1 Kings 17



Elijah Fed by Ravens (17:1–6)

1 Here the writer introduces us to one of the greatest of all the Old Testament figures: Elijah the Tishbite.85 He was from Gilead, a part of Israel that lay east of the Jordan River. Without giving any further background, the writer abruptly begins the chapter with Elijah speaking to King Ahab and informing him that there would be a drought in the land for the next several years. On whose authority did Elijah say such a thing to the king of Israel? On the authority of the God of Israel, whom Elijah served. “Not only will there be no rain; there won’t even be any dew,” said Elijah, “except at my word.”

Elijah was both a prophet and a priest of God; he was God’s representative, sent to Ahab to announce the coming drought. The drought was a divine punishment given to Ahab and the Israelites because they had broken God’s covenant and turned to false gods (Leviticus 26:19). God had raised up Elijah to oppose Baal worship and all those who engaged in it. Ahab may have thought that Baal, the lord of the rain clouds, was god in Israel, but he would soon find out who really controlled the rain! Thus the drought was not only a divine punishment but also a sign of God’s power over all false gods and their false prophets.

2–6 There were almost no true prophets in Israel when Elijah appeared. Indeed, after delivering his message to Ahab, Elijah was in great danger. Ahab’s wife Jezebel was actively killing off the LORD’S prophets (1 Kings 18:4), and surely Elijah would be first on her list! So the Lord told Elijah to go into hiding east of the Jordan. The Lord promised to provide Elijah with water from a brook and bread and meat twice a day—to be miraculously delivered by ravens (verse 6).

The Widow at Zarephath (17:7–24)

7–14 Eventually Elijah’s brook dried up because of the drought. So God sent him to Zarephath, a town of Sidon—right in the center of Baal worship.86 And God arranged for a widow of that place to supply Elijah with food. If we were advising God, we’d have suggested He choose a rich lady to feed His prophet, not a poor widow! Fortunately, God does not need our advice; His waysarefarbeyondourways(Isaiah55:8–9).

The poor widow and her son were already near starvation. So when Elijah asked her for bread, she replied, “As surely as the LORD your God lives87 . . .Idon’t have any bread” (verse 12). However, she did have oil and flour, with which she could make bread. So Elijah told her to first make a small cake of bread for him and then she and her son could eat (verse 13).

We might think that Elijah was being selfish, even heartless. But it was not so: he was testing the widow. Elijah was making what seemed like a harsh, even impossible demand; but at the same time he knew that God would provide the means for fulfilling that demand—and provide extra blessings besides. God never demands anything from us without also giving us the resources to meet His demand. But in order to test our faith and obedience, He often makes the demand first and only afterward shows us how we can meet it. Such was the case with the widow of Zarephath. God promised that as long as the drought lasted her jar of flour and jar of oil would not become empty, no matter how much flour and oil she used.88 Through this miracle God wanted to teach the widow—and us—to trust not in provisions themselves but in the Provider of provisions.

15–16 The widow did as Elijah had told her (verse 15). She believed Elijah’s word and acted on it—even at the risk of her own and her son’s life. While the rest of the Sidonians and Israelites were experiencing a droughtinduced famine, this nonIsraelite woman was being fed by Israel’s God. She was learning to place her faith in God, while at the same time God’s own people were rejecting Him!

17–23 Some time later the widow’s son became ill; after growing worse and worse, the son finally stopped breathing (verse 17). Both the widow and Elijah—as well as the writer of 1 Kings—clearly understood that the child had died (see verses 18,20,22).Themotherimmediatelythought that Elijah’s presence in her house had drawn God’s attention to some sin she had committed, and now God was punishing her for it by taking her son89 (verse 18).

Elijah himself appeared to be upset; he cried out to the Lord. He too thought that the Lord had directly caused the child’s death (verse 20). It’s not clear what Elijah accomplished by stretching out on the boy three times (verse 21), but it is clear that God answered Elijah’s prayer and brought the boy back to life.90

24 When the woman saw that her son was alive, her faith was strengthened; she now fully comprehended that Elijah had been sent by the one true God, the God of Israel. The death of her son had indeed been a form of testing designed to create in her a true and mature faith. This nonIsraelite widow was now experiencing the covenant blessings of Israel’s God, while the Israelites were experiencing God’s punishment—a famine, both physical and spiritual.

Notice once again how God chose a nonIsraelite to be the recipient of His blessing. He had chosen Rahab the Canaanite and Ruth the Moabite to be ancestors of Christ. God was not only the God of Israel; He was—and is—the God of all who believe. Jesus Himself cited this story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath to show that Israel’s prophets often met with a better reception among foreigners than they did among Israelites (Luke 4:24–26). Jesus, like Elijah, found more faith among nonIsraelites than He found among His own people (Matthew 8:5–13; 15:21–28). God is the God of all who believe; He is also the Judge of all who do not believe! God is Lord of all.