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(1 Kings 17:17–24) Into the Crucible!

(1 Kings 17:17–24) Into the Crucible!

by Stephen Davey Ref: 1 Kings 17:17–24

All us have a crucible. It comes in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. It may be a major crisis or the difficulty of minor daily trials. But one of the marks of spiritual maturity is the quiet confidence in knowing that God is with us in the crucible . . . even when He chooses not to explain Himself.


ELIJAH: The Biography of an Ordinary Believer

Part 4


(I Kings 17:17-24)

I invite you this morning to go back into the biography of an ordinary believer; I want us to travel back in time to a city where furnaces belched black smoke into the air, furnaces from the smelting industry that created the images of Baal and Asherah.  A city that was often clogged with false priests who had come to buy the latest images and idols from the shops that littered the streets.  It was a noisy place, a prosperous place. . .in fact one of the last strongholds of Baalism that could still claim to have water and oil left even for a widow, while he entire country suffered from drought and famine.

And hidden away in the very heart of that city was the country’s most wanted criminal - a prophet of God who dared to pray for that drought so the glory of God would be revealed and word of God would be fulfilled.

If you’ve been with me in this journey thus far, you know that it’s been a difficult time for Elijah:

            first there was the brook Kerith that provided him refreshing water - then it dried up and trickled away;

            then the prophet, who himself is now dying of thirst and hunger is sent to the industrial city of Zarephath and, against all his inclinations and inhibitions, he is told to seek the help of a pagan widow living in the hometown of his archenemy, Jezebel - and God provides the miracle of unending corn meal and olive oil and personal safety. 

From the brook Kerith to the smelting pot of Zarephath, Elijah has gone without question, without argument, without hesitation.

Now is the time when all of us are ready for the showdown on Mt. Carmel - that’s what we remember Elijah for - you remember - the 450 prophets of Baal silenced forever by the flashing fire from heaven.

If Elijah needed to be prepared for Ahab - Lord, he’s ready!  Right?  And the inspired record says “NO!”.

It’s time for Elijah to enter the crucible - where the heat is turned up and the most possible pain inflicted.

I Kings 17:17.  Now it came about after these things (stop - here is chronological clue that demands a question - “After what things?” )

The answer is the preceding paragraph - after the miracle of God in providing for a starving widow and her only son - after God performed the unbeilable - after meals of hot cornbread and where stomachs are full for the first time in months, if not mroe than a year - after God makes a promise that the far of oil and corn meal will provide for the widow and her son until the famine is over - after these things)

17.  “Now it cam about after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became sidk; and his sickness was so severe, that there was no breath left in him.”

Bottom line - point blank - the frank truth - “Your son is dead!”

This widows link to life, her reason for getting up in the morning, her only hope for the future is suddenly, without warning, dead!

I have never felt what she felt - a child die - what some of you have felt - in my few years of ministry, I have preached a number of funeral sermons.  Just this past week a saint of a woman - a great grandmother ended her long journey and arrived at her heavenly home.  There hasn’t been anything more difficult however than to preach at the funeral of a child - and the last 8 months or so I have spoken at two such times.  . .I have observed incredible faith and trust and and yet the deepest sorrow imaginable during those times - and although I wept with them I could not feel the depth of their suffering.

A number of years ago I was asked to preach at the funeral of people who didn’t attend our church - the bereaved mother of a teenage son had attended twice and asked me to preach - this 15 year old had snuck out of the house early  one morning, taken the family car out for a fast spin - had run into the wall of a building and was instantly killed.  The mother asked me to preach the gospel, hoping that someone would believe and give sense to her son’s meaningless death.

The funeral home was packed and jammed with students, faculty and family - they were standing around the walls, in the foyer and spilling out onto the lawn.  All the doors were left open so that everyone could hear.  Rather than try to provide some answer, I proceded to give direction - for life beyond the grave.  Eleven teenagers and adults recieved Christ that day - but for that mother, was that enough?! 

Relief is rarely felt in the crucible.

That seems to be the one word that categorizes best, suffering for the children of God - “crucible”.  A crucible in ancient times was a vessel into which metals are placed for melting and refining! 

I find it incredbily ironic that Elijah and this widow are encountering the deepest challenge to their faith in a city whose very name meant “smelting - refining”.

For many days the prophet and the widow and her son had enjoyed all the cornbread they can eat - an amazing miracle has occured.  Can you imagine their relief and joy.  The entire country is scrapping for a meal and they’ve been given a promise - they have plenty to eat!

Frankly, they're having a celebration!

In September of 1985 a party was held at one of the largest city pools in New Orleans.  The reason for the festive occasion?  The summer of 1985 was the first summer in years that a drowning did not occur at a New Orleans city pool.  The summer was now officially over and 200 guests were at the celebration, including over 100 certified lifeguards.  It was a great paryt!  Everyone was thrilled at the accomplishment of the summer.  It wasn’t until the party was nearly over that they noticed a figure at the bottom of the pool near the drain.  It was a grown man, fully-clothed.  They attempted to revive him, but it was too late.  The man had drowned, surrounded by life guards who were celebrating their success.

In the process of celebrating the miracle of God’s provision, suddenly, unexpectedly this widows only reason for living is dead.

I want you to turn to a passage that tells us, with no punches pulled that the crucible is a place that every Christian experiences - this isn’t just for O.T. prophet and an unknown widow.

Turn please to I Peter

I Peter 4:12.  Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you. . .

Now, I’m glad for somebody like Peter - he’s evidently developed some compassion over the years, but he still talks straight to the point . . . “Stop being suprised by suffering - c’mon, why are you so shocked when testing comes your way. . .as if it were something you were immune to”

From this verse, at least two observations can be make about a crucible experience . . . a crisis experience:

1) Although crisis comes unexpectedly, it shouldn’t surprise us.

The surprise that Peter refers to is that of unbelief - “I can’t believe this would ever happen to a child of God!”  “I can’t believe a Christian would ever experience something like this.”  That’s Peter’s point.

2) Since crisis develops mature faith, we shouldn’t resist it.

I want you to notice that Peter uses the same language for the believer that the ancient world used of precious metal being refined in the fire - look back at chapter 1

1:6.  In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials 7.  that the proof of your faith, (being more precious than gold which is perishable), even though (your faith) is tested  by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Peter refers to fire two times - here and in chapter 4 - the “fiery ordeal”. . .the word Peter selects under inspriation for “fiery trial” is taken from the context of smelting - refining metal - just as the crucible refines the precious ore and burns away the slag and the impurities, so God designs our crucible to purify us - our faith, our perspective.

By the way, don’t ever forget who Peter is addressing - in chapter 4:12 - he refers to his readers as, “Beloved.”  The form of this word in the original means, “To ones’ dearly loved.”

Why the stress on that - because in the crucible you tend to forget that God loves you . . . you tend to believe the lie that He has no future for you.

The truth is, He does - in fact, the crucible is proof, Peter writes, that He loves you in the present tense.

Dr. Philip Yancy wrote an intriguing, humourous perspective on pain in His Book, “Where is God when It Hurts.”



Physical birth growth begins with pain - spiritual growth requires pain as well.

Let’s go back to I Kings 17

I want to make two observations about this widow’s reaction

1) This widow is going to place the blame on the prophet of God.

I Kings 17:18.  So she said to Elijah, “What do I have to do with you, O man of God?

The first thing she does is explode with anger - there has to be someone to blame.  She, in effect, puts the blame of her sons death on the shoulders of Elijah.

So she swings at the person closest to her - the one whom God had already used to bring the miracle of food to her household.

Her words could be translated and paraphrased, “Why did I ever invite you to my home!?  Why did I have the misfortune of ever meeting you, Elijah”

She evidently believes that Elijah’s relationship to God as a “man of God” has somehow brought down judgment on her - Elijah is the one to blame.

She is in the process of hurting the only person who can help!  She’s trying to isolate herself from the one person who can intercede.

Isn’t that just like us - our natural tendency is to shut out those who care!

2)  The second thing she says, as she gushes out with her anguish and pain - is she places the blame on herself.

Notice carefully the inuendo of the last part of verse 18b.  “You have come to me to bring my iniquity to remembrance, and to put my son to death.”

Somewhere in the background of this woman’s life there was a dark deed with dwarfed all other memories.  F.B.Meyer wrote.  What is was we do not know. 

Some have suggested that it was related to her son - that perhaps he had been concieved from promiscuity; some have suggested that her former lifestyle of idolatry was what she had in mind - that the true God was going to punish her now.

She is falsely assuming that God had sent Elijah to bring judgement upon her and that one sin was so great God had decided to lift her up with a wonderful miracle in her home before slamming her, shoving her into the graveyard.

Now her son - her only son - her only hope for the future lay lifeless in her arms.

How do I know she was holding him - look at verse 19.  And he said to her, “Give me your son.”  Then he took him from her bosom and carried him up to the upper room where he was living, and laid him on his own bed.


By the way - the grace of Elijah in this situation is a model for us - he is falsely blamed - unjustly accused - treated unfairly when all he has done to this point is care for the widow and her son.

I would expect Elijah to say, “Now just hold on!”  “I didn’t do anything to your son - why are blaming me for his death - I liked my life just fine before I met you.”

None of that . . . just “Give me your son.”

And Elijah went up to his room and began to pray.

In his book, “Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life”, Swindoll related the followind incident that he experienced in 1968.  He was on an airliner bound for New York.   It was a routine flight, and normally a boring trip.  The kind of flight I like - uneventful.  But this one proved to be otherwise.  Descending to the destination, the pilot realized the landing gear refused to engage.  He worked the controls back and forth, trying again and again to make the gear lock down into place.  No success.  He than asked the control tower for instructions as he circled the landing field.  Responding to the crisis, airport personnel sprayed the runway with foam as fire trucks and other emergency vehicles moved into position.   Disaster was ony minutes away.  The passengers, meanwhile were told of each maneuver in that calm, chery voice pilots manage ot use at times like this.  Flight attendants glided about the cabin with an air of cool reserve.  Passengers were told to place their heads between their knees and grab their ankles just before impact.  It was one of those I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening-to-me experiences.  There were tears and a few screams of despair.  The landing was now seconds away.  Suddenly the pilot announced over the intercom:  We are beginning our final descent.  At this moment, in accordance with international Aviation Codes established at Geneva, I want to inform you that if you believe in God you should commence prayer.

The landing was sucessful, no one was injured . . . a relative of one of the passengers called the airline the very next day and asked about the prayer rule the pilot had quoted.  No one volunteered any information on the subject.

Crisis had uncovered an all but forgotten rule - “When in crisis, commence prayer”  Like America during the Gulf War - or any war - like the moment before surgery or burial - crisis forces us to our knees.


And that’s what Elijah did.

20.  And he called to the Lord and said, “O Lord my God, hast Thou also brought calamity to the widow with whom I am staying, by causing her son to die?”  21.  Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to

the Lord, and said, “O Lord my God, I pray Thee, let this child’s life return to

him.”  22.  And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived.

Was Elijah praying out of line - was he providing an example that we should follow today - that if we pray hard enough and fall on the deceased three times, they will revive?

Oh no!  Elijah is again, praying that God would fulfill His word through Elijah.  This was the final test before Elijah stands before the prophets of Baal and declares the word of the Lord.

And what was God’s word through Elijah - back in verse 13.  Elijah promised the widow that she and her son would not go hungry as long as he remained with them - and that their corn meal and oil would continue to last until the famine lifted.

What kind of promise is that if the boy dies?  Implied in his promise of food was that of life!

But what a test for Elijah - it’s one thing to pray that God will fulfill His word in stopping rain from falling - it’s another thing to pray that God will bring life to a dead boy!

Notice what happens in verse 23.  And Elijah took the child, and brought him down from the upper room into the hosue and gave him to his mother and Elijah said, “See, you son is alive.”  That’s enough to say to her, “See, my God keeps His word.”  She got the message too!  Notice 24. Then 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.”

Elijah is ready for Ahab!  He’s ready to face Jezebel - that hissing serpent named in honor of  Baal.

What was the final test that prepared this man of God?  You would think God would have sent him to face down the King Phonecia - Jezebel’s father, EthBaal. 

You know - God prepares you for the big test by some grand public display of power!  Why not face down EthBaal in his own palace. . .

Like Elijah, this ordinary man, God most often prepares us for public service and displays of His grace and power through some private crucible - some private pain.

There are some lessons to be learned about that crucible . . .

1 The crucible deepens our understanding of God’s sovereignty.

It is in the crucible where we discover what God is really like. 

The Psalmist wrote, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your statutes.

There is something in all of our lives that is difficult, if not, sometimes impossible to understand and properly respond to . . . the unexpected.

For this widow, it was the unexpected death of her only son.

For you, the crucible changes shape:

            the sudden, unexpected accident you had,

            the job you lost that you thought you owned, or the job that turned out totally differently - with pressures you weren’t expecting

            that courtship that seemed such smooth compatible sailing turning into a marriage filled with unexpected storms brought on by hidden emotions and deep scars

            the child you unexpectedly lost - the child you had;

            your parents unexpected divorce

            the health you lost.

THE UNEXPECTED!  I’d like to define that intimidating word this way:  Anything that invades your life, uninvited, and conflicts with your plans, desires or expectations.

For some of you here, your crucible is in the shape of something unexpected.

For all of us, we’ve spent some time in the widow’s house - it comes in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors . . . it may be some major crisis, or the difficulty of the daily grind.

One of the marks of spiritual maturity is the quiet confidence that God is with us in the crucible even when he chooses not to explain Himself.

That’s the uncluttered perspective of Daniel as he records these words concerning a Sovereign God, “He does according to His will in the host of heaven, and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can say to Him, “What hast Thou done?”

Christianity many times means living without explanations.

2)  The crucible intensifies our commitment to God’s plan.

Faith is forged under fire - just as steel is made stronger by the intensity of heat applied to it, so the character of a believer is strengthened, not weakened by trial.

BUT - we have to be willing, in order to grow and mature, on the eve of our private crucible to say, “Lord, Thy will be done!”

Robertson McQuilken, the well loved president of Columbia Bible College entered the crucible by means of his wife’s illness.  Her name is Muriel, and she was suffering from the advanced ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.  In March 1990 Dr. McQuilkin announced  his resignation in a letter read around the world:


3)  The crucible solidifies our dependency on God’s power.

Paul wrote concerning his thorn in the flesh that he begged God three times to take it away - God responded by saying, “No, But I am with you and that is all you need

We need to understand that when we’re suffering in the crucible, God is not a doctor who prescribes some botttle of medicine - a spoonful in the morning and a spoonful at night.  There is no quick antidote for those that He wants to refine in the fire and pressure - God doesn’t prescribe something for us to take - BUT He does prescribe Himself! 

Paul wrote, “Each time He said, “No Paul!”  But I am with you . . . that is all you need.

Paul would later write in Ephesians, “For He Himself is our peace...”

The most important words that Elijah prayed that dy in his little room in that widows house are found in the two or three words - in verse 20 again.  “And he called to the Lord and said, “O Lord MY God.”  Then again in verse 21.  “. . .and called to the Lord and said, “O Lord my God.”

My friend, I have nothing encouraging or hopeful for you unless you can call the God of Elijah, the God of Israel - your God.

But if you call Him “Yours”, then we have learned that He creates crucibles to create Christ-like believers - just ordinary people like Elijah . . . and in your crucible He stands by, not waiting to take it away, but to be invited in.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock (not a verse to the unbeliever but to the church at Laodicea which had slowly shut Him out) - Jesus Christ says, “Look, I am standing at the door and knocking, if anyone hears my voice and opens the door (of sweet fellowship), I will come in and dine with him and he with me.

Whether you are on the mountain peak of joy or in the crucible of pain - don’t shut Him out - invite Him in - He knows what your crucible is all about . . . invite Him in.



If you're going through a personal crucible of pain - and you can say, “Stephen, this message has gone from God’s word directly to my situation, my heart - this message has been for you - as a statement of submission before the Lord, I want to ask you to quietly stand wherever you are - it’s too crowded to make you climb your way out and join me here - just stand wherever you are and in your heart say, “Lord, I’m willing to not only endure the crucible, but I desire to depend upon your strength while I’m in it - and if you haven’t invited Him to join you there and teach you - by standing, you will not only join fellow sufferers, but you will be opening the door of your heart to Him for fellowship and communion.  Would you stand.

Perhaps someone next to you who knows of your crucible could stand with you.  While you’re standing, with heads bowed, in conversation with the Lord, I want Nina to come and sing this song, dedicated to everyone standing, everyone who is feeling the pain of a private crucible. . .


Each of our crucibles - our trials - can be seen as a birth.  Imagine what it would be like if you had ahd full consciousness as a pre-born baby and could even now remember your delivery.  Your world is dark, safe, secure.  You are bathed in warm liquid, cushioned from shock.  You do nothing for yourself; you are fed automatically, and a murmuring heartbeat assures you that someone larger than you fills all your needs.  You life is a fine existence.  One day you feel a tug, then another.  The walls are falling in on you.  Those soft cushions are now pulsing and beating against you, crushing you downwards.  Your body is bent double, your limbs cramped and wrenched.  You’re falling, upside down.  For the first time in your life, you feel pain.  You’re in a sea of roiling matter.  There is more pressure, almost too intense to bear.  Your head is being squeezed flat and you are pushed harder, harder downward.  Oh, the pain. . .the noise. . .the pressure.  You hurt all over.  You can hear groaning and an awful sudden fear rushes in on you.  It is happening - your world is collapsing.  You’re sure it’s the end.  Then, suddenly, you see a piercing, blinding light.  Cold hands roughly pull at you.  There’s a painful slap - Waaaaaahhhhh!

            Congratulations . . . you have just been born.

Robertson McQuilken, the well loved president of Columbia Bible College entered the crucible by means of his wife’s illness.  Her name is Muriel, and she was suffering from the advanced ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.  In March 1990 Dr. McQuilkin announced  his resignation in a letter read around the world:

My dear wife, Muriel, has been in failing mental health for about 8 years.  So far I have been able to carry both her ever-growing needs and my leadership responsibilities at Columbian.  But recently it has become apparent that Muriel is contented most of the time when she is with me and almost none of the time I am away from her.  It is not just “discontent.”  She is filled with fear - even terror - that she has lost me and so she always goes in search of me when I leave home.  So it is clear to me that she needs me now, full-time. 

The decisions was made, in a way, 42 years ago when I promised to care for Muriel in sickness and in health . . . till death do us part.”  So, as I told the students and faculty, as a man of my word, integrity has something to do with it.  But so does fairness.  She has cared for me fully and sacrificially all these years; if I cared for her for the next 40 years I would not be out of debt.  Duty, however, can be grim and stoic.  But there is more; I love Muriel.  She is a delight to me - her childlike dependence and confidence in me, her warm love, occasional flashes of that wit I used to relish so, her happy spirit and tough resilience in the face of her continual distressing frustration.  I do not have to care for, I get to!  It is a high honor to care for so wonderful a person.

Kent Hughes mentioned then that he and his wife visited the McQuilkins soon after this resignation and he wrote of Dr. McQuilkins’s gentle manner with his wife who understood little of what was even going on.

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