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Trusting the word of the Lord: A Bible study of 1 Kings 17:7-16

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The prophet Elijah was called by God to stand before Ahab, the king of Israel, and speak “the word of the Lord.” Elijah told Ahab that the Lord God was sending an immediate, severe drought that would last for several years, as discipline on the Israelites because many of the people had turned wantonly away from the Lord. (See study on 1 Kings 17:1)

After proclaiming the God’s message to Ahab, God sent Elijah away and told him to “hide” for a time in the Kerith Ravine. There, the Lord miraculously provided food for him by commanding ravens to bring him meat and bread twice a day. There was also a flowing brook in the ravine from which Elijah drank to satisfy his thirst. (See study on 1 Kings 17:2-6).

He probably stayed in the Kerith Ravine for close to, or slightly more than a year when:

Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the LORD came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food. (1 Kings 17:7-9).

Now there could be some tendency to question whether God was failing to provide Elijah by allowing the brook to dry up. After all, Elijah was where God sent him, and the Lord promised to provide for Elijah there. So, certainly, God could’ve kept the brook flowing.

It’s important to understand the brook didn’t run dry because of God’s inability, lack of foresight, or poor planning. On the contrary, the brook dried up because of God’s ability and foresight, in accordance with His perfect plan.

God is faithful and sufficient in all He does. The Lord never fails, and He never forsakes His people. The brook dried up because that was the exact time God planned for Elijah to leave the area. The Lord was leading Elijah one step at a time. And it was time for Elijah to take “the next step” in obedience.

Not only was Elijah called to act in obedience, he was called here to act with urgency. The Lord commanded him to, “go at once.” There was to be no hesitancy by Elijah. Actually, in God’s allowing the brook to dry up, it served to confirm the necessity that Elijah must leave immediately.

Why the urgency? Obviously, Elijah would need water soon. But more than that, whether Elijah realized it or not, the timing was even more critical for the widow he was being sent to.

Ehijah wasn’t told to simply leave quickly from where he was at, he was told to go at once to Zarephath. That meant he couldn’t procrastinate in getting there. (At Zarephath, it became clear that if he had delayed even for hours, the situation would’ve been different when he came upon the widow.)

Elijah was a man who prayerfully and patiently waited to hear from the Lord before he acted. But when he heard from the Lord, he tended to act straightaway.

That is an example for Christians. When God calls us to a ministry, we should be patience and prayerful until God makes His direction clear to us. At the same time, we should be cautious that we are remaining in a spirit of prayer—and not that of procrastination. For, procrastination can have consequences, for us and possibly for others as well.

There were many times in Elijah’s ministry when he could easily have questioned the Lord’s word. This is one of those times.

Why? First, the town of Zarephath was in the region of Sidon, which was a land of Phoenician people. And the Phoenicians were widely idol worshippers of the “god” Baal. 

Too, the region of Sidon was actually Queen Jezebel’s homeland. Jezebel was perhaps Elijah’s greatest threat. She was actively integrating a more widespread worship of Baal in the land of Israel. And, she was aggressively “killing off the Lord’s prophets” (1 Kings 18:4).

Further, Jezebel’s father, Ethbaal, was the reigning king of the Sidonians at the time (1 Kings 16:31).

So, it may seem intimidating to us that God sent Elijah into Sidon. Yet, for God, “the One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them” (Ps. 2:4).

Sidon wasn’t a place where Elijah would’ve likely gone, if he didn’t trust in God’s word and protection. Elijah lived out the kind of faith the Psalmist proclaims, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me” (Ps. 56:3-4).

God is more than able to care for and protect His people even though they might be surrounded by enemies! Actually, in Elijah’s case, the Lord put him in a land where he was literally surrounded by an enemy people.

In Zarephath, the Bible says the Lord had “directed,” (or “commanded,” as in NKJV) a widow to supply Elijah with food. In this context, it doesn’t seem to imply that God had previously spoken to this widow and told her to supply Elijah with food. (That’s possible, but it’s doubtful here.) Rather, this seems to mean the Lord had determined and already put in motion His plan to care for Elijah, as well as the widow and her son.

The Lord was sending Elijah to a specific place and to a specific person whom God had orchestrated would shelter and serve Elijah. And, while providing for Elijah, God would also bless this widow!

So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.” (1 Kings 17:10-11)

In following the word of the Lord, Elijah didn’t need to fret or worry about how to find that specific widow. For, God would put the widow in the path of Elijah.

Many times, when God calls us to something, we waste time and energy worrying over how we’ll find that person God is calling us to minister to. Or, we stress about what we’re supposed to do to “make things fall into place” for what thing God has called us to.

We need to condition ourselves to trust God, knowing that whatever God has directed to, He will bring into being. For, if God is behind it, He is also before it!

If God calls you to minister to a specific person, or even for a general group of people, He will make a way so people are supernaturally placed in your path! If you are called to serve in a place, you can know that God is already working out (and working in) what He has determined. Wherever God sends you, you can be confident that He goes before you.

Something that we fail to think about often enough is that part of what it means to follow the Lord is watching for the Lord to clear paths before us, making ways through obstacles where there seems to be no way. The Lord can divide seemingly unpassable seas and break down seemingly unscalable walls!

What a joy it is in seeing things supernaturally unfold before us as we follow God in obedience!

It’s amazing to read about the miracles God did through, and for, Elijah. Still, I imagine as amazed as we are looking back on Elijah’s life, it doesn’t begin to compare to how amazed Elijah must’ve been as he watched the hand of God work those miracles before him.

Yes, Elijah anticipated the Lord would do miracles. But it didn’t diminish his amazement when God did miracles. Actually, it magnified his awe in the Almighty God!

Miracles shouldn’t seem out of reach for Christians today. As a child of God, we ought to expect miracles in our walk with the Lord. Not in a presumptuous way. But in a way that our expectations of God readies us to be more-and-more awed by Him.

That said, many times—properly most of the time—we may not see those miracles unless we first have a love for people in our heart, combined with a heart of obedience to follow the Lord’s Word. That was true for Elijah. It was also true for this widow.

Elijah approached the widow by asking for a drink of water. Now, in that, we need to remember the land was in a severe drought. So, water would’ve been precious and the widow wouldn’t have had much. Yet she was willing to give out of the little she had.

When she graciously turned to get Elijah some water, he then asked for a piece of bread also.

As surely as the LORD your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die. (1 Kings 17:10-12)

Before Elijah approached this widow, she had been living in fear for a while; expecting to die from starvation after her flour was exhausted. She, probably in shame, explained to Elijah that her flour and oil were almost depleted.

For her, to give Elijah water would be to give out of her scarcity. But to make bread for Elijah would’ve required giving away all she had to live on. Actually, she was at the point where she thought she and her son would slowly starve to death after that last bit of flour was used up.

The widow answered Elijah under an oath taken in the Lord’s name, “As surely as the LORD your God lives . . .” That was remarkable. For, she lived among a pagan people, and in a land where the image of Baal was worshipped as deity. Yet she spoke using the name of the Lord, (Whom she undoubtedly had heard was the God of Israel).

The widow’s oath suggests she had some realization that the Lord (Elijah’s God) is the true God. And, this gives indication that she must’ve been seeking how she could know this “God of Israel.”

Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD sends rain on the land.”  (1 Kings 17:13-14)

How long had this widow been living in confusion, depression, fear, and hopelessness? She perceived little hope for her family to survive the drought. Emotionally, she carried that maternal responsibility for the life of her son also.

Elijah compassionately assured her, “Don’t be afraid.” He then spoke of the Lord’s promise of her forthcoming miraculous deliverance by the hand of the Lord.

Now, people can be guilty of presumption. People can act on what they suppose the Lord ought to do in a situation, whether than seek the Lord’s word over a situation.

Elijah was not making a presumptuous statement about something he wanted the Lord to do. He was speaking only what the Lord had revealed to him. He repeated God’s promise, even though God’s promise seemed incredible!

For the Lord, nothing is impossible. God can provide for His children beyond physical means, and through ways beyond what we could imagine. Sometimes though, we might be down to that “last bit of flour and oil” before we see Him move. (Although He is always moving but we only see fragments of His workings.)

Think again about the timing of the brook running dry at the Kerith Ravine and the urgency of God’s call for Elijah to “go at once to Zarephath.”  If Elijah had delayed for only an hour, perhaps this widow would’ve already cooked that last bit of flour before Elijah arrived. Certainly, God still could’ve provided for them. But if the widow had used up the flour before Elijah arrived, she wouldn’t have had that opportunity to act in trust on the Lord’s word, by preparing that last bit of flour for Elijah.

The widow’s act of obedient faith would’ve possibly been a lost opportunity for her, if Elijah had delayed in his obedience! For, the Lord orchestrated this time as a test in obedience and an opportunity for blessings for the widow (as well as for Elijah.)

Elijah told the widow to first prepare a small loaf of bread for him but not to fear because the Lord has promised the flour and oil would not run out. That meant she was asked to first give of what she had to the Lord’s servant before the miracle would be seen, which required her to trust in the word of the Lord and act in obedience within that trust.

Faith is often the step between the Lord’s promise and the fulfillment of His promise. Oftentimes, the Lord’s miracles must be proceeded by an act of obedience from the one whom He intends to bless.

This widow likely had anxiousness as she used that last bit of flour to prepare bread for Elijah. She had the Lord’s promise that the flour and oil would be continually replenished. But, the inability to see upfront what God promised would be forthcoming afterwards, could’ve allowed a doorway for fear.

God’s promises are true and certain. But, many times, we are prone to spiritual battles between faith and fear.

How do you overcome a spirit of fear? By standing on God’s Word, which speaks truth; and by resting in His perfect love, which gives us peace beyond understanding. For, “Perfect love casts out fear” (John 4:18).

God’s Word is truth. His promises are reality. And His love for us is great beyond measure! Therefore, as we face despairing times, we can have confidence that God cares for us and is active in our life. “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 2:11). “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

For this widow in the pagan region of Sidon, God had already determined how she would be cared for. In that, God made a made for His word to be delivered to her, even though she lived in a land where the “people in power” were idol-worshippers. (Even in areas where men intentionally try to suppress the Word of the Lord, God will make a make for His Word to reach those who are seeking Him.)

You, too, can have confident faith that no matter how bitter your trials or seemingly hopeless your situation, God is with you and for you. For, the Lord God is Faithful and True.

She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah. (1 Kings 17:15-16)

In practicality, this widow put her life and her son’s life “on the line” based on the faithfulness of the Lord to His Word. She, acting in faith, did as Elijah told her, trusting that the Lord would be faithful to His word. This, even though the word of the Lord would require that God would perform a miracle to fulfill it!

James wrote about this kind of faith, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds” (James 2:18)

The widow’s faith in the word of the Lord was demonstrated by her actions. For, how deep can a person’s faith be, if there isn’t confidence for them to act upon their “faith”?

The widow was obedient. And, therefore, even in a time of a severe, prolonged drought; the Lord sustained the widow with a continual supply of flour and oil.

Yet, that was only the beginning of her blessings during this time! Not only did this widow receive physical nourishment, she received delightful spiritual nourishment during this time. For, she was able to spent individual, precious time with Elijah himself! Wow!

We can only imagine what she experienced in listening to the words and wisdom of the prophet Elijah for probably more than two years. And, by cooking and caring for Elijah, she was blessed with the privilege of being one who helped support Elijah’s ministry.

The “behind the scenes” service done in the Lord’s work may go unnoticed by many, but it is of monumental importance in ministry. As Paul writes, “There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Cor. 12:5-7).

As the widow had her ministry in supporting Elijah; in Christ, the Lord has gifted all of us to serve Him. And, He called us to serve Him. In doing so, we have this biblical Word of Truth: “God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4. 19).

As the widow did, are you willing to act in obedience to the Word of the Lord—trusting the Lord will fulfill His Word, even though His Word seems incredible to you? And realizing sometimes faith to follow the Lord’s leading, is often the step between the promise and the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise.

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