1 KINGS 17:1-24
1Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “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.” 2The word of the LORD came to him, saying, 3“Go from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 4You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” 5So he went and did according to the word of the LORD; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 6The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi. 7But after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land.
8Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 9“Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 10So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” 11As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12But 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 jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” 13Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. 14For thus says the LORD the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth.” 15She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. 16The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah.
17After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18She then said 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!” 19But he said to her, “Give me your son.” He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. 20He cried out to the LORD, “O LORD my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” 21Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” 22The LORD listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. 23Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.” 24So the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.”
A semi-nomadic wanderer -- a cowboy or a gunslinger -- comes into a town that's under siege by bad guys. There's a showdown at high noon between the bad guys and the lone gunfighter. When the dust settles, there's only one standing: the stranger. He quietly, mysteriously leaves town on horseback as the sun sets. End of movie.
This genre of film -- the Western -- owes its motif to the Elijah story. Anyway, that's my theory. Film historians may say that the Western is a literary descendant of "knight-errant" stories, like the Legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. But I'd rather think the genre reaches back to earlier times, to the time of Elijah. The key features are all there. Battle of good vs. evil. Being outnumbered. Time of threat and crisis. The hero, not of regular mold. The loner. Finally, victory.
The Elijah-Elisha cycle of stories (1 Kings 16:23 - 2 Kings 13:25) is one of the more vivid and inspiring set of stories in all of Scripture. Elijah especially picks up themes from Moses, re-lives Moses-like episodes. These in turn become prophetic themes that'll be picked up later by Jesus. In fact, both Moses and Elijah will appear on the Mt. of Transfiguration next to Jesus to affirm Jesus' calling and identity.
There are wonderful details to the story above. We should remember, first, that when Ahab takes over the northern kingdom from his father Omri, Israel is entering into the greatest spiritual crisis ever. With Ahab's marriage to Jezebel and the state sponsored worship of Baal, Israel is on the verge of becoming a pagan nation. Ahab has officially embraced the worship of other gods, along with worship of YHWH. Idolatry. Syncretism. The covenant relationship with YHWH is severely threatened.
One of the first things that Elijah as the representative of YHWH does is to prophesy a drought over Israel, which will last three and a half years. Why a drought? Because of Baal -- the god of fertility is also the god of rain clouds. The drought is a direct confrontation against the supposed powers of this false god. (Much like Moses confronting the gods of Egypt.)
Elijah himself is sustained miraculously by the feeding of ravens (an unlikely bird), showing that "man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Deut. 8:3; Mt. 4:4). Because of Israel's apostasy, YHWH's compassion reaches out to a non-Israelite woman, the widow of Zarephath. The multiplication of food and the raising to life of her dead son point to the ministry of Jesus: the Bread of Life and the Resurrection ("I am the Resurrection and the Life," John 11:25).
When all seems lost, when a major crisis is at hand, YHWH does not abandon His people. Rather, He steps in a Big Way. The sending of Elijah is a Big Way. Jesus is the Biggest Way. There is hope, especially when everything looks so bleak, there is hope in God.
Let's pray: Father God, we look to you in our own time of crisis. Whether we look at the state of the Church in the U.S. or see the persecution of your people around the world, we can't help but think that we are in big trouble. So we cry out to you today to rescue us. Step in a Big Way with the greater release of your Spirit, the greater manifestation of the glory of Jesus Christ. We need your miraculous power and help. Even in our own lives. In Jesus' name, amen.