Proper 27 • 1 Kings 17:8–16 • November 11, 2012

By Rick Marrs

The kingdoms of Israel and Judah had been in spiritual decline for two centuries. Starting with Solomon’s syncretism (1 Kgs 11) and the division of the kingdom (1 Kgs 12), Israel was ruled by a whole series of kings who worshipped impotent idols. Even one of the LORD’s prophets who confronted a king did not follow God’s instructions perfectly and was killed by a lion (1 Kgs 13). It was a tough time to be a follower of Yahweh.

Elijah bursts on to the scene, empowered by the LORD. Elijah confronts Ahab with his apostasy, and then prophesies a drought that will only be ended by the word of Yahweh.

Many lay people believe that the Bible is filled with miracles. They wonder why God worked so many miracles in biblical times but does not seem to do them so often in their modern lives. In reality, there were only brief periods in which Scripture records many miracles: the periods of Moses/Joshua and Elijah/Elisha, and the ministry of Jesus and his apostles. These time periods were centuries apart. We do not know why God chose to empower Elijah and Elisha in such ways. They are the only Old Testament prophets to raise people from the dead, and other than Paul (Acts 20:9ff) and Peter (Acts 9:36ff), they were the only two mere humans to be used by God in this way (obviously Christ resurrected others and conquered death himself).

Yet even “Mr. Prophecy” (as Hummel calls Elijah[1]) survives during the drought by the faithfulness of a foreign widow. The unnamed prophet of chapter 13 was killed by the lion because he stopped to eat and drink with someone when the LORD had told him not to do so. Elijah is specifically instructed to go to Zarephath and find a widow who would feed him. Zarephath was a small coastal town well north of Israel between Tyre and Sidon. This was the same region that Jesus journeyed to when he met the faithful Syro-Phoenician woman.

My temptation as a preacher would be to go to the big miracles of Elijah, especially the resurrection of the widow’s son in vv. 17–24. But that pericope comes next year in Proper 5. Verses 8–16 are paired with the Mark 12:38–44 Gospel reading about the poor faithful widow and her two copper coins. This pairing affords the preacher the opportunity to emphasize the daily provision that our faithful God gives to us, and our faithful response to his promises (as in v. 14 promise made by Elijah). In our culture this may be a challenge to proclaim. We live in an affluent culture in which few people have ever feared starving to death. We assume that everything we need for food will be available at the local grocery. Our only fear and grumbling is about the price, not the food’s availability. But a local pastor who is making pastoral visits with his people will know what other fourth petition fears they have and can adjust his message to those circumstances. Helping them to see how God works his grace in the world through their simple acts of faithfulness could likely be the goal of the sermon. Ultimately, God’s salvation of the world comes not through works of his power, like he did by defeating the prophets of Baal, but through the love, sacrifice, and servanthood of Jesus’s crucifixion. Jesus’s message of salvation is then spoken by God’s faithful people.

One small ending note: The ESV text does not capture the polite nature of Elijah’s request to the widow that the Hebrew does. Other English versions like the NASB and NIV at least include the word “please” in their translations. Elijah models for pastors how important it is to be gentle and polite when speaking God’s word to his faithful people.

Endnote
[1] Horace Hummel, The Word Becoming Flesh: An Introduction to the Origin Purpose, and Meaning of the Old Testament (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1979), 142.

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