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Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity: 1 Kings 17:17-24

While the promise of resurrection appears throughout the Bible, within the Old Testament there seem to be only three recorded resurrections:  the widow of Zarephath’s son (1 Kings 17:17-24), the Shunammite’s son (2 Kings 4:18-37), and the man whose body touched the bones of Elisha (2 Kings 13:21).  Old Testament resurrections are therefore confined to the prophetic ministries of Elijah and Elisha.  Given that Jesus declares that John the Baptist is the promised Elijah (Malachi 4:5-6; Matthew 17:11-13), His own miracles of resurrection prove His indirect claim to be Elisha, the One greater than John and having a double portion of the Spirit.  Prophecy and resurrection are closely connected.

The first of these three readings is the selection for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity.  It is the second half of the account which begins in 1 Kings 17:8 and an important part of the wider section of 1 Kings 17-18.  Elijah declares to the wicked king Ahab that there will be no rain “except by my word” (1 Kings 17:1).  Through this miraculous drought, Elijah seeks to declare to Ahab that there is not God except the God of Israel.  This is why he will confront Ahab in 1 Kings 18 in a powerful demonstration of the burning altar against the prophets of Baal.  “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God” (1 Kings 18:39)!  Only after this confrontation will the drought come to an end at the word of Elijah in 1 Kings 18:41.

During the time of the drought, the Lord provides for Elijah, first in a miraculous way with the ravens (1 Kings 17:3-6), but then in a more ordinary way with the widow.  This passage is helpful for speaking about what might be called ordinary and extraordinary Providence.  The ravens are a prime example of God’s extraordinary Providence:  He is not bound to our means of providing the things we need in this life.  He may indeed choose to have birds carry bread to His prophet.  But even if we have to bake the bread we eat, it is no less the gift of God, for all things flow from His hand.  He simply chooses, in His ordinary Providence, to use men as the means for providing the things we need.

The Lord commands Elijah to go northward along the coast of the sea to the village called Zarephath (1 Kings 17:9).  Zarephath was deep within Canaanite territory (Obadiah 20).  While it is possible that this widow could be partly an Israelite (as Hiram was the son of an intermarriage in 1 Kings 7:13-14), it is more likely she is a Canaanite, which explains the offense of Jesus’ words to the Jews in Luke 4:25-26.  Being a Canaanite, she is part of the cursed race of Ham (Genesis 9:25) whose continued existence was a mark of Israel’s unfaithfulness (Judges 1:27-36).

Yet even with the ordinary means of Providence, God provides a multiplication miracle as well with the jar of flour and the jug of oil.  Through the Word which Elijah proclaims to her, which the miracle is meant to confirm, the widow and her household, though Canaanites, believe in the Lord.  She has ceased to be a part of the condemned body of Canaan and has now by faith been connected to the body which will be delivered in the day of judgment.  How ironic that Ahab, a son of Abraham, stands under judgment while this woman, a daughter of Canaan, stands before the Lord!

But the woman’s son dies.  She believes it to be a judgment upon her sins (1 Kings 17:18).  While the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), there is every reason to believe that her son dies so that God may show His power through him.  The man born blind (John 9:1-3) and Lazarus (John 11:14-15) serve God’s purposes in their affliction.  God declared to Moses:  “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord” (Exodus 4:11)?  Even in affliction and death, the Lord brings those who belong to Him closer to Himself.

Elijah’s method is somewhat unusual, since he stretches himself over the child three times (1 Kings 17:21-22).  One should perhaps not read too much into this, since the prophets frequently do unusual things.  What is interesting, however, is that Elijah calls upon the Lord in conjunction with this act.  Elisha, on the other hand, having a double portion of the Spirit, does not speak a word at all (2 Kings 4:34-35).  Christ Himself raises with His mere command, and He vindicates His claim as the Prophet through His own resurrection.  We have, therefore, an increasing proof of the truth of the Word of God:  Elijah called upon God who answered faithfully; Elisha proves his office of prophet by raising others even merely by the touch of his bones; and Christ through His own resurrection is “vindicated by the Spirit” (1 Timothy 3:16).  We do not believe the Scriptures because of Christ’s resurrection.  The resurrection itself is proof that God’s Word cannot be broken.  As the widow herself says:  “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth” (1 Kings 17:24).

Micaiah and the Prophets

Jehoshaphat, faithful king of Judah, and Ahab, wicked king of Israel, sought a word from the Lord.  The Syrians occupied Ramoth-Gilead in northeastern Israel.  Ahab sought the aid of Jehoshaphat in reclaiming this part of the inheritance of Gad, the Levite city of refuge (Joshua 21:38).  It was shameful for Ramoth-Gilead to belong to a foreign people, even if Ahab only wanted to expand his own authority.

But Ahab still limped between the idolatry of his wife and the worship of the Lord.  Elijah had brought him to repentance some years before.  He recognized that a king should consult the Lord before attempting to retake the city, because all things were in His hands.  Therefore, they called together a great assembly of prophets and sat in the gates of Samaria, sitting on their thrones dressed in their royal robes.  What a sight it must have been!

And what a powerful and favorable message these four hundred prophets brought to the kings!  “Go up, for the Lord will give the city into the hand of the king!”  Ramoth-Gilead would belong to Israel again!  The kings would return in triumph!  Zedekiah, son of Chenaanah, who was likely their leader, even made two horns of iron, a strong and powerful symbol that the Lord was with these kings.  How could they fail?  Four hundred men all said the same thing.

But Jehoshaphat, faithful king of Judah, recognized that something seemed a bit off.  Doubtless, it was a pleasant message to hear, and Ahab delighted in hearing it.  Nevertheless, he asks “Is there not here another prophet of the Lord of whom we may inquire?”  There is indeed another man, Micaiah, son of Imlah.  He, however, never speaks a pleasant word.  Ahab kept him away intentionally.

At Jehoshaphat’s insistence, however, they call him.  Micaiah is even coached beforehand how to respond.  How could four hundred prophets be wrong?  But Micaiah said, “As the Lord lives, what the Lord says to me, that I will speak.”  He wasn’t impressed by the kings sitting in all their splendor.  Four hundred prophets all saying the same thing meant nothing.  Even when he sarcastically said what the other prophets said, they knew he didn’t mean it.  Rather, he faithfully spoke a word of judgment from the Lord.  Satan, that lying spirit, had deceived these four hundred men, because it was the will of the Lord to put Ahab to death.

Micaiah spoke a faithful word, even when everyone was against him.  He prophesied faithfully, knowing full well it would cost him his life.  After all, he was thrown into prison, and the Bible says nothing else about him.  He most likely died there.  But Ahab, despite his best efforts to avoid the judgment, met his death at Ramoth-Gilead.  All Israel was scattered, just as Micaiah had said.

The time will come for all when a faithful Word must be spoken.  They will drag you into courts.  They will drag you before kings.  It may cost you a fine.  You may be impoverished for the sake of the Truth.  It may cost you your job.  You may have to speak a faithful word even against those you know best.  But in that hour, do not be afraid, “for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:20).  Micaiah knew this, and therefore he was not afraid.  Even though he stood alone, the Lord of Hosts was with him.  Micaiah died speaking the Word faithfully.  May we also be ready to leave everything behind—house, job, family, a retirement plan, even our very lives—in search of a better country, that is, a heavenly one.

1 Kings 22:1-40 and 2 Chronicles 18