Wavering Between Two Opinions (Part Two)

1 Kings 18:16-24

We have considered the need for this confrontation between the Lord’s prophet, Elijah, on one side, and the prophets of the false god and goddess, Baal and Asherah, on the other. God acted to call his people Israel back to himself when they were far away. Let us give thanks to our God that he seeks people!

Next, let’s look at the terms of the confrontation. We should notice the fairness of the terms.

  • Elijah allowed himself to be opposed by a greater number of pagan priests (18:22). Baal had four hundred fifty priests against the lone prophet of the Lord The odds of “strength in numbers” were decidedly on the side of the Baal’s priests.
  • The test should have been something that Baal could have done if he was a god. Why worship someone who can’t demonstrate his power and defend his own honor?
  • The results would be highly visible. Anyone could “Go and touch the smoldering remains.” This was not a debate about philosophical and religious systems. People love to sit back and assume that they are capable of making such evaluations. No, this would furnish indisputable evidence in the real world.

The specifications for the confrontation were identical (18:23-24).

  • There was the same sacrifice: One bull. Elijah allowed his opponents to choose which one they wanted. This would prevent charges about him choosing the best for the Lord and the worst for Baal.
  • They were to use the same method: Sacrifice the bull and pray for fire.
  • Both sides were forbidden to “help” their God or god win. Neither could use fire.

The test clarified. Why can’t we have the same contest today? First, we have no right to demand such a contest. The Lord has already given ample evidence. After he had suffered, he also presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3 CSB). Someone might wish, “If only the resurrection of Christ had happened today! All could have been photographed and videotaped.” I answer, “Would you then believe? Or would you object that it all was a computer-generated deceit?” Second, this miracle was given for the confirmation of the word of God. God acted at this time to prepare Israel for the coming of his Son through them. So then, the principle holds true that was written about the appearance of the Messiah. How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:3-4 ESV). At times of giving new revelation, the Lord testified to its reality by signs, wonders and various miracles. Elijah stood for the Lord at the time when the prophets began their ministry.

Grace and peace, David

Wavering Between Two Opinions (Part One)

1 Kings 18:16-24

It is easy for Christians to frustrate themselves as they view world conditions and the response of non-Christians to those conditions. If the times are good, then we think that they should give thanks to the Lord for his goodness, because we know that it is meant to lead people to repentance. Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4 NIV) And if God’s judgments are present, we think that they will surely turn to God for help. My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you. For when your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness (Isaiah 26:9 ESV).

The difficulty in both cases is that we underestimate the power of sin over unbelievers. Examine the context in both of those cases. Sin is not something external to man. It is not a slight problem that can be removed by some external pressure (whether mercy or judgment.) But the unsaved are slaves of sin and captives of the devil. Jesus responded, “Truly I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34 CSB); Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will (2 Timothy 2:25-26 NIV). It takes more than good or bad times to change a person; instead, you must be born again!

Elijah had been sent by the Lord to confront a people who had turned away from him. We need to learn from Elijah’s boldness for the faith. Such a stand requires a firm trust in the living God. Let us learn to stand for God boldly as we consider these verses.

Let’s begin with the need for the confrontation between the Lord’s prophet and the false prophets in the presence of the people of Israel. In general, we might think it was strange that such an event was needed at all.

  • Since they were the visible people of God (Romans 3:1-2; 9:4-5). There lack of positive response to the Lord would be like my children demanding that I produce their birth certificates or DNA testing that they might know that I am their father.
  • Since God had done so much for them in the past (Psalm 78). God had blessed his people through many generations. They ought to have sought the one who had made them his own and provided for them.
  • Since God was fulfilling the “curses of the covenant” upon them (Deuteronomy 28:15, 22-24). It was time to seek the Lord.

All these were intended to define how they looked at themselves and the world.

God had other particular reasons for this public clash between Elijah and the false prophets.

The Lord desired to vindicate Elijah (18:17). God desired to make known that Elijah was God’s prophet and that he was right in withholding rain. Don’t be surprised, Christian, if you are called a trouble maker (cf. Matthew 5:11-12).

It would serve as a public condemnation of Ahab and his ways (18:18). His sin would specifically be pointed out. Ahab had turned from God to idols. He was involved in both apostasy and idolatry. Blame was placed on him. The Bible teaches human responsibility. If you violate God’s laws, you are guilty.

It would display the condition of the people (18:21). Indifference sets in the hearts of people during a time of religious declension. Various explanations could be given for the people’s silence: They were guilty and didn’t care or want to change. They were guilty but afraid of Ahab. They were guilty and didn’t know how to respond. But in any case, they did not repent.

Let us learn this lesson. We should know the danger of spiritual indifference, which in one way is to be swayed by the visible and sensational rather than the word of God. Let the Scriptures influence your mind, heart, and the choices you make.

Grace and peace, David

Where Sin Increased (Part Two)

1 Kings 18:1-15

But where sin increased, grace increased all the more… (Romans 5:20 NIV).

Sin had greatly increased in Israel, and it seemed like there was no hope. The Lord, their covenant God, had sent his prophet Elijah to announce a horrible drought, which was one of the curses, if Israel disregarded God’s covenant with him. The sky above you will be bronze, and the earth beneath you iron. The Lord will turn the rain of your land into falling dust; it will descend on you from the sky until you are destroyed (Deuteronomy 28:23-24). Yet, at this terrible time, the Lord showed his grrace. We see three evidences of his grace.

First, God preserved Elijah for further service to him. God had fed him at the brook and at Zarephath. The Lord also kept Ahab and Jezebel from killing his prophet. He also had taught Elijah valuable lessons about faith that he needed to know in service to God. Elijah was now prepared for the coming contest of God versus Baal on Carmel.

Second, the Lord placed Obadiah in Ahab’s court to protect other of his prophets. When we think all is lost, we can fail to see faithful people whom the Lord has placed near us to help us. Consider Obadiah’s character. He was a godly man (18:3). Like Joseph, Nehemiah and Daniel, Obadiah was faithful to God in a pagan palace. “There is nothing wrong in a child of God holding a position of influence if he can do so without the sacrifice of principle” (Pink). The Lord often has his saints in unlikely places, as in Caesar’s household (Philippians 4:22). We can be in the world and not of the world. Obadiah was consistent over a long period of time, for he had worshipped God since his youth (18:12). I am glad to see girls and boys in attendance, when their parents gather to worship the Lord. It is good to begin to serve God when you are young. Don’t let sin ruin you for years! Seek the Lord before the chains of sin harden around you and your mind is polluted with a great deal of sin. Think also of Obadiah’s accomplishments (8:4, 13). He hid the prophets and provided for them. He had bold faith. We thank God for those who have risked their lives to protect God’s persecuted people.

Third, God purposed to send rain again on the land. This was an act of sovereign mercy, for the people still had not called on him in repentance for their idolatry. If we need to wait for any nation to repent before God would act, there would be no hope for any people group. If we even had to wait for the professing church to return to him, we might despair. But God will have mercy on whom he will have mercy (Romans 9:15)! Our hope is in the Sovereign God, not in people! Remember this when you gather with others to pray. This was also an act of faithfulness to Elijah. The prophet had said that there would only be rain at his word (see 17:1), and so the Lord sent Elijah to announce the coming of rain. Here is a principle: God will honor those who honor him (cf. 1 Samuel 2:30).

Let us thank God for the godly who still remain in the nations of the world! Every follower of Christ is a witness to the power of God’s saving grace! If God could save you, my friends, he can save anyone. The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD (Psalm 37:39 NIV). Let us pray fervently for God to send a new great awakening. Greed, self-love and sexual immorality bind the wills of people. They will not come to him and have life (John 5:40). But King Jesus is able to break those chains, for he is the Great God and Savior! Now is the time to seek the Lord!

Grace and peace, David

Where Sin Increased (Part One)

1 Kings 18:1-15

There are times when the followers of Christ can feel as though there is little hope for the cause of God and truth in their land. They want to cry out, as David did, Help, Lord, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men (Psalm 12:1 NIV). Indeed, it seems like the godly will be wiped from the face of the earth. Who would have thought that Luther could survive when both the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Church were seeking his death? What hope was there for evangelicalism in England when Mary I (“Bloody Mary”) was putting to death its leaders?

The Bible instructs us to trust in the sovereign God, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few (1 Samuel 14:6). Where sin is on the rise and the triumph of evil seems certain, even there the Lord God is able to carry out his purposes. Our text is another example of God’s all-ability.

Sin was hard at work in the Northern Kingdom of Israel at that time. There was no public place where people could gather to worship the living God. From the time of Jeroboam I, the officially sanctioned religion was an idolatrous substitute for God and the covenant he had made with Israel (cf. 1 Kings 12:26-33). As we have observed, Ahab and Jezebel had forced Israel into deeper idolatry (cf. 1 Kings 1629-34). Without public worship and teaching, it became very difficult to maintain faithfulness to the God of Israel. It was a horrible time. Let’s think about this more.

There was no apparent concern for the glory of God or the good of men in Israel at that time. King Ahab was chiefly concerned about his property—that none of his animals would have to be killed because of the famine. 18:2b, 5. Now, there is nothing at all wrong with caring for animals. Proverbs 12:10 tells us A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal… (NIV). The problem was Ahab’s lack of a deeper concern—the glory of God and the good of his subjects. Contrast wicked Ahab with godly David (cf. 2 Samuel 24:17). Scripture teaches this principle: When you reject God, you eventually lose concern for the worth of people. Study, for example, Romans 1:18-19, 28-31.

There was no national repentance in Israel for their sins. National repentance was essential for the old covenant nation. Today in the new covenant, the church is God’s people, and not any of the nations of the world. What does the church need to repent of today? For some ideas, read Revelation 2-3. The physical suffering during the famine, a covenant curse (Leviticus 26:18-20), had not induced them to repent. Ahab was intent on ridding the earth of Elijah, not on confessing and forsaking his own sins (18:9-10). Unless the Lord gives heart changing grace along with the trial, people will not have a change of mind. At first, they might consider the trouble as a freak of nature. But later, if they think of God at all, they probably will grow bitter against him (cf. Revelation 16:9). However, people are sure to perish, unless they repent. No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well (Luke 13:3 CSB).

There was a policy of persecution against God’s prophets. This is seen in Ahab’s fanatical desire to find Elijah (18:10), and in Jezebel’s murder of the Lord’s prophets (18:4, 13). How could the godly survive an onslaught driven by fanatical hatred?

God has not placed believers in “heaven on earth”. No, we live in a world filled with rejection of God, refusal to love God, and rebellion against God and his ways. We must rid our minds of the deceptive notion that life here will be easy and that we will lack spiritual opposition. Oh, I know that Christians will agree with this in theory, but there is far too much hand-wringing and moaning in churches today. The Lord never told us that it would be easy. In fact, listen to what the apostles Paul and Barnabas told the churches they had started. “It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 CSB).

Grace and peace, David

Elijah’s Greatest Challenge (Part Three)

1 Kings 17:17-24

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” (17:24 NIV).

Elijah found himself in a situation that no one had previously confronted. God had promised to provide for him through a widow and her flour and oil. But the widow’s son died unexpectedly. She blamed him for her son’s death, and it appeared that God’s promise had miscarried. Did the true God only give the Gentile woman an illusion of hope? How could he demonstrate that God was worthy of her trust? What could Elijah do or even say? Could the dead be raised? His response provides a helpful pattern for us. Elijah prayed effectively.

  • It was a fervent prayer, for “he cried out to the Lord”. The typical “church prayers” (Sunday service or small group) very rarely are spoken passionately. They are lukewarm, boring, and impersonal. People get more excited about junk mail or telemarketer calls than praying to the true and living God!
  • It was a personal prayer. He addressed his God—“O Lord my God”. He knew God, for he had waited on the Lord for daily provision. He knew that God understood his condition and believed that God cared about the widow and him. In contrast, “church prayers” seem like a phone call to some unknown person at a utility company. “With whom am I speaking?”
  • It was a bold prayer—“have you brought tragedy…?” Elijah didn’t whitewash the tragedy to appear reverent. He talked with the Lord in the hideous pain of the loss of the widow’s son. Why pray this way? Because God wants us to be real with him.
  • It was importunate prayer: “three times”. Some mistakenly suppose that prayer is a once spoken request, like the less they pray the more faith they’re supposed to have. Such wrong ideas come from a misunderstanding of Matthew 6:7, which they suppose “excuses” them from wrestling with God in prayer (cf. Colossians 4:12). Yet Jesus himself prayed repeatedly!
  • It was a specific prayer: “let this boy’s life return to him!” He didn’t pray glib, trite, vague requests. He asked for something precise. God wants us to pray this way.

Elijah received a miraculous answer. The means was the prayer of faith. By faith… Women received their dead, raised to life again (Hebrews 11:33-35). Elijah had the same faith Abraham did—that God could raise the dead (cf. Hebrews 11:17-19). This is the same faith that every believer has—faith that God can and will raise the dead. He had the great faith to trust God for what had never happened before. Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know (Jeremiah 33:3 NASB). Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV).

The cause was solely the power of God. Elijah’s faith by itself did nothing, but he had faith in the One who was, is and always will be All-powerful (cf. Acts 26:6-8). This exercise of faith showed the truth of God’s word (17:24). It showed he was really God’s prophet. It led the widow to a greater faith in the Lord.

With an ending like the one in this passage, it is easy to see the truth of Romans 8:28. But we must remember what the all things are which Paul includes in that reference. Read Romans 8:31-39 very carefully. Is your confidence in the living God who has all things under his control?

Are you worshipping the Sovereign God? Are you giving glory to him? “The whole life of a Christian should be nothing but praises and thanks to God; we should neither eat nor drink nor sleep, but eat to God and sleep to God and work to God and talk to God, do all to his glory and praise” (Sibbes).

Grace and peace, David

Elijah’s Greatest Challenge (Part Three)

1 Kings 17:17-24

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” (17:24 NIV).

Elijah found himself in a situation that no one had previously confronted. God had promised to provide for him through a widow and her flour and oil. But the widow’s son died unexpectedly. She blamed him for her son’s death, and it appeared that God’s promise had miscarried. Did the true God only give the Gentile woman an illusion of hope? How could he demonstrate that God was worthy of her trust? What could Elijah do or even say? Could the dead be raised? His response provides a helpful pattern for us. Elijah prayed effectively.

  • It was a fervent prayer, for “he cried out to the Lord”. The typical “church prayers” (Sunday service or small group) very rarely are spoken passionately. They are lukewarm, boring, and impersonal. People get more excited about junk mail or telemarketer calls than praying to the true and living God!
  • It was a personal prayer. He addressed his God—“O Lord my God”. He knew God, for he had waited on the Lord for daily provision. He knew that God understood his condition and believed that God cared about the widow and him. In contrast, “church prayers” seem like a phone call to some unknown person at a utility company. “With whom am I speaking?”
  • It was a bold prayer—“have you brought tragedy…?” Elijah didn’t whitewash the tragedy to appear reverent. He talked with the Lord in the hideous pain of the loss of the widow’s son. Why pray this way? Because God wants us to be real with him.
  • It was importunate prayer: “three times”. Some mistakenly suppose that prayer is a once spoken request, like the less they pray the more faith they’re supposed to have. Such wrong ideas come from a misunderstanding of Matthew 6:7, which they suppose “excuses” them from wrestling with God in prayer (cf. Colossians 4:12). Yet Jesus himself prayed repeatedly!
  • It was a specific prayer: “let this boy’s life return to him!” He didn’t pray glib, trite, vague requests. He asked for something precise. God wants us to pray this way.

Elijah received a miraculous answer. The means was the prayer of faith. By faith… Women received their dead, raised to life again (Hebrews 11:33-35). Elijah had the same faith Abraham did—that God could raise the dead (cf. Hebrews 11:17-19). This is the same faith that every believer has—faith that God can and will raise the dead. He had the great faith to trust God for what had never happened before. Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know (Jeremiah 33:3 NASB). Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV).

The cause was solely the power of God. Elijah’s faith by itself did nothing, but he had faith in the One who was, is and always will be All-powerful (cf. Acts 26:6-8). This exercise of faith showed the truth of God’s word (17:24). It showed he was really God’s prophet. It led the widow to a greater faith in the Lord.

With an ending like the one in this passage, it is easy to see the truth of Romans 8:28. But we must remember what the all things are which Paul includes in that reference. Read Romans 8:31-39 very carefully. Is your confidence in the living God who has all things under his control?

Are you worshipping the Sovereign God? Are you giving glory to him? “The whole life of a Christian should be nothing but praises and thanks to God; we should neither eat nor drink nor sleep, but eat to God and sleep to God and work to God and talk to God, do all to his glory and praise” (Sibbes).

Grace and peace, David

Elijah’s Greatest Challenge (Part Two)

1 Kings 17:17-24

We can know God, trust God fervently, and yet come into situations where our faith in God is incredibly tested. We may even know that God has done miracles in response to our faith in him, but we wonder, “Can God provide the help I need now?” Faced with the death of the widow’s son, Elijah knew that  he must trust the living God for a greater miracle. So, Elijah said a powerful prayer. He believed that prayer was more worthwhile than the other actions he could have engaged in. We need to rid ourselves of the saying, “All we can do now is pray.” Stop it. Ideas like that corrupt our minds. Prayer is the best thing we can do.

  • Elijah prayed instead of argued. We need to follow Christ when we cannot understand the ways of God. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23 ESV). It’s a good rule not to take offense at the words of a grieving person. Not every saint is able to bow before the Lord as meekly as Job was able to (cf. Job 1:21; 2:10). Love should cover sorrowful, bitter words that occur at a time of grief.
  • He prayed instead of debated. Some are under the totally misguided notion that all times are opportunities for theological debate. As he was passing by, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1-2 CSB) Sadly, I have observed this attitude. Don’t dispute in the face of suffering. Show mercy! Humbly, let us remember people need compassion rather than our knowledge. Some think they are being “bold for the Lord” when they are merely being brash for themselves. Christ was compassionate; imitate him.
  • He prayed instead of complained. Some would complain, “Now I’m in such a mess! She’s blaming all this on me, and I didn’t do anything. Poor me!” Does it really matter what someone thinks about you, when they need your help?
  • He prayed instead of questioned. “Why did this happen Lord?” It’s very natural to ask, “Why?” But it may be better to invest the greater part of our energies in asking, “What do you want me to do now, Lord?” Or better, “What will You do now, Lord?”

Elijah refused to look at second causes. Then Elijah cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, why have you brought tragedy to this widow who has opened her home to me, causing her son to die?” (17:20 NLT) Elijah believed that God is in control, even including the hard events of life. We need to have a larger view of the sovereign God in our thoughts and viewpoints. Think on what the Spirit has written in the Word.

  • [Job] said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing (Job 1:21-22 NIV).
  • I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things (Isaiah 45:7 NIV).
  • When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it? (Amos 3:6 NIV).

The time of trouble and trials is the time to worship the Lord as God over all, and to call upon him as the Ruler of all.

“Whatsoever is good for God’s children they shall have it, for all is theirs to further them to heaven; therefore, if poverty be good, they shall have it; if disgrace be good, they shall have it; if crosses be good, they shall have them; if misery be good, they shall have it; for all is ours, to serve for our greatest good” (Sibbes).

Grace and peace, David

Elijah’s Greatest Challenge (Part One)

1 Kings 17:17-24

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?” (17:17-18 NIV)

The Scripture passage referenced above presents us with perhaps the greatest challenge to Elijah’s faith. What he had to face is with us today. The worldly-minded person still scoffs at us and what we believe. Is there a factual and historical reality to the resurrection of the dead? Does the Christian truly have a reason for hope in this otherwise hopeless world? Every unbeliever assumes that a Christian is a fool. “Why waste your life on following Jesus Christ? The dead can never live again,” they think. But they never consider what the Maker of heaven and earth can do!

We have already seen Elijah trust God for some great things. But now his faith faces its greatest challenge. Can God raise the dead? And consider this. Never before in human history, as far as we know, had a resurrection from the dead occurred. Neither Noah nor Abraham nor Moses nor Joshua nor Samuel nor David had performed or witnessed someone raised from the dead.

Many times people, including God’s people, find themselves in horrible situations. We might call these events a “dark providence”. Here are three puzzling aspects of the situation in which they found themselves (17:17-18).

  • The widow and her son had earlier been rescued from death by the Lord’s mercy (17:8-16). Was all that God had done for them now to be undone? It didn’t make sense. You and I are able to acknowledge that there is an incalculable amount of trouble and sorrow in the world. But it is hard to accept when it comes near us, isn’t it? It is harder when blessing is replaced by misery.
  • She was doing God’s will at that time by feeding Elijah (17:9). She had believed the word of the Lord to her. If she trusted and obeyed the Lord, why was she having such sorrow? Do not think it unusual if you encounter sharp and painful difficulties in the service of God. Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you (1 Peter 4:12 ESV).
  • All had seemed to be going right. Wouldn’t God want her to keep on being happy? When I was secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.” Lord, when you showed your favor, you made me stand like a strong mountain; when you hid your face, I was terrified (Psalm 30:6-7. CSB).

Remember that we live in a world that is filled with sin and under the curse because of sin. Our immediate happiness is not the ultimate purpose in the universe. God has a greater goal — the display of his own glory. For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen (Romans 11:36 NIV; cf. Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14).

To make matters worse for Elijah, he was blamed for all this (17:18). Regardless of who you are and what you do, people won’t always approve of you. Perhaps you, too, will be blamed for things you had no connection with. For example, many coaches and managers have been blamed for the failure of their teams, when the actual reasons are the injuries of key players, disgruntled players, or the actions of the owner or upper level management. Elijah wasn’t to blame. Life and death are in the hands of God. God’s people can receive criticism because we are looked on as his representatives (cf. Matthew 10:24-25).

Estimate the cost before you join Christ’s team! A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:25-27 NLT).

Grace and peace, David

The Difficulty of Faith (Part Two)

1 Kings 17:8-16

In our last article, we considered that faith is difficult because it requires us to put our hope in God instead of our wisdom or apparently favorable circumstances. We continue with two more ideas about the difficulty of faith.

Faith is difficult because it must confront the realities of life (17:7-10). Let us remember that Elijah exercised obedient faith in God as he made his way to the widow’s house in Zarephath in Sidon. Every step on his lonely journey tested the faith in God he had. Faith does not eliminate our thoughts about how God will act or the way that his provision will appear. Faith thinks through the situation and trusts God when the way seems unlikely or impossible to us. Otherwise, we walk by sight and human reasoning, instead of by faith. Here is what believing Elijah had to face.

He saw the desperate condition the widow was in. She lived in poverty; she was out gathering sticks. He could easily have wondered, “Lord, why didn’t you send me to a rich widow?” She had a home, but not much else. She lacked sufficient food. She had enough for one more meal. I don’t know what Elijah did, but I think I would have been checking my email about God’s directions or my GPS on my phone about this time. “Lord, am I in the right place? This seems like another drying brook?”

Elijah saw the despair of heart which controlled that widow. She was prepared to eat her last meal and then die. She was not living by faith but by fear. “Don’t be afraid” (7:13).

The widow was an unlikely person to help God’s prophet. But the hearts of all are in God’s hands. A person’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps (Proverbs 16:9 CSB). God decreed to provide for the needs of Elijah through the means of the widow’s generosity, and so it would be. But how would that happen? God uses means, which brings us to the next point.

Believing Elijah had to act in a way that was consistent with the faith in God that they would need to live by. For this reason, he had to test the woman. At first glance, Elijah seems selfish and uncaring. But he had to know if she would put God first. Was she unselfish? Could she trust God sufficiently to follow God’s words through him to her. Do not be mistaken; it was difficult for a man of God ask her to do such things in the bitter hardship he saw she was in. All this was to teach the woman. She had to know who was providing food for her, so that she could provide for God’s prophet. He told her God’s promise. “For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel says…” (17:14 NIV).

Faith is difficult even when God provides (17:15-16). Living by faith is difficult because it requires daily trust. All that they had to live on was the contents of the jar and the jug, refilled each day with just enough for one day. But God gave them food daily! “It may be that we shall never have much in hand, but this is no evil, for then our provision will never grow stale, but come to us fresh from our heavenly Father’s hand” (Spurgeon). That is an expression of joyful faith!

Again, living by faith is difficult because it requires contentment. Both Elijah and the widow and her son could only eat of what was made from the flour and the oil. There was nothing else. But we see that God was true to his word! He promised Elijah food, and food he had! But it was even less than he had received previously. Before he had meat and bread, now it was only bread. Remember Israel’s experience in the wilderness. They had manna every day for nearly forty years. The lesson of daily bread is to humble ourselves, in order that we trust God.

Here are two lessons as we conclude.

  • Do you think that the life of faith is easy? Do not be misled! But the Lord is sufficient to supply all that we need. He will provide what he knows we need.
  • Only those who come to God through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, have any basis for confidence that God will supply their needs. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NIV). Trust in god for salvation, and then you can trust him for other matters. It’s the way of God’s kingdom.

Grace and peace, David

The Difficulty of Faith (Part One)

1 Kings 17:8-16

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Get up, go to Zarephath that belongs to Sidon and stay there. Look, I have commanded a woman who is a widow to provide for you there” (17:8-9 CSB).

In our last article about Elijah, we left him by a brook which had dried up. That dried up brook was no mistake in Elijah’s life, but a definite part of a sequence in God’s purpose to reveal his glory. When we read the Biblical storyline, it is very easy to get wrapped up in the characters, miraculous events, and moral issues. We must remember that the Bible reveals the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ through salvation by judgment. We must ask, “What does this tell us about the surpassing value and shining brilliance of our God?” However, it is also true that the Lord continued to prepare his servant. Elijah’s alone time with God was about to move to a slightly larger circle.

Certainly, most of us would rather do without the tests that come in the school of faith. We would rather receive the blessings which faith receives without the actual exercise of faith. We can be like children who want to go to amusement parks, but who dislike the long lines when they get there.

Part of our problem is that we must trust in the true God, whom we cannot fully understand and whom we cannot control. Even Elijah, who had such great faith as to stop the rain and the dew for three years, had to humbly depend upon God. Remember at this point in his life, Elijah was living in the realm of his prayer of faith; that is, there was no rain because he prayed that God wouldn’t send rain. His faith produced a situation that required more faith in God, which in turn provided the Lord with another opportunity to make known his greatness and love. Let us look at three lessons about the difficulty of faith. We will begin with the first in this article.

Faith is difficult because of the obedience that it requires. It requires us to do exactly what the Lord says. We must operate a computer program as it was written to receive the benefits of that program. If we attempt to do things that the application was not designed to do, we frustrate ourselves. “This stupid app!” No, it isn’t stupid; perhaps we’re demonstrating our own ignorance of what it can do or visualizing dreams that it can do what it isn’t designed to do. For Elijah, it put two limits on his actions.

  • Elijah could not leave the brook until God gave him orders. He had to sit and watch the brook dry up. This had been a daily process.
  • Elijah had to leave the brook when God ordered. He had to walk away from the place where God had provided for him to go to another. Abraham had to leave Ur to go to the Promised Land. Israel had to leave Egypt for the same reason. The way forward required obedient faith in God’s promises. The Lord is not as interested in our resourcefulness and ingenuity as our obedient faith.

Faith is difficult because it requires us to put our hope in God instead of our wisdom or apparently favorable circumstances. Elijah could not argue with God about where God sent him. Don’t join “The Jonah Debating Society.” Yet it seemed counter to God’s wisdom.

God sent him to the home territory of his enemy, Jezebel. Among other things, this would demonstrate the weakness of her malice. Elijah will learn the meaning of Psalm 23:5: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies (NIV). Once I received twenty dollars while on a trip from an unlikely person, whom I later found out was causing problems for my parents. They could hardly believe what had happened, but God knew my need.

The Lord sent Elijah to a Gentile land. This could have provided Elijah with reasons to question what God was doing.

  • Hadn’t Naomi and David both gotten themselves into difficulties by leaving Israel?
  • Weren’t there Jewish people who could provide for him? cf. Luke 4:25-26.
  • Could he expect anyone there to care for God’s prophet?

He could not dispute about the apparent contradiction in God’s plan. The whole plan would seem unnatural at his time: a woman taking care of a man; a widow supplying the needs of a preacher. One greater than Elijah was provided for in a similar way (Luke 8:2-3). The prophet would have to swallow his pride. Some people are too arrogant to receive God’s gifts. The whole plan would have seemed unworkable. A widow would usually be among the poor of the land.

Meditate on the following:

  • When you have confidence in the sovereignty of God, you obey his commands. You find that his grace is sufficient for you. 2 Corinthians 12:9.
  • It is usually God’s way to use the weak, the lowly, and the despised to do his work. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29. This is for his glory!

Grace and peace, David