Following the Lord is not a straight and easy path. There are ups and downs and shifts. There are unexpected challenges and surprises along the way. Elijah’s experience reminds us, though, that even as God is using us, He is also preparing us for what is ahead.
Have you ever thought about the fact that a lighthouse has never once stopped a storm—or kept a storm from arriving? No, it is designed to provide light when storms do come; and the darker the storm, the more desperately the light is needed. Our spiritually dark world is in desperate need of the light of God’s Word.
And let me tell you, our generation is not the first to need that light. Let me take you back to a time when Satan’s kingdom of darkness seemed to have the upper hand.
From their capital city of Samaria, wicked King Ahab and his wife Jezebel are leading the ten tribes of Israel to abandon God and follow after the false god Baal. Baal is worshiped as the god who brings the rain and produces the bounty of their crops.
But God graciously raises up a lighthouse, a prophet named Elijah, to deliver His word to Ahab. Now here in 1 Kings chapter 17, Elijah just sort of suddenly appears on the scene without any introduction, and he says to King 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” (verse 1).
There is no discussion or debate. Elijah tells King Ahab to just sit there and learn the lesson that Baal does not send the rain; God does.
The Lord then immediately gives Elijah specific instructions here in verses 3-4:
“Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.”
Now this secluded spot will not only protect Elijah’s life for the moment but also develop Elijah’s faith for future ministry.
This brook will give him the water he needs, but the Lord is going to send ravens to bring him food. Ravens, of course, do not typically share their food—this is God’s miraculous provision.
Elijah obeys: “He went and did according to the word of the Lord” (verse 5). By the way, this is a great example of following God’s word even when we don’t understand it.
And listen, this food delivery system is going to be a daily reminder to Elijah that God is in control of His creation. He can even use the birds to accomplish His work. Imagine this faith-developing curriculum as Elijah’s trust in the Lord is deepened.
Well, when God finishes with this portion of Elijah’s training, He allows the brook to naturally dry up due to the drought. Elijah is now ready to enter a new classroom, and God directs him to it in verse 9, saying, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”
Now, we need to note some things here. First, Elijah has been in hiding. To go out in public is a dangerous thing to do. Second, a widow would be the last person one would to go for help during this drought and famine. And one more observation: this verse tells us the woman is living in Zarephath, which just happens to be in Jezebel’s homeland, where Elijah cannot expect a very warm welcome. Once again, the Lord is developing the faith of his prophet.
Now when Elijah first meets this widow and asks her for some water and a piece of bread, she tells him here in verse 12:
“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.”
I think Elijah would have chosen to die of hunger rather than ask this impoverished widow for her last piece of bread. But again, he is following the Lord’s instructions, which do not seem to make a lot of sense at the moment.
Elijah then promises her that if she will share with him what little she has left, the Lord will provide for her:
“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.’” (verse 14)
Imagine this promise. No more trips to the grocery store, no begging from friends and neighbors—just believe the word of a prophet she has never met before, and give him her last meal.
And she does! And here in verse 16 we are told, “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.”
Notice, the Lord doesn’t suddenly fill her cupboards and basement with sacks of flour and jars of oil. No, the implication here is that He produces flour and oil each day as it is needed. Every meal, then, is her last meal unless the Lord keeps His word—and He does! What Elijah learned from the Lord’s daily provision through those ravens, this woman learns from a daily miracle of provision.
This is actually a good reminder for you and me today: we need to depend on God one day at a time. In fact, this is what Jesus taught His disciples when He instructed them to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). One day at a time.
Now there is something surprising that happens next here in verse 18. We are told that this widow’s son becomes ill and dies. Her faith is now severely tested. She says to Elijah here:
“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!”
She thinks, like we so often do, that tragedy must be the result of sin and God is taking out His revenge on her.
Elijah doesn’t argue with her or defend himself or God. He simply takes her son up to the room where he has been staying and begins a rather urgent prayer:
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?” 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.” And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. (verses 20-22)
The death of this boy becomes God’s way of revealing more about His power than either this widow or Elijah had ever witnessed before. It is also the final step in preparing Elijah for what is coming, for he is about to stand alone and risk his life in confronting King Ahab and Jezebel and hundreds of pagan prophets of Baal.
Let’s remember that the tests we face in life are designed by God to deepen our faith. God is not interested in destroying us but in developing us so that we grow in our understanding of His character, our commitment to His purposes, and our trust in His provision.
If you are going through a difficult time today, get ready! God is more than likely preparing you for some fruitful, future service that just might surprise you and bring God even greater glory.