Bible studies in the life of Elijah
Elijah, resurrection and the fear of Ahab
By Fraser Gordon
Previously we looked at some thoughts on the life of Elijah. We saw that the brook had dried up so God sent him to the widow of Zarephath, which means ’smelting furnace’. We saw that God had provided this widow to make provision for them and she was willing to give of the little that she had. And each time they went to the barrel of flour and the barrel of oil, there was always enough for the day. It says that the flour and the oil were not used up according to the word spoken through Elijah. Even though it was a time of famine, God kept them through His miraculous power! He supplied them with what they needed continually and their supplies never ran out... it was never exhausted, and it never overflowed, but it was always enough.
And just when you thought things were going well...
1 Kings 17:17-24 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, "O LORD my God, have you brought tragedy also upon 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 to the LORD, "O LORD my God, let this boy's life return to him!" (22) 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."
Here you have a very different scene to the one that we have just been examining previously. You have Elijah, this woman and her son in a time of famine who are actually doing okay. The house is pleasant. Every time they go to get a meal they can dip their hand in the barrel and there is something there. It doesn't say how long this goes on for but at some point the scene changes and sickness enters into the house. The name of this place means “smelting furnace”. This woman is now going to undergo some sort of heat or trial or pressure upon her, because not only has she lost her husband but now she is also going to lose her son. In verse 18 she says to Elijah “what do I have to do with you, O man of God? Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to kill my son?” In other words what she is saying is this – “if you were not here Elijah, none of this would have happened.” She is blaming Elijah and indirectly she is blaming God but more than that she is saying “it is my fault”. It is my sin that has been brought to remembrance and it is my sin that has caused my son to die. When I read this it occurred to me that this is an interesting thought because when was the last time that tragedy or something that was really wrong came into your, or your family’s, life? How often do you look at it and think “is this judgement from God, is this something that I have done that has brought this to pass? Is it because of my sin that this has happened? Do you actually think that? When things go wrong do you look at your own life and think this could be because of your own sin. Is this true? Sometimes it could be because of judgements or consequences of sin. There is also discipline of the Father, but not all the time. Just because something goes wrong, it doesn't mean that it is something you have done. Do you recall that when Jesus came across a man that had been born blind, and His disciples came to him and said “why is this man born blind, is it his own sin or that of his parents”? Jesus said “neither” because sin in this instance is not the issue but that the Glory of God may be shown in this man's healing. However, in some cases there are consequences to the wrong that we do or God can discipline us. But it is not all the time because tragedy and sickness and difficulties happen to the righteous and the unrighteous – it happens to all. So the first response of this woman was “is this because of me?” It doesn't say what that sin is that had been brought to her remembrance. But she was thinking it must be something I have done that has caused this. It is because of me!
Pondering upon this, the thought came to me that when they were in the house and had abundance and everything was going well for them, there was no real acknowledgment of sin in their lives. Sometimes it takes a tragedy, a sickness, a trial or something to go wrong to bring out the state of our hearts. Occasionally this is hidden from us, so sometimes when things go wrong we can actually start to examine our own heart and life and see that things are not as clean as we may have thought. However, when everything is going fine, most of the time we are not conscious of the wrongs that are within, but a little bit of pressure and a little bit of hardship that comes our way sometimes awakens our consciousness and we can see that things are not good. This seems to be the case with this woman. So God actually uses all these tragedies and all of these situations to awaken things that are hidden.
Death is not the end with God
Then Elijah said to her “give me your son” and he carried him up to the upper room where he was living and laid him on his own bed. Elijah cried out to the Lord and said “O Lord my God have you also brought tragedy on the widow with whom I lodge by killing her son”? So Elijah is also saying to God – “You are responsible for this, or responsible for me being here that this has happened.” Then he stretched himself out on the child three times and cried out to the Lord and said “O Lord my God, let this child's soul come back to him”, and he Lord heard the voice of Elijah and the soul of the child came back to him and the child and revived. Elijah took the child and brought him down from his room and said to the widow, “See your son lives”.
This is the first miracle of resurrection in the Old Testament. Does anyone know how many miracles of resurrection there are in the Old Testament? There are three. Elijah performed the first one by bringing the widow’s son back from the dead. The second was performed by Elisha, who also brought a child back from the dead. Do you remember how Elisha prayed for a double portion and when you contrast the two you see that Elisha did twice as many miracles as Elijah. Elijah performed one miracle of resurrection and Elisha did two. The first one was the raising of the child by Elisha and the next one is really obscure. After Elisha had died, a man is buried in the same grave because a band of raiders were coming to get them. So they buried the body really quickly and when the man’s body touched Elisha’s bones, he came to life again! Don't ask me what that is all about, but it is in 2nd Kings. So you have three miracles of resurrection in the Old Testament and in the New Testament Jesus performed three resurrection miracles also.
The three resurrection miracles of Jesus
The first resurrection miracle that Jesus performed is like the widow's son whom Elijah raised in this passage we are examining. For Jesus’ miracle, you have the woman of Nain in Luke chapter 7 (an awesome passage where you see Jesus with the crowds all around Him) and this widow of Nain had her only son carried out on an open stretcher for he had passed away. As they are on their way to bury him, Jesus stopped the procession and He told the boy to get up… and he sat straight up! Jesus gave him back to his mother. It is an amazing miracle. The second resurrection miracle in the New Testament is the daughter of Jairus and the third is the resurrection of Lazarus – Mary and Martha’s brother. So you have a widow's son, a child and a man resurrected in both the Old and New Testaments.
Returning to our story with Elijah, we have in this passage a great miracle. In verse 24, the woman says to Elijah, ”By this I know that you are a man of God and that the Word of the Lord in your mouth is truth”. Of all the miracles that had happened to this woman there was only one thing that had really spoken to her and it was actually resurrection. She had seen the miracle of the barrel of oil which was not exhausted. However, resurrection is on a whole different level. To see the resurrection of the dead, when new life is actually given, is the greatest miracle of all. Sometimes we see the unseen hand of God providing for us continually. But when you see new life come that is something completely different. When someone is walking in one direction and they have an encounter with God they are no longer the same, their desires change and everything has become new. That is the power of resurrection life - that someone can change and have new desires and a new will to follow God. It is this that spoke to the woman. She said “now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth”. So resurrection actually spoke to her the most.
Recap on the training ground in 1 Kings 17
So in this chapter 17 you have got three massive tests in the life of Elijah and you need to remember that while God is hiding the prophet because judgement is upon the land, He is also training and teaching His servant. So in this passage you have three major things that are coming upon him. God sends him to a place where the brook is going to dry up and he has to learn that God has the right to order his steps. God has the right to send him where He wants. God continually moves His people around so that they trust in Him and not themselves. Elijah himself may have felt like that dried up brook, and many of us can feel the same. We feel like dried up brooks and it is really only the Spirit of God that can bring life to that situation. He then sent him to a woman that had an empty barrel and I love this part in chapter 17 because it reminds me of the little that she had, she was willing to give, God blessed and used. Just like Moses in the Old Testament when he was in the backside of the dessert forty years, never expecting God to show up and then He turns up in a bush. The bush was burning with fire but was never consumed. Major Ian Thomas talks a lot about this passage – it is not the bush that counts but the life inside. It doesn't matter what type of bush it is but it is the life that is in the bush that counts. It is the same in this case; it doesn't matter what type of barrel He uses but that barrel first has to be made available to God. The woman was about to make her last meal before she died, but she was willing to give that food to God who has provided what was needed to keep them alive. She had no ability to provide for others except for the provision of God.
So in this last part, the dead boy speaks of resurrection life. The Bible says that we are dead in our trespasses and sins but God has made us alive in Christ Jesus and it is that life, the resurrection life, which alone can bring life out of death. So even though he gets sent to these different areas God is continually training His servant Elijah for the things to come. And there are more tests to come in chapter 18 for the scene soon changes again.
Elijah meets his foe once more
1 Kings 18:1-16 After a long time, in the third year, the word of the LORD came to Elijah: "Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land." (2) So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab. Now the famine was severe in Samaria, (3) and Ahab had summoned Obadiah, who was in charge of his palace. (Obadiah was a devout believer in the LORD.) (4) While Jezebel was killing off the LORD's prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water.) (5) Ahab had said to Obadiah, "Go through the land to all the springs and valleys. Maybe we can find some grass to keep the horses and mules alive so we will not have to kill any of our animals." (6) So they divided the land they were to cover, Ahab going in one direction and Obadiah in another. (7) As Obadiah was walking along, Elijah met him. Obadiah recognized him, bowed down to the ground, and said, "Is it really you, my lord Elijah?" (8) Yes, he replied. "Go tell your master, 'Elijah is here.' " (9) What have I done wrong, asked Obadiah, "that you are handing your servant over to Ahab to be put to death? (10) As surely as the LORD your God lives, there is not a nation or kingdom where my master has not sent someone to look for you. And whenever a nation or kingdom claimed you were not there, he made them swear they could not find you. (11) But now you tell me to go to my master and say, 'Elijah is here.' (12) I don't know where the Spirit of the LORD may carry you when I leave you. If I go and tell Ahab and he doesn't find you, he will kill me. Yet I your servant have worshiped the LORD since my youth. (13) Haven't you heard, my lord, what I did while Jezebel was killing the prophets of the LORD? I hid a hundred of the LORD's prophets in two caves, fifty in each, and supplied them with food and water. (14) And now you tell me to go to my master and say, 'Elijah is here.' He will kill me!" (15) Elijah said, "As the LORD Almighty lives, whom I serve, I will surely present myself to Ahab today." (16) So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him, and Ahab went to meet Elijah.
After Elijah had been hiding at Zaraphath, finally the word comes forth from God to go and present himself before king Ahab. It is three and a half years since he was there, and in the book of James we read that that was the exact time for the prophecy to be fulfilled. In the meantime we are introduced to this character called Obadiah, whose name means ‘servant of God’. When I read through this passage I thought these are two very different servants of God. You have Elijah who is bold, fearless, someone who draws a line in the sand and says you are either on this side or the other. He is someone who calls for judgement and he is man of no compromise. His ministry was to restore the people back to their true God and the children to their fathers. Then you have Obadiah and we read first of all that he feared the Lord greatly and he was in charge of Ahab's house. So here you have a very different type of believer, someone who stays within the house. He is in Ahab’s and Jezebel’s courts, but yet he works secretly. He is very quiet about his faith and probably doesn't have much influence over the courts of Ahab and Jezebel but he works through stealth. But when he sees danger he looks after Gods people.
When I compared these two people in this passage, it’s almost as though Elijah doesn't think that much of Obadiah. Obadiah says “was it not reported to my master what I did”? Elijah is asking him to do something, but he is afraid of dying. He doesn't want to go and see Ahab because he is afraid Ahab will kill him and his life will be taken. Obadiah tells him “I have already hidden all these prophets in the caves,” but Elijah doesn't seem to recognise that. His response is “I am the only one that there is”. He doesn't recognise Obadiah or any of the other prophets that have been hidden. Even after all Elijah’s failings, which are shown further on, God says to him “what are you doing here Elijah?” He still responds “I am the only one you have got” but God has to tell him –“well no sorry, you are not. I have 7,000 people who have not bowed the knee to Baal whom you do not know about”. However, Elijah doesn't seem to recognise that. If you look back over history, the Elijah's of the world are very few and far between. Who else would be another Elijah? John the Baptist was one. He drew a line in the sand and said “This is the way it is – repent”. Martin Luther would have to be another Elijah. He drew a line in the sand by declaring ‘The just shall live by faith and not by works”. You are either on one side or the other. There are very few Elijah's, for most Christians are Obadiah's. They stay within the systems and do what they can for the people of God but are generally quite suppressed, like Obadiah was to a degree. Normally the Elijah's don't recognise the Obadiah's. When you come across people that are Elijah's they want believers to come out and be separate - that is their big thing. They don't recognise those that stay within and quietly work for the Lord.
I can see in this passage that Obadiah feared the Lord greatly and the Lord still used him because he hid the prophets and worked by stealth to look after and help God's people. After this, Elijah speaks to Obadiah and tells him to go to Ahab and let him know of Elijah’s return. But Obadiah is afraid for his life because he feared that Elijah would be caught away by the Spirit, but in the end he agrees to tell his master Ahab that Elijah is here. There is a storm beginning to brew here and a confrontation between the God of Elijah and the god of Ahab will soon be seen. This is the focus of the next study where Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal will be seen.