Focus: 1 Kings 17
Why would God inflict hardship on his people? Why would He allow war or famine to ravish his people and make things difficult for them? Will God still allow hardship to come on people today? Yes, and it is an act of love for a stubborn people. When we see Elijah for the first time, his message is one of drought and it will be that drought that will set up a time of learning for a stubborn people.
Elijah the Tishbite suddenly appears on the scene and then leaves as quickly as he came, only to reappear three years later to challenge the priests of Baal. His name means "The Lord (Jehovah) is my God," an apt name for a man who called the people back to the worship of Jehovah. Wicked King of Israel, Ahab, who reigned from 875-848 BC, had permitted his wife Jezebel to bring the worship of Baal into Israel and she was determined to wipe out the worship of Jehovah. Baal was the Phoenician fertility god who sent rain and bountiful crops, and the rites connected with his worship were unspeakably immoral. Like Solomon who catered to the idolatrous practices of his heathen wives, Ahab yielded to Jezebel's desires and even built her a private temple where she could worship Baal. Her plan was to exterminate the worshipers of Jehovah and have all the people of Israel serving Baal. As we shall see, God had other ideas.
1. What was one of the worst pieces of news you’ve ever had to convey to another person?
Answers will vary. Ask what made it such bad news? Why did you feel that you had to share it?
2. What was the prophecy that Elijah took to Ahab, king of Israel? (17:1) How do you imagine Ahab felt about Elijah after Elijah pronounced judgment on him?
The Jewish people depended on the seasonal rains for the success of their crops. If the Lord didn't send the early rain in October and November and the latter rain in March and April, there would soon be a famine in the land. But the blessing of the semiannual rains depended on the people obeying the covenant of the Lord (Deut. 11). The land belonged to the Lord, and if the people defiled the land with their sinful idols, the Lord wouldn't bless them.
It's likely that Elijah appeared before King Ahab in October, about the time the early rains should have begun. There had been no rain for six months, from April to October, and the prophet announced that there would be no rain for the next three years! The people were following Baal, not Jehovah, and the Lord could not send the promised rain and still be faithful to His covenant. God always keeps His covenant, whether to bless the people for their obedience or to discipline them for their sins.
3. After speaking with Ahab, why do you think that God directed Elijah to hide? (17:2-3) How were Elijah’s needs met while he was alone in the desert? (17:5-6)
"Go, hide yourself!" was God's command, and three years later the command would be, "Go, show yourself!" By leaving his public ministry, Elijah created a second "drought" in the land—an absence of the Word of the Lord. God's Word was essential to their spiritual lives, it was refreshing, and only the Lord could give it. The silence of God's servant was a judgment from God. The ravens didn't bring Elijah the carrion that they were accustomed to eating because such food would be unclean for a dedicated Jew. The Lord provided the food and the birds provided the transportation! Just as God dropped the manna into the camp of Israel during their wilderness journey, so He sent the necessary food to Elijah as he waited for the signal to relocate.
4. What kind of faith is required for living with just enough for each day and no more? What would you learn by being put in that situation?
The famine was something that Elijah could not control and the area that he was sent to had few resources so he could provide on his own. Here he would have to learn to trust the Lord. Food would come each day and like the people of Israel in the desert, he would come to depend on his Lord. There are often times that we need to go through hardship in order to learn to trust God. The hardship makes us ready for the large task ahead in our lives.
5. Where did God send Elijah after the brook dried up? (17:7-9) What two requests did Elijah make of the widow at Zarephath? (17:10-11)
Elijah lived at Cherith probably a year, and then God told him to leave. God's instructions may have shocked the prophet, for the Lord commanded him to travel northeast about a hundred miles to the Phoenician city of Zarephath. God was sending Elijah into Gentile territory! Even more, he was instructed to live with a widow whom God had selected to care for him, and widows were usually among the neediest people in the land. Since Phoenicia depended on Israel for much of its food supply, food wouldn't be too plentiful there. But when God sends us, we must obey and leave the rest to Him, for we don't live on man's explanations—we live on God's promises. The widow spoke of Jehovah as "the Lord your God" (v. 12, italics mine), for she could easily discern that the stranger speaking to her was a Jew; but even this isn't evidence she was a believer. It's probable that Elijah remained with her for two years (18:1), and during that time, the widow and her son probably turned from the worship of idols and put their faith in the true and living God.
6. What do the ways God chose to provide for Elijah during the drought tell you about how God may take care of you in tough times?
God used the supernatural in both cases, but the food did not just appear. He used the birds and an old widow. In the case of the widow, Elijah’s presence meant that she and her son would not die. Notice, also that the Lord “gives us each day our daily bread”. It would be comfortable to have a large store of food to draw on, but God gives us just what we need each day.
7. What promise did Elijah make if the widow would be obedient to God? (17:14) How would you have reacted to Elijah’s request in view of the promise?
The woman's assets were few: a little oil in a flask, a handful of barley in a large grain jar, and a few sticks to provide fuel for a fire. But Elijah's assets were great, for God Almighty had promised to take care of him, his hostess, and her son. Elijah gave her God's promise that neither the jar of grain nor the flask of oil would be used up before the end of the drought and famine. God would one day send the rain, but until then, He would continue to provide bread for them—and He did.
8. What did the woman of Zarephath assume when her son became ill and died? (17:17-18)
The mother's response was to feel guilty because of her past sins. She believed that her son's death was God's way of punishing her for her misdeeds. It isn't unusual for people to feel guilty in connection with bereavement, but why would she point her finger at her guest? She recognized Elijah as a man of God, and perhaps she thought his presence in the home would protect her and her son from trouble. Or maybe she felt that God had informed her guest about her past life, something she should have confessed to him.
9. How would the miracle of the flour and oil have appeared to the widow in retrospect if her son had died?
She could have been glad that her son had lived with her an extra two years, but she could easily have been angry with God for giving life and taking it away. Her life would mean nothing as a widow if she did not have a man in the house.
10. When Elijah took the son from his mother, what question did he have for God? (17:19-20)
Elijah's response was to carry the lad to his upstairs room, perhaps on the roof, and to cry out to the Lord for the life of the child. He couldn't believe that the Lord would miraculously provide food for the three of them and then allow the son to die. It just didn't make sense. Elijah didn't stretch himself out on the boy's dead body in hopes he could transfer his life to the lad, for he knew that only God can impart life to the dead. Certainly, his posture indicated total identification with the boy and his need, and this is an important factor when we intercede for others. It was after Elijah stretched himself on the child for the third time that the Lord raised him from the dead, a reminder that our own Savior arose from the dead on the third day.
11. How did the widow react when her son was returned to her alive? (17:23-24)
The result of this miracle was the woman's public confession of her faith in the God of Israel. She now knew for sure that Elijah was a true servant of God and not just another religious teacher looking for some support. She also knew that the Word he had taught her was indeed the Word of the true and living God. During the time he lived with the widow and her son, Elijah had shown them that God sustains life (the meal and oil didn't run out) and that God imparts life (the boy was raised from the dead).
12. In what way do you find it easy or difficult to obey God when you don’t know what the outcome will be?
During these three years as an exile and a hunted man (18:10), Elijah has learned a great deal about the Lord, about himself and about the needs of people. He has learned to live a day at a time, trusting God for his daily bread. For three years, people have been asking, "Where is the prophet, Elijah? Is he able to do anything to ease the burdens we carry because of this drought? But the Lord is more concerned about the worker than the work, and He has been preparing Elijah for the greatest challenge of faith in his entire ministry.
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