1 Kings 17:17-24
Some time later, the woman's son became sick. He grew
worse and worse, and finally he died. She then said to Elijah, "O man of
God, what have you done to me? Have you come here to punish my sins by
killing my son?"
But Elijah replied, "Give me your son." And he took the boy's body from her,
carried him up to the upper room, where he lived, and laid the body on his
bed. Then Elijah cried out to the Lord, "O Lord my God, why have you brought
tragedy on this widow who has opened her home to me, causing her son to
And he stretched himself out over the child three times and cried out to the
Lord, "O Lord my God, please let this child's life return to him." The Lord
heard Elijah's prayer, and the life of the child returned, and he came back
to life! Then Elijah brought him down from the upper room and gave him to
his mother. "Look, your son is alive!" he said.
Then the woman told Elijah, "Now I know for sure that you are a man of God,
and that the Lord truly speaks through you."
"Behold, I have refined you, but not with silver; I have
chosen you in the furnace of affliction."--Isaiah 48:10
In our last chapter we left Elijah under the roof of the
widow of Zarephath. The famine was still raging amid the thousands around.
But as each morning's sun rose on the inhabitants of this tranquil home, lo,
the barrel and the cruse which the evening meal seemed to have exhausted
were again replenished. God's mercies were "new to them every morning, and
His faithfulness every night."
We can only venture to surmise how the Prophet's hours,
in this secluded dwelling, would be spent. We can follow him in thought, as
at times, perhaps, he wandered up the rocky ridges which flanked the town,
gazing now on the everlasting snows of Hermon, now on the wood-crowned top
of Tabor--thus beholding both "Tabor and Hermon" "rejoicing in God's name."
Or, as at other times, he would wander along the shores of "the great and
wide sea," in adoring contemplation of Him who takes up the waters in the
hollow of His hand, and who "gives the sea His decree." Yet again, when the
barrel had yielded its evening supply, and the lamp had been lighted from
the unfailing oil-cruse, we can picture him unfolding to these two children
of Pagan Phoenicia, the name and works and divine character of the God of
Israel--dwelling on the glorious promise spoken to the fathers, but in the
blessings of which all the families of the earth were to participate. We can
picture him narrating to them the eventful scenes in his national
annals--Egypt--the exodus--the wilderness--the conquest of Canaan--the
wonders of the old prophetic age--the splendor of the reigns of David and
Solomon. We can think, perhaps, of Prophet and widow and child joining their
voices together in the psalms of the great Hebrew minstrel--many of them so
applicable to their own circumstances and experience--"Happy is he that has
the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God; who made
heaven and earth, the sea, and all that therein is; who keeps truth forever;
who executes judgment for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The
Lord preserves the strangers; he relieves the fatherless and widow." Or,
more appropriate still in that heathen Tyrian home--"And the daughter of
Tyre shall be there with a gift; even the rich among the people shall
entreat your favor. Instead of your fathers shall be your children, whom you
may make princes in all the earth. I will make your name to be remembered in
all generations--therefore shall the people praise you forever and ever!"
We have every reason to believe that these two
heathen-born Phoenicians--mother and child--would, under the training of the
Hebrew stranger, be brought to a saving knowledge of divine truth. While led
to see that Baal was a mute, insensible idol, they would be taught also to
love and reverence that God who had given deliverance in the hour of their
extremity, and for soul as well as body, learn to offer the prayer--"Give us
this day our daily bread."
Moreover, "that church in the house" forms a significant
incident in sacred story, prefigurative of gospel times. Suggestive surely
was the fact of a messenger of Heaven, a prophet of Israel, being sent to a
home in distant Phoenicia to unfold to heathen hearts the way of salvation.
In this sense Elijah occupies the illustrious position of a first missionary
to the Gentiles--bequeathing, by his example to the Church of the
future--the Church of our own age--a lesson of the duty which we owe to our
benighted brethren in pagan lands--when, in obedience to the commission of
its Great Head, the heralds of the cross go forth into all the world and
preach the gospel to every creature.
But a dark season is at hand for that lowly home at
Zarephath. Perhaps it was with this widow, as with many among us still--in
her state of comparative prosperity--of exemption, at all events, from the
pressure of famine so severely felt all around--she may have been
beginning to forget the hand which was filling her empty cupboard, and
warding off poverty from her dwelling. Miraculously fed from day to
day--seeing the barrel and the cruse each morning recruited with the needed
supply--she may have begun to feel too confidently secure--that her
"mountain was standing strong"--and that she might safely calculate on a
permanent immunity from the inroads of trial.
How apt are we, after a season of long-continued
blessing--unbroken prosperity--to indulge in this spirit of boastful
independence--taking our daily comforts--food--health--friends--children, as
matters of course. We may see in the case of others--these strong
pillars--these "beautiful rods"--bowed and broken--but our inmost thought
and feeling is, "I am all secure--I need not fear!" So may have meditated
the Sarepta widow. And the last trial she would ever have anticipated, would
probably be the very one that was in store for her. With appalling
suddenness, the little life--the light of her dwelling--is extinguished!
"There is no breath left in him."
Since this beloved and only child had been given back to
her from the gates of famine and death, we may imagine her heart-strings had
entwined more tenderly then ever around him; he was every day growing up
more of a companion and solace to her--a pledge of unspeakable blessing in
her latter years--when his arms would toil for her, and his prayers would
comfort her, and his hands at last would close her eyes in death. Sad,
indeed, that that one lone star which twinkled in her skies should be
quenched! Better it had been if, two years ago, his sun had gone down in
opening day, than have so mournful a setting now. His being spared only to
be taken, seemed a cruel mocking of her grief and tears. All her hopes and
joys perished in that hour of woe. She could bear to see the barrel of meal
yielding a diminished supply--she could endure to look on an empty,
unreplenished cruse--but to gaze on that withered flower, lying cold and
lifeless in her bosom--to lose HIM, this was death indeed!
We cannot, perhaps, wonder that for a time, faith, and
patience, and submission, were tempted to give way. In the bitterness of her
bereft soul, she thus upbraids the Prophet, "O man of God, what have you
done to me? Have you come here to punish my sins by killing my son?" The
words were a cutting reflection on Elijah, as well as an insinuation against
Elijah's God. It was as if she had said, "What have I done to provoke at
your hands so terrible a calamity? Is this your recompense and requital for
my sheltering your defenseless head? In pity, I gave you welcome to my
humble roof. Have these been your answered prayers for your benefactress?
Has your God come, in this fearful retributive sense, to be the 'Judge of
the widow?' Have you come, a wolf in sheep's clothing, to slay my son?"
How striking is the contrast between this agony of her
impassioned grief and the calm composure manifested when she first
met Elijah. Then, her child's death was equally imminent, and threatened,
also, under a more terrible form. Her words on that occasion, in speaking of
partaking with him of her last morsel, were these, "That we may eat it and
die." She had familiarized herself with the approach of the last enemy--it
was the passive, silent, submission of blank despair.
Now, however, it was "sudden death"--death
unexpected--death when she was handling the full cup. It was her gourd
withering, not by a process of slow, gradual decay--drooping leaf by leaf;
but it was, as with Jonah, the luxuriant plant--entwined fresh and beauteous
around her evening bower--becoming, in a night, a mass of blighted, withered
leaves. In the words of the patriarch of Ur, "The morning was even as the
shadow of death."
Nor can we fail to admire Elijah's conduct in the
trying circumstances. We know to what course his natural character would
have impelled him. Hurt at the unkind and unjust accusation--his fiery
nature might have prompted him to retaliate. He might, with an angry word,
have answered the ungenerous suspicion breathed by that broken heart. But
there is no syllable of recrimination or resentment. He says nothing (as he
might have done) about the blessing he had been, and brought, to her
household. He makes no reference to the barrel and the cruse beside them,
the silent witnesses of God's mercy and goodness. Deeply touched at the
impressive sight of death--and, perhaps, with a tender love for the youthful
victim--he makes kind allowance for the anguish of the childless widow.
Saying, "Give me your son," he takes the cold marble
statue, the dead body, in his arms, and carries it to his own couch. In
Eastern dwellings in these times--as at the present day, there was generally
a room higher than the rest of the building, called "alliyeh," or, as
it is here translated, "loft," where strangers and guests were accommodated.
In the better class of houses, it was regarded as the place of honor. To
this upper room, Elijah bears the lifeless child. That quiet chamber echoes
to the voice of impassioned prayer. The Prophet, though he had hid and
controlled his feelings before the sorrowing mother, evidently felt keenly
the severity of the blow. He dreaded lest the dealings of his God might be
misjudged by that crushed mourner, and "he cried unto the Lord, and said, O
Lord my God, have You also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn,
by slaying her son?"
Laying the corpse upon the bed, he stretched himself upon
it--not for the purpose of imparting, as some have thought, natural warmth
to revive and quicken the dormant physical energies--but rather, it would
seem, to communicate the quickening power of God. He knew that He who had
"brought the evil" could alone remove it. Three times, as he overlaid the
dead body, did the importunate cry ascend, "O Lord, my God, I beg you let
this child's life come into him again!"
The prayer is heard--the limbs begin to move--the eye
dilates--the pulse beats. Back comes the departed spirit. "The Prophet of
Fire" has rekindled the cold ashes on this desolated hearth; and carrying in
his arms the living trophy of God's goodness, he hushes the sobs of the
mother with the joyful announcement--"See, your son lives!" Her tears
are dried. Her murmurings cease. Her faith in Israel's Jehovah is confirmed.
"Now"--is the utterance of her bounding heart--"by this I know that you are
a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth."
From this touching and suggestive episode in the
Prophet's history, we may gather, as one out of many PRACTICAL LESSONS, that
bereavement is not necessarily a Divine judgment on account of any
special sin. The widow, in the first moments of her grief, as she
sat with her dead son upon her lap--the hot tears coursing down her
cheek--was led to form the hasty conclusion, that God had sent her this
heavy chastisement as a rebuke and retribution for some previous
transgression. "O man of God, what have you done to me? Have you come here
to punish my sins by killing my son?"
Many, we know, in the season of bereavement are apt to
draw a similar unwarranted deduction--saying to themselves what Job's
unfeeling friends reproachfully addressed to him, as they pointed to the
miserable bed of dust and ashes on which he lay--"Such, surely, are the
dwellings of the wicked; and this is the place of him that knows not God."
But we may thus often misinterpret the reason and motive of the Divine
dealings. Our Lord, in one of His great miracles--curing the blind man
at the temple gate--declared emphatically, in opposition to the false and
gratuitous assumption of the Pharisees, that it was in consequence of no sin
either of the sufferer or his parents that he had been doomed to grope his
way in darkness at noontide, but "that the works of God might be made
manifest in him." Let us not, therefore, hastily surmise when God at times
sees fit to empty the chairs and hush the loved voices of our households,
that some specific sin must have evoked that special judgment and drawn
forth the arrow from the Almighty's quiver. At the very moment when the
darkness of death was shadowing the home of Bethany, "Jesus," we read,
"loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus."
We may farther learn from the incident we have been
considering, that no amount of good works, or of active service in the
cause of God, will exempt us from trial. This widow had rendered the
greatest benefit which the Church of Christ at that age could receive, by
affording shelter to its most valued servant and defender, the great Prophet
of Heaven. Yet she was smitten. Her generous pity and kindness to God's
ambassador could not shield her from the assaults of trial! It becomes us,
whatever be the Divine dealings, never to ask with the voice of complaint
and querulous upbraiding, "If the Lord is with us, why has all this befallen
No good deeds or lofty virtues or self-denying services,
will purchase for us immunity from His righteous ordination, that through
much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom. Whatever be our lot or
portion, be it ours to "rejoice with trembling." The vessel best manned and
equipped may strike on the sunken rock, as well as the crudest and most
unseaworthy craft. No, God's most favored saints are often put in the
foremost ranks of chastisement. Upon the most fruit-bearing trees of His
garden He often uses His pruning-knife. Trial, in its varied forms, has ever
been employed by Him as a powerful means of leading to deeper convictions of
sin, as well as a salutary quickener of spiritual graces. He knows what
discipline is best fitted to draw the soul to Himself; and often does He
show that none is so effectual as that which was employed in this home at
Zarephath--snapping the ties which bind us to the creature--disuniting us
from earthly to bind us to heavenly things. How many can tell--"I date my
first deep sense of sin--my first lively apprehension of Christ and of
Divine realities--to the hour when my dwelling was rifled of its cherished
treasures. I would have been to this moment sunk in the sleep of death, had
He not roused me from my perilous dream, and taken husband or wife, brother
or sister or child!"
This, however, reminds us of the deep mystery there
is in many of God's providential dispensations. Amid all the homes
of that region, who would have expected that the one to be so terribly
smitten, was that which had, for two years, kindly screened the head of the
exiled Prophet of Israel. Surely, we might think, if there be one dwelling
more than another secure from the assaults of the dread invader, it will be
that of the widow of Sarepta, and of the hope and solace of her declining
years, who, if spared, might be spared to be an honored instrument in the
defense and maintenance of the true religion. And yet, behold, the desire of
her eyes and the delight of her heart taken away by a stroke!
How often are we baffled and confounded by similar
dealings--useless lives spared, and useful lives taken. Decayed
scaffoldings, crumbling props remaining--and the strong and vigorous, the
virtuous and useful, swept down in a moment! There is no present 'key' to
these dark dispensations. Many a weeping eye cannot read them through
blinding tears. But the day is coming when we shall read them--when they
shall be luminous with love. Earth may not, as in the case of the widow of
Phoenicia, give us back our dead--no prophet's voice can reanimate the
silent ashes--no anguish of prayer recall the winged spirit. But we joyfully
believe the day is coming when we shall write under every mystic providence,
"He has done all things well."
Yes, bereaved ones, you shall no more weep over early
graves, when you yourselves pass upwards to the realms of glory, and hear
from your loved ones as they are waiting to greet you at the door of heaven,
that by an early death they were "taken away from the evil to come."
Meanwhile let us rejoice, like Elijah, in the assurance, that "the Lord
reigns"--that all bereavements and chastisements are His appointments--"You"
(the Prophet says, addressing his God in prayer)--"YOU" (the living
Jehovah) "have brought this evil." Oh comforting thought! enough to
dry all tears and silence all murmurings--"Is there evil in the city," in
the cottage, in the palace--is there evil which blights some unknown poor
man's dwelling--is there evil which clothes a nation in mourning, "and
the Lord has not done it?"
The narrative farther exhibits, what we have already had
occasion to note in the Prophet's life, and to which we shall have frequent
cause to revert--the energy and power of prayer. Not when he
supplicates that Heaven should seal up its rains and dews from a whole
nation--not when on Carmel, as we shall find him before long, invoking
judgement on Baal and his priests--is his prayer more earnest than now, in
this lowly dwelling, when not the lives of thousands, but the life of one
little child, is the subject of his intercession.
He seems, indeed, to have felt personally deeply moved
under this sudden bereavement. The strong, heroic, brave man could bear with
equanimity any ills affecting himself, but he was stung to the quick under
the imputation of his benefactress. He could not brook the allegation of
bringing evil on the home of one who had opened her door to a friendless
stranger. His prayer is an urgent appeal to God--(we had almost said a bold
remonstrance)--as a just and merciful and righteous Being. "It cannot be,
Lord," he seems to say; "You can not allow this reproach to descend on me
and on Your great Name! You, who have made the widow's cause Your own, oh,
do not thus recompense her kindness to me! Let not this heathen woman say,
as she points to her childless home and buried treasure, 'Where is now your
We can imagine the Tishbite pacing up and down his little
chamber in importunate, impassioned prayer--but yet with no doubt as to the
result of his intercession. It was a mighty demand, indeed, for a mortal to
make, a request that had no previous parallel in praying lips. It was
nothing short of this, that unassailable Death be stormed in his own
strongholds--that the iron crown be plucked from the head of the King of
terrors. When Elijah does manifest faith, it is always of the noblest
type. He would doubtless now revert to his life-motto--the first utterance
of his prophetic mission--"Jehovah lives." Confiding in the "El Shaddai,"
he feels confident that He who gave him his brook at Cherith, will
restore this more sacred living brook which had been so suddenly dried in
its earthly channel. Strong in faith, giving glory to God, he proceeds to
the couch where the lifeless child lay, and to the act of awakening. Once
more he stands before us as delineated by James, "the righteous man,"
bearing the glorious testimony as to the "availing"--the "much
availing power"--of "effectual fervent prayer!"
Finally, we have here a glimpse given us of the
doctrine of the Resurrection. This was a truth dimly unfolded in Old
Testament times. Its full revelation was reserved for Him who, under a more
glorious economy, "abolished death, and brought life and immortality to
light." As the gladdening words sounded in the mother's ears, "See, your
son lives!" not only was that widow herself taught that the God of
Elijah had a power which no Baal ever had, in imparting life to the still
ashes--reanimating the cold clay, and putting light into the rayless eyes;
but it was a parable to the Jewish Church of that great gospel disclosure,
that there is a day coming "when all that are in their graves shall hear the
voice of the Son of God, and those who hear shall live."
No, more--from the fact which is expressly recorded in
the inspired narrative, that Elijah brought down the living child from the
upper chamber into the house, "and delivered him to his mother," we have the
precious thought suggested, under a significant figure, that in that
glorious resurrection-morning friends will be reunited to friends--there
will be undying reunions of the departed in the Church of the
glorified--mothers restored to the embrace of children, and lost little ones
given back to their parents! How will the happiness of that day of complete
triumph be augmented and enhanced, as death-divided relatives, re-linked in
bonds of purified earthly affection and love, will be able to exclaim to one
another, See, my son! my parent! my brother! my long-lost one!--see, HE