I was reading today in 1 Kings, the very familiar stories of Elijah - Elijah and the widow (ch. 17), Elijah and the prophets of Baal (ch. 18), Elijah in the cave (ch. 19). It's so familiar, I have to be honest, I was surprised that I saw a few new things in these chapters. I know I shouldn't be, God's word is living, and his Spirit is actively revealing, but I was. Here's a few things that jumped out to me this time round:
1. The widow really is an enigma. Elijah tells her to cook him a cake, which is the last of her food. Her son and her were going to eat it and get ready to die (the famine/drought was having an impact not just on wicked Ahab and Jezebel, but everyone in the land). She was told by Elijah that if she did this, her jar of flour wouldn't run out until the drought had ended. She believed Elijah and gave him the food.
Shortly after this, her son gets sick and dies. She's devastated and says to Elijah, "What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!"
Her memory is short - she and her son would have already been dead had it not been for Elijah.
Her faith which seemed so strong - she gave up the last of her food - now seems weak.
Her sin and guilt are weighing heavy on her. It's Elijah's fault, but only in the sense that he brought her sin to remembrance. It's her fault - she's the one who's sinned (in her mind).
But Elijah pleads with God and he restores the boy to life and health. The widow exclaims, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is true."
Now you know? The endless supply of flour didn't convince you? You seemed to know earlier when you cried, "What have you against me, O man of God!"
Like I said, she's an enigma. Full of faith - so much she gives up her small families last supply of food because she believes the word of God through his prophet Elijah. Weak of faith when tragedy strikes what is dear to her, her son.
How much like the widow are we? Oscillating between boldness and fear, faith and doubt.
Oh, and Elijah is the same:
450 prophets of Baal - no problem, bring em on. I mock them and their God. Jezebel - RUN!
2. Elijah and Obadiah both served the Lord. Ahab was a wicked king, the most wicked in Israel to this point - "Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him." Elijah was God's mouthpiece of judgment - he called Ahab and his pagan wife out, confronted their sin head on, took on their false prophets, proclaimed judgment. He was outside the court of the king speaking into it. Obadiah, on the other hand, was inside the court of this wicked king. He too served and feared the Lord (1 King 18:3-4, 12-13). See also Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, Nehemiah, Esther, etc.
We live in a wicked nation, under a wicked government - every nation, every government is, more or less. Certainly some will be called to be the prophetic voice that proclaim judgment. Some, on the other hand, will follow the example of Obadiah and serve God from with the fallen system. Which is harder, more dangerous? I think serving from within is probably harder. It takes wisdom, discernment, courage, patience.
Both are needed. Both are God-honoring.The tendency is deny the validity of one or the other. Those who serve God from the outside can't imagine how one could work alongside and for the benefit of pagan rulers. Those on the inside wish the prophets would shut up and stop making it harder for them. But each needs the other, each have been appointed by God for their specific task.
3. It hit me this time just how far Israel had fallen away from God. Israel had always been plagued with an unhealthy willingness to tolerate pagan deities in their midst. And, at times, Israel had fallen into syncretism - worshiping other God's alongside the Lord. This scene, however, paints a different picture. In the people's mind, there was serious doubt that the Lord was the true God. Maybe Baal was really the man in charge. Look at 1 Kings 19: 22-24 closely. Elijah's test is well known. But that the people even needed this test is stunning. Really, Baal may be the true God? Did you forget the Red Sea? Forget Jericho? Forget how God drove out all the Baal worshipers from before you when he gave you the land? Yep.
Again, those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. I hate reading Judges and the books of Kings & Chronicles. I hate it because I see myself so often in the cycles of sin and forgetting.
May God give us good, strong memories!