1 Kings 17:8-16
The Word of the Lord Provides
8Then the word of the LORD came to him: 9 "Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food." 10 So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, "Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?" 11 As she was going to get it, he called, "And bring me, please, a piece of bread." 12 "As surely as the LORD your God lives," she replied, "I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die."
13Elijah said to her, "Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.’" 15 She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah.
The theme for our service today focuses on the fact that the Lord provides for his people. We saw Jesus provide wine for the guests at the wedding of Cana by telling the servants to fill those jars with water and take them to the master of the banquet. In these verses we see the Lord provide for Elijah, the widow and her son by causing that oil and flour not to run out. There are many other examples of this in the Bible. The Lord provided manna every day as his people traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land. It was there on the ground every day. The Lord provided water from a rock after Moses struck the rock with his staff. The Lord provided deliverance from the flood for Noah by means of the ark he built in his yard.
In providing for his people, the way that the Lord does things may seem a little odd to us. Elijah going to a Gentile widow outside of Israel and this widow giving food first to Elijah and then providing for herself and her son are both commands that seem strange, but both Elijah and the woman acted in faith. When the Lord told them to do something, they did it even if it did not make sense to their human reason. That is because by faith they were convinced as we are that the Word of the Lord provides, for all our needs and for a life of contentment.
At this time in Israel’s history, the Lord had sent a drought on the land and there was a subsequent shortage of food. Elijah was the Lord’s prophet in Israel who spoke the Lord’s Words of judgment. Earlier in this chapter the Word of the Lord provided for his prophet Elijah by first sending him to a brook and then sending birds to bring him food. In these verses the Word of the Lord provided for him again. "Then the word of the LORD came to him: 9 "Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food." Sidon was a predominately heathen area outside of Israel. It was the home of the notoriously wicked queen Jezebel. But that is where the Lord sent Elijah.
Once there, the Word of the Lord also provided for Elijah, this widow and her son. Imagine this strange situation as a man asks this woman at the well for water and then for food. The request for water is one thing, asking for food really seems strange. The woman was willing to give Elijah water. But as she was going to get the water he adds, by the way could you get me some food. This widow expressed her concerns to Elijah. "As surely as the LORD your God lives," she replied, "I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die."
In her situation, fully expecting for this to be her last meal, she wondered how she would be provided for. Elijah shared the Word of the Lord with her and she was convinced. "Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.’" 15 She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah."
We are not in the middle of a drought and facing starvation, but the Word of the Lord still provides for us. We hear in Psalm 24 that "The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it." The Lord Jesus also tells us in Matthew 6, "So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." The Word of the Lord provided for the physical needs of Elijah and the widow and the Word of the Lord promises us the same. The Lord who owns everything and who also knows exactly what we need, promises to meet those needs. We know this is true because like Elijah and the widow, the Word of the Lord has also provided for our need to believe the Word of the Lord.
This is because he also meets our spiritual needs. We all have a grave spiritual need. Before the Word of the Lord provides for it, the Lord makes it. The Word of the Lord tells us we need forgiveness for the sin we are born in and the sins we commit daily. The Word tells us we were in a hostile relationship with the Lord. The Word tells us we have an inclination toward evil. The Word tells us that apart from Christ our destiny is hell. These are the great spiritual needs that we all have. The Word of the Lord shows those needs.
And only the Word of the Lord provides for those needs. In the Word of the Lord we hear his promise to send a Savior. We also hear very specific details about the work of that Savior. Earlier we heard in Isaiah 53 about the Savior. "He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed." The need for our sin to be punished and the need for us to be held accountable for all the wicked words and thoughts and deeds and the need for someone to die for our sins, those needs were met fully in Jesus our Savior. The Word of the Lord shows us in very graphic language how our spiritual need of forgiveness has been met fully in Christ. This is true for each of us and for the whole world. What an amazing provider our Savior truly is.
The Word of the Lord came directly to Elijah. God actually spoke to him to meet all his needs. We may not get a vision or direct revelations from the Lord and yet he does speak to us. This is where his providing might seem a little odd. He speaks to us through his Word, the Word of God that is so accessible to all. He speaks to us in our Baptism as we remember the water and the Word where God promised that we are his dearly loved children. And he speaks to us when we receive in the Lord’s Supper the very body and blood of our Savior with that bread and wine. We might think it would be more effective if the Word of the Lord came in visions and revelations, or if God would speak directly to us from heaven, but the Lord knows best and his Word provides for all our needs and it is that same Word that gives us a life of contentment.
Like our needs, this contentment is both physical and spiritual in nature. It is interesting to note that Elijah, the widow and her Son did not have an abundance of food. They did not have more that enough for each day. But we don’t hear them complain. The word of the Lord provided contentment for them. Contentment seems harder for us who live in a wealthy country with a very materialistic mindset. We want more. It is hard for us to be satisfied.
As I think about my own life I wonder how content I really am. My family and I have more than we need. We don’t worry about the oil running dry or the flour being empty. We live a mile from Wal-Mart and can easily afford to buy more. I get hungry but only because I don’t take the time to stop and eat, not because there is a lack of food. I think we are all for the most part in a similar situation. But how is our contentment? This is interesting to think about especially when we remember how richly the Word of the Lord provides for all our needs.
Are we consumed with what our investments and retirement income is doing? Are we fixated on the economy and worried about the price of gasoline? When it comes time to give our offering to the Lord do we wait to make sure we have what we want, new car, new clothes, a nice dinner and then write out our check or see what we have left in our wallet or purse? And what about our spiritual contentment, are we content with our situation in life, or do we feel like the Lord is holding back on us? Are we content with knowing that through Jesus our eternal home is heaven and so the troubles of this life really don’t compare to the glory we will inherit in heaven forever? Are you like me, not very content? The Word of the Lord and our guilty consciences give us the frightening answer that we are not always content, and those sins need to be repented of or else we risk the danger of suffering the eternal consequences of our sin.
But the Word of the Lord provides for our real contentment. It tells us that the Lord does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. The Word of the Lord states that Jesus came to pay the final price for all our sins. Every time we feel the guilt of our sins of doubt and a lack of contentment, we return to our Savior and see his love for each of us. Knowing Jesus is our Savior makes us content spiritually and physically. We see how rich we are in both areas.
The Word of the Lord keeps providing this message as we read and hear and think about our Savior. And that Word even comes to us in pictures. It is hard to walk in this church and not notice the cross and crown stained glass window. The beam on the ceiling draws your focus there. In November I am planning a sermon to more fully explain that window, but the simple meaning is this. The cross of Jesus and his work for us there, give us the promise of the crown of eternal life. The message of that window is the beautiful message of that Gospel. That pictures what the Word of the Lord says to us all and that provides real contentment.
This also provides us with the motivation to serve our Savior. When we are reminded how rich we are in Christ with what he has given us physically and spiritually with our home in heaven, we are motivated to give back to him, to bring our offerings. The Lord asks us to put him first in our life. He asks and motivated us to bring him an offering even before we take care of our self. The Lord asks us to give him some of our time, even when we don’t know how we will find the time to get our work done at home, but he provides the motivation and the time to get things done. The Lord asks us to help that person in need and he provides the motivation and the ability to help. This all comes to us in God’s Word, the Word of the Lord that provides for a life of contentment.
Since God’s Word has been shared, many people have rejected it because it seemed odd to them. The way that the holy God dealt with sinful people did not make sense. It still doesn’t make sense to foolish people, but it is beautiful to us. It also motivates us to act a little strange. We give the Lord time when we are busy. We plan our offerings even when the budget is tight. We look to share our faith even when we are in an unlikely location to do. This is all because the Word of the Lord provides for all our needs and for a life of contentment now and in heaven. Amen.
Pastor Matt Brown
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church (WELS) of Union City, Tennessee, Rooted in the WORD