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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
 www.edmontonimmanuel.ca
 
Title:The Lord Sends Elijah to Zarephath As a Warning to His Covenant People
Text:1 Kings 17:7-16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Obedience
 
Preached:2010-04-18
Added:2010-08-27
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Sing:  Psalm 34: 4, 6

Sing: Psalm 119: 1, 14, 27

Read: 1 Kings 17: 1-16

Sing: Psalm 10: 2, 3, 7

Text: 1 Kings 17: 7-16.

Sing: Psalm 33: 1, 3, 5, 6

Sing: Psalm 146: 3, 4, 5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters,

 

As you know from the last time we dealt with Elijah, his life is in danger. King Ahab wants Elijah dead. He sees him as a big troublemaker. He blames Elijah for stirring up the Lord's anger against him, and for the fact that a severe drought has come over the land. In this King Ahab was especially urged on by his wife Jezebel.

 

You will remember that Jezebel was originally from Phoenicia. King Ahab had married her for political purposes, for Ahab, following in the footsteps of his wicked father King Omri, wanted to have a close association with the Phoenicians. The Phoenicians were a seafaring nation and had influence and power all over the world of that day. And Ahab was interested in earthly power. That is why he also had himself built a beautiful palace, and that is why he lived in the lap of luxury. He did not see anything wrong with worshiping Baal and even promoted it, along with all its evil practices.

 

But then Elijah comes along and spoils it all. He has the audacity to come knocking on the palace door and to tell Ahab that there will be a severe drought within the next few years, which is not going to end except at his word.

 

After this the Lord tells Elijah to go to the Kerith Ravine where he will be safe. The Lord promises him that he will be more than adequately taken care of there. For the Lord tells him that he will drink from the brook, and that the ravens will feed him. He will not lack anything. And indeed the Lord miraculously looked after Elijah in the Kerith Ravine. Twice every day the Lord sent the ravens to provide him with bread and meat. Elijah lacked nothing for the sustenance of life. He had his daily bread, and he could drink from the brook. Elijah was satisfied with that.

 

But at a certain point the brook dries up. We are not told why the brook dried up. It could be that it was because of the drought. It could also be that the brook always dried up in the summer. One thing is for sure, the Lord God did not tell Elijah to leave from there because there was no longer any water in the brook. The Lord can provide water from a rock, and certainly could have caused water to continue to flow in the brook.

 

Then the Lord tells him to leave there and to go to Zarephath of Sidon. Zarephath lies in enemy territory in Phoenicia. Phoenicia is the country where Jezebel comes from. Why would the Lord tell him to go there? Why did he not tell him to seek a hiding place somewhere in Israel? As we know from the next chapter that is how 100 prophets of the Lord kept out of Ahab's reach. For Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace and who was a devout believer in the Lord, hid them in caves and supplied them with food and water. Elijah would not have to necessarily join those hundred prophets, but surely the Lord God could find a place for him somewhere safe in Israel.

 

We know from 1 Kings 19: 18 that there were still 7000 people who did not bow down to worship Baal. They continued to trust in the Lord. And one of those would have loved to keep Elijah out of the hands of Ahab. Surely the Lord could have found him a widow in Israel to keep him safe. But the Lord sends him outside of the country, to a widow belonging to a heathen nation.

 

Why would the Lord do that? Why would he pass Israel by? Well, as we will see, it is a warning. It's a message. It's not just a message to Israel on that day, but also to all of God's people for all time. It is a message to the whole church, and so also to you and to me. The text is summarized as follows:

 

The Lord Sends Elijah to Zarephath As a Warning to His Covenant People. We will see:

1.  Elijah's faith;

2. The widow's obedience;

3. The Lord's grace.

 

The trip from the Kerith Ravine to Zarephath took Elijah right through the midst of Israel. Zarephath was in Phoenician territory, located along the coast between the cities of Tyre and Sidon. It is north of the modern-day city of Haifa, and so is in the area of what is now Lebanese territory. Therefore Elijah had to travel northwest from the Jordan east of Jerusalem through the midst of Israel into Phoenician territory. The NIV refers to Zarephath of Sidon. Other translations state that Zarephath belongs to Sidon. That, no doubt, is a more correct translation. Sidon was one of the most influential cities of the Phoenicians, and therefore the Phoenicians were also known as the Sidonians. And Zarephath was located close to Sidon. It was a satellite city.

 

The Bible does not tell us about his trip as such, but no doubt Elijah will have seen how the land was affected by the drought. The crops were withering in the fields and the people were obviously suffering because of the lack of water.

 

Joel's prophecy describes what such a calamity entailed. He says in chapter 1:9-12, "Grain offerings and drink offerings are cut off from the house of the Lord. The priests are in mourning, those who minister before the Lord.  The fields are ruined, the ground is dried up; the grain is destroyed, the new wine is dried up, the oil fails. Despair, you farmers, wail, you vine growers; grieve for the wheat and the barley, because the harvest of the field is destroyed. The vine is dried up and the fig tree is withered; the pomegranate, the palm and the apple tree- all the trees of the field-are dried up. Surely the joy of mankind is withered away."

 

The drought affected everyone, including the 7000 people who were still faithful. However for those faithful the drought was not a punishment. For them it was a reminder of their dependence on the Lord; it was a reminder to trust in him. As a believer you are not anxious about what happens in this life, but you expect God to continue to care for you, even in times of hardship.

 

At least, that is the way it should be. Look at how Job reacted when everything was taken away from him. He continued to trust in the Lord. Although he suffered much and got little or no support from his friends and even his wife, he continued to expect his blessings from God alone. He knew that only the Lord could provide for him. And in the end he was not disappointed.

 

For the rest of the people Israel, however, the drought served as a punishment. It served to make them realize that they were expecting their blessings from the wrong source. They were expecting it from the heathen gods, who are no gods at all, except in the imaginations of men.

 

For why do you think they wanted to serve the Baals? Because in this way they gained favour with the other nations around them. Through trade and military alliances they sought to gain prosperity. That was uppermost in their minds. Service to God was only secondary. Israel was interested in material things. And that is why the drought was such a punishment for them, for those very things they loved so much were the very things taken away from them.

 

But when you are a believer, material well-being is secondary. That's not what motivates you in life. To a believer, physical well-being is only a means to an end. You need food and drink so that you can live your life to the praise of God's glory. You need it to keep you alive and so that you are able to serve the Lord your God. That is why we toil and labour, not only in order to be able to serve the Lord, but also to be able to serve our families. We don't work so that we can enrich ourselves, but so that we can serve God and others.

 

Israel had lost sight of that. She no longer lived out of the covenant promises of God. The Lord had promised to look after them, as long as they were willing to serve him. The people, however, wanted it the other way around. They would serve him only if their bellies were full and they were comfortable. Their personal well-being was more important than anything else.

 

How different it was from the way that Elijah served the Lord. When he is told to go to Zarephath he obeys. He knows that the Lord God will take care of him all the way. We do not know how Elijah was sustained during his trip, but we can be certain that the Lord made sure that he did not lack anything during his travels to Zarephath.

 

Elijah's obedience and faith was an example to the rest of God's people. The Lord had chosen him and equipped him to be a prophet. That means that he had to be a carrier of God's word. He had to proclaim it, not only by his words, but also by his actions.

 

Ultimately, that is the task of every believer. That is also your task and my task. For the Lord God also gives you and me the office of prophet, priest, and king. He has chosen us. That's a great privilege. And he chooses us not because we have anything more to offer than anyone else. No, he chooses us out of his own good pleasure. He has made us part of God's covenant community.

 

But God's covenant community consists of those people who also respond to him, and acknowledge him by being obedient. Don't forget, he can choose anybody. And that's what he wants to show to his people Israel. He chooses a woman from a heathen nation to bring glory to his name. He chooses the widow in Phoenicia to be an instrument in his hand to sustain Elijah, and thereby to sustain his word through him, the word that Elijah spoke against Ahab, and against a disobedient people in Israel. That brings us to the second point, namely the obedience of the widow.

 

2. The Lord told him that he commanded a widow in that place to supply him with food. The Lord does not tell him how he will be able to identify the window. He does not give him a name or an address. Elijah has to go on faith. He has to trust that somehow the Lord God will show him who she is. In that he is totally dependent on the Lord. He cannot go into that country full of strangers asking about widows, stopping people on the streets and asking them, "Excuse me, can you tell me where I can find the widow who will provide me with food and drink during the drought, as the Lord, the God of Israel, has told me?" He would be laughed out of the country. No, he has to rely on the Lord to reveal to him the identity of the widow.

 

When Elijah came to the town gate of Zarephath, his attention was drawn to a woman who was gathering sticks. From her clothing he recognized her as a widow. He does not know whether or not she is the one chosen to supply him with food. And so he asks her if she would give him a little water in a jar so that he could have a drink. This was not an unusual request. Strangers would not know where to get water from and would need help from the local citizens. The conventions of the day would require such hospitality to be extended. And so, the widow does not hesitate to fulfill his request. That was not that hard for her to do either. There was still water in the well.

 

But the next request is not as easy to grant, for he also asks her to bring him some bread. No doubt, Elijah was aware that this would require sacrifice on her part. When he went over the border of Phoenicia he would have noticed that the drought also extended to their country. And he will have also noticed that the widow in front of him was not a rich woman, far from it.

 

He found out how poor she was from her answer. She tells him that she only has a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug, but that's all. She has no other food. As a matter of fact she tells him that this is the last meal she will be able to provide for herself and her son. If she doesn't get any more food she and her son will starve to death.

 

Elijah, however, does not take no for an answer. He tells her not to be afraid, to go home and to make a small cake of bread and that then she is to bring it to him. That is all the food that this widow has. Elijah is asking a great deal from her. He is asking for her last meal. And it is clear that he is not satisfied with anything less. It is no exaggeration to say that he asking her for everything, including her life and the life of her son. For if she and her son don't eat then they will die. What right does he have to make such a demand?

 

Well, Elijah has no choice in the matter because that is what the Lord God told him to do. He told him to find a widow to provide for him. If she is the one then she will also do as he tells her. Elijah could also tell her with confidence that if she first provided him with her last meal, there would nevertheless be enough for her and her son. For the Lord will see to it that the flour will not be used up and that the jug of oil would not run dry.

 

To make such a request and to comply with such a request would require a strong faith. Elijah himself will have to be fully convinced in his own mind that the Lord would take care of him and the widow and her son in such a miraculous way. And he is. He has seen and experienced God's faithfulness throughout his life. He does not doubt that God will do what He says He will do.

 

But for the widow this is a different story. She does not really know who the Lord is. She lives in a country that is in the grip of Satan more than any other country of that day. And now she is asked to do something because a prophet of the God of Israel asks her to. Why would she do that?

 

Yet we see miraculously that she does obey. I say miraculously, because this was clearly not of her own doing. It is the Lord's doing. For he told Elijah that he is the one who chose a widow to supply him with food. He is the one who would prepare her heart to be obedient. He selected her of all people as his instrument. We have come to the third point.

 

3. Brothers and sisters, boys and girls, that is how the Lord works. He is the one who makes us special. He is the one who chooses us to have faith and to bring glory to his name. We never have anything to boast of. The nation Israel could not do that either. The Lord God could have chosen any other nation. He didn't. For the one nation was not any more special than the other. They're all equally undeserving of God's grace. But as it is, he chose Israel.

 

But as soon as he did, then Israel became special. Then she became the apple of his eye. The same thing is true of the widow. As soon as he singled her out to do his bidding, she became special. The Lord God used her to make her a blessing to Elijah and to the people of Israel. But she too has nothing to boast of. Nor do any of us. Listen to what Paul says in Romans 9:16, "It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy."

 

But now let's go back to the original question in the introduction to this sermon. Why do you think that the Lord God bypassed all the widows in Israel and went to one of the most wicked nations on the earth, and found a widow there? Why not to Israel itself?

 

The Lord Jesus himself makes that clear to us. He says in Luke 4:25-26, "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." The Lord Jesus spoke these words to the people of his own hometown when they were about to reject him. They wanted nothing to do with him. And so he reminds them that if they do not relish their special status, that then he would go elsewhere. If they do not want him, others will.

 

And that is the message that the Lord God wanted to go out to the Israelites during Elijah's days. Israel had been specially chosen by God as his people, but they did not want him. They chose to serve the Baals instead. It is for that reason that the Lord God sends Elijah to the Phoenicians. He will preserve his prophet -- and therefore preserve his word -- there in that heathen country. By making him go to a widow among the Sidonians the Lord God sends a very powerful message.

 

This is not just a message for Israel in that day; it is a message for the whole church throughout the ages. It is also a message for the church today, for you and for me. He warns us that if we take our special status for granted that then the Lord God will go elsewhere. He will first give us warnings and plead with us, but if we do not heed his voice then he will reject us. He says that to the church, and he also says that to the individual believers.

 

Brothers and sisters, and that includes you boys and girls and young people, the Lord God has very much privileged you. Most of you come from Christian families. From families that take God's Word and his covenant seriously. And that is why you were baptized as a child -- to indicate that you belong and that God's promises belong to you, the promise of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. But if you take your privileged position for granted, if you live like the world and set the same priorities as the world, then the time will come, if you persist in such behaviour, that God will take that privileged position away from you. He will go elsewhere. He will send his Holy Spirit into the hearts of those who are joyful recipients of God's grace, who are truly thankful for what God has done. But when you trust in the Lord, and live out the promises of God, and rejoice in the wonderful position that the Lord has given you as part of his covenant people, then you will also reap wonderful rewards.

 

Look at how God blessed his widow and her son. Every day there was enough food for Elijah and for the woman and her family. The jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry. The widow gave everything that she had. She was even willing to risk her own life and the life of her son. She first gave and then she also received. She had her priorities right.

 

In that sense she was truly a child of God. For also look at what the Lord Jesus Christ did. He totally sacrificed himself. He gave everything that he had. He emptied himself of the glory that he had with his Father in heaven, and became a man. And as if that was not enough, he also gave his very life.

 

But look at the reward that he received. He was restored to his former glory, and, as it says in Philippians 2, "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth."

 

The Lord God blesses you when you have your priorities right. He blesses you when you make him number one in your life. He demands everything from you and from me. He demands your life. You are a priest; you are to sacrifice yourself to Him. And it means that you recognize that everything you have is first of all from God and that it belongs to Him. So you set your priorities right. You also are able to give before you receive. For it is only when we give that we also receive. We do not serve him so that we can gather up earthly treasures for ourselves, but in order to glorify his name. And if that is your aim, then the Lord God will also bless you, whether you are poor or rich. For the believer knows that there is nothing more important than being a child of God. For he gives you an abundance of blessings: spiritual blessings, eternal blessings, wonderful blessings. Amen




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: www.edmontonimmanuel.ca

(c) Copyright 2010, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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