>The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, June 6, 2010. The text for this week’s message is 1 Kings 17:1-16.

We are starting a new series this week called, “Prophet Margin.” The series is going to be slightly interrupted because of Annual Conference next week; so you’ll be blessed with a message from Mark McGrady, who, I’m certain, will do an excellent job. But this week and the three weeks following Annual Conference, we are going to look at four stories concerning the Old Testament prophets Elijah and Elisha.
Believe it or not, today’s Scripture is our introduction to Elijah in the Old Testament. It doesn’t seem like much, but we don’t hear anything about him prior to 1 Kings 17. We are told that Elijah is a Tishbite from Tishbe in Gilead, which is east of the Jordan River in modern day Jordan. His name literally means “the Lord is my God.” We know where he is from; we know what his name means; and we know nothing else about him. The first words that he speaks are directed towards Ahab, the king of the northern kingdom of Israel, which consisted of ten of the twelve tribes of Israel.
We know a little more about Ahab when we get to this point in the text because the writer gives us a brief summary of Ahab in 1 Kings 16. He was missing a leg and was obsessed with capturing a white whale. No, I’m kidding, wrong Ahab; however, the Ahab we read about in 1 Kings was certainly less pleasant than Melville’s infamous captain. In fact, the writer tells us that Ahab did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than all the other kings before him. Not exactly everyone’s goal in life. There had been some bad kings over Israel, but Ahab was the worst. And, then, it’s almost like the writer says, “As if being the worst king wasn’t bad enough, Ahab married Jezebel, whose father was the king of Sidon. She led him and all of Israel to worship the Canaanite god Baal.”
Ahab also allowed the rebuilding of the city of Jericho; something that was cursed by Joshua after the Israelites destroyed the city upon their arrival to the Promised Land. It was rebuilt by a man named Hiel, and we are told that it cost him two sons. We don’t know who Hiel is, and really he is not that important, except to point out that his sons died upon rebuilding Jericho.
It is possible that his sons died as a result of judgment on the family for rebuilding the city, but it is more likely that this is said to point out something much worse. Child sacrifice was not uncommon at this time, especially in Canaanite worship of Baal. It is likely that Hiel lost his sons because he sacrificed them to Baal. This is important for the reader to know because it shows the depths of the depravity into which Ahab led Israel.
Elijah’s first words to Ahab are a warning. Elijah tells Ahab that there will be a severe drought in the land that will last as long as he says it is going to last. It will only rain when Elijah, as the prophet and spokesman for the Lord, says it will rain. Not only is a drought bad news to begin with, but there is another layer to what is going on here. The drought is a direct challenge to Ahab and the worship of Baal into which he has led Israel.
The reason why the drought is a challenge to the authority and worship of Baal is that Baal was the storm god, among other things, in the Canaanite religion. According to Baal worshippers’ thought, it rains or doesn’t rain because Baal says so, not because of some prophet of Yahweh. Elijah’s words and the ensuing drought are intended to undermine the worship of Baal which had become so epidemic in Israel at that time.
Immediately after Elijah delivers his message to Ahab, he is told to hide himself by the brook Cherith. There are a few things about this area that are important for us to know in order to get an idea of what this time will look like for Elijah. First off, the Hebrew word “Cherith” refers to a “cutting, separation or gorge.” This is not the little creek running through Uncle Timmy’s farm. Looking at some pictures this week, there are parts of this area that make the Grand Canyon look like a ditch.
Okay, that may be a little extreme, but this is a rugged area. It is a difficult to travel and it is very steep and dangerous at times. People did not cross this area; they traveled alongside it until they came across one of the rare points that were safe for crossing. The brook Cherith is an empty, desolate place that lacked any kind of food source.
Spiritually, it is pretty significant as well. The idea of a place of separation, a place that is remote and cut off from the rest of the world, this idea is filled with spiritual significance. Elijah was about to enter a period of spiritual battle. He wasn’t just facing Ahab, Jezebel and the priests of Baal. Whenever there are things of this magnitude going on, there are always other forces at work. Elijah was about to be severely tested and he was going to need to prepare himself and gather his strength for the coming trials.
So, Elijah obeys God’s command and goes out to the wilderness east of the Jordan River, and while he is there, he relies solely on God’s provision. When there is a severe drought in this area, you can count on two things. First, fresh, drinkable water will become scarce. Second, the food will run out. However, these were things that Elijah did not have to worry about. God promises, and it happens, that ravens bring Elijah bread and meat twice a day. He also drinks from the brook. God is providing for Elijah’s needs.
But, as someone famously said once, “To everything there is a season.” These words are so true – there is a season to everything in life. There are seasons in our own life – times of rest, times of spiritual preparation, and times to move forward into what God is calling us to do.
I really believe that we are in a period of spiritual preparation at this point – reading through the Bible in a year, praying about God’s call on our lives as individuals and as a congregation, learning about our spiritual gifts – all these things, and more that lay ahead for us, are a part of our spiritual preparation. Soon it will be time for us to move forward to be who God is calling us to be, and to do what God is calling us to do. There is a season, and what we see in verse 9 is the end of one season and the beginning of another.
The word of the Lord comes to Elijah in verse 9, telling him to “Arise, go to Zarephath and dwell there.” The brook had dried up because of the lack of rain. God’s provision for that season of Elijah’s life was over. Realistically, Elijah did have a choice at this point. He could have stayed where he was. Of course, without God’s provision, he would have died pretty quick. No food + no water = no life. And that’s another key point for us.
After we have been through a period of spiritual preparation, we can decide to stay right where we are, where God is no longer providing. Of course, if we choose to do that, we have to face the reality that without God’s provision, we are in a heap of trouble. Let’s face it, Elijah had it pretty good so far. He was drinking from a brook in the wilderness where nobody else would have been drinking. He was getting bread and meat delivered twice a day. It was probably a pretty comfortable life compared to what other people were going through at the time. But we can never get too comfortable with where we are, because if we do, that’s where we will stay, and that’s not a good thing.
When God says, “Arise and go,” what does Elijah do? He arose and went. He didn’t sit there and complain; he didn’t argue; he didn’t try to bargain for more time. He simply got up and left. When God says, “Get up and go,” you get up and go. It’s really an easy concept, yet we often fail to grasp it in our own lives. Go where God calls you to go. God’s grace always precedes us when we are going where He tells us to go. And that is what happens here. God’s grace went before Elijah, and he was going to need it because Zarephath wasn’t just any town.
Zarephath was north of Israel on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It was not a city that was located in Israelite territory. It belonged to Sidon, which, if you were paying attention during the intro, you’ll remember is the hometown of Jezebel, Ahab’s wife. Not only is this near Jezebel’s home in Sidon, but it is in the heart of Baal worship. God is sending Elijah from the relative comfort and provision of the wilderness into the center of enemy territory. We may not always like where God sends us, but that is no excuse to be disobedient to His direction.
Elijah is obedient and he makes the journey to Zarephath. When he arrives at the gates of the city, he sees a woman collecting sticks. How he knew that she was the one that God was talking about is unclear, but sometimes, when you are doing what God calls you to do, you just know. So, Elijah calls out to her and asks her to bring him some water.
This had to have been a difficult request for the widow. After all, they are in the middle of a drought. But she doesn’t say a word. She gets some water and begins to take it to Elijah. Then he ups the ante a little. As she is bringing him some water, he says, “Oh, yeah, bring me some bread too.” You have an idea how difficult it would be to get water during a drought. Water would eventually become more valuable than gold. Bread would also become very scarce. Why is that? No rain = no crops = no grain for bread. Asking for water was a lot, but asking for bread as well was literally too much.
The widow’s hospitality, which was a big deal in those days, is stretched too thin. She tells Elijah that she has nothing prepared and is at the end of her food supply. She is going to make one last cake for her and her son, they are going to eat it, and then they are going to die. She’s at the end of her rope. She has lost hope, and realizes that her time is almost up.
Y’all, we live in a world full of people like this widow. We live in a world full of people who have just lost hope. We live in a world where people are just waiting to die, and some of them died a long time ago. People are hungry – literally and figuratively. People don’t know how to rely on God when things are bleak. This widow is your neighbor. You see her in the bank or at the gas station each week. We all know somebody like this in our life, but what do we do about it? The truth is, we just don’t know what to do, so we don’t do anything. So, what does Elijah do? What can we learn from this story?
Elijah knows what it means to rely on God’s provision when there is nothing else. He just spent some time being waited on by birds. He knows that God will provide, so what does he do? He comforts her. He reassures her. He gives her the hope that she so desperately needs. He tells her not to fear. He encourages her to put first things first. Then he promises her something. He promises that her jar, which is almost empty, will not be empty until the drought is over.
Folks, we are sitting here this morning with a jar that will never be empty. We are sitting here this morning with the words of encouragement that people need to hear in order to make it through the day. Do you know what it means to rely on God? Do you know what it means to be obedient to God’s call in your life? Come back to this story time and time again because you will learn something from it. Elijah knows what it means to rely on God. He encourages others to trust in the Lord.
I want to encourage you in the same way this morning. God has provided for you. One thing that somebody told us several years ago that I will never forget and I want to share with you is this: God didn’t bring you this far just to leave you where you are. Trust in God’s provision. Go when and where He tells you to go. Share that faith, that hope, with those around you who need it the most.