So Elijah got up and went to Zarephath. When he arrived at the city gate, there was a widow gathering sticks. Elijah called to her and said, "Please bring me a little water in a cup, so that I may drink."
כד) was one of these vessels. The store in this case was run low; there was but a "handful" left; yet this was so multiplied by the power of God that three persons found at least in it sufficient provision for two and a half years. Let us inquire -
I. HOW ITS CONDITION BECAME KNOWN.
1. Elijah came to Zarephath in quest of the widow.
(1) Such were his instructions (vers. 8, 9). But was there only one widow in this city of "smelting furnaces" (comp. 1 Kings 7:14), this hive of industry, this centre of population? How, then, is he to discover the right one?
(2) God knows her, and that is enough for the prophet. The Word of the Lord who came to him at Samaria and at Cherith will now guide him. (See Isaiah 42:16.)
(3) Let us follow the light we have and God will give us more. So was Abraham's faithful servant guided to Rebecca (Genesis 24.)
2. He found her at the gate of the city.
(1) She was there on an errand of her own, viz., to gather a few dry sticks to kindle a fire to cook her last meal in this world.
(2) She was there also, though unknown to herself, on an errand from God. She was commanded to sustain the prophet of Israel
(3) Yet these two errands harmonize. God uses man's purposes to work out His own. Man proposeth; God disposeth.
3. He readily identified her.
(1) He asked her for water, which, with admirable promptitude, she went to fetch. This was the sign by which Abraham's servant identified Rebecca (Genesis 24:14). The cup of cold water has its promise of reward (Matthew 10:42).
(2) Then he asked for bread, which further request opened the way for the whole truth, "As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but," etc. (ver. 12). From these words it is evident that she recognized Elijah, at least as an Israelite, and probably as the prophet of Israel; for he was a person of pronounced individuality. His profusion of hair, probably, placed Elisha in such contrast to him that Elisha was mocked as a "bald head." (Comp. 2 Kings 1:8, and 2 Kings 2:23.)
II. How ITS RESOURCES WERE MAINTAINED.
1. By the miracle-working power of God.
(1) "The barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord which he spake by Elijah." This supplied not only the guest but the widow and her son for two years and a half. As Bp. Hall remarks, "Never did corn or olive so increase in the growing as these did in the using."
(2) This miracle was similar to that of the manna. The off was used as butter for the meal, and the taste of the manna was like fresh oil (Numbers 11:8). Also to Christ's miracles of the loaves.
(3) The lessons are the same. The miracles all teach that "man lives not by bread alone, but by the word of God." That this spiritual food is the gift of God. That it differs essentially from the bread that perishes. Not only is it imperishable, but it multiplies in the using, grows as it is dispensed. How delightful were the spiritual feasts of that two years and a half in the widow's dwelling [(See Revelation 3:20.)
2. Through the faith of the widow.
(1) She was predisposed to believe. God saw this, else He had not honoured her with His command to sustain his prophet. (See Luke 4:24-26.) Let us ever live in that moral fitness to be employed by God.
(2) This disposition was encouraged. She waited for something to justify her faith in God, and she got it: "And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said," de. (vers. 13, 14). She knew that the word of the Lord was with Elijah And this instruction to make first a little cake for the prophet was according to God's order. (See Numbers 15:20, 21.)
(3) She proved the genuineness of her faith by her works. "She did according to the saying of Elijah." By works faith is perfected, And God justified the faith that justified him. - J.A.M.
Deuteronomy 11:17; Leviticus 26:18).
As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand.James 5:17). "He prayed earnestly that it might not rain." A terrible prayer indeed! Granted; and yet, was it not more terrible for the people to forget and ignore the God of their fathers, and to give themselves up to the licentious orgies of Baal and Astarte? Physical suffering is a smaller calamity than moral delinquency. And the love of God does not shrink from inflicting such suffering, if, as a result, the plague of sin may be cut out as a cancer, and stayed. Elijah gives us three indications of the source of his strength.
1. "As Jehovah liveth." To all beside, Jehovah might seem dead; but to him, He was the one supreme reality of life.
2. "Before whom I stand." He was standing in the presence of Ahab; but he was conscious of the presence of a greater than any earthly monarch, even the presence of Jehovah, before whom angels bow in lowly worship, hearkening to the voice of His word. Gabriel himself could not employ a loftier designation (Luke 1:19). Let us cultivate this habitual recognition of the presence of God; it will lift us above all other fear.
3. The word "Elijah" may be rendered, "Jehovah is my God"; but there is another possible translation, "Jehovah is my strength." This gives the key to his life. God was the strength of his life; of whom should he be afraid?
(F. B. Meyer, M. A.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
I. LIFE A CONSTANT VISION OF GOD'S PRESENCE. How distinct and abiding must the vision of God have been, which burned before the inward eye of the man that struck out that phrase! Wherever I am, whatever I do, I am before Him. No excitement of work, no strain of effort, no distraction of circumstances, no glitter of gold, or dazzle of earthly brightness, dimmed that vision for these prophets. In some measure, it was with them as it shall be perfectly with all one day, "His servants serve Him, and see His face," — action not interrupting the vision, nor the vision weakening action. It is hard to set the Lord always before us; but it is possible, and in the measure in which we do it we shall not be moved. How small Ahab and his court must have looked to eyes that were full of the undazzling brightness of the true King of Israel, and the ordered ranks of His attendants! How little the greatness! how tawdry the pomp! how impotent the power, and how toothless the threats!
II. LIFE WAS ECHOING WITH THE VOICE OF THE DIVINE COMMAND. He stands before the Lord, not only feeling in his thrilling spirit that God is ever near him, but also that His word is ever coming forth to him, with imperative authority. That is the prophet's conception of life. Wherever he is, he hears a voice saying, This is the way, walk ye in it. People talk about the consciousness of "a mission." The important point, on the settling of which depends the whole character of our lives, is — "Who do you suppose gave you your mission"? Was it any person at all? or have you any consciousness that any will but your own has anything to say about your life? These prophets had found One whom it was worth while to obey, whatever came of it, and whosoever stood in the way.
III. LIFE FULL OF CONSCIOUS OBEDIENCE. No man could say such a thing of himself who did not feel that he was rendering a real, earnest, though imperfect obedience to God. So, though in one view the words express a very lowly sense of absolute submission before God, in another view they make a lofty claim for the utterer. He professes that he stands before the Lord, girt for His service, watching to be guided by His eye, and ready to run when He bids. We may well shrink to make such a claim for ourselves when we think of the poor, perfunctory service and partial consecration which our lives show. But let us rejoice that even we may venture to say, "Truly I am Thy servant." Such a life is necessarily a happy life. The one misery of man is self-will, the one secret of blessedness is the conquest over our own wills. To yield them up to God is rest and peace. And is there not a broad general truth involved there, namely, that such a life as we have been describing will find its sole reward where it finds its inspiration and its law? The Master's approval is the servant's best wages.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
(L. A. Banks, D. D.)I. ELIJAH WAS, IN THE FIRST PLACE, A MODEL OF — PROMPTNESS. Whatever God told him to do, he went to work at once, and did it.
II. ELIJAH WAS A MODEL OF — PATIENCE — as well as of promptness. When God wanted Elijah to work, he was, as we have seen, prompt to do whatever he was bidden to do. And when he was told to wait for the further manifestation of God's will, he waited patiently. When the long three years' drought came on the land, God told him to go and hide himself "by the brook Cherith," near Jordan. He went and remained there in patience till he was ordered to leave.
III. But, in carrying on his work of reformation, Elijah was, in the third place, A MODEL OF — CONFIDENCE; and we should try to follow his example in this respect.
IV. ELIJAH WAS A MODEL OF — COURAGE.
(R. Newton, D. D.)I. THE PRINCIPLE OF DIVINE SELECTION. Elijah comes suddenly and unexpectedly upon the scene. What has been his previous career we cannot say, all we know about him is that he was rudely and scantily clothed, with shaggy hair, a conspicuous personality among the people. However strange it may seem that such a man should be chosen for such a work, it is nevertheless in keeping with the Divine procedure. God makes His own selection of men to meet the demands of every crisis. For every crisis in the world's history God has taken a leader from very unlikely quarters. A German monk for a great Reformation; a Wesley for a much needed revival; Abraham Lincoln to guide our ship of state, in terrible times, amid stormy seas; and a William Taylor, "rough and ready," to become the "flaming evangel" of "Darkest Africa." God is always ready with a man to stand in the gap. So it was in the time when the sin of Ahab and his people had become abominable, He had in reserve a man already trained and willing to assert the sovereignty of God to that crooked and perverse nation. This chosen Tishbite, this prophet hero, recognises that he is —
II. GOD'S REPRESENTATIVE, hence he manifests the utmost fidelity and loyalty.
III. PROVIDENTIAL PROVISIONS MEET HUMAN EXIGENCIES. Elijah proved this fully. Delivering mercy is not only timely, but also comes through unexpected means. It was a very strange method God pursued with Elijah.
IV. NO UNREASONABLE DEMAND UPON HUMAN RESOURCES. God is merciful. God is just. He may have given us but little of this world's good, but of that little He demands a portion. We may possess but one talent, but we must not be selfish in the use of that. He gives grace that we may use grace. We may further learn from this narrative the duty of —
V. UNQUESTIONING OBEDIENCE TO GOD. Elijah did not speak complainingly of living alone by the side of the brook Cherith and trusting to the ravens for his food; nor did he say it was improper to go to the house of a widow and ask of her food to eat. No, he trusted in the wisdom of God and obeyed His command.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
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