“God’s Provision in Desperate Places”
Guest Preacher: Alexis Garrett
April 7th 2019
1 Kings 17:8-26
It’s so good to see you all this morning! Thank you, Pastor Galen, for inviting me to speak with you all today!
So I was born in here Baltimore and lived in the city until I was about 7 years old, before my parents moved my siblings and I to a small city called Havre de Grace in Harford County. Now my family grew up fairly middle class, as my dad owns his own plumbing and HVAC business along with my two uncles and has been in that business for about 25 years. I also come from a Christian family and my older sister, younger brother and I grew up attending church. So, my parents firmly believed and always taught us that God takes care and provides for us; even in hard situations. Well, that belief was put to the test in 2008.
Now I’m sure most of you know about the recession that happened in 2008. The housing market and stock market had crashed and was making a devastating impact on jobs and families. Over 8.4 million people lost their jobs, and small business suffered immensely. My family was included in that number. Business had started to become scarce. People were not buying or fixing up property, which caused a decline in the number of clients that were contacting my dad for work. Money was barely coming in and every week it was getting harder and harder to pay the bills. Life was changing quickly around me.
Though I had no financial responsibility, I felt the effects within my family. For example, we had stopped eating out at restaurants. Lights had to stay off in the house, so the electric bill would not be run up. We took our clothes to the laundry mat to avoid using water that would run up the water bill. We did anything to cut costs in the house. Things had gotten so bad that my parents could no longer afford to pay our health insurance. But the worst was that they were struggling to pay the mortgage on the house. If my parents couldn’t pay the mortgage, we would soon lose our home; my parents losing everything that they had worked so hard for. We were at a point of despair, and we were in a desperate, and dire situation.
My experience reminds me of a story in the Old Testament found in 1 Kings 17:8-16. This story centers around a prophet named Elijah. Now Elijah was a pretty powerful guy, and God had enabled him to do many miracles. As a prophet, Elijah’s role was to act as God’s messenger or mouth piece to share God’s message with the people of Israel. You can imagine how tough of a job that may be.
During this time, the kingdom of Israel operated as a monarchy. Israel had a history of Kings that chose to turn away from the laws that God had put in place and chose to follow other gods, putting up idols to worship and serve instead of Yahweh the God of Israel.
The king in power during Elijah’s life was king Ahab. He also turned away from God to serve an idol named Baal. King Ahab married a woman named Jezebel who was the daughter of a priest who served Baal. Baal was considered the god of the heavens, sky, and of fertility. Fertility meant Baal would create and sustain thriving agriculture for the people. Because Ahab had turned away from God to serve Baal, Elijah pronounced a judgement that God was going to shut up heaven so that it would not rain for 3 and a half years. Choosing to withhold rain demonstrated that the God of Israel has power over what should have been under Baal’s jurisdiction. It served as a testimony that if Baal truly was God, he would have been able to make it rain once again.
We now come to the passage in 1 King’s 17. The drought was in full effect, so God had provided a place for Elijah to receive food and water from a town called Cherith, which was east of the Jordan River. As a result of the drought, the spring dried up, so God instructed Elijah to head to Zarephath where he meets a widow:
SCRIPTURE: 1 KINGS 17:8-26.
8 Then the word of the Lord came to him: 9 “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” 10 So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”
12 “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”
13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 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 sends rain on the land.’”
15 She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So, there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 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.
So, what’s going on here? Elijah meets a widowed woman in the town of Zarephath. Zarephath was a town in the Region of Sidon which was located along the Mediterranean (This is near Modern Day Lebanon). The two major exports in Zarephath were grain and oil. This drought made it impossible to grow crops and produce the oil needed to keep the economy going and people fed resulting in famine throughout the land.
By the time Elijah meets this widow, all of her resources had been exhausted with only a little left to sustain her and her son. She had reached her end. This was essentially her last meal before she accepted the reality of starvation. Can you imagine how she felt in that moment? To have barely enough left for her and her child and then to have this complete stranger ask her for water, THEN turn around and ask for bread?
But something in Elijah’s response makes her react. “Do not be afraid,” Elijah says.
Now this woman had every reason in the book to be afraid. She was prepared to eat her last meal and now she’s being asked to take what little she had a give it to a stranger. I wonder if Elijah’ next response compelled her: 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 Lord sends the rain on the land.” With nothing else to lose, she may have been thinking, “well, let me just try it.” She could have simply refused Elijah after his request, but she made the decision to take the risk and trust this man, and this mans God.
I mentioned earlier about my family’s financial crisis. The recession only lasted 2 years but its effects lasted about 3-4 years for my family. My parents still could not afford to pay the for-household expenses, and a few years into the recession I was heading off to college to attend Loyola University. We too were in a place of desperation. After receiving all I could from financial aid, there was no way I could continue to pay the remaining tuition to continue attending this school. My parents were at a place of desperation. God saw the situation we were in and through the graciousness and sacrificial giving of my extended family, they paid many of our household expenses for multiple years. My grandparents, aunt and uncle put their money together every month and helped my parents pay the mortgage, groceries and part of my tuition every year until I graduated.
If it was not for God’s provision through my family, we would not still be in our home, and I would not have graduated from Loyola. Though the circumstances of the situations are different, God provided for my family like he did for the widow.
But not only did God provide food for the widow, He did it in the form of a miracle. The same jar of flour and oil was used every day until God sent the rain. Can you imagine her astonishment? For three years she prepared meals from that same amount of flour and oil and every single day she came back and there was still enough oil and flour for her to feed her family! There was a continual assurance of provision in God’s promise. Even in the midst of scarcity surrounding them Elijah, the widow, her son, and her family had their needs met by God.
I think sometimes the image of the God we see in the Old Testament is depicted as different than the God of the New Testament. And I get that. Often in the Old testament we perceive Him as a wrathful, angry, and unmerciful God that allows suffering, whereas the God we see in the New Testament in the person of Jesus is kind, merciful, forgiving, loving and full of grace.
Though we see plenty of examples of Jesus providing for those in need, we see that that happening in the Old Testament too. The same God whom through Jesus, fed 4000 people off a few fish and loaves of bread, is the same God who saw a woman in a state of despair and desperation and sent Elijah to provide food that would not run out until it rained three years later. This is also the same God that provided Manna from heaven daily to feed the people of Israel while they were living in the desert. This is the same God who used my extended family to financially carry my family until we could reach stability once more. God sees the places in our lives that we need for Him to provide. The places we share with others and the ones that no one else knows about.
What about you? Where are areas of desperation in your life that you need God to intervene and step in? What are those places that leave you at a point of despair? Maybe it’s a situation in your family that just seems impossible to solve, or a financial situation much like what I went through. or maybe you just want God to help you in the time you spend with Him. What would it look like for you to trust God with those areas of desperation? Like the widow chose to trust the God’s promise and give the last bit of oil and flour that she had, whatever your worry may be, I want to invite you to bring that to God. He sees the places of desperation in our lives and longs to intervene. He longs to carry that burden, to ease our fears, and to provide what we need.