The Life of Elijah
by A.W. Pink
"Women received Their Dead Raised To Life Again"
We are now to consider one of the most remarkable incidents recorded in the Old Testament, namely, the restoring to life of the widow’s son at Zarephath. It is an incident staggering to unbelief, yet he who has any experimental acquaintance with the Lord finds no difficulty therein. When Paul was making his defense before Agrippa the apostle asked him, "Why should it be thought a thing incredible (not simply that a deceased person should be restored to life, but) that God should raise the dead?" Acts 26.8. Ah, there is where the believer throws all the emphasis: upon the absolute sufficiency of the One with whom he has to do. Bring into the scene the living God, and no matter how drastic and desperate be the situation, all difficulties at once disappear, for nothing is impossible to Him. He who first implanted life, He who now holdeth our souls in life (Ps. 66.9), can re-vivify the dead.
The modern infidel (like the Sadducees of old) may scoff at the Divinely-revealed truth of resurrection, but not so the Christian. And why? Because he has experienced in his own soul the quickening power of God: he has been brought from death unto life spiritually. Even though Satan should inject vile doubts into his mind, and for a while shake his confidence in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, yet he will soon recover his pose; he knows the blessedness of the grand verity, and when grace has again delivered him from the power of darkness, he will joyfully exclaim with the apostle "Christ liveth in me." Moreover, when he was born again, a supernatural principle was planted within his heart—the principle of faith—and that principle causes him to receive the Holy Scriptures with full assurance that they are indeed the Word of Him that cannot lie, and therefore does he believe all that the prophets have spoken.
Here is the reason why what which staggers and stumbles the wise of this world is plain and simple to the Christian. The preservation of Noah and his family in the ark, Israel’s passing through the Red Sea dry-shod, the survival of Jonah in the whale’s belly, present no difficulty to him at all. He knows that the Word of God is inerrant, for the truth thereof has been verified in his own experience. Having proved for himself that the Gospel of Christ is "the power of God unto salvation," he has no reason to doubt anything recorded in Holy Writ concerning the prodigies of His might in the material realm. The believer is fully assured that nothing is too hard for the Maker of heaven and earth. It is not that he is an intellectual simpleton, credulously accepting what is altogether contrary to reason, but that, in the Christian, reason is restored to its normal functioning: predicate a God who is almighty, and the supernatural working of His hand necessarily follows.
The entire subject of miracles is hereby reduced to its simplest factor. A great deal of learned jargon has been written on this theme: the laws of nature, their suspension, God’s acting contrary thereto, and the precise nature of a miracle. Personally we would define a miracle as something which none but God Himself can perform. In so doing we are not under-estimating the powers possessed by Satan, or overlooking such passages as Revelation 16:14 and 19:20. It is sufficient for the writer that Holy Writ affirms the Lord to be "He who alone doeth great wonders" (Ps. 136:4). As for the "great signs and wonders" shown by false christs and false prophets, their nature and design is to "deceive" (Matthew 24:24), for they are "lying wonders" (2 Thess. 2:9), just as their predictions are false ones. Here we rest: God alone doeth great wonders, and being God this is just what faith expects from Him.
In our last chapter we were occupied with the sore affliction which came upon the Zarephath widow in the sudden death of her son, and the immediate effect which it had upon her. Stirred to the depths, she turned to Elijah and accused him of being the occasion of her heavy loss. The prophet made no harsh reply to the unkind and unjust charge, but instead, quietly said, "Give me thy son." Observe that he did not autocratically lay hands upon the corpse, but courteously requested that the body should be turned over to him. We believe that Elijah’s design therein was to still her passion and cause her "against hope to believe in hope" (Rom. 4:18), as long before Abraham had done, when he "believed God who quickeneth the dead," for it was (in part) in response to her faith that she "received her dead restored to life again" (Heb. 11:35).
"And he took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into a loft, where he abode, and laid him upon his own bed" (1 Kings 17:19). This was evidently an upper room reserved for the prophet’s personal use, as Elisha had his in another place 2 Kings 4:10. Thither he now retired for privacy, as Peter to the house-top and Christ into the garden. The prophet himself must have been quite oppressed and disconcerted by the sad event which had overtaken his hostess. Stern as Elijah might be in the discharge of duty, yet he possessed a tender spirit underneath (as such stern men usually do), full of benignity and sensitive to the misery of others. It is quite evident from the sequel, Elijah grieved that one who had been so kind to him should be so heavily afflicted since he had come to her hospitable abode, and it would add to his distress that she should think he was responsible for her loss.
It must not be lost sight of that this dark dispensation occasioned a real testing of Elijah’s faith. Jehovah is the God of the widow and the rewarder of those who befriend his people, especially of those who show kindness to His servants. Why, then should such evil now come upon the one who was affording him shelter? Had he not come by the Lord’s own appointment as a messenger of mercy to her house? True, he had proved himself to be such; but this was forgotten by her under the stress for the present trail, for he is now regarded as the emissary of wrath, an avenger of her sin, the slayer of her only child. Worst of all, would he not feel that the honour of his Master was also involved? that the name of the Lord would be scandalized! Might the widow not ask, Is this how God repays those who befriend His servants?
Blessed is it to observe how Elijah reacted to this trail. When the widow asked if the death of her son was due to his presence, he indulged in no carnal speculations, making no attempt to solve the deep mystery which now confronted himself as well as her. Instead he retires to his chamber that he may get alone with God and spread his perplexity before Him. This is ever the course we should follow, for not only is the Lord "a very present help in trouble," but His Word requires that we should seek Him first (Matthew 6:33). "My soul, wait thou only upon God," applies with double force in times of perplexity and distress. Vain is the help of man; worthless are carnal conjectures. In the hour of His acutest trial the Saviour Himself withdrew from His own disciples and poured out His heart unto the Father in secret. The widow was not allowed to witness the deepest exercises of the prophet’s soul before his Master.
"And he cried unto the Lord" (v. 20). As yet Elijah apprehended not the meaning of this mystery, but he well understood what to do in his difficulty. He betook himself unto his God and spread his complaint before Him. He sought relief with great earnestness and importunity, humbly reasoning with Him regarding the death of the child. But note well his reverent language: he did not ask, Why hast Thou inflicted this dismal dispensation upon us? But instead, "O Lord my God, hast Thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son?" (v. 20). The why of it was none of his business. It is not for us to call into question the ways of the Most High nor to inquire curiously into His secret counsels. Sufficient for us to know that the Lord makes no mistakes, that He has a good and sufficient reason for all He does, and therefore should we meekly submit to His sovereign pleasure. Man’s "Why doth He?" and "Why hast Thou?" is designated a "replying against God" (Rom. 9:19, 20).
In Elijah’s address unto God we may note, first, how that he fell back upon the special relation which He sustained to him: "O Lord, my God," he cried. This was a pleading of his personal interest in God, for these words are always expressive of covenant relationship. To be able to say "O Lord, my God" is worth more than gold or rubies. Second, he traced the calamity back to its original source: "Hast Thou also brought evil upon the widow?" (v. 20)—he saw death striking by Divine commission: "shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?" (Amos 3:6). What a comfort when we are enabled to realize that no evil can befall God’s children but such as He brings upon them. Third, he pleaded the severity of the affliction: this evil has come upon, not simply the woman nor even the mother, but "the widow"—whom Thou dost specially succour. Moreover, she it is "with whom I sojourn": my kind benefactor.
"And he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the Lord" (v. 21). Was this proof of the prophet’s humility? How remarkable that so great a man should spend so much time and thought on that slender form, and bring himself into immediate contact with that which ceremonially defiled! Was this act indicative of his own affection for the child, and to show how deeply he was stirred by his death? Was it a token of the fervency of his appeal unto God, as though he would, if he could, put life into his body from the life and warmth of his own? Does not his doing this three times over so intimate? Was it a sign of what God would do by His power and accomplish by His grace in the brining of sinners from death unto life, the Holy Spirit overshadowing them and imparting His own life to them? If so, is there not more than a hint here that those whom He employs as instruments in conversion must themselves become as little children, bringing themselves to the level of those to whom they minister, and not standing on a pedestal as though they were superior beings.
"Cried unto the Lord, and said, O Lord my God, I pray Thee, let this child’s soul come into him again" (v. 21). What a proof is this that Elijah was accustomed to expect wondrous blessings from God in response to his supplications, accounting that nothing was too hard for Him to do, nothing too great for Him to bestow in answer to prayer. Undoubtedly this petition was prompted by the Holy Spirit, yet it was a marvelous effect of the prophet’s faith to anticipate the restoration of the child to life, for there is no record in Scripture that anyone had been raised from the dead before this time. And remember, Christian reader, that this is recorded for our instruction and encouragement: the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. At the throne of grace we approach unto a great King, so let us bring large petitions with us. The more faith counts upon the infinite power and sufficiency of the Lord, the more is He honored.
"And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived" (v. 22). What a proof was this that "the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayer" (1 Pet. 3:12). What a demonstration of the potency and efficacy of prayer! Ours is a prayer-hearing and a prayer-answering God: to Him therefore let us have recourse whatever be our distress. Hopeless as our case may be to all human help, yet nothing is too hard for the Lord. He is able to do far more exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. But let us "ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord" (Jas. 1:6, 7). "This is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, He heareth us" (1 John 5:14). Surely we have need, all of us, to cry more earnestly, "Lord, teach us to pray." Unless this be one of the effects produced by pondering the incident now before us, our study of the same has availed us little.
It is now sufficient for us to cry, "Lord, teach us to pray!", however, we must also carefully ponder those portions of His Word which chronicle cases of prevailing intercession, that we may learn the secrets of successful prayer. In this instance we may note the following points. First, Elijah’s retiring to his own private chamber, that he might be alone with God. Second, his fervency: he "cried unto the Lord"—no mere lip-service was this. Third, his reliance upon his own personal interest in the Lord, avowing his reliance upon his own personal interest in the Lord, avowing his covenant relationship: "O Lord, my God." Fourth, his encouraging himself in God’s attributes: here, the Divine sovereignty and supremacy—"hast Thou also brought evil upon the widow." Fifth, his earnestness and importunity: evidenced by his "stretching himself upon the child" no less than three times. Sixth, his appeal to God’s tender mercy: "the widow with whom I sojourn." Finally, the definiteness of his petition: "Let this child’s soul come into him again."
"And the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived" (v. 22). These words are important for clearly establishing the definite distinction which there is between the soul and the body, a distinction as real as that which exists between the house and its inhabitant. Scripture tells us that, in the day of his creation, the Lord God first formed man’s body out of "the dust of the ground," and, second, that He "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life," and only then did he become "a living soul" (Gen. 2:7). The language employed on this occasion affords clear proof that the soul is distinct from the body, that is does not die with the body, that it exists in a separate state after the death of the body, and that none but God can restore it to its original habitat (compare Luke 8:55). Incidentally we may observe that this request of Elijah’s and the Lord’s response make it quite clear that the child was actually dead.
Relatively speaking, though in a very real sense nevertheless, the age of miracles has ceased, so that we cannot expect to have our dead supernaturally restored to us in this life. Yet the Christian may and ought to look forward with certain assurance to meeting again with those beloved relatives and friends who departed hence in Christ. Their spirits are not dead, not even sleeping as some erroneously assert, but have returned to God who gave them (Eccl. 12:7), and are now in a state that is "far better" (Phil. 1:23), which could not be were they deprived of all conscious communion with their Beloved. Being absent from the body they are "present with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:8), and in His presence is "fulness of joy" (Ps. 16:11). As to their bodies they await that great Day when they shall be fashioned like unto Christ’s glorious body.
"And Elijah took the child, and brought him down out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him unto his mother: and Elijah said, See, thy son liveth" (v. 23). What joy must have filled the prophet’s heart as he witnessed the miraculous answer to his intercession! What fervent ejaculations of praise must have issued from his lips unto God for this additional manifestation of His goodness in delivering him from his grief. But it was no time for delay: the sorrow and suspense of the poor widow must now be allayed. Elijah therefore promptly took the child downstairs and gave him to his mother. Who can imagine her delight as she saw her child restored to life again? How the prophet’s procedure on this occasion reminds us of our Lord’s action following upon the miracle of restoring to life the only son of the widow of Nain, for no sooner did he sit up and speak than we are told that the Saviour "delivered him to his mother" (Luke 7:15).
"And the woman said to Elijah, Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth" (v. 24). Very blessed is this. Instead of giving vent to her natural emotions she appears to have been entirely absorbed with the power of God which rested upon His servant, which now firmly established her conviction of his Divine mission and assurance in the truth which he proclaimed. Full demonstration had been given her that Elijah was indeed a prophet of the Lord and that his witness was true. It must not be forgotten that he had first presented himself to her as a "man of God" (note her words in v. 18), and therefore it was essential he should establish his claim to that character. And this was done by the restoration of her child to life. Ah, my reader, we avow ourselves to be the children of the living God, but how are we making good our profession? There is only one conclusive way of so doing, and that is by walking in "newness of life," evidencing that we are new creatures in Christ.
Now, let us observe how that which has been before us supplies yet another feature of Elijah’s domestic life. In considering how he conducted himself in the widow’s home, we noted first his contentment, murmuring not at the humble fare which was placed before him. Second, his gentleness, in refusing to reply to her unkind words with an angry retort. And now we behold the blessed effect upon his hostess of the miracle wrought in answer to his prayers. Her confession, "By this I know thou art a man of God," was a personal testimony to the reality and power of a holy life. O to live in the energy of the Holy Spirit so that those who come into contact with us may perceive the power of God working in and through us! Thus did the Lord overrule the widow’s grief unto her spiritual good, by establishing her faith in the veracity of His word.