27 July 2007

Why Did God Let that Brook Go Dry in the First Place?

by Phil Johnson
"Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you" (1 Kings 17:9).

hy did God send Elijah to the home of a Gentile widow?

There's much in these circumstances that is surprising and unexpected. In the first place, this woman was a Sidonian, a Gentile—not even a member of the covenant nation. In the second place, she was in dire straits herself. She was on the verge of starvation. When Elijah met her, she was preparing a meal with the expectation that this would be the last morsel of food she would ever taste before she and her little boy starved to death.

Now, in normal circumstances, it would have been quite wrong and unreasonable for Elijah to seek refuge in this woman's home. She was a widow living in poverty, on the very brink of starvation. She was more a candidate for Elijah's help than he was for hers. If the Word of the Lord had not expressly come to Elijah telling him to seek food and shelter from this woman, it would have been a violation of principles set forth in Old Testament law for him to show up at her doorstep demanding food.

Exodus 22:22-24 says, "You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless."

Remember that most widows and orphans without means in that society were dependent on food they gleaned from other people's fields after harvest-time. There was no government-sponsored welfare in Sidon. Under normal circumstances, it would have been considered heartless and merciless for a foreign beggar to seek food and shelter from a widow—especially a woman facing such formidable needs in her own household.

But I'm convinced Elijah knew God's design was to show this woman mercy as well as him.

When we understand this, lots of things that were mysterious suddenly make sense. Here is why God uprooted Elijah from his safe haven by the brook and directed him into the heart of enemy territory in the midst of such famine: It was God's sovereign purpose to show grace and mercy to this one widow and her son (Luke 4:25-26).

In other words, when Elijah's provision at Cherith dried up, that did not signify that God's grace had dried up. Rather, it meant God was ready to multiply His grace for the sake of this woman and her son. Elijah's want led to the supply of their need.

Phil's signature


Stefan Ewing said...

The Lord will have mercy on whom He will have mercy.

FX Turk said...

The Gospel application here is somewhat staggering. I wish Phil had spelled it out because I'm on hiatus ...

Strong Tower said...

Contemplate, Job, Jonah, or the disciples between the crucifiction and the resurrection appearances.

When Job was at his end, a man named Elihu says that God does these things twice even three times, many times to teach man the prophet goes on to say, to teach man his sin, to teach man not to answer back to God. Jonah, after having been cooled off in the ocean and delivered to Ninevah via "Big Fish Cruise Lines," is subjected to the baking Sun, to show him that his hothead was necessary to teach him that God is sovereign over all his creatures, even the vine and its destroyer, as well as the ignorance of sinful man. The disciples, an we can only imagine the conversation, probably was much the same as the two on the Emmaus road, who questioned their own gullability in believing the promises of God especially in light of the events from which they and the others were fleeing, yes, even His mother.

And why, how about, to make known the riches of his mercy, even to those who by nature are children of wrath? How then should we call out for mercy, except that we are put in need of calling out for it. Thank God he is both the creator of the destroyer and the providential Savior, how else would we know that we need him?

Stefan Ewing said...


I'll take a wild guess...we have to go forth, sometimes to the farthest corners of the world, to do God's work in bringing His Word to those whom He has chosen from among the nations?

Lord o' da Manor:

"Big Fish Cruise Lines"...heh.

Robert N. Landrum said...

I love that story. Thanks for turning my attention back to it.

ezekiel said...

Wow. God through affliction of his prophet showed mercy to another...

Elijah was afflicted by lack of water...and shown mercy by the Widow.

The Widow was afflicted by hunger, shown mercy by Elijah.

Both, through the grace of God were provided for.

Grace..through affliction?

Job, Jonah, Paul, Steven,


candy said...

Frank. When did a hiatus ever stop you before?

This is such a great illustration of God's provision and sovereignty in unexpected ways.

We may make our plans but God surely directs our steps.

I really, really like this series on Elijah.

Daniel said...

Excellent way of bringing that out Phil. I am with Frank - the gospel application is profound indeed.

Seth Fuller said...

I've never thought about it that way. Excellent insight. Thanks for sharing that!

theological satire

donsands said...

The verse from Luke is very powerful. The self-righteous leaders in the church at that time got mighty mad.

God is so gracious. And we need to never shrink from proclaiming how gracious He is. But look out for those who will become angry, when grace and mercy is preached.

What a very fine teaching. Good series.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your blogs, they really make you think.

Unknown said...


thanks for this - I just finished your Elijah series from Grace Life in my car - great reminders!!

And for everyone else, that's a plug to find those sermons!

Strong Tower said...

What uniqueness does Luke 4 have for us beyond God's teaching us his provision under trial? Matthew 4.4 contains clearest provisional statement of God's grace and mercy under trial.

Luking back at it, it is amazing that Christ was presenting himself to the teachers as a type of Elijah, and actually tells them that he has been sent to them, "widows," and "lepers." Knowing the outcome of the stories, they should have been grateful for his intended blessing of them. Our familiarity with who it was he was speaking to colors our thinking, and they do what we expect. But He had announced their salvation after so long a time of apparent abandonment by their husband. Instead of taking the cup of refreshment offered by the prophet with humble thanksgiving, they refuse it. Waaaa! The jaw drops. One thing the widow in the wilderness knew was her condition, how sick is the one who does not recognize his own need for a physician?

Jim Crigler said...

Hmmm ...

I know it's a perversion of the subject, but how about this: Why was Elijah subject to continuing revelation and we are not? To put it another way, after Frank's tour-de-force w.r.t. da Gifts, can we not get back to the continuing revelation subject so long ago led astray in Pyro 1?