Saturday, June 11, 2016

ELIJAH – THE EXTRAORDINARILY ORDINARY PROPHET OF GOD


Elijah’s Wirlwind

   William Henery Margetson
Elijah, the prophet of the Old Testament, lived a life that was one extraordinary event after another. Without introduction, Elijah appears suddenly in the pages of the Bible to stand before one of the most powerful men in the world of that day, Ahab the king of Israel. The purpose of this audience before Ahab was to pronounce a judgment against the king and his nation.

Elijah’s departure from the historical account is even more
extraordinary. He did not die but was carried away by a whirlwind into heaven. Like a Pecos Bill of the Biblical world, Elijah also “hitched a ride” on a whirlwind.
 
However, Pecos Bill was a “tall tale”.  Elijah was an actual historical figure. 

Mighty Demonstrations of Power

The life of Elijah in between his sudden entrance and just as sudden departure from the Biblical pages are almost more remarkable than were these two events. He challenged 450 prophets of Baal to a contest on Mount Carmel in order to prove that the Lord God was the true God. After waiting for these prophets of Baal to do their ranting and cutting of themselves most of the day, Elijah prayed to God to send down fire from heaven to consume the sacrificial ox that Elijah had then placed on the altar. Once God accomplished this, Elijah slew the 450 false prophets of Baal and possibly 400 additional false prophets of Asherah, who in that religion, was the consort of Baal.

Elijah wore a wide leather belt around his waist and often lived in caves. He was able to outrun a chariot and go on a journey of 40 days on the strength of a single meal. He was fed in the wilderness by ravens. He raised a boy from the dead, struck the Jordan River with his mantle to make it part so he could cross it like Moses did at the Red Sea, and twice called down fire from heaven to consume two detachments of fifty soldiers each who had come to capture him.

Elijah lived an extraordinary life. It is difficult for us to identify with many of his experiences. To us they seem too much like living a “tall tale.” Nevertheless, in the midst of all these extraordinary and uncommon experiences, there is something very common. 

Elijah’s life was not one of constant victories or of prayers that were instantly answered. His was a life of ups and downs, of delayed victories, and of covering the same spiritual territory over and over again.
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Lowly Works of Humility
Elijah was a servant of God. He was a prophet and had the responsibility of speaking the word of the Lord. It was for this reason that he came to Ahab to pronounce judgment upon this king of Israel.

Elijah in the Wilderness
Washington Allston
“As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand,” Elijah said to Ahab, “surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word” (1 Kings 17:1 NAS).

After this pronouncement, the Lord directed Elijah to hide by the banks of a brook called Cherith. It was there where Elijah went, and it was there the Lord provided food
for him, brought twice a day by ravens. The prophet drank from the brook. At that particular time, it was a good place for the prophet. He was safe there. King Ahab was searching all over the region for him and had his informers everywhere. No one would suspect that Elijah could have been found by following some pesky, food robbing ravens in their flight.

 No doubt, Elijah could have continued safely in that place, but as the drought continued, the little brook finally dried up. This is quite understandable because of the drought, but a bit more difficult to see why God allowed the brook to dry up. This was the same God who provided enough water for millions of Israelites by making it flow out of a rock in a dry wilderness. Certainly, a small trickle out of a stone next to a brook for one lone prophet would have been nothing for God.

Nevertheless, the water did dry up, and Elijah was forced to make a move. “Go to Zarephath and stay there,” the Lord told him. “There, I have commanded a widow to care for you.”

So, Elijah left his little hide-away east of the Jordan River, and took the several day journey to Zeraphath, on the Mediterranean coast. Why God did not allow Elijah to stay in his safe place at Cherith, I do not know. Certainly, the Lord had an appointment for Elijah in Zeraphath, but I have also noticed in my life that just when things began to become secure, comfortable and sometimes even predictable, God then sometimes chooses to send a change into my life.

A New Low for a Mighty Prophet

Perhaps the life of Elijah by his little brook had ceased to become one of learning to depend on the Lord and instead became one of simply looking at the hour of the day as it was getting close to meal time and wondering if those ravens were ever going to show up with his food. God’s purpose for Elijah in that place had been fulfilled, and it was time for the next step.

Food provided by ravens is one thing, but food provided by a poor widow is quite another – especially in the manner which Elijah was obliged to begin the relationship with this widow. He asked her first for a drink of water. As she was on her way to get it, he called after her to ask her that, while she was at it, could she also bring him a little bread.

She answered with a statement that is as pitiable as one can imagine. “As the Lord your God lives, I have no bread, only a handful of flour in the bowl and a little oil in the jar; and now, I am gathering a few sticks that I may go in and prepare for me and my son, that we may eat it – and die” (1 Kings 17:12 NAS).

This widow of Zeraphath was in an extreme state of poverty. Certainly, any self-respecting man would not take of this poor widow’s last bit of food that was intended for herself and her son. You would think that this would especially be true for a prophet of God. Despite what one would think be the great humiliation, Elijah told her that she should first make him a little bread. After that, when he had eaten, then she could make one for herself and her son. 

A Widow’s Thoughts

But with this instruction, Elijah then gave the widow a promise from the Lord. He told her, “The bowl of flour shall not be exhausted, nor shall the jar of oil be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain on the face of the earth.”

I do not know if this widow was a worshiper of the Lord God at that time. If I were to guess, I would say she was not. She lived in an area of the land where God was not worshiped. Rather, the people of the area worshiped the same false god of Baal whom Elijah was soon to challenge on Mount Carmel. However, the widow did at least recognize that Elijah was a worshiper of the Lord God, and she did turn to do what Elijah had told her to do. There was no discussion that followed, at least none that is recorded for us. However, I would greatly like to know what the widow thought as she began to prepare a little bread for Elijah out of the flour she had reserved for her last meal with her son before they died.

Perhaps she saw in Elijah a man of great integrity. Perhaps she was simply obeying God. God had told Elijah that he had “commanded” the widow to provide for him. Or perhaps the widow merely thought she had nothing to lose. Maybe she was simply obligated by the eastern custom of providing for guests. Nevertheless, be her reasons noble or questionable, we must recognize that she was honorable in that she did what Elijah told her to do.

That very day the widow saw the fulfillment of the words of Elijah. The flour in her bowl was not depleted. In the days and months to follow, she continued to see their fulfillment. Every time she went to the flour bowl it still contained flour. Every time she tipped the pitcher, oil came pouring out. Elijah moved into the room upstairs, and life was once again becoming comfortable for the prophet, even more so than at the brook. Here, he had a regular bed to sleep in and home cooked meals every day. 

Death to Bring Life

But then calamity again struck. The widow’s son became ill and died. The widow was distraught and cried out to Elijah, “Why have you come? Was it so my son would die?” We can not fault her for not regarding the fact that both she and her son would have been dead from starvation long before, had not Elijah come in the first place. This was a mother grieving for her son. She simply did not understand.

Neither did Elijah understand why the Lord allowed this to happen. He took the boy up to his room. The prophet cried out to God. He stretched himself upon the child. There was no answer from God. A second time he did the same. Again, no answer. The third time that Elijah stretched himself upon the child the Lord answered his prayer and gave life back to the boy. Elijah was able to take the lad down to the mother and present her living son to her.

Receiving her son back to her, the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” If she was not a worshiper of God in the beginning, it was evident that she was now. 

The Miraculous Nature of the Ordinary

When we read of these two experiences, by the brook of Cherith and with the widow of Zeraphath, or hear sermons based on these stories, generally we focus on the miraculous way that God worked. “Isn’t it a miracle the way that God appointed ravens to bring food for Elijah?” “What a miracle it was that the widow’s flour and oil were multiplied and the way Elijah raised her son from the dead?”

Those things were miraculous, but there is something very ordinary here as well. By reaching only for the miraculous in these stories, we miss touching the ordinary, and it is in the ordinary that we have the most to learn.

In such a super-hero type of a man, we see a very great, but a very ordinary humility. After confronting one of the most powerful men on earth and pronouncing a judgment of God upon him, Elijah was told by God to go into hiding. Why must he retreat to some forgotten wadi and eat crusty bread brought by scavenging, unclean birds? Would it not be better to stay in Samaria and continue to demonstrate the power of God?

When his brook dried up, this prophet of God was sent to beg for food from among the most pitied of the earth. Why ask for food from a starving widow and her dying son? Whatever self-respect Elijah had, he would have to swallow it in asking (no, telling) this widow to feed him before she and her son could eat.

Surely he knew that God would provide, but God could have made it much easier on Elijah. If the Lord would have allowed the prophet to first provide the plentiful oil jar and flour bowl, so that the three of them could all eat together from the bounty, this would have been not so…humiliating. However, God does not ask the easy. He asks us to do what is needed to build in us what He is seeking. Humility for a mighty prophet is what God used to build faith in a starving widow. 

Ordinary Leads to Extraordinary

We sometimes wonder why God does not send mighty prophets doing mighty works as he did in Elijah’s day. Certainly, there are many parts to the answer of this question, but I think that a great part of the answer is that it is not mighty displays of power that are of the highest importance to God. These things are only secondary. What is of greater importance to God are the small and ordinary changes in the hearts of people. Changes that take place a step at a time, through many circumstances.


Elijah’s greatest gift to us is not a demonstration of the mighty things that can be accomplished by God’s power and in his name. Greater than these is the demonstration of how God was building in the prophet very significant, but very ordinary changes that made him into a man of God. When God had made these preliminary changes in the life of Elijah, the prophet was prepared to go on to further tasks that the Lord had for him. 
Perhaps you also are looking for something extraordinary to happen in your life, some great change of for something great to happen. Do you wonder why these things do not happen? It may be because for right now, God has got you eating bread brought by ravens or providing food for one poor widow.

Learn what God has for you in the times of the ordinary, so that he can do extraordinary things through you.

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