Then the Lord said to Elijah, “Go and live in the village of Zarephath, near the city of Sidon. I have instructed a widow there to feed you". (1 Kings 17:8,9)
Last week, the prophet Elijah erupted onto the scene of my ‘Bible in a Year’ readings. I have read about this prophet many times, but noticed a few interesting points.
The ‘Law of First Mention’ is a guideline that some people use for studying Scripture and says that, to understand a particular word or doctrine, we must find the first place in Scripture that a word or doctrine is revealed and study that passage. In Elijah’s dealings with the widow in Zaraphath, we read of two ‘First Mentions’.
1. It is the first time that we read of a minister of God being sent to a Gentile. Dr J B Lightfoot called Elijah ‘the first prophet of the Gentiles’. However, not only was Elijah sent to a gentile but to a woman, a widow at that!
To a 21st century western mind, this is no big deal. But, at that time in the east, women were despised. Later, the Talmud records a daily prayer of rabbis which includes this line, “Thank you God that I was not born a slave, a gentile or a woman.” These were apparently the three worst life situations imaginable.
In Jesus day, women were discouraged from going out in public, and when they did, it had to be with a male escort. In our era, it doesn’t strike us as strange to see that Jesus had female followers and openly ministered to women, but it certainly would have seemed strange in Jesus’ day. Jesus challenged social conventions in nearly every single interaction He had with women. He truly challenged the status quo.
But God showed, as far back as the time of Elijah, that He was interested in Gentiles and women alike.
2. It is in this same chapter of The Bible that we read for the first time of someone being raised from the dead. We don’t read of this happening before and we presume that Elijah hadn’t read about it either! There was no precedence for praying for a dead person to come back to life; Elijah set the precedence. In later days we read of the dead being raised in the ministries of Elisha, Peter, Paul and, of course, Jesus Himself.
3. There was one final incident that struck me about Elijah, albeit not a ‘first mention’. In 1 Kings 18 we read of the contest on Mount Carmel between the God of the prophets of Baal and the God of Elijah. A thrilling read if ever there was one!!
While reading, I was struck by the difference between the prophets of Baal and Elijah. The prophets of Baal danced round the altar, shouted on Baal, and kept shouting louder. We read that ‘they cut themselves with knives and swords until the blood gushed out’ (1 Kings 18:28)….all to no avail. Then,
...at the usual time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet walked up to the altar and prayed, ... Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the trench!” (1 Kings 18:38-38)
Notice the difference. With the prophets of Baal, there is confusion, tumult and frenzy. With Elijah there is confidence, quietness and peace.
Isn’t it wonderful that this God of Elijah, a God of love, miracles and peace, wants to draw near and reveal Himself to us too? Let’s take time aside this week and allow Him to do this.
"So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing." (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
A few years ago, I left work to drive home. After a few minutes, I had to turn back because I had forgotten something I needed. I walked back into the building and a member of staff, out of the blue said to me, ‘I just want you to know we really appreciate you. We value your work here. I just want you to know that.’ I was utterly taken aback!! What had brought this on? In typical Scots fashion, I mumbled something like, ‘Yeh. Fine. Right’, while all the time thinking, ‘what’s got into him’? Anyway, I got what I needed and headed home. I was a bit bewildered, but, none the less, it was very encouraging. It felt good. I’ve never forgotten it.
Some time ago, a teacher I know was helping a man with his written English. He was a bit discouraged but the teacher pointed out to him all the things that were good about what he had done and assured him his action points were minor and he would make great progress. A few days later he told the teacher how much that had encouraged him. He made excellent progress after that.
In his Bible in One Year, Nicky Gumble writes, ‘Encouragement is not flattery or empty praise; it is like verbal sunshine.’ Isn’t that a beautiful image, verbal sunshine? Don’t we just love the sun? It makes us feel happier, lighter, brighter. Sunshine can be a real mood changer.......and so can encouragement.
We read the story in Acts 9:26 when the Apostle Paul (Saul at this point) went to Jerusalem to meet the believers there, ‘they were all afraid of him. They did not believe he had truly become a believer’. That could have been quite a frustrating and discouraging moment, but look who comes to his rescue; Barnabas, the ‘Son of Encouragement’.
However, there’s another bonus to bringing verbal sunshine into someone’s life. Have you ever noticed that as you encourage others, you too feel better? Proverbs 11:25 says:
“Those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” (Proverbs 11:25)
So, as we enter a new week, let’s try and bring some ‘verbal sunshine’ to those around us, and we’ll probably be surprised at how much refreshment comes our way too.
If you really fulfil the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself,’ you are doing well.” (James 2:8)
Some of you will be familiar with the name of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. It was his assassination that led to the outbreak of World War 1.
Another name, not so familiar to us, is Gavrilo Princip. He was the young Bosnian Serb who, at point blank range, shot dead the Archduke and his wife. Princip was only 19 years old when he made the attempt to free his country from Austro-Hungarian rule.
That one bullet ricocheted around the world to countries as far apart as Japan and the USA and, after four years of unprecedented levels of carnage and destruction, 16 million men, women and children had lost their lives.
As I thought about this recently, I pictured Princip on that fateful day in June 1928, striding out in front of the Archduke’s car, taking aim and pulling the trigger. Little did he know that his one action would be the spark that lit the fuse of World War 1.
Did he ever stop to consider the possible consequences of this action? I don’t believe he did. His zeal for a freed Bosnia-Serb alliance blinded him to the heinousness of his crimes.
A few years later, shortly before his death, talking to a psychiatrist, Princip said that he believed the World War was bound to happen, independent of his actions, and that he “cannot feel himself responsible for the catastrophe”. However, the truth remains that history could well have been written as a very different story if Princip had carefully considered the consequences prior to his action.
In the Bible, in 2 Samuel, we read of another man, whose actions led to the death of many. The selfishness of Absalom and his lust to be king, led to 20,000 of his soldiers losing their lives for a throne what was not rightfully his.
Like Princip, did Absalom ever stop to consider the consequences of his actions before he led the coup? I don‘t believe he did. He was driven by pride and ambition. Pride blinds a man to truth and causes him to act in selfish, self-centred ways.
Have you ever done something that you later regretted? Have you ever caused emotional or physical pain to another human being? I’m sure we all have. So, how can we prevent it from happening again? Jesus said,
‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another’. (John 13:34-35)
James reinforced it when he said,
‘If you really fulfil the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself,’ you are doing well.” (James 2:8)
So, quite simply, if we obey the Royal Law of Love we need never fear the consequences of our actions again.
"And there was no more sea." (Rev 21:1)
Like many of you, I love water. One of the things I loved about living in Scotland was that you were never far from a loch or the open sea. Living in East London, I miss the open water. Because of my love for water, I used to feel perplexed every time I read in Revelation 21:1 ‘and there was no more sea’. I just couldn’t imagine a Heaven with no ‘sea’; but what could this mean?
I knew it couldn’t be literal; how could something of such awe inspiring beauty be missing from Heaven? For years I bemoaned my lack of understanding of this verse, then one night I opened my ‘Morning and Evening’ by Spurgeon and there it was!! I want to share with you what he wrote:
“In the new dispensation there will be no division—the sea separates nations and sunders peoples from each other. To John in Patmos the deep waters were like prison walls, shutting him out from his brethren and his work: there shall be no such barriers in the world to come.
Leagues of rolling billows lie between us and many a kinsman whom tonight we prayerfully remember, but in the bright world to which we go there shall be unbroken fellowship for all the redeemed family. In this sense there shall be no more sea.
The sea is the emblem of change; with its ebbs and flows, its glassy smoothness and its mountainous billows, its gentle murmurs and its tumultuous roarings, it is never long the same. Slave of the fickle winds and the changeful moon, its instability is proverbial. In this mortal state we have too much of this; earth is constant only in her inconstancy, but in the heavenly state all mournful change shall be unknown, and with it all fear of storm to wreck our hopes and drown our joys. The sea of glass glows with a glory unbroken by a wave. No tempest howls along the peaceful shores of paradise."
At last, my question was answered! The ‘sea’ represented barriers and instabilities. And, guess what? There’s none of those in Heaven!! No more divisions between individuals, no more depressions, no more mood swings, and no more ‘blues’ that humans often experience!
Now every time I read this verse, I read it with a sense of triumph rather than tragedy. I’m looking forward to a Heaven with ‘no more sea’. Aren’t you?
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