1 Kg 17:8-16
If you were a person living in Russia who was experiencing difficult times simply having enough to eat, and someone told you, “Well, go to Kyiv in Ukraine, and you will get assistance there,” you would probably find that advice to be less than helpful. After all, Russia invaded Ukraine and has carried out a brutal war there. The people in Ukraine hate Russians because of what they have done. That does not seem like the place where a Russian should go to receive help.
Or if you were person who was experiencing difficult times simply having enough to eat, and someone told you, “Well, go and live with this family because they have an Illinois Link card,” you would probably also find that advice to be less than helpful. A Link card is the Illinois Department of Human Services program to provide money for buying food to those who are in need. If someone is not able to provide for food themselves with their own resources, it hardly sounds like a good idea to show up and ask the for food.
Yet in our Old Testament reading this morning, that’s exactly what God does as he tells Elijah to go to Zarephah in Sidon and stay with a widow. It makes no sense. Yet Elijah obeys Yahweh, and there God works a miracle to provide for Elijah and the widow. In this miracle we see an act by God that points forward to the great miracle he has worked in Jesus Christ. And in the experience of Elijah and the widow we find reason to reflect on our own expectations about God’s provision in life.
Elijah lived in the ninth century B.C. The northern tribes had broken away from Judah after the death of king Solomon and formed their own nation, which is normally referred to as Israel in order to distinguish it from the southern kingdom of Judah. From the beginning Israel’s kings promoted paganism so that the people would not feel drawn to Judah where the temple was located in Jerusalem.
Spiritually, things were terrible. But economically things were great. Israel had entered into an alliance with the seaport kingdom of Sidon, and business was booming. The alliance has been established as Ahab married Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Sidon.
Now 1 Kings tells us that Ahab “did more evil in the sight of the Lord than all who were before him” – which considering the kings who had preceded him is saying something. In addition to all the paganism that was already going on, Ahab built a temple for Baal, because that was the god Jezebel worshipped. Jezebel worked to promote the worship of Baal in Israel.
Finally, Yahweh sent the prophet Elijah to King Ahab to announce these words: “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” The rain did stop. At first, God provided for Elijah as he lived by a brook and ravens brought him bread and meat each morning and night. However, eventually the brook dried up. The lack of rain meant that crops were poor, and soon there was a famine in Israel and the surrounding area.
We learn in our text that word of the Lord then came to Elijah as he told him: “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” Now Zarephath belonged to Sidon, the home of Jezebel. This was pagan territory. It was Elijah, the prophet of Yahweh, who had announced that there would be no rain – the lack of rain that had caused a famine in Sidon. It seemed unlikely that the Sidonians would welcome Elijah since they probably saw him as the source of their problems.
Then, Yahweh also said that he had commanded a widow there to feed Elijah. In the ancient world, a widow was one of the most vulnerable people in society. She had no husband to provide for her and so simply getting by was a great challenge. Widows usually needed assistance from others. Why would Yahweh send Elijah to a widow with the expectation that she would feed him?
None of this seemed to make much sense. But Elijah obeyed God and went to Zarephath. There he met the widow at the city gate as she was gathering sticks. Elijah told the widow to bring him some water. And then as she was going he said to her, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” To the widow, the demand was absurd. She reported that she had only a handful of flour and a little oil. She was actually in the process of getting ready to make one last small meal for herself and her son. After that, they would have nothing and certainly would die.
However, Elijah replied: “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’”
God promised that he would provide for the widow, her son, and Elijah. In response, the widow did as Elijah had said. God fulfilled his word. We learn at the end of our text, “And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah.”
The miracle worked by God in our text stands in a close relationship to our Gospel lesson. There we see that Jesus promises that our heavenly Father will provide us daily bread – with the things we need to live. Near the end of that text our Lord says, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’
For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
We note that in our text, God provides the means for making bread. He provides food in the midst of a famine. But that’s all he provides. While that certainly is a big deal in the midst of a famine, the question is whether we are really satisfied with that. God’s promise does not go beyond what he provided to Elijah and the widow. God promises the basic necessities that sustain life. Yet that is all he promises.
Are we satisfied with that? Jesus gives us a hint about the answer when he warns: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” The old Adam in us always wants more. He always wants something better. He is not satisfied with daily bread. And so we see that others have more things and have better things and we covet.
Jesus says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” In this statement we find the assurance that God will provide us with what we need. And we also find the forgiveness for the ways that we are unthankful, dissatisfied, and covetous.
The kingdom of God and his righteousness is God’s saving reign – his saving action to put all things right. In our text, we see God working through the prophet Elijah. Elijah’s ministry, like that of his successor Elisha, stand out among the prophets. We see God work miracles through him to provide food and even raise the widow’s son from the dead.
These miracles point to Jesus Christ who is the final end times prophet. He performs miracles that are very similar to Elijah. He feeds more than five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. He raises the dead such as Lazarus. It’s not by chance that when Jesus asks the disciples about who the people say he is, the first name that is mentioned is Elijah.
But Jesus Christ is more than Elijah. In Deuteronomy, Moses said, “The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.” Moses had been the greatest prophet. Preaching in Jerusalem, Peter told those listening that Jesus was this prophet like Moses – the final end times prophet.
Prophets like Moses and Elijah did mighty miracles. But when we meet Elijah in our text today he is in the midst of hardship. He is struggling to be fed. Things will become worse as Jezebel will seek to kill him and he will flee for his life, despairing as if his work has been a failure. The prophets suffered. The prophets were killed.
Jesus carried out a ministry of powerful works. He healed, cast out demons, fed thousands, and raised the dead. But Jesus’ greatest miracle as the final end times prophet was worked as he suffered and died. The prophets were mere men. But Jesus was the Son of God in the flesh – conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He had come to be the sacrifice for our sin. He had come to put things right with God by receiving the judgment that our sins of thanklessness, dissatisfaction, and covetousness deserve. That is what happened as he suffered and died on the cross.
Sin brings death. But the Lord Jesus won victory over sin by his forgiving death. And then his death became the means by which God has given us victory over death. On the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead. This was not like when the prophets, or even Jesus, raised someone from dead. Those individuals eventually died. Instead, this resurrection was the transformation of Jesus’ body so that he can never die again. It was the end time resurrection – the resurrection of the Last Day that has begun in Jesus Christ.
St. Paul told the Corinthians, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” We look for the consummation of God’s reign when Jesus Christ returns in glory and raises our bodies to be like his. Then the righteousness of God will be fully present, when all has been put right.
We look for that day with eager expectation. We wait, but we are not without our Lord. In our text, we hear about a miraculous feeding that lasted for many days. The risen and exalted Lord, who is still true God and true man, provides a miraculous feeding that continues every Sunday in the Sacrament of the Altar. Here he gives us his true body and blood, given and shed for you. Through this food he gives you forgiveness for every way that you have been dissatisfied, thankless, and covetous. Through this food he nourishes the new man in you so that you can trust in God’s provision of daily bread and be thankful for it. Through this food he gives you assurance that he will raise up your body on the Last Day when he banishes death from creation forever.