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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:The Word of the Living God Never Fails
Text:1 Kings 17:7-16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:All of scripture points to Jesus Christ
 
Preached:2019
Added:2019-01-06
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 33:1,6                                                                                        

Ps 81:7,8,9

Reading – 1 Kings 16:29-17:16; Luke 4:16-30

Ps 107:1,13,14,17

Sermon – 1 Kings 17:7-16

Ps 138:1,2

Hy 65:1,4     

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


Beloved in Christ, have you ever doubted the truth of someone’s words? You were talking with a classmate, a fellow church member, maybe a colleague at work—listening to their story or their promises, but you were skeptical. “Really? I doubt it. We’ll see…” You’ve probably had the experience, because that’s how it goes with human words. We say, “He talks big—we’ll see if he follows through. She promised to change, but I doubt if she’ll act on it.” We’ve learned that people don’t always mean what they say.

The inclination to doubt can cause trouble between us and other people. More than that, it can lead to trouble between us and God our Father. For if we tend to be skeptical about what others say, we may come to doubt what God says! We listen to his promises, hear his commands, take in the stories of his mighty deeds, and agree with it all, even know parts of Scripture word-for-word. Yet for all that, we struggle to believe.

For isn’t it too good to be true? Can we really count on God’s promises, for whatever situation we’re in? Will the LORD always back up his words with action, and provide for us, and strengthen us, and forgive us? We want proof. By nature, we’re a people of little faith.

Yet we have the assurance from God himself that his Word never fails. It’s a truth that we see on every page of the Bible: that when God speaks, we can believe him—what He says is perfectly reliable, and entirely trustworthy. It’s the theme of 1 Kings 17:7-16,

The Word of the living God never fails. We see this as:

  1. his word goes to Zarephath
  2. his word challenges the widow
  3. his word provides flour and oil

 

1) his word goes to Zarephath: Our story takes place in the time of Israel’s kings. This was an age of unrest for the people of God, a time of blessing but also adversity. The book of 1 Kings opens with the glory days of King Solomon, who took the throne after David. At that time, God’s people were unified, her territory had never been bigger, and she worshiped the LORD at the sparkling temple that Solomon had built at Jerusalem.

Yet all too soon things started to fall apart! Solomon’s heart became captivated by his foreign wives and their foreign gods. Then Rehoboam, Solomon’s successor, had to deal with a rebellion. This ended with the ten northern tribes going their own way, under their own king, based in Samaria.

And the northern kingdom quickly descended into idolatry. King Jeroboam was worried about the people crossing the border to visit Jerusalem, so he set up idols to the LORD at Dan and Bethel. This was a grievous sin, but it seemed right to all the kings who came after him. The sad refrain was heard, decade by decade, “King So-and-So walked in the ways of Jeroboam and in the sin he had caused Israel to commit.”

For that was always the standard by which a king of Israel or Judah was measured: Were they obedient? No matter how long a ruler ruled or what his other accomplishments might have been, obedience was the central question. In fact, that’s always Scripture’s measure of the “good” life: Have we lived by true faith in God and done his will?

Because of this focus, the book of Kings does something interesting. It pays a lot of attention to one king who was particularly wicked: King Ahab of Israel. It also puts the focus on one king who was righteous: King Hezekiah of Judah. Both reigns are described with several chapters each, while other, longer reigns are skimmed over in just a handful of verses. It’s like the LORD wants us to take Ahab, or Hezekiah, as examples of what was going on in this time—whether good or bad.

Ahab, we said, was notoriously evil. For he carried Jeroboam’s idolatry to its logical conclusion. That is, if you’re going to worship one idol, you might as well as worship a whole pile of them. So Ahab went to Sidon, a nearby country, where he found not only a wife—Jezebel—but also another god, Baal. And as the king went, so went the people. Together, they turned away from the one true God.

The assessment in 16:33 is painfully blunt: “Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.” And God shows his anger in a dramatic way. He sends a message to Ahab by his prophet Elijah, “As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word” (17:1).

Drought was one of God’s covenant judgments. Back in Deuteronomy 28 He said, “If you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands… the sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron. [I] will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder” (vv 23-24). Long ago God spoke this threat, and now God keeps his word. For that’s what the living God does—even when his word judges and condemns, He is a righteous God! So a drought descends on the land. Crops fail. Animals die. Every living thing shrivels up. Soon the people are fading.

And it was most fitting that God sent this judgment, because Baal was the god of fertility. In other words, he was exactly the god to whom Israel was looking to provide good crops and bountiful harvests. But this devastating drought quickly shows Baal for what he really is: useless and powerless! So it goes for every false god and idol still today—we expect so much from them, but they’re only going to disappoint. The very pleasure or reward that they promise turns out to be false, or it turns out to be harmful. Meanwhile, the message that God gave through Elijah starts being proven to be trustworthy and effective—there is neither rain nor dew, just as God said.

We don’t learn much about Elijah. He’s simply introduced as “the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead” (17:1). We’re often interested in the characters we meet in the Bible: What were they really like as people? But Scripture usually doesn’t tell us much. Again, it focuses on a person’s place in relation to God. Who was Ahab? And who was this Elijah?

Elijah is one of a special breed that we see throughout Scripture: he’s a prophet. There were many prophets over the years because God is a speaking God: He opens his mouth to reveal things about himself. A prophet was just an ordinary person, but someone who was called to represent God. “Thus says the LORD,” a prophet would say—and the people had to listen. These were words to admonish, to inspire, teach and comfort.

A prophet had an important job, so God protected them. In the first part of chapter 17, we read that God sent Elijah to the Kerith Ravine, which is east of the Jordan. Elijah went for a couple reasons. First, he goes to escape Jezebel’s persecution of the believers in Israel. Second, he goes there to be sustained by the LORD. Elijah could drink from the brook, and he could eat the food that was brought by the ravens.

For a while, Elijah was fine in his little hideout in the ravine. But the drought gets worse, and soon even the brook dries up. If he’s going to survive, Elijah has to move. And at this point of crisis, God’s Word goes out again. God says to Elijah: “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you” (v 9).

Notice how God is directing the action. For that brook didn’t have to dry up; if ravens were able to bring Elijah bread and meat, God could have provided him with endless gallons of fresh water. But God wants Elijah to leave his hiding-place. And God sends him on his way with a clear purpose.

Elijah is instructed to cross the land, and hike to “Zarephath which belongs to Sidon.” This town is to the northwest of Israel, on the Mediterranean coast. And the author draws our attention to something here: Elijah must go to Sidon. The prophet is leaving the Israelite territory completely, and he’s going to a pagan land.

This turn of events is striking, for think of what it means. By removing his prophet, God is removing his Word; He’s unplugging the people from the source of revelation. And Elijah is being sent to Sidon, of all places! We just learned Ahab had married the daughter of the king of Sidon. It was from Sidon that the latest version of Baal-worship was imported. God’s prophet was going to the very country that had caused Israel so much grief, being sent to Baal’s home turf, and there he would put Baal in his place.

But this trip had another purpose too. As we said, God is extracting his Word from Israel. For they’d scorned the living God and rejected him. Now they will experience a two-fold curse. There will be a famine on their land, and there will be a famine in their hearts—no more life-giving nourishment from the mouth of God. Instead, his Word will go to the Gentiles.

Beloved, this says something essential about the Lord: our God always wants his Word to be welcomed, He always wants it received. God takes great delight in a people who love his decrees, and treasure his promises. When we cherish his Word and store it up within us, He promises blessing and reward.

But those who keep rejecting the light of God’s Word end up in the dark. Recall what Jesus said to the people of Nazareth when they were about to chase him out of town. Jesus certainly wasn’t the first prophet to be rejected by Israel. He points out to them that though there were many widows in the land, “to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon” (Luke 4:26). God always prefers to send his Word to those who will receive it, to those who are going to listen.

So our text looks ahead to when the gospel is for all people, everywhere—for Jews and for Gentiles alike. In God’s grace, we’ve now been included in the world-wide preaching of the good news. The preaching of Christ didn’t stay in the synagogues but went out into the streets and marketplaces of the world.  

Yet having heard the message of Christ, our text also warns us. The gospel isn’t a gift that can never be taken away. And God’s Word isn’t something that has power only if we believe it or chose to do something with it. As the Israelites discovered, when you have the Word, but you ignore it, or reject it, that same Word has power to curse and condemn you.

What happened in Ahab’s day can happen again. Whenever God’s people are distracted by idols, when we’re busy with a hundred other things, our love for the Word is going to diminish. We’ll hear it less and less, and maybe put it away altogether. And whenever God’s people no longer love to hear his voice, God will find a way to show how we’re lost without it. So be encouraged to embrace the Word that you’ve been given. Cherish what you have and listen intently as God speaks!

 

2) his word challenges the widow: So Elijah will go to Sidon, to Zarephath. Now, God had said, “I have commanded a widow there to provide for you” (v 9). This probably doesn’t mean that God gave a command that she could hear, for when Elijah talks to the widow, she makes no mention of being ordered by God. Rather, the LORD had simply ensured this widow was in place, ready to help the prophet.

And how remarkable it was that a widow would be expected to provide! A widow was one of the poorest members of that society. She was in the difficult position of not having a husband to provide a regular income. A widow would be the last person who could feed some extra mouths. We imagine Elijah saying, “Visit a widow? Really?”         

Yet God had given his Word—He had commanded this—and for him nothing is impossible. So Elijah goes to Zarephath, where at the city gate he sees a woman gathering wood. At once he’s sure that this was the woman, and he asks for some water. At this time of drought, water would’ve been supremely valuable, yet she agrees. So Elijah adds a second request, “Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand” (v 11).

It’s an impossibly tall order. And the widow responds as you’d expect, “As the LORD your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die” (v 12).

Listen to the oath that the widow makes: “As surely as the LORD your God lives…” It’s hard to know what this means. Is this a confession of faith in the true God? Did she somehow know the LORD’s special covenant name? It could be that she used to live in Israel, perhaps in those days when Solomon’s kingdom stretched far to the north. We don’t know. At any rate, it wasn’t unusual for pagans to recognize gods besides the ones they worshiped. Referring to the LORD doesn’t mean she was loyal to him.

Whatever the case, her oath doesn’t have a happy theme for she’s in no position to help. She describes her dire straits: no bread, and only a little flour and oil, which will serve as a final meal for her and her son. She won’t hide her despair: death now has drawn very close.

But though her situation is desperate, the prophet repeats his request for bread. He even makes it specific that she should make him a little bread-cake before taking care of herself and the boy. Against every instinct of a parent, she has to feed Elijah first, her son second!

The prophet isn’t being rude, but he’s simply going by what God said to him. And with that same divine word, Elijah seeks to calm the widow’s fears. For Elijah voices that simple yet powerful command; it’s the command that is found most often in the Scriptures: “Do not fear” (v 13). “Don’t be afraid, for this is what God says: ‘I will surely provide.’”

Think of what a challenging word this was for the widow! Here’s a strange man before her, an Israelite, a dishevelled prophet—making a bold request, and giving an even bolder promise: he’s promising food in a time of drought, he’s promising life when Death was knocking at the door. It’s a fantastic thing that this prophet says, “For thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the LORD sends rain on the earth’” (v 14).

That’s hard to believe. The prophet must be saying too much—God is promising more than He can deliver! And that’s how we sometimes treat God’s Word. We know the things that God has said, even better than that woman from Zarephath. We read God’s promises, but they can seem so unreal. We know them clearly in our head, but we struggle to accept them within our heart.

For instance, we know that God has promised us that we’ll have enough strength to handle any trial or hardship. We know that God has promised us help to fight against sin and temptation. We know God’s Word that He works out all things for our good. But when burdened by a disappointment, when we’re facing a constant trouble or anxiety or a powerful temptation, we start to wonder. We’re not feeling it, so is it true? I’ve read Scripture, but afterwards nothing is different, so how do I know that God will do what He says? Can I really trust his Word?

But God’s Word challenges us to believe with a humble faith. To trust in what He says, even when circumstances make it seem impossible. The LORD challenges us to take him at his Word, even if we can’t imagine how He’ll do what He said.

The same is true for God’s commands. We know how He’s directed us to live; we heard his commandments again this morning. But sometimes they just seem too hard to apply. It’s too hard to love your difficult neighbour, and it’s too hard to keep yourself completely pure. And sometimes it seems better to bend the rules a little—to tell a small lie, to overlook a harmless sin.

But listen to God’s Word and be confident in its truth. Remember what Elijah said, “Don’t be afraid, for God has spoken.” His Word will not fail you. If we embrace the whole of God’s Word in faith, we don’t have reason to fear uncertainty, or illness, or Satan’s power, or death, or conflict, or anything else in all creation. In every circumstance, we can trust what He promises, and we can do what He commands, without hesitation. His Word is true.

So this is what the widow did: “She went away and did according to the word of Elijah” (v 15). She humbly received the prophet’s word. Again, does this mean she had become a true believer, a follower of the living God? Once again, we don’t know. But this was the right response. She trusted God’s promise, she took God at his Word. And God blessed her for it.

 

3) his word provides flour and oil: If you don’t read our text carefully, you’ll miss the miracle, “And she and he and her household ate for many days” (v 15). Pretty understated. Nothing is said about the incredible discovery that the flour and oil do not run out. You can just imagine the widow dipping into the bin, pouring from the jar, day after day after day, and there’s always more—it’s never empty.     

And just to make sure that we get the point of this story, the Holy Spirit adds that all this was “according to the word of the LORD which He spoke by Elijah” (v 16). The promise was given, and the promise was kept. The word was spoken, and it would not be broken.

Beloved, marvel at what this story reveals about our God. His Word is truth! When you read Scripture, you can count on what God says. You can depend on it, no matter what. Day after day after day, you can go to him and know that He will not fail. His strength and grace will not run out. So in your prayers, remind him of the promises that He made. In your homes, build on his decrees. In your life, set a course according to his commands.

For far more than that widow ever knew, we know how God has kept his Word. We have the benefit of thousands of years of the history of God’s people—we have an almost unlimited testimony to God’s faithfulness. God has always delivered his children and shown his grace, just like He said He would.

And we know how God honoured the first and greatest promise that He ever made. In the fullness of time, God sent Jesus as the Saviour of sinners. Like the gospel writers tell us constantly, Christ did everything according to the Scriptures. He is the “Amen” to all of God’s promises.

We said that sometimes we’re tempted to doubt the truthfulness of God’s Word, the reality of his promises. Sometimes you’re waiting for your heart to catch up with your head, for the truth to really sink in. Then we should look to the cross! See what salvation cost God our Father—even his one and only Son—see it and know that God never goes back on his Word. He always means what He says!

And now God grants life to those who trust in him, grants life to those who obey him. As the Scripture says, “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut 8:3). As you open Scripture and read God’s Word for daily hope, daily guidance, daily comfort, daily wisdom, whatever your circumstance—as you do so, be sure of what you read. For God’s Word is steadfast, and He is faithful. Jesus, our great Prophet and Teacher, has brought us God’s Word. And He has shown that it’s always true!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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