TODAY’S READING: 1 Kings 17–19
Prophets were God’s incessant vocal reminders to His people of the meta-narrative: God will be Israel’s God; He will live among them and bless them; and Israel will be His holy missionary people, a joyful demonstration of how good Jehovah is that all the world might be attracted and join the family. This is the main plot of history as recorded in the Bible, and whenever God’s people lost the plot, the prophets said and did dramatic things to yank attention back to the big idea.
Elijah is a powerful illustration of God’s missionary passion. How blind we have become to God’s incessant revelation of His heart for all nations all through the Scriptures. Just look at what the Bible blatantly points out about Elijah: First, God hid him in Jordan (1 Kings 17:3); then God sent him to Lebanon (v. 9); then God revealed Himself to him in Saudi Arabia (19:8); and then God trotted him up to Syria (v. 15). God constantly commissioned him to the nations, and when Elijah was home, it was to demonstrate that God is superior to all the false gods of all the nations around.
Power encounters are intended to prove that Jehovah is God of all the nations and therefore must be worshiped by all peoples. The priests of Baal sometimes manipulated idols with hidden ropes to awe the unsuspecting. Elijah took the showdown to remove any doubt of manipulation. Priests and prophets of Baal and Asherah worked themselves into a tizzy. “But there was no voice, no one answered, no one paid attention” until the God of Israel answered by fire (vv. 24–38). Elijah made sure that all who watched understood the missionary message. Right before the fire fell, he made known that the God of fire was the God of Abraham (v. 36), the one through whom God promised to bless all the people groups of the earth. Elijah wanted the people of God to remember that to turn their hearts back to God again is to turn their eyes to the nations (v. 37).
Power encounters in the earth are not just for public awe; they are also for private conviction. When Elijah was hosted in Lebanon, the widow’s son died, and when God raised the dead in a humble upper room, the reaction of this gentile mother was, “Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord [Jehovah] in your mouth is the truth” (17:24). The missionary message found fertile ground, and the God of Israel accepted a Lebanese widow into the family.
The poor Lebanese widow was ironically from the same country as uptown Jezebel. Jezebel came from Sidon, the Phoenician capital that was much more advanced than hick Israel. Jezebel brought with her culture, style, panache, and a cosmopolitan confidence that swayed the common people and swept them into seductive idolatry. It’s interesting that a private power encounter saw one poor Lebanese woman soften and a public showdown hardened one rich lady of Lebanon. Let’s not put all our hopes in the basket of public vindication. Let’s remember that the God who answered by fire was not in the wind, earthquake or fire, but in the still small voice (19:11–12).
There is one more critical missionary lesson from our reading and that is the importance of giving to missions from our lack, not just from our abundance. Missionary Elijah is in Lebanon where he asked for support from the poor widow. She didn’t know how she or her little boy could survive, much less support a missionary, but the missionary had the audacity to say: “Don’t fear. Give to missions sacrificially first, and afterward take care of yourself and your son” (see 17:13). She did according to the word of the missionary, and “the bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the Lord [Jehovah]” (vv. 15–16). Evidently, no one is too poor to be exempted from missions giving. Just as evidently, God so loves it when we give to missions sacrificially that when we do, He guarantees our basic needs. The joys of giving from our need to God’s passionate global redemption plan lead to the joys of His blessing and unending provision.