ELIJAH, NO. 2
T. Pierce Brown
This is the second in a series of articles about Elijah and lessons we may draw from a study of the episodes in and after 1 Kings 17. God had told him to hide by the brook Cherith, but the brook eventually dried up. Most of us probably would have become anxious and worn out long before the brook was dry and would start in some direction to find and do something. “Our singing has dried up. Why do we not help it with a fiddle?” “Our mission work has dried up. Why not start a missionary society?” “Our worship in general has dried up. Why not spice it up with a chorus or show of some kind?”
We need to be aware that in following God’s direction, when one door closes, God will open another, but it can be found only by listening to him. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 16:9, “A great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.” Sometimes God closes the door, as in Acts 16:6. They were “forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word inAsia.” Then they tried to go intoBithynia, but the Spirit suffered them not (Acts 16:7). Sometimes Satan hinders. 1 Thessalonians 2:18, “Wherefore we would have come unto you — but Satan hindered us.” It may be frustrating not to know whether God closes the door, or Satan hinders, but it really does not matter in terms of how we should react, for God can open other doors and overrule for good whatever the hindrance may be. I could recount many personal experiences where it seems evident now that one door was opened for me as another was closed. A marvelous thing in my case is that God seems able to let me work through two doors or more simultaneously. I had over 1000 Bible students inAfricawhen I began to donate my time to travel for the ONE NATION UNDER GOD program. Instead of closing that door, I now have about 3000 and yet have traveled about 25,000 miles speaking for the program to get the gospel to this nation.
It is instructive to note where God now sent Elijah after the brook dried up. He said, “Arise get thee to Zarapeth which belongeth to Zidon.” It was outside thelandofCanaan. This may have surprised Elijah, but he went. When a prophet is not accepted in his own country, God may send him to another. Elisha went to Naaman. Jonah went toNineveh. Paul turned to the Gentiles. It was hard to reach Zarephath. He had to go 100 miles through the heart of a barren country with no water, but he went. He was sustained by a widow who belonged to the same heathen race as did Jezebel, who was idolatrous and exceedingly wicked. It may not have made any sense to him, and may have been against every natural inclination of Elijah, but he went. He could not have guessed, had God not revealed it to him, that this widow had been commanded of God to sustain him.
There is an interesting lesson found in 1 Kings 17:13. Elisha said, “Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me a little cake first and bring it unto me and after make for thee and for thy son.” The lesson I am suggesting is important for a gospel preacher or personal evangelist. You have to be fed first. That is, you cannot teach what you do not know. You cannot lead where you do not go. Have you ever gone into a restaurant and wondered if those who serve there eat what they serve you? Also, you may have wondered when they eat. It is important if they are going to be serving people constantly during the day that they are fed first. My point here is that when you are feeding the bread of life, you first need to eat and drink deeply. There are at least three reasons for this, besides the ones I have mentioned above. You need it for your strength. One reason for preacher and personal evangelist burn out is that they did not have enough oil in their lamps to start. You need to eat first so you can know what the other person needs and have it available to give him. You need to do it for the sake of your influence. If the person to whom you are preaching or teaching perceives you have no depth or breadth of knowledge of God’s word, they lose incentive to listen.
There are other things the Bible suggest concerning when a Christian should say, “Me first.” If a person wants to be reconciled to God, but has problems with his brother, he should say in terms of Mark 5:24, “Let me first be reconciled to my brother.” When a person sees in his brother faults that needs to be corrected, Luke6:42suggests that he should say, “Let me first cast the beam out of my own eye, so that I can see more clearly to cast the mote out of my brother’s eye.” In 2 Corinthians 8:5, we find the idea suggested that before we offer any service or act of worship, we need to say, “I will give myself first.”
Many years ago I made a decision that when I was preaching, and for some reason thought I should ask a group or person to increase their contribution by 10%, I would first increase mine by 20%. If I asked the members to visitor invite 5 persons to a church service, I would invite 10. The principle of “Me first” not only means that the one who feeds should first be fed, but that the one who leads should first be led by the Lord. It involves our determination not only to preach what they should practice, but practice what we preach.
It is thrilling to note the widow’s obedience and result of it, and what the example might mean to us. “She went and did according to the saying of Elijah” (v. 14-15). She believed his word, took what was about her last handful of meal and gave it away. There was no precedent or example of such that could be shown her, but she acted in faith. Faith without works is always dead. Faith that works according to the word of God is always rewarded. “The barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruise of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord” (1 Kings17:16). It may have always been at the bottom of the barrel, but it was there and in a sufficient amount.
I could tell you many personal stories of God’s providential care that seem almost miraculous, similar to those recounted by brother James A. Harding, but if you do not believe Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:33 and Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 9:8-11 then you would not be persuaded though one rose from the dead. Still, I would like to urge you to try at least once in your life to take God at his word (I started to say, “Put God to the test” but that might imply a trial or tempting him that would be wrong) and make a sacrifice for some worthwhile cause that touches your heartstrings. There is no doubt in my mind that in every such case God will “do exceedingly abundantly above all that you can ask or think” (Ephesians3:20).