Today we’re starting a new 9 week series of sermons in the Old Testament. The Old Testament sometimes gets bad press. With its violence and angry God it’s just too difficult and unpalateable. But I think if we look closer we will find these objections to be unfounded. the God of the Old testament is the same God as the God of the New Testament revealed in Jesus. The God who gets involved. A God of justice and mercy. A God of faithfulness and truth.
In fact we need to keep in mind that the Old and New Testaments constitute one book. We will neither fully understand the story of God’s redeeming grace in the world nor will we see the fulness of who Jesus is unless we read the Old Testament. Jesus said that All of Scripture, the whole Bible, is about HIM!
Now the books of 1 and 2 Kings are history books. They chart the reigns and moral decline of the Kings of Israel over a period of 370 years. Kings and their sins. But one quarter of the books of Kings, from 1 Kings 17 to 2 Kings 10 slows down and focuses in on a period of 70 years or so and on the activities of 2 crucial figures. The prophets Elijah and Elisha.
This was the period when King Ahab was on the throne of Israel and his rule signified an absolute moral low point in the times of the Kings. The kind of moral touchstone for all Kings was whether they ‘walked in the ways of their forefather King Jeroboam son of Nebat.' Look at how Ahab is described in 1 Kings 16 v30 Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. 31 He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. 32 He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. 33 Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him.
So the ministries of Elijah and Elisha take place at a time of National apostasy. The nation under Ahab and Jezebel has abandoned the knowledge of the Lord, the God of Israel to worship idols.
Baalism was basically a nature religion. Baal was the god of fertility, the rider of teh storms, his voice heard in the thunder. The natural cycle of the year was taken up into the stories of the canaanite gods. In the dry season Baal was briefly defeated by the God Mot but them Baal’s consort would arise and - effected by the worship of the people with shrine prostitutes - Baal’s union with his consort would defeat Mot and once again bring rain and life to the land.
The abandonment of God the creator in Israel led to the worship of these idols and the accompanying moral behaviour.
Over the last two weeks in the talks we have heard here on the subject of Truth we’ve heard that having liberated ourselves from the old belief in God our culture finds itself floating in space with no touchstone for morals. meaning or identity worshipping our idols of consumerism, celebrity, pleasure in our desperate search for satisfaction, significance and security. We, like Israel, live in an age of Unbelief.
The book of Kings came to it’s original recipients - Israel in Exile in Babylon - and comes to us as an appeal. A gracious demonstration of the absolute reliability and supremacy of the God of Israel, the God revealed in Jesus as against the impotency of idols to give us the life we need. To give rain on our parched souls.
God, we will see, always delivers on his promises. God says he will do things - that’s the bible - and he does them.
What would it be like if a person like you or me took God’s promises - everything he says - at face value; believed God’s promises, prayed God’s promises; acted upon God’s promises? That’s Elijah and Elisha. They take the LORD at his word and blessing and spiritual authority and grace and the extraordinary provision of God is available to them.
These sermons will be about FAITH IN AN AGE OF UNBELIEF. That is what this section of the Bible is about. That is what God is seeking to grow in us.
We will never fully be like Elijah and Elisha. the New Testament makes clear that Elijah foreshadows John the Baptist because he, just like John, prepares the way for another prophet, Elisha. But really Elijah and Elisha are types of Christ, they point us to Jesus. And yet God wants to build our trust and excitement and conviction about him that we would be effective people of faith in an age of unbelief, stretching ourselves out for others..
So let’s see how that works in today’s passage
And here we see three episodes and 4 miracles Elijah’s answered prayer - no rain; The provision of food at the Keith Ravine; The provision of food through the widow's never ending jar of oi and bag of flour; and the raising of the widows son
In these miracles we see the LORD God demonstrating in an age of Apostasy that he is the living God who provides. He confronts Baal and ALL idols and he shows them to be impotent. False gods. lifeless. these are NOT the things that bring us life. Only God. Only Jesus brings life.
In these miracles we also see the courageous growing faith of Elijah. Growing because God is testing and training that faith in his servant as God always does with us to make us more effective for him in the adventures he calls us to
episode 1 vv1-6
We’re introduced to Elijah. And the first thing we notice is that Elijah is a nobody from nowhere. He has no titles, no background it seems, no qualifications to be spoken of. He’s a nobody. The writer searches around for something to say about Elijah and all he can come up with is that Elijah is a Tishbite from Tishbe. Which is like saying that you are a Dalstonite from Dalston except that Dalston is very much somewhere whereas Tishbe was nowhere - not even locateable on a map. Here’s the thing: God doesn’t use somebodies from somewhere. He uses nobodies from nowhere. So that - we won’t ever make the fatal error of thinking that salvation can come from human pedigree or strength or goodness. No, God uses the weak, so that we’ll know that we depend on him for everything. So … if you are weak, if you are flawed .. you are in exactly the right place for God to use you.
Elijah may be weak but he knows he is loved by Almighty God. ‘Whom i serve’ there in v1 is better translated ‘before whom i stand.’ Elijah knows he’s accepted and loved by God - that gives him great courage. AND Elijah knows and believes God’s promises (Faith). Elijah knew his Bible and he knew God’s solemen promises in the book of Deuteronomy that if God’s people were faithful they would know blessing in the land - rain, fruit.. But if they were unfaithful and turned away from the living God to worship idols God wouldn’t let them run into destruction forever he would intervene and they would know curse in teh land - drought. famine
Elijah takes God at his word. And he comes to the seat of power - into great Ahab’s presence - and he declared the word of the Lord “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.”
Do you see the nature of God’s merciful judgement? No rain no dew no crops no life. It’s a direct challenge to baal the fertility god, the rider of the storms the provider of rain and life. God will not let us languish in bondage to mute idols. he will shatter our idols. It will hurt but it might just save us.
Here then from Elijah is a lesson in prayer. Listen to James 5 from the new Testament. v16b The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.17 Elijah was a human being, just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.
What is the prayer of a righteous person that is powerful and effective? It is prayer inline with God’s word. Suing God for his promises and it is prayer confronting the idols of the unbelieving age which keep people in bondage.
v2 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: 3 “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. 4 You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.”5 So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. 6 The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.
Elijah flees for his life. he is sent into hiding by God away from Ahab’s death squads. And here’s the second miracle building Elijah’s faith. Rewarding him with the blessing of divine provision. Bread and meat. Morning and evening. Not by Uber eats or deliveroo but by Raven.
Elijah comes to know the reality of Psalm 23 That Even though i walk through the valley of death … you, God prepare a banquet for me in the presence of my enemies .. my cup overflows." You know, if you never step out on the risky adventure of trusting God’s word then you’ll never discover how he is sufficient when you trust him. that he is ALL you need. Your idols cannot provide. Why do you serve them. Throw them away make God your God. Serve him. Put him first in every aspect of your life. Here his word and do it and you will find yourself in a totally different world. “We have left everything to follow you!” Peter says to jesus in Mark 10 v28 and Jesus replies 29 “Truly I tell you no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.
Episode 2 vv7-16
Look at this: Elijah’s water source - the brook - dries up in the drought and though presumably meat and bread keeps arriving morning and evening by express raven, God does not provide miraculous water for Elijah. he takes him into a time of dryness and affliction in order to stretch his faith again and move him on. And he sends him beyond the border of Israel to Zarephath in Sidon to beg food and rink from a vulnerale widow who is preparing her last meal for her and her son from the last of their meagre food - a handful of flour a drop of oil - before she expects them to die. The famine has extended beyond Israel and remarkably at a time when God’s own people have abandoned God to worship idols, an idolatrous foreigner trusts the word of God from Elijah’s mouth. v14 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. …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.’”
And incredibly she does what Elijah asks and it is as he says.
And so this weak, vulnerable household of a widow, her son and an asylum seeker are provided for in the midst of a punishing famine by another daily miracle! the jar od flour is never used up, the jug of oil never runs dry!
PAUSE for a second totalk about miracles (because in our next episode we are going to witness a raising of the dead!)
A few things to say:
Miracles are by definition extraordinary. that sounds obvious but the reason i say it is because tere have been times in church history when some have claimed that miracles should be ordinary for christians “throughout the bible we see miracles. Elijah was a person just like us. God wants us to work miracles!”
Let me answer that. God wants us to pray for healing, for people to become christians, for idols to fall, for his kingdom to come. But miracles are not the normal way in which God operates in his world. Actually in the course of 3000 years of biblical miracles are extraordinary. All teh miraces of the bible are clustered within 4 short periods each of 20-60 years. 4 short periods - the miracles of moses in the Exodus. Elijah and Elisha here. Daniel and his friends during the Exile. and Jesus and the Apostles. 4 periods of kingodm necessity when God stepped in to preserve or advance his kingdom. So miracles are not the norm. they’re specific to these tines - defending the kingdom of God making invasions into the kingdom of darkness
That’s exacltly what God is doing through Elijah here. Notice again where God has sent Elijah? To Zarephath in Sidon. Does Sidon ring a bell? 16v31 Ahab not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him.
Sidon was the home turf of Baalism. The king of Sidon had Baal in his name! God sends Elijah into teh enemies own back yard! God feeds his prophet through one of Sidon’s own daughters in Baal’s own fertile land that God has struck with famine and drought. God has floored Baal with one punch and placed a blazing beacon of his saving reality in the heart of Sidonian darkness. Isn’t it brilliant?
Don’t you see that he is the true provider? the Sovereign Lord. Not your idols!
God sends his servants into the heart of darkness, the enemy’s stronghold, the lions mouth inorder to demolish the enemy’s power.
Jesus entered the ultimate darkness, the enemy’s ultimate stronghold .. the consequence of all our sin .. he entered death for US ALL. A pure innocent taking the place of billions. He carried death for us to pay death off. To break death’s power. To win us life! (won’t you trust him?)
which brings us to our final episode. Elijah’s greatest test yet. Episode 3. the death and resurrection of the son vv17-24
7 Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. 18 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?”
19 “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. 20 Then he cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” 21 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!”
The tragic death of the boy reflects the death of the lamd under God’s curse. Death that Baal, god of fertility and life, is doing nothing about. Wake up Baal! It’s time for the rains. The circle of life. Time to defeat Mot. Unite with your consort and do it!! But no. Our idols can do nothing about our ultimate enemy death. That’s why we don’t think about death isn’t it.
By now we know that Baal is nothing. baal is on the canvas, Baal is out for the count. the LORD, the God and Father of Jesus Christ. He provides but can he bring life from the grave?
v22 The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. 23 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!” 24 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.”
The woman knows v18 that we are all sinners and that sin leads to a debt and we pay that debt with our lives. But God answers our cry for mercy and life and because Jesus, the innocent has destroyed death by paying for sin in our place. God is the God who brings life from the grave.
The boy rises back to life. We will all rise forward to new Life in Christ our Lord.
So there it is. God calling us to faith in an age of Unbelief and idolatry. Calling us to his service.
Elijah stretched himself out over the boy because he believed that God is the Living God who would stretch out his arms for us.
Knowing the power and love of the Lord before whom you stand will you go into enemy territory and live by his word and stretch yourself out for the sake of others?