Prayer for the Dead
1 Kings 17:21
And he stretched himself on the child three times, and cried to the LORD, and said, O LORD my God, I pray you…

The portrait of the widow of Zarephath is remarkably natural. Her calmness in speaking of the trouble that was only threatened (ver. 12), is contrasted with her agony when trouble actually comes (ver. 18). She believed in Jehovah though in a heathen kingdom; yet there was a blending of superstition with her faith. She supposed that God might have overlooked her sin, had it not been that He was present with His prophet in her home; and she confounded discipline with retribution. The latter was the mistake of the barbarians at Melita. (Compare Acts 28:4.) See also our Lord's teaching, Luke 13:4. The death of this child is to be explained on the principle which asserted itself in the blindness of the man whom Jesus cured (John 9:3), or in the illness of Lazarus, concerning which our Lord said, "This sickness is not unto death, but for glory of God" (John 11:4). Rembrandt has depicted the scene brought before us in this chapter. In a roughly built upper room the dead child lies upon the bed; one hand rests upon his breast, while the other has fallen heavily at his side, giving a wonderful idea of the weight of death. Elijah stands on the further side of the bed with his rugged, earnest face upturned towards heaven and his hands clasped in an agony of supplication as he says, "O Lord my God, I pray thee let this child's soul come into him again!" This event was not intended to be wondered at as a prodigy, nor was it merely to benefit the widow, but for all time has spiritual significance. With this belief we see in it -

I. AN EMBLEM OF SPIRITUAL DEATH. The child had died suddenly, Or Elijah would have been told of his illness. His death was real, and was more than the insensibility of Eutychus (Acts 20:10). We say that a thing, susceptible of life, is dead when it cannot receive what is essential to its growth and well being; e.g., a tree is dead when it is no longer able to absorb the nutriment without which it must fade, and ultimately fall. An animal is dead which can no longer breath air or assimilate food. The mind is dead - as is that of an idiot - when it receives no true mental impressions. The soul is dead which is insensible to spiritual influence. As it is possible to have physical without mental life, so it is possible to have mental without spiritual life. "Spiritual death" is not a mere figure of speech. It may be illustrated by the condition of this child. The food provided for him was useless now, the tenderest words of his mother were unheeded, and the voice that so lately was musical with laughter was silent. Similarly the spiritually dead are indifferent to God's provision, unconscious of their own possibilities, irresponsive to the Father's voice. "Except a man be born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God." "He that hath not the Son hath not life." "Dead in trespasses and sins." "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain that they may live."

II. AN EXAMPLE OF INTERCESSORY PRAYER. A man of Elijah's strong nature would have strong affections, and we can imagine how intensely he had come to love this child. On hearing of his death he could only say to the distracted mother, "Give me thy son," and then carried him up to his own room, and cried to God in an agony of prayer.

1. It was offered in solitude. Not even the mother was there. Such intense crises in life must be met alone. Jesus Christ was wont to "depart into a solitary place" to pray. Understanding our needs He said, "When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and shut to the door, and pray to thy Father which seeth in secret." "Jacob was left alone" when he wrestled with the angel. Compare Elijah's miracle with that of the Lord, who, when He went into the room where Jairus' daughter lay dead, "suffered no man to go in," beyond those who were one with Him in sympathy and prayer.

2. It was peculiarly definite. There was one want in his heart, one cry on his lips. Our prayers too often are meditations on the Divine attributes, or general confessions, and thanksgivings. If our King asked "What is thy petition?" we should sometimes be at a logs for an answer. Pray for one grace, for one unbelieving friend, etc.

3. It was intensely earnest. Elijah could not be denied. His was not a speech, but a cry. He looked for the awakening, and flung himself on the dead in an agony of earnestness as if he would infuse his own warmth and life. The touch was similar to that of Peter, when he took the cripple by the hand (Acts 3:7) - not the cause of blessing, but the medium of blessing. The Divine power works through the human agency.

III. AN EARNEST OF TRUE RESURRECTION. Elijah could not give life, but he could ask God for it. Nor can we arouse to new life by preaching, though God can do so through preaching. Our words are only the media through which the Holy Spirit works. The Atlantic cable is useless except as the message is flashed forth by mysterious unseen power. This distinguishes the miracles of our Lord Jesus from those of His servants. (Compare Luke 7:14 with Acts 3:12-16.) There is a resurrection wherein saints shall be raised by the power of God to a life of immortality, the promise and pledge of which we have in the resurrection of Christ, who is the "firstfruits of them that sleep." There is also a spiritual resurrection, to which Paul refers when he appeals to Christians as those "risen with Christ; and of this, as well as of that, is there an illustration in our text. Raised to newness of life we, like the child Elijah prayed for, have to live for awhile in the old sphere. The prophet gave the child to his mother. Jesus restored Lazarus to his sisters, the young man at Nain to his mother, and the ruler's daughter to her parents; and so to us, who have "passed from death unto life," He says, "Return to thine own house, and show how great things God hath done for thee." This miracle constrained the widow to accept as God's truth the declaration of His servant (ver. 24). How much more reason have we, who believe in the supernatural works of His Son, to say, "We know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him!" - A.R.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the LORD, and said, O LORD my God, I pray thee, let this child's soul come into him again.

WEB: He stretched himself on the child three times, and cried to Yahweh, and said, "Yahweh my God, please let this child's soul come into him again."

The Sign of the Widow's Son
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