Facing North When the Market Goes South
1 Kings 17:7-16
Dr. Jim Denison
Today we want to address the subject of finances and family, the economic downturn and its effect on our lives and relationships. Financial challenges are something I know something about. Trust me when I tell you that Janet did not marry me for my money.
Our first home was a duplex in Arlington, renting for $330 per month. We struggled to make that payment each month. Our kitchen table was an old inlaid checkerboard table Janet’s grandfather had made. It was missing several of the checkers, so we put a tablecloth over it to hide the holes. But I knew where they were; when people would come over, I’d put my water glass in the holes just to watch it tilt and see the people’s reactions.
I drove a 1966 Ford Mustang, with a leaking power steering cylinder. It would have cost $35 to fix, so I cut off the belt and drove it manually. Janet worked at our church, then became a teacher. While finishing my master’s degree, I worked as a graphic artist part-time and as a janitor on Mondays, and we addressed the church newsletter on Tuesday nights for extra money.
Few problems challenge a family more severely than finances. But few circumstances can make our relationships stronger and more godly than the spiritual renewal which financial pressures can bring. The choice is ours.
If your relationships are not facing financial stress, they likely will be. Let’s ask God for practical help together. Walk with me through this remarkable Old Testament event, then we’ll gather up some lessons for life today.
The king who ruled a dust bowl
Elijah the prophet appears suddenly and without introduction in 1 Kings 17, walking into the middle of the greatest spiritual crisis his nation has seen since the wilderness. King Ahab and his wicked Queen Jezebel have led the people to worship Baal, the Canaanite god of fertility and rain. All sorts of unspeakable sexual immorality and heinous spiritual adultery have resulted.
1 Kings 16:33 makes this horrific statement about him: “Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him.” Of all their corrupt, decadent kings, he was the worst.
So God raises up this prophet Elijah to show the nation who is really Lord.
Rain was crucial to this drought-plagued, agriculturally dependent country. Without rain they could not farm, eat, or survive. You know what happens to us when the electricity goes out; far worse came to them when it did not rain.
Baal was supposed to be the god of rain. So the real God shows the people who’s truly in charge of the rain and the world. He send Elijah to tell wicked King Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word” (1 Kings 17:1).
God kept his word. For 3½ years there was no rain in the land. The nation looked like the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. We suffered through a few weeks without rain last summer; imagine what would happen to Dallas if it didn’t rain until November of 2004.
The eventual result of this standoff between Elijah and Ahab, between Jehovah and Baal, was that the people returned to their worship of the one true God, and the wicked regime of Ahab and Jezebel was destroyed. God’s power prevailed, and the nation was saved. But along the way, innocent people would suffer the consequences of their leaders’ sinfulness, as they always do.
This is where our story picks up.
A strange way to feed a man
Elijah has been living by a brook in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan river. But the brook dries up because of the drought. “Then the word of the Lord came to him . . .” (v. 8). Not “before” but “when.” God never reveals his will to us ahead of time. Now that the crisis has come home to Elijah, God gives him his word.
And a strange word it is: “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food” (v. 9).
Zarephath was a commercial center located 20 miles north of Tyre on the Mediterranean coast of ancient Phoenicia. The small town of Surafend is there today.
Going to Zarephath was a bad idea. The drought had hit them hard as well, so that they have no more water than Elijah does. Jezebel’s father is still king of the region, and we know what she thought about Elijah. And these are pagan, Baal-worshipping idolaters. Why go there?
To make things even worse, he is to depend on a “widow” in the town. She is the least likely person to survive this drought. She has no husband and no other family; there is no welfare system; she and her son will likely die.
But Elijah goes anyway: “So he went to Zarephath” (v. 10). His life, and hers, would depend on his obedience to the word of God. Obedience is the theme of this entire text, and of its relevance to our lives.
He finds the woman at the city gate; someone has said that “coincidence” is when God prefers to remain anonymous. She’s “gathering sticks,” twigs, really. To make a fire for cooking—this must be a good sign, Elijah thinks.
So he asks her for some water, and she consents. Then he asks for some bread, assuming that she will have what he needs or God wouldn’t have sent him to her.
Then comes the shock: “As surely as the Lord your God lives, I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug” (v. 12a). To make matters worse, she says, “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” (v. 12b).