1 Kings 17
1 Kings 17 Kingcomments Bible Studies


Now that we have reached the absolute low point of the history of God’s people, the Holy Spirit places the prophet Elijah before our attention. The person and service of Elijah are exceptional. He is one of the greatest personalities in the Old Testament. He is the first man to raise a dead person, he is the only one to go to heaven with fiery chariots and horses. He is “a man with a nature like ours” (Jam 5:17a), but with a tremendous faith. He is also a man of prayer.

He lives in a time of the greatest apostacy, a time in which the Word of God is totally rejected by people of God. In that time he stands as a true man of God for the rights of God and bears witness of Him as the living God. He is a man with whom anyone who cares about the welfare of God’s people would like to identify. After all, we too live in a time in which the Word of God has largely been rejected. Not so much in the world, but in professing Christianity.

Elijah is a prophet. Prophets are sent by God when His people have deviated from Him. God wants to speak through them to the hearts and consciences of the people. Prophets represent God’s power and bring God’s people into the light of God. They put their finger on the deviation, the sin (Jn 4:16-19). Elijah does not do this softly, for he announces drought. He does so because the whole people serve Baal. He comes from Gilead. We could say that in view of the deviation of the people he is a “balm from Gilead” (Jer 8:22). He denounces their sick condition and offers them a medicine. That medicine is repentance and return to the LORD.

Of Elijah – and also of Elisha – we have no Bible book in God’s Word. This we have of many prophets who prophesied to the two tribes, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and so on. We have the prophetic service of the prophets in the two tribes realm in written form in God’s Word because their service also relates to what is still future today. In the two tribes realm there is still a certain interest in God’s Word, and the prophets can refer to that Word in their exhortations. They speak for edification and exhortation and consolation, as still happens today in the church (1Cor 14:3). This is only possible if there are hearts to absorb the Word.

Nor do the prophets of the two tribes realm do signs and wonders: for they are for the unbelievers. Therefore Elijah and Elisha do miracles, for they have a message for an unbelieving people.

The word Elijah and Elisha speak as prophets does not refer to the near or distant future, as is the case with the writing prophets. Their word is addressed to the heart and conscience of the people in the present circumstances, here and now. It is a word supported by wonder signs.

Elijah’s signs are extremely powerful. They are connected to heaven. He has closed heaven once, and opened heaven four times. He closes and opens heaven in relation to rain (Jam 5:17-18). He also opens heaven to let fire descend from it, once over the offering (1Kgs 18:36-38) and twice over his enemies (2Kgs 1:8-14). As has already been said, he raised up a dead person (1Kgs 17:21-22).

He alone has as a prophet a direct successor in Elisha (2Kgs 2:1; 11-14) and he has a successor in his spirit in John the baptist (Lk 1:17). The Old Testament closes with his name (Mal 4:5-6). He is present, together with Moses, when the Lord Jesus appears on the mountain of glorification (Mt 17:3). Finally, we recognize him in one of the two witnesses in the end time (Rev 11:6).

Elijah is called “man of God” (1Kgs 17:18; 24). In the New Testament we meet the ”man of God” in letters addressed to a person (1Tim 6:11; 2Tim 3:17). It can be a man, it can also be a woman. The first letter to Timothy refers to the “later times” (1Tim 4:1). Its characteristics are “forbid marriage” and “abstaining from foods” (1Tim 4:3). Under the influence of deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, these characteristics have arisen. Medieval professing Christianity, as it began and continues in roman-catholicism, is its breeding ground.

In the second letter to Timothy, the decay has gone even further. There it is about the “last days” (2Tim 3:1). The characteristic of this is that in professing Christianity there are people who appear to be God-fearing, but who lie, for they deny the power thereof (2Tim 3:5).

Prophetically, these characteristics are described in the book of Revelation, in the letter to the church in Thyatira (Rev 2:18-29). This letter is part of seven letters in which church history is depicted through the centuries. In that letter reference is made to “the woman Jezebel”, so that the parallel with the time of Elijah is beyond doubt. In this way we can say that the history of Elijah teaches us lessons in connection with the history of the church in the dark Middle Ages, a history that remains relevant because it continues until the coming of the Lord Jesus.

During that time, testimonies of faith are appreciated in a special way, as we hear from the mouth of the Lord Jesus regarding a faithful remnant in Thyatira (Rev 2:19). In such times, where truths are so covered, each testimony about Him is of great significance to Him. For Him it is not about great knowledge of the truth, but to live faithfully according to what is known of the truth. We see this in Elijah, in Obadiah, and the one hundred prophets Obadiah has hidden, and the seven thousand who are only seen by God.

Yet not every believer in such times is a ‘man of God’. This can only be said of Elijah at that time, and it can only be said now of someone who openly defends God’s rights, while the mass of the professing Christianity does not take them into account and many who do so in secret without showing it openly. Not every believing Israelite is a man of God. Obadiah is not, nor are the seven thousand. It is the same today, that not every believer is a man of God.

People who dare to raise their voices in public are few. It is the people who, for example, hold, diametrically opposed to everything else, to the word-for-word, literal inspiration of the Scriptures against everything. This characterizes the man of God in the last days. In the “last days” (2Tim 3:1-5) we see an increase of the evil that characterizes the “later times” (1Tim 4:1-5).

“Last days” require complete dedication to the Word as a hallmark of a man of God (2Tim 3:16-17). Holding on to the inspiration of God’s Word is above all important in such dark times. Then it comes down to holding on to the word of the Lord Jesus’ perseverance (Rev 3:10-11), which is only possible if one lives in an intimate personal relationship with God. Such people get to hear that the Lord Jesus will write “the name of My God” on them (Rev 3:12).

The period when the Lord Jesus was on earth is also called “these last days” (Heb 1:2). This underlines the connection that exists between Elijah and John the baptist, the predecessor of the Lord Jesus. This connection is also evident from their actions. Thus, Elijah testifies in the palace of Ahab, and John in the palace of Herod. Both have experienced the hatred of the wives of these rulers. Both had a breakdown at the end of their service. Therefore it is also said that Elijah and John spiritually spoken are the same person (Lk 1:17a; Mt 11:13-14).

In addition, Elijah is a picture of the Lord Jesus, the Great One sent of God. Christ is the great Witness of God. He has raised up dead. He has blessings for poor Gentiles, just like Elijah, as we see later, when Elijah is in Sidon. He, like Elijah, has brought a sacrifice on a mountain, whereby He Himself is the sacrifice.

We see the picture of the Lord Jesus when Elijah stands on Mount Carmel, alone against the power of the enemy, only with his sacrifice. The sacrifice has shown God’s faithfulness to His people. The sacrifice is consumed by the fire of God’s judgment. By this the people are spared and blessings for the people come again. This performance of Elijah, the culmination of his service, is a striking picture of the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross, where He has born the judgment of the sins of those who are His people.

We also see that the Lord Jesus, just like Elijah, spent forty days in the desert. He also called His followers, as Elijah called Elisha. He went to heaven, which also happened to Elijah.

If I were allowed to have a favorite in the Old Testament, it would be Elijah. I have great admiration for this man. In himself he is no different from other people (Jam 5:17a). It is even so, that of him as the only Old Testament believer something negative is said in the New Testament. Of all the believers in the Old Testament who are mentioned in the New Testament, only what they have done in faith is mentioned. However, of Elijah also something is mentioned that is not good. Once he pleaded with God against His people. Paul refers to this to show that God will always have a remnant according to God’s gracious choice (Rom 11:2-5).

What makes him special is that he is a man of prayer and a man of God. He is the one who stands up for God’s rights and asserts them in an environment where they are denied and trampled underfoot. This character and these features make him the appropriate instrument for God to be His prophet. We may learn from him what God is capable of when we are intercessors who recognize him in the full right of his Word.

Elijah Appears Before Ahab

Suddenly he appears on stage, Elijah, the man from Tishbe. It is described without the usual “and the word of the LORD came to …”. We know nothing of his origin, his family, his education. Only the place of origin is given. He will not have appeared here headstrong, but by a command from God. It is clear that he lives in fellowship with God.

We know that, before he goes to Ahab, he prayed that God would intervene supernaturally in His people. He did not pray only once, but fervently and persistently, until he is convinced that God will give him what he prayed for. With this he reveals God’s holiness and righteousness. With this conviction he appears before Ahab.

He enters the palace of Ahab and courageously speaks his message there. His message is short. His first words are a testimony to God as “the LORD, the God of Israel”. The God of Israel is the LORD, Yahweh, and not Baal. The LORD is also the God who lives. This testimony is necessary in an environment where the living God is excluded. Elijah also says: “Before whom I stand.” This is a beautiful expression. We also hear something similar from the mouth of Abraham, Elisha and Gabriel (Gen 24:40; 2Kgs 3:14; Lk 1:19).

Elijah is aware that he is in the presence of God, that he is with God. Whoever is there can speak His word fearlessly to a mighty man like Ahab, for this great king shrivels in God’s presence to a tiny creature. There is no embarrassment or hesitation in Elijah’s actions or words. He is convinced of the One on behalf of Whom he stands before Ahab here and on behalf of Whom he speaks to Ahab.

Elijah then states that God will reveal Himself as the Living by withholding rain from the people. He does not say “thus says the LORD”, but he speaks with the authority of God Himself when he says that there will be no rain but only on his word, that is the word of Elijah. This is not moderation, but faith confidence. Nothing more and nothing less than that power, that conviction of standing in God’s will and passing on His words, is demanded in times of worst decay.

God works through this man for the benefit of His people. Is it therefore grace to make such an announcement of drought and thereby of famine? Yes. Elijah knows God’s Word and so he knows God’s thoughts. He has read in God’s Word that there will be drought if the people are unfaithful (Lev 26:18-19; Deu 11:16-17; Deu 28:23-24). In his prayer he asked God to live up to this word. He has acted both to withheld rain and to give it (Jam 5:17b-18).

He prayed for it because he is so concerned about the people and so upset about the dishonor done to God. God has made it clear to him to pray on the basis of this word, and he trusts God in His word. For him God is the living God Who only has authority over the rain (Jer 14:22) and not Baal to whom this authority is attributed by unbelief. He speaks this word so that the people may repent and return to God and His Word.

Elijah by the Brook Cherith

Elijah disappears from the stage as suddenly as he appeared on it. After the bringing of his message the word of the LORD comes to him. He must hide in a place where God will take care of him. It doesn’t seem that he hides from Ahab right away. It is conceivable that Ahab will not look for him until later, when the effect of his prayer becomes clear. Elijah obeys and goes to the place God has told him. In the retreat God forms His servant.

Public performance exposes the servant to the danger of self-elevation. With God in secret he has none but God. Here he learns to see himself in God’s presence and he learns Who God is to him. There is “a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecc 3:7b). For Elijah, now the time has come to be silent, until the next designation from God comes to speak again. It is a time of further preparation for his service in public which we see in the next chapter, when he stands before the whole people. Other servants have also known such a period. We see it with Moses, David, John the baptist, Paul and also with the Lord Jesus.

The LORD provides Elijah with bread and meat by means of unclean birds, ravens, and water from the brook. The prophet Obadiah, as we see in the next chapter, provides a hundred prophets of the LORD with bread and water (1Kgs 18:4). Ravens do not take care of their young, but God maintains them (Psa 147:9; Job 38:41). In His sovereignty, however, He uses the ravens for others (cf. Psa 50:11). Thus He always has means at His disposal to provide His own with what they need, even if those means act against their nature. The way in which God takes care of Elijah is also a disgrace to Israel. Apparently there is no one in Israel who wants to take care of the prophet.

The bread and meat that the ravens bring him speak of the Lord Jesus. He is “the bread of life” (Jn 6:35). The Lord Jesus also says of the “bread” the following: “And the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh” (Jn 6:51b). In John 6 He presents Himself as the food that is the means to deliver us from all that is under death. If we live out of Him, we become free from it. We can learn this from what Elijah is experiencing here.

Three times Elijah has experienced the special provisions of God’s care for his sustenance: here at the brook Cherith through the ravens, further on in this chapter with the widow through the flour and oil which do not run out and in 1 Kings 19 where the Angel of the LORD gives him a bread cake and water (1Kgs 19:5-8).

Elijah Must Go to a Widow in Zarephath

Elijah learns how faithful God is in His care for him. Yet the brook dries up. The general judgment he has pronounced on Israel also affects him. He is also part of the people. He is also a picture of the faithful remnant of Israel in the end time, and the three and a half years of drought is a picture of the great tribulation that will also last three and a half years. The believing remnant will flee for a period of three and a half years into the wilderness and be nourished there (Rev 12:14), as Elijah during that time is nourished by the LORD.

We also learn here the lesson that God can give us something, but that this does not mean that it will always stay that way. We can never content ourselves with what we have received from Him and claim it forever. The danger is always present that we attach ourselves to the blessings, while God wants us to attach ourselves to Him. The lesson is that we will not rely on the gifts, but on the Giver. Elijah must learn to trust in something that never ends: God’s caring faithfulness, as is evident from the flour and oil, as we shall see in a moment.

The brook dries up, but the sources present in God Himself never dry up. He has already arranged a new home for Elijah, in Zarephath, about one hundred and thirty kilometers from the brook. Elijah enters a family where he is placed, as it were, in the next class of his formation by God. In this family we can see a picture of a local church. In order to be able to enter the public domain and do a service, training in the local church is of importance. The service for the Lord is not about theological training, but about formation in the practice of church life, in which each member is important for the formation of each other member.

Where Elijah ends up, does not seem to be a place where his problems are solved immediately. It is indeed a place where God can prove His power and love all the more. He always does this where there is nothing. God uses a widow in Zarephath in Sidon. Sidon is the place where Jezebel comes from and where the effects of drought are also noticeable. A servant himself would not think of such a place.

This command must have been wondrous to Elijah. But unlike Jonah, who has to go to a place where he does not want to go and therefore flees from the LORD (Jona 1:3), Elijah goes. In that place of extreme wickedness God wants to further form His servant. At the same time, the woman is also formed. There is an interaction.

A Handful of Flour and a Little Oil

At the gate of the city Elijah meets the widow and asks her a question to know if she is the woman the LORD intended (cf. Gen 24:14). The woman in turn recognizes him. The test makes it clear that this woman has faith, in contrast to the many widows in Israel to whom Elijah could not be sent (Lk 4:25-26). That she believes, we hear from what she says about the LORD. She speaks of Him as the One Who lives.

It seems that she can meet Elijah’s demand for some water. In any case, she leaves to fetch water. When Elijah also asks for bread, however, the widow has to answer that she has nothing but a handful of flour and a little oil. This acknowledgment of reality is exactly what God can use.

She does not refuse to use it for Elijah, but says that this is the last flour she has for her son and herself and that both of them will have to die after using it. There is nothing in her of the spirit of Nabal who, at David’s request to give him some of his wealth, answers: “Shall I then take my bread and my water and my meat …, and give it to men whose origin I do not know?” (1Sam 25:11).

Elijah says to her to use it for him, after he has reassured her with the words “do not fear”. He promises her in the Name of the LORD God of Israel, that the flour and oil will not run out. He calls the Name of the God of Israel in the through and through heathen Sidon. God’s Name sounds brightest from the mouth of a man of God who is in an environment where the greatest darkness reigns.

The widow accepts the word of the prophet and believes that she will not lose by it. Those who trust God will make available to Him the little bit they have without objecting. Those who act with God will first seek His kingdom. They will do so in the faith that the other things will then be given to them (Mt 6:33). Happy are those who, in hope against hope, continue to believe and who obey in confidence in God’s provisions.

This is what God wants: that we go to the Lord Jesus with the little we have. It is, as someone once said: “Little becomes much if God stands behind it.” We see that also with the wondrous feeding. What do a few loaves and a few fish mean to so many people (Jn 6:9)? Give it to the Lord. He distributes it so that everyone may be satisfied and there even remains some for others (Mt 14:20).

If we can see the widow’s house as a local church of believers, full of weakness, this scene gives us encouragement. We see that God wants to work there by means of the little there is. It is “the day of small things” (Zec 4:10) and of “little power” (Rev 3:8).

The full power of the Holy Spirit from the beginning, when He was poured out (Acts 2:1-4), is still present today (1Cor 2:12; Gal 5:16; 25), but is no longer fully realized because of the unfaithfulness of the church. Yet there is still “a handful”, “a little”. This will never disappear as long as the church is on earth and there are local believers who believe in the Lord Jesus and His work and in the power of the Spirit.

The flour and oil are multiplied. This multiplication takes place by using the flour and the oil. The woman experiences the truth of the word: “There is one who scatters, and [yet] increases all the more” (Pro 11:24a). The opposite is also true. There may be plenty, but when used for one’s own benefit, God will blow in it and it becomes little (Pro 11:24b; Hag 1:9; Hag 2:16).

The widow receives a prophet in the name of a prophet and receives the reward of a prophet (Mt 10:41). She will not have complained that there is so little, because day after day she experiences its presence and she lives from it. She must have been surprised every day that it is still there.

We can apply the flour and the oil spiritually. The flour can be seen as a picture of the Lord Jesus as Man. Flour is used for the grain offering (Lev 2:1). Oil is a picture of the Holy Spirit (1Jn 2:20; 27). The Man Christ Jesus, Who is God revealed in the flesh, was completely guided by the Spirit on earth. The Lord Jesus is begotten by the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:35) and anointed with Him (Acts 10:38). The grain offering is also exposed to fire (Lev 2:2; 9; 14). In it we see the picture that He, the true Man devoted to God, has undergone on the cross the fire of God’s judgment.

Even if there is only a little awareness of the perfection of the Lord Jesus and even if there is only a little awareness of the power of the Holy Spirit, when we go with this awareness to the Man of God, the Lord Jesus, He will work with it. The awareness of little power and the holding to the Name of the Lord Jesus are characteristics of the church in Philadelphia (Rev 3:8).

In the midst of the general decay in professing Christianity, it is still possible to put God’s thoughts into practice, even if only with a few who are so weak in themselves. As encouragement the Lord says: “I am coming quickly” and He calls: “Hold fast what you have” (Rev 3:11).

The Widow’s Son Dies

It is a small, but happy company, there in that house in Zarephath. In this time of scarcity, they always have to eat, because the man of God has moved in there. Then comes the trial in that house. It is the next class in the school of God. If we can assume that Elijah was by the brook Cherith for one year and with the widow for two years, we can see these three years as teaching years in the school of God.

The first year, the first class, is by the brook Cherith. The second year, the second class, is with the widow to learn that the handful of flour and the little oil are sufficient in days of the greatest weakness. Now comes the third year, the third class, with the lesson of death and resurrection. After the exercise in the hiddenness by the brook Cherith and the formation in the family, in picture the church, we now learn that the foundation of blessing and life lies in death and resurrection.

The only son of the widow becomes ill and dies. This empties the house. It is not only a trial for the woman, but also for Elijah. This profoundly dramatic event brings the woman to a renewed awareness of God’s hand in her life. She is reminded of a sin, the burden of which she apparently had not yet lost.

This may happen to us as well. There are things that happen in which we suddenly find ourselves in God’s presence. Through a sudden incident, God can bring us to a standstill and immediately reminds us of a sin we have committed, but which we have hidden or forgotten and which we have not yet confessed. God works this out to give the opportunity to confess that sin.

The woman addresses Elijah with “man of God”. She knows he is. Through him she has come to know God as a Sustainer, Someone Who takes care of her. But now through him she will get to know God in a special way: as the God of resurrection. Elijah is in this house a picture of the Lord Jesus through whom we learn to know God as the God of resurrection and new life.

The Son Becomes Alive

Elijah listens to her need and says to her: “Give me your son.” Thus the Lord Jesus says to us “give Me your problem”, just as He once said to a desperate father that he should bring his son to Him (Mk 9:19b). At the same time, Elijah takes the son from her bosom. He disconnects the boy from the natural connection that exists between the boy and his mother. His mother can’t help him anymore. All the natural things on which a person can rely must first be taken away if God is to do His work through His life-giving power.

Elijah brings the boy to his upper room. Later the woman in Shunem also brought her son to an upper room (2Kgs 4:21); there the believers also laid Dorcas (Acts 9:37); there Eutychus was also brought back after he fell out of the window of the upper room (Acts 20:8-12). An upper room is a place above the earth, where those who are there are with God as it were. Elijah lays him on his bed, his deathbed, so to speak. Then he stretches himself upon him, making himself one with him symbolically. This he does up to three times.

Each new life is based on the fact that the Lord Jesus made our problem of sin His on the cross. All subsequent problems that may arise in our life are also made His in His service in heaven as High Priest and Advocate. As Elijah calls to God, so does Christ pray for us.

Elijah prays fervently to God to let life return to the child. Before this event we do not read of anyone who has been brought back to life from the dead. This makes Elijah’s faith in God as the God of the resurrection all the more remarkable. He is an example to us in his faith in the power of God over death. However, he is not an example for us to pray for the revival of a dead person. Thus David did not expect to bring his child back to life through prayer and fasting (2Sam 12:23). Elijah has a power to work wonders that David did not have.

When Elijah calls to God as his personal God, God listens to the voice of Elijah and brings outcome. He restores life and thus confirms Elijah as the man who restores things. Elijah gives the child back to its mother. He is the prophet who restores the relationship between the generations and restores the hearts of the parents to the children and the hearts of children to the parents (Mal 4:5a; 6a). God also wants to do this with us if we can no longer live to His honor because of a problem of any kind.

Elijah’s prayer is clear: “Let this child’s life return to him.” In this we clearly see the existence of the soul in a state separate of the body, which is also a proof that the soul does not die after death. The LORD hears the prayer. As a result, the woman acknowledges that Elijah is a man of God. We will also give all honor to the Lord Jesus when we have experienced His power to give life. Thus the death of this child, as well as later that of Lazarus (Jn 11:4), becomes a reason to glorify God and to honor His prophet.

© 2023 Author G. de Koning

All rights reserved. No part of the publications may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.

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