A young child dies, and people wonder how a good God could have let that happen. Elijah put his question a bit more strongly. In his question you have to see the history of God’s goodness to the poor boy’s mother. You have to know about how God was afflicting so many other mothers at the time, because of their horrible sins. In that context, when tragedy came on this woman also, it looked like cruelty. It was unbelievable that God could really have done such a thing. Elijah took the dead boy in his arms and in anguish asked God, “O LORD my God, have you brought tragedy also upon this woman I am staying with by causing her son to die?
This story really begins earlier, at a time in Israel when most people worshiped idols instead of the true God, the LORD. It was a time when God was giving them what they deserved; he kept it from raining for several years, so that there was little water and no food in the whole area. This widow of Zarephath was the woman whom God was using to take care of his prophet. When God sent Elijah to her, he found her out collecting a few sticks to bake one last loaf of bread for herself and their child, and then, since they were out of food, they were preparing to die. Elijah told this woman, “First bake me a cake, and then some for yourself and your boy, because God is going to make sure that your little bit of flour and your little bit of oil will never run out.” The woman believed Elijah, and sure enough, they never ran out of flour and oil. God was taking care of them. Here was a prophet who believed in him and preached his Word, and here was a woman who listened and believed, and God was not giving them what they deserved like he was the rest of the land. He was merciful to them, and he blessed them.
Just think how this woman had enjoyed God’s blessings—the prophet came to her and told her about the true God. As long as the prophet stayed, she not only got to hear Elijah talk about God, but God also miraculously provided them with enough food every day.
Then suddenly, and for no apparent reason, the child became very sick and died. Was God all of the sudden treating them like the rest of those sinful people who didn’t care a bit about the true God? There were plenty of widows in Israel, and I’m sure many of their children died in that famine, but they deserved it. They worshiped idols. But this woman who fed Elijah every day and listened to him talk about the true God—what had she done to deserve this?
Apparently there were things that came to her mind. As she carried her dead boy to Elijah, she said to him, “What do you have against me, man of God? Have you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” It must be my sins, she thought. We know what that’s like. When God brings trouble into our lives, we can always think of a few reasons why we deserve it. Its usually the sin that we live with and struggle with, the sins that come from our passions. It’s the hot temper that we can’t control, the nasty critical nature that never seems to be able to find anything good in other people. Those sins of having sexual desires for anyone other than your husband or wife, even the sin of having homosexual desires and actions may come to mind. When trouble comes, your heart should tell you why God should be angry with you. What the woman said is quite true, and good. When trouble comes, we should remember our sins. God isn’t the one who is being bad, we are, and trouble is what we deserve.
It’s when we are so used to God not giving us the trouble we deserve that he seems to be so cruel when he brings trouble. This is why Elijah was so upset. There were plenty of widows in Israel whose boys died, but they deserved it. They didn’t listen to God’s prophets. They didn’t worship God anymore. But this woman listened and believed. She fed God’s prophet when she didn’t even have enough for herself and her son. Elijah couldn’t believe that God would be so cruel as to show this widow his mercy like he had, and then turn on her and kill her son. God isn’t cruel. He is good. He would much rather bless people rather than give them the trouble they deserve.
Elijah stubbornly believed in God’s mercy, so he took the boy and prayed, “O LORD my God, have you brought tragedy also upon this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” Then he stretched himself out on top of the boy three times and prayed, O LORD my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”
Look and see what happened. God is merciful, and he isn’t cruel. He heard Elijah, and boy came alive again. Elijah brought him to his mother, and the mother said, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth.” God wasn’t being cruel. He was showing them just how far they could believe in him. Even if all hope was cut off— even at the point of death!—he would hear their prayers and help them. God gives life to the dead.
God gives hope to the hopeless. He gives life to the dead.
When trouble comes, whether you’ve done something especially horrible or not, remember your sins. Listen to that little voice inside that speaks up and says “God is angry with you, you deserved that.” That little voice is a blessing from God; use it. Take the opportunity to remember your sins and remember why they are so horrible that you deserve such trouble. Humble yourself, and confess your sins to God.
But also, when trouble comes, remember God’s mercy. He isn’t cruel. He gives hope to the hopeless. He gives life to the dead. Maybe your trouble isn’t that someone has died, but it seems hopeless nonetheless. Remember that if God can raise the dead, he can work out any hopeless situation. If someone you love has died, or you yourself are dying, remember that God raises the dead. You haven’t seen anyone rise from the dead like what happened in this story, but God has promised that everyone who believes in Jesus will rise from the dead. If the one you love who died did not believe, God can give life to that hopeless situation too. He gives strength now, and he will raise you above all this sorrow to be with him in heaven.
When we are getting the trouble that our sins deserve, remember that no one whose faith is in Jesus will truly get what he deserves. The widow put her faith in God’s prophet, and God blessed her, even giving life to her dead son. We put our faith in the greatest of the prophets, Jesus, the Son of God. We will not get the death we deserve, and God will rescue us from all our troubles. There is forgiveness for our sins, and the promise, as it says in the Psalms, that for everyone who trusts in Jesus “God’s anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime. Weeping may last for a night, but rejoicing comes with the morning.” God gives hope to the hopeless, and life to the dead.
There is something to be said for stubbornly trusting in God’s mercy. That’s what Elijah did. When all hope looked lost, and every indication was that God had cruelly taken this son away from his mother, Elijah trusted that God would still be good to her. Even in death, God would mercifully help. The interesting thing is that I don’t know of any time that God brought a dead person back to life before this. Elijah just believed that God could not be that cruel. All the more so now, when we have seen God give this boy his life again, and many other times after that where God rescued his people out of hopeless situations, even raising them from the dead. Our Lord himself rose from the dead. There is never any reason to believe that God is being cruel. Troubles come because we deserve them, and when they come we have all these reasons to believe that God will rescue us from them. When it happens that God rescues us from our troubles, we can look back and see from experience that he really is good, and he really does help. That’s what the widow said when Elijah brought her son back to life, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth.” Trust stubbornly that God is good and he will help, and you will see the truth of what you have believed. God helps the helpless; he gives life to the dead. Amen.