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Elijah, The Widow, & Dried-up Brooks

Elijah at the brook

by Dennis Pollock

Elijah was a prophet. In fact, he was a prophet’s prophet. This firebrand of a man stood up to kings, called fire down from heaven, and performed miracles by the word of the Lord. The accounts and details of his ministry are highlighted far more than nearly any other prophet in the records of the kings of Israel, with the exception of his disciple and successor, Elisha.

In this study, we will take a look at how Elijah was directed by God to go and live with a widow from another nation, a story which was referenced by our Lord Jesus many centuries later. It all began when, in accord with the instructions of the Lord, Elijah told wicked King Ahab that there would be no rain upon the land of Israel until he gave the word for the rains to resume. Immediately a terrible drought ensued, which did not make Elijah very popular with the king. Elijah went into hiding and Ahab began searching everywhere for him, presumably either to kill him or force him to remove this terrible curse from the land of Israel.

God directed his servant to an isolated spot near a brook. The water supplied his thirst, and large crows regularly dropped bread and meat down to sustain him. It was a lonely existence but it was comfortable, and Elijah’s needs were supplied. We are not told how long this lasted, but we assume it must have been for many months; perhaps over a year. But Elijah’s hidden, solitary life came to an end when the brook finally dried up. This did not surprise God, of course, who sees every dimension of our lives, both the blessings and our desperate needs, long before we do. Having sent Elijah to this brook, He now spoke again, telling the prophet: “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you” (1 Kings 17:8).

Our Own Brooks

I could spend this entire study sharing my thoughts on these few words, in connection with Elijah’s brook going dry. In my own life, I have experienced a number of brooks supplied by God. I am not referring to literal brooks, but rather places or situations which were comfortable for me and totally supplied my needs at the time. As with Elijah, our lives are never comprised of one long, never-changing set of circumstances. We go through various seasons, and often those seasons become comfortable and a great blessing to us. Within those seasons, we can learn much and grow much, but all seasons, regardless of how profitable and pleasant they may be, have their specific expiration dates.

Allow me to illustrate. Many children enter the first grade of elementary school with a bit of nervousness. Time with Momma is being replaced with a teacher whom they do not know, and a routine of which they have never before experienced. There are all kinds of things to be learned, as they enter this entirely new environment. When a year has passed, the child has gained much. He has adjusted to the more regimented day, he now can read simple sentences, he can count up to 1,000, and he has come to really like and trust his teacher. For the sake of the illustration, let’s suppose he finds a way to repeat the same grade with the same teacher the next year, because he has found first grade so pleasant and comfortable. He repeats the grade, and receives the same lessons as last year. But this year he doesn’t learn so much. Most of the lessons are repetition now. Suppose after that year he insists that he wants to repeat the same grade still another year. He would be doing himself no favor. His great love for comfort would in fact be working to short circuit his development. Children cannot be allowed to repeat grades just for the sake of keeping them comfortable. They must go on to higher levels where they will experience different teachers, new challenges, and greater and more difficult levels of learning.

In a similar fashion our Heavenly Teacher will, throughout our lives, unceremoniously “graduate” us from our comfort zones and pleasant seasons, and move us to an entirely new set of circumstances. He will, to use Elijah as an example, dry up our brooks and send us on to a new place in our lives. He will use dried up brooks to make us far more likely to hear His voice and respond to the new direction He has for us. Had Elijah’s brook not dried up, the prophet might have had a hard time hearing God tell him, “Move to Sidon.” But with the dried-up brook, and water now unavailable, Elijah has little choice. He must move or die.

When Our Brooks Dry Up

Nearly all of us who follow Christ have been in these “move-or-die” situations. The former blessings have withered and dried up. What used to comfort and sustain us is no more. From God’s perspective, we have learned all we are able to learn from that season of our lives. We have squeezed all the sweetness from that fruit, and to attempt to keep squeezing will be of no avail. There is a new place, a new career, a new ministry, or a new experience that awaits us, and we would be most foolish to stubbornly try to inject life into a season that is gone forever. It’s time to move on. Elijah is directed to go to a foreign country and live with a widow who is not an Israelite. The food will be different, the language will be different, and the culture will be unlike his own. Still, with a dried-up brook, he has little choice. He obeys the word of the Lord and makes his way to Sidon.

When he arrives he notices a widow gathering some firewood. He recognizes that this is the lady of whom the Lord has spoken, and asks her for some water. As she turns to get him a cup of water, he calls out after her, “And bring me a small bit of bread as well.” Now this is a real problem for her. The drought Elijah has prayed for has reached this nation as well as Israel, and the lady and her son are in fact starving to death. Her little container of flour was down to almost nothing, and she replies to the prophet, “As the LORD your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” The idea of giving her last meal to this stranger from Israel seems just too much for her.

Elijah and the widowBut there is another factor in play here. She calls God “the LORD,” and when you see the word “LORD” in all capital letters in your Bible, it literally means YHWY, the Hebrew name for God. This lady seems to have at least a respect for, if not a relationship with, the God of Israel, even though she is not a Jew. She calls God by His Hebrew name, the very name He gave when Moses asked Him His name so long ago.

It would seem that the Lord had sought out, even among the Sidonians, a believer, a woman who respected and believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Bible tells us that the eyes of the Lord go to and fro throughout the whole earth to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are loyal to Him. And here, in this strange land of Sidon, the eyes of God were resting upon a widow in desperate circumstances and near death. She does not know it yet, but this Hebrew prophet, who has asked bread from her, will be the means of deliverance for her and her son. She will be a blessing to Elijah in providing him shelter, but he will be a far greater blessing to her, in saving her life.

“Seek Ye First…”

Elijah told her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the LORD sends rain on the earth.’ ” Amazingly the woman obeyed the word of the Lord through Elijah. She put the prophet’s needs ahead of her own, and gave him the small piece of bread he requested. It was an act of faith that released the blessings of heaven on her life. Elijah’s word came true, and from that point on, every time she poured out some flour or oil from their containers to make bread, more oil and flour miraculously appeared. It was a never-ending supply as long as the drought endured.

Elijah ended up with a new dwelling, no doubt more pleasant and comfortable than his lonely place in the wilderness near the brook. Rather than eating what the birds dropped for him, now he had a lady to fix meals for him, even if those meals were nearly all bread. And he had a little human company. Even prophets need that sometimes!

That one decision the widow made – the decision to do the unnatural thing and put this stranger’s needs above her own – made a huge difference in her life. She and her son did not die of starvation as she had supposed. They lived through the drought without ever going hungry. She would enjoy the benefits of that act of faith for a long time afterwards. Every day of life she enjoyed thereafter, every meal they ate, every new day of hope she experienced was due to that one act. How she must have thanked God for giving her the wisdom and the courage to do the right thing when approached by the Jewish stranger who suddenly showed up in her life.

Importance of Decisions

Decisions are so huge in our lives! Wherever you are right now, whatever your situation, you are largely there as a result of decisions you have made in the past. And the decisions you make today and in the current season of your life are surely going to determine where you land in the future. This is true in natural matters, but how much truer in decisions which have to do with faith and obedience to God. Some decisions don’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. Whether you put on a red dress or a blue dress in the morning, or whether you wear black trousers or brown ones probably isn’t going to affect your life all that much.

But the decisions which come when we are presented a clear moral choice, or an opportunity to step out in faith and obedience to a clear word from the Holy Spirit can be all-important. Years ago, I was living in New Mexico when I had a dream which showed me and my family in a moving truck headed for the Dallas/Fort Worth area. In the following weeks and months God seemed to confirm this through several witnesses. Eventually I concluded the Lord was calling us to move to Texas, a state where I had never lived or considered living. Now looking back to that time nearly thirty years ago, I can truly see the wisdom of God in this move. I am still in Texas today, and I shudder to think how much I would have missed had I remained in Albuquerque, New Mexico (which I consider much prettier than Dallas, to be honest!).

The Lord Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and He is also our wisdom. If we will trust Him and look to Him, He will give us both the wisdom and the courage to make those “dead-on” decisions. And the greatest decision we will ever make is the decision to trust Him as our Lord and Savior. When I made that decision, nearly forty-five years ago, it made all the difference. It not only affected my life on this earth, improving it in infinite ways, but I will go on enjoying the benefits of that decision for all of eternity. A million years from now I will be praising God that at the age of nineteen, I called on Jesus, the Savior of the world, to become my own personal Savior. And He did just as I asked of Him!

 

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