First Things First
John C. H. Fiske, Southport
Elijah the prophet was an outstanding character whose life and service can only be understood if viewed in perspective as that of a man amongst men, and a recognition of the fact that he was, as the Bible says, "subject to like passions as we are". A study of his life is very rewarding, revealing as it does his true devotion to God and to the people of God. His weaknesses are made apparent, and herein lies one of the marks of inspiration in the Holy Scriptures; no one's faults are glossed over, they are there for our learning. But Elijah's qualities are also revealed, and we are able to see how it was possible for God to use him as He did. These qualities were not so much inherent in him as a man, but characteristics which God was able to sanctify and use when Elijah's life was yielded to Him.
One of the interesting and instructive experiences that Elijah had following God's care of him by the brook Cherith was at Zarephath. God told him to go there and said that He had commanded a widow woman to sustain him, 1 Kings 17. 9. God's instructions and arrangements are worth heeding, for always He has a purpose and it is better to be in His will than out of it. We might have replied - "Why a widow woman and why not somebody with more of this world's goods?". Elijah went, and having come to the gate of the city, he saw there a widow woman gathering sticks. Having called her to fetch him a drink of water, he called again and asked for a morsel of bread. In a sentence by way of reply, she attributes to him a relationship with God: "As the Lord thy God liveth" and confesses her own abject need - only a handful of meal and a little oil, just enough for her and her son to eat before they must face starvation and death.
On the human level where faith is not operative, Elijah's reply would appear neither creditable to him nor reasonable to the woman. On the divine level, however, what appeared unreasonable required acquiescence and response. He advised her to do as she had intended but said, "make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son". This was supported by the word, "thus saith the Lord God of Israel" and the promise that the supply of these things would be continuous in the future. It was to her credit that she went and did according to the saying of Elijah and the result was that she, he and her house did eat many days and the barrel of meal wasted not neither did the cruse of oil fail. All this was very homely and, in a sense, the incident was purely local, but the blessing of it has been perpetuated for centuries.
Some of the practical lessons we can learn from it are:
1. The obedience of Elijah and the widow woman to God. Each had been directed by Him and in their obedience found themselves within His will.
2. The need of food by both Elijah and the widow woman and her family was important and provided for by God. Remember they were living in days of famine.
Words spoken by our Lord when He was on earth were not unrelated to this experience and, indeed, to the whole of life. Do you see the lilies of the field?, do you see the grass and the sparrows? If God made provision for them shall He not also make provision for you? The operative words are of course -"O ye of little faith", Matt. 6. 30. This is the crux of the matter in all our dealings with God and His dealing with us. God's revelation and God's provision only await the act of faith - the upward glance and the outstretched hand both to see and to receive. In the case of Elijah, "he arose and went" and in the case of the widow woman, "she went and did". Elijah was blessed in knowing and proving the continued care and provision of God and the widow woman received a blessing in the service she rendered and in the reward she received.
There are two other points which are suggested to us in the request of Elijah: "Make me thereof a little cake first". In a sense it was not to Elijah that the woman responded but to God. It was God who directed him and her, and while Elijah ate the cake, God enjoyed it!
The second point is that the woman learned to put first things first; it was a response of selflessness which is bound to bring its own reward. This may not be immediate, or apparent, but God is no man's debtor and any act of faith toward Him is accepted by Him and multiplied to the good of others.