John N Darby
1 Kings 17
Notice how the word of God introduces the person of Elijah in the midst of the sorrows of Israel. The preceding chapter contains only awful things. God’s judgment is upon the land, for the last king did worse than all the others; he marries the daughter of the king of Zidon and introduces in Israel the idolatry of the Canaanites, more abominable idolatry than that of the golden calf. It is then, the people being reduced to this state, that Elijah the Tishbite appears suddenly upon the scene. Thus God always raises up a testimony in the midst of His people, a testimony the more powerful as the iniquity is the greater.
Elijah stands in the presence of Jehovah, and that was his strength. I want to show you how God strengthens him and makes him able to go forward. Elijah was not always occupied in testifying and accomplishing acts of power before the people. His normal position was to stand in the presence of Jehovah, so that when difficult circumstances arose, he was prepared for everything. Another remark: for three and a half years, Elijah had the providence of the land at his will. One would have been able to see an extraordinary manifestation of the prophet’s power, but James tells us, “Elias was a man of like passions to us, and he prayed with prayer that it should not rain; and it did not rain upon the earth three years and six months”, Jas 5: 17. That came from the fact that he stood in the presence of God, finding divine power in his communion. He prayed and so ordered everything. Elijah was very troubled about the state of iniquity of the people, and became the instrument of chastening, but as participating in this chastening himself. God told him to hide by the torrent Cherith, because Ahab was seeking for him everywhere to destroy him, 1 Kings 18: 10. God supported him there, while putting his faith to the test by the state of famine of the people; but the torrent ended up dry. God grants us the relief that we are lacking. Our faith is thus tested anew because we do not lean on the resources that God gives.
Elijah’s mission to Zarephath presents us with several remarkable points. It was the last place where one could suspect that God would send His prophet. Zarephath was in Zidon, the country of Jezebel who was seeking for Elijah to destroy him. But it is there that God’s sovereign grace manifests itself. He says, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which is by Zidon”. Jesus says, “There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, so that a great famine came upon all the land, and to none of them was Elias sent …”, Luke 4: 25. God left aside the widows of Israel, and His sovereign grace sent the prophet to a Zidonian widow who was dying of the famine. Men certainly would not have sent him to be nourished there, at the house of a widowed stranger who possessed nothing; it was the opposite of all human prudence, and the opposite of every Jewish idea. We are no further from God in the most painful circumstances than in the most favourable. Moreover, the former are the occasion for God to manifest Himself.
The woman is full of good will (v 11) and Elijah reveals his needs to her. Here, God knew something which the prophet did not know. This woman knew Jehovah, the God of Israel (v 12), and God knew her well; He sends this visitor to the poor widow. Like Rahab, she recognised the power of God with His people; the link is thus made at once. Elijah tells her that God would provide everything; she has entire faith in his word and recognises the word of God in the mouth of His prophet.
We find here a touching lesson on the grace of God. This poor woman was not expecting the coming of Elijah, and did not know that God thought of her. Her faith is put to the test, but God visits her at just the right moment. She has no more than one last handful of meal, but God is there to concern Himself with this widow, a stranger to the covenant of Israel. When God’s grace acts to visit somebody, they find faith in the word of God, and God answers to this faith. This woman learns thus to become much more familiar with God’s ways.
But the presence of God through the word always tends to ‘bring our iniquity to remembrance’, v 18. It brings chastening upon us so that we learn to know it and to obey Him. When God acts powerfully by His Spirit, He prunes the vine shoots so that they bear more fruit. The widow’s son falls sick and dies. When God’s chastening is manifest among His own, it is the sign that He wants to bless. One sees in Hebrews 4 that the word of God is living and operative, judging the thoughts and intents of the heart, and that everything is naked to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do, v 12, 13. The word searches all, and as we are judged, the priesthood of Christ, which quickens, restores and blesses, is there. God only blesses us in searching us. His presence meets the evil and removes it, but this work is accompanied by boldness to approach the throne of grace. The presence of Satan destroys confidence; the word brings us near to God and produces confidence. This woman did not have full confidence, being conscious of all that she was. Elijah intercedes and becomes, as the instrument, the source of life for her child. The woman now knows that, God having answered in grace, his word is truly the word of God, and she has the practical certainty of the power and of the truth of this word for blessing, life and restoration, v 24.
Let us not avoid the effect of the word acting on our conscience and bringing everything to remembrance; for if God does it, if He searches us, it is to bless us. Full grace introduces the word that judges, but which is inseparable from the grace.
Let us have confidence. If the torrent fails us, we will find a widow of Zarephath. Who then at the court of Ahab would have thought to look for Elijah in Zarephath, in Jezebel’s country? Sovereign grace keeps us and uses all its resources to bless us. May God teach us to count by faith on His sovereign grace!
Translated from ‘Le Messager Evangélique’