Saturday, March 12, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 41. Elijah And The Miracle Of The Widow's Son

Prophets And Kings
Day 41
Elijah And The Miracle Of The Widow's Son

Elijah haves been stayin wif a poor widow and hers son during the famine. While hims there they never run out of flour and oil. But now the widows son suddenly takes ill and dies.

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." (1 Kings 17:17) We don't know whether this condition came upon the child in the space of only one day or over several days. I tend to think it was fairly sudden or else the widow might have asked Elijah to intercede with God. Or perhaps neither of them realized the severity of the illness until he stopped breathing. It seems to come as a shock to both the widow and Elijah.

In her grief, the widow turns on Elijah in anger, "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?'" (1 Kings 17:18) Of course we, the readers, know Elijah did nothing to bring this tragedy on the family, but the widow is intensely aware of her own sins. She's a woman of Sidon, the area from which King Ahab brought in Baal worship. Maybe she has worshiped Baal herself. She knows the drought and famine are direct judgments from God because of the Baal worship in Israel and she knows it will not rain again until Elijah says so. It could be she suspects Elijah has also pronounced a curse upon her own household because she is, or has been, an idolater. 

It's natural when trouble comes to wonder if we are being punished for our sins. And sometimes that's the case. Sometimes God has to discipline us to get us back on the right path when we refuse to turn back on our own. But sometimes trouble comes even when we are living in the will of God. It's natural to wonder why bad things happen to good people and I think maybe the widow is bothered because she has been good to Elijah, giving him a roof over his head and sharing what she thought was her last meal with him. She has shown Elijah great hospitality and in return has enjoyed food in time of famine. No doubt she expected things to keep on going well for her household because she has been kind to the prophet and because his presence has blessed her home. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, comes this tragedy. She's in disbelief. She's seeking someone to blame. Is this her own fault? Is this the prophet's fault? Is God angry with her? Elijah too is taken by surprise. The widow's obedience to God in helping Elijah has been a blessing on the prophet and in return his presence in the house has been a blessing on her and her son. What a shocking thing to have the child suddenly die. Elijah didn't foresee this. He wonders why a bad thing has happened to a good person. He doesn't know the answer anymore than the widow knows the answer.

"'Give me your son,' Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. Then he cried out to the Lord, 'Lord my God, why have You brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?'" (1 Kings 17:19-20) Elijah asks God a question we all ask Him at one time or another: "Why?" It comforts me to know that not even the great prophet Elijah knew the answer to this question. The widow is living in obedience to God by providing for the prophet. She's trying to do the right thing. There's no evidence that she's living in idolatry while Elijah is there. Elijah is probably quite fond of the young boy and the widow, so he cries out in grief to God, "Why? Why have You let this innocent child die? Why have You brought this tragedy on the poor widow woman who shelters me in my time of need? She's done nothing but good to me. It's one thing that You've brought tragedy on an idolatrous nation, but why also this woman who is trying to turn her life around?" 

The widow has made an upper room for Elijah to live in, which is probably a rooftop shelter. He carries the boy to his own room, not to the boy's room, and I think maybe that's because his own room is where Elijah regularly prays to the Lord. It's his prayer closet. It's holy ground, sanctified by the many hours he's spent there talking to the Lord. If you have a special spot in your house where you like to pray, you know what I mean. Elijah naturally gravitates to his room of prayer and lays the child on his own bed because it's where he kneels every day. He feels closer to the Lord there than anywhere else in the house.

"Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, 'Lord my God, let this boy's life return to him!'" (1 Kings 17:21) This is the first Scriptural account of anyone being raised from the dead. This may be the first time such a thing has ever happened and if so, Elijah's faith is monumental to ask for such a thing. Like his forefather Abraham, he does not stagger in unbelief. His grief and his request are so great that he lays himself on the cold and breathless body of the boy three times as he cries out to God. His desire for the child to live is so strong that we get the impression he would personally will the life and breath back into the body if only he could. 

I don't know whether there's any significance in the number three here or not. We are reminded that Jonah was three days in the belly of the whale and the Lord Jesus was three days in the belly of the earth. The Apostle Paul prayed on three long and anguished occasions for the thorn in his side to be taken away. I can't say whether the number three means anything specific. It could be that Elijah was prepared to keep making the request on and on, but it was after the third prayer that the Lord answered. The main thing I think we can take from this is not to give up after praying once. The Lord Jesus urges us to keep asking, seeking, and knocking. Elijah's faith wasn't destroyed when the boy didn't revive after the first prayer. He didn't faint in the faith when the boy didn't revive after the second prayer. I think if the Lord hadn't answered on the third prayer, Elijah might have kept on asking for a very long time. He didn't become offended at God when He didn't answer at the first request. He kept on asking in faith, which is a wonderful example for us. There are things I've only had to pray for once before God stepped in. There are things I prayed for over the course of several years before God answered. There are situations I'm still praying for God to intervene in. Elijah didn't give up and neither should we. 

"The Lord heard Elijah's cry, and the boy's life returned to him, and he lived. Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, 'Look, your son is alive!' 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.'" (1 Kings 17:22-24) The multiplying of the flour and oil was one thing. Maybe the widow thought a magician or prophet or priest from other religions might have been able to do a food miracle. But raising a child from the dead is indisputable proof that the God of Israel, Elijah's God, has all power over life and death. This miracle is unprecedented in all religions. She's never heard of such a thing. Nobody's pagan god has ever revived the dead; only the God of Israel has raised someone from the dead. Does this mean the widow converted to the God of Israel? I like to think so. She makes a statement of faith here. Previously, in yesterday's passage, she called the God of Israel, "the Lord your God". Now, at the revival of her son, the God of Israel is "the Lord". When Elijah first came to her, she recognized the God of Israel as a real God, but probably considered Him one of many gods, since she herself is from a pagan nation. But today God is the Lord, the only Lord. 

Like the death of Lazarus, the death of the boy was not intended to be permanent, but "for God's glory". (John 11:4) The death was part of God's plan so He could revive the child, bringing salvation to the household. The temporary grief has brought in a permanent rejoicing. What better way could God reward this woman for her help to Elijah than by bringing salvation to her and her son through her new faith in the God of Israel? The Lord knew her heart so well that He knew it was going to take something this huge to convert her. The widow's life is changed forever by the works of God. The boy's life is changed forever, for he will always know a prophet of the God of Israel prayed the prayer of faith that raised him from the dead. Elijah's life is changed forever, because after witnessing this miracle he's going to be able to move on into the next phase of his ministry when he faces down 850 pagan priests on Mount Carmel. Elijah, bold in the knowledge of how awesome and powerful his God is, will in complete confidence call down fire from heaven and prove to the pagan Baal worshipers whose God is the real God.

In today's passage, the Lord has worked all things together for good. He has woven together the tapestry of the lives of three people in such a way that the faith of all of them is now firm and unmovable. They will still face challenges in life. They will still be stricken with doubts and fears, as we will find in the life of Elijah. But something deep in their souls will be forever settled on the foundation of the rock of ages. The storms may toss. The winds may blow. The rains may come down. But as the Lord Jesus promised us in Matthew 7:25, a house built on the solid rock will stand even when everything is falling down around it.

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