In the passage today we will meet a widow who knew of God but did not truly know him as the living God.
The widow lived in Zarephath, a region where Baal was worshipped. Despite Baal being the god of fertility, the land was parched because no rain had fallen for a very long time.
Elijah had prophesied to King Ahab that it would not rain, as a way of exposing Baal as a false god. Only Yahweh, the true God of life can control the rainfall, and provide for his people, as he had already proved in providing a brook for Elijah to drink from, and then bringing him to the widow, where flour for bread was provided every day.
This particular passage in I Kings focuses on this widow, who had witnessed the reality of the God of life.
In Verse 12 she had said to Elijah, ‘As surely as the Lord your God lives’ which shows that although she knew something of the Lord, she also knew that he was not her God.
However, when Elijah stayed at her home, she witnessed the daily miracle of provision and life-giving flour and oil from the Lord for her family.
Before Elijah arrived, she had been preparing to make her last meal before she died of starvation. As a widow, she was already familiar with death, having suffered the death of her husband. But when Elijah stayed at her home, she witnessed first-hand the power of Yahweh to bring life to her and her family by providing the flour and oil for her daily bread.
However, she was soon to face another tragedy.
Another death in the widow’s house
In verse 17 we read ‘Sometime later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing.’
This boy was her only son. The widow must have questioned the reality of God. Why would God do this to her? Was he just like the other gods, unpredictable and unstable?
Which is why she cried in verse 18, ‘What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?’
Although the widow was clearly seeking to know God, she had been born and raised as a Baal worshipper, and still held onto the idea that Yahweh, like Baal, would send down his anger and fury as punishment for her sins. Her words show that she thought that Elijah had killed her son, and she cried out to him in her desperation.
But Elijah, though a prophet, was only human, just as we are, and even prophets did not have all the answers.
But prophets knew that the only place to go with life’s tough questions was to the throne of God. So, Elijah went before God and cried out to him.
Elijah’s Prayer for Life
Even though the widow had accused him so strongly of killing her son, there is a gentleness in the way he dealt with the situation.
Look at verse 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. 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?”
Even the great prophet Elijah was baffled by this and was pleading to God on her behalf.
This scene, however, demonstrates how vital it is in our Christian lives to go to our rooms, close the door, and cry out to our heavenly father when we don’t understand the suffering we see in our lives
But Elijah then did 2 very unexpected things.
Look at verse 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 first strange thing is that Elijah prostrated himself three times on the dead boy, thereby putting himself in direct contact with a corpse – and thus making himself unclean according to Jewish law. Some commentators say that this willingness to make himself unclean served to demonstrate his desperate desire to see the boy live.
The second strange thing was that he cried out to God for the boy’s life to return to him. This was unheard of in the scriptures up to this point. This was a phenomenal act of faith on the part of Elijah. He acted on his belief that God is the God of life
The boy who lived
Verse 22 tells us, “The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived.”
This was a triumphant moment for several reasons.
First of all, Baal was the supposed giver and sustainer of life, but his power stopped at death. Yet here is Yahweh who says in Revelation “I am the Living One; And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
When the boy gave a gasp of breath Elijah joyfully brought him down to his mother exclaiming ‘Look, your son is alive.’
He was effectively saying to her, ‘Look at what God has done. I have not come to remind you of your sin and bring death. I’ve come to remind you of your sin to bring you back to the God of life.’
It was at this point that the widow learned the truth about God
In verse 24 we learn: “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.”
She had known a little about God before, but now she felt the life of faith flooding through her. In the widow, a spiritual resurrection happened, as a result of seeing the physical resurrection of her son. Now she really knew Yahweh as the God of life.
The essential truth to hold on to from this story is that the widow’s son was raised to life because God’s son was raised to life.
Jesus is the resurrection and the life
Why did God grant spiritual life in the woman? Because Jesus has defeated the power of death over us.
Our sin and rebellion against God result in death. But Jesus, the living one, went through death for us on the cross and was raised to life for us. And he showed that the power of death over those who believe, has been defeated.
The same spirit that resurrected him from the dead is the same spirit who lives in us. ‘I am the way the truth and the life’ I am the resurrection of the dead.’ ‘I am the living one.’
He is not like Baal, the so-called fertility god, who was defeated by death every winter, or like the objects of this world which we worship, but which cannot save us from death.
Jesus is the only one who holds the keys of death, and he has defeated it.
It comes down to that picture of the widow and Elijah. You are the widow and God the father has handed you Jesus, saying ‘Look my son is alive’
Be like the widow in this story who, as she saw life in the son, believed in the life-giver.
We’re told in scripture not to be surprised when suffering comes our way. But we must remember that God has given us his son, and even if we don’t have the answers to life’s problems, we always have a heavenly throne to approach in prayer.
We shouldn’t expect to bring people back from the dead, as in this story, but we should want to see life come to people who are dead in their sins. That is the more important resurrection that we should be praying for.
So, let’s pray for help with these things and give God thanks for this story.