1 Kings 17:10
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."
Divine CareJ. Urquhart 1 Kings 17:7-16
Second Preparation of ElijahE. De Pressense 1 Kings 17:7-24
The Barrel of MealJ.A. Macdonald 1 Kings 17:10-16

In the East the people kept their corn in earthen jars to protect it from insects which swarm in the heat of the sun. What in our translation is called a "barrel" (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 -


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.)


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.

As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand.
This chapter begins with the conjunction "And": it is, therefore, an addition to what has gone before; and it is God's addition. When we have read to the end of the previous chapter — which tells the melancholy story of the rapid spread, and universal prevalence, of idolatry, in the favoured land of the Ten Tribes — we might suppose that that was the end of all; and that the worship of Jehovah would never again acquire its lost prestige and power. And, no doubt, the principal actors in the story thought so too. But they had made an unfortunate omission in their calculations — they had left out Jehovah Himself. He must have something to say at such a crisis. When men have done their worst, and finished, it is the time for God to begin. The whole land seemed apostate. Of all the thousands of Israel, only seven thousand remained Who had not bowed the knee or kissed the hand to Baal. But they were paralysed with fear; and kept so still, that their very existence was unknown by Elijah in the hour of his greatest loneliness. Such times have often come, fraught with woe: false religions have gained the upper hand; iniquity has abounded; and the love of many has waxed cold. So was it when the Turk swept over the Christian communities of Asia Minor, and replaced the Cross by the crescent. So was it when, over Europe, Roman Catholicism spread as a pall of darkness that grew denser as the dawn of the Reformation was on the point of breaking. So was it in the last century, when Moderatism reigned in Scotland, and apathy in England. But God is never at a loss. The land may be overrun with sin; the lamps of witness may seem all extinguished; the whole force of the popular current may run counter to His truth; and the plot may threaten to be within a hair s breadth of entire success; but, all the time, He will be preparing a weak man in some obscure highland village; and in the moment of greatest need will send him forth, as His all-sufficient answer to the worst plottings of His foes. Elijah grew up like the other lads of his age. In his early years he would probably do the work of a shepherd on those wild hills. As he grew in years, he became characterised by an intense religious earnestness. He was "very jealous for the Lord God of hosts." But the question was, How should he act? What could he do, a wild, untutored child of the desert? There was only one thing he could do — the resource of all much-tried souls — he could pray; and he did: "he prayed earnestly" (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.)

"Elijah the Tishbite said unto Ahab." All revelations seem to us to be sudden. Look at the suddenness of the appearance of Ahijah to Jeroboam, and look at the instance before us. No mild man would have been equal to the occasion. God adapts His ministry to circumstances. He sends a nurse to the sick-room; a soldier to the battlefield. The son of consolation and the son of thunder cannot change places. You are right when you say that the dew and the light and the soft breeze are God's; but you must not therefore suppose that the thunder and the hurricane and the floods belong to a meaner lord. "As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand." Imagine the two men standing face to face. This is not a combat between two men. Mark that very closely. It is Right against Wrong, Faithfulness against Treachery, Purity against Corruption. As we look at the scene, not wanting in the elements of the highest tragedy, we see(1) The value of one noble witness in the midst of public corruption and decay, and(2) The grandeur as well as necessity of a distinct personal profession of godliness. It is not enough to be godly, we must avow it in open conduct and articulate confession. Let us now observe how Elijah proceeds to deal with Ahab. "There shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word." Here is physical punishment for moral transgression. So it is; and that is exactly what a parent does when he uses the rod upon his child for falsehood. You can only punish people according to their nature. Physical punishment for moral transgression is the law of society. So the liar is thrown out of his situation; the ill-tempered child is whipped; the dishonourable man is expelled from social confidence. With regard to the particular punishment denounced against Ahab, it is to be remembered that drought is one of the punishments threatened by the law if Israel forsook Jehovah (Deuteronomy 11:17; Leviticus 26:18).

(J. Parker, D. D.)

This solemn and remarkable adjuration seems to have been habitual upon Elijah's lips in the great crises of his life. We never find it used by any but himself, and his scholar and successor, Elisha.

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.)

Elijah was a mountaineer. He was a big man, with broad shoulders and a tall and striking appearance. He had a massive frame and muscles that had grown strong with climbing the mountains and wresting his daily bread from hard circumstances. But he was, above all, a man of prayer, and the knowledge of what was going on in Israel stirred his soul to its profoundest depths; yet he could not act unless God sent him. With his hand lifted above his head this strange creature of the desert and the mountains exclaims, "As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word." Note his description of his relation to God, "As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand." There was the secret of Elijah's power. As another has well said: Every man stands before something which is his judge. The child stands before the father, not in a single act, making report of what he has been doing on a special day, but in the whole posture of his life, almost as if the father were a mirror in whom he saw himself reflected, and from whose reflection of himself he got at once a judgment as to what he was, and suggestions as to what he ought to be. The poet stands before nature. She is his judge. A certain felt harmony or discord between his nature and her ideal is the test and directing power of his life. The philosopher stands before the unseen, majestic presence of the abstract truth. The philanthropist stands before humanity The artist stands before beauty. The legislator stands before justice. The politician stands before that vague but awful embodiment of average character, the people. The scholar stands before knowledge, and gets the satisfaction or disappointments of his life from the approvals or disapprovals of her serene and gracious lips. Every soul that counts itself capable of judgment and responsibility stands in some presence by which the nature of its judgment is decried. The higher the presence, the loftier and greater the life. And so Elijah, standing before God, was in the highest and most splendid presence that any man can know, and it was this that gave him his lofty courage and his noble power. This was Luther's power. He dared to face the emperor and to face the worldly, sensual church of his time, when from every human outlook it seemed sure that his life must pay the penalty, because he stood in the presence of God. He knew that God was with him, and that knowledge gave him a tremendous power over men. Wesley stood in the presence of God, and a man who is conscious of that presence fears no mob. Finney was a man like that, and God gave him wonderful fruits to his ministry.

(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.


(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.

(G. Adams.)

We send an ambassador to England; there is a difference of opinion between our government and that of England. The ambassador is in a circle in society, but he does not take his opinions from the English people; he cares nothing what they think on national subjects; the crowd around him may be indignant against this country, but the ambassador listens not to the voice of the populace around him. He bends a listening ear for the telegraphic communication from Washington, and whatever words he hears these he utters, no matter how they may be received, no matter what the people or the Crown may think. He stands an American in the midst of English society; he thinks the thoughts and has the feelings of the government at Washington; he dares to say words, however unpleasant, to the English Crown because the power that sustains him, though it is invisible, he knows to be real. Well, now, so it is with a man, principally the true minister of Christ.

(Bishop Simpson.)

Thank God for the many instances in which one glowing soul, all aflame with love of God, has sufficed to kindle a whole heap of dead matter, and send it leaping skyward in ruddy brightness. Alas! for the many instances in which the wet, green wood has been too strong for the little spark, and has not only obstinately resisted, but has ignominiously quenched its ineffectual fire.

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

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