“Your jar will not be emptied…”
1 Kings 17:8-18,
Today’s text comes from the lectionary reading for today, and it is about a widow in Zarephath in Sidon, a land of Baal worshippers. About five weeks ago, in my last sermon before my vacation, we covered about powerful prayers, and we used Elijah as an example of a person whose audacious prayers had been answered, –such as when he prayed, there was no rain for 3 and ½ years in the land. The background of today’s sermon is during that time when there was severe famine caused by drought at the words of Elijah, and he was hidden from King Ahab of Northern Kingdom of Israel after he pronounced no rain for 3 and ½ years in the land; he was hiding at the brook of Kerith Ravine, east of Jordan River as the Lord told him to do, and the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and evening until the brook was dried up due to drought.
Before we go to the main text, we have to understand why God sent Elijah to pronounce drought for 3 and ½ years in the land. As we all know, God brought Israelites out of Egypt, from slavery to the land of promise, the land of Canaan. Israelites were God’s people and God was their God. But they abandoned worshipping God who blessed them so much making their nation super-strong among other nations at the time, through King David and King Solomon, those great kings, when they were faithful to God. But they abandoned their God, the source of their life and blessings. As a result, the kingdom of Israel was divided into Southern and Northern kingdom of Israel, and King Ahab of Northern kingdom of Israel abandoned YHWH to the point of making Baal worship as the official state religion in his land following the advice of his wife, Jezebel, whose father was King Tyre, Baal worshipping nation. In this context, drought and famine is not just a physical sense of the word. The word of God, the presence of God was absent in the land since they all abandoned the faith in God.
Let us go to today’s text, verse 8 when the brook of Kerith Ravine dried up, God told Elijah to go to Zarephath so that he could have food and water. God told him that God had commanded a widow to supply him with food. Zarephath belonged to the Kingdom of Tyre, Baal worshipping nation, as I mentioned earlier, it was the nation Jezebel’s father reigned at the time. it is about 85 miles north from where Elijah was. Out of all those places God could have sent him, God chose Zarephath for him to go.
Zarephath means place of refinement, smelting place, place of purification with fire. Smelting is the extracting of precious metals by heat. It is a place where the error is separated from the true, removing all the impurities so only purity remains. Without going through the fire that burns all the impurities, things that are not of the truth, a person or a thing cannot be pure. Without going through the trials of fire, one’s faith in God cannot be solid as pure gold. In the fire, in the extreme heat, everything burns and melts; only what is the real value in the eyes of God remains. In this refining, people realize that we humans cannot do anything, on our own we have no means to survive. No one, nothing on this earth can help us. Steve Jobs, a genius, an icon of innovation, a multi-billionaire, who had everything money can afford on this earth, he realized when he was dying of cancer, “no one can, nothing can help me from dying.” That is the sad truth for unbelievers. Our destiny without God is, death and only God lives.
A widow in Zarephath was in the fire of purification, in a smelting place. In the extreme trials of famine, she realized that no one could help, and nothing could help her and her son from dying. She was gathering sticks of wood to prepare the last meal to eat and die.
Can you imagine this widow’s plight? Who would eat to die? Aren’t we eat to live? But, verse 12, her very words, when she first met Elijah who requested her to bring some bread, were, “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.” She realized that her destiny is death. She had no means, no one to help her and her son from dying until she met Elijah. Elijah means my God is YHWH. YHWH is built on the word for “I am who I am” which means only God exists nothing else. Nothing has substance on its own apart from God; only God does.
Before we go any further, I would like to point out one important thing: she believed in Jehovah God, not in Baal. Verse 12 starts out her saying, “As surely as the Lord your God lives…” Wow, how powerful faith statement from her who was living in the land of Baal worship! She was to swear by Baal if she believed in Baal, but as you can notice she swore by Elijah’s God. It is a common expression in the Bible to refer “your God” amongst those people who shared the same faith, as we can see in 1Samuel 13:13, when Samuel rebuked King Saul for disobeying God, “You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you…” She believed in God Elijah believed.
Verse 13 & 14, Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first, make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. Verse14, “For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”
Do you hear what Elijah was saying? He demanded this widow to give up on the only and the last thing she had: a handful of flour and a little bit of olive oil. If it were you, would you give them up? If you have the last dollar for gas, but some stranger but seemingly a genuine man of God you can trust says to you to give the last dollar to him, then you will have gas in your tank. Would you believe and give it? I am sure not many of us can do that. But she obeyed. In verse 15, she did as Elijah had told her. She obeyed God through Elijah and trusted God to provide for her and her son so that they can live, not dying. That is faith. God works beyond human reason and understanding. She had that faith in God.
When we pray for miracles like the story of a widow in Zarephath, God demands our faith in God first. God is saying to us, ‘Do you really believe that it is I who provide, I am the source of everything you have and own, including your health and your life?’ There was a businessman who was on the verge of filing for bankruptcy praying and asking God to bless him financially. During that time, God sent a missionary and requested him to give $100,000.00 for a cause of Christian mission in the region of Asia Pacific. After a prayer of discernment, knowing that the request was from God, he gave $100,000 dollars selling the last piece of property he had, although he and his family did not have a place to live at that time. With faith in God, he gave. Later he found a gold mine in Africa somewhere. I was that missionary sent to him.
If you are sick, suffering from a severe case of arthritis heavily depending on dangerous pain pills such as Hydrocodone and/or Cymbalta, and you have been praying for healing. If your pastor who has been praying for and with you for healing, asks you to stop taking the pain pills when you still have terrible pain in your body, saying that God gave the pastor the instruction for you not to take pills. Would you obey God? We have such a faithful person in our midst experiencing God’s miracle in her body. She obeyed such unreasonable instruction, and as a result, she has been delivered from Arthritis. The reason we are not experiencing God’s power, God’s presence in our lives is because we are the center, not God in our lives. Although we say we have faith in God, if that faith is still strongly based on my own power, in my own will and reason, then that faith comes to nothing in times of trials and difficulties in life. Only the faith that as pure gold comes out of the refiner’s fire, a smelting place, realizing God is the ultimate ground of our being, the absolute existence, apart from whom nothing exists and that we are totally depending on God, stands. That is why God demands to be the center of our lives, instead of us being the center.
Lastly, when she obeyed, she had bread and oil that never dried up until God gave the rain on the land. Bread is Jesus body and oil is Holy Spirit. When we obey God, we have an ongoing supply of the presence of God manifested in the fellowship of God the Son and God the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. Without obeying God’s words, we cannot survive in the famine we experience in this land. True believers where can we find? Can God find that obedient faith in us?