EMPTY BARREL GRADUATE SCHOOL | The Book of 1 Kings 17:8-16
Elijah holds in his hand a diploma from Dry Brook University. He has trusted God to take care of him even in the most desperate of situations. He trusted God to send the ravens to feed him, and he trusted God to supply his water using the little brook Cherith. He watched as God met his needs day in and day out. He also watched as God allowed his brook, the only source of water he had, to dry up before his eyes. Surely, enduring this kind of trial would count for something! Surely, things would get better for the prophet now!
Yet, when God speaks to Elijah, it is to send him into another difficult situation. You see, the prophet’s training isn’t over just yet. God is creating a man of God! Elijah may have graduated from Dry Brook University, but now he is about to enroll in Empty Barrel Graduate School. At Cherith God broke the prophet’s flesh: He taught Elijah to depend on God. At Zarephath, God will break Elijah’s pride. Here, he will learn that God, not Elijah calls all the shots of life. He will learn that things are never like they appear. He will learn that God can use the humblest of means to train His children for His glory.
Remember, God intends to use this man in a mighty way! When we get to chapter 18, we will see why God put the prophet through such rigorous training. God is building a man of God!
Now, with that in mind, there are times when it seems that our trials come back to back to back to back. That is, it seems that before one trial can end, another begins! When these times come, we may be tempted to question the Lord as to what He is doing. Simply stated, God is getting you in a position where He can use you in a greater way. I will remind you that before He can mold us, He must first melt us! After all, God’s goal for every saint of God is that we be made into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:“, Eph. 4:13.
Therefore, let’s join the prophet Elijah as he continues his training at Empty Barrel Graduate School. There are lessons here that we can glean from as well. These lessons will help us when we face our times of testing.
I. V. 8-11 A FRESH PATH
A. V. 8 The Call – As Elijah sat there beside that dried up brook, it must have felt like he had been abandoned by God. Have you ever felt that way? It is a terrible feeling! However, God had not forgotten about Elijah! God knew exactly where he was. God knew all about that dry brook and God had something else in mind for the man of God!
- Let me just remind you that the dried brooks of life are merely those things which God uses to move us along in His will.
- (Ill. There is a lesson here for us, and it is a hard one to swallow! That lesson is this: genuine faith waits for God to reveal His plans. It will sit by a dried up brook forever, even if it means death, waiting on the will of God to be revealed.
- Friends, this is where we get into trouble! We have this tendency to run ahead of God and take matters into our own hands. Yet, God’s will is that we learn to wait on Him, even when He doesn’t move on our schedule!
- If your brook is dry this morning, do not fear! God has not forgotten about you. He knows just where you are and when the time is right, you will hear His voice calling you to a fresh arena of service! “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
B. V. 9a The Command – when the Lord does speak to Elijah, He commands him to go to Zarephath. This is a strange command considering the fact that Zarephath is in a Gentile nation. It is country of Jezebel. It is a land of idolaters. It is a wicked place filled with wicked people. Yet, that is exactly where the Lord sends His prophet! To top it off, to get to Zarephath from Cherith will force Elijah to march over 100 miles through territory ruled over by King Ahab, who is looking for Elijah everywhere. It seems like this command of the Lord makes no sense at all! Of course, one of the reason for sending Elijah to Zarephath was to vividly illustrate the impotence of Jezebel’s wrath and power!
- (Ill. Again, there is a lesson for us in this verse: Often, the life of faith will lead through difficult pathways. Folks, God never promised that this way would be an easy way. Job 14:1; Job 5:7; John 16:33. Yet, that is the path of faith! Yet, even when the command of God makes no sense, faith simply obeys God without regard for the consequences, v. 10! You can see this truth displayed throughout the Bible.
- Noah and the ark – Gen. 6
- Abraham and Isaac – Gen. 22
- Daniel and the 3 Hebrews – Dan. 1
C. V. 9b The Challenge – Notice that again Elijah is told to “dwell there“. He is to go to Zarephath and stay there until he receives new instructions from the mouth of the Lord.
- However, the real challenge is in what God told the prophet next, “behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee.” That must have been a serious blow to the pride of the prophet.
- Instead of God telling Elijah, “I have a widow over there in Zarephath and I want you to go take care of her.” God says, “Elijah, I am sending you to another place of testing where you will have to look to me for all you receive, every day.”
- For Elijah, Zarephath was a place that would live up to its name. The name Zarephath means“smelting furnace, or refining“. It refers to the furnace into which metal is placed so that it can be heated up and have any impurities removed. Cherith was the place where Elijah had been cut off and cut down. Zarephath would be the place where he would be refined. It would be here that the last vestiges of Elijah’s pride and self-reliance would be stripped away.
- (Ill. We are a self-reliant people aren’t we? We always want to believe that we can “handle it” ourselves. We would like to think that we are in control of our lives and that we are calling all the shots. However, when the Lord begins to work in your life to reveal Himself in you more clearly, He will send you to a Zarephath where you have to depend on nothing but Him. When you have been brought to the place where you can lean on nothing but God, He has brought you to the greatest of places that life can afford. For it is in that place that you will learn Who is in control. That is the challenge we all face in our faith life. We all face the challenge of getting to the place where we are trusting God and Him alone for all the needs we have in life! That is where He wants each of us, “The just shall live by faith.” Rom. 1:17.)
D. V. 10-11 The Comfort – When Elijah receives this command, he does not hesitate, he just gets up and goes where God tells him to go. When he arrives at Zarephath, he sees “the” widow picking up sticks.
- (Ill. There is a lesson here as well. Our God is a God Who works on both ends of the line. Let me illustrate. When Jacob and his sons needed food, God provided a Joseph in Egypt. When the children of Israel sent their spies to Jericho, God gave them a Rahab. When the Jews faced a Haman, God raised them up an Esther. When an Ethiopian Eunuch needed salvation, God sent him a Philip. The point is this: When your time of need arises, rest assured that your Father has already gone ahead to spread the table of provision in your behalf, Phil. 4:19.)
I. A Fresh Path
II. V. 12-15a A FANTASTIC PROMISE
A. V. 12 A Doubt – When Elijah asks the widow for a cake of bread, her fear is brought to the surface. God had already commanded her to care for His prophet, v. 9, but she is trapped is the fear of faithlessness. She has her eyes on the circumstances and not on the God Who controls the circumstances!
- (Ill This is the place where many people are living this morning! When we look at our problems and our needs, we feel like we are trapped in a hopeless situation. We are guilty of looking at the problem and not at the Provider! As much as Elijah was sent to Zarephath for his benefit, he was also sent for the benefit of this widow. She needed to learn the value of faith in God.
- My friend, are you trapped in doubt this morning? Does it appear that your situation is hopeless and that you are helpless to do anything about it? The answer lies in looking beyond your problem and getting your eyes on the Provider,
- (Ill. It must have been a discouragement to Elijah to hear the widow express her lack of faith. If he had focused on first impressions instead of on the word of God, then he might have lapsed into despair. However, he believed God more than he believed even what he saw! Real faith knows that God is greater than what the eye can see. Real faith knows that God can make the impossible possible, Heb. 11:1!)
B. V. 13-14 A Demand – When Elijah hears the widow’s sob story, he makes what appears to be the coldest demand in the Bible. He tells her to go ahead and fix her last supper, but to feed him first! On the surface this appears harsh and cruel, but it was, in fact, a plea for faith and surrender to the will of God.
- Involved Encouragement – “Fear not!” Elijah comforts her heart in this matter. She is told that she can trust God.
- Involved Enlightenment – “Thus saith the Lord God of Israel.” She gets a direct word from God concerning her situation. She has God’s word that she will be taken care of.
- Involved Excitement – “Neither the barrel of meal nor the cruse of oil will fail until God sends rain upon the earth. This widow hears the news that she is about to be center stage for a miracle designed to care for God’s man. She is about to be caught up in a manifestation of the power of God.
C. V. 15a A Decision – When this widow heard the word of God, she went and did as Elijah had commanded her. It must have took great faith to use the last little bit of meal she had to prepare bread for a total stranger. Yet she did it by faith!
- (Ill. This is the place that God wants to bring us all to. He wants His Elijahs and His widows to learn to trust Him in every circumstance, regardless of what outward appearances may suggest.
- (Ill. God wants us to get to the place where we can give it all away!
- A Fresh Path
- A Fantastic Promise
III. V. 15-16 A FABULOUS PROVISION
- (Ill. The Bible tells us here that until the rains returned to the earth, the meal barrel and the jar of oil did not run out. Every time the widow went to get meal and oil to prepare a meal, there was more to be used. When she decided to bake that cake for Elijah, she traded the certain for the uncertain and received the impossible in return!)
- The Grace Of It – Because this widow took God at His Word and prepared bread for Elijah, God allowed the widow, the widow’s son and Elijah to enjoy plenty while all around them hundreds starved to death.
- The Greatness Of It – For years, until it rained, every meal time was a miracle. He can take the little that is dedicated to Him by faith and multiply it to enormous proportions! (Ill. The 5 loaves and 2 fishes fed a multitude – John 6:5-13.)
- The Glory Of It – The glory of this story resides in this fact: that barrel of meal and that cruse of oil were never full! Elijah and the widow were taught to live day by day. Everyday she scraped the bottom of the barrel and everyday there was just enough meal to fix their food. Everyday she watched the last drop of oil drip from that jar, but the next day there was always more. The glory in the story lies in the fact that Elijah and the widow were taught to trust God day by day! As the days passed, their faith was strengthened as they saw the Lord provide!
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