The Ministry of Elijah: Ahab’s Reign
1 Kings 17 – 22
1 Kings 17 – 22
Elijah. One of the greatest prophets that ever lived was Elijah, perhaps second only to John the Baptist or third to Moses. Certainly we see the distinguished status that Elijah had with God in that he and Moses as a pair were selected to be seen on the mount of transfiguration with the Lord Jesus (Matt. 17:3). Both Elijah and his successor Elisha were prophets to the ten tribes, the northern Kingdom of Israel. The fact that God gave these two prophets shows that He works with His people even if they are in a position that isn’t according to His mind. We learn many lessons from the life of Elijah, both to encourage us in what is good, and to warn us of mistakes. When applying these lessons to ourselves, in a sense the lives of Elijah and Elisha can be viewed as a continuum,1 as a believer growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18).
His character and ministry. Elijah came from humble beginnings in the land of Gilead, but evidently was raised in the fear of God. He lived during the reign of wicked king Ahab and amid the rampant worship of Baal in Israel. At that time Israel had lost sight of the great truth that Jehovah was the one true God. Their collective conscience had been seared by the hot iron of idolatry. Elijah’s parents may have been burdened about this because they named their son Elijah, which means “Jehovah, He is God” (see 1 Kings 18:39). God sent Elijah for the purpose of turning Israel to the Lord, much the same way John the Baptist was sent as the forerunner of Christ; “And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). He seems to have had a very deep appreciation for the holiness of God. Elijah was very concerned about the low moral condition of Israel. He expressed his greatest desire on Mount Carmel: “that this people may know that thou Jehovah art God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again” (1 Kings 18:37). Throughout the early part of his ministry Elijah displayed a tremendous boldness to act for God without fear. Without a revelation from God, Elijah seems to have had a knowledge of God’s will because he was in tune with God’s holiness (e.g. 1 Kings 17:1; 18:23-24). He was strong as long as he remained in the presence of God.
His failure and legacy. Although Elijah seemed to appreciate the holiness of God and grasp the importance of separation from evil, there were other aspects of God that Elijah didn’t seem to understand. He was very comfortable with the Law, with God’s holy demands for obedience, and he even retreated to Mount Horeb when he was discouraged. The boldness that had characterized his earlier ministry was replaced by unreasonable fear. The inability of Elijah to understand the graciousness of God led him to self-occupation, discouragement, and a judgmental attitude. He viewed himself as separate from the people, and a cut above, calling them “this people” (c.p. Jer. 14:20, Dan. 9:20). Yet the Lord worked patiently with Elijah to correct his spirit. Ultimately the Lord had to relieve Elijah of his role as a prophet and instead replace him with Elisha, a prophet of grace. However, the two prophets spent many years together, and it would seem that Elijah had a profound influence on the younger man for good, indicating that he was restored. Elisha asked for a double-portion of Elijah’s spirit. We see Elijah in 2 Kings 1 and 2 in a much different state; at peace. At the end of his pathway, the Lord sent a chariot of fire and caught Elijah up in a whirlwind without seeing death, thus justifying the life of His servant in spite of his earlier failures. He was given a place with Moses on the mount of transfiguration!
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The Brook Cherith and the Widow of Zarephath
1 Kings 17
1 Kings 17
1 Kings 17. In this chapter we are introduced to Elijah, one of the greatest prophets that ever lived. The prophet passes through a number of exercises in connection with living in a day of public ruin. He learned to take a stand for the Lord (v.1), to practice separation, dependence, and obedience (vv.2-7), to experience humility, grace, and the power of God in quickening (vv.8-24). In a larger sense, Elijah in this chapter is a type of Christ, rejected by His people, then hid from the eyes of men while He brings blessing to the Gentiles through the power of His Word.
Elijah before Ahab (17:1)
1 And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, As Jehovah the God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except by my word. v.1 Elijah before Ahab. We are introduced to Elijah as a man from Tishbe in the land of Gilead. Elijah was from the ten tribes, and from the east of Jordan. It was a humble background, to be raised far from the center of political life in Israel. We know nothing about Elijah’s upbringing, except the fact that his parents named him Elijah, meaning “Jehovah, He is God”. This was a contrast to the mainstream beliefs of the kingdom of Israel at the time. Ahab was king, with his wicked wife Jezebel as queen. Elijah went boldly to speak to Ahab, and told him there would be a famine in the land – “there shall not be dew nor rain these years” – according to the word of Elijah. It seems that Elijah was burdened about the low moral condition of Israel, and by faith had God’s mind as to what would follow. It does not say “the word of the Lord came to Elijah” as in v.2 and v.8. A famine was the appropriate discipline for the people of Israel, according to the warning given by God many years before (Deut. 11:16,17). The people were unconcerned about the spiritual famine that they were in, and Elijah felt that a physical famine might get their attention. We find in James that this was a result of Elijah’s prayer; “Elias was a man of like passions to us, and he prayed with prayer that it should not rain; and it did not rain upon the earth three years and six months” (James 5:17). We see a remarkable boldness with Elijah, having prayed that there would be no rain, to announce it to Ahab with the utmost confidence; “As Jehovah the God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand”. Elijah was great only as long as he remained in the presence of God, in the place of communion (Gen. 18:22). He was going to have to learn that he was nothing on his own.
Famines in the Word of God. In the Old Testament God allowed several great famines to touch the land of Canaan, and these were allowed for different reasons. A famine naturally follows a time of drought, when food and water are scarce. When there is plenty of resources, the world continues on its course without turning to God. Similarly, there is a tendency for Christians to grow more independent from God. But when famine arises, we are forced to turn to the Lord, and address the matters that concern His interests. In one case, famine was used to bring Joseph's brothers to repentance, in another case, famine was used to cause David to deal with a serious matter from the past. In the New Testament, we read of a famine that God allowed to make the prodigal son feel his wretched condition, and bring about repentance. We have Abraham's famine (Genesis 12:10), Isaac's famine (Genesis 26:1), Joseph's famine (Genesis 41:27), Naomi's famine (Ruth 1:1), David's famine (2 Sam. 21:1), Ahab's famine (1 Kings 17:1), Elisha's famine (2 Kings 4:38), Zedekiah's famine (2 Kings 25:3), the Prodigal's famine (Luke 15:14), the Assembly's famine (Acts 11:28).
Elijah by the Brook Cherith (17:2-7)
2 And the word of Jehovah came to him saying, 3 Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the torrent Cherith, which is before the Jordan. 4 And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the torrent; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there. vv.2-4 Direction to Hide. Elijah was only in the presence of Ahab for a brief moment, and then the Lord told him to go hide himself. Ahab would of course be searching for him, seeking to capture or kill him as the drought worsened. We find in 1 Kings 18:12 that Ahab sent men to every nation seeking the Lord’s prophet. Elijah hid himself for 3 1/2 years before God told him to show himself to Ahab. Perhaps God saw something in Elijah too that made it necessary for the prophet to hide himself. We see a beautiful contrast in this with the Lord Jesus. There was no need to hide Himself, instead He was publicly displayed for the full 3 1/2 years, never failing once as the Perfect Servant. The exact location of the brook Cherith is not known, but it was “before Jordan” as Elijah journeyed from Ahab eastward. This means it was probably a tributary stream of the Jordan river, which also means that – as Elijah well knew from being a resident of Gilead – that the stream was sustained by rain and would inevitably dry up in time. The Lord would sustain Elijah there with water from the brook, and He had commanded the ravens to feed him – a most unusual means, because ravens are known for insatiable appetites. It would be a striking rebuke to Israel, that God would prefer the unclean birds to sustain His prophet than His own idolatrous people. The Lord would have Elijah feel the drought along with the people (Isa. 63:9). Dependence on the Lord is a lesson we all need to learn.
5 And he went and did according to the word of Jehovah; he went and abode by the torrent Cherith, which is before the Jordan. 6 And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the torrent. 7 And it came to pass after a while that the torrent dried up, for there had been no rain in the land. vv.5-7 By the Brook. Elijah did as he was told, and was fed and refreshed in the secluded place. But as time progressed, Israel and Ahab refused to repent, the drought continued, and eventually the brook dried up. Sometimes in our stubbornness we can miss the opportunity for repentance that God has granted. But His grace cannot be stopped, and so Elijah was sent away from Israel. Elijah here learned the lesson of dependence on God even when resources are gone; “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” (Luke 4:4).
Elijah with the Widow in Zarephath (17:8-24)
8 And the word of Jehovah came to him saying, 9 Arise, go to Zarephath, which is by Zidon, and abide there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to maintain thee. vv.8-9 Direction to go to Zarephath. Israel had turned away from the Lord, and the provision for Elijah in seclusion within Israel had dried up. God would send His prophet outside the land to “Zarephath, which is by Zidon”, also called Sarepta in Luke 4:26. This was the very place where Ahab’s wife Jezebel came from, and would not have been a destination that a prophet of Jehovah would have chosen for morality or security. We find in Luke that Israel had really rejected Elijah, and the fact that he was sent to Zidon was a proof of God’s displeasure with His people. “And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow” (Luke 4:24-26). This is a type of God’s dispensational ways. Israel rejected Christ, and so God turned to the Gentiles to provoke Israel to jealousy. The Gentile widow was obviously poor, and it would have been naturally hard to understand how God would use this woman to sustain Elijah. Further, she had no husband to support her; a truly hopeless situation (Eph. 2:12).
10 And he arose and went to Zarephath; and when he came to the entrance of the city, behold, a widow woman was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink. 11 And she went to fetch it, and he called to her and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thy hand. 12 And she said, As Jehovah thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but a handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse; and behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die. vv.10-12 Water and Bread. At the entrance of Zarephath Elijah met the widow woman, who was gathering sticks. He was apparently thirsty as well as hungry, and perhaps the lack of water was compounded by his long journey (John 4:7). Elijah asked the woman to fetch him a drink of water. Perhaps he did not understand her desperate situation, but she obeyed. Obedience to God in a day of ruin refreshes the heart of God! But then Elijah called to her to bring some bread. This exposed the actual need of this widow woman; she was gathering sticks to cook her last meal. She was literally dying of hunger. Notice that she recognizes the deity of Jehovah without claiming any right to Him; “as Jehovah thy God liveth”. This request from Elijah caused the widow woman to hesitate, but the prophet speaks again.
13 And Elijah said to her, Fear not; go, do as thou hast said; but make me thereof a little cake first; and bring it to me; and afterwards make for thee and for thy son. 14 For thus saith Jehovah the God of Israel: The meal in the barrel shall not waste, neither shall the oil in the cruse fail, until the day that Jehovah sendeth rain upon the face of the earth! 15 And she went and did according to the word of Elijah; and she, and he, and her house, ate a whole year. 16 The meal in the barrel did not waste, neither did the oil in the cruse fail, according to the word of Jehovah which he had spoken through Elijah. vv.13-16 The Barrel and the Cruse. The prophet then asked the widow to use her last ingredients to make him “a little cake first”, and he assured her that God would provide for her and her son afterward. It seemed harsh, and would have been cruel if Elijah was not a prophet, but it was a tremendous test of faith. Would she put the Lord’s interests before her own, although it was her last meal? Did she trust the Lord and the word of His prophet Elijah? What would have provoked the flesh in an unbeliever provokes faith in a believer. She obeyed, putting God first, and in the end Elijah’s promise was fulfilled! We can “fear not” when we walk in obedience to the Word of God. Meal or flour in scripture speaks of the perfect humanity of Christ, and oil speaks of the Spirit of God. So in the barrel of meal and the cruse of oil that did not fail we see a picture of the food that feeds our souls in this world, where all around is a spiritual and moral famine: Christ Himself ministered to us by the Holy Spirit. The miracle that took place was a daily one. It wasn’t that the cruse and barrel were filled, or that a super-abundance of bread was created on the spot. No, the same ingredients for a “last meal” would always remain; just enough for one meal at a time. It pictures dependence. The Lord feeds us this way in order to keep us near Himself. This widow and her son would have to depend on the Lord for every meal, but there would always be enough.
17 And it came to pass after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick; and his sickness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18 And she said to Elijah, What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? art thou come to me to call mine iniquity to remembrance, and to slay my son? vv.17-18 The Widow’s Son. The Lord was not done teaching this Gentile widow the power of grace. She had learned how grace can sustain life and meet daily needs, but now God wanted her to see that grace can overcome death itself! After a year of living on the meal and oil, the woman’s son fell sick and died, as we gather from v.21 that his soul departed. It was a far greater trial than the hunger of the famine. This brought the widow to a state of total despair. She had no husband, and therefore all her hopes were in her son. She connects the death of her son with her own iniquity brought to remembrance in the government of God. This trial reaches the widow’s conscience, and she was willing to confess that she was a sinner. She rightly grasped that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), and cried out in anguish of soul. She owns Elijah as a “man of God”. Whenever this expression is used (used first of Moses, but most often for prophets in 1 and 2 Kings), it has to do with an individual standing for God as His representative in a day of ruin. This expression is used in the first and second epistles to Timothy, and nowhere else in the New Testament (e.g. 1 Tim. 6:11).
19 And he said to her, Give me thy son. And he took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into the upper chamber where he abode, and laid him upon his own bed. 20 And he cried to Jehovah and said, Jehovah, my God, hast thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son? 21 And he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried to Jehovah and said, Jehovah, my God, I pray thee, let this child’s soul come into him again! vv.19-21 Elijah’s Prayer. The prophet asks for the child, and she commits the lifeless body to the man of God. As an application of this, Christian parents need to commit their children to the Lord in prayer that He might grant new life. Elijah carries the child to his room, and places the child in his own bed; perhaps a picture of the soul being given Christ’s place before God. He stretched himself upon the child three times, which reminds us of the three days and nights of the Lord in the grave. The death and resurrection of Christ is what God has provided to meet man’s condition of spiritual death. Earlier Elijah had prayed that it would not rain, now he prays for the widow’s son to be raised. The power of his ministry was prayer!
22 And Jehovah heard the voice of Elijah, and the soul of the child came into him again, and he lived. 23 And Elijah took the child, and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and delivered him to his mother; and Elijah said, See, thy son lives. 24 And the woman said to Elijah, Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of Jehovah in thy mouth is truth. vv.22-24 Resurrection. God grants the request of His servant, the soul of the child returns. This was a miracle that was totally outside the abilities of man. Resurrection is a power that belongs to God alone, and it was a witness to this widowed woman that Elijah was who she already believed him to be: a man of God. It is interesting that she connects the power of resurrection in Elijah with the verity of the word of God in his mouth. The whole chapter is really typical of the present period of time in which Christ, of whom Elijah is a type, is hid from the eyes of men, Israel is set aside, and God works in grace among the Gentiles. He brings life through the power of His Word; “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live” (John 5:25). It is the hour of God’s grace when souls are quickened by the Word of God.
Biblical Accounts of Resurrection. There are ten Biblical accounts of people returning to life in the past (although many more are promised in the future); three are in the Old Testament, and seven are in the New Testament.
- Elijah raised the son of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17-22).
- Elisha raised the son of the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:32-35).
- The man whose body touched Elisha’s bones (2 Kings 13:20-21).
- Jesus raised the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-15).
- Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus (Luke 8:41-55).
- Jesus raised Lazarus (John 11:1-44).
- Jesus was raised (Matt. 28:5-8; Mark 16:6; Luke 24:5-6).
- Many saints at the resurrection of Jesus arose (Matt. 27:50-53).
- Peter raised Dorcas (Acts 9:36-41).
- Paul raised Eutychus (Acts 20:9-10).
In every case except one, those who were raised died again. Those who were raised to life experienced 'revivification', but did not come into the glorified condition of the body. Only Jesus was raised in a glorious condition (Phil. 3:21), and thus He is said to "become the firstfruits of them that slept" (1 Cor. 15:20). The Lord Jesus today stands alone in the first resurrection, but He will be joined by millions at the rapture! Those whom Jesus raised as a man on the earth were raised but not glorified. Those whom Jesus will raise as a glorified man will be raised and glorified!2
- Address by Doug Jacobsen, Elijah – 1 Kings 17.
- Resurrection follows the condition of Christ. Lazarus was raised while Christ was living here in the flesh, and Lazarus is raised to life in the flesh. When Christ in glory raises us, He will raise us in glory. And even now that Christ is hid in God, our life is hid with Him there. - Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible. John 12.