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.” 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.”
“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.”
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.’”
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.
Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”
“Give me your son,” Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. Then he cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!” The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!”
Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.” – I Kings 17:8-24
I know that many of you are excited about life and all that comes with it. I know that you look forward to waking up in the morning and you look forward to going along about your day.
And if I was you, I would give God praise every time you are able to inhale and exhale. I would give God praise every time you are able to bat your eyes and see the beauty of the sunrise and enjoy the cool breeze of the sunset.
Because somebody didn’t wake up this morning. And somebody as we speak has checked out and exchanged this earthly time for eternality. And you should never take your life for granted.
It was grace that woke you up and it was mercy that kept you up.
And now I understand why the older saints used to get excited and testify that if I don’t have anything else to thank God for,
I thank him for waking me up this morning,
I thank him for starting me on my way,
I thank him for clothing me in my right mind,
I thank him for the activity of my limbs,
I thank him for the clarity of my thoughts, accuracy of my speech, and shielding me from all hurt, harm, and danger.
It was Donald Hillard, Jr in his book Stop the Funeral who suggested that we have all been subjected to a culture of death. Death is all around us, from drive-by shootings, abortion clinics, and assisted suicide to the gunning down of young African American youth and young adults which started the #BLACKLIVESMATTER movement.
We are subjected to a culture of death. If there is no hope for a gorilla in captivity, you might as well be real and admit that we are surrounded and subjected to a culture of death. In Orlando, people grappled with the magnitude of the horror: one man armed with an assault rifle and a pistol managed to kill 49 people and wound another 53 inside a gay nightclub.
We are surrounded by and subjected to a culture of death.
Here in the text we are introduced to a hungry prophet named Elijah on assignment to stretch the faith of a widow woman on welfare in Zarephath. And to add insult to injury, she had just lost her son.
And I don’t have time to argue with the scholars who debate whether this boy was really dead or just close to death. But whether he was dead or dying this woman was dealing with a dead situation.
All I know is, we have a hungry prophet (Elijah) on assignment to stretch the faith of a widow woman on welfare in Zarephath. And to add insult to injury, she had just lost her son.
I like Elijah because he spoke what God said and didn’t worry about what the people thought of it.
And if you are going to be prophetic in the 21st Century, and speak truth to power, you can’t worry about how people feel, you just have to speak what God says.
You have to be like Elijah.
You know, Elijah:
God’s appointed man.
You know, Elijah:
God’s anointed man.
You know, Elijah:
God’s approved man.
Because when you have been appointed, anointed, and approved by God, you are able to stand before kings and preach a message of warning and repentance.
You are able to bring life to a dead situation.
You know, Elijah:
A Hebrew name that means “My God is Yahweh.”
Elijah, a prophet of the 9th Century BC during the reign of that jelly back King Ahab and his demonic Queen Jezebel.
You know, Elijah:
A.K.A. Elijah the Tishbite of Gilead.
He was just like us. A man of hope, dreams, and visions. Elijah in the text moves at God’s instruction to the little town called Zarephath. It’s not strange that God sent Elijah to Zarephath which means “a smelting place or a testing place.”
We all will be sent to Zarephath:
a place of big dreams, but small budgets,
a place of minimal resource, but major vision,
a place that stretches your faith,
a place where dead things are resurrected.
We all will stop by Zarephath.
There God informs him that a widow will feed him. The description of this woman as a widow tells us that she is among the neediest of society. The title widow lets us know that she has had some experience with dead situations. The title widow lets us know that you were surviving after the lost.
Is there anybody here who doesn’t mind testifying that God will keep you even in dead-end situations? And some of you have lost something and if you keep living you will know how it feels to live with loss.
Some of you lost some friends.
Some of you lost some people close to you.
Some of you lost some jobs.
Some of you lost some money.
But by the fact that you are still here, breathing, clothed in your right mind, proves that God will keep you even in dead-end situations. When Elijah meets this woman in Zarephath, he meets her in a dead-end situation, for the text tells us this woman is gathering sticks (v.10).
She’s gathering sticks as sign of her poverty.
She’s gathering sticks as a sign of her desperation.
She’s gathering sticks as a sign of having to make ends meet.
Is there anybody here like this woman? Who knows what it’s like to gather sticks? Knows what it’s like to make do, knows what it’s like to manage with minimal, knows what it’s like to appreciate what’s present instead of complaining about what’s absent, knows what it’s like to raise kids as a single parent, knows what it’s like to have to save what you have with fear of running out, knows what it’s like to be in between jobs and unemployment hasn’t kicked in?
Is there anybody here who knows what it’s like to gather sticks? I don’t know about you, but I’ve learned how to shout while gathering sticks!
You might be catching hell, but don’t stop praising him;
you might be stressed out, but don’t stop praying;
you might be fed up, but don’t stop giving him the glory;
you might be at rock bottom, but don’t stop shouting,
because the text lets me know firstly that God will provide!
Here in the text we are introduced to a hungry prophet (Elijah) on assignment to stretch the faith of a widow woman on welfare who is “gathering sticks” and to add insult to injury she had just lost her son.
And I have a problem with this text:
that this woman is a widow which means she has lost.
that this woman is “gathering sticks” which means that she is trying to make ends meet.
that this woman is on welfare and trying to provide for her son which means that she didn’t have much.
Even with the woman’s loss, making ends meet, and not having much, Elijah this hungry prophet asks her in verse 10 to go and fetch him some water and to bring him a morsel of bread.
And this sister looked at Elijah
and I could imagine she rolled her eyes
and put her hands on her hips
and said PROPHET PLEASE!!!!
In verse 12 she said, “As surely as your God lives, I don’t have so much as a biscuit. I have a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a bottle; you see me gathering sticks, just enough firewood to make my last meal for my son and me. After we eat it, we are going to die.”
I don’t know about you and I don’t know about her, but
I serve a God who can take a biscuit and make a buffet,
I serve a God who can take your little and make much,
I serve a God who can work with your handful.
Is there anybody here who don’t mind testifying that when I was down to nothing, God was up to something? Is there anybody here who doesn’t mind praising him, that he’s able to work with whatever you have? Is there anybody here who don’t mind declaring that he is Jehovah Jireh, “God Will Provide”?
Ask Samson with a donkey jawbone who slayed a 1,000 men,
ask Ruth who gleaned grain from the field,
ask David who had a slingshot and stones and took down Goliath,
ask the boy who had five loaves and two fish,
God can work with a handful!
God will provide all your needs.
Elijah is dealing with a situation that, if it is not dead, it sure looks like it is about to die. But at this point Elijah makes a strange request (v.13-14): Elijah said, “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. 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.’”
Elijah said, “Go and do as you have said.”
God blesses preparation.
Elijah said, “First make me a little cake.”
God honors sacrifice.
Elijah said, “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.”
God has an unlimited supply.
Is there anybody in here who has prepared, sacrificed, and can testify that God has never failed you, God has never let you down, God has never left you out, God may not have come when you wanted him, but he showed up right on time?
Because when you trust God you are saying that I know without a doubt in my mind that God will supply, God will sustain and God will satisfy everything I need. Because when you trust God, you don’t mind preparing for your miracle. When you trust God, you don’t mind sacrificing for your survival. When you trust God, you don’t mind declaring that he is our unlimited supply. If you want to bring life to a dead situation, God wants to know, “can I trust you?” and most of all, “do you trust me?”
I trust in God wherever I may be,
Upon the land, or on the rolling sea,
For come what may, from day to day,
My heav’nly Father watches over me.
But to add insult to injury, the son of this widow who takes care of Elijah unexpectedly gets sick and dies. Life is fickle: when you think that you have one problem figured out, here comes something else.
We have a hungry prophet (Elijah) on assignment to stretch the faith of a widow woman on welfare and to add insult to injury she has just lost her son.
I stop by to tell somebody when you are dealing with a dead situation you have to expect the unexpected, process your pain, and trust the process.
There were times when you thought in your life that you weren’t going to make it,
There were even times when you were about to throw in the towel,
There were times when you couldn’t see clearly from the tears in your eyes,
There were even times when it looked like everything was caving in and everything that could go wrong, went wrong.
Because not only will God provide, but God has a plan.
Life may hurt some times, but God has a plan.
Resources may be meager, but God has a plan.
When things get rough—hold on.
When things get tough—hold on.
When things get heavy—hold on.
When you feel bad—hold on.
When you feel good—hold on.
When things look bad—hold on.
God has a plan.
And in verse 18, this widow’s painful words of heartbreak: “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!’”
I stop by to tell somebody, when you are dealing with a dead situation you have to stop blaming other people and position yourself for a miracle. Is there anybody here who don’t mind testifying that I came this morning looking for a miracle?
I expect the impossible
I feel the intangible and
I see the invisible:
The sky is the limit
To what I can have.
Don’t take it personal it’s just a part of the process because God can still work with dead things.
Elijah begins to talk, to pray and to have a talk with God (v.20). Is there anybody here who knows that when things are dead or about to die you don’t need to talk to the undertaker, the mortuary, or the mortician because they specialize in funerals?
But you have to do like Elijah and fall down on your knees and declare:
Father, I stretch my hands to thee,
No other help I know;
If thou withdraw thyself from me,
Ah! whither shall I go?
Jesus, could I this believe,
I now should feel thy power;
Now all my wants thou wouldst relieve
In this, the accepted hour.
Surely thou canst not let me die;
Speak, and I shall live!
For here I will unwearied lie,
Till thou thy Spirit give.
How would my fainting soul rejoice,
Could I but see thy face!
Now let me hear thy quickening voice,
And taste thy pardoning grace!
Not only will God provide, not only does God have a plan, but God will make provision. Verse 21 says, “Then Elijah 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.’” That’s persistence. Is there anybody here who don’t mind giving God some praise for verses 9-20. Elijah said, “Hand me your son.” He then took him from her bosom, carried him up to the loft where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. Then he prayed, “O God, my God, why have you brought this terrible thing on this widow who has opened her home to me? Why have you killed her son?”
Three times he stretched himself out full-length on the boy: that’s persistence! Praying with all his might: that’s prayer! “God, my God, put breath back into this boy’s body!” That’s power!
And I praise him right here, because the Bible says that God listened to Elijah’s prayer and put breath back into his body—He was alive! And Elijah picked the boy up, carried him downstairs from the loft, and gave him to his mother.
The woman said to Elijah,
You came here hungry but turned out to be helpful,
you came here in my lack but now I can live,
you came here in my loss but now I believe.
I see it all now—you are a holy man. When you speak, God speaks—is there anybody here who don’t mind giving God some praise:
Through every day, o’er all the way,
God will take care of you,
He will take care of you,
God will take care of you.
Not only will God provide, not only does God have a plan, but finally God will make provisions.
He is Lucifer’s eviction notice.
He is Adam’s rack of ribs.
He’s Eve’s matchmaker,
Sarah’s menstrual cycle,
Daniel’s riding lesson,
Hannah’s fertility doctors,
David’s war weapon,
Jericho’s war wrecker,
Mary’s baby daddy,
Lazarus’ grave robber,
Martha’s meal planner,
the little boy’s happy meal,
John’s baptistmal candidate,
Peter’s water walker,
the disciples’ road dog,
Paul and Silas’ midnight mover,
the revelators’ other companion.
He is my bread and butter.
He is my day brightener,
my insurance policy.
The road, it’s rough,
the going gets tough.
The hills are hard to climb
but I started out a long time ago.
I have no doubt in my mind,
I have decided to make Jesus my choice!
Hilliard, Donald. Stop the Funeral!: Reaching a Generation Determined to Kill Itself. Tulsa, OK: Albury Pub., 2000.
Hymn: “Be Not Dismayed Whate’er Betide.”
Featured image courtesy Jeremy Bezanger via Unsplash.