Saturday, February 8, 2014



By Dr. Diego Sausa

Our message this morning is based on 1Kings 17:8-16. I would like to invite all to open their Bibles to this narrative, I’ll be reading from the English Standard Version,

“Then the word of the Lord came to him [Elijah], ‘Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.’ So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, ‘Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.’ And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, ‘Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.’ And she said, ‘As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.’ And Elijah said to her, ‘Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’ And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.”

In order for us to really appreciate this story we need to understand the background of this narrative. This biblical narrative is couched in the reign of King Ahab of northern Israel. David was now dead for more than a hundred years and the once powerful united kingdom of Israel was divided into two kingdoms: Judah, the Southern Kingdom which was ruled by the descendants of David, and the Northern Kingdom or Israel, which was ruled by different kings from different blood lines. Both the northern and the southern kingdoms had apostatized but the northern kingdom of Israel was worse than the southern kingdom of Judah. God sent prophets to both kingdoms to woo them back to Him.

At the time when our story happened, the king in the Northern Kingdom was Ahab the son of Omri who was himself a wicked king (1 Kngs. 16:25). But his son Ahab was even worse than his father. King Ahab married a Gentile woman named Jezebel who was the daughter of the King of Sidon called Ethbaal, a title which means, “with Baal” or “with the authority from Baal.” Jezebel’s father therefore was not only the king of Sidon, he was also the high priest or vicar of Baal. Thus, when Jezebel became Israel’s queen, she brought with her pagan religion and her husband Ahab, the king of Israel became her foremost supporter. King Ahab built a temple for Baal in his capital city of Samaria and made all Israel worship Baal instead of God. Scripture says that “Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (1Kngs. 16:33). Baal was the pagan god of rain, fertility and agriculture.

God confronts King Ahab through the prophet Elijah. Certain Jewish tradition held that Elijah was an angel because he just suddenly appeared before King Ahab’s throne room in Samaria and then suddenly disappeared. Scripture does not record who his parents were. But James 5:17 tells us that “Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are. He therefore, was just human like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain in Israel for three and a half years.” The author of 1Kings tells us, “Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word’” (1Kngs. 17:1, ESV). As James in the New Testament later had explained, it did not rain in all of Israel for three and a half years (James 5:17) because Elijah prayed for it to prove that Baal, the god of rain that Israel was now worshiping was a false god. So the Lord answers Elijah’s prayer, and Elijah relays God’s message to King Ahab.

After proclaiming God’s judgment on Israel before the king, God instructs Elijah to leave the area and go “eastward and hide…by the brook of Cherith, which is east of Jordan” (1Kngs. 17:3). There, God would supply Elijah with water from the brook and would command the ravens to feed him twice a day with bread and meat. The brook of Cherith was in a wilderness in the province of Gilead where the town of Tishbe was also located where Elijah was from. While the rest of Israel was in want for water and food, God took care of Elijah’s own basic needs. This continued for about a year until the brook of Cherith dried up because of prolonged drought in the land. There was no more water and there was no more food from the ravens.

Certainly the Lord blesses His people with their needs, even those ones that they didn’t ask for and didn’t know about. The Lord blessed Elijah with his own needs, but the Lord can only bless us with things that cater to our own selfish needs for so long. After a while that self-centered living dries up. Life is not all about self, it’s not all about what we receive, what we can get, what we can do to look good or what we can do to achieve, because when all the things that we do are motivated by selfish gains, our life dries up. It becomes empty and meaningless. In order for our lives to be full and meaningful, we have to get out from our comfort zone, we have to divert our attention from what we can get to what we can give and start blessing other people. By blessing others, we bless ourselves, because it gives life its full meaning.

The rich young ruler was blessed with riches, and he thought he did everything necessary for himself to attain eternal life, that is, literally obey all of God’s commandments. But we can obey all the letter of the law without obeying the spirit of the law. Yes the rich young ruler kept the Sabbath, gave back his tithes, obeyed all the Ten Commandments for his own needs and purposes. But still he felt that something was wanting and missing in his life. And Christ identified what exactly he needed in his life. He needed to redirect his attention and focus from himself to others, so that by living for others, he lives out the purpose and meaning of his life and reaches the goal of his life. A life that is solely based on self-interest always ends up miserable, meaningless and purposeless.

And so after about a year of living in the wilderness of Cherith, God commands Elijah to get out of his little self-centered comfort zone, by drying him up. The brook of Cherith stopped flowing with water and the ravens stopped bringing food. There’s no doubt about it, God could have intervened and let the brook keep flowing with water, but a life that is focused on self destroys self, so God commands Elijah to get out and minister to others outside his own comfort zone. “Then the word of the Lord came to him, ‘Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there.” When our refrigerators are getting empty, when our bank accounts are getting dry, and our IRAs get in the negative territory, God allows them to happen because He has something else for us to do. Get out, stop thinking about self, about what you can get and what you can gain and start blessing the lives of others.

God commands Elijah to go from the brook of Cherith which was in the province of Gilead to Zarephath a walled city in another country of Phoenicia which is now Lebanon. Zarephath was a coastal town facing the Mediterranean Sea about 13 miles north of Tyre and 8 miles south of Sidon. In other words, Zarephath was in between Tyre and Sidon. Zarephath was under the kingdom of Sidon whose king was Ethbaal the father of Ahab’s wife Jezebel. The first irony was God was sending Elijah into Jezebel’s and Baal’s territory so that Elijah might find sustenance and protection from the murderous plots of Jezebel in God’s own people’s territory. The second irony was, God was sending Elijah to witness a Gentile woman’s faith, a kind of faith that Elijah could not find from God’s own people. In effect, Elijah becomes the first missionary to the Gentiles. The walk from the brook of Cherith to Zarephath was about 100 miles to the northwest of Israel. And God extended the drought in Zarephath and Sidon, the land of Baal the god of rain.

So God tells Elijah to walk 100 miles northwest to the heathen town of Zarephath because the brook of Cherith had dried up. God assures Elijah, “’Behold I have commanded a widow there to feed you.’ So he arose and went to Zarephath” (vv. 9,10). If you were Elijah and you heard this kind of reassuring words from God, what do you think would you imagine? You must have said, “O thank you Lord for some rich widow in Zarephath who would be able to feed me throughout this period of drought and hunger.” Elijah must have been imagining a big house with big food and water reservoirs, and a big special banquet waiting for him, but lo and behold, when he gets there what does he see? (v.10 says) “And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks.”

You know sometimes, I think, God has a little sense of humor. He is full of surprises. Often He performs marvelous and big miracles through the most unlikely, unthinkable, and unexpected marginalized ways. When you expect a grand display of power and majesty to accomplish His purpose, He accomplishes it through a still small voice. When you think He will accomplish His purpose through a dazzling display of pomp and extravagance, He accomplishes it through a couple of sticks. Often we ask God for big things as solutions to our big problems, when God’s solution to our problem is just the mere couple of sticks in our hands.

When Elijah sees the widow picking up sticks by the gate of Zarephath, he realizes that this was the woman who God promised would sustain him. At that point, Elijah must have realized that God had sent him there mainly not because God wanted to feed him through the woman, but mainly because God wanted to save the Gentile woman and her son through him. God made Elijah walk the 100 miles to save the woman, make no mistake about it! God heard the cry of this Gentile mother. You know back in the Ancient Neareastern culture, widows were the most vulnerable in society. When calamities and droughts happened they were the ones who died first because they only thrived through their meager earnings because their major bread winner in the household died. Such was the situation of this woman. She was losing hope. Like her fellow Sidonians, she must have prayed to Baal, their god of rain and fertility, but Baal was nowhere to be heard from, days, weeks, months passed by, now it’s been a year, and no dew nor rain came down from heaven. 

She must have heard about the true God of Israel and in desperation cried out to Him for help, and what a God we serve because even if while we were still sinners, God hears us and loves us! God heard this Gentile woman’s cry for help! So when we cry and suffer and desperate for help and no one seems listening and we feel that we’re so all alone and nobody sees us, and we feel that we are so small like a needle in the haystack, remember this woman of Zarephath, God was willing to let his servant walk 100 miles just to save this woman, and He is willing to walk the hundred miles just for you to save you from your plight! God sees those tears and pain inside, all we need to do is call Him and He will answer, try Him, because I’m speaking not from the standpoint of not only one but of multiple experiences of God’s wonderful salvation and deliverance in my life. Often His answer is not what we expect but what we need.

Once Elijah realizes his purpose and mission, God must have shown him right away what would happen next. So Elijah calls the woman and says, “Can you please bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink?” (v. 10). In the Ancient Neareastern culture, it was the duty of every host to give water to strangers and travelers. So what Elijah was asking was normal and nothing out of the ordinary. As soon as the woman hears the “stranger” asking for water, she leaves to get him water. But as she was leaving to get water, Elijah stops her again and says, “O by the way, I forgot, can you also bring me some bread in your hand?” (v. 11). It would have been normal to ask this if there was no famine in the land and if this person was not a poor widow. But what Elijah was asking from the woman the second time, was absolutely abnormal and out of the ordinary. The water was free and did not cost the woman anything, but the bread was her everything. It’s like a person whose only source of livelihood is his car, and then you tell him, “Can you give me a lift on your way to town?” And then as the person gives you a lift, you say, “By the way, I forgot, can you give me your car?”

What Elijah was asking the woman was literally a life and death decision. Elijah was asking the woman all that she had to keep her and her son alive for a few moments before they died. The woman answers Elijah, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die” (v. 12). The woman tells Elijah, “I swear by the Lord your God who lives, I don’t have any bread. I only have my last handful of flour and last portion of oil in a jug just enough for one last meal for my son and myself, and after that there’s nothing left, and there’s nothing I can do about it, my son and I will have to prepare to die. I’m sorry stranger from Israel, man of the Lord God of Israel who lives, but all I have left is only good for our last meal before we die.” It’s interesting that the woman recognized that Elijah was a man of the living God of Israel, which indicates that she knew the God of Israel and she knew that Elijah was a man of Israel’s God by his looks. But although she believed that Elijah’s God was alive, He was not her God, He was “your God,” that is, Elijah’s God, not hers, she recognizes her being an outsider to Israel’s religion although she believed in Israel’s God.

Then Elijah tells the woman, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said [that is, bake the flour]. But first, make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’ And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah” (vv. 13-16). Elijah was virtually telling the widow of Zarephath, “You believe in my God, that the God of Israel lives? Well this is what He says, give Him your all first, and then He will give you all that you need.”

You know the woman had all the reasons in the world not to give Elijah what he asked for. She could have said, “You’re asking me for charity? I’m on welfare myself, are you kidding? I’m the one who needs charity. All that I have is even barely enough for my survival, now you’re asking me to give it to you? Are you out of your mind, Mr. Stranger?” But the woman decides to give her all to God and trust all her life and her family’s life in God’s hands, and surely God supplied her with everything that she and her son needed. This is the secret to success in life! God through Elijah told the woman, “Give your everything to me first, and you’ll have everything that you’ll need.” What God told the woman through Elijah, would later be echoed by Christ Himself, He says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33).

Often God places us in a situation where we are on our last dime, on our last lifeline, at the end of our rope, at the bottom of our jug, on our last handful of flour, on our last measure of oil, and He asks us, give it all to Me and trust your life on Me.” He allows these “bottom-out” circumstances because when our refrigerators are overflowing, when our bank accounts are full, when our shares in the stock market keep going up, when our investments churn out more profits, when our job is doing great, when health is super, we don’t feel the need for faith in God to bless us, we feel that we did it ourselves. We have this false sense of security that our tomorrow is secure because of these man-made securities. But September 11, the current global economic turmoil, sudden deaths, stealthy cancers and health problems, disasters and catastrophes remind us that none of human securities are secure. We could lose it all in a moment. And it doesn’t get any better because in the end everything will crumble except our investments in God. So like this woman in Zarephath, we need to experience the last dime, we need to reach rock bottom, to be at the end of our rope, so that we’ll realize that without God we can do absolutely nothing, therefore, we have to trust our all in Him because without Him we are simply empty jugs and empty barrels ready for the furnace.

When you’re in a situation where you’ve tried everything that you could, tried all the solutions that you knew, did everything possible, and still, you come up short and you find it impossible to get out of your dilemma and there’s nothing else that you can do, you are exactly where God wants you to be. Throw those bottomed-out vessels, that last measure of flour, that last drop of oil, in God’s hands, give it all to Him and see His marvelous salvation that you’ve never imagined was possible.

I don’t know if you guys are familiar with hand water pumps. In the Philippines they still exist in many rural areas. Many times, when a hand water pump hasn’t been used for some time, the water that gives the suctioning power that brings the water up from down below the well dissipates, and so you have to add a jug of water into the pump to prime the pump to restore its suction ability. My friend, Dr. Manny Sansano during our Bible sharing, told us a legend about a water pump. According to this legend, there was a man who walked in the desert for days and had run out of water. He was getting so thirsty and weak that he was ready to die if he couldn’t find any water. Fortunately, right in the middle of the desert he stumbled into an old beaten shack and inside he saw an old rusty water pump. And so with his last energy he managed to get close to the pump and he tried pumping the handle, but no water came out. He staggered and fell down and found an old jug that was full of water, but the jug had a message on it that says, “You have to prime the pump with all the water that is in this jug to make the pump work, and then be sure you fill this jug again before you leave.”

The man was confronted with two choices: drink the water in the jug, and just go on and walk through the desert but risk running out of water and die in the desert, or follow the instruction, pour all the water into the pump to prime it so that if it works, he could refill all his containers with water enough to make him get to his destination but risk wasting all the water in the pump and die if it did not work. He decided to pour all the water from the jug into the pump to prime it and lo and behold, water started gushing out of the pump and he was able to fill all his containers and refill the jug. And before he left he wrote an additional note on the jug for the next traveler, he says, “Believe me, it really works. You have to give it all away before you can get everything back that you need to live.”

Giving up all what we got in God’s hands works. Because the widow of Zarephath trusted her all to God, she, her son, and Elijah, were able to survive the famine for the next two years until it was over. The story of this woman is so significant that Jesus Himself had to mention her story again to His Jewish listeners recorded in Luke 4:24-26. God is a God of the impossible, it is His middle name. When you think that it’s hopeless and it’s the end of your rope, when you think that you have done all what you could and you still come up short, when you’ve tried everything but your coffers still end up empty, when you think that you’ve reached the end of the road and there’s nothing else that you can do, give it all up to the Lord and prepare to see the unending miracle of His salvation. “Prove me now,” God challenges us, give your all to God and He’ll supply everything that you need.

A small congregation in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains built a new church building on a piece of land willed to them by a member who recently passed away. But ten days before the new church was to open, the local building inspector informed the church pastor that the parking lot was inadequate for the size of the building. They needed to double the size of the parking lot in order for them to use the new church. The problem was, they’ve used up all the lot space for the building and the existing parking lot, there was no more land to expand except the back part of the church which was a mountain against which the church’s back portion had been built. In other words, they would have to move the mountain out of their church’s backyard to give space for the additional parking space needed. Feeling the impossibility of the situation, the pastor gathered 24 of the 300 members one night to have a season of prayer that God would do the impossible, that is, move the mountain out of the way so that they could have enough parking space. They claimed in faith God’s promise that He could move mountains. They prayed for three hours that night and after the prayer, the pastor told the members that the church would be open for church service as scheduled the following weekend.

The next morning, as the pastor was working in his study, he heard a loud knock on his door. When he looked, there was a rough looking construction foreman right at his doorstep, and he says, “Excuse me, Pastor, I’m from Acme Construction Company from the other county. We’re building a huge shopping mall and we need a lot of dirt to fill and elevate the construction site. I wonder if you are willing to sell us a chunk of that mountain behind your church? We’ll pay for the dirt that we remove and pave all the flattened area free of charge if we can have it right away.” The whole job was done in a few days and they got paid for the mountain that was removed and spent nothing for the extra parking lot that was made. By the following weekend as scheduled, the church services started just as the pastor had said.

The woman of Zarephath started with calling God “your God” (v. 12), but after experiencing God’s salvation through the ministry of Elijah, she ended up calling Elijah’s God her God too. After the two-year daily miracle that she experienced with God, and after the miracle of the first resurrection ever recorded in Scripture, God’s raising up of her dead son (v. 22), the woman of Zarephath declares to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God [no longer “your God” but now also her own personal God], and that the word of the Lord [no longer Elijah’s Lord, but “the Lord”] in your mouth is truth” (v. 24).

Have you bottomed out and there’s nothing else that you can do? Try God. He majors in the impossible because that's His middle name, trust your everything to Him first, and He’ll take care of your everything.

No comments:

Post a Comment