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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

1 Kings 17

 

 

Verse 1

1 Kings 17:1

As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand.

The source of Elijah’s strength

This chapter begins with the conjunction “And”: it is, therefore, an addition to what has gone before; and it is God’s addition. When we have read to the end of the previous chapter--which tells the melancholy story of the rapid spread, and universal prevalence, of idolatry, in the favoured land of the Ten Tribes--we might suppose that that was the end of all; and that the worship of Jehovah would never again acquire its lost prestige and power. And, no doubt, the principal actors in the story thought so too. But they had made an unfortunate omission in their calculations--they had left out Jehovah Himself. He must have something to say at such a crisis. When men have done their worst, and finished, it is the time for God to begin. The whole land seemed apostate. Of all the thousands of Israel, only seven thousand remained Who had not bowed the knee or kissed the hand to Baal. But they were paralysed with fear; and kept so still, that their very existence was unknown by Elijah in the hour of his greatest loneliness. Such times have often come, fraught with woe: false religions have gained the upper hand; iniquity has abounded; and the love of many has waxed cold. So was it when the Turk swept over the Christian communities of Asia Minor, and replaced the Cross by the crescent. So was it when, over Europe, Roman Catholicism spread as a pall of darkness that grew denser as the dawn of the Reformation was on the point of breaking. So was it in the last century, when Moderatism reigned in Scotland, and apathy in England. But God is never at a loss. The land may be overrun with sin; the lamps of witness may seem all extinguished; the whole force of the popular current may run counter to His truth; and the plot may threaten to be within a hair s breadth of entire success; but, all the time, He will be preparing a weak man in some obscure highland village; and in the moment of greatest need will send him forth, as His all-sufficient answer to the worst plottings of His foes. Elijah grew up like the other lads of his age. In his early years he would probably do the work of a shepherd on those wild hills. As he grew in years, he became characterised by an intense religious earnestness. He was “very jealous for the Lord God of hosts.” But the question was, How should he act? What could he do, a wild, untutored child of the desert? There was only one thing he could do--the resource of all much-tried souls--he could pray; and he did: “he prayed earnestly” (James 5:17). “He prayed earnestly that it might not rain.” A terrible prayer indeed! Granted; and yet, was it not more terrible for the people to forget and ignore the God of their fathers, and to give themselves up to the licentious orgies of Baal and Astarte? Physical suffering is a smaller calamity than moral delinquency. And the love of God does not shrink from inflicting such suffering, if, as a result, the plague of sin may be cut out as a cancer, and stayed. Elijah gives us three indications of the source of his strength.

1. “As Jehovah liveth.” To all beside, Jehovah might seem dead; but to him, He was the one supreme reality of life.

2. “Before whom I stand.” He was standing in the presence of Ahab; but he was conscious of the presence of a greater than any earthly monarch, even the presence of Jehovah, before whom angels bow in lowly worship, hearkening to the voice of His word. Gabriel himself could not employ a loftier designation (Luke 1:19). Let us cultivate this habitual recognition of the presence of God; it will lift us above all other fear.

3. The word “Elijah” may be rendered, “Jehovah is my God”; but there is another possible translation, “Jehovah is my strength.” This gives the key to his life. God was the strength of his life; of whom should he be afraid? (F. B. Meyer, M. A.)

Elijah before Ahab

“Elijah the Tishbite said unto Ahab.” All revelations seem to us to be sudden. Look at the suddenness of the appearance of Ahijah to Jeroboam, and look at the instance before us. No mild man would have been equal to the occasion. God adapts His ministry to circumstances. He sends a nurse to the sick-room; a soldier to the battlefield. The son of consolation and the son of thunder cannot change places. You are right when you say that the dew and the light and the soft breeze are God’s; but you must not therefore suppose that the thunder and the hurricane and the floods belong to a meaner lord. “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand.” Imagine the two men standing face to face. This is not a combat between two men. Mark that very closely. It is Right against Wrong, Faithfulness against Treachery, Purity against Corruption. As we look at the scene, not wanting in the elements of the highest tragedy, we see

Elijah standing before the Lord

This solemn and remarkable adjuration seems to have been habitual upon Elijah’s lips in the great crises of his life. We never find it used by any but himself, and his scholar and successor, Elisha.

I. Life a constant vision of God’s presence. How distinct and abiding must the vision of God have been, which burned before the inward eye of the man that struck out that phrase! Wherever I am, whatever I do, I am before Him. No excitement of work, no strain of effort, no distraction of circumstances, no glitter of gold, or dazzle of earthly brightness, dimmed that vision for these prophets. In some measure, it was with them as it shall be perfectly with all one day, “His servants serve Him, and see His face,”--action not interrupting the vision, nor the vision weakening action. It is hard to set the Lord always before us; but it is possible, and in the measure in which we do it we shall not be moved. How small Ahab and his court must have looked to eyes that were full of the undazzling brightness of the true King of Israel, and the ordered ranks of His attendants! How little the greatness! how tawdry the pomp! how impotent the power, and how toothless the threats!

II. Life was echoing with the voice of the Divine command. He stands before the Lord, not only feeling in his thrilling spirit that God is ever near him, but also that His word is ever coming forth to him, with imperative authority. That is the prophet’s conception of life. Wherever he is, he hears a voice saying, This is the way, walk ye in it. People talk about the consciousness of “a mission.” The important point, on the settling of which depends the whole character of our lives, is--“Who do you suppose gave you your mission”? Was it any person at all? or have you any consciousness that any will but your own has anything to say about your life? These prophets had found One whom it was worth while to obey, whatever came of it, and whosoever stood in the way.

III. Life full of conscious obedience. No man could say such a thing of himself who did not feel that he was rendering a real, earnest, though imperfect obedience to God. So, though in one view the words express a very lowly sense of absolute submission before God, in another view they make a lofty claim for the utterer. He professes that he stands before the Lord, girt for His service, watching to be guided by His eye, and ready to run when He bids. We may well shrink to make such a claim for ourselves when we think of the poor, perfunctory service and partial consecration which our lives show. But let us rejoice that even we may venture to say, “Truly I am Thy servant.” Such a life is necessarily a happy life. The one misery of man is self-will, the one secret of blessedness is the conquest over our own wills. To yield them up to God is rest and peace. And is there not a broad general truth involved there, namely, that such a life as we have been describing will find its sole reward where it finds its inspiration and its law? The Master’s approval is the servant’s best wages. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Elijah before the king

Elijah was a mountaineer. He was a big man, with broad shoulders and a tall and striking appearance. He had a massive frame and muscles that had grown strong with climbing the mountains and wresting his daily bread from hard circumstances. But he was, above all, a man of prayer, and the knowledge of what was going on in Israel stirred his soul to its profoundest depths; yet he could not act unless God sent him. With his hand lifted above his head this strange creature of the desert and the mountains exclaims, “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.” Note his description of his relation to God, “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand.” There was the secret of Elijah’s power. As another has well said: Every man stands before something which is his judge. The child stands before the father, not in a single act, making report of what he has been doing on a special day, but in the whole posture of his life, almost as if the father were a mirror in whom he saw himself reflected, and from whose reflection of himself he got at once a judgment as to what he was, and suggestions as to what he ought to be. The poet stands before nature. She is his judge. A certain felt harmony or discord between his nature and her ideal is the test and directing power of his life. The philosopher stands before the unseen, majestic presence of the abstract truth. The philanthropist stands before humanity The artist stands before beauty. The legislator stands before justice. The politician stands before that vague but awful embodiment of average character, the people. The scholar stands before knowledge, and gets the satisfaction or disappointments of his life from the approvals or disapprovals of her serene and gracious lips. Every soul that counts itself capable of judgment and responsibility stands in some presence by which the nature of its judgment is decried. The higher the presence, the loftier and greater the life. And so Elijah, standing before God, was in the highest and most splendid presence that any man can know, and it was this that gave him his lofty courage and his noble power. This was Luther’s power. He dared to face the emperor and to face the worldly, sensual church of his time, when from every human outlook it seemed sure that his life must pay the penalty, because he stood in the presence of God. He knew that God was with him, and that knowledge gave him a tremendous power over men. Wesley stood in the presence of God, and a man who is conscious of that presence fears no mob. Finney was a man like that, and God gave him wonderful fruits to his ministry. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)

Elijah, the model reformer

I. Elijah was, in the first place, a model of--promptness. Whatever God told him to do, he went to work at once, and did it.

II. Elijah was a model of--patience--as well as of promptness. When God wanted Elijah to work, he was, as we have seen, prompt to do whatever he was bidden to do. And when he was told to wait for the further manifestation of God’s will, he waited patiently. When the long three years’ drought came on the land, God told him to go and hide himself “by the brook Cherith,” near Jordan. He went and remained there in patience till he was ordered to leave.

III. But, in carrying on his work of reformation, Elijah was, in the third place, a model of--confidence; and we should try to follow his example in this respect.

IV. Elijah was a model of--courage. (R. Newton, D. D.)

The hero prophet

I. The principle of Divine selection. Elijah comes suddenly and unexpectedly upon the scene. What has been his previous career we cannot say, all we know about him is that he was rudely and scantily clothed, with shaggy hair, a conspicuous personality among the people. However strange it may seem that such a man should be chosen for such a work, it is nevertheless in keeping with the Divine procedure. God makes His own selection of men to meet the demands of every crisis. For every crisis in the world’s history God has taken a leader from very unlikely quarters. A German monk for a great Reformation; a Wesley for a much needed revival; Abraham Lincoln to guide our ship of state, in terrible times, amid stormy seas; and a William Taylor, “rough and ready,” to become the “flaming evangel” of “Darkest Africa.” God is always ready with a man to stand in the gap. So it was in the time when the sin of Ahab and his people had become abominable, He had in reserve a man already trained and willing to assert the sovereignty of God to that crooked and perverse nation. This chosen Tishbite, this prophet hero, recognises that he is--

II. God’s representative, hence he manifests the utmost fidelity and loyalty.

III. Providential provisions meet human exigencies. Elijah proved this fully. Delivering mercy is not only timely, but also comes through unexpected means. It was a very strange method God pursued with Elijah.

IV. No unreasonable demand upon human resources. God is merciful. God is just. He may have given us but little of this world’s good, but of that little He demands a portion. We may possess but one talent, but we must not be selfish in the use of that. He gives grace that we may use grace. We may further learn from this narrative the duty of--

V. Unquestioning obedience to God. Elijah did not speak complainingly of living alone by the side of the brook Cherith and trusting to the ravens for his food; nor did he say it was improper to go to the house of a widow and ask of her food to eat. No, he trusted in the wisdom of God and obeyed His command. (G. Adams.)

The preacher-an ambassador

We send an ambassador to England; there is a difference of opinion between our government and that of England. The ambassador is in a circle in society, but he does not take his opinions from the English people; he cares nothing what they think on national subjects; the crowd around him may be indignant against this country, but the ambassador listens not to the voice of the populace around him. He bends a listening ear for the telegraphic communication from Washington, and whatever words he hears these he utters, no matter how they may be received, no matter what the people or the Crown may think. He stands an American in the midst of English society; he thinks the thoughts and has the feelings of the government at Washington; he dares to say words, however unpleasant, to the English Crown because the power that sustains him, though it is invisible, he knows to be real. Well, now, so it is with a man, principally the true minister of Christ. (Bishop Simpson.)

Standing alone

Thank God for the many instances in which one glowing soul, all aflame with love of God, has sufficed to kindle a whole heap of dead matter, and send it leaping skyward in ruddy brightness. Alas! for the many instances in which the wet, green wood has been too strong for the little spark, and has not only obstinately resisted, but has ignominiously quenched its ineffectual fire. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)


Verses 1-7

Verses 2-7

1 Kings 17:2-7

The word of the Lord came unto him.

The word of the Lord

We have in our theme a suggestion of the Divine guidance. The word of the Lord as a guide comes to the man of prayer. I suppose Elijah was greatly disappointed at the message which came to him. He had the heart of a soldier, and he grieved at the idolatry which he saw everywhere. But it was the best thing for Elijah and for the cause. We have a case like it in the New Testament where Philip, who was a very popular preacher and was enjoying great success, was suddenly instructed by word of the Lord to leave where he was and go away into the desert, It must have been a great disappointment to Philip, a severe cross for him to bear. But Philip obeyed, and it was on that journey that the treasurer of Queen Candace came driving by, and the word of the Lord again indicated to Philip his duty. Then Philip knew why the word of the Lord had guided him as it had. So Elijah’s great soul was burning to tear down the idols of Baal and Ashtaroth; but the time was not yet ripe, and God was saving the prophet’s life and giving the bold message he had uttered time to work by guiding him away into the wilderness. God went with Elijah into the wilderness, and long afterwards he knew the wisdom of Heaven. The word of the Lord, if we are obedient to it, will work while we are hidden. No doubt Elijah, if he had used his own judgment, would have backed up the Lord’s message day after day with his own big body and his own ringing voice. But it was not the time for that. God used Elijah for His message, and he delivered it well. He acted promptly and faithfully, and with perfect courage, and then, against his own judgment, he followed the word of the Lord and went into hiding and into silence. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)

Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward.--

Beside the drying brook

I. God’s servants must learn to take one step at a time. Our Father only shows us one step at a time--and that, the next; and He bids us take it in faith. If we look up into His face, and say: “But if I take this step, which is certain to involve me in difficulty, what shall I do next?” the heavens will be dumb, save with the one repeated message, “Take it, and trust Me.” But directly God’s servant took the step to which he was led, and delivered the message, then “the word of the Lord came to him, saying, Get thee hence, hide thyself by the brook Cherith.” So it was afterwards: “Arise, get thee to Zarephath.”

II. God’s servants must be taught the value of the hidden life. “Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith” The man who is to take a high place before his fellows, must take a low place before his God; and there is no better manner of brining a man down, than by dropping him suddenly out of a sphere to which he was beginning to think himself essential, teaching him that he is not at all necessary to God’s plan; and compelling him to consider in the sequestered vale of some Cherith how mixed are his motives, and how insignificant his strength. Every saintly soul that would wield great power with men must win it in some hidden Cherith. A Carmel triumph always presupposes a Cherith; and a Cherith always leads to a Carmel. We cannot give out unless we have previously taken in. Bishop Andrewes had his Cherith, in which he spent five hours every day in prayer and devotion. John Welsh had it--who thought the day ill-spent which did not witness eight or ten hours of closet communion. David Brainerd had it in the woods of North America, which were the favourite scene of his devotions. Christmas Evans had it in his long and lonely journeys amid the hills of Wales. Fletcher of Madeley had it--who would often leave his classroom for his private Chamber, and spend hours upon his knees with his students, pleading for the fulness of the Spirit till they could kneel no longer. Or--passing back to the blessed age from which we date the centuries--Patmos, the seclusion of the Roman prisons, the Arabian desert, the hills and vales of Palestine, are for ever memorable as the Cheriths of those who have made our modern world.

III. God’s servants must learn to trust God absolutely. We yield at first a timid obedience to a command which seems to involve manifest impossibilities; but when we find that God is even better than His word, our faith groweth exceedingly, and we advance to further feats of faith and service. This is how God trains His young eaglets to fly. At last nothing is impossible. This is the key to Elijah’s experience. There is strong emphasis on the word there. “I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there.” Elijah might have preferred many hiding-places to Cherith; but that was the only place to which the ravens would bring his supplies; and, as long as he was there, God was pledged to provide for him. Our supreme thought should be: “Am I where God wants me to be?” Only trust Him!

IV. God’s servants are often called to sit by drying brooks. Cherith began to sing less cheerily. Each day marked a visible diminution of its stream. Its voice grew fainter and fainter, till its bed became a course of stones, baking in the scorching heat. It dried up. What did Elijah think? Did he think that God had forgotten him? Did he begin to make plans for himself? This would have been human; but we will hope that he waited quietly for God, quieting himself as a weaned child, as he sang, “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him.” Many of us have had to sit by drying brooks; perhaps some are sitting by them now--the drying brook of popularity, ebbing away as from John the Baptist. The drying brook of health, sinking under a creeping paralysis, or a slow consumption. Tim drying brook of money, slowly dwindling before the demands of sickness. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

God’s care of Elijah

I. God suits his workmen to their work. To the hospital He sends a nurse; to the battlefield, a soldier; to penitence and sorrow, a son of consolation; to wickedness and brutality, a son of thunder. Such was this rude, stern, volcanic Tishbite as he comes to the rescue of his country; to champion a cause that seemed lost; to stand alone against a huge and dominant iniquity; to challenge Ahab and Jezebel in the palace of their licentious pleasure, in the citadel of their idolatrous power. He came like the flash of a scimitar, uttered his appalling message, voiced the wrath of the Almighty, and was gone.

II. The prophet vanished, but the drought remained. We know little of the horror of a rainless year. Our seasons come and go, and the bounteous heaven waters the bounteous earth, until we cease to associate plenty, beauty, and life itself with the unfailing rain. But to an Oriental dwelling on the desert’s verge, where food is a precarious question of moisture, and bread a problem in irrigation, rain is life; the clouds drop fatness. A rainless sky is a heaven of brass, and an unwatered earth an earth of iron. At first there was no alarm. The farmers sowed their seed in hope, the caravans trailed toward the horizon. But the rains were late. Anxious eyes scanned the western sky, the streams became gravel beds, the wells were drained, the vineyards withered in the burning sun. The temples resounded with prayers to Baal, and great pillars of smoke rose to heaven from the altars of Ashtaroth. At last, from out the fiery furnace, Israel raised a cry of despair; and from the king in the palace to the beggar by the,wayside came one common, desperate inquiry, “Where is Elijah the Tishbite?”

III. When God undertakes to hide a man we may be sure he will be well concealed, Elijah was sent to a secluded ravine east of Samaria, through which the brook Cherith still rippled to the Jordan. There he lived, solitary but safe, an idle but not a useless prophet. When God sends a man into retirement and inactivity let him not think that he is set aside. In the Divine purpose and plan, as poor blind Milton discovered and sang--

They also serve who only stand and wait.

(M. B. Chapman.)

Elijah and the famine

I. A great national calamity. A nation without rain or dew for three years and a half! “And,” it is said in the next chapter, “there was a sore famine in Samara.” “National panics are to be regarded as steps in the demonstration of some great problem of government which Almighty God is working out for the advancement and sanctification of the world.”

II. The care of Divine Providence. The calamities which befall nations visit also the people of God who dwell in them. The tares and the wheat grow up together; and if the tares are withered for lack of moisture, the wheat suffers from the same cause. As a principle, God does not exempt His people from their share of national calamity and sorrow. But, although He permits His people to suffer in the midst of a general visitation, He never forgets or forsakes them. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.” Elijah had his part in the national distress, but the Lord remembered His servant. The modern history of God’s providence furnishes many instances of suit and service rendered to His people by the animal creation, scarcely less wonderful than the supply of Elijah by ravens. I will relate one. Far up in one of the Highland glens, lived a poor but pious woman named Jenny Maclean. One day when her food was almost exhausted, and she was intending to take a journey to get a fresh supply, a heavy snowstorm came on. Never had been seen in that locality such a constant and heavy fall, with such deep snow-drifts. When the heavens at last became clear, the whole face of the country seemed changed. It was some time before the thought suddenly occurred to a shepherd, “What has old Jenny been doing all this time?” No sooner was her name mentioned than she at once became the theme of general conversation. But for many days, such was the state of the weather, that no mortal feet could wade through the snow-wreaths, or buffet the successive storms that swept down with blinding fury from the hills. Jenny was given up as lost. At last, three men resolved, on the first day that made the attempt possible, to proceed up the long and dreary glen, and search for Jenny. They reached a rock at an angle where the glen takes a turn to the left, and where the old woman’s cottage ought to have been seen. But nothing met the eye except a smooth, white sheet of glittering snow, surmounted by black rocks; and all below was silent as the sky above. No sign of life greeted the eye or ear. The men spoke not a word, but muttered some exclamations of sorrow. Suddenly one of them cried, “She is alive! for I see smoke.” They pushed bravely on. When they reached the hut, nothing was visible except the two chimneys; and even these were lower than the snow-wreath. There was no immediate entrance but by one of the chimneys. A shepherd first called to Jenny down the chimney, and asked if she was alive; but before receiving a reply, a large fox sprang out of the chimney, and darted off to the rocks. “Alive!” replied Jenny, “but thank God you have come to see me! I cannot say come in by the door; but come down--come down.” In a few minutes her three friends easily descended by the chimney, and were shaking Jenny warmly by the hand. “O woman!” said they, “how have you lived all this time?” “Sit down, and I will tell you,” said old Jenny, whose feelings now gave way in a fit of hysterical weeping. After composing herself, she continued, “How did I live? you ask, Sandy? I may say just as I have always lived, by the power and goodness of God, who feeds the wild beasts.” “The wild beasts, indeed!” replied Sandy, drying his eyes; “did you know that a wild beast was in your house? Did you see the fox that jumped out of your chimney as we entered? My blessings on the dear beast!” said Jenny, with fervour. “May no huntsman ever kill it! and may it never want food in summer or winter!” The shepherds looked at one another by the dim light of Jenny’s fire, evidently believing that she had become slightly insane. “Stop, lads,” she continued, “till I tell you the story. I had in the house, when the storm began, the goat and two hens. Fortunately, I had fodder gathered for the goat, which kept it alive, although, poor thing, it has had but scanty meals. I had also peats for my fire, but very little meal. Yet I never lived better, and I have been able besides to preserve my two bonnie hens for summer. I every day dined on flesh meat too, a thing I have not done for years before; and thus have I lived like a lady.” “Where did you get meat from?” they asked. “From the old fox,” she replied. “The day of the storm he looked into the chimney, and came slowly down, and set himself on the rafter beside the hens, yet never once touched them. He every day provided for himself and me too. He brought in game in abundance for his own dinner--a hare almost every day--and what he left I got, and washed, and cooked, and ate, and so I have never wanted. Now that he is gone, you have come to relieve me.” “God’s ways are past finding out!” said the men, bowing down their heads with reverence. “Praise the Lord!” said Jenny, “Who giveth food to the hungry.” This incident was related by an old clergyman who attended Jenny’s funeral. How much like the supply of Elijah by the brook Cherith! Why are we surprised almost to scepticism at such facts?

III. The exercise of human sympathy. It came to pass, after a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land. The continued drought and heat of the sun gradually lessened the stream; it dried to a narrow thread; then that narrow thread dwindled and disappeared, and Elijah was left by the brook, with no prospect before him but to perish, unless the Lord interposed to save him. The Lord did interpose; and mark how--“The word of the Lord came unto him, saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath.”

IV. The reward of cheerful generosity. Elijah found the widow gathering sticks to dress her last handful of meal for herself and son, that they might eat it and die. Elijah said unto her, “Fear not.” The word of the Lord comes to us with a promise similar in principle. “The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth shall be watered himself.” That is God’s principle of recompense still. “He that hath pity on the poor lendeth to the Lord, and that which he hath given will He pay him again.” If that is true, if the Word of the Lord is to be relied on, then no man is the poorer for what he gives to the poor. Lending to the Lord, the Lord becomes his creditor: and surely He may be trusted with our deposits. As good Matthew Henry says, “What is laid out in charity or pity, is lent out on the best interest, upon the best security.” (J. H. Wood.)

Elijah at Cherith

I. Men must be prepared to accept the consequences of their obedience to God. We do not always see such consequences, and when they come upon us they very often find us unprepared to meet them. Obedience to God often exposes men to hatred, scorn, ridicule, opposition, inconvenience, loss of trade, loss of liberty, and even life itself. But when we chose God’s service we chose these consequences, and when they come they should not deter us from our duty. Daniel, when he knew that the law was passed, condemning to the lions’ den any who should pray except to the king for thirty days, went into his chamber and prayed as aforetime. Peter and John determined to obey God rather than man, notwithstanding the threat of stripes and imprisonment.

II. That God makes provision for the exigencies into which obedience to the Divine commands may bring His servants. He imposes no task but He provides strength for its accomplishment. Whatever may be the consequences of their obedience, He will not leave His servants to meet them alone.

III. This provision is frequently not made known to the obedient until their need is pressing. When the drought comes upon the land, God will not forsake His people; but His voice shall be heard directing them to Cherith, where their need shall be amply provided for. (The Study and the Pulpit.)

Elijah at Cherith

I. The uncertainty of earthly comforts. When Elijah went to Cherith under the direction of God, he would never dream of that brook becoming exhausted. What a picture of human life this is! How many there are of whose worldly comforts it may be said: “After a while the brook dried up.” One man is settled in life, with circumstances all that could be desired, and he contemplates the future with pleasure; but, unexpectedly something arises--bank failure, or commercial crisis--which tells him that the brook is dried up, and he has to leave his Cherith. Another looks with pride and hope upon a child--his pleasure and joy flow from that child--but, unnoticed, disease settles upon it and takes it away. After a while the brook dried up. And so with earthly comforts. They are uncertain, and do not warrant the eagerness with which they are sought or the value with which they are invested.

II. The certainty of God’s care. Though the water of the brook failed, God’s care was not exhausted. He had made provision for Elijah at Zarephath before He commanded him to leave Cherith. Decay and change may characterise all our earthly comforts, but they do not characterise God; He remains the same, and His care can never fail.

III. Godly generosity shall not lose its reward. Whosoever even giveth a cup of cold water to a disciple, in the name of a disciple, shall not lose his reward. (The Study and the Pulpit.)

It was the water that failed, not the ravens

. It was the natural, not the supernatural, provision that came to an end. That for which the prophet looked upward morning and evening continued steadily. That which had been flowing at his feet all day long began suddenly to diminish. When a trouble comes straight from heaven we are more likely to see God’s hand in it, and to submit patiently and trustfully. When, however, the trouble seems to come quite naturally, we are tempted to look at secondary causes, and to forget that God is behind them all (F. S. Webster, M. A.)


Verse 6

1 Kings 17:6

And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning.

Elijah led by ravens

I. A morally great man in great physical need. Elijah was a morally great man. Worldly greatness is but tinselled paper. He only is great who is great in thoughts and noble purposes. Elijah was such: a greater could not be found. Yet he was reduced to the greatest need.

II. The God of nature ministering to a lonely man. The Infinite Father knew His servant’s destitution, sympathised with it, and sent relief to him morning and evening by the ravens. Observe,

1. God makes the humblest things in nature serve His people.

2. God supplies His people as their wants return. (Homilist.)

Elijah fed by ravens

I. Irrational creatures divinely directed. All creatures, from the lowest up to the greatest, are under the Divine rule. Generally they are ruled by their own instincts. Here is an exception.

II. Lower creatures engaged in the service of man.

III. God’s attention to the affairs of the individual.

IV. Help coming from unlikely sources. (Homilist.)

The battle for bread

There is an incident in my text that baffles all the ornithological wonders of the world. The grain crop had been cut off. Famine was in the land. In a cave by the brook Cherith sat a minister of God, Elijah, waiting for something to eat. Why did he not go to the neighbours? There were no neighbours, it was a wilderness. Why did he not pick some of the berries? There were none. If there had been, they would have been dried up. Seated one morning at the mouth of his cave, the prophet looks into the dry and pitiless heavens, and he sees a flock of birds approaching.

1. Notice, in the first place, in the story of my text, that these winged creatures came to Elijah directly from God. “I have commanded the ravens that they feed thee.” They did not come out of some other cave. They did not just happen to alight there. God freighted them, God launched them, and God told them by what cave to swoop. That is the same God that is going to supply you. He is your Father. You would have to make an elaborate calculation before you could tell me how many pounds of food and how many yards of clothing would be necessary for you and your family; but God knows without any calculation. You have a plate at His table, and you are going to be waited on, unless you act like a naughty child, and kick, and scramble, and pound saucily the plate, and try to upset things. God has a vast family, and everything is methodised, and you are going to be served, if you will only wait your turn.

2. Notice, again, in this story, that the ravens did not allow Elijah to hoard up a surplus. They did not bring enough on Monday to last all the week. They did not bring enough one morning to last until the next morning. They came twice a day, and brought just enough for one time. You know as well as I that the great fret of the world is that we want a surplus--we want the ravens to bring enough for fifty years. You have more confidence in the Long Island Bank than you have in the royal bank of heaven. You say: “All that is very poetic, but you may have the black ravens--give me the gold eagles.” We had better be content with just enough. If, in the morning, your family eat up all the food there is in the house, do not sit down, and cry, and say: “I don’t know where the next meal is coming from.” About five, or six, or seven o’clock in the evening just look up, and you wilt see two black spots on the sky, and you will hear the flapping of wings, and, instead of Edgar A. Poe’s insane raven, “alighting on the chamber-door, only this, and nothing more,” you will find Elijah’s two ravens, or the two ravens of the Lord, the one bringing bread and the other bringing meat--plumed butcher and baker. God is infinite in resource. When the city of Rochelle was besieged, and the inhabitants were dying of the famine, the tides washed up on the beach as never before, and as never since, enough shell-fish to feed the whole city. God is good. There is no mistake about that. History tell us that, in 1555, in England, there was a great drought. The crops failed, but in Essex, on the rocks, in a place where they had neither sown nor cultured, a great crop of peas grew, until they filled a hundred measures; and there were blossoming vines enough promising as much more.

3. Again, this story of the text impresses me that relief came to this prophet with the most unexpected, and with seemingly impossible conveyance. If it had been a robin redbreast, or a musical meadow lark, or a meek turtle-dove, or a sublime albatross that had brought the food to Elijah, it would not have been so surprising. But no. It was a bird so fierce and inauspicate that we have fashioned one of our most forceful and repulsive words out of it--ravenous. That bird has a passion for picking out the eyes of men and animals. It loves to maul the sick and the dying. It swallows, with vulturous guggle, everything it can put its beak on; and yet all the food Elijah gets for six months or a year, is from the ravens. So your supply is going to come from an unexpected source. You think some great-hearted, generous man will come along and give you his name on the back of your note, or he will go security for you in some great enterprise. No, he will not. God will open the heart of some Shylock toward you. Your relief will come from the most unexpected quarter. The providence that seemed ominous will be to you more than that which seemed auspicious. It will not be a chaffinch with breast and wing dashed with white, and brown, and chestnut, it will be a black raven. Children of God, get up out of your despondency. The Lord never had so many ravens as He has this morning. Fling your fret and worry to the winds. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)


Verse 7

Verse 9

1 Kings 17:9

Arise, get thee to Zarephath.

Ordered to Zarephath

A friend of mine, spending a few days in the neighbourhood of our English lakes, came upon the most beautiful shrubs he had ever seen. Arrested by their extraordinary luxuriance, he inquired the cause; and learnt that it was due to a judicious system of transplanting, constantly pursued. Whatever may be the effect of such a process In nature, it is certainly true that our heavenly Father employs similar methods to secure the highest results in us. He is constantly transplanting us. And though these changes threaten at times to hinder all steady progress in the Divine life, yet, if they are rightly borne, they result in the most exquisite manifestations of Christian character and experience. Another illustration of the same truth is given by the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 48:11). The quiet life is by no means the greatest life. Some characters can only reach the highest standard of spirituality by the disturbings or displacings in the order of God’s providence. Will not this cast light upon God’s dealings with Elijah? Once he stood in the vessel, “Home”; then emptied into the vessel, “Jezreel”; then into the vessel, “Cherith”; and now into the fourth vessel, “Zarephath”: and all that he might not settle upon his lees. Believe only that your circumstances are those most suited to develop your character. To one who lives ever in the presence of the unchanging God, and who can say, “Thus saith Jehovah, before whom I stand,” the ever-varying conditions of our lot touch only the outer rim of life; whatever they take away, they cannot take away that; whatever they bring, they cannot give more than that. The consciousness of that Presence is the one all-mastering thought; the inspiration, the solace, the comfort, of every waking hour.

I. Faith awaits God’s plans. “It came to pass, after a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land.” Week after week, with unfaltering and steadfast spirit, Elijah watched that dwindling brook; often tempted to stagger through unbelief, but refusing to allow his circumstances to come between himself and God. Unbelief sees God through circumstances, as we sometimes see the sun shorn of his rays through the smoky air; but faith puts God between itself and circumstances, and looks at them through Him. Only then, to his patient and unwavering spirit, “the word of the Lord came, saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath.” Most of us would have got anxious and worn with planning long before that. We should have ceased our songs, as soon as the streamlet carolled less musically over its rocky bed. And, probably, long ere the brook was dry, we should have devised some plan, and asking God’s blessing on it, would have started off elsewhere. Alas! we are all too full of our own schemes, and plans, and contrivings. “Lord, show me Thy way; teach me to do Thy will: show me the way wherein I should walk, for unto Thee do I lift up my soul.”

II. God’s plans demand implicit obedience. “So he arose and went to Zarephath,” as before he had gone to Cherith, and as presently he would go to show himself to Ahab. We catch sight of God’s ideal; we are enamoured with it; we vow to be only His; we use the most emphatic words; we dedicate ourselves upon the altar. For awhile we seem to tread another world, bathed in heavenly light. Then there comes a command clear and unmistakable. We must leave some beloved Cherith, and go to some unwelcome Zarephath; we must speak some word, take some step, cut off some habit: and we shrink from it--the cost is too great. But, directly we refuse obedience, the light dies off the landscape of our lives, and dark clouds fling their shadows far and near. Search the Bible from board to board, and see if strict, implicit, and instant obedience has not been the secret of the noblest lives.

III. Implicit obedience sometimes brings us into a smelting-furnace. “Zarephath” means a smelting-furnace. It lay outside the Land of Canaan, occupying the site of the modern Surafend, which stands on a long ridge, backed by the snowclad steeps of Hermon, and overlooking the blue waters of the Mediterranean. Many things might have made it distasteful to the prophet. It belonged to the land from which Jezebel had brought her impious tribe. It was as much cursed by the terrible drought as Canaan. It was impossible to reach it save by a weary journey of 100 miles through the heart of the land, where his name was execrated, and his person proscribed. And then to be sustained by a widow woman belonging to a heathen people! Surely it was a smelting-furnace for cleansing out any alloy of pride, or self-reliance, or independence which might be lurking in the recesses of his heart. And there was much of the refining fire in the character of his reception. When he reached the straggling town it was probably toward nightfall; and at the city gate a widow woman was gathering a few sticks to prepare the evening meal. To some it might have seemed a coincidence; but there is no such word in faith’s vocabulary--that which, to human judgment Is a coincidence, to faith is a Providence. “Everything that may abide the fire, ye shall make it go through the fire, and it shall be clean” (Numbers 31:23). If, then, there is aught in you that can bear the ordeal, be sure you will be put into the furnace. But the fire shall not destroy; it shall only cleanse you.

IV. When God puts His people into the furnace, He will supply all their need. God had said that he should be fed, and by that widow; and so it should be, though the earth and heaven should pass away. Difficulties are to faith what gymnastic apparatus are to boys, means of strengthening the muscular fibre. Like the fabled salamander, faith feeds on fire. And so with heroic faith Elijah said: “Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: for thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth.” Our only need is to inquire if we are at that point in God’s pattern where He would have us be. If we are, though it seem impossible for us to be maintained, the thing impossible shall be done. (F. B. Meyer, M. A.)

I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee.--

The widow of Zarephath

1. This woman was a Phoenician, of Jezebel’s own race and country, and by birth and training a believer in those very idolatries which the bloody Queen was then establishing in Palestine, and against which it was the chief part of the prophet’s burden to witness. From earliest days she had adored her gods. Doubtless the gorgeous ritual of Baal-worship had impressed and awed her senses, and under the terror of Astarte, the lover of blood, she had lived and cowered. Yet it is in her home that the persecuted Preacher of Jehovah finds refuge and welcome! And it is to her home that, in turn, he brings blessing. The Prophet of the Separation is also the Apostle of the Reconciliation. The essential germ of ultimate universality, that was in the Church from the beginning, bursts forth even in him who is the vindicator of her Dispensational exclusiveness. What a world of suggestion lies in the picture of Hebrew Prophet and Phoenician widow, Jehovah’s champion and Jezebel’s countrywoman, under the same roof, sharing the same meal, in friendship and fellowship! The sternest anti-idolater of history by the side of an idolater, blessed and blessing! It is a forecast and prophecy, amid the world’s enmities and hates, of the reconciliation of the future to be wrought out by a greater than Elijah.

2. We have here, too, an illustration of the part which, in the economy of God, suffering plays in the education and perfection of men. The presence of common woe or want, of common peril or pain, has been to multitudes as the very angel of God, conciliating feuds, softening asperities, enlightening prejudices, cementing sundered souls, and forming those sympathetic attachments which give warmth to character and sweetness to life. These two in that marrow house at Zarephath, dwelling in harmony under the pressure of a common straitening, represent in themselves the emollient and healthful influence of suffering in softening and sweetening souls. They illustrate the part which the “Divine economy of pain” plays in purifying from prejudice, in bridging over the chasms of alienations and the gulches of hate. Dearth, drought, and the wrath of evil men drove these two to their meeting, a meeting for the gain of both, and of us too, and of all who have come between.

3. In this widow we have also a beautiful example of that faith that pleases God and is blessing to the soul in which it abides. I dare say there are some who may so unworthily judge about the matter as to think that she somewhat superstitiously concluded that this stranger was a miracle-worker, or that he was a God-possessed man, and that her “faith” was simply the credulity that led her to that conclusion. But I hope such persons are few. Lot us not draw that sharp line between faith and faithfulness which such a way of thinking implies. The two are not, indeed, as some would seem to say, the same thing. There is a difference; but it is such a difference as that which exists between bud and flower, flower and fruit, or fountain and flow. Faithfulness is that which impels a man to walk in the way of duty or charity, no matter how hard it may be, and to bear the consequences, be they what they may. Faith makes him do all that, but it adds its own element too. Her faithfulness would have made her do her duty: her faith made the doing of it to be religious. In this spirit and confidence she received her guest, followed her purest instincts--the dictates of her womanly affections--into the ways of self-forgetful charity, and looking up to the giving God overhead, left issues to Him. I do not say she thought or reasoned about it any more than a child would be likely to think or reason about the laws of respiration before breathing, or a flower to speculate scientifically before giving out its aroma. She herself was good, and kind, and self-denying, and she lovingly did her duty so as, according to her light, to please the power of the skies. A very commonplace village woman, in a lowly rut of life, tenderly doing the duty that lay next to her hand; and, within, a trustful heart, and an eye to look up.

4. But the point to which, just now, I must give the chief and closing emphasis is that she was a heathen. “But of a truth I say unto you, There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, and unto none of them was Elijah sent, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Zidon, unto a woman that was a widow.” The point to which he here calls attention, and which was so distasteful to the Jews, is that the prophet was not sent to any of those within the circle of the visible Church, but to one living outside, in the darkness of a heathen land. And in her, the child of disprivilege, he found that faith which he found not among the children of privilege. (G. M. Grant, B. D.)

The widow of Zarephath

I. Faith in the promises of God.

II. Obedience. Elijah obeys God at the risk of his own life. The widow obeys when requested by the prophet to bring him first a little water, and then a little cake. As disobedience led to the ruin of our first parents, so is it ever still the cause of endless difficulties and dangers in our spiritual course.

III. That God’s demands often increase gradually in their stringency. The prophet asks the widow first for a little water, and afterwards, as if water was not sufficiently difficult to be obtained in such a time of drought, he further requests a little cake, when only a small store of meal and oil was left to the poor widow. So God demands often the lighter sacrifices from us first, and then, as our faith and our patience increase, He afterwards asks from us sacrifices of a higher character; until at length, when, by a course of afflictions He has weaned us from earthly attachments, He exclaims, “My son, give Me thy heart.”

IV. That the darkest hour often precedes the dawn. It was when the widow woman was about to resign herself to despair, and to despondently await death, that the prophet appeared with the promise of prolonged support for life. The darkest cloud frequently has a silver lining. “Never despair,” is a good motto, and is a still better one if coupled with another maxim, “Put your trust in God.”

V. That God is no respecter of persons. This moral our Lord Himself draws from the story of this widow of Zarephath, or Sarepta. The lesson that to the Gentiles also the mercies of God were to be shown, was one that the prejudiced and self-righteous Jews were loath to admit. In the same way the modern Pharisee is disinclined to allow that salvation is possible for those who are outside his own little coterie of professors. (R. Young, M. A.)

Lessons from the obedient widow

I. The personalness of the Divine providence. It is always toward a Providential personalness that the Bible reads, e.g. Joseph in his dungeon; Daniel in Babylon; Saul in the house of Judas in the street called Straight--how beautiful that is, God knew the street and number of the praying Saul who became Paul; Elijah at Cherith; this widow at Zeraphath. In hard times get vision of this fact and lean your heart against the solid truth of the personalness of Providence.

II. What seem to be often our worst trials, are really our best blessings. What could seem worse to this widow than the advent of Elijah demanding that she make him the little cake? But what seemed worst embosomed what was best--the unwasting meal, the unfailing oil. Do not let us be overmuch scared at black trials; they may hold the best benignancies.

III. How small soever our resources, we can still do something for God.

IV. The value of sharing. “This woman gave one meal to the prophet and God sustained her for two years.” It is as we give we get. This is specially true in religious experience. If we seek to impart the blessedness of our own faith we infallibly get increase of faith.”

V. God first. Elijah, representing God, commanded, Make me a little cake first. Ah, that first I Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” (W. Hoyt, D. D.)

Gracious people outside the church

Nature has her wild flowers, and they have their own loose lawless beauty. Yet the finest effects in form, colour, and fragrance are only to be found under careful cultivation. Wild roses are no argument against the value of gardening; for even cultivated flowers, if left to themselves, will revert little by little to their wild, rude state. And so outside the church of Jesus Christ there are good and noble, end in some senses morally winsome souls: and yet it is true that, for the full cultivation of Christian character, we need the garden of the Lord, Christ Jesus, by His Spirit being the Chief Gardener. Even the wild flowers, in whatever measure they possess beauty and perfume, get it, from His secret influence, though they know it not. In the realm of spirit it is as true as in nature and history, “He upholdeth all things by the word of His power.” (H. O. Mackey.)


Verse 13

1 Kings 17:13

Make me thereof a little cake first.

Faith tested

First, take the narrative in its literal sense; then, examine the truths which are suggested by it; and finally, note its mystical import.

I. Literal sense.

1. Here is a test of faith: “Make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son.” It was a sharp test. Famine brings out selfishness in hideous shapes (2 Kings 6:28-29). To be asked to give to a stranger a little cake from the “handful of meal” that was left, before she met the cravings of hunger in herself and her son, must have been a searching demand.

2. A woman, too, of Zidon, like the woman in the Gospel, when Jesus came into those coasts; a woman without the privileges of the covenant of Israel and the opportunities of God’s people; a flower in the common hedge, not in the hothouse, but yet a flower--able to respond to the claim of God through His prophet--“Make me a little cake first”; for “he that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37).

3. It was more than a test of faith; it was a test of trust. This is something more. The prophet’s demand appealed to the will, and not merely to the assent of the understanding. She had to make a sacrifice; it was a trifle in itself--“a little cake”; but when people are starving it was not a trifle; and she had to trust to a promise, from the standpoint of human calculation, least likely to be fulfilled.

4. “She went and did according to the saying of the prophet” (1 Kings 17:15).

II. The truths which the prophet’s demand suggests.

1. God to be served first. God must be loved--to use the language of divinity--“with a love of preference.” As a king, St. Chrysostom says, should be served as a king, so God should be loved as God, that is to say, “preferably to all creatures.” In the same way, the claims of God and His service must stand first. The demand, “Make me thereof a little cake first,” is like that which our Lord gave on the mount, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” It is the law of the first-fruits.

2. God’s commands are to be taken upon trust. His positive commands test not only our obedience, but our confidence in Him. Moral commands are echoed from within, so that not to obey them “is not folly alone, but also impiety” (St. Augustine); but commands of which we do not see the reason, yet which must be obeyed as simply coming from God, are touchstones of trust in Him.

3. How little, after all, God requires of us! “Make Me a little cake.” He gave our first parents licence to eat of every tree in the garden save one--just an acknowledgment of His Sovereignty. He turns the water into wine; we have only to fill the water-pots. His commandments are “not grievous” (1 John 5:3), but we may have made obedience difficult through having abused our powers. God asks little, but makes a large return (Matthew 25:23). “The barrel of meal did not waste,” etc.

III. Its mystical import. When Aristotle in logic, and Plato in philosophy, ruled the day (twelfth century), “Hugo and Richard de St. Victor were the great mystics of the period (Milman), and it is from the former of these I transcribe the mystical interpretation of the subject in hand. The widow of Zarephath represents the holy Church--a widow--waiting for the advent of the Saviour. Elijah came to the woman, when Christ, through the mystery of the Incarnation, came to the Church. The woman was gathering “two sticks”; for the holy Church received the faith of the Cross. The “handful of meal” is said to signify the imperfection of Divine knowledge at the time when Christ came; and the “little oil in a cruse,” the scarcity of grace. But Elijah multiplied both, because Christ, “full of grace and truth,” imparted both to mankind. The woman sustained Elijah; for the faith and holy works of the Church refresh the Lord: “I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20).

IV. Lessons.

1. The leading lesson throughout is one of trust. “Fear not.” The woman of Zarephath affords a striking instance of obedience and submission, not only of the will, but of the judgment.

2. To remember that God should have the first claim upon us and upon our substance, which increases through parting with it, as did the five loaves as they were distributed to others by the disciples’ hands.

3. It is a great mistake to suppose that only the rich should give into the treasury of God. The poor widow’s “two mites” were more to Christ than the large gifts of the rich, because it was her all. (The Thinker.)


Verse 15

1 Kings 17:15

She went and did according to the saying of Elijah.

Modern liberality, and the widow of Zarephath

I. The treatment he received was verily the manifestation of the woman’s mind towards god himself. Were it otherwise, it would be hard to point out anything in which we could be pronounced as doing it for, or contrary to the will of Almighty God. He has Himself, however, placed this matter beyond all dispute, for He has said, “He that giveth to the poor leadeth to the Lord”; and Christ represents the judgment scene in telling you that He will welcome His people with the assurance, “Inasmuch as ye did a deed of charity unto one of these My brethren, ye did it unto Me.”

II. This gift is to be no act of necessity, but one of pure oblation To grudge while you give, or to give because the necessity of fashion, or custom, or demand is laid upon you, is to spoil the gift altogether. That is but half a gift which is not brought freely home. It is one thing to give of our substance in obedience to a reiterated request; it is another thing to bring it unto God freely and with delight.

III. Observe what it is which God demands? Satan, the world, or vanities, let these obtain your service, and you are speedily enhanced in their thraldom, and all is sure to be at length drawn into and swallowed in their insatiable vortex. You cannot, even if you would try deliberately to make the compromise, arrange for the bestowment of a certain portion of your means, or time or thought, upon unhallowed pursuits. All absorbing is the power of sin. The energies of body and mind insensibly flow into its channel, and the votary becomes the slave, and ultimately the ruined victim. But what is His demand of you, whose service is perfect freedom? Not so much as He has a right to demand; far less than many, moved by His grace, are willing to bestow. Sin, which absorbs all if it can, is but a robber at the best, for it can lay claim to no sort of right whatever, while God, who has a right to all, demands but little. What I do here claim, however, is, that though the requirements of God be comparatively small, they are, nevertheless, universal.

IV. No act for God is performed without his favour, and the “blessing of the Lord it maketh rich, and He addeth no sorrow with it.” (G. Venables.)


Verse 16

1 Kings 17:16

The barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail.

The inexhaustible barrel

In the midst of wrath God remembers mercy. Divine love is rendered conspicuous when it shines in the midst of judgments. Fair is that lone star which smiles through the rifts of the thunder-clouds; bright is the oasis which blooms in the wilderness of sand; so fair and so bright is love in the midst of wrath.

I. The objects of Divine love.

1. How sovereign was the choice. Our Saviour Himself teaches us when He says, “I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land. But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Zidon, unto a woman that was a widow.” Here was Divine sovereignty.

2. What undeservingness there was in the person! She was no Hannah. I read not that she had smitten the Lord’s enemies, like Jael, or had forsaken the gods of her country, like Ruth. She was no more notable than any other heathen. Her idolatry was as vile as theirs, and her mind as foolish and vain as that of the rest of her countrymen. Ah, and in the objects too, of God’s love, there is nothing whatever that can move His heart to love them; nothing of merit, nothing which could move Him to select them.

3. Her condition was miserable too, in the very last degree. She had not only to suffer the famine which had fallen upon all her neighbours, but her husband was taken from her. Ah, this is just where sovereign grace finds us all--in the depth of poverty and misery. I do not mean, of course, temporal poverty, but I mean spiritual distress. So long as we have a full barrel of our own merits, God will have nothing to do with us. So long as the cruse of oil is full to overflowing, we shall never taste the mercy of God. For God will not fill us until we are emptied of self.

II. The grace of God in its dealings.

1. The love of God towards this woman in its dealings was of the most singular character.

2. The dealings of love with this poor woman were not only singular, but exceedingly trying. The first thing she hears is a trial: Give away some of that water which thy son and thyself so much require! Give away a portion of that last little cake which ye intended to eat and die! Nay, all through the piece it was a matter of trial, for there never was more in the barrel than there was at the first.

III. The faithfulness of divine love. “The barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of off fail, according to the word of the Lord, which He spake by Elijah.” You will observe that this woman had daily necessities. She had three mouths to feed; she had herself, her son, and the prophet Elijah. But though the need was threefold, yet the supply of meal wasted not. You have daily necessities. Because they come so frequently--because your trials are so many, your troubles so innumerable, you are apt to conceive that the barrel of meal will one day be empty, and the cruse of off will fail you. But rest assured that according to the word of God this shall not be the case. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The miracle is Zarephath

God’s blessings, whether of oil, or corn, or sense, or grace, come to us in accordance with three laws, and of these laws this miracle in Zarephath is a signal illustration.

I. The law of economy. The little which we have must not be wasted. The smallest capacity must be utilised. The most rudimentary gift must be employed. Out of the inventory of to-day comes the more of tomorrow. God works no superfluous miracles. He wastes no energy in mere spectacular display. In his administration everything is generous, nothing is wasteful; everything is orderly, nothing is paroxysmal; everything by law, nothing by caprice.

II. The law of continuity. There is no spontaneous generation in the chemistries of nature, character, or grace. The new comes out of the old; oil comes out of oil; meal comes out of meal; this year’s harvest comes out of last year’s corn crib; the perfect truth comes out of the partial truth; the extraordinary is only the ordinary carried up and completed. The supernatural is simply the natural touched with life, quickened with God. What we receive is the increase of what we have. What we may be is the outgrowth of what we are. Every future leaps out of the loins of some past.

III. The law of increase. Get a little meal underneath God’s blessing, in the drift of His purpose, and it means more meal. “St. Theresa and two sons are nothing; St. Theresa, two sons, and God are everything.” If we bring our weak faith to Him He will increase it. If we bring our torpid hearts to Him He will make them beat and burn. (M. B. Chapman.)

The barrel of meal and the cruse of oil

This miracle illustrates--

I. A principle in connection with economy. The greatest generosity would often be to teach economy. The economy of nature is as startling as uniform. The gas flung off by the vegetable world--do you think it is wasted? It becomes a source of your health and life! And the gas that you exhale in breathing is not wasted; it becomes food for the trees, and that carbon. Whence is the rain that refreshes the face of the earth? It is the result of economy, of God’s treasuring up the water, absorbed by the sun. Of all the refuse of this earth that the rivers bear into the ocean, there is nothing wasted. Out of it God is making the bones of fishes, coral reefs, etc. And if the principle on which the Deity is managing the great palace of nature were taken into the homes of destitution that abound, there might be less drunkenness, etc., but there would oftener be “the barrel of meal and the cruse of oil.”

II. A principle in connection with providence.

III. A principle in connection with piety. “Man liveth not by bread alone,” etc. We never starve in spiritual life for lack of help.

IV. A principle in connection with generosity, This woman gave and got. But let us remember that she gave unselfishly, and not in order to get. Moreover, she gave to her utmost. She gave to a prophet, in the name of a prophet, and she received a prophet s reward. The reward is not always a material one; it is sometimes sympathy, sometimes the benediction of poverty, and always the smile of the soul and God. (H. J. Martyn.)

The cruse that never jails

I wish to spiritualise this incident, with its barrel of unwasting meal and its cruse of unfailing oil, and see it in a type of that unfailing happiness and peace and comfort for which men are for ever seeking. We are all too well aware, though we are constantly deceiving ourselves about it, constantly trying to hide it from our eyes, that the ordinary stores of life’s joy do waste and fail.

1. One of our first sources of joy and comfort is youth.

2. Health is one of life’s great fountains of comfort and happiness. Our health is a barrel of meal and a cruse of oil constantly being used up. Most of us are already taking medicine to keep the worn machine sufficiently in order so that we can make it work awhile longer.

3. Closely allied to health is strength, though many men and women carry burdens through long lives on shoulders grown strong through tribulations, never knowing what it is to have health. Many people exult in their strength; many get happiness out of it; the mere ability to do things is a great blessing from God; but that, too, is a failing cruse. After awhile we come to know that there is only about so much force, about so much strength and vitality, in a human being, and that if men or women use their strength in one way it means they cannot use it in some other way.

4. This is true of all the joys and comforts that we get from earthly fortune.

5. Then there is that great source of earthly comfort and confidence, the joy which comes from the fellowship and kindness of our relatives and friends. And now I gladly turn away from this side of our study to contemplate with infinite thanksgiving to God the cruse of oil that never fails. There is a life which Jesus came to give us which is not affected with the passing of youth, with the breaking down of our health, with the failure of our strength, or with the frail character of our fortunes--a life that may grow more abundant under them all and may never be more full of the vigour and enthusiasm of youth than when it faces the king of terrors; a life that does not fail though one is thrown into a dungeon with John Bunyan, or cast into the inner prison with Paul and Silas, or exiled among the heathen with David Livingstone; a life that can do without money, or health, or youth, or friends, and still remain sweet and patient and glad and loving and brave. If you to-night will take God’s promise, with the same simplicity of faith shown by this poor woman towards the promise given through the lips of Elijah, you, too, shall save yourself alive unto eternal life. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)

The widow’s barrel of meal

Nothing is more wonderful in the orderings of God’s Providence than the economy of human supply, the marvellous adjustment of contingency and constancy, of precarious means and uniform provision. We often speak and feel as if the great marvels of God’s Providence were its signal interpositions, its great deliverances or hair-breadth escapes occurring once or twice during a lifetime, deliverance from a fire in which others have perished, from a railway accident or shipwreck in which others have lost their lives. But, rightly viewed, the true marvel of God’s Providence is its minuteness, its adjustment of little things, its constant maintenance of the myriad laws and causes upon which daily life depends, that pulse should follow pulse, that breath should succeed breath, that day after day and year after year all the mysterious functions of life should go on, and all the mysterious conditions of life be maintained--the chemistry of the atmosphere, the balance of forces, the supply of food, all the wonderful things of life within us and without us, by which every hour and every moment we live and move and have our being. It is a miracle in all ways, a miracle of power and wisdom, and a miracle of goodness, that God’s loving arm should never for a moment be withdrawn, His eye never for a moment be averted, His supplies never for a moment fail. It needs not a miracle to demonstrate God’s mercy. And the peculiarity of God’s Providence is that a general uniformity is blended with circumstantial uncertainty. The great law is invariable--seed-time and harvest, summer and winter, day and night do not fail; and yet how precarious and changeful the sunshine and shower, the labour and the fructifying influences upon which they depend! How anxiously the farmer sows and cultures l how easily his hope is frustrated! He knows not which shall prosper, this or that. The uniform law has a margin of contingent circumstance about it, in which much depends upon human effort and upon Divine blessing. It seems in each individual instance as if there were no certain law at all. And for moral purposes, for the education and discipline of men this is an arrangement of wonderful wisdom. If our wants were supplied by some mechanical law, there would be no religious culture, no religious appeal; the daily and hourly play of religious feeling Would be lost. We all know how rapidly uniformity produces Indifference, even though it be uniformity of blessing; even the most marvellous goodness ceases to impress us if it be invariable! If our food were to be supplied by what we call miracle, it would surprise and affect us at first, but if of regular occurrence we should soon cease to feel either surprise or gratitude. The manna of the wilderness which excited such wonder at first soon became as familiar as drops of rain. One great reason therefore why God diversifies the experience of our lives is that by constant excitement he may keep alive our sense of dependence upon Him. Every man’s experience attests the healthful influence of this diversity of things. How near to God it keeps us; how it enhances our sense of blessings!

1. How entirely dependent upon God we are for the common and necessary things of our life! And yet there is nothing that we are more prone practically to forget. Too often we become conscious of it only when they are withdrawn.

2. Another lesson is, Into how small a compass the real necessities of life may be reduced. Were we to take an inventory of this poor widow’s effects, how short and meagre it would be! A little meal in a barrel, and that perhaps not very fine meal, and a little off in a cruse. Were we to look round her cottage, we should find no superfluities in it. No doubt her little furniture had been all parted with, ere her last despairing resolution was taken. If the barrel and the cruse were not the whole of her effects, yet from them we may safely infer the rest. It is but an illustration of the process that every day goes on in many an English home: the deportation of goods to the pawnbroker’s, sometimes superfluities, sometimes precious objects of loving associations, sometimes the very necessities of life, the bed upon which children sleep, the clothes that should cover their nakedness, or keep them from the cold; sometimes these sad shifts are the result of thriftless extravagance, or of sensual indulgence, but too often they are the sad necessity of poverty, and those accustomed to comforts are glad to hold body and soul together by the commonest and scantiest food.

3. Again: how easily God can supply us with what is necessary for us! What innumerable agencies are at His disposal! If ordinary channels fail, how easy for Him to employ extraordinary ones! One way is as easy to Him as another, only it is not so common. Elijah was supplied by the ravens as easily and as surely as when the corn waved in the fields. And then, again, when he was an apparent pensioner upon the poor widow’s charity. Here were three different methods in which God supplied His servant’s need--the one as much His method, and as easy to Him, as the other. “He opens His hand, and satisfies the desire of every living thing.” (H. Allon.)


Verses 17-24

1 Kings 17:17-24

And it came to pass after these things.

The test of the home-life

Many a man might bear himself as a hero and saint in the solitudes of Cherith, or on the heights of Carmel, and yet wretchedly fail in the home-life of Zarephath. It is one thing to commune with God in the solitudes of nature, and to perform splendid acts of devotion and zeal for Him in the presence of thousands; but it is quite another to walk with Him day by day in the midst of a home, with its many calls for the constant forgetfulness of self. And yet it would be idle to deny that there is much to try and test us just where the flowers bloom, and the voices of hate and passion die away in distant murmurs. There is a constant need for the exercise of gentleness, patience, self-sacrifice, self-restraint. And beneath the test of home, with its incessant duties and demands, many men break down, whose character seems, like some Alpine peak, to shoot up far beyond the average of those with whom they associate in the busy world. Thy home-life was chosen for thee by the unerring skill of One who knows thee better than thou knowest thyself, and who could not mistake. It has been selected as the best school of grace for thee. And now, looking down upon thee, the Master says: “There is nothing in thy life that may not be lived in Me, for Me, through Me: and I am willing to enable thee to be sweet and noble and saint-like in it all.” Elijah was the same man in the widow’s house as on Carmel’s heights. He is like one of those mountains to which we have referred, piercing the heavens with unscaleable heights; but clothed about the lower parts with woodlands, and verdant fields, and smiling bowers, where bees gather honey, and children play. He shows that when a man is full of the Holy Ghost, it will be evidenced by the entire tenor of his daily walk and conversation.

I. Elijah teaches us contentment. God’s rule is--day by day. The manna fell on the desert sands day by day. Our bread is promised to us for the day. As our day, so will our strength be. And they who live like this are constantly reminded of their blessed dependence on their Father’s love. If God guarantees, as He does, our support, does it much matter whether we can see the sources from which He will obtain it? It might gratify our curiosity; but it would not make them more sure.

II. Elijah also teaches us gentleness under provocation. “Art thou come to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?” A remark, so uncalled-for and unjust, might well have stung the prophet to the quick, or prompted a bitter reply. And it would have doubtless done so, had his goodness been anything less than inspired by the Holy Ghost. But one of the fruits of His indwelling is Gentleness. We need more of this practical godliness. Many deceive themselves. If the Holy Spirit is really filling the heart, there will come over the rudest, the least refined, the most selfish, a marvellous change; there will be a gentleness in speech, in the very tones of the voice; a tender thoughtfulness in the smallest actions; a peace passing understanding on the face; and these shall be the evident seal of the Holy Ghost, the mint-mark of heaven. Are they evident in ourselves?

III. Elijah teaches also the power of a holy life. Somewhere in the background of this woman’s life there was a dark deed, which dwarfed all other memories of wrong-doing, and stood out before her mind as her sin--“my sin” (1 Kings 17:18). What it was we do not know; it may have been connected with the birth of that very son. There is a wonderful invention, recently perfected, by which sound can be fixed pictorially; and, from the picture, it may be produced again, long years after it was spoken. Imagine your hearing once again the voices long bushed in death! But memory is like this: it fixes all impressions and retains them; it never permits them to be destroyed, though it may not always be able to produce them instantly to a given call. Some memories are like well-classified libraries, in which you can readily discover even the smallest pamphlet; others are so confused that they are useless for practical purposes: yet even in these, nothing that ever came within their range has ever been lost; and whenever the right clue is presented, there is an immediate resurrection and recovery of sounds, and sights, and trains of thought long buried. How terrible will it be, when the lost soul is met on the threshold of the dark world to which it goes, by the solemn words, “Son, remember!”

IV. Elijah teaches, lastly, the secret of giving life. It is a characteristic of those who are filled with the Holy Ghost, that they carry with them everywhere the spirit of life, even resurrection-life. We shall not only convince men of sin; but we shall become channels through which the Divine Life may enter them. Thus was it with the prophet. But mark the conditions under which alone we shall be able to fulfil this glorious function.

1. Lonely wrestlings. “He took him out of her bosom,” etc. We are not specific enough in prayer; and we do not spend enough time in intercession, dwelling with holy ardour on each beloved name, and on each heart-rending case. What wonder that we achieve so little!

2. Humility. “He measured himself upon the child.” How wonderful that so great a man should spend so much time and thought on that slender frame, and be content to bring himself into direct contact with that which might be thought to defile! It is a touching spectacle.

3. Perseverance. “He measured himself three times, and cried unto the Lord.” He was not soon daunted. It is thus that God tests the genuineness of our desire. These deferred answers lead us to lengths of holy boldness and pertinacity of which we should not otherwise have dreamed, but from which we shall never go back. “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” (F. B. Meyer, M. A.)

The dead made alive

There are some good suggestions here for every one of us who would win souls to Christ. For the condition of every one who is living without faith and confidence in God is compared in the Scriptures to spiritual death, and the conversion of a soul is spoken of as bringing the dead to life. First, there is--

1. The personal interest, the actual effort; how many times we think about winning some one to Christ, but we let all our interest ooze out in thinking; we do not act.

2. We have suggested to us that we are to save them by prayer. Elijah knew he had no power to bring this boy to life, but he knew God had the power. He gave himself in prayer to God, and God heard his prayer.

3. We must add our personal influence to prayer. Elijah, as if to infuse some of his own vitality into the body of the dead child, stretched himself upon it three times. We never can tell when a personal touch may win a soul to the Lord. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)

Germs of thought

The resurrection of the widow’s son at Zarephath.

I. Man the organ of the miraculous. This is confessedly a miracle--an event altogether out of the ordinary course of nature. In this very chapter there are no less than three miracles wrought by Elijah. The heavens were sealed by him;-there was no rain or dew for three years; and there was a famine. The widow’s meal and oil remained undiminished, after supplying the wants of the widow, her son, and himself:--and now her son is brought to life. Why does the Almighty thus employ man as the medium of His miraculous agency?

1. It serves to impress us with the infinite regard which God has for good men.

2. It serves to foreshadow the wonderful power which good men, when perfected in eternity, may possess. May it not be that the grandest of their miracles here are but symbols and types of their splendid achievements there?

II. Poverty the home of the great. Elijah’s chamber was a small “loft” in that humble cottage. This should teach us--

1. Not to make secular position a test of moral character. This in every age man has been apt to do. Job’s friends did this.

2. Not to make secular wealth an end of life. Our life “consisteth not in the abundance of things.”

3. Not to shun men because they are poor.

4. Not to neglect the cultivation of spiritual excellence because of our poverty. Poverty is no excuse either for impiety or uselessness. Paul said, “Though poor, yet making many rich.”

III. Evil the occasion of good. This woman’s trial was great in the death of her son. It would teach her--

1. How absolutely life is in the hands of God. It taught her that He can take it away and give it back at pleasure. “The Lord gave,” etc.

2. How great the influence a truly good man has with heaven. (Homilist.)

“Out of the depths”

God’s chastisements are always for our profit. It is only “out of the depths “that we can rise to the highest knowledge of God. So it was not in vain that both the prophet and the widow passed through the furnace at Zarephath.

1. The first is this, Trust and Obey. The departure from Cherith, the journey through Samaria, the encounter with a widow so poor that she was forced to gather sticks by the highway, were all a severe test of Elijah’s faith. He had to look, not at outward appearances, but at the word of the Lord. So, too, with the widow. If she had asked for a full barrel and a new cruse to start with, it would have been only what our hearts are always craving. We say, “Give us this day our daily bread,” but we like to see an assured income between us and want.

2. But the woman was to learn a deeper lesson still. It may be summed up in Remember and Repent. Before long God’s hand was laid upon her son, and he fell sick and died. This awakened memories that had slumbered long. “Art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?” We do not know whether it was her general sinfulness that was brought home to her or some particular offence--some forgotten sin, buried and covered over in the rubbish-heap of the past. We notice, however, that this sense of sin was not awakened until death threatened her home, and her own son paid the first instalment of the dread penalty of sin. And yet surely she had not been resisting God’s grace. The word of the Lord in Elijah’s mouth had not been rejected by her. It needed death, however, to bring about in this widow a true sense of sin. “Grace and Truth” are both needed for the development of spiritual life. Grace was manifest in the daily supply of food. Truth shone forth with awful and searching power in the death of her son. Grace revealed the goodness of God--Truth made to pass before her the evil of her own heart. And God’s people, as well as the careless and ungodly, need to remember and repent.

3. Our third motto is Ask and Receive. There are deep mysteries in life which yield to nothing but prayer. What a tangle there was in that home! How mysterious--how, from the human standpoint, inexplicable, the blow that had fallen! We are all prejudiced against God by nature, and unwilling to accept judgment without murmuring. But in this case God’s dealings must have seemed terribly severe. There is one explanation, however, of all these mysterious and inexplicable dealings of God’s providence. They are sent to teach us the value of prayer, to draw us out of ourselves, and to make us lay hold of that power of God, which reaches even beyond the grave. What a prayer was this of Elijah’s! Prayer is still all-powerful along the line of God’s will. We, too, may know the power of Christ’s resurrection; indeed, a measure of resurrection power should be manifest in our lives, if we are indeed risen with Christ.

4. Love and know, is illustrated by this story. It is beyond our power to conceive the deep effect upon this widow of her son’s resurrection. “Now by this I know that thou art a man of God,” was the widow’s comment. Clearly the bitterness had given place to love. She had learnt that God only wounds to heal. (F. S. Webster, M. A.)

Raising the widow’s son

The mother, overwhelmed with sorrow, severely rebukes Elijah, and charges him with the loss of her son. This conduct may be accounted for

I. No home exempt from the trials and sufferings of this life. This widow would doubtless be looked upon with envy by her neighbours. They would think that in the midst of the distress suffered by them that she was free, and protected by an unseen hand from wretchedness and woe. But a deeper sorrow than they imagined was soon her portion. And in looking upon some homes we are apt to think that they are strangers to the ordinary trials and sorrows of life. There is no home that can exclude these.

II. The deepest sorrow may be made the instrument of our highest good.

III. An illustration of the power of prayer. (Thomas Cain.)


Verse 24

1 Kings 17:24

I know that thou art a man of God.

Elijah

1. From whom does the testimonial come? “I know.” These are the words of the heathen villager, a poor widow, living in an out-of-the-way place, probably as ignorant as she was poor. Possibly she had heard nothing of the controversy about Baal, and knew nothing of Elijah’s great work; yet she it is who sets up as a judge in the matter. “I know.” Quite so. Everybody is a judge of goodness. Like love, for which goodness is only another name, it is a thing which everybody can see and know and honour. There is no ignorance in the matter of goodness.

2. Let us look at the character: a man of God. It is a grand title--the grandest ever conferred on any man. Let us think that day after day the character of each of us is being built up for eternity. The spirit and aim of the life is making more fixed and defined that which we shall be for ever. Let every one of us ask himself, Am I a man, a woman, of God? Whatever else we are, all must be a failure if we are not that. Whatever else we are, the best and highest life is ours only if we have surrendered ourselves to the love and service of God.

Charged with blessing

Touch the hand of a man who is being thrilled by a galvanic battery, and you will feel the shock. So, if we are charged with Holy Ghost power, those who come into contact with us will soon discover it. There is more connection with the name and character of Barnabas than appears. The man filled with the Spirit became a son of consolation to others.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Kings 17:4". The Biblical Illustrator. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/1-kings-17.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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