Elijah and the Widow (Elijah Part 1)

When we last left off, Israel had been split into two nations. Judah and Israel, where Judah is the nation ruled by the descendants of David, but is also by far the smaller of the two kingdoms. After the split they both have a series of bad kings occasionally punctuated by a good king, which means the two nations are mostly at war.

We’re picking up today and it’s been generations since David and Solomon’s reigns as kings. In that time, Israel has strayed from God—due to the influence of their kings and the other nations around them. Many people in Israel have started worshiping other gods.

So we’re picking up with a story in the kingdom of Israel and a new king coming into power. The story we’re going to discuss today is a super famous sequence in the Bible, with some super famous names you may recognize. The most famous one is Elijah who is our topic of today.

We’re going to study Elijah’s story and why he’s so important here, but one of the reasons why Elijah, in the Christian Bible is so important, is because of how he relates to Jesus. So before we dive into the Old Testament, I would like you guys to turn to the New Testament. Grab your Bibles and turn to Matthew 16:13-16.

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 

When Jesus came people thought he was Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets. But this comparison to Elijah is one that comes up over and over again in the New Testament. Why? Because Elijah, like Moses, is a foundational figure in the Old Testament. And Jesus is so much greater than Elijah, but the people of his time had no other comparisons. The greatest prophets they could think of were Elijah and Moses—and Jesus is even more than that! Which the New Testament likes to show over and over again, by referencing back to these old stories.

That’s one of the reasons why I think it’s important for us to study these Old Testament stories. It helps us understand how amazing and miraculous Jesus is. So in our study today as we look at Elijah, we’re going to study Elijah’s story but also look forward to Jesus and the correlations and contrast.

So go grab your Bibles and please open up to 1 Kings 16:29-33.

29 In the thirty-eighth year of King Asa of Judah, Ahab son of Omri began to reign over Israel; Ahab son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. 30 Ahab 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 son of Nebat, he took as his wife Jezebel daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshiped him. 32 He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. 33 Ahab also made a sacred pole.[a] Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him.

 So Ahab becomes king of Israel, the northern kingdom, while a guy named Asa is king of Judah. Now Asa is actually a really cool person who follows god, but the same cannot be said for Ahab. Ahab married a woman named Jezebel who came from a foreign kingdom—as kings often due to secure alliances—but then because she came from somewhere else she worshiped different gods, most notably the god Baal, but also the goddess Asherah. So Ahab built her a temple for Baal and a sacred pole for Asherah, places where she could worship these other gods. But Ahab didn’t just build them for her to worship, he also too worshiped these foreign gods. And if you’ll remember, not having any other gods before the one true God is literally the first commandment. We are not to worship other gods. There is a fancy word for this sin, “idolatry.” We are not to have other idols before god. You’ll remember this is the same error Solomon made: worshiping foreign gods. And because of that sin God broke up Israel into two pieces. So God is not happy that Ahab is repeating these old sins.

So God does what he often does in these situations—he raises up a prophet to go talk to Ahab. Read 1 Kings 17:1-7.

Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe[a] 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.” The word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Go from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi. But after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land.

God sends a man named Elijah to talk to Ahab. And Elijah is sent to tell Ahab that basically there will be a drought until Elijah says otherwise--which would be when Ahab repents and turns back to God. This also shows that God has a lot of trust in Elijah. It’s not the drought will end when God says—though God can obviously do that. It’s the drought will end when Elijah says—God trusts Elijah not to abuse this authority and to know when the time will be appropriate. He is trusting Elijah to be his representative on the earth, more so than a lot of prophets.

God and Elijah have a relationship that a lot of prophets don’t, God trusts Elijah with a lot of power—like ending the drought.

Now Ahab isn’t happy with this, and so basically Elijah has to hide from the king—the implication that the king probably wants to kill him. So God tells Elijah where to go and hide. He sends him the Wadi Cherith—this is thought to be a river east of the Jordan river. So Elijah can drink from the water of this river to survive and then God says he will send ravens to feed Elijah—not that Elijah will eat ravens, but that the ravens will bring him food to eat. And that’s exactly what happen. God provides for Elijah in hiding—water from the river and food brought to him by ravens.

This is similar to how the Israelites received manna from heaven, except instead of good just appearing God is giving Elijah food delivered by ravens!

But because there is a drought, the river dries up.

Now Elijah has the power to end the drought, and he could end it and provide more water for himself. But that’s not what he does. Let’s see what happens next. Someone please read 1 Kings 17:8-12.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 10 So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” 11 As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12 But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”

God provides for Elijah. He sends him to a town where God says Elijah will meet a widow who will feed him. Now we’ve talked about this before, but the lowest of the low in society during that time would be widows and orphans. Because of the patriarchy of the time, basically only men were able to earn wealth. Women often worked in their husbands businesses, but it was extremely unusual for a woman to be able to have a business or work without a husband. So if your husband died, you couldn’t provide for yourself. You had to rely on your extended family to take you in—or if they didn’t, on the charity of society. So widows were often extremely poor and struggling to survive. You would expect God to send Elijah to someone rich to take care of him, but that’s not what God does. He sends him to the poorest of the poor.

When Elijah approaches this women that God chose, she has no idea God has sent Elijah to her and she is shocked and surprised, because all she has left is a handful of meal—basically flour and a little oil. So she was planning to go home and basically make a little pancake for her and her son to eat and she anticipates this is the last food they will ever have and after this they will die.

She can’t provide for herself and her son, how can God be expecting her to prepare for Elijah?

Someone read 1 Kings 17:13-16.

13 Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. 14 For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” 15 She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. 16 The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.

This widow just told Elijah that she has nothing left and she and her son are going to die of starvation and Elijah is like, “Nope, that’s totally not what’s going to happen. Go make your little pancake and bring it to me, and if you do that, your flour and oil will never empty.”

This is a huge leap of faith for this widow. Does she know who Elijah is? We don’t know. But we do know that she has nothing left, and as a mother she’s going to super concerned about her child. The idea of taking the food that is meant for her starving child and giving it to this possibly crazy man would probably be repulsive to her. How can she deny her child the little bit of food she has for this man who claims to speak for God?

But she trusts, she has faith. This is an immense amount of faith. People often overlook it, but this widow literally thinks she and her child are going to die, and she decides to trust Elijah, risk not just her life but also the life of her son, on the chance that he is God’s man and what he says is going to happen. So she goes home and make this little cake—that is literally just basically fried flour and brings it back to him.

And Elijah’s promise comes to path. She uses the last of her meal and the last of her oil, and yet…the jars that contain them are not empty. There is more meal and oil left, and always will be as a reward for her faith. God will not let her die to sustain Elijah.

This miracle, where the meal and the oil never end…can you guys think of another similar food related miracle that maybe Jesus did? [Let them answer.]

The feeding of the five thousand. Elijah’s miracle was that he made a jar of oil and meal not end so it could feed three people. Jesus once fed five thousand people. Let’s flip to the New Testament and look at that story. Please turn to John 6:5-14. Before you read, the “he” first mentioned in the verse is Jesus.

When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages[a] would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they[b] sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

This is a story where Jesus is basically preaching to a bunch of people and realizes they are far away from food, but to buy that much food would be way more money than Jesus and the disciples have. But one boy in the crowd has a small lunch, probably packed for him by his mom, which has five small barley loaves and a couple of fish. That’s the only food in the entire group. And Jesus takes that food and breaks it apart, and it just….never ends. He breaks it up to pass out and just keeps breaking and passing, breaking and passing, and there is so much food not only does he feed thousands of people but there is leftover!

This is what I mean when I say the Gospels compare Jesus to Elijah and then exceed it. Elijah had the power—through God—to make two small jars never end. But Jesus had the power to be able to feed thousands of people and still have excess.

Now back to Elijah and his story: someone now read 1 Kings 17:17-24.

17 After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18 She then 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 But he said to her, “Give me your son.” He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. 20 He cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” 21 Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” 22 The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. 23 Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.” 24 So 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.”

The widow and her son were starving before Elijah came on the scene, and starvation is not something that can be fixed with a meal or two. So it’s not surprising that despite Elijah now providing them food, the son still died. And when he dies, the woman blames Elijah and God. She has done everything that is asked of her, and still her son died.

This happens. Sometimes you can do everything God wants you to do and bad things still happen—like Joseph getting thrown into jail or the widow’s son dying. But in this case, Elijah wants to do something about this. He doesn’t want this boy to be dead. So he petitions God, he cries and prays and begs God to bring the boy back to life.

And God does bring the boy back to life. And the woman is amazed and I’m sure ecstatically happy and she’s like “Surely you must be a man of God.”

Jesus also raised a widow’s son from the dead. Please flip to Luke 7:11-17. The he in the first verse is Jesus.

11 Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12 As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus[b] gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” 17 This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

In this case, Jesus approaches a town and sees basically a funeral. A man is dead—a young man—and he was his mother’s only son. Why is that important? Well because he would be the only one who could provide for his mother, since she has no husband. Remember women need sons in this time period in order to even retain their property sometimes. So when Jesus sees her, he is filled with compassion and he tells the young man to get up! And the young man does.

You may notice a difference between this and the Elijah story. When Elijah raised the boy from the dead, he didn’t say “Get up!” Instead he begged God to raise the boy from the dead. Because only God has the power to raise someone from the dead. But did Jesus ask God?

No! Because Jesus doesn’t need to ask God, because Jesus is God.

That’s what this story is comparing to Elijah. Elijah was great and powerful, but not powerful enough to raise someone from the dead. Only God has that power. Jesus isn’t just a prophet like Elijah, Jesus is God.

This is what I mean when I say the Gospels compare Jesus Elijah in order to show how great Jesus is. Because Elijah and Moses are the greatest most powerful prophets that people of Jesus’s time could think of, and Jesus exceeded them in every way. Because Jesus wasn’t just a prophet. Jesus was God.

This is not the end of Elijah’s story, but this is where we’re going to stop for today. And we’ll finish up Elijah’s story next week.