1 Kings 17:7-16

Sermon preached on May 13, 2007 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2007. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.newlifeop.org/.

One of the first jobs I had after I my driver's license was delivering cases of soda pop to grocery and convenience stores. It was a great job for a sixteen year old kid as there's nothing more fun than getting to drive a truck and get paid for it. The only problem with the job was that some of the stores were in very crowded areas and they didn't always have a loading dock available. In such cases parking and unloading was a problem—the only parking spaces that were available were often quite a ways from the stores. I mentioned that to my boss and he told me to just double park—that I'd only be a few minutes in each store and that that was the best thing to do. So that's what I started doing. One day I approached a store that was on the opposite side of a street and without thinking about it I pulled over in front of the store and double parked, but I was pointing in the wrong direction. Then I proceeded to unload. I took my first load into the store and was at the front of the store unloading it when a policeman came into the store and started yelling at me for parking like I did. He was really irate and started dressing me down telling me that double parking like that was bad enough, but double parking facing the wrong way was so much worse. I thought I was in real trouble and was going to get a ticket when all of a sudden, one of the checkout ladies who was nearby, started speaking up in my defense. She said things like,

"You leave that young fellow alone. You ought to be ashamed of yourself for speaking to him like that. He's just trying to do his job. Where do you expect him to park and unload? You should be out there catching real criminals. Shame on you."

I couldn't believe it. I didn't know this lady and she didn't know me. She just saw that he was bullying me and she stood up for me. The cop was totally taken aback and when she finished, he just looked at me and said, "Don't do it again," and left.

I was off the hook. Help had come from a completely unexpected source. We see that in our text. Elijah was in the Kerith Ravine, being fed by ravens and getting water from the brook. But then the brook dried up.

That was a problem for Elijah. He couldn't stay alive without water. Rather than bring water out of a rock for Elijah, like He did for the people of Israel when they were in the wilderness, God told him to go to Zarephath, to a widow of Sidon. God had plans,

remarkable plans of grace for the widow in Sidon.

This is what our text is about—remarkable grace in the midst of sin. God sends Elijah to a widow of Zarephath in Sidon. There are three things in our text that show God's remarkable grace.

First, His grace was given to a Gentile.

This woman was not an Israelite. She was not among the chosen people.

Even though there were 7000 in Israel who were still faithful to the Lord, God chose not to use any of them to feed and protect Elijah. Many of them would have considered it a great honor to help Elijah, but instead God sent him to a widow in Zarephath, a foreigner outside of Israel's borders. This was remarkable.

God chose to use a Gentile to take care of Elijah.
She did not have the privileges that Paul spoke about in Romans 9. Remember how he extolled the Israelites and the blessings that were given to them. He wrote, (Romans 9:4-5)

"theirs is the adoption as sons;
theirs the divine glory,
the covenants, the receiving of the law,
the temple worship and the promises.
Theirs are the patriarchs,
and from them is traced
the human ancestry of Christ…"

Not only did she not have that great heritage—she had a distinctly ignoble one. She came from Sidon. According to 1 Kings 16:31 Sidon was the country of Jezebel. Her father, Ethbaal was king of the Sidonians. Sidon was the center of Baal worship. Her heritage, as far as her people goes, was one of idol worship and sensuality.

You remember the story of
Noah. One day he drank too much wine and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father's nakedness and told his two brothers about it. Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders and walked in backwards, and covered their father's nakedness. When Noah woke up and found out what Ham had done, he said, (Genesis 9:24)

"Cursed be Canaan!
The lowest of slaves
will he be to his brothers."

Noah predicted that Ham's sin would continue and develop in Ham's son Canaan. Genesis 10:15 tells us that Sidon was the firstborn of Canaan. M.B. Van't Veer writes, (My God is Yahweh, p. 34)

"In Canaan's line the horrible sin continued: the lower passions gained the upper hand. That was why Canaan had to be subjected to the yoke of slavery… It was imperative that others have mastery over Canaan… Canaan was not to be allowed Cain's freedom to assert himself and subdue others, for that would lead irresistibly to the world's destruction. If Canaan were not held down, his unrighteousness would flood the entire earth…"

M.B. Van't Veer goes on to say that the one characteristic that had always appeared in Canaan and set its seal upon his religion was his sensuality.

"He did not shrink from the unspeakable; the unnatural became natural."

So what was happening in Elijah's time was that Canaan's line was shaking off it's yoke of slavery. It was starting to dominate Shem's line. King Ahab had married Jezebel of Sidon. With her came Baal worship. In no uncertain terms things were reversing themselves. Shem was becoming the slave of Canaan. Israel was becoming idolatrous. Because of that God pronounced a curse through Elijah and sent him away from them, first to the Kerith Ravine and now to Sidon!

This was astounding. God had withdrawn His grace from Israel and now He was sending it to Sidon! This widow of Sidon was taking Israel's place. Israel had ben called to be God's co-worker, but since she refused, God took His grace elsewhere, to the heart of an idolatrous land. M.B. Van't Veer writes, (p. 89)

"When He ordered Elijah to go to Zarephath, the Lord made it clear that although Israel refused to play its part in the order He had established… He would maintain that order by selecting some other human being to take Israel's place and to enjoy the blessings that would result."

You'll recall that Jesus referred to this incident in Luke 4. Jesus got up in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth and read from Isaiah 61. He said, (Luke 4:18-21)

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim
freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them,

"Today this scripture
is fulfilled in your hearing."

The people were amazed and almost dumbstruck. So Jesus said to them,

"Surely you will quote this proverb to me:
'Physician, heal yourself!
Do here in your hometown
what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.'
'I tell you the truth,' he continued,
'no prophet is accepted in his hometown.
I assure you that there were many widows
in Israel in Elijah's time,
when the sky was shut
for three and a half years
and there was a severe famine
throughout the land.
Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them,
but to a widow in Zarephath
in the region of Sidon.'"

Jesus recalled Elijah's going to the widow of Zarephath to makes the point that unless the people of Nazareth and the people of Israel accept Him as the Messiah He will turn to the Gentiles. M.B. Van't Veer, (p. 108) writes that when Jesus,

"appealed to this revelation about how Elijah was sent out of Israel to Zarephath… Christ was proclaiming that this revelation was in the process of being fulfilled, for what the Israelites were doing to the One greater than Elijah was just what their fathers had done to the prophets of the old covenant. This meant that the law of replacement would go into effect with all its consequences. According to that law, the Gentiles would be called to accept the duties and privileges of the covenant that had been rejected by the Jews."

Thus Elijah's mission to Zarephath pointed to God's grace being extended to the Gentiles. The apostle Paul wrote about this in Romans 11:11f. He spoke about the people of Israel rejecting God's way. He said,

"Again I ask: Did they stumble
so as to fall beyond recovery?
Not at all!
Rather, because of their transgression,
salvation has come to the Gentiles
to make Israel envious.
But if their transgression
means riches for the world,
and their loss means riches for the Gentiles,
how much greater riches
will their fullness bring!"

So in Elijah's being sent to the widow of Zarephath we have a pointer to the grace that would be sent to the Gentiles after Christ's death and resurrection. As Dr. Lightfoot says, Elijah was the first prophet to the Gentiles.

Now what does this mean for you?

For us who are Gentiles, who are Christians, this means you ought to have great humility and awe when you think about your salvation.

Your salvation came about, in part, because others rejected God's grace. You were not naturally in the way of God's grace. You are not natural children of Abraham.

God's grace is so wonderful, that if some of those who were chosen by God reject Him, God uses that to have mercy on others. The transgression of the Jews meant the riches of the world.

This means you ought to have great humility at your salvation. We Gentiles, in particular, should not boast about our salvation. God's grace only came to you because others rejected it. Paul speaks about this in Romans 11. In verse 17f he wrote,

"If some of the branches have been broken off,
and you, though a wild olive shoot,
have been grafted in among the others
and now share in the nourishing sap
from the olive root,
do not boast over those branches.
If you do, consider this:
You do not support the root,
but the root supports you.
You will say then,
'Branches were broken off
so that I could be grafted in.'
Granted. But they were broken off
because of unbelief,
and you stand by faith.
Do not be arrogant,
but be afraid."

Then in verse 24 he said to the Gentile Christians,

"After all, if you were cut out
of an olive tree that is wild by nature,
and contrary to nature
were grafted into a cultivated olive tree,"

What Paul is telling us is that our salvation is a great act of grace. We were cut out of tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature, we were grafted in. What humility you ought to have about your salvation.

awe you ought to have about your salvation. In Matthew 22:1-10 we read,

"Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying:
'The kingdom of heaven is like a king
who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.
He sent his servants to those
who had been invited to the banquet
to tell them to come,
but they refused to come.
Then he sent some more servants and said,
'Tell those who have been invited
that I have prepared my dinner:
My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered,
and everything is ready.
Come to the wedding banquet.'
But they paid no attention and went off—
one to his field, another to his business.
The rest seized his servants,
mistreated them and killed them.
The king was enraged.
He sent his army and destroyed
those murderers and burned their city.
Then he said to his servants,
'The wedding banquet is ready,
but those I invited did not deserve to come.
Go to the street corners
and invite to the banquet anyone you find.'
So the servants went out into the streets
and gathered all the people they could find,
both good and bad,
and the wedding hall was filled with guests."

What great awe you ought to have about your salvation. The only reason you are a Christian is because God's grace is so great.

The second thing that shows us God's remarkable grace is the fact that

this woman was a sinner.

She not only came from a sinful lineage, in her past, she had committed one or more great sins. When her son died, she said to Elijah, (1 Kings 17:17-18)

"What do you have against me, man of God?
Did you come to remind me of my sin
and kill my son?"

Her past sin had been so great that when her son died it was the first thing that she thought about. She made a connection between her son's death and her past sin.

Yet, of all the people in Israel and the surrounding area, Elijah was sent to her. God's grace is so great that it comes to sinners, to those who are great sinners.

Think about your sin. Think how ugly it is in God's eyes. Yet His grace come to you in spite of your sin. How great God's grace is.

The third thing that illustrates God's remarkable grace is the fact that

God chose her before she knew anything about it.

This woman didn't even know that she was chosen by God. When God told Elijah to go to Zarephath, He said to him,

"I have commanded a widow in that place
to supply you with food."

But what's interesting is that when Elijah got there, this widow didn't consciously know anything about it. When Elijah asked her for some food, she said,

"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.
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 didn't know that God had commander her to feed Elijah. If Elijah had said to her,

"God has commanded you to feed me."

When Elijah asked her for help, she basically told him that she couldn't help him.

What happened to her was an illustration of the truth that we read about in
Ephesians 2:8-10,

"For it is by grace you have been saved,
through faith—and this not from yourselves,
it is the gift of God— not by works,
so that no one can boast.
For we are God's workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus to do good works,
which God prepared in advance for us to do."

God prepared her good works in advance, long before she even had the opportunity to do them. When the time came for her to do them, God gave her faith. When Elijah told her that the flour and oil would not be used up, she believed. M.B. Van't Veer writes, (p. 90)

"the decisive element was God's power. It was God who 'commanded' this widow to take Elijah in. When she obeyed and gave an impressive demonstration of her faith, we must not seek the basis for this in the woman herself. Instead we must recognize the hand of the Almighty behind her faith, the hand that makes hearts bend to His will."

God chose her even before she knew it. God didn't make her believe against her will. He changed her will.

Salvation from beginning to end is of God's grace. This woman's helping Elijah shows us how the beginning is from God. A little later in 1 Kings God told Elijah that even it's continuance is of grace. When Elijah thought that he was the only one who was faithful to the Lord, God said to him, (1 Kings 19:18)

"Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—
all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal
and all whose mouths have not kissed him."

God reserved for Himself those 7000. (Romans 11:4) He enabled them to endure. It's all of grace.

Lastly, if you're not a Christian,

the greatness of God's grace is an invitation to go to Jesus.

How far can God's grace reach? Can it reach beyond Abraham's descendants? Yes. Can it reach people who have been in the midst of all sorts of sins, who themselves have committed great and terrible sins? Yes. Can it reach you? Yes.