Sunday, February 24, 2013

1 Kings 17:8-24 "Can We Trust God?"





TEXT:    1 Kings  17: 8 - 24
TITLE:  Can we trust God ?
DATE:   24th  February  2013



One morning Elijah woke up and discovered that the little river that had sustained him with water had dried up! The drought, which had come as a result of God’s judgment upon apostate Israel ( 17:1) was now showing its effects in the land. What now?

Then the Word of the LORD came to him, ‘Arise, go to Zarephath … behold I have commanded a widow there to feed you!’” (17:8,9). The LORD is telling Elijah to relocate to a place outside of the borders of Israel. Today it is called Sarafand and it is located in modern Lebanon, halfway between the ancient coastal cities of Tyre and Sidon.

The name ‘Zarephath’ means ‘refining’ or ‘smelting‘. That name is deeply suggestive. God apparently wasn’t finished with Elijah’s spiritual preparations. From the place of cutting or pruning (Kerith) Elijah is sent to the place of refining (Zarephath). The journey to the place of refining would have been about 120 km’s.

I would imagine that there were at least two disturbing things about this new Word from the Lord to Elijah. I remind you that the Word of the LORD often does that. It disturbs before it comforts. It cuts before it heals. The final product is always positive!

Here is the disturbing matter: Firstly, God calls Elijah to Zarephath, a foreign town in Sidon (Phoenicia) - known to be the heartland of ‘Baal’ worship. It was the territory from which Jezebel, the wife of the Israelite king Ahab came! (16:31) He was to go to the heartland of idolatry! Secondly, God sends Elijah to a widow! Widows were known to be poor. Thus, no five star accommodation and no gourmet meals for Elijah! Elijah is now doubly tempted. Can he trust God with this leading?

Previously he has been faithful in obeying God by settling at the brook Kerith where he was miraculously provided for by the ravens! But now the resources that make it possible to live there any longer are beginning to dry up. The next location looks worse! Is it not perhaps time for him to take matters into his own hand? These are tempting times for a believer! (The danger of lapsing into pragmatism).

Now listen to what A.W. Pink has to say: "Let it be duly noted that the Lord gave Elijah no more information as to his future residence and maintenance than that it was to be at Zarephath and by a widow. In a time of famine we should be profoundly thankful that the Lord provides for us at all, and be quite content to leave the mode of doing so with Him. If the Lord undertakes to guide us in our life’s journey, we must be satisfied with His doing it step by step. It is rarely His way to reveal to us much beforehand. In most cases we know little or nothing in advance. How can it be otherwise if we are to walk by faith! We must trust Him implicitly for the full development of His plan concerning us. But if we are really walking with God, taking heed to our ways according to His Word, He will gradually make things plain. His providences will clear up our difficulties, and what we know not now we shall know hereafter. Thus it was with Elijah.

Arriving in Zarephath

As Elijah arrives in Zarephath, so it happens as the Lord has said. He meets a widow gathering sticks (vv.10,11) and he asks her two things – for water and for some food (exactly what he had needed at the brook Kerith). This poor widow is not slow to tell him what is at stake here. She pours out her tale of woe to Elijah (v.12). To ask for water is one thing, but to ask for the last bit of food she has in her pantry is quite another thing! Now, if Elijah’s demand sounds selfish, then you need to read on, for he says to her in the next two verses: “Do not be afraid….For thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day the LORD sends rain upon the earth …”. (vv. 13&14)
The question is: Can she trust God in this? Yes, for this is typical of God! He says to her and to us: “Give me everything you have (v.13) and I will give you everything you need (v.14).” And she went and did according to the Word of Elijah” (v.15), which is as good as saying that she responded to the Word of God in faith. A Phoenician (gentile) woman is responding to the LORD, Elijah’s God by faith! How often do we not find gentiles shaming those who call themselves the people of God. Jesus commended the great faith of a gentile Canaanite woman who came to him with a great request to free her daughter from a demon (Matt 15:21-28).

Will this woman be disappointed? Can she trust God with Elijah’s seemingly unreasonable request? Well, you know the outcome of this. This is truly a wonderful account of God’s goodness and providence to Elijah, and to this widow and her son. Every day they had enough food. D.R. Davies quips : “Pancakes never tasted so good “![1] The hymn, “Morning by morning new mercies I see, all I have needed they hand has provided. Great is Thy faithfulness, LORD unto me[2], might well have become their theme song !

But now something else happened which pulled the carpet out under their feet!

The Death of the Widow’s Son and a Remarkable Resurrection (17:17-24)

The son of the widow became ill and died (v.17)! She is beside herself, and she turns her grief against Elijah: “What have you against me , O man of God?” (v.18) But the accusation here is more than a pouring out of grief against Elijah. She is ultimately accusing God for punishing her now because of some of her past sins. This is a very familiar line of argument in the life of many Christians when such a heavy blow comes to them: “What have I done wrong that God is punishing me like this ?” The question returns once again: Can she trust the God who has once before provided so miraculously for her?

D.R. Davies makes a series of astute comments :” The tokens of life sat on her shelf while the fact of death lay in her arms.[3]” … Yahweh both provides and perplexes. He seems to be both, faithful and fitful. He sustains life and then takes it away. What is one to make of Him?... Why does Yahweh act this way? Why does He follow an everlasting jar of meal with the devastating death of a son?... Does He supply the means to sustain life only to take the life He sustains?
No wonder the woman is at the end of her tether (v.18) She suspects Elijah has come to expose her iniquity and that her son’s death constitutes punishment for such. Many Christians know her mind. On a sunny day they may remember John 9:3 [4], but let God’s hand strike, and in their despair they dredge up all sorts of guilt that God must be punishing…

Then he asks: “Why didn’t He (God) wait until she was more mature in her faith? Why shatter a new convert with the dark mysteries of his ways ? …. There is a sort of backhanded comfort in the rugged honesty of the Bible. It hides nothing, but warns clearly that Yahweh both blesses and baffles His servants.”
[5]
 Has God abandoned her? No! Isn’t it wonderful providence that God has placed a solid, mature believer into her home at this time? Elijah’s maturity is seen by the fact that he has learned what to do with his own perplexity (see his perplexity in v.20). He takes it directly to God! “He cried to the LORD,’ O LORD my God…” (vv. 20,21).

Once again, man’s extremity becomes God’s opportunity … “and the LORD listened to the voice of Elijah…” (v.22). Elijah brought God into this desperate situation, and God revived the boy! At the end of this widow’s second severe trial the LORD has proven Himself trustworthy and faithful - yet again !

Application

Is this historical account only valid for some people? Is this passage unusual? Yes and no! It is unusual and unique in terms of its historical context, but it is not unusual in terms of general application. So the question returns: Can you trust God with your sometimes overwhelming, perplexing and unusual circumstances?

The answer is yes! You can always trust God, even when you cannot see a solution to your difficult. So let us rehearse this again. God’s ways with us may be sometimes perplexing, but His designs in these tests/ trials will result ultimately in a positive outcome. God showed Moses that Israel’s trials and testings in the desert were as a result of the doings of God “… that He might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end.” (Deut 8:16)

So, if you are a believer in the LORD, then you must understand that the events of your life are tools in the hands of the almighty Potter, who shapes you for His own glory, and for your own good. When He begins a good work in you, He will complete it (Phil 1:4). He uses all circumstances (even the horrible ones!) to change our values, to shape our character, to change our priorities, to redirect our pursuits, and above all, to redirect our source of trust and reliance into Himself alone.

The hymn writer, William Cowper understood this when he wrote the hymn: “God moves in a mysterious way“ (1774)

God moves in a mysterious way ,
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea ,
And rides upon the storm.


Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
the clouds you so much dread ,
are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
but trust Him for His grace;
behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding every hour;
the bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
and scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
and He will make it plain.

And then,  finally never lose sight of the fact that the same events that test us often become the means by which God is able to use us in ministry to others. Our own trials not only mature us, they not only deepen our faith in God, but they often become vehicles for ministry, by which others are encouraged and strengthened in their faith. What a great help Elijah was to this poor widow and her son!

We are not here for ourselves. We must not get absorbed in our own needs. God cares for us, but He also cares for others. He uses us, and changes others around us through the character changes which He effects in us through our own trials. So, do not despise the unusual and sometimes strange providences which God brings into your life, and through which He works in other lives. God’s designs are always truly good.

God can be absolutely trusted !

Amen!



[1] D.R Davies : The Wisdom and the Folly – Exposition of 1 Kings ,p.217
[2]  Written by Thomas Chisholm , 1923
[3] D.R Davies : The Wisdom and the Folly – Exposition of 1 Kings ,p.219
[4]  John : 9 3 – The  story  of a man born blind :  Jesus answered, “ It was not that this man sinned , or his parents , but that the works of God might be displayed in him”
[5] D.R Davies : The Wisdom and the Folly – Exposition of 1 Kings ,p.221-222

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