Old Testament Analysis:
Elijah Raising The Widow's Son
PENTECOST 2C I Kings 17:17-24
The following Bible study is from a larger course entitled, A SLOW WALK THROUGH THE OLD TESTAMENT . This 72 week course for the laity will be available for congregations in 2008.
I Kings 17
The Old Testament Lesson: The story of Elijah raising the Sidonese widow's son from the dead.
1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, For the first time in the Old Testament story, we meet Elijah, the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. Tishbe was a village in Gilead. We don’t know the precise location of the village of Tishbe, but we do know the location of Gilead. Some of us also remember the song, “There is a balm in Gilead.”
Elijah was from Gilead but Biblical scholars cannot tell us the specific location of the village of Tishbe.
said to Ahab, Every prophet had specific conflicts with specific kings. The prophets were the voice of God to the kings who needed to hear the values of th Lord God. Why? Because the kings had become so tolerant of evil in their midst. Often, the form of evil was false idolatry. Ahab was the worst of the kings, so we will learn in our Old Testament studies.
"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." We need to recall the background of this statement. The god of that culture was named Baal, who was a god of agricultural fertility and was thought to control the rain. The Lord God is going to be pitted against Baal. We recall the story of Elijah on Mount Carmel and his clash with the prophets of Baal and the Lord God sending water and fire on two altars.
“The struggle between Yahweh and Baal was drawn up in such a way as to pit Yahweh against Baal on Baal's own turf. Baal was presumed to be the god who controlled agricultural fertility by providing the life-giving rains. In Canaanite mythic texts, he is called "the Rider on the Clouds." Logically then, Elijah declared a drought on the country. What better way to find out who really does send the rain?” …Bandstra.
“As a god of the storm, Baal was thought to be responsible for rain and agricultural productivity.” Bandstra.
In this particular story about the widow and her son, the issue will not be the Lord God sending dew or rain but the Lord God sending food for two starving people and life to a son who died...by the Word of the Lord.
Underline the phrase, "except by my word." That is what this story is all about.
2 The word of the Lord came to him, saying, This is ALWAYS “the” mark of a genuine prophet: the Word of the Lord is living within him/her.
Translate the phrase, “the word of the Lord” into “the logic of the Lord.” It is often true that “the logic of the Lord” comes to us. The Greek word for “word” is “logos” from which we get our English word, “logic.” We think of the Gospel of John where “the word became flesh.” The “logic of God” became a human being.
We as modern human beings often are in situations where “the logic of the Lord” comes to us and we realize we the Lord God would be thinking in this particular situation. That is the way it was for the prophets: the logic of the Lord came into their minds and they expressed God's logic to the kings before them.
3 "Go from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. The first characteristic of a prophet is to listen. We remember the story of the first prophet, Samuel, and how he carefully listened for the voice of God three times that night when God spoke to him. Here in this verse, Elijah listened carefully to the Word of the Lord.
We listen for the “logic of the Lord.” As we listen we often ask the question: WWJD, “What would Jesus do?” What would the Lord God do in this particular situation.
4 You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there." We recall the paintings of Elijah being fed by ravens. It is like God provided the basic foods for survival: water and bread and meat.
5 So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; Underline, emphasize, highlight. We want to live according to the word/logic of the Lord. That is basic.
he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan.
6 The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi. We human beings have discovered that the Lord God has taken care of us physically on more than one occasion. The Lord God has given us the basic essentials of food to nourish us, in almost a miraculous way. Bread, meat, water: these are essentials of food that give us energy and come from God.
Just as the Lord God provided food for Elijah, so also in this unfolding story, the Lord God will provide oil and food for a starving widow and her son.
7 But after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land. We need to remember that the god Baal was in charge of the rain, so his followers thought.
8 Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, Underline the phrase, “the word of the Lord came to him.” That happens to us common and ordinary prophets/people of God all the time e.g. “the logic of the Lord comes to us” and gives us guidance.
9 "Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you." Remember Sidon was up north, outside of the land of Israel.
“Zarephath is in the heartland of Jezebel's homeland, the territory of her patron god, Baal Melqart. There Elijah performed life-giving miracles to demonstrate the power of Yahweh. He provided unlimited food to this poor widow, and even brought her dead son back to life.” Bandstra
The Gospel of Luke emphasizes that Elijah went outside the borders of Israel to heal a widow’s son. The church that belongs to Jesus Christ goes outside of its Jewish and Christian boundaries to find true faith in God. The widow at Zarephath and the Roman centurion were two examples of true faith found in people who were not Jews.
It is true: true faith can be and is found outside the Jewish and Christian religions.
We recall Jesus’ first sermon in his hometown synagogue of Nazareth:
Luke 4:23 He (Jesus) said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, "Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, "Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.' " 24 And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”
Repeatedly in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus found true faith outside the boundaries of Judaism. In today’ world, we also find true faith outside the boundaries of the Christian religion.
10 So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, "Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink." We know that a widow was one of the poorest people in that village.
11 As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, "Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand." The prophet knew what he was asking. He was asking for her last piece of bread and he knew that the woman didn't have anymore after it was gone.
12 But she said, "As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die." This poor woman was desperate, at the end of her options, out of food, out of luck, out of family to help her. She was in the worst human situation and she knew that she and her son were going to die of starvation.
13 Elijah said to her, "Do not be afraid; Underline. Highlight. Remember. In our most desperate situations when we feel we are literally at the end of our rope and that there is no solution to our desperate situation, the Word of the Lord comes to us and says, "Do not be afraid." This is the Word of the Lord that Jesus spoke so often to people in numerous trying situations: "Do not be afraid." Of course, as human beings, we are often overwhelmed and sufficating in our fears.
go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. The prophet brings a word of hope to her. In his words, the widow senses that there is hope, that there are other alternatives other than death by starvation for both herself and her son.
14 For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth." Aha, the Word of the Lord has been spoken. There is hope. There is something positive that is going to happen.
15 She went and did as Elijah said, At the heart of life and discipleship, is to hear the Word of the Lord and then do as the Word of God commands us.
so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. Here is the miracle: the poor widow and her son ate for many days. Where did this food come from? What is going on?
16 The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah. The Lord God worked miracles through Elijah, including the jar of meal that never emptied and the jug of oil that always had oil. In other words, there are times in our lives when we experience a miracle of the Lord God providing the basic necessities of life and we don’t now where they came from or how they happened. Yes, that happens to many people on many occasions. They/we experience deliverance from hunger and don't know precisely where the blessing came from.
17 After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. The son of the widow became seriously sick, so much so that he died. Talk about disasters: first possible starvation. Then unexpected death of a son. How tragic. How traumatic. This, of course, is the daily human experience for billions of people on this globe.
18 She then said to Elijah, "What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!" The mother accused Elijah of causing the death of her son because of some unnamed sin for which she felt God was punishing her. So often, when we experience a disaster, such as a painful and premature death of our child, we search for answers as to "why." Why did this awful thing happen? To the widow, the answer seemed to be connected with the prophet.
19 But he said to her, "Give me your son." He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. We can see the details. We can see the prophet taking the dead son from his mother's lap, carrying the child upstairs, to the room where he was living. We can see the prophet lay the dead son in his own bed. The description is so clear, that we can see the whole dreadful event unfolding before our eyes.
20 He cried out to the Lord, We can feel the pain and extreme anxiety of Elijah. There are numerous times when we cry out to the Lord in rage and frustration, and this was such a moment for Elijah.
"O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?" Elijah blamed God for “killing her son.” It was the Lord God who killed the kid. Elijah was angry and frustrated with this situation and complained to God about the apparent injustice of it all.
In light of the New Testament and Jesus, we know that the prophet was wrong, absolutely wrong, in believing and claiming that the Lord God killed the widow's son. But as this moment in human history and in the Old Testament religion, that is the way that people thought: God brings calamities upon us and kills sons and daughters and loved ones in order to punish them/us for our sins.
Even a prophet of God could be wrong. Of course, he was wrong in this matter. He was living in Old Testament times with an Old Testament theology.
21 Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, "O Lord my God, let this child's life come into him again." Elijah was deeply upset and was begging and crying for the Lord God to help out. Elijah was begging from the Lord to grant new life to this deceased child. A reader can feel the desperation of Elijah at this moment.
22 The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; This is the heart of the Gospel; that the Lord God listened to the voice of Elijah and also listens to our voice as well. This is what we want to be assured of, that the Lord God listens to our voices as we cry/pray fervently/ and beg from God for life for our loved ones.
the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. This is the first story in the Bible of someone raising another person from the dead. This quality of the miraculous will become important in the prophecies about the coming Messiah and also will be fulfilled in the person of Jesus who raised three people from the dead, including the Jairus’ daughter.
23 Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, "See, your son is alive." Whew! This story has a good ending.
24 So the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God, Yes, Christians are to be men, women, boys, girls, people of God. We are to be true prophets of God, all of us. It is the highest compliment for someone else to see you you are a "man/woman/child of God," a person who belongs to God, is imbued with the Spirit of the Living God.
and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth." Underline. Highlight. Emphasize. It is important to know who is an authentic man/woman of God and that the Word of the Lord is TRULY being spoken. It is not easy to determine the truthfulness about religious people and who is TRULY a person of God and speaks the TRUTH about God. “It ain’t easy as it seems to determine the truth.”
A prophet, man/woman/child, is a person who speaks the truth of God to a given situation.
Underline the phrase, "the word of the Lord." This is the fifth time this refrain was repeated in this story.
The great prophet Elijah raised the widow’s son from the dead. The future Messiah was also to raise people from the dead. In the New Testament, Jesus raised people from the dead, “proving” that he was the Messiah.
Elijah raised the widow’s son from the dead and she was overwhelmed with happiness and joy in her son’s new life.
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