20 August 2007

One last last look at Elijah in Zarephath

by Phil Johnson

ast week I promised to draw out some practical lessons and underscore a few other things to remember from Elijah's experiences in Zarephath. Here are some lessons that stood out to me as I read over that episode:
  1. Providence is characterized by many unexpected twists and turns. This reminds us that God's ways are mysterious and beyond human scrutiny—so that all we can know for sure about God's sovereign dealings with us is that His purposes are always righteous.
         Often He intervenes in our lives in ways that don't instantly appear good to us. Elijah was a prophet, but even he did not see the death of the widow's son coming. When the boy died, Elijah was clearly as shocked and dismayed as anyone about it.
         Those are the times when we need to remind ourselves that God's thoughts higher than ours, and His ways are not like ours (Isaiah 55:8). But He is still working all things together for our good. His purposes and His strategies are better than the way we would do things. And He hasn't lost control—even if at the moment our whole world might seem to be in complete disarray.
  2. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away—and we should praise Him in either case. This woman had benefitted from God's generous provision in the time of drought, but she had no right to interpret that as a guarantee that her life would be free from calamity from then on. God has as much right to afflict us as He does to bless us. And we should glorify Him in either case.
         In John 6:49, Jesus says, "Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead." The manna was a temporal blessing to sustain life for a season. But the time came when those Israelites died anyway. All of them.
         The same is true of this woman and her son. God graciously kept their oil and flour from running out—but that didn't mean they would never die.
         God doesn't promise that all His dealings with us will always be pleasant and easy. On the contrary, He assures us that trials and afflictions will be our lot and our portion. But He promises grace to endure, and He commands us to trust that His purpose for us is ultimately good. We must learn to trust in the dark times as well as in the times of good fortune.
  3. Temporal blessings are nothing compared to Spiritual blessings. Consider this: the time eventually came when that boy died again. He may have lived to adulthood. Tradition says he became a lifelong servant of Elijah. One ancient rabbinical tradition even held that he became the prophet we know as Jonah. (It's pretty hard to see how that's possible, because Jonah was Jewish, and this boy was the son of a Phoenician woman. Also, Jonah is identified as the son of Amittai [2 Kings 14:25; Jonah 1:1]; nothing suggests he was an orphan like this boy.)
         In any case, it is safe to assume that this boy died at the end of his life, just like everyone in Scripture except Enoch and Elijah. It is appointed unto men to die once (Hebrews 9:27). In this boy's case, he was appointed to die twice.
         And so the one enduring aspect of this miracle is seen in the faith of the widow. That was the greatest miracle of all—not that the boy was given his life back. (That was merely a temporal blessing.) But that a heart once dead to the things of God could be established in unshakable faith, with a rock-solid pre-modern conviction that the Word of God is absolute truth.
         That is the aspect of this miracle that bore eternal fruit. It was also vital to the real purpose of God when he brought this tragedy about in the first place.
It's always interesting (isn't it?) to look back on an episode like this and marvel at the wisdom and goodness of God, who can bring so much eternal good out of a moment of tragedy. But real faith is to be able to trust Him in the midst of the tragedy—before we see the final outcome—and rest in the assurance that He does all things well. Phil's signature


Michelle said...

Phil, Nice post. But You titled it Jonah - did you mean to title it Elijah?

steve said...

Maybe Phil had Wrigley type the title of the post.

Stefan Ewing said...

Phil, thank you so much for this series of posts on Elijah and the widow in Zarephath. It's because of teaching like this (and from Frank and Dan too, natch) that I can't stay away from this blog!

FX Turk said...

All I'm good for, really, is adding a "STRIKE" tag every now and again. After that, one big rain and it all falls apart.

Carla Rolfe said...

Your last paragraph only confirms some advice I was once given many years ago. It's often easy to look back and see how God orchestrated events, but to take comfort in the midst of the trial by being mindful of the very same thing, is a genuine blessing. It makes all the difference in our attitude and what others see in us.

In every personal trial I've had since I heard this advice, I try very hard to apply this to it.

Thank you for this series of posts, they were needed.

steve said...

But real faith is to be able to trust Him in the midst of the tragedy—before we see the final outcome—and rest in the assurance that He does all things well.

Well said. God never fails His own.

candy said...

This has been one of my favorite series. Thanks again for the time and effort.

donsands said...

Very good series of teachings. A nice close and thorough look at God's gace, love, and sovereign power.

I thought of how way back when my daughter only 4 years old needed to have her spine tapped. Man, the pain was excruciating, but I had to hold her in my arms, and take her to have this done, because it was necessary.
Though I didn't feel the physical pain, I sure was hurting.

I wonder does our Lord feel our pain when we go through intense affiction, which He sovereignly allows to come upon us? I think He does to some extent.

Phil Johnson said...


I dunno how that happened. The paragraph about the son of Amittai must have thrown me off.

Late-night blogging is risky that way. The worst part is that because of the way Blogger handles URLs, my error will live on forever in the permanent URL of this post.

Kay said...

And you an editor, Phil. Tsk.

James Scott Bell said...

Thanks for the study, Phil. I see here a heartening account of the faith of a Gentile woman being rewarded, anticipating what Jesus did for the Roman Centurion, and marveling at that man's faith, too.

FX Turk said...

That error will probably make you the darling of all kinds of people who thought they hated you, Phil. Not that they are haters, mind you ...

Solameanie said...

Hmm. Wow. Think about this for a moment:

"my error will live on forever in the permanent URL of this post."

Now you've started my brain functioning. What fodder for a column! Comparing the permanent URL of Blogger to the permanence of sin once committed, and the need for a Savior who alone can blot it out through His own shed blood.

That's something even computer geeks (or juvenile Game Boy players) could understand.