“And the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, 9 Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee. 10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink” (1 Kings 17:8-10).
As Elijah sat by the brook Cherith, he had to watch the natural resources of life dry up. Day by day there was less and less water flowing by and there was nothing Elijah could do about the situation. Life was larger than his limited abilities.
After looking down at the brook, after looking around at his environment,
Elijah looked up to heaven for the answer. And the Word of the Lord came unto him. How grateful Elijah must have been when the Lord spoke. There was an answer for his situation. There was a solution to all of his problems. For the child of God, the Word of the Lord is precious. The Word of the Lord is special because it brings great comfort. The Word of God means that man is not alone in the universe. The Lord is present.
Today, nations are spending billions of dollars on sophisticated electronic equipment trying to discover life in outer space. There is life beyond the grave, for God is still alive throughout the universe. In the most remote corner of creation, billions of light years away, God is present. While God is transcendent to this world, He is also immanent for His Word comes directly into our hearts. There are Divine directions, and there are precious promises. The promises of God are usually conditional. It is because we fail to comply with their stipulations that we are not blessed. For example, one simple illustration is the area of prayer. The Bible says, “Ye have not because ye ask not.”
Asking is the condition for receiving. Those who do not pray will not have all that they could have from the hand of the Lord because they do not ask. The Word of Truth is not acted upon, it is not obeyed. If Elijah is going to be provided for by the Lord, then he must not only hear the Word, but he must act upon it as well. “The Lord does not put a premium on either unbelief or disobedience” (A.W. Pink).
In the act of obedience, Elijah will be able to leave behind several things that have been very trying to him. First, Elijah will leave at the brook Cherith his isolation. He has been alone with God and that has been good. But now, Elijah must move back into the sphere of useful service to others in society. Christianity is not designed to be lived in splendid isolation, no matter how great the temptation may be to enter into a monastery and escape from the problems of dealing with people.
Second, Elijah will leave at Cherith his loneliness. It is not easy to be lonely, even though the loneliness can be a time of great spiritual activity. John Bunyan found joy, contentment, and usefulness during the lonely years of the Bradford prison. He gave to the world his immortal story of The Pilgrim’s Progress. Amy Carmichael was a lonely invalid for many years of her life, and yet God used her to pray for others, and to write books that touched the heart of millions. Though John Bunyan, and Amy Carmichael, were used of God they were lonely and they were always glad for the social fellowship of friends, and normal relationships, in which they put away their loneliness.
Third, Elijah left at the brook Cherith any lingering doubt he may have had about the goodness and the faithfulness of God. Elijah had watched day after day as the Lord sent the fowls of the air to feed him, and yet, no matter how often we see God’s hand, there are still periods of doubt that sweep over the soul. Even John the Baptist faced this temptation. Elijah was glad when the commandment came to “arise, and go to Zarephath.” In Zarephath, Elijah would undergo more spiritual refinement personally, indicated in the name Zarephath which speaks of “refining.” The root word means, “crucible.” A crucible is the place where the metals are melted to separate the dross from the gold.
As spiritually mature as Elijah was, he still needed refining. There was some dross that God saw in Elijah for Elijah was a man of like passion as we are. We look into our own hearts, and, if we are honest, see the need to be placed in the crucible. It was Robert M’Cheyne, the great Scottish preacher who prayed often, “Lord, make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be made.” That is the prayer of all God’s people who have been made sensitive to sin in their own lives. We want to be as holy as it is possible to be this side of heaven. It is not easy to be holy, for we live in the midst of an unclean people. We might try to wash our religious garments, but the stain of the world, the flesh, and the devil is still present.
Now, in order to get to Zarephath, Elijah had to travel across 75 miles of desert which, reminds us that obeying the known will of God is not easy. To get to the place of refinement is not easy. Our flesh naturally shrinks from that which is difficult, which is why we have so many words of exhortation in the Scriptures, especially in the New Testament.
For example, the Bible tells us to pursue peace with each other in the church. The word for “pursue” is a hunting word. It reflects the extent to which a hunter will go to capture its prey. Hunters will endure all types of bad weather. They will endure going without food. They will learn the tricks of the animal in order to trick it.
Spiritually, God wants us to pursue peace with each other in the spirit of a dedicated hunter. But peace cannot be pursued if we refuse to talk to each other.
Peace cannot be pursued if we do not insist that we each obey the biblical commandments.
Peace cannot be pursued if entrenched positions are taken on indefensible grounds.
Peace cannot be pursued if we stop listening to the voice of reason pleading for a biblical resolution to that which is obviously wrong.
Peace cannot be pursued unless there is a fundamental commitment from all of God’s people
to obey the pattern that Jesus Himself has given.
In the absence of biblical peace there can only be strained relationships, unresolved conflicts, and an undercurrent of distrust which breeds secrecy. Secrecy brings spiritual darkness. The Christian is not to walk in darkness but in the light. In the light, darkness is dispelled. In the light fear is removed. In the light, there is the ability to see the future.
The only hope for gospel obedience and true holiness, is for all of God’s people to go with Elijah to Zarephath. We might not want to go to Zarephath when we find out what it means. We might want to stay at Cherith alone with God where we can at least feel spiritual in our personal private acts of piety. The problem with this position is that we will not really be purified. Purity comes from getting the dross out, and the place where the dross is taken out is in Zarephath.
In Zarephath we learn to put away passion, and malice, and distrust. In Zarephath, we are purified in the act of obedience to the known will of the Lord. James 1:22 says, “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves”.
Samuel said, “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of the ram.” John writes, “Little children, let no man deceive you; he that doeth righteousness is righteous” (1 John 3:7).
Jesus warned, “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). If God’s greatest prophet had to go to Zarephath, so must we. If the spiritual leadership must be refined, so must those who are led by the same Spirit of God.
Those who are led by the Spirit of God will discover that God is on the move. He has left Cherith, and will now meet with His prophet at the place of purification, for it is at Zarapheth that God can manifest more of His glory.
In particular, God will show His sovereignty over the source of sin. It must be remembered that Zarapheth was a Gentile province of Zidon. Zidon was the place from which Jezebel herself had come (1 Kings 16:31). In the words of Jesus, a strong man’s house had been invaded by a Stronger Man. God was in Zidon, says Matthew Henry, “To show Jezebel the impotency of her malice; God will find a hiding place for His servant even in her country.”
As exciting as it is to see God manifest His omnipotent power, it is not easy to go to the place of blessing. In contrast to the spiritual dynamics of any situation, is the weakness of fallen flesh.
This whole experience was an ordeal for Elijah. His reaction may well have been on the same level that we would have if God told us to go to Moscow and live in the Kremlin. “What!” We might say. “Lord, you want me to go where? You want me to leave my country, and go to a God forsaken place of atheism where they make public latrines out of holy places?” It would be unnerving. The greatness of Elijah is that he obeyed God.
That is our challenge today. The only question is this.
Will we move from the quite place to the place of purity? If we try and stay where we are, our spiritual brook will dry up, God will leave to wait for us elsewhere.
Will we now go where God has promised to be?
Will we move from Cherith to Zarapheth because we have also heard the voice of the Word of the Lord?
While personal provisions were at Chereth, the power of God over sin was at Zarapheth. A spiritual truth is set forth. It is sin’s source that God has to strike down in order to show His great glory.
As we move towards God’s glory, in gospel obedience, new blessings, greater blessings wait for us.