The prophet Elijah was a man of faith and prayer. He knew the Scriptures and obeyed his God whom he loved. He had been told by God, "hide thyself by the brook Cherith...thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there" (1 Kings 17.3-4). Elijah immediately did exactly as God commanded, and he was able to eat and drink while the rest of the land suffered the effects of prolonged drought. During his time by the brook he was alone with God and his faith was built up and strengthened.
Arise, get thee to Zarephath
There came a time when the level of water in the brook fell and then it dried up completely (v.7). Elijah, aware of his total dependence on the omnipotent God, must have pondered carefully on the situation, but once again "the word of the Lord came unto him" (v.8). The same voice which had told him to go to the brook Cherith now said to him, "Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee" (v.9). Once again, Elijah obeyed immediately and went to Zarephath, the place at which God had promised to provide him with food. He was to be supplied with food and water by a Gentile woman, and, knowing these things, he humbly obeyed God.
Zarephath means "a place where gold is refined". Elijah had dwelt by the brook Cherith and there learned increasingly what it meant to be separated from the world and to God. Now he was to pass through experiences which would try, strengthen and refine his faith in God and prepare him to serve God in the future. Peter wrote of the value of the refining and trying of our faith when he said, "That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet 1.7). Such refining removes the dross in our lives, such as the pride, self-reliance and self-centredness which hinder us from being God-centred in our thoughts, words and deeds. The refining process seeks to prevent our delighting more in the blessings God so freely bestows upon us than in God who bestows the blessings. We must be made increasingly aware of the fact that we are totally dependent on Him. It is His intention that our faith should be strengthened and that, living a life which is separated from the world and unto God, we should become more like the "altogether lovely" (Song 5.16) Lord Jesus Christ. The omnipotent God, who is love (1 Jn 4.8); the "God of all grace" (1 Pet 5.10), and "rich in mercy" (Eph 2.4), is working all things together for our good and His glory (Rom 8.28).
Obedient to his God, Elijah went to the Gentile city of Zarephath in Zidon, the home country of Jezebel. When he arrived at the gates of the city, he saw that "the widow woman was there gathering of sticks" (1 Kings 17.10). She was obviously poor. Elijah, the man of faith, was not put off by her appearance and asked her for a drink of water, and then for a piece of bread. Her reply revealed her desperate, abject poverty. She told him that she did not have any bread, only a handful of flour and a little oil. She was gathering sticks to enable her to make a last meal for herself and her son, after which she expected to die. Elijah told her not to fear, but to first make him a little cake of bread and then to make something for herself and her son (v.13). Elijah said to her, "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" (v.14). The woman, who lived in an area where Baal was worshipped, believed what the living God of Israel had said, and did all that Elijah required (v.15). This was the widow whom God had commanded to supply Elijah with food. Every day thereafter, he, the woman and her family had necessary food, for "the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Elijah" (v.16).
Once again, Elijah's needs were met by God on a daily basis and he was always aware of his absolute reliance on Him. It is all too easy to forget that we are totally dependent on God and to forget to thank Him for every mouthful of food and every drink of water. This is especially so for those of us who live in developed countries and are able to obtain water simply by turning on a tap, and can buy food. Being aware of the reality of our continuing dependence on God keeps us close to Him and helps to avoid any feelings of independence and self-sufficiency.
Thou art a man of God
The widow's household, which was enjoying the material blessings God had provided, was suddenly struck by tragedy, for "the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick; and his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him" (v.17). In her sad, distraught condition, the widow spoke sharply to Elijah saying, "art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?" (v.18). Something in her past troubled her: some sin she had committed caused her to experience feelings of guilt.
Elijah spoke gently to the distressed woman and said to her, "Give me thy son" (v.19), took the boy from his mother, and took him up to the place where he lived, which was in the loft. There he laid the boy on his bed, and prayed to God (v.20). He stretched himself upon the boy three times. It is not recorded that anyone had ever been raised from the dead before, and the strength of Elijah's faith was shown when he prayed to God to bring the child back to life. The boy revived and Elijah delivered him back to his mother. When she received her living boy the woman said, "Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth" (v.24).
In all the changing circumstances through which Elijah had passed up to this point in his life, his faith and trust in God had not wavered. Under the hand of God, his faith was being strengthened continually and he was learning increasingly to look beyond circumstances and appearances and to rely entirely on the God of Israel. Circumstances change but God is unchanging (Mal 3.6), and Elijah trusted in God's word to him.
Today we live in a world in which all aspects of life are changing at an unprecedented rate, but God is always the same, and the Lord Jesus Christ is "the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever" (Heb 13.8). The Word of God is unchanging: it is forever "settled in heaven" (Ps 119.89); it is "the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever" (l Pet 1.23). In all circumstances, it is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps 119.105). Elijah trusted in, and obeyed, "the word of the Lord", and so it should be with those of us who are believers. When Elijah obeyed God and went to the brook Cherith and later, at God's command, to Zarephath, he was where God wanted him to be and God met his physical and his spiritual needs. When a believer obeys the leading of the Holy Spirit he will grow spiritually and be enabled to serve the unchanging God and glorify Him.
The way Elijah behaved in changing circumstances was a wonderful witness to the widow and strengthened her faith. His behaviour showed his faith and trust in God. The way we live and behave before men and women depends very much on what we do with our time in private. If our time is spent, as Elijah's was, in prayer and meditation on the Word of God with the purpose of learning the will of God so that we might obey His will, then our witness will glorify God, exalt the Lord Jesus Christ and be a blessing to other saints and to those we meet who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
To be continued.