The Widow’s Obedience

(Serving God First)

Living Courageously Week 2

Olivet Church, Toronto

Rev. James P. Cooper

I.       This sermon is the 2nd in a series of 7 in the “Living Courageously spiritual growth program based on the events in the life of the prophet Elijah.

A.   Last week we were introduced to the main characters in the series, and learned that it takes place in the 9th Century BC in the northern kingdom of Israel. 

1.     Elijah is the prophet of the Lord.

2.     Ahab is the king of Israel, and he is married to Jezebel.  They are both worshippers of the Canaanite god Baal (2 syllables).  Even worse they are trying to encourage all the people in their kingdom to worship Baal too.

B.   This shocking lack of true faith on the spiritual level has representatively led to a drought on the natural level.

1.     Ahab and Jezebel blame Elijah for the drought, so he has fled into the wilderness where he hides, being fed by ravens.

2.     We learned that the mixture of good and evil, true and false in the representative setting indicates a human state where the motives behind our actions are mixed and need to be examined.

II.    The drought was severe. There are almost no “artesian” well or springs in Israel. Except for those few living on the shore of the Sea of Galilee or the banks of the Jordan River, all the drinking water is captured and stored rainwater.

A.   Because it didn’t rain, the crops died. Soon there was neither water to drink nor food to eat, and the people were dying.

B.   Rain represents the way the Lord flows into the world from heaven with the truth that we need to do what is good. The drought represents that this inflowing truth has stopped – but what stops it?

1.     Whenever the Lord sends a prophet to announce a drought in the land, it is always in response to some horrible evil being committed by the people, or by a king who is leading his people into evil. 

2.     Although it seems that it is the Lord who is withholding the good rain, the fact is that it is the evil that the people are doing is causing the drought.

a.     …For it is well known that every good of love and every truth of faith flows in out of heaven, that is, from the Lord through heaven, with man, and that it flows in continually; … These both flow in so far as evil and falsity do not obstruct; it is these that shut heaven so that there is no influx; AE 644:2

b.     ...That the rain was withheld, and consequently there was a famine in the land of Israel for three years and a half, under Ahab, because they served other gods and killed the prophets.... was a representative, and thus a significative, that no Divine truth flowing in out of heaven could be received because of the falsities of evil, which were signified by “other gods” and by “Baal,” whom they worshiped. “Killing the prophets” signified also the destruction of the Divine, for a “prophet” signifies in the Word the doctrine of truth from the Word. AE 644:8

III. The Widow

A.   The drought in the land of Canaan represents the spiritual state of people who are being disobedient.

1.     The results of turning away from the Lord, of being in a state where there is a spiritual drought is pictured by the widow gathering sticks with which to prepare the last meal for herself and her son.

a.     And yet it is this woman, at the end of a deadly crisis, who is to be the one to save the life of the prophet Elijah!

B.    … The famine that was in the land because there was no rain, represented the vastation of truth in the church; the widow in Zarephath represented those outside of the church who desire truth; the cake which she was to make for him first, represented the good of love to the Lord, whom, out of the little she had, she was to love above herself and her son; the barrel of meal signifies truth from good, and the cruse of oil charity and love; Elijah represents the Word, by means of which such things are done. AC 4844:12

C.   … That “a woman a widow” denotes one who is in good, and longs for truth, is evident from ... what is related of her in the first book of the Kings.... [7] Obedience, and the longing of good for truth, are described by her giving water to the prophet at his bidding, and afterward by her first making a cake for him out of her own little supply, and then for herself and her son; and that thereby she was enriched with the good of truth is signified by “the barrel of meal not being consumed, and the cruse of oil failing not;” for in the internal sense “water” denotes truth; “meal,” truth from good; “oil,” the good of love; and “a cake” made of these, truth conjoined with its good. From all this it is clear that “a widow” denotes one who is in good and longs for truth. Good and its longing for truth is described by the charity toward the prophet, which was greater than toward herself and her son. “The prophet,” as before shown, denotes the doctrine of truth.   AC 9198:6,7

1.     A wife generally represents good, and her husband represents truth. A widow is a woman whose husband has died. A widow then represents someone who would like to do what is good and right but cannot because she doesn’t know how.

D.   Where is her salvation?

1.     She longs for truth – the knowledge to put her loves into action, but there is no truth for her, symbolized by the lack of rain – no truth from natural sources.

2.     So the Lord provides the truth that she longs for through another way – the prophet Elijah. And, is sometimes the case when we go to the Word for help, the answer is not what we expected or wanted.

E.    Remember when Naaman, the Syrian commander, came to Elisha looking for a cure for his leprosy (2KI 5:1-19)?

1.     Elisha told him to wash in the Jordan and he was terribly insulted. He was a big, important man, and he was expecting a big, important cure!

2.     Fortunately for him, one of his servants convinced him that since he would have done the big thing, he should at least try the little thing – and he was cured because he was obedient to the higher authority of the Lord in the Word and did not continue to be led by his own feelings of what “ought” to be.

F.    Rather than giving the widow the food which she believes she needs, Elijah demands that she give him what little food she has – with the promise that if she does, she will have all the food she needs – a symbol for eternal life. This is the real test of faith, the ultimate temptation.

1.     Elijah represents the Word

2.     He tells her to do things that sound strange

3.     She’s starving, and he asks her for her food

4.     But when she obeys anyhow, acting in a way that seems to be against her own enlightened self interest, against her own human prudence, she is saved.

G.   We note that a similar thing happens just a few chapters later, where Elisha causes a widows oil and flour to continue without ceasing so that she could sell it and prevent her sons from being sold into slavery (2KI 4:1-7

1.     On several different occasions, I have spoken with people who told me of personal experiences that have a similar feel, people who, in spite of deep financial problems, were moved to take the Lord’s words to heart, and to give freely of what little they had, and in each case their lives were blessed in some unexpected way.

H.   These incidents are similar in that they all revolve around our trust in the Lord.

1.     We must have confidence that the Lord wants only what is good for us, we need to trust that He knows what is best, what will lead us to heaven. 

2.     We can’t always understand why the Lord asks us to do something. Sometimes the things He asks of us seem strange or unreasonable.

3.     We need to remember that without the Lord, without the truth of the Word to lead us, our eternal spiritual life is at risk.

4.     If we obey the Lord in simple faith, He will literally save our lives.

5.     If we reach out to others by compelling ourselves to do what is good, even when it seems to us to be contrary to our own personal needs, we will find that our good will be multiplied like the widow’s flour and oil, and our spirits will be nourished until the drought is over.

IV.What’s coming next week.

The widow’s son dies, and Elijah brings him back to life, a picture of how things we lose sight of things that we once believed to be good and true, but if we turn back to the Word, shunning evils as sins, new life can be breathed into them.

Second Lesson:

(Mat 6:1-4)  "Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. {2} "Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. {3} "But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, {4} "that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.

Third Lesson:

TCR 746:  It is written in the wisdom of the wise that no one is wise or lives for himself alone, but for others also; whence comes society, which otherwise could not exist. Living for others is being useful. Uses are the bonds of society; these bonds are as many as there are good uses, and in number uses are infinite. There are spiritual uses, which pertain to love of God and love to the neighbor; there are moral and civil uses, which pertain to love of the society and community in which a man lives, and of the companions and citizens with whom he lives. There are natural uses, which pertain to the love of the world and its necessities; and there are bodily uses, which pertain to the love of self-preservation for the sake of higher uses.