therefore, was to expect a miracle here.
2. (:12) Hopeless Resignation of the Destitute Widow
a. Down to My Last Meal
“But she said, ‘As the LORD your God lives, I have no bread, only a handful of flour in the bowl and a little oil in the jar;’”
b. Death Awaits Both Me and My Son
“and behold, I am gathering a few sticks that I may go in and prepare for me and my son, that we may eat it and die.”
Dale Ralph Davis: To have a stranger ask a bit of water is one thing (v. 10b), to hear him claim first crack at your last meal is quite another (v. 11). Hence the widow goes on oath (she seems to know he’s an Israelite and swears by his God) to assure Elijah she has no food and only scant materials for baking her last meal (v. 12). Her hopelessness could not be more dismal: ‘See, I am gathering a couple pieces of wood, and I shall go and make it for myself and my son, and we shall eat it and die’ (v. 12b). She is at the end of her resources. A handful of meal, a skiff of oil, and, literally, the last supper. Almost cruelly Elijah intensifies her trouble; he asks for the first helping of the last supper (v. 13). ‘But first make me a little cake of it’ (nrsv).
Let us leave Elijah’s heartless request for a moment simply to sketch the development of the text:
– Assurance and demand, v. 13
– Explanation and promise, v. 14
– Obedience and fulfillment, vv. 15–16
C. (:13-16) Call to Obedience in Making Hospitality a Priority
1. (:13) Obedience Requires Overcoming Our Fears
“Then Elijah said to her, ‘Do not fear; go, do as you have said, but make me a little bread cake from it first, and bring it out to me, and afterward you may make one for yourself and for your son.’”
Spurgeon: 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.”
2. (:14) Obedience Requires Trusting the Lord’s Resources
“For thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘The bowl of flour shall not be exhausted, nor shall the jar of oil be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain on the face of the earth.’”
Dale Ralph Davis: And don’t forget that there was something continuous about this miracle (vv. 15b–16). It’s not as though there were suddenly several twenty-five pound bags of meal slouching against the wall of the widow’s kitchen. Instead it was a quiet daily drama of the jar and the jug. When she went to the cupboard on Monday there was enough meal in the jar and still some oil in the jug for that day. And so it went on through the weeks. Every morning was a fresh episode of the faithfulness of Yahweh to his promise. He had not said ‘the jar of meal will overflow’ but only that it ‘will never come to an end.’
3. (:15-16) Obedience is Richly Rewarded by God’s Grace
a. (:15) Sustenance for the Widow and Her Household
“So she went and did according to the word of Elijah,
and she and he and her household ate for many days.”
John Gates: For a Gentile woman, her faith is unsurpassed. Our Lord’s endorsement of this widow is found in Lk. 4:26.
b. (:16) Vindication of the Prophet Elijah
“The bowl of flour was not exhausted nor did the jar of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD which He spoke through Elijah.”
III. (:17-24) FAITH IN GOD AS THE SOURCE OF LIFE WHO WILL ALSO RAISE US UP IN THE RESURRECTION
A. (:17-18) Dealing with Death Raises Key Theological Questions
1. (:17) Widow Dealing with the Death of Her Son
“Now it came about after these things, that the son of the woman,
the mistress of the house, became sick; and his sickness was so severe,
that there was no breath left in him.”
Wiersbe: This is the first recorded instance in Scripture of the resurrection of a dead person. The evidence seems clear that the widow’s son actually died and didn’t just faint or go into a temporary swoon. He stopped breathing (v. 17) and his spirit left his body (vv. 21-22). According to James 2:26, when he spirit leaves a body, the person is dead. The great distress of both the mother and the prophet would suggest that the boy was dead, and both of them used the word “slay” with reference to the event (vv. 18 and 20, KJV).
2. (:18) Widow Raising Theological Questions
“So she said to Elijah, ‘What do I have to do with you, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my iniquity to remembrance, and to put my son to death!’”
B. (:19-21) Appealing to God Who Alone Has the Power over Life and Death
1. (:19) Intervention of the Prophet
“And he said to her, ‘Give me your son.’ Then he took him from her bosom and carried him up to the upper room where he was living, and laid him on his own bed.”
2. (:20) Inquisitiveness of the Prophet
“And he called to the LORD and said, ‘O LORD my God,
hast Thou also brought calamity to the widow with whom I am staying, by causing her son to die?’”
3. (:21) Intercession of the Prophet
“Then he stretched himself upon the child three times,
and called to the LORD, and said,
‘O LORD my God, I pray Thee, let this child’s life return to him.’”
Wiersbe: Certainly his posture indicated total identification with the boy and his need, and this is an important factor when we intercede for others.
C. (:22-24) Deliverance from Death Prompts the Testimony of Faith
1. (:22) Miracle of Resurrection from the Dead in Answer to Prayer
“And the LORD heard the voice of Elijah,
and the life of the child returned to him and he revived.”
2. (:23) Ministration of the Prophet to the Mother
“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 is alive.’”
3. (:24) Message of Truth Affirmed
“Then the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.’”
R. D. Patterson: God’s purpose was now evident. Her sin was not at issue (cf. John 9:3), but the testing had come in order that her newly found faith might be brought to settled maturity. Yahweh (“the Lord”) was not only the God of the Jews (v. 24) but of all those who believe (cf. Rom 3:29); he was not only the God of the living but the God of resurrection (cf. Luke 20:38; John 11:25-26).