1 Kings 17:8-16
Trust and obedience -- committing ones self to the Lord and to his word ... this is the key to discovering the truth of God's promise and God's providence.
Here is God's crazy arithmetic ... that more is given by the very act of being given away!
God's Crazy Arithmetic
(Give it -- there will be more to give)
1 Kings 17:8-16
Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah, "Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you." So he arose and went to Zarephath: and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks; and he called to hear and said, "Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink." And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, "Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand."
And she said, "As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar and a little oil in a cruse; and now, I am gathering a couple of sticks, that I may go in a prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die." And Elijah said to her, "Fear not; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make for yourself and your son."
For thus says the Lord the God of Israel, "The jar of meal shall not be spent, and the cruse of oil shall not fail, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth."
And she went and did as Elijah said; and she, and he, and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not spent, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord which he spoke to Elijah.
"As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word."
Thus spoke the prophet Elijah to Ahab, the most evil and corrupt king ever to rule over Israel.
When Elijah had finished speaking, God sent him into the desert, east of Jordan, to camp by the brook Cherith. Elijah drank from the brook. Each morning and evening, God sent ravens to Elijah, bearing bread and meat. Now, almost a full year later, the brook from which Elijah has been drinking is completely dried up by the drought.
It is then that the word of the Lord comes to Elijah, "Arise, go to Zarephath which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. I have commanded a widow there to feed you." So Elijah rose and went to Zarephath.
The Lord said "go' and Elijah rose and went.
Now before you say, "Of course Elijah went; he had that command from the Lord." But from your own experience, you know it's not all that simple, or easy, don't you?
See, for almost a year, now, God has personally been taking care of Elijah; and Elijah has been in his own country, among his own people. Now comes this word from the Lord, saying, "Elijah, I'm turning your entire life and well-being over to this unknown widow in this unknown land."
Easy? Not on your life! For a full year, Elijah has had God personally taking care of him. And now Elijah's whole life is entrusted to an unknown widow in an unknown land.
No, it is never easy. There are always unanswered questions; there are always unlit corners; there are always some uncertainties. What it comes down to, ultimately, is a matter of trust. We are always being asked to commit ourselves into the Lord's hands and take the first step. Very seldom is it all laid out for us in minute detail; very seldom is it in clear, a-b-c order. There is always "new territory." There is always "the other country." there is always "the stranger."
But, there is always this, too -- that God has never been unfaithful; God has never forsaken us; God has never shoved us out on our own or abandoned us. God has never asked us to go beyond our capabilities.
God may command us to a strange country or a new experience, or an unfamiliar territory. But God always goes with us; God always stands beside us; God always takes care of us; God always sees us through.
That is not to say that we will be free from strife, or that everything will be roses and sunshine, just because we are about the business of obeying and doing what the Lord has bid us do.
Elijah was told that a widow would take of him and feed him. Well and good. Then, just as in Jesus' day, there were widows who could well afford to take care of such a person and his need, widows whose resources could absorb this additional expense and labor with no strain at all.
But when Elijah came to Zarephath and found the widow into whose hands God had committed him, she was gathering sticks. Catch that ... she was gathering sticks -- not a servant of hers. Notice, too -- she was gathering sticks! -- because she did not even have fuel at home.
Nor was that the whole story. The worst was yet to fall on Elijah's ears. Those few sticks were going to make a small fire for cooking the very last meal this widow and her son were ever to eat -- a meal so skimpy it will not keep her and her son alive.
"I have only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a cruse; enough for one meager meal for myself and my son to share before we die."
That is what confronted Elijah when he did according to the word from the Lord.
Nevertheless, because it was the word from the Lord; because Elijah knew God was absolutely true to his word ... in the face of all this contradiction and though the evidence was stacked up against him, Elijah declared with complete confidence, "Fear not ... for thus says the Lord the God of Israel, 'the jar of meal shall not be spent, and the cruse of oil shall not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain up on the earth.'"
There it is, as it always is: the utter assurance that the Lord will, indeed, and in truth, perform that which he declares in his word. The living God always accomplishes that which he promises and purposes ... always ... with such consistency, with such certainty, with such unfailing fidelity, that you can live your life, your being, your very soul with absolute confidence.
How God may do it, you may not always or ever know -- but that God will do it is beyond any question or doubt.
At the risk of sounding trite or repetitive, let me just call your attention to the very significant truth that not only leaps right up here but keeps popping up again and again throughout the Old Testament, throughout the New Testament and throughout human history and experience: that trusting, being obedient and committing oneself to the Lord and to his word is the key to discovering the truth of God's promise and God's providence.
For some further insights, let's put the shoe on the other foot -- let's consider this whole episode from the point of view of the widow.
Whether it was because of the drought or some other circumstance we are not told. But we certainly can see that this woman was in dire straits. Slowly but surely, whatever measure of meal and oil she had to begin with was all used up. At this moment, she only has enough for one last bit of bread before she and her son perish. She is down to her last crumbs of meal; she is down to her last drops of oil.
And out of the desert comes this foreign stranger, asking that every last bit of it be prepared and given to him. This is her reply -- and let me try to put it into the vernacular: "Brother, if it's something to eat you're looking for, you're really barking up the wrong tree. I'm down to my last crust of bread -- if you can even call it that. What little I do have won't even keep me and my son alive. It is only a matter of hours before we're dead and gone."
And in the face of that, there comes this astounding reply from the man who stands before her: "Thus says the Lord the God of Israel, you fix that little bit and give it to this man to eat and, for as long as you do, there will always be meal in your jar and oil in your cruse. It will never run out; you will always have more -- and you will always have enough."
Now, listen to this: She went and did as Elijah said.
Doesn't that just blow your mind? All she had was this stranger's testimony to God's performance; all she had was his witness, and a promise he said she had from God. That's all she had -- this stranger's witness. But on the strength of that witness, she took the leap of faith -- she went and did as Elijah said.
Two important observations: First, the occasions when God personally and directly confronts and converts an individual are extremely rare. The normal channel by which God confronts and converts are what we see here -- the testimony, the witness, the conduct and conversation of one who is a child of God and a servant of God.
Our Lord has said to you and to me, "You shall be my witnesses." You and I are among those whom God has chosen and sent to be God's revealers and testifiers today. The hand of the Lord is upon you and me to speak and to act on behalf of God, just as was true with Elijah.
You couldn't ask for any more glorious purpose for your life than this --to be God's agent and God's spokesperson -- and that you are!
The second observation is this: the word of God is power, power that can overcome doubt and fear; power that can overcome unbelief; power that can melt down cold and stubborn hearts.
It is that kind of word -- and that kind of power -- that the Lord has entrusted to you and to me. There is no reason to be timid and shy about speaking that word and sharing that word. There is every reason why we should speak that word of the Lord with boldness and courage. It is God's promise that God's word never returns to him void. God's word always accomplishers that which God purposes. All you and I have to do, all we are asked to do, is to faithfully and diligently speak and share that good word of the Lord.
Finally, let us consider together what I choose to refer to as "God's crazy arithmetic." Here it is: "She went and did as Elijah said; and she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not spent, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord."
There is one classic example of God's crazy arithmetic -- that the meal and the oil are not preserved or maintained by holding them back, but are actually multiplied by being spent and used for the sake of someone else and their needs. Here is God's crazy arithmetic -- that more is given by the very act of being given away!
Would you like to know what is the basic secret here? Would you like to know the key to this kind of crazy arithmetic? It's right there in the 13th verse: "Don't be afraid; go right ahead and do as you have said" (that is, fix the meal for you and your son). "But first, make me a little cake, and afterward make for you and your son."
Thereis the secret to God's crazy arithmetic: "First bake me a little cake and bring it to me, and afterward make one for yourself and for your son."
Now, if you'd like to hear that again -- and straight out of the mouth of God -- listen to this word of the Lord from the third chapter of Malachi: "Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house; and thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open for you the floodgates of heaven and pour out for you an overflowing blessing."
See? There it is again: "First bake me a little cake of it and bring it to me and afterward make one for yourself and for your son."
God gets the first fruits, then provide for you and your household. The kingdom of God is first, then comes you and your household. The Lord's treasure comes off the top, then comes your personal accounts.
"Bring your tithes and your offerings to me, says the Lord, then see if I will not open the floodgates of heaven for you and pour out for you."
First ... for God ... bring it to the Lord ... then be assured that the jar of meal will not be spent and the cruse of oil will not fail.
The truth is, it is not God's arithmetic that is crazy, it is ours. It is not God's system that needs to be revised, it is ours. It is not God's priorities that need to be examined and revised, it is ours.
"Put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour our for you an overflowing blessing."
Go and do what God says.
Do it and this will be the story of your life as well, that "the jar of meal was not spent, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord which he spoke to Elijah."
For more sermons by George Hayes, click on First You'd Better Buy a Semi and Eight Other Stewardship Sermons
Ordained in 1951, George Haynes is a mission developer for Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Rockport, Texas. He is an ELCA Stewardship key leader.