Speaker: Ps Daniel Tan
Sermon Title: God’s obedient servant Elijah
Scripture Text: 1 Kings 17
Trusting in God’s Word
Following in God’s Will
Pointing others to God
1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” 2 And the word of the Lord came to him: 3 “Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 4 You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” 5 So he went and did according to the word of the Lord. He went and lived by the brook Cherith that is east of the Jordan. 6 And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. 7 And after a while the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land.
8 Then the word of the Lord came to him, 9 “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” 11 And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12 And she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” 13 And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. 14 For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” 15 And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. 16 The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.
17 After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18 And she said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” 19 And he said to her, “Give me your son.” And he took him from her arms and carried him up into the upper chamber where he lodged, and laid him on his own bed. 20 And he cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?” 21 Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” 22 And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. 23 And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother. And Elijah said, “See, your son lives.” 24 And the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”
Blessed Sunday morning to everyone. Greetings also to all Hermonites and friends who are tuning in online.
Last Sunday many of us I’m sure celebrated Mother’s Day with our families. I trust it was a meaningful time of remembering the love and sacrifice of our mothers and grandmothers.
The Straits Times ran an article featuring 3 mothers who have been able to overcome adversity in their lives to bring up their children. One lady featured is Ranjit Kaur, a mother of 3 grown up sons.
She is currently employed at The Helping Hand and her husband Ranjit Singh, who was a former drug addict is an addiction counsellor at IMH.
Her story is an inspirational one of sacrificial love for her husband during his battles with addiction, her tireless care for her children even as she, the main breadwinner, held down 2 jobs.
Salt & Light has also interviewed her and in this article, she shares how the Lord providentially led her husband to a church when he was high on heroin, paving the way for his introduction to The Helping Hand.
The family was subsequently introduced to the Gospel and felt the love of God through the acceptance extended to them by fellow believers.
Her husband stayed to work in The Helping Hand as a helper after graduating from the programme. And with 2 young boys then, Ranjit had to stop work to care for the family.
So she shared that they survived on the small allowance her husband received from The Helping Hand, the renting out of 1 room in their 3 room HDB flat and $200 a month from an anonymous donor.
She testifies, “People asked me how we survived. It was just God’s grace. God is really good. Our bills were always paid, we were happy that there was food to eat. We were contented.”
Ranjit’s testimony is truly edifying. Let’s praise God for His grace and mercies upon her and the family.
Today, in 1 Kings Chapter 17, we will also meet another mother who with her son, is also a receipt of God’s abundant grace and mercies.
Ranjit had an anonymous donor who gave the family $200 monthly for 5 years, the widow of Zarephath experienced God’s grace through His servant Elijah.
Our gracious God is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Let’s just pause and pray as we prepare to look into the bible passage for this morning.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the testimonies of your grace we read in our newspapers and in the bible. We thank you most of all for the gracious gift of salvation. Thank you for giving us the privilege to say ‘surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Amen.
The context of 1 Kings 17 is found in the ending verses of chapter 16. This is the reign of King Ahab of Israel. Israel is the northern kingdom comprising 10 tribes.
1 Kgs 16:30 And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him. 31 And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him.
The kingdom of Israel is in full blown idolatry. The wife of the king is the chief evangelist of Baal worship.
So the highest levels of authority in the kingdom have already been brought under the influence of Baal.
Thus chapter 17 is God’s gracious act of injecting mercy, by raising Elijah the Tishbite and sending him to confront Ahab.
God could have just let Israel run her course and then punish them for idolatry. Instead, God desires that His children repent and return to a right relationship with Him.
And so, God’s gracious act is that He communicates with rebellious Israel. He does not leave them guessing.
Instead we see in chapter 17, the repeated phase ‘the word of the Lord’ – v2, v5, v8, v14, v16, v24.
Now we know how terrible the silent treatment is to our human relationships, God does not do that. Instead, He gracious communicates.
Let’s see the response to the revealed word of God with Elijah as the significant focus.
Trusting in God’s Word
I submit that Elijah was able to be an obedient servant of God because Elijah trusted in God’s Word.
Firstly, Elijah knew that the current drought was God disciplining Israel. And God was doing so by attacking the very character of the idol Baal.
According to Canaanite beliefs, Baal was the god of wind and weather. And because of that, he is the god of fertility and wealth.
But Yahweh shows sovereignty over Baal. And so God caused a drought that Baal is defenceless to prevent.
Therefore, the question facing king Ahab and all Israelites is who is the real God? Yahweh or Baal and it looks like it’s not Baal.
1 Kgs 17:1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”
V1 tells us that Elijah’s prayer will determine if there will be any rain or dew. And because Elijah ‘stands before God’, we infer that he is praying according to God’s will.
Elijah is praying for hardship to be upon the kingdom of Israel so that the people might acknowledge Yahweh, and turn back to him.
Such is the prayer of a righteous man. Such is a prayer that I’m sure many of us will find very challenging to pray. But such is a prayer that God may lead His obedient children to pray.
I submit, it can happen when we truly trust in the goodness of God’s Word. When we trust God’s Word, we will pray that God attack the idols in our lives and turn us back to Him.
Elijah was God’s obedient servant because he trusted God for his ministry direction.
Firstly, he obeyed God by confronting king Ahab.
You have got to trust God completely if you want to confront the ultimate human power of the day and attack the very passions of the king’s wife.
As we shall see in the subsequent chapters, Jezebel hunted and killed many of God’s prophets. And so, confronting Ahab and Jezebel of idolatry, was a total opposite of life preservation.
Elijah’s boldness to confront must surely come from deep trust in God’s direction for his ministry.
Then in v2 & 3, we see that God immediately changes his ministry direction. God sends Elijah away into hiding by the brook of Cherith.
I’m sure we all see this as God preserving His prophet. To this ministry change, we see that Elijah was fully obedient.
How about our own service for God, do we recognize God’s timing? Do we sense when God needs us to be courageous and confront and when there is a time to withdraw?
I think if we are honest with ourselves, we don’t always hear God’s instructions clearly. We aren’t always obedient to God’s leading. We tend to function based on our conveniences and our comfort levels.
I would like to also add, that Elijah’s withdrawal is also part of God’s discipline of Israel. By removing Elijah, God’s prophetic call to repentance is no longer heard.
When God is no longer intervening, it is God withholding His mercies.
No longer is God speaking into the situation. And that is a fearful situation to be in.
May this never happen to us as believers in Singapore. May we always have free and full access to God’s Word, and hear His voice through Scripture.
Baal was supposed to give rain and thus responsible for harvest. Yet there is a drought and so there is famine.
Here by the brook of Cherith, in contrast, God is able to commands the ravens to feed Elijah with bread and meat in the morning and in the evening.
Not only did Elijah have to trust that God’s word is true, that He controls even the birds of the air, he had to now, also accept that God can do it His way.
When we read Leviticus (Lev 11:15) and Deuteronomy (Deut 14:14), we will realize that ravens were considered unclean animals. Yet God was using these unclean animals to provide for Elijah.
The rhythm of morning and evening, of meat and bread, also brings to mind, the picture of God’s gracious feeding of the Israelites during the Exodus when they were wondering in the wilderness.
Just a few Sunday’s ago, we were reminded of Jesus’ miracle of feeding the 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fishes.
Our God is able and willing to take care of our daily needs. And He can even do it via means that are unconventional for us.
Now is Elijah the only true prophet left in Israel? Is he the only Israelite who has not worshipped idols?
I’m sure he is not the only one. I’m sure there were true worshippers of Yahweh who had suffered and died from the drought and famine of the land.
So could I add one more layer to our understanding of God’s provision for Elijah.
Can we say that yes, God provides for all our needs, as long as God’s work for us has not been completed.
That means, as long as our race on earth as not ended, we can trust God to provide for our every need.
But there will come a time when in God’s timing, our life’s race will be completed, and God will call us home. And as that time draws near, these daily necessities will cease.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Our days are numbered by the Lord and at death, we cross over to eternity with God.
Obedience comes out of a trusting relationship with God. Trusting that God’s Word is perfect and true. May Elijah’s testimony here be an encouragement for our journey of faith.
Following in God’s Will
Elijah’s trust in God enabled him to be obedient in his ministry direction. He was able to boldly confront king Ahab of his idolatry.
Now in v8, God brings Elijah right into enemy territory.
1 Kgs 16:31 And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him.
God says, go to Zarephath in Sidon. Jezebel is the daughter of the king of Sidon. And they worship Baal.
So the question is raised – is God sovereign, only in the land of Israel? What about in the land of Baal?
God now through Elijah, shows Israel, He is more powerful than Baal even in Baal’s home ground. And because Elijah has full trust in God, he obeys.
Today, we believe God also in control over all of mankind. He is not just sovereign in nations and situations that look ‘Christian’. No, He is sovereign over the heavens and the earth.
And we need to continue to believe this even when what we see with our human eyes tells us otherwise. This will give us hope as we view the godlessness in the world.
From unclean animals, now Elijah followed God’s will and experienced God’s provision through improbable means.
Widow and provision do not go hand in hand.
Deut 14:28 “At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. 29 And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.
Moses instruction to the Jews as they entered the promise land is to take care of the widows, the foreigner and the orphans. These were the least in society. They needed to be provided for.
Yet, God was sending Elijah to a widow. Would you and I question God if we were in Elijah’s place? Lord, you are sending me from a dried-out brook to a widow?
And the widow’s situation is terrible. She is gathering sticks to cook a last meal for herself and her son so that they may eat and then wait for death.
Again, nothing is impossible with God. From unclean ravens, now Elijah will be provided for by an improbable widow.
As God commanded the ravens, now God commanded the widow. God is able to orchestrate the situation and even provide the means in which His will can be carried out.
Church, this is a picture of our salvation isn’t it? There is nothing we can do, we are helpless, but God in His graciousness provided Jesus to be our redemption.
And if we look at v13 to 16, could we see also the picture of faith.
V13 – ‘do not fear’ – a word of comfort and encouragement and then instructions on response – ‘make some bread’.
V14 – reason for v13 is that it is from the Lord and it comes with a promise that the flour and the oil will not run out.
V15-16 – the response is obedience and only then the fulfillment of God’s promise.
The widow responded in faith by being obedient to the pure word of God through Elijah. It is through her step of faithful obedience that she then experiences the fulfillment of God’s promise.
Great is thy faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed thy hands have provided, Great is thy faithfulness Lord unto me.
Jesus made reference to this miracle at the beginning of His ministry. In the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus said –
Luke 4:25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.
When the Jews heard this, they will filled with wrath and drove Jesus out of the town. Why?
Because Jesus was implying that God was by-passing the Jews and extending mercy to Gentile pagans.
Such is the missional heart of our God. Even in the time of king Ahab in the 8th century BC, God was crossing racial and national boundaries with His grace.
This church is the wisdom of God displayed. Not only is Yahweh taking the fight to Baal in His own turf, God is also extending mercy and grace to idol worshippers.
And this grace includes both physical and spiritual life. God cares for our present as well as our eternity.
I thought Singapore churches were quite colored blind. That we were inclusive, that we are actually practiced that there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free.
That was until I read the recently published book by GraceWorks – Colours of the Kingdom. This book was just launched last month and the testimonies inside are recent. I quote from the website:
“This book presents true stories and reflections of Christians in Singapore about grappling with issues of ethnicity or nationality in the church. We hear from individuals who have been on the receiving end of racism as well as inclusive hospitality, individuals who have been convicted by the Lord to repent of their prejudices, and church leaders who are working on intentionally creating inclusive spaces that celebrate ethnic and national diversity.”
The obedience of Elijah I submit, must be contrasted with the reluctance of Jonah to preach the good news to the city of Nineveh.
Finally, we see that this grace of God even extends to the saving of life of this Gentile woman’s son.
This is significant as the Canaanites also believe in the god called Mot. Mot is the god of death and this god can reach out and even defeat Baal the god of the weather.
In raising the dead boy to life, Elijah is proclaiming that Yahweh is also sovereign over death. Yahweh is the true God and not Mot.
Elijah is not a miracle healer, all Elijah is doing is crying out to God. He is asking that God be merciful and show that in the land of the spiritual enemy, Yahweh is more powerful.
And so the chapter ends with the woman proclaim her faith in Yahweh – 1 Kgs 17:24 … “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”
Through God’s obedient servant, Elijah has shown to Israel that Yahweh is more powerful than Baal and Mot.
That He graciously sends His prophets to proclaim judgment so that His idolatrous people may repent. And at the same time gracious including Gentiles into His kingdom.
These truths are still relevant for us today. Let us affirm that God is more powerful that anything in the world today. Let us not replace God with any idol. Let us reflect the missional heart of God.
I submit that the testimony of Ranjit Kaur (kor) and her family is the modern equivalent of the widow of 1 Kings 17. How the Lord has ministered to her both materially and spiritually. Calling her and her family out of darkness into His marvelous light.
Pointing others to God
May I end with this final point. The faith statement of the widow is the result of Elijah’s obedience. In trusting God’s word and following God’s will, Elijah points people to God.
Scripture tells us that Elijah is God’s forerunner. Preparing the way for the Lord. This can be seen in how the New Testament connects Elijah with John the Baptist
Lk 1:16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
Not only were their ministries similar, they both were familiar with the desert and solitude and had the same type of dressing.
Elijah was a significant man of God for the nation of Israel. Today, we have someone greater. We have Jesus Christ, the divine Son of David.
And Luke, the gospel writer brings across this point of Jesus being the greater than Elijah by his recording of a similar miracle:
Lk 7:11 Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. 12 As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. 13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” 17 And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.
There are many similarities. Both were widows who lost their sons.
But the key different is that Elijah had to cry out to God for His mercy and grace upon the child. Jesus had the power to raise the child with just his words – young man I say to you, arise.
Elijah was great, but Jesus is greater.
Jesus therefore proclaimed after He raised Lazarus from the dead,
Jn 11:25 …. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.
To this, Martha the sister of Lazarus replied – “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
For all of us who echo these words of Martha, may Jesus the Son of God have His rightful place in our hearts.