Famine Faith (1 Kings 17:7-16)
My mother is a woman of faith. I don’t remember a time when we three boys weren’t drug to church. It didn’t matter what was going on we boys knew where we’d be Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night—it wasn’t up for discussion.
Something else that wasn’t up for discussion was the way we boys were going to act in church. There wasn’t going to be any misbehavior, and if there were, Mom would take her long fingernails and pinch us on the underside of our arms—in that tender flesh—until her nails met under our skin. That was motivation to act right!
When I was a teenager, Dad started a version of Kingdom Kids. Mom and I did the puppets. I have some very special memories of Mom and me crouched down behind our little puppet stage teaching children about Jesus.
As I’ve grown up, moved away from home, and raised a family of my own, I’ve seen my mother’s faith in a new light. The night of her mother’s funeral, my brother Aaron—the middle boy—was rushed to the hospital with a heart issue. It turned out to be a benign heart issue, but we had no way of knowing that then. I drove Mom the half hour or so home, and all the way, she sang “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me” over and over. I will never forget the faith that simple acted demonstrated.
I haven’t yet been blessed to talk with most of you about your mothers, but I’m confident that the overwhelming majority of you could talk positively about your mothers’ faith. Your presence this morning testifies to the faithfulness of your mothers. The vast majority of you were drug to church by your mommas or you heard your momma singing hymns or you overheard your momma praying or saw your momma reading her Bible or had your momma as your Bible class teacher.
This morning’s passage is about a mother who demonstrated unbelievable faith. Because of Ahab’s worship of Baal, Elijah told that wicked king, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word” (1 Ki 17:1). The resulting famine spread throughout the Middle East, and God sent Elijah to Zarephath where the prophet encountered a widowed mother with great faith.
This mother lived in the heart of Baal’s territory, and the Lord God would demonstrate that Baal doesn’t have the power to feed people—that power belongs exclusively to the God of Israel. Elijah saw this woman, and he asked her to make him a cake with oil, a staple of the Middle Eastern diet. The woman can’t do that, she said—she only had enough flour and oil to make one meal; she and her son were going to eat it and then die.
Elijah told the widow to go home and bake him a cake before she prepared anything for her son and herself. If she did, the flour would not run out nor would the jug run dry until the famine ended. The poor mother did what Elijah asked, and true to the word of the LORD, she never used up that jar of flour and her jug of oil never ran dry.
Talk about faith! This woman had never seen a kitchen pantry not run out during a famine. She lived in a pagan land and had not seen the miracles of the LORD. It didn’t make sense for her to make a cake for Elijah before she and her son ate, but she did it. And she demonstrated to us: “Faith obeys God in spite of what you see.”
This woman went against everything she had seen when she made that cake for Elijah. Noah went against everything he had seen when he built an ark in the middle of nowhere and expected it to rain. Abraham went against everything he had seen when he believed he and Sarah would have a son in their old age. Moses went against everything he had seen when he lifted up his staff to part the Red Sea. Joshua went against everything he had seen when he marched around the walls of Jericho and expected to conquer the city. The early church went against everything they had seen when they prayed for Peter’s release from prison when he was awaiting execution.
Today “Faith obeys God in spite of what you see.” It goes against what you can see when you give generously to the church when you have other uses for those funds. It goes against what you can see to bring your kids to Wednesday night Bible study when they have sports and homework. It goes against what you can see to believe that immersion in water is necessary for salvation. It goes against what you can see to believe praying to an unseen God in heaven has power to affect your life. It goes against what you can see to treat others the way you want to be treated. But true faith always obeys God in spite of what you can see.
Let’s explore the example of one mother who teaches us that “Faith obeys God in spite of what you see.”
Scripture (1 Kings 17:7-16)
The woman was gathering sticks for a fire at the town gate. The Hebrew verb suggests that she was foraging for discarded stubble. Because of the amount of traffic and the jostling of wagons as they entered town, the town gate was at an ideal place to find little twigs and stubble.
In normal times, what Elijah asked was very modest and almost inconsequential. However, in a time of severe famine, Elijah asked a lot.
This woman swore by the name of the LORD, using a common formula in her day. Her mention of Yahweh doesn’t mean that she was a believer—this woman would be a pagan. However, she recognized that Elijah was an Israelite, and, as was common courtesy in that day, swore by the name of his God.
Oil and flour were the major exports of Zarephath; the fact that this woman only has a handful of flour and a little oil shows just how devastating this famine has been.
Elijah told the woman to go home and to make a cake for him and then to make a cake for herself and her son. If she did as Elijah requested, the flour and oil would not run out until rain came. What Elijah asked this woman to do flies in the face of every ounce of common sense. During a famine, no mother worth her salt is going to make a stranger a cake from her last little bit of flour and oil—she’s going to take care of her son! Yet, in real biblical faith, this woman takes God at his word and obeys that word.
By acting in faith this mother saved her child’s life. Because she believed the word of the Lord and followed the word of the Lord, she was able to feed her child and herself throughout the famine.
“Faith obeys God in spite of what you see.” If you are to be a person of faith, you need to obey God in spite of what you see. How can you obey God in spite of what you see? How can you obey God when obeying God just doesn’t make sense?
One: You look to the saints of old.
So many of the saints of old obeyed God in spite of what they saw.
- Noah believed God when the Lord said it would rain and flood the earth. It had never rained before. Yet, God said it, and Noah believed.
- Abraham believed God when the Lord said that he would have a son. Abraham was an old man, and his wife was well beyond child-bearing years. Yet, God said it, and Abraham believed.
- Moses believed God when the Lord said to lift his staff and divide the Red Sea. The Egyptian army was hot in pursuit, and it seemed the Israelites would be slaughtered. Yet, God told Moses to lift his staff, Moses obeyed in faith, and the people crossed on dry land.
- Mary believed the Lord when Gabriel told her she would bear a Son while a virgin. It’s not very logical to believe a virgin will bear a Son. Yet, God said she would have a Son, and Mary believed.
- Paul was on a ship in a great hurricane—everyone on board had given up hope. Yet, God said that not a soul onboard would be lost, and Paul believed.
Throughout history, God spoke truths to his people that did not make good sense. No logical person will believe it’s going to flood the entire earth, a 90-year-old woman is going to have a baby, a huge sea is going to divide, a virgin is going to conceive, and a whole crew and passengers will survive a hurricane in a wooden ship. Yet, people believed the word of God because God spoke it.
If you want to obey God in spite of what you see, look to those who trusted God when the Lord promised the imposible. But isn’t that really the point? For us, it may be impossible. For the laws of nature, it may be impossible. But it is not impossible with our God!
This coming week take the time to read Hebrews 11. There you will find examples of saints who believed God could and would do the impossible. As you read Hebrews 11, make yourself a chart. Put three columns on your chart.
- In the first column, put what the heroes of faith did because they believed.
- In the second column, put what you honestly would have done in that situation.
- In the third column, think of ways you can increase your faith so that you can act in obedience.
Take a look at the saints of previous generations and seek to emulate their faith.
Two: Inventory your faith.
You know the important of self-examination. “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves” (2 Cor 13:5).
Take time to look at how faithful you are to the Lord Jesus:
- How faithful are you in attending the assemblies of the saints? What does your presence—or lack thereof—say about your faith?
- How is your prayer life? What does your prayer life say about your faith?
- How is your giving to the church? What does your giving say about your faith?
- How is your lifestyle? What does your morality—or lack thereof—say about your faith?
Where is your faith? How faithful are you to the Lord? Are you like the widow at Zarephath and believe the word of the Lord? Do you need to come and obey that word of the Lord like she did this morning as we stand and sing?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at Church of Christ Deer Park in Deer Park, Texas.