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“Follow God When All Seems Lost”

Father’s Day - June 17/18 1Kings 17


Well, “Happy Father’s Day” to those to whom it applies! It’s wonderful being a dad, and now for about 10 years I’ve joined the ranks of those who are called “grandpa”. Fathering comes with certain responsibilities; traditionally, one of the principal expectations of a father is that, as much as he is able to, he will be a provider for the family. The Apostle Paul exhorts the church in 1Timothy 5:8, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” So we dads need to take our ‘providing’ role seriously – although circumstances and the modern economy may also mean the mother ends up being the primary breadwinner.

             Parents can feel the pressure when funds are scarce and time commitments mount up, having to maintain a household, get groceries, and chauffeur children to midweek activities. Often resources are tight. In the 1970s, family-life specialists by the name of Holbrook lectured and conducted surveys across the United States. In a survey of hundreds of children, the Holbrooks came up with the three things fathers say most in responding to their kids. What do you think were the three things children reported their dads said to them most often?

             “I’m too tired” took first place.

             “We don’t have enough money” came second.

             And the third most often thing Dads said to their kids? “Keep quiet.” (How sad!) [ref. Christianity Today, August 27 1976]

             Those first two responses speak to the pressure of limited resources dads feel. “I’m too tired” – they don’t have enough time and energy. “We don’t have enough money” – financial resources can be tight.

             In today’s story from the life of Elijah, continuing our “Follow” series in 1Kings, we see how the prophet copes in a time when resources are very tight. A three-and-a-half year drought will do that to you! But God shows how He is able and faithful to sustain Elijah and others miraculously even when resources are tight, and in fact all seems lost.


You may recall from last week that the northern Kingdom of Israel had split off from the southern Kingdom of Judah after its “golden era”, the reigns of David and Solomon, and rebel King Jeroboam had started the ten northern tribes on a course of idolatry, with the two golden calf idols at Bethel and Dan. That was about 930 BC. By 56 years and 3 kings later, the situation was getting even worse. As if Jeroboam’s idolatry was not bad enough, King Ahab married a foreign wife who would become notorious for her evil ploys, and who would introduce the fertility-cult so popular amongst pagans in the area. 1Kings 16:30ff summarizes Ahab’s failings: “Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him.He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria.Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him.”

             It was a very dark time spiritually for the northern kingdom. Baal worship and Asherah poles actually made sexual immorality religously respectable, with shrine prostitutes etc; it was thought re-enacting the union of the weather-god with his consort Asherah would somehow magically help your soil be fertile. Sometimes parents offered up their own children as sacrifices.

             Chapter 17 of 1Kings introduces to this sorry scene a prophet who was called to confront and condemn this moral decay as a champion of Jewish faith. 17:1 “Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, "As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word."” Elijah was from Gilead, the northern part of Israel to the east of the Jordan River. His courage is commendable. What’s not emphasized in the text is what’s going on in the background due to Ahab’s marriage alliance. 18:4 notes, “...Jezebel was killing off the Lord’s prophets...” Queen Jezebel was an “active evangelist” for Baal worship if you will in that sense: not only was she introducing its practices, she was intentionally killing the prophets of the Lord! Now, would you say it was a little RISKY for Elijah to go and announce this prophecy to her husband the king?!

             It must have seemed all was lost for Elijah, or close to it. King Ahab is a wishy-washy figure dominated by his evil partner who has an agenda to institute her idolatry and wipe out all opposition. In 19:2 Jezebel threatens to kill Elijah by the very next day; in 19:10 Elijah sums up the desperateness of the situation and how YHWH-worship seems to be a lost cause – "...The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword.I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too."


A contest is shaping up. There is a head-on collision coming in chapter 18 on Mount Carmel. But chapter 17 draws up the battle lines. Baal worship may suppose that weather-idol is responsible for fertility, but in chapter 17 the Lord God of Israel begins to show that it’s HIS word that is powerful. Yahweh has no visible representation (unlike the Baal statues and carved Asherah poles); He is Spirit. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:24, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” But, as Spirit, His word (issuing as breath) encapsulates and is wonderfully packed with divine power. God’s word is life-instilling - not the Baal rites.

             V1 “...there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” V2 “Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah...” V4 God says “...I have ORDERED the ravens to feed you there.” V8 “Then the word of the Lord came to him...” V9 “I have COMMANDED a widow in that place to supply you with food.” V14 “For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, SAYS...” (then goes on to promise miraculous provision of flour and cooking oil) V16 “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.” Later in the chapter we find the first miracle in the Bible of someone being brought back to life from the dead – a widow’s son, upon whom her own life would depend for provision, that has been dead for some time, is resuscitated. But the point of the miracle is not just the act itself. The miracle points outside itself to a more important principle: v24 “Then the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth."” The power of God’s word is the point.

             Dads – if you want your life to count, if you want to make a lasting impact on the next generation, you need to be in God’s word, letting His truth shape and direct your own life. Get familiar with your Bible. Have your own personal daily devotions, even if it means listening to the reading in the car on the way to work. Find and memorize some favourite verses. Lead regular family devotions – that’s primarily YOUR responsibility as spiritual leader in the home, not your wife’s. Your kids need to see that your values and priorities in life line up with what God has said in His written revelation.

             Several times in the Bible God emphasizes this marvelous power packed into His promises. Just as rain wets the earth and enables crops to grow, Isaiah 55:11 “so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Jeremiah 23:29 “"Is not my word like fire," declares the LORD, "and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” What a word picture! And in the New Testament - 1Thessalonians 2:13 “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” There’s a marked difference between OUR words and God’s word: it has power to “perform its work” (NASV). And Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Living, active, sharper than a sword, penetrating, judging – God’s word is very special.

             So, to be a godly man, to fully know His power at work in your life, you must be a man of God’s WORD.


Now, no sooner than Elijah deliver God’s message to King Ahab about the coming drought, than Elijah is told to flee far away across the Jordan. This may have been partly to save his own life, for as you’ll remember, Queen Jezebel is doing her best to annihilate the prophets of YHWH. Vv2-6 “Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah: "Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there." So he did what the LORD had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.”

             It must have seemed like God was putting Elijah on the shelf for a while! But time needed to pass in order for the lesson to register with the king and the other Israelites. In the meantime, God sheltered Elijah in a place of solitude. Later there would come a high-profile public contest, a showdown on Mount Carmel, but for now God was preparing His prophet by helping Elijah learn to depend on and trust in Him.

             As you reflect back, you will remember God took times in private to prepare other men of God. Moses was forty years in the wilderness looking after sheep, from about age 40 to 80 (Acts 7:30). Jesus was 40 days in the wilderness at the outset of His ministry (Acts 1:13). Even early in the activity of His ministry, when people were being healed miraculously and people were flocking to Him from all over, Jesus intentionally took time out for solitary TAWG-time - Time Alone With God. Mark 1:35 “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

             Pastor Mark’s outline for this sermon series sums it up well. “If we are going to be strong enough to stand for truth, it requires us to separate ourselves and seek solitude with God.Often, it’s in that place of isolation and separation, when we are utterly dependent on God to sustain us, that we see His miraculous provision and faithfulness on display in our life.And when we experience God in such a personal way…day after day…it strengthens our faith.God was working in Elijah’s life privately all along to prepare him for the work He had planned for [him]. The Lord was developing Elijah’s faith so he would be ready to perform some of the boldest feats of faith ever recorded.God prepares us privately so we can serve Him publicly.”


It was a dark and threatening time spiritually. Jezebel had her ‘hit list’ and Elijah’s name was on it. The worship of the one true God was being subverted and blatant licentious paganism actively pushed to replace it. But God’s word would show that Yahweh, not Baal, was in fact Lord.

             Although Baal was touted as the god of the weather, it became clear that God was sovereign over the elements of creation. Note Elijah’s wording in v1: “As the Lord [YHWH], the God of Israel, LIVES [not this Baal god who is just a lifeless idol], whom I serve [language reflecting those at a palace court who stand ready to do a king’s bidding], there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” God is in control of drought and famine, not Baal!

             V14 also demonstrates God’s sovereignty over the elements by miraculous regeneration of flour and oil used by the widow and her son. “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.’” Kind of like the multiplication of loaves and fishes that happened when Jesus fed the 5000 and the 4000 (Mk 6:35ff; 8:1ff).

             We see also God’s sovereignty over the CREATURES. V6 “The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.” Morning AND evening – I would have thought even just one or the other would have been pretty amazing! Elsewhere in Scripture we see Balaam’s donkey speak, and a great fish swallow Jonah then later spit him up on shore (Num 22:28; Jonah 1:17, 2:10).

             And we also see God’s sovereignty over FOREIGNERS - non-Israelites. He is not a “tribal” God. 17:9 “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there.I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.” Now, the geography is significant: Zarephath was deep in the heart of what you might call “enemy territory” – remember, evil Queen Jezebel was from Sidon! So here God is proving He can direct people even where the cloud of paganism is most dense.

             I love the interplay between Elijah and this widow, and what it suggests about real faith. He arrives at the town gate and a widow is gathering sticks – to make one last meal with her starving boy, before they die. Elijah asks her for some water. As she turns to go get it, he adds a request for a piece of bread. You can almost hear the gears turning in her head. She begins her reply, “As surely as the Lord [YHWH] your God lives” – which may mean she herself is a clandestine worshiper of the one true God, OR she may have been being polite. She explains her dire circumstances, they’re just about all out of food, and she’s just preparing their final meal before they die. Elijah says: v13 “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.”

             BUT FIRST...AND THEN... Here is where the test of faith really comes. Elijah was challenging her to trust him – to trust God, really – by FIRST using up all she had left for someone else. God was asking her to give Him all she had. To hold nothing back (in contrast to Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5:2). To be “all in” for the Lord. Would she do it? Could she commit that much?

             Extreme circumstances EXTEND us to explore God’s excellence – to quit trusting in just our own limited resources, and plumb the depth of God’s limitless reserves. Have you really put your whole life on the altar? Romans 12:1 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God— this is your spiritual act of worship.” Jesus challenges those who would be His: Luke 9:23 “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” For it’s only in losing our life FOR HIM that we in fact save it, find it, discover the true supernatural life in the Holy Spirit God’s got for us.

             Guys, this is hard. We men want to be in control of our own path, to be self-sufficient, to call our own shots. But to have Jesus as Lord means yielding all that up. To have to limp a little like Jacob. To say with Jesus, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” Do that, and God can begin to prove in your life how faithful He is, a rewarder of those who earnestly seek Him (Heb.11:6)

             So, when all seems lost – follow God! His excellence is waiting to be manifested at the very time our resources are stretched to their limit - that we’re at the end of our rope. He is sovereign over the elements. He is sovereign over the creatures. And He is sovereign over foreigners, those unlike us, even our enemies – working in THEIR lives, too.


A concluding word to dads on this Father’s Day (even though this may not be politically correct). We’ve seen Elijah go head-to-head against King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, even though he felt like a last lone survivor. Later (next chapter) he takes on the Baal-prophets. Elijah was a champion of the faith – appearing on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus along with Moses (Mark 9:4).

             Men, if you want to be a spiritual hero in your families that you SHOULD want to be – “Man up!” 1Corinthians 16:13 “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.” NASV “Act like men...” 1Sam 4:9 “Be men!” (If one can still say that)

             Men in the United States received a stinging insult from British psychologist Dr.Joshua Bierer, who described them as a "bunch of weak-kneed, lily-livered sissies." In a previous survey made in 1964, Dr Bierer had judged women to be at fault and declared American women to be domineering. He explained his changed viewpoint, admitting: “Before, I thought that the women wanted to rule the country.I changed that opinion.Women are compelled to take over, not fighting to take over. I thought the men who attended with their wives some seminars I spoke at would shoot me for my remarks – but instead they all agreed with me. It's still the fatherless society. The husbands are not husbands. All the women are crying out for a strong man and he's just not there.”

             So, dads, let’s step up to the plate, as Elijah courageously stepped up to confront King Ahab. As God challenged the widow to lay it all on the line, let’s be prepared in the Lord’s strength to devote ourselves to the important task at hand of training the next generation in the way they should go. When you’re at the bottom of your barrel, God is quite capable of supplying your need! Let’s pray.