Elijah and the widow
The Widow - the Gentile - life through faith.
Intro: [OHP] - turn to Luke 4. Spoke last time from 1 Kings 17 about Elijah and the drought, the man of God: spoke God’s word, heard God’s word, lived God’s word, spoke to God and God answered - did what he said. This week look at the other character in the story: the widow. She is a significant character - Jesus refers to her.
We are accustomed to the Gospel being for all - missionaries to all the world, any one can become a Christian - we tend to forget that we were “dead in our trespasses and sins” “ separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”. God was the God of Israel only, all others were heathen, abhorrent, godless - inconceivable that they could know God or that God could be interested in them.
READ Luke 4:16-29 - context of the Gospel, Good News it is for the poor, the prisoners, the oppressed - Jesus went on to say that it was for the Gentile as well, and that this was no new move, that had been the way God dealt back in history - cited two proofs: the widow in Elijah’s day and Naaman in Elisha’s day. This was so shocking a concept, so blasphemous and heretical to traditional Jews that they tried to kill Jesus!
From Jesus’ exposition of Scripture this widow stands for the Gospel coming to the Gentile. Just like in Elijah’s day God’s own people rejected Him so He turned instead to the Gentiles. This was the way it was in Acts - Gospel to the Jew first, when they rejected it God poured His mercy on the Gentiles. So lets turn to 1 Kings 17 and look at the widow in this light - like all Gentiles since the way to life is by FAITH [OHP] read 1 Kings 17:8-24 Chosen for faith [1 Kings 17:9]
1 Kings 17:9 - God is particularly concerned and close to those who are poor and with no one - the widow and orphan are dear to His heart and He cares for them. The Gospel is for the poor. Though this woman was not an Israelite, יהוה was aware of her circumstances and had decided on a way both to provide for her and His servant. He had commanded her though she was unaware of it - long before Elijah asked for food or she responded. God had appointed this woman unto salvation. The woman obeyed, but her faith and obedience were because God had so ordained it (cf. 1 Kings 17:9 - יהוה commanded her) - from her perspective she had faith, from God’s perspective He commanded her - so her faith was not of herself. Even faith is a gift of God. We have no faith unless God provides it - it is ALL of grace (Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God).
Faith: a responsive heart [1 Kings 17:10,11]
1 Kings 17:10 - he asks for water - to see how she responds to serving a stranger - testing her heart to see whether there was a generous, giving, serving heart. She had a responsive heart, she went to get it. 1 Kings 17:11 - Seeing her respond willingly, Elijah thought perhaps this is the widow of whom יהוה spoke, so, encouraged by her response, he dared to also request for some bread (for יהוה had said that He had commanded a widow to provide for him cf. 1 Kings 17:9). She would serve, get water that cost nothing, but was she willing to give of her own substance in a time when food was precious and she was evidently not a woman of wealth? She knew he was a man of God and she responded. Her god was Baal, god of the storm, he had let her down, she knew Elijah served God, she responded to the true God.
The poor are rich in faith [1 Kings 17:12]
1 Kings 17:12 - The Gospel is for the poor. It was not that this woman was unwilling to feed Elijah, it was just that she was unable - she didn’t have any bread to give him. This woman had reached desperation point, absolute rock bottom - she was preparing to die - she had the resources for one last cake of bread for herself and her son. There was no more hope - this was the end. We have nothing to give God. She had to choose between one meal then certain death or the possibility of endless supply - seeing death was inevitable this woman had little to lose by trying the latter option - this is why it is easier for the poor to have faith (cf. James 2:5) - they have less to lose, and less to give up relying upon. They are closer to reality in that they know the futility of relying upon themselves to supply their need - they know that they need to depend upon another. If she had a ton store of flour and was asked to give this up for the promise of daily provision, perhaps faith would have been more difficult to exercise.
God is compassionate and all knowing - He knew how much flour the widow had and when it would run out and things really were desperate. He knew how long it would take Elijah to get from Cherith to Zarephath and the brook dried up at just the right time and His word telling Elijah what to do came at just the right time so that Elijah arrived precisely when she was about to prepare her last meal! The timing of God! In total control. She may have thought things were getting bad before but יהוה steps in at just the right time, often at the very last moment. He knows the plight of the poor and sends deliverance at just the right time (Romans 5:6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.). Bless His wonderful Name! יהוה intervenes at that moment before the spark of hope fails. God hadn’t forgotten - He is there, right on time. Elijah’s need resulted in the provision of the need of the one who supplied it.
Faith requires our ALL [1 Kings 17:13]
1 Kings 17:13 - A foreigner from Israel asks a poor widow, about to eat the last morsel of food she has, for some bread. With absolutely nothing, she is asked to give her very last substance, what is inadequate for even herself to survive. It was too much - this woman pours out her desperate circumstances to this stranger. Elijah tells the woman to do as she intended, only to make a small cake for him first, then to make one for her son. She was not to make for herself and her son first and give Elijah the left overs, give if there was any surplus. When we give to God is must be the first part - not what we can spare. First priority is to give to Him. Give to יהוה and only then concern yourself with providing for your own needs. Do not fear about having enough - make the LORD number one priority then all your needs will be taken care of (Matt 6:31-34). DON’T WORRY - give to God first (Col 1:18) - JESUS FIRST! (Prov 3:9,10). This is the way to ensure sufficient for yourself - it is contrary to human reason - naturally we want to make sure we have enough for ourselves first then give what we can spare - but God’s way is back to front - give to Him first - even when you cannot spare it (cf. Luke 21: widow’s mite). Then He will ensure that you have sufficient even when there wasn’t enough to start with and when everyone else around is suffering lack. God provides but He must be placed first, not added on. He requires all we have. Though poor she gave her all. Faith requires our ALL. Total reliance on God alone.
Faith is based on God’s word [1 Kings 17:14]
1 Kings 17:14 - Elijah gave her a promise, a word from יהוה, to test her faith - she could depend on her human reason, on her own meager resources and take care of herself or depend on what God said. Depending on her own resources meant one more meal, depending on what God said promised a continual supply. But the flour and oil was substantial, tangible, whereas what Elijah said was just words. But when those words are from יהוה they are more substantial than that which can be seen. But was Elijah just saying this or was it truly from יהוה? Faith acts on the basis of what God says - faith is based on God’s word - accepting the word as genuinely being from יהוה and basing your life and subsequent action upon it and not on what can be seen (2 Cor 5:7; Heb 11:1,3, 6; Rom 4:17, 20,21). There is no lack but continuing supply for those who walk by faith, basing their life and action upon what God has promised. יהוה promised that the flour and oil would not run out until it rained again. How could this woman know that this was true? - only by doing as this man said. It makes it clear that it is יהוה alone who will cause the rain to return, not Baal. There is the promise of continued sustenance and the promise of יהוה sending rain. There was a choice for this woman was she going to continue to trust Baal (who was letting her down severely at this point in time) or rely on יהוה to supply her need - rely on her meagre but tangible resources or on a promise that seeded ridiculous to her own understanding. The thing was: was what Elijah said true? That is the issue of faith - it takes God’s word as being true and acts accordingly.
Faith acts [1 Kings 17:15]
1 Kings 17:15 - Hallelujah! Elijah found a woman of faith! There were none in Israel but there was one among the heathen Gentiles! The woman did according to the word of יהוה from Elijah.Note the emphasis on doing (עשׂה in 1 Kings 17:12, once in 1 Kings 17:15, three times in 1 Kings 17:13, five times in four verses). To exercise faith we must act on the basis of what יהוה has said - faith is seen by what we do (James 2:14-26). Faith acts! The woman took Elijah’s word as being true, as being from God, and acted accordingly. Faith is not mental agreement with a concept it is living real life based on God’s Word.
Faith is a continuous walk [1 Kings 17:15,16]
- So Elijah lived with the widow and her son for many days - faith is life long, continuous, faithful, not a moment’s decision. Every day she had to rely on that word from the LORD through Elijah. And it never lets us down - that is why you can rely on God’s word - it provides continuing sustenance to those who live by it.
Faith is tested [1 Kings 17:17]
1 Kings 17:17 - Everything was going wonderfully - the drought affected others but the widow was immune as long as Elijah remained with her - perhaps she began to regard him as a luck talisman, put her faith in him rather than in יהוה who is the Supplier. Perhaps she regarded herself as immune from trouble. Something happened to upset this misplaced confidence (presumption/cockiness/pride) - her son became sick and died. This crisis dealt with issues that had up to now been brushed over: her sin (1 Kings 17:18) and faith in Elijah and not in יהוה - she ran to Elijah not to God. Like Israel receiving daily manna, when a miracle occurs regularly (like the sun rising), we come to regard it as normal and no longer appreciate יהוה’s love and power - which is all the more wonderful for its constancy - yet we take it for granted. Her son died - a test of faith - if God kept him alive by miraculously supplying food would He now kill him? She didn’t know God - that He is good.
The issue is sin! [1 Kings 17:18]
1 Kings 17:18 - Strange how we change - some time before the woman was prepared for her son to die and herself, she had faced the inevitable (1 KIngs 17:12). But now that יהוה had graciously preserved their lives, she regarded life as a right and was offended when her son’s life was taken - she was not thankful for the added life which he and she had received. We are the same - when someone dies, particularly if they are young, we are outraged: "What right has that life to be taken - it’s not fair!" etc. not realizing that every day of life is solely due to God’s grace. We often hear it said, "Why did God let them die?", we seldom hear "Why has God allowed me to live another day?"! The widow blamed Elijah, she blamed the "man of God" (it had become a derogatory term) i.e. she, like us, blamed God! Funny how we are prepared to accept good from God’s hand but judge Him(!) when misfortune comes our way. Funny too how the woman immediately associated her son’s death with her sin - this was punishment from God. Though God had been merciful to her, she had not responded as she knew she should - the issue of her sin had not been dealt with. She had received God’s mercy and grace but that is intended to lead us to repentance (cf. Titus 2:11,12; Rom 2:4) - she had not repented but continued on in her sin despite God goodness to her. We are the same. Yet she knew instinctively, deep within, that her sin was the problem and what separated her from God and distinguished Elijah from her. Our sin is the issue! We ignore it, cover over it, bury it, try to suppress it - but at the time of crisis, truth is revealed. She knew her problem - the sin which she had tried to hide had been exposed. She knew deep down that death is the consequence and punishment of sin (Rom 6:23; Ezek 18:4). In fact sin had not been mentioned, it was her own guilty conscience that had been revealed. She knew that she was a sinner and had the concept that יהוה would bring that sin to account and punishment for her sin would be meted out. In this He was different from her god Baal, who existed for her convenience and supply her need rather than being righteous and requiring this from man. In her eyes the death of her son was punishment from a vindictive God. This is how יהוה appears to those who do not know Him. She had not learned of His character through the daily provision of food. She knew His deeds but not His ways (cf. Psalm 103:7). She was about to receive a lesson on both the character and power of יהוה. Sin puts us on the defensive and makes us antagonistic to those who are truly godly.1 Kings 17:19 - Elijah didn’t give a moralizing call to repentance now that this woman was convicted of sin - he took the child which she was clinging to - he took her problem upon himself, took her death and made it his own property."Upper room" reminds of another upper room where grace was revealed and another took upon Himself the sin and death of others. Jesus didn’t come to bring our sin to remembrance but to take it upon Himself and thus remove it and bring life! Hallelujah! 1 Kings 17:21 - He stretched himself on the boy three times - complete identification with his death (as Jesus did with man’s death in His three days in the tomb cf. Heb 2:9b) - intimate contact with the corpse - just as Jesus for three days in the tomb took upon Himself the death of mankind. 1 Kings 17:22 - Resurrection! - that is what our faith is in.
The righteous shall live by faith [1 Kings 17:23]
1 Kings 17:23 - From the upper room of communion with יהוה Elijah brought the child down into the house - from the sanctuary, the holy place of fellowship with יהוה to the house of this heathen woman where sin abode (cf. 1 Kings 17:18). She was a kind woman, good hearted and generous, but for all her admirably human qualities, she was a sinner and knew it. She had seen יהוה’s miraculous power daily in her home but had remained unchanged. Now Elijah presented her, her son ALIVE! - brought back from death. Nothing less than resurrection will change a heathen heart. It is Jesus’ resurrection that brought repentance, life, the good news and a change of heart to us heathen Gentiles - nothing else could do it, only He who brings life from death. Glory and honour to His Name! Resurrection brought forth life and knowledge of God to the Gentiles. Our faith is in the resurrection (1 Cor 15:4) - faith is credited to us as righteousness and life is given to the righteous (Habakkuk 2:4 the righteous will live by his faith. Or: he who is righteous by faith will live)[Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38] Once the issue of sin had been dealt with there could come life. We are declared righteous not because of what we have done but because of our faith, our utter reliance, on the atoning death of Jesus in our place and His resurrection - depending on His righteousness, not our own - this results in life. Faith results in life and life is only through faith.
Faith results in knowing God [1 Kings 17:24]
1 Kings 17:24 - Now the woman was convinced. She knew Elijah was a man of God (cf. 1 Kings 17:18). She saw the consistent evidence of God’s miracle power yet she remained unconvinced until now. Now she KNEW -(disciples saw all Jesus’ miracles but did not know and receive life , know God till the resurrection) "this I know that you are indeed a man of God and that the word of יהוה in your mouth and is TRUE!" Faith not in Elijah but in His Gcd, that His word was faithful/true - could be totally depended upon. She knew he was a man of God before but now she really KNEW. People may know we are Christians and see His power enabling us every day - but it takes the crisis of death and seeing יהוה produce life from death before they will be convinced that what we are is TRUE, REAL - that God is really in us. They know in theory but they need to know the REALITY - see life coming forth from death. Is the word of יהוה in my mouth? Is there life being brought forth from death? This evidence of the resurrection life of Jesus is what produces faith - that faith results in true knowledge of God - not just the right answer. It’s easy to learn “God is faithful/true” but lifetime to really KNOW God, His character - that He is faithful and His word is true. We know Him by FAITH alone.