God is caring for Elijah during the drought He sent on Israel. He is using a widow and her son to do it. And now that son dies.
As a recap, Elijah brought a message of judgment to Ahab from the Lord. There was to be a drought in the land. This drought would not end until Elijah said so. We know that Elijah’s ‘say so’ comes at God’s request. Elijah is NOT holding the nation hostage but letting God have His perfect work.
While the drought is going on God is caring for Elijah. First it was at the brook Cherith. After the water dried up there, God sent him to Zarephath to a widow. She would care for Elijah the remaining time of the drought. He would live in her home with her and her son. And God would provide for their needs.
We join our little group some time later with today’s story. Elijah is firmly entrenched in this household. He even has his own room where he can go for quiet time on his own. Before we jump into our story there is one thing I’m wondering about. How long was the son sick? Did it come on suddenly or over time? Did the mother ask for Elijah’s help earlier on? Did Elijah volunteer to help when the illness wasn’t as severe? If his illness did develop over time, did Elijah tell her he would be alright? I personally cannot imagine having access to a powerful man of God and not asking for his help for my ailing child. Is it possible that God was holding Elijah off until the right moment; the moment of greatest impact on the mother?
I know that even the most spiritual people encounter trouble and not all their prayers are answered the way they want. But I can’t see Elijah sitting around while this child suffers a long drawn out illness. I believe he would have appealed to God before the child’s death. So I’m going with a sudden illness for my story. I’m not saying this is how it HAD to be but, for my own heart as a mother, I’m sparing my child from suffering and my faith from being torn in two. So let’s join our story and see where the Spirit takes us.
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Every morning Elijah joined mother and son at the table. They would talk over what their plans were for the day as they ate breakfast. More than a year had gone by since Elijah joined the household. The miracle of the oil and flour was still happening. It had become commonplace. In the beginning the widow would look at the level of her ingredients each time and marvel at the fact that they didn’t decrease with use. It used to take courage and faith to even dip her hand into what looked like the end of her supplies because doing so meant there would be nothing left. Now she hardly noticed. She would simply dip and pour what she needed for each meal without thought to this daily wonder. Her jars were never full but neither were they empty. They stayed the same.
The mother’s dresses no longer hung on her and her son’s frame showed healthy muscle where mere bones used to protrude. Hunger had been driven from the home but gluttony had not taken its place. Their fare was modest but sufficient. They were happy together.
Food was not the only thing that entered the home again with Elijah’s presence. The words of the Lord came with him. Elijah loved to tell the stories of the Lord. Stories of how God called Abraham. How Jacob fathered the twelve tribes. How God brought the people out of Egypt and brought them to this land. Elijah also made sure to share God’s covenant and its requirements with mother and son.
One evening while telling stories talk turned to the subject of sin and judgment for sin. Elijah and the son become very engaged in this discussion.
“But what is ‘sin’” asked the son.
“It is when we do something that displeases God by breaking His rules.”
“Does something bad happen when someone sins?”
“It can but God is gracious and He gives us an opportunity to repent, to say we are sorry, and stop doing that sin. But there is always a cost for sin. A sacrifice has to be made to pay for that sin. Because the worst thing that happens with ALL sin is that it gets in the way of the relationship between God and man.”
“Well, it would be like building a thick wall between us so we couldn’t see one another anymore. Or like having someone stand in between us and screaming so we couldn’t hear what the other person was saying.”
“So sin stops you from seeing other people or hearing them?”
“It stops you from seeing or hearing God. With sin in the way we can’t see past it or hear past it. That sin has our attention instead of God. We have to get it out of the way before we can really hear and see Him again.”
“I don’t hear God talking to me or see Him. Does that mean I have sin in the way?”
“We all have had sin in the way at one time or another. But sometimes we don’t hear God or see Him because we don’t know where to look or what we are looking for. God calls out to us in ways that we don’t always recognize. When your mother met me, God was calling out to her. He was offering her hope for both of you. And she listened. She might not have known it was God telling her to trust Him but it was.”
“I’m glad ‘sin’ wasn’t in the way then or she couldn’t have heard Him and we would have died!”
“Sometimes when a person won’t listen God sends someone else along to talk to them for him. That is what He has given me to do as my job.”
“Who do you talk to for God?”
“I talked to king Ahab. But he didn’t want to listen.”
“What did you tell him?”
“I told him that worshiping the Baal’s and Ashteroth poles make God angry. One of God’s first laws says that His people are not to worship ANY OTHER god but Him.”
“And did he listen to you?”
“No he didn’t. And that made God even angrier.”
“What did God do? Did he make the king listen? Can he make the king listen? He is the king and we are supposed to listen to him.”
“God sent this drought to make the king listen.”
“But how can he ‘listen’ to a drought? It doesn’t make any noise.”
“It does. Not the kind of noise that a dog barking or pots breaking makes but it makes its own sounds.”
“Like the sounds of hungry bellies because there is no rain to make the crops grow so there is little food. Or the crying of mothers and fathers because their children have died of hunger. Or even the desperate voices of the priests as they pray to the false gods to bring the rain.”
“I know the ‘hungry belly’ sound. I also heard my mother crying for us before you came to help us. Why don’t you help the king so he won’t hear those sounds anymore either?”
“Because the king won’t stop the sin. He is still praying to the false gods and asking them to help him. The TRUE God of Israel won’t stop the drought until Ahab stops his sin.”
“I hope he stops soon. I’m tired of the drought. I don’t like hearing my friends hungry bellies.”
“I hope he stops soon too.”
Many such talks transpired in the time Elijah spent with the widow and her son. The son was usually the one asking questions as his mother listened in while doing her work. Rarely did she enter the discussions but neither did she discourage her son from seeking wisdom from Elijah. For herself, she kept kernels of his words to ponder. She wasn’t ready to believe all Elijah said. This ‘sin’ topic was a hard one for her. She was grateful for the provision brought to her house with Elijah’s arrival and she believed it was because of his God that this miracle happened. But she wasn’t ready to believe that Elijah’s God wanted to speak to her personally or that she had some sin that was ‘in the way’ of that message.
A month or more had passed since Elijah and the son had the conversation about sin. But events this day would bring that conversation right back to the forefront of the mother’s mind and heart.
It was a hot morning as most days were lately. Spring had arrived but without the customary rains. The drought had baked the ground and it reflected back the heat to all who trod it. This morning mother and son were walking together looking for wood for the cook fire. They came across what appeared to be a rotted out log. This was a good find as pieces could be broken off of by hand and it was dry enough to burn with ease. The mother began tearing pieces off with her hands. Her son’s hands were not as strong so he used his feet to stomp sections until they broke loose.
What the pair didn’t know was that this log was home to a nest of hornets. When the son’s foot struck the log it shook the hornets. With each successive blow to the log the hornets became angrier. One final strike broke into their nest and they began pouring out in search of the offender.
Hearing the noise the boy jumped off the log and began to run. His mother was also alerted by the noise. They quickly withdrew from the area but not before the boy was stung several times by the angry hornets. The hornets stayed near their ruined nest as mother and son ran for safety. Once beyond danger they slowed down to catch their breath. They laughed about the experience as they made their way home. They had enough wood at home for another day so it wasn’t crucial that they gather more today. The mother wanted to tend to the welts developing on her son from the stings instead.
It didn’t take long for the pair to reach their home but the son was showing serious signs of distress. His welts were no longer small bumps but large swollen patches that were spreading towards one another with increasing speed. His breathing was labored and wheezing sounds were heard with every breath. Color was also draining from his face.
Once inside their home the mother quickly wet cloths to put on the growing patches of reddening skin. She used every remedy she could think of, including poultices, to help her son breathe but nothing helped. She was becoming frantic with worry as her son’s face took on an ashen gray hue where his healthy tan coloring once lay. With the draining of color came halted movements of the boy’s chest. He was not struggling to breathe any longer, for he simply wasn’t breathing at all. The mother put her cheek to her son’s mouth to feel for air movement and felt none. At that moment a cry tore from her lips.
Elijah had been nearby but had not observed mother and son returning home. He heard her cry however and quickly made his way back to the home they shared. As he was on his way the mother’s mind raced back to the conversation between her son and Elijah; the one on sin. “Surely this is the consequence of my sin! I caused his death!”
By the time Elijah reached the home the mother was sobbing over the body of her son. Elijah touched her on the shoulder and her head jerked in his direction. In anguish she cried out at him. “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” (verse 18).
Elijah’s heart broke at her words. Why would the Lord require this woman’s son from her? She had ministered to him in his time of need. And he loved the son as he would if he had come from his own loins.
In as firm a voice as he could muster he spoke to the mother. “Give me your son” (verse 19b). The mother started to refuse but she saw the determination in Elijah’s eyes. Maybe there was something he could do. He certainly couldn’t make it any worse. She nodded and then stepped away from her son’s body.
Elijah bent down and scooped up the boy from where he lay. He turned his back on the still grieving mother and made his way up the stairs to his room. He gently laid the goy down on his own bed. Tears poured from him as he looked at the still form of the child. His heart ached for the mother. She had given so much. Surely God would make this right.
Elijah’s voice was choked with grief as he called out to the Lord. “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?” (verse 20b). Without conscious thought as to the motions he was doing Elijah stretched himself out upon the child three times. Arms to arms, legs to legs, chest to chest, and head to head. Elijah’s body was larger than the child’s and his chin rested atop the boy’s head. When he lay down on the child the third time he kissed the top of his head and called out to the Lord once again. This time his cry was in faith and filled with hope instead of grief and self-recrimination. He KNEW the Lord had a purpose for this boy’s life and it wasn’t for it to end this way.
“O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again” (verse 21b).
And the Lord listened to Elijah and the boy began to breathe again. Elijah noticed him stirring beneath his own body and he quickly moved, removing his weight from the boy. It took but a moment for the boy to open his eyes and focus them on Elijah.
“I think I died father Elijah.”
“I think you did to. But you aren’t dead anymore.”
“Was it because I sinned?”
“No son, it wasn’t. It was because this world sinned and we happen to be part of it.”
“Will I die again?”
“Someday but not for a long time.”
“It wasn’t scary being dead. But I like being alive too.”
“I know someone who will like you being alive VERY much.”
“Your mother. Should we go down and see her? She is very worried about you.”
“Yes. I want to see her.”
“Let’s surprise her.”
Elijah and the boy quietly descend the stairs. The mother is in the corner of the room curled into a ball. She is rocking herself clinging to her son’s tunic. She took up this position when Elijah exited with her son. She was afraid to move lest she disturb the man of God with her son. She prayed with all she knew how while she waited.
Elijah and the boy walk to where she sits. Elijah touches her shoulder as before. She raises her head and sees her son standing before her. Elijah smiles and says “See, your son lives” (verse 23b).
The mother springs from her position and envelops her son in her arms. She draws back after several moments and takes her son’s face in her hands. She kisses him on the forehead and smiles. She then turns to Elijah. “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth” (verse 24). Never again would she listen with half an ear to his stories. She would hang on every word he said and would engage in the discussions with her son and the man God sent to them to be His voice because her sins were in the way too. And his God will become her God too, because He showed her that He loved her too.
(to be continued)
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This mother had another choice to make. She could withhold her son from Elijah and wallow in her grief or she could trust God with him. Elijah never promised her that he would restore her son to life. He didn’t tell her what he would do. He didn’t give her any promises. Whether she knew it or not, she had grown in her faith in Elijah. The daily miracle was not enough to convince her that Elijah had a direct connection to God but she had enough faith to turn loose of him and let Elijah have the one precious thing left in her life.
Sometimes it takes a LOT to get our attention. Sometimes it takes everything. I PRAY I listen BEFORE the price tag gets too high! I PRAY my children do too.
Father God, thank You for caring about EVERY aspect of my life. Thank You that You keep reaching out to me to bring me closer to You. I don’t know for sure if this mother became a follower of You and Your Laws but I would lay odds that she did. Her life was touched in AMAZING ways everyday but it took loosing what she held most dear before she could accept the whole truth. No reservations. No doubts. At least not where Elijah was concerned. I bet by now she would die in his place before ‘throwing his head over the wall.’ I would love to know what became of her and her son.