Elijah: A Man like Us

Elijah: A Man like Us

1 Kings 17:1-24

Main Idea: The writer introduces a central figure in the Kings narrative, the prophet Elijah, whose life of prayer and faith inspires and challenges us.

I. Meet Elijah.

A. A spiritual giant

B. A man like Moses and John the Baptist

C. A man like us

II. Learn from Elijah.

A. Believe what God has said (17:1).

1. Elijah’s context: national apostasy

2. Elijah’s background: total obscurity

3. Because Elijah believes what God has said, he proclaims it.

4. Because Elijah believes what God has said, he prays it.

5. Because Elijah believes what God has said, he obeys it.

B. Trust God for daily bread (17:2-16).

1. God provides through an unclean raven in the Cherith Ravine (vv. 2-6).

2. God provides through an unknown Gentile widow in Baal’s territory (vv. 7-16).

C. Rely on the God who raises the dead (17:17-24).

III. One Greater than Elijah Is Here.

Two things have me thinking about my personal prayer life: “Insanity” and Elijah. I just finished my seventh week of the max interval workout called “Insanity”. Every morning around 5:45, I head to my garage, roll out my mat, turn on my computer, and proceed to “dig deeper.” I haven’t sweated like this in a long time. My face has been on my garage floor praying for the second coming more than once!

But that isn’t the only reason this exercise program has made me think of prayer. My pastor friend, Greg Breazeale, finished the program before I did and sent me an e-mail to instruct and inspire me, both physically and spiritually. He challenged me with this honest admission: “I wish I could pray 45 minutes a day for nine weeks straight. I’m working on that.” Ouch. Paul put it this way: “The training of the body has a limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way” (1 Tim 4:8). Exercise is important, but spiritual exercise is more important.

If you’re like me, you will admit that you could and should be spending more time in prayer. What most of us need isn’t this reminder but inspiration. That is what we have in Elijah. While Shawn T inspires me to do better switch kicks and plank punches, Elijah’s example inspires me in the exercises of faith and prayer. In the Kings narrative we find some wonderful examples of Elijah’s courage and his “insane” prayer life. Spurgeon notes, “What a mighty master of the art of prayer was Elijah the Tishbite!” (“God’s Care of Elijah”).

Meet Elijah

A Spiritual Giant

Who is Elijah? His name means “my God is Yahweh,” an appropriate title for this spiritual giant. His ministry occupies a large section of the Kings narrative (1 Kgs 17–19; 21; 2 Kgs 1–2), and he remains one of the most important characters throughout Scripture. He carries on the prophetic-intermediary tradition of Moses, confronting a Pharaoh-like ruler in Ahab and bringing another exodus-like judgment on the land.

Elijah’s ministry dazzles us. Ravens bring him food. God uses a widow to provide daily bread for him in Baal’s territory. Elijah prays, and God raises the widow’s son from the dead. Elijah wins the showdown against the prophets of Baal at Carmel. He calls down fire from heaven, and he strikes down 450 false prophets. Plus, he was an athlete! He ran 17 miles from Carmel down to Jezreel, outrunning horses and chariots.

God raised up prophets to address rebellious kings early in the narrative (14:7-11; 15:29-30; 16:1-2,12). Ahab, “The Atrocious King,” was the worst of all of the kings in Israel and, with his wife, was a big booster of Baal worship. He will meet Elijah, the greatest of all the prophets, during this era.

Elijah performs many miracles, which often troubles modern readers. Liberal theologians are often embarrassed by such stories and seek to explain them away. Should we avoid taking these stories seriously? Should we treat them like McDonald’s happy meals—only cherishing them as children but not as adults? Of course not! If you strip away the stories of the Bible and try to hold on to the faith, you have a building with no foundation. These miracles, which often occur during particularly dark periods of redemptive history, validate the ministry of the true prophets. Elijah’s stories demonstrate that he was a true prophet, like Moses, who came along in a period of kingdom decline. He performed miracles, had a remarkable prayer life, and spoke God’s word accurately and boldly. Further, these miracles point the way to understanding the greater Prophet, Jesus, who would also carry on this tradition in a much greater way (Luke 7–9). And Jesus’ miracles were little foretastes of the new heavens and new earth, where there will be no death, starvation, or tears. If you don’t take the stories of Elijah seriously, then you shouldn’t take the ministry of Jesus seriously. Moreover, Jesus took them as truth, not fiction! He refers to miracles in the lives of Jonah, Elijah, Elisha, and more.

Now, we don’t have prophets like Elijah today because the true and greater Prophet Jesus has come, but that doesn’t mean these stories aren’t true or that they have no relevance. We may not have ravens feed us or serve a poor widow with an inexhaustible barrel of flour, and we may not see the dead raised in this life, but that doesn’t mean these stories aren’t for our spiritual nourishment. God still takes care of His people, normally through prayer and providence and (at times) miracles. An example of how God normally provides through providence rather than miracles is in the story of how God cared for his prophets in chapter 18. He used an administrator named Obadiah to take food to the suffering prophets (18:4). God miraculously provided for Elijah, but He used ordinary means of providence for 100 prophets. In both cases God is providing.

Further, while God doesn’t always save His people on earth from calamity, we know He will ultimately save them and bring them into glory, which is made possible by the miracle of new birth. We who are believers have not been overlooked in the working of miracles. We have received a new heart and will one day be raised forever.

A Man like Moses and John the Baptist

Elijah was like Moses, with whom he later appeared at the transfiguration of Jesus (Matt 17:3). Like Moses, Elijah went eastward for a season after he had confronted a wrathful king (Exod 2:15; 1 Kgs 17:2-6). Moses challenged Pharaoh; Elijah challenges Ahab. Like Moses, Elijah lived on God’s abundant provision of bread, meat, and water (Exod 16; 1 Kgs 17:2-6). Like Moses, Elijah goes to Mount Horeb for 40 days and 40 nights to appear before God (1 Kgs 19:8,11). Like Moses, he needs and receives assurance of God’s presence to finish his mission (Exod 33:18-23; 1 Kgs 19:13-17). And like Moses, Elijah feels the burden of the failure of the people so much that he desires death (Num 11:14-15; 1 Kgs 19:3-4). Elijah is the prophet like Moses that God raises up to preserve a remnant who won’t bow down to Baal (Konkel, Exodus, 308–9).

Elijah was also like John the Baptist, with whom he is associated in the New Testament (Luke 1:13-17). Jesus affirms the identity of John the Baptist as the last prophet, the messenger Elijah who was to come (Matt 11:7-15; Luke 7:24-28). Elijah didn’t reappear literally as John the Baptist, for that would be something like reincarnation. But their lives and ministry were similar. They both came from obscure places, they dressed similarly (Matt 3:4; 2 Kgs 1:8), both called people to repentance, and both were forerunners to Messiah (Mal 3:1-3; 4:5).

Elijah continues to play an important role in Judaism. At meals he is mentioned in prayer: “May God in his mercy send us the prophet Elijah.” He is mentioned at the circumcision of children. He also gets a seat at the Passover meal (Konkel, Exodus, 310).

A Man like Us

My brother-in-law, David, currently serves in the army. He and three other soldiers made the team for the baseball Hall of Fame Classic, a game played in Cooperstown, New York, comprising living Hall of Famers. In an effort to honor the military, nearby soldiers were invited to try out for the team, and David was one of the four selected. I was so envious! It was so cool to see his name listed beside Ricky Henderson, Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers, and more legends. His association with these men fascinated our family because, even though David is a tremendous athlete, he isn’t a Hall of Famer! He would say that he is far distant from these Hall of Famers in regards to baseball talent, but in reality he isn’t that distant from them because he has a human nature just like them.

We may also try to distance ourselves from Elijah, who is in the Hall of Faith (Heb 11:35), but we must remember James’ extraordinary statement: Elijah was a “man with a nature like ours” or “a man like us.” We can relate to him. We can look to him.

The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it didn’t rain on the land. (Jas 5:16-17)

The language James uses is the language Paul and Barnabas used in Lystra, when the people wanted to worship them as gods: “We are men also, with the same nature as you” (Acts 14:15, emphasis added). While Elijah holds a special place in redemptive history, James wants us to know that every believer, dressed in the righteousness of Jesus, pursuing likeness to Jesus, can have an effective prayer life like Elijah.

So Elijah is like us, and we should seek to be like him. How so? In the next three chapters of Kings, Elijah teaches us about great faith and effective prayer. We find him standing up boldly in the face of opposition, and we find him praying for God to act on His word (1 Kgs 17:1), for God to raise the dead (17:21), and for God’s glory to be known and people to repent (18:36-38). In this particular chapter, I want to suggest three lessons on prayer and faith that Elijah teaches us.

Learn from Elijah

Believe What God Has Said (17:1)

As we consider the opening verse of chapter 17, it’s important to note a bit of background that highlights the rarity of Elijah’s belief in God’s word. A physical famine was coming, but there was first a spiritual famine, for the word of God was absent.

Elijah’s context: national apostasy. We will read a lot about not only Elijah but also Ahab (1 Kgs 16:29-34), whose family’s story continues for many chapters. The unfolding drama of Ahab and Elijah highlights two mega themes: the righteousness of God and the glory of God. Concerning righteousness, we will have no doubt whether the exile was a righteous judgment after reading of Ahab’s evil influence. Concerning God’s glory, Ahab’s story shows us that God alone deserves exclusive worship and God is passionate about His glory.

With Ahab’s reign Baal worship was now state sponsored. Baal was known as the “rider on the clouds,” the god of rain and fertility, and because of this, the god of riches. As mentioned, Ahab married Jezebel who “evangelized” for Baal. Baal’s followers believed he restored life after the death of summer. In contrast to Baal, the Elijah narratives highlight that God alone gives life and death and controls fertility and infertility. The psalmist portrays Yahweh as the “rider on the clouds” who alone gives rain and provides for creation (Ps 104:3-4).

If there was no rain, Baal followers believed Baal was submitting to the god of death, Mot, until a later date when Baal would be revived. So Baal was not the only god worshiped. In this polytheistic culture, people wanted a little bit of everything—a little goddess worship, a little Baal worship, a little Yahweh worship, and more. Exclusive worship of God was absent in most places. Indeed, Elijah thought he was the only real worshiper left (1 Kgs 19:10).

We live in a similar time, in which people worship a little bit of everything but not the living God exclusively—a little God, a little horoscope, a little TBN, a little pop psychology, a few conspiracy theories, aliens, zombies, New Ageism, naturalism, and more. They may want God at their death, but they live every day as functional naturalists or materialists. As a result of twisted theology, immorality is normalized in our day just like in the days of Elijah. He lived in a day like ours where people call evil “good” and good “evil.”

Elijah’s background: total obscurity. Immediately after reading of Ahab and Jezebel, we are introduced to Elijah—with no warm-up! We read about all these kings, and then boom! Elijah.

Who is this guy? The writer tells us that Elijah was the “Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead” (17:1). Where is this? No one knows where Tishbe is, though some have tried to identify it. Perhaps he is simply a settler in the wild, forested area east of the Jordan in Gilead. God chooses this man from nowhere it seems. Unlike the kings, we don’t know who his family is, and we don’t know if he has a wife and kids. Does he have any hobbies? We don’t know. It reminds me of Paul’s words:

Brothers, consider your calling: Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. (1 Cor 1:26-27)

Elijah grew up in obscurity (like many of us). Even so, God chose him out of obscurity in order to confront apostasy. That should encourage you. Your family background, or whether you are from Bunn, Dunn, Pumpkin Run, or London, doesn’t determine your usefulness to God. God loves to use nobodies.

God proclaims His message to King Ahab through this hillbilly from Tishbe. Can you picture this? Don’t think of a suited-up pastor or a “clergy-fied” minister. Picture Braveheart! This guy Elijah is rough around the edges, entering the presence of the king. And then he says, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, I stand before Him, and there will be no dew or rain during these years except by my command!” (17:1). Here we read Elijah’s view of God—Yahweh lives! Because he knows Yahweh alone is the living God, he is able to stand fearlessly before Ahab, for standing before Yahweh puts this mere mortal in his place. Elijah has great faith because he has a great God.

Because Elijah believes what God has said, he proclaims it. God keeps His word. We have seen this repeatedly in Kings. Here we see that God will keep His word of judgment that He speaks through Elijah. The drought we read about in chapter 17 was a promise fulfilled. According to God’s law, drought was the punishment for pagan idolatry:

Be careful that you aren’t enticed to turn aside, worship, and bow down to other gods. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you. He will close the sky, and there will be no rain; the land will not yield its produce, and you will perish quickly from the good land the Lord is giving you. (Deut 11:16-17; cf. Deut 28:23-24)

This makes sense. God’s people were to trust God alone for rain. If they turned to another god, then God would withhold rain. This specific judgment is fitting since Baal was supposed to give rain. Not only will it not rain, but also there will not even be dew. No one could claim “bad luck” or a “bad break.” No rain and no dew clearly demonstrated God’s judgment.

Elijah boldly stands up and proclaims what God has already said. God is still looking for courageous prophets who will herald His truth.

Because Elijah believes what God has said, he prays it. Remember what James said? He said Elijah prayed fervently that it would not rain for three-and-a-half years. Although 1 Kings 17 never says Elijah prayed for a drought, we do find Elijah praying in 1 Kings 18:42 for the drought to end. Other examples of his insane prayer life exist in the Kings narrative, but James focuses on the famine. Douglas Moo is surely right in saying, “It is a legitimate inference to think that he prayed for its onset as well” (James, 248; emphasis added).

I think the prayers of Elijah preceded his proclamation to Ahab. Elijah had been before God in the prayer closet prior to being before Ahab in the palace (Ryken, 1 Kings, 439).

What do we learn from Elijah’s prayer for this drought? Surely there are many lessons about faithfulness, persistence, and passion, but I would like to underline one important lesson. Elijah teaches us to pray according to God’s Word. Elijah is simply claiming the promise of God’s word. Why a drought? It was because this came directly from Scripture.

Elijah knew his Bible. He knew the punishment for idolatry was famine. Elijah’s prayers were not rooted in his own imagination. He wasn’t asking God to perform neat tricks. He was boldly asking God to act on His own word.

Some think since God has promised something, we shouldn’t ask Him. No, the promise should inspire us to pray. Andrew Murray said, “It is on prayer that the promises wait for their fulfillment, the kingdom for its coming, the glory of God for its full revelation” (With Christ in the School of Prayer, ii). It’s as if the promise awaits a prayer. An example of praying the promises is found in Daniel 9:1-19. The prophet Daniel was reading Jeremiah concerning the end of the exile after 70 years, and he realized it was near. He didn’t go dancing into the streets; instead we read, “So I turned my attention to the Lord God” (Dan 9:3).

Here is one of the first ways Elijah schools us in prayer: pray Scripture. How do you pray for 45 minutes (and more!)? Read, pray. Read, pray. Fill your prayers with the Word of God. James says in his epistle, “You have not, because you ask not” (Jas 4:2 KJV). Jesus said, “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). As you abide in the Word, ask and keep on asking your Father to act on His Word. Ask Him for provision and the Spirit’s power, for wisdom, boldness, and illumination—these things and more are in line with His Word. Let’s not fall into prayerlessness or unbelief, but let us cry out to God with passion and understanding of His Word, believing He hears the prayers of His children and loves to answer.

Because Elijah believes what God has said, he obeys it. The word of the Lord came to Elijah and he submitted to it: “So he did what the Lord commanded” (1 Kgs 17:5). “So Elijah got up and went to Zarephath” (17:10). “So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab” (18:2). His life was consumed with obedience to God’s word, even though it called for radical actions like “drink from a brook and let the ravens feed you.” It sounds simple, but his sensitivity to God’s word sets him apart from his culture. He lived by God’s word in a culture that rejected it.

Elijah is like us; let’s be like him. Elijah teaches us to believe what God has said. God is the living God, and we must be a people who speak, pray, and obey His living Word because we believe it.

Trust God for Daily Bread (17:2-16)

God provides through an unclean raven in the Cherith Ravine (vv. 2-6). Like Moses, Elijah flees to the East after an initial confrontation since he needs protection from Ahab. He goes to this inhospitable area east of the Jordan. While he may be spared from Ahab, it looks like he cannot be spared from death, for there is no food. However, Elijah drinks from the brook and gets fed by a raven.

Notice a few interesting features about this story. First, God controls not only the rain but also the whole natural order (Provan, 1 and 2 Kings, 133). He even controls the ravens, ceremonially unclean creatures now used for God’s purposes of sustaining the prophet’s life. We know God provides for the birds of the air, and here He uses the birds of the air to provide for His prophet. Elijah is looking ultimately to the God who reigns over nature for daily food and water, not to the raven or the brook.

Second, the bread and meat are brought in every morning and evening, thus Elijah has a replay of the wilderness meal plan (Ryken, 1 Kings, 438). God provides “daily bread” (cf. Matt 6:11) and actually provides it more abundantly than in the wilderness, for Elijah eats both bread and meat twice a day (cf. Exod 16:8,12-13).

All of this should encourage us. God controls the natural order. Jesus reminds us to “look at the birds of the sky” and consider how God provides for them; He asks, “Aren’t you worth more than they?” (Matt 6:26). He teaches us not to worry about “what [we] will eat or what [we] will drink” (Matt 6:25). You can trust in God to provide for your daily needs. He may not supply you with the finest of meats every day, and He may not provide in such a miraculous way as He did with Elijah, but God provides. No doubt the false prophets of Jezebel ate better than Elijah during this period, but God still provided for him. That too is a good lesson. Even the prophet is suffering from this famine; he isn’t immune to suffering. But he has the presence of God and the provision of God, and that is enough. We who receive such daily bread should be grateful and content. Paul reminds us: “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these” (1 Tim 6:8). In Charles Spurgeon’s sermon “God’s Care of Elijah,” he reminds us to be grateful for such provision:

Remember, too, the prayer which I quoted just now—“Give us this day our daily bread.” Not, “our weekly bread,” not, “our monthly bread,” not “our annual stores”—but, “give us our daily bread.” God is pleased to give some of His servants in the bulk, but there are many others who only “live from hand to mouth”—and perhaps though not best for the flesh, it is best for faith, for we are apt, when mercies come regularly, to forget from whence they flow! (“God’s Care of Elijah”)

Let’s praise God from whom our daily bread flows! We see His provision in how He provides for Elijah through an unclean raven in the Cherith Ravine.

God provides through an unknown Gentile widow in Baal’s territory (vv. 7-16). When the brook dries up, God’s provision for Elijah gets more dramatic. He now goes to a little Phoenician town of Zarephath, which is Baal’s territory (Jezebel’s stomping grounds). Here, God promises to use an unnamed widow to provide for Elijah. Not only can Baal not stop the drought, but Yahweh’s provision also extends right into Baal’s home turf. God has prepared a table for Elijah in the presence of his enemies. Elijah goes to “stay there” (v. 9) and experience God’s power and grace.

It seems that each experience prepared Elijah for the next challenge. We see this in the life of David, who killed a lion with his bare hands and then boldly faced Goliath. We also see this in the life of Jesus, who endured the wilderness test and then faced a more difficult challenge in the garden. Every trial and test prepares us for what is next.

Widows were poor and vulnerable during this period. When Elijah approaches this particular lady, he first asks her for some water. After her favorable response he also asks her for “a piece of bread” (v. 11). Even though she isn’t an Israelite, she answers in the name of Elijah’s God—“As the Lord your God lives”—and then tells him that all she has is a handful of flour and a little jug of oil, which she planned on using for the last meal before she and her son die (v. 12). Not exactly the best time to show up for dinner!

Elijah tests her faith and asks her to provide for him first, then for herself and her son. He assures her that there will be enough for her and her son and that her flour and oil will last through the drought. She trusts in this promise, acts accordingly, and God provides. Elijah’s word is confirmed through this miracle.

Can you imagine this scene? Every day the widow goes over to her barrel of flour and jar of oil and had just enough bread to bake for one more day. Elijah could have testified with the psalmist, “You who are His holy ones, fear Yahweh, for those who fear Him lack nothing” (Ps 34:9).

This passage teaches us some important lessons about the nature of God. It teaches us about God’s extraordinary providence. It highlights God’s exclusivity, for only the true and living God could provide. Observe also God’s sovereignty. God chooses this one, unnamed widow to provide for Elijah. God tells Elijah, “I have commanded a woman who is a widow to provide for you there” (v. 9). But we don’t read that God ever speaks to her. Even though she has no prophet to tell her this news, God can ordain it to be so because He is the only sovereign. Proverbs tells us, “A king’s heart is like streams of water in the Lord’s hand: He directs it wherever He chooses” (21:1), but here we see that God also works sovereignly in the lives of the least of these.

Additionally, we should marvel at God’s compassion. God shows amazing concern for this weak widow and her son. We know that God is a “father of the fatherless and a champion of widows” (Ps 68:5). Here is just one example of such mercy and care.

We should also underline God’s saving grace to outsiders. When she says, “As the Lord your God lives,” this doesn’t seem to be her confession of faith yet. She calls God “your God” but not yet “my God” (Ryken, 1 Kings, 449). But here Elijah is an example of a messenger taking the good news to the nations (and later she believes—1 Kgs 17:24). Jesus refers to this widow in Luke’s Gospel (a Gospel that has numerous allusions to Elijah):

He also said, “I assure you: No prophet is accepted in his hometown. But I say to you, there were certainly many widows in Israel in Elijah’s days, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months while a great famine came over all the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them—but to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. (Luke 4:24-26)

After Jesus expounds Isaiah, claiming that His ministry is about bringing good news to the poor and proclaiming liberty to the captives (Luke 4:18), His hometown rejects Him (4:22,28-30). In response Jesus uses this story of the widow of Zarephath, an outsider, to warn them. While there were many poor widows during the three-and-a-half-year drought in Elijah’s day, he wasn’t sent inside Israel but outside Israel to this widow. (“Three-and-a-half years” is a more specific figure than the rounded “three years” in Kings. Perhaps the figure is used because of its symbolic associations with a period of judgment, as in Dan 7:25; Rev 11:12; 12:14; see Moo, James, 248.) A foreign lady, by faith, accepted the word of Elijah and trusted in Elijah’s God (1 Kgs 17:24). Jesus is saying that while not everyone in His hometown will accept Him, other outsiders will. He compares those in Nazareth to the apostates in Ahab’s day. As for the widow, Bock says it well: “Salvation will open up to all kinds of people” (Luke, 418). Jesus then tells how God uses Elisha to heal an Aramean Gentile leper, Naaman (Luke 4:27). God again worked outside of Israel.

We have noted this already: God isn’t a tribal deity. He is the God of the nations (cf. Acts 10:45). He will have a people from every tribe and tongue. Let us remember this and rejoice that we have received His grace, and let us proclaim the good news to everyone. The most unexpected people may find saving faith in the most unexpected places.

God graciously provides daily bread to satisfy our physical hunger, and He has provided the bread of life in Jesus, who satisfies our spiritual hunger. Let us, as His beggars, tell other beggars where to find bread.

Rely on the God Who Raises the Dead (17:17-24)

So far the threat of death has been removed by these two miracles, but now a third and more dramatic miracle takes place. The widow’s son becomes ill and dies. In response the widow blames Elijah for the tragedy. Elijah, however, takes the boy in his arms and cries out to God, “My Lord God, have You also brought tragedy on the widow I am staying with by killing her son?” (v. 20). Both attribute this event to the Lord, but the difference is that the woman apparently thinks this is the end of the matter, while Elijah will not let it rest (Provan, 1 and 2 Kings, 134).

Notice in passing another lesson on prayer: the prayer of a righteous person doesn’t mean always having the right answers or always understanding God’s purposes. Elijah took his anxieties and concerns to God in prayer. He prays in faith and desperation (Heb 11:35). Once again he gives us an inspiring example for prayer. Pour out your heart to the living God in faith.

The writer says, “Then he stretched himself out over the boy three times. He cried out to the Lord and said, ‘My Lord God, please let this boy’s life return to him!’” (v. 21). Elijah prays fervently and desperately. As a result we read, “So the Lord listened to Elijah’s voice, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived” (v. 22).

Remember Baal wasn’t the only god worshiped. Mot, the god of death, was also recognized. Elijah isn’t only in Baal’s territory, but he’s also in Mot’s territory. Does Yahweh have to submit to Mot like Baal does? Of course not—God alone reigns over life and death! You can have a dynamic prayer life because our God is the true and living God.

After the boy is raised, Elijah took the child and “gave him to his mother” and said, “Look, your son is alive” (v. 23). The woman then confesses that she believes that the word of God is in Elijah’s mouth. At last she believes in the living God. Ryken notes,

The widow of Zarephath shows how faith in the living God is grounded in the factuality of the resurrection. Belief in the resurrection of the body isn’t just for super-Christians; it is the foundation for true faith. Resurrection is the proof of the promise of God. (1 Kings, 460)

We’re reminded of the reality and pain of death in this story. Stories of death are all around us. At any moment, a loved one could breathe his last breath. As in this story, just when things seem to be working out wonderfully, death takes someone. In this case it’s a precious child. But there is hope beyond the grave for every grieving believer: God raises the dead. God gives us a little sign of His resurrection power in this Old Testament story.

We should ask God to do what only He can do: most importantly, raise spiritually dead people to life (Eph 2:4-5). This young boy eventually died again. What everyone needs is to be raised up forever by the resurrection power of God.

Paul reminds us that in our present suffering we should also remember the resurrection power of God. He writes,

For we don’t want you to be unaware, brothers, of our affliction that took place in Asia: we were completely overwhelmed—beyond our strength—so that we even despaired of life. Indeed, we personally had a death sentence within ourselves, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. (2 Cor 1:8-9)

In your trials and in your weaknesses, cast yourself on the mercy of God and plead for His strength and His power. Resurrection truth is truth not only to die on but also to live on.

One Greater than Elijah Is Here

In Luke 7 we read a fascinating story of Jesus that has strong echoes of this scene in Kings:

Soon afterward He was on His way to a town called Nain. His disciples and a large crowd were traveling with Him. Just as He neared the gate of the town, a dead man was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was also with her. When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said, “Don’t cry.” Then He came up and touched the open coffin, and the pallbearers stopped. And He said, “Young man, I tell you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Then fear came over everyone, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us,” and “God has visited His people.” This report about Him went throughout Judea and all the vicinity. (Luke 7:11-17)

There are two widows, one in Zarephath and one in Nain (25 miles from Capernaum). Consider the similarities:

  • Both widows are stricken with grief at the loss of their only son.
  • Both Elijah and Jesus perform an unclean act: Elijah lies on a dead body, and Jesus touches the coffin (mercy is more important than sacrifice, Hos 6:6).
  • Both women witness their sons coming back to life.
  • Both receive their sons (the language in Luke 7:15 is the same as in 1 Kgs 17:23).
  • People believe after the miracle (“A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited us”).

However, there is one great difference: Elijah cries out for God’s help in prayer, stretching himself over the boy three times. Jesus just says the word: “Young man, I say to you, ‘arise.’” Kent Hughes points out, “But when it came to resurrections, he [Jesus] used only his word (cf. Mark 5:41; Luke 8:54; John 11:43). Clearly, he wanted everyone to see that resurrection power rests in him!” (Luke, 264).

Elijah was great, but Jesus is greater. Speaking about Martha’s brother Lazarus, Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23). Then He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die—ever” (John 11:25-26). Then He asks her what He asks you: “Do you believe this?”

God’s power to raise the dead was demonstrated once for all in the resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor 15:4). He has swallowed up death in victory (1 Cor 15:55-56). Now God gives life to spiritually dead people (Eph 2:1-10), and in the future we await the glorious, final resurrection, when the dead in Christ will rise (1 Thess 4:16-18). We will hear something like this: “Arise, Tony,” or “Arise, Kimberly.” Jesus has made the grave like a bed and the resurrection like waking up.

Elijah was like Moses. He was like John the Baptist. He was like us. And He was like Jesus. The greater Elijah knew what it was like to live on every word that proceeded out of the mouth of God (Matt 4), He was called out of obscurity to confront unbelief (John 1:46), He cared for the widow (Luke 7:11-17), He raised the dead (John 11:25), His prayers were effectual (John 17), and He fasted 40 days and 40 nights. Some even thought Jesus was Elijah (Matt 16), and one can see why. Elijah was an end-time figure and a miracle-working prophet. Jesus was too, but He was more than that.

Jesus, unlike Elijah, never sinned. Jesus lived and died, finishing His course, taking judgment on Himself instead of pouring it out on those that deserved it. He was raised from the dead and is now interceding for us (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25).

Yes, Elijah prayed. Yes, we should have an “insane” prayer life like Elijah. But what saves us is Jesus’ insane work, and what sustains us now is Jesus’ insane prayer life.

May the life of Elijah inspire us to pray biblically and faithfully, and may his life point us to our great source of hope: the true and better prophet, the ultimate mediator, the King of kings, Jesus.

Reflect and Discuss

  1. Why might God have sent a famine on the land?
  2. Have you ever experienced God’s provision in unexpected ways?
  3. Have you ever experienced God’s blessing through unexpected people?
  4. Are there any ways God might bless His people that His people might consider to be beneath them?
  5. Why does God choose to use the lowly things of this earth?
  6. Why is it difficult to take God at His word during times of difficulty?
  7. Elijah rises out of obscurity, and God essentially sends him into the wilderness. Would he have been more productive if God had sent him to a city center? Why or why not?
  8. How can Elijah’s prayers instruct believers today?
  9. God raises people from the dead at various points in Scripture. What can this teach us about God?
  10. How is Jesus’ ministry similar to Elijah’s ministry?
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