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1 Kings 17:8-16
THE CASE OF THE EMPTY BARREL
Intro: The story of the prophet Elijah is a fascinating account of the power of God in action. We thrill when we hear about Elijah standing tall before King Ahab, the priest of Baal, and the wayward people of Israel. About how he prayed and the fire of God fell from Heaven.
Let me remind you of some of the events of that special day on Mt. Carmel. The nation of Israel had turned their backs on the Lord. They followed the god Baal, who was the deity worshipped by Ahab’s Queen, Jezebel. On Mt. Carmel, Elijah challenged the 450 priests of Baal to a showdown. He said they would pray and the God who answered by fire would be the God of Israel. The people agreed, the king agreed, and the priests of Baal agreed. The showdown commenced.
The priests of Baal prayed all day and nothing happened. Baal did not answer. No fire fell. The priests of Baal gave up in frustration. It was Elijah’s turn to call on the Lord God Almighty.
In preparation for his prayer Elijah, gave a command for a trench to be dug around the altar, and for twelve barrels of water to be poured over the sacrifice and the wood on the altar. When this was done, Elijah stepped up, prayed a short prayer, and the fire of God fell on the mountain. In 1 Kings 18:38 the Bible says, “Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.” When the people of Israel saw this miracle, “they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God,” 1 Kings 18:39. Elijah took the priests of Ball to the brook Kishon and killed all 450 of them.
I think you would agree that this was a mighty display of the power of God. Elijah was the conduit through which that power flowed that day. He was God’s man, doing God’s work, in a big way. But, it wasn’t always that way! Elijah did not just wake up that morning and head to that mountain to do what he did. Elijah wound up on that mountain because he had been prepared through a series of hopeless situations.
Again and again, God placed the prophet in circumstances that were beyond his power. And, again and again, God proved that He was greater than everything Elijah was called on to face. Notice how God worked in Elijah’s life.
Gad called Elijah to stand before Ahab and pronounce a sentence of divine judgment on the nation of Israel. Elijah’s message was that it would not rain until he said it would. And it didn’t!
• God then sent Elijah to dwell beside an isolated stream in the wilderness. At that stream, God fed Elijah every morning and night with bread and meat carried to him on the wings of ravens.
• When the brook went dry, from the very lack of rain Elijah prophesied, God sent Elijah to a place called Zarephath to be fed in the home of a widow. While he was there, God sent them a miraculous supply of food. While he was there the widow’s son died. God used Elijah to raise the dead bot back to life.
• All of those things, and more, helped prepare Elijah for the day when he would stand in the power of God and pray the fire down from Heaven.
When I think of these things, it stirs my heart. I praise the Lord for what He did in the life of Elijah and how He trained him and used him in a special way. What I often don’t think about is that poor widow who got caught up in Elijah’s training. Just because God wanted to prepare Himself a prophet, a poverty stricken widow found herself in a couple of hopeless situations. I want to study one of those Hopeless Cases today.
I want to preach about The Case Of The Empty Barrel. As I do, I want you to see that God is able to do amazing, powerful things in our lives. He can take what appears to be a hopeless situation and manifest its power through that situation it. I want you to know that there is hope for your Hopeless Case today. Consider the facts of this story that teach that very truth today.
I. V. 10-12 A HOPELESS PREDICAMENT
Verse 10 introduces us to a poor widow. She is the focus of this passage. Her description shows us just how hopeless her situation was. Let’s talk about her for a moment.
A. Her Place In Life - One of the first things we learn about her is that she is a “widow” who lives in a place called “Zarephath.” These two truths reveal a lot about this woman. As a “widow” she was in a difficult place at best. In that society women were largely dependent upon men to take care of them. They depended on the men in their lives to provide shelter, food and protection. We find out in verse 12 that she had a son. Not only is she responsible for her own care, she is also responsible providing for a child.
In Israel this would have been bad enough, but in Zarephath it was have been tragic. In the Law, God commanded His people to look after the poor and for the more affluent to take care of those who had nothing. “For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land,” Deut. 15:11. In Zarephath, they had no connection to the Law of God. The poor in most Gentile nations at that time were on their own. This woman is in a very bad place.
B. Her Problems In Life - The depth of her poverty is revealed in verse 12. Elijah asks for for “a morsel of bread.” He isn’t asking for a whole loaf. He isn’t asking for a sandwich. He is asking for a small piece of bread. The widow replies that all she has is a “handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse.” She outside at that moment in time “gathering two sticks.” She intends to take those sticks and use them to cook the last of her food. She is looking or fuel to cook a final meal for her and her son. As you read her words in verse 12, you can hear the desperation in her voice. She is in a hopeless situation, and in her mind, there is no way out.
C. Her Plan In Life - Her plan is simple. She is going to take two sticks, and the last of her food, and she is going to “go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” They have reached the end of the line. Death is the only ending she can see. This is a woman without hope. This is a woman who sees no way out of her situation. This is a woman who is ready to embrace death for herself and for her son because there is no other alternative. This is about as hopeless as it gets.
• Most of us have never faced a situation quite like this have we? But, we all experience circumstances that appear to us to be hopeless.
- It might be a sickness in the body that continues to deteriorate.
- It might be a fracture in a marriage that appears to be getting worse.
- It might be a financial crisis that grows worse day by day.
- It might be the death of a loved one and we see no way that any good could ever come out of it.
- It might be a case of ever-deepening depression that fills the heart and mind with hopelessness.
- It might be any of ten thousand other things, but the fact is, there are times when life appears to be hopeless.
• Many in the Bible felt that way.
- Moses - When he fled from Pharaoh after killing an Egyptian, Ex. 2:11-15.
- Elijah - When he fled from the wrath of Jezebel, 1 Kings 19:4.
- Jonah - When he found himself in the belly of the whale, Jonah 2:4.
- The Disciples - When they found themselves in the storm, Mark 4:38.
- Jacob - When he was told that Joseph was dead, Gen. 37:34-35.
- David - When he enemies rose up against him, Psa. 42.
• Many more could be named, but you know what I am speaking about. There are times when we are afraid, there are times when circumstances appear hopeless. There are times when there seems to be no way out. The despair recorded by Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes is something most of us feel from time to time.
• Here is what Solomon said about life. This is the view of hopelessness.
- “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun,” Ecc. 2:11.
- “Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit,” Ecc. 2:17.
- “For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity,” Ecc. 2:23.
- “For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity,” Ecc. 3:19.
• Have you been there? Are you there today? Keep listening! There is hope for your hopeless case beloved!
I. A Hopeless Predicament
II. V. 9, 15a A HUMBLE PRESENT
In spite of her condition, God works in this poor widow to bring her to the place of absolute faith in Him and His power.
A. An Unusual Relationship - Verse 9 tells is that she is “a widow” in “Zarephath.” Zarephath was the hometown of Queen Jezebel. It was a Gentile town filled with worshippers of the fertility god Baal. She was a very unlikely candidate to be chosen for the work of God. God chose to send His prophet to a pagan town to the home of a Gentile widow who could not even take care of herself and her son. Of course, Elijah was a wanted man. Ahab was looking for him because Ahab wanted to kill him. God sent Elijah to the one place on one would think to look for him.
This poor, Gentile widow was trapped in sin. She was lost without any hope of salvation. But God, in His grace, spoke to her heart and revealed Himself to her. He used her to take care of His prophet. Many years later, the Lord Jesus would refer to this woman as an example of great faith in God, Luke 4:25-26. No Jew in Israel would have given this poor woman the time of day, but God loved her and extended His saving grace to her.
This was a very unusual relationship. God finds the clay for His wheel in unusual places. He takes that which no one else wants and He makes something glorious out of it. That’s what He did with this poor widow, and that is what He has done with the likes of us. I praise His name for His saving grace, and for His love for lost sinners!
B. An Untroubled Request - When the brook dried up, Elijah left the wilderness and traveled to Zarephath. He traveled under the promise that God has already gone ahead of him and “commanded a widow woman there to sustain” him, v. 9. When Elijah arrives in Zarephath, he finds a widow gathering sticks. He speaks to this widow and asks for a drink of water, v. 10. When she goes to get the water, he calls to her and asks her to bring him a “morsel of bread,” v. 11. In verse 12, she tells him her tale of woe. She tells him of her poverty and of her plans to cook what little food she has. She tells him of her plans to share one final meal with her son. After that, she says, they will lay down to wait for death, presumably by starvation.
Elijah hears all of this and his response is strange. He tells her to go ahead and o and she has said, but to feed him first. He says, “Give me what you have left. Then, after I have eaten, fix food for you and your son.” She knows that she only has enough food to prepare a small cake for her and her boy. Elijah knows that he has the promise of God to supply his needs through the hands of the widow. Because Elijah has the promise of God, he is able to preface his request for bread with the words “fear not.” He was able to tell her God would honor her obedient sacrifice by providing for her, her son, and Elijah in a miraculous way, v. 14.
God had already been there and told the widow that the man of God was coming. He had already told her that she was to feed the prophet when he came. She didn’t know how she was going to do that, and she was terrified. When Elijah showed up and made his request, she allowed her fear to show. She expressed her doubts to the prophet. Elijah knows that God will keep His Word. So he encourages her to put away her fear and simply trust the Lord.
Elijah didn’t know how the Lord was going to feed them, but he knew God was as good as His Word. Elijah knew that the rain had stopped because he prayed and asked God to stop is, James 5:17-18. Elijah knew that God had promised to feed him down by the brook, and God had kept His Word, 1 Kings 17:3-6. So Elijah knew that God could be trusted here as well. The widow didn’t know all those things. All she knew was that a God she knew very little about was telling her to give what little food she had to a man she knew nothing about. Elijah was untroubled by the request because he had faith in God, but the widow faced the command with great fear.
C. An Uneasy Response - Verse 15 tells us that the widow did as she was commanded to do. She went to the place where she cooked her bread, she took those two sticks, that little bit of meal and that small amount of oil, and she prepared a meal for the prophet of God. She presented a humble present to the Lord. What faith!
I wonder if she was filled with fear as she watched Elijah eat the last of her food? I wonder if she thought, “Well, there will be no last meal for us before we die!”
Regardless of her fears and doubts she accepted the promise of God and obeyed His command. She did as God requested. Her faith was even greater than the faith of Elijah! The faith of this widow falls into the category of mountain moving faith. Jesus said, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you,” Matt. 17:20.
• I don’t know what impossible situation you are facing today. I don’t know what you will be called on to face before you leave this world. I want you to know that God can be trusted, regardless of what comes your way. If, like this widow, you are in a relationship with God, you have His promise that He will take care of you.
- He will give you grace for everything that comes your way - 2 Cor. 12:9
- He will meet every need that arises in your life - Matt. 6:25-34; Phil. 4:19
- He will walk with you every step of the way - Heb. 13:5; Matt. 28:20
- He will see you safely through the dangers that come against you - Isa. 43:2
- He will carry you when you can no longer walk - Deut. 33:27
- He will use every pain, problem and pit of life to develop you and to make you more like Jesus - Rom. 8:28-29
• Those promises, and thousands more besides, are given to the people of God. Our duty is not to try and solve every puzzle in life. Our duty is not to plan our path so that life runs smooth. Our duty is to simply trust the Lord to keep His promises. If we can but do that we can face the hopeless situations in our lives with hope, knowing that our God reigns, and that all will be well.
I. A Hopeless Predicament
II. A Humble Present
III. V. 15b-16 A HEAVENLY PROVISION
The widow obeyed God and God honored His promise. God told Elijah they would be fed and they were. God was as good as His Word in this situation, and He will be as good as His Word in your situation as well.
I don’t know how all this worked, but I do know that after this widow fed Elijah she went back to prepare a meal for herself and for her son. Can you imagine the fear that must have been in her heart as she approached that meal barrel and that little bottle of oil? I am sure she wondered if there would be anything left for her and her son because she had just used all she had to feed the prophet. Yet, when she reached into the barrel, there was meal there! When she tipped that little cruse over, more oil poured out.
For the next three years, every time she used all the meal and the oil, there was plenty the next time she needed some. Folk, this was a great miracle. I don’t know how God did it, but He did. She would take some out, and He would put more in. They never missed a meal. While others around them starved to death because of the famine, they had food to eat until the rains came. God took care of them during a hopeless situation.
There are a couple of quick thoughts I want to share before we finish today.
• Serving God from and empty barrel does more to fill my barrel than trying to fill it myself. In other words, if I will forget about what I think I need and leave my care in the capable hands of God, He will take care of me. If I spend all my time trying to solve my problems, I will only make my problems worse. My duty is to faithfully serve Him and rest in the assurance that He will do what is right, all the time!
• My two sticks, my meal and my oil will accomplish very little, but God can wonders with what I leave in His care. This widow planned to use those two sticks to cook a final meal for her family. She was planning to die. In the end, she used those two sticks to feed God’s prophet. She took those two sticks and placed them in the hand of God and He didn’t just supply one meal, He supplied thousands of meals. Three people eating three meals per day would translate to over 3,200 meals in three years time! What a miracle of multiplication.
Here’s the point, two sticks in a widows hand will accomplish very little. What kind of a fire could she have built with just two sticks? When she placed those sticks into the hand of God, her world changed. In fact, if you put two sticks in the hand of God, He will use them to save the world! (Ill. The cross of Calvary!)
What you have to do is let go of your sticks, your meal, and your oil, and like this widow, you have to put them in the hand of God. If you will learn to do that, you will see Him do things you can hardly believe. “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not,” Jer. 33:3. Two sticks aren’t much, but in the hand of God, they are plenty!
• All David had was a sling, a shepherd’s staff and a few stones, but in the had of God the killed a giant.
• All Moses had was a shepherd’s staff, but in the hand of God it parted a sea.
• All a little boy had was five loaves and two fish, but in the hand of God it fed a multitude.
• All the widow had was two sticks, but in the hand of God it fed her family.
• God doesn’t need a lot to work with. In creation, God took nothing and made everything. All He is looking for from us is the faith to place our two sticks in His hands. When we do, everything changes.
Conc: A man called Chaplain Robinson, his first name has been lost to us, shared a true story about his grandmother that took place in 1949. His father had just returned home from World War II. On every American highway, you could see soldiers in uniform hitchhiking home to their families, as was the custom at that time in America. Sadly, the thrill of his reunion with his family was overshadowed by the illness of Robinson's grandmother. The problem was her kidneys. The doctors told Robinson's father that she needed a blood transfusion immediately or she would not live through the night.
The problem was that his grandmother's blood type was AB negative, a very rare type of blood even today, but even harder to get back then because there were no blood banks or air flights to ship blood. None of the family members had matching blood. So the doctors gave the family no hope of her surviving through the night. Robinson's father left the hospital in tears to gather all the family members so they could say “Good-bye” to Grandmother.
As Robinson's father was driving down the highway, he passed a soldier hitchhiking home to his family. Deep in grief, the father had no inclination to do a good deed at that moment. Yet, he felt strongly impressed to stop and pick up the stranger. Robinson's father was so upset that he did not ask the soldier's name. The soldier, however, noticed the tears in his eyes and asked what was wrong. Through the tears Robinson's father told this stranger about his dying mother in the hospital because they could not give her a transfusion of AB negative blood because they did not have any. She would be dead by morning.
It got very quiet in the car. Then this unidentified soldier extended his hand out to Robinson's father with the palm upward. Resting in the palm of his hand was his army dog tags with his blood type engraved on them, AB negative. The soldier told Robinson's father to turn the car around and get him to the hospital where she was given a transfusion of this man's blood.
Robinson's grandmother lived until 1996, 47 years later, and to this day no one in the family knows the soldier's name. Robinson's father wonders if he was a soldier or an angel in uniform._
We never know how God will keep His promises. We never know how He will manifest His power. We never know what He will do!
What happened there? Somebody got their two sticks into the hand of God. When they did, everything changed!
What do you need to get into His hand today?
• Some impossible situation?
• Some lost family members?
• Some sickness?
• Some need?
• Some sin?
• Your lost soul?
Whatever it is, it’s like the widow’s two sticks. In your hands, they won;t amount to much, but in His hands, they will become a miracle as He manifests His power to solve your hopeless case.
1 Mattoon's Treasures - Treasures from 1 Kings._