It is pretty overwhelming how many times God fights for His people.  From Jericho to Gideon, from Hezekiah to Elisha, Israel continues to come up against their enemies only to find them already defeated by God.  Today, we get yet another example of this Godly provision.

I love that it is 4 lepers, the outcasts of society, those kicked out of the city and forced to live outside of its protection, that find the enemy gone.  In fact, they find the enemy camp intact but deserted and so help themselves to food, a commodity they live without when outside the walls.  And then they find their consciences pricked and go tell the city.  But like the women coming from the tomb of Jesus, they are not believed and so the community sends out others to see.  Sure enough, the enemy has been frightened away by God and the siege is over.

How often do we ignore or at least mistrust news, however good, that comes from sources we consider unworthy?  How often do we lose opportunities to see God at work because we cannot accept His messenger?  Perhaps we could learn to trust a little bit more and in the process find a blessing we did not expect.

Today we read the story of the woman with the flowing jar of oil.  It’s a beautiful story and one worthy of our attention.  The basic story is this: a widow has two sons and no money to pay her debts.  The debt collector is on his way to take her two sons as slaves in payment of her debts, and all she has to give in their place is a jar with a little oil.  She asks Elisha for help, and he tells her to get as many jars as possible and pour her little bit of oil in each.  As she pours, the oil miraculously multiplies and she fills every jar.  As soon as she runs out of jars, the miracle ends.  She sells the oil, pays her debts and has enough to live on.

A Salvation Metaphor:  Our sinfulness is a debt we cannot repay, and so the master of our sin, death, comes for us.  And whatever we may have, our own righteousness or weekly attendance at church or money or power or reputation, like the oil none of it is enough to pay our debt.  But then God intervenes.  Through the miracle of Jesus death and resurrection, God pays our debt and gives so much that we can live forever on the bounty of His grace.

A Service Metaphor:  When we turn to God for the power to bring His Kingdom here on earth through our teaching, our preaching, and our service to others, He provides all we need.  But unfortunately, we usually ask way too little.  We want the time to spend a few hours at a food bank or in worship or feeding the hungry.  We ask for talent to help lead our church or family in worship.  We ask for a $100 bonus so we can help support a mission at our church.  But God wants us to do more.  Like the jars the widow collected, we don’t prepare for all the blessing that God might give us.  So when our small plans, our small requests are fulfilled, the miracle stops.  But it doesn’t have to.  It could keep going if we only had room in our plans, in our imagination, in our faith, for it to continue.  When you ask God for help, ask big.  He can fulfill our wildest dreams if they are dreams given by Him and utilized for His Kingdom

Today we read the story of the woman with the flowing jar of oil.  It’s a beautiful story and one worthy of our attention.  The basic story is this: a widow has two sons and no money to pay her debts.  The debt collector is on his way to take her two sons as slaves in payment of her debts, and all she has to give in their place is a jar with a little oil.  She asks Elisha for help, and he tells her to get as many jars as possible and pour her little bit of oil in each.  As she pours, the oil miraculously multiplies and she fills every jar.  As soon as she runs out of jars, the miracle ends.  She sells the oil, pays her debts and has enough to live on.

A Salvation Metaphor:  Our sinfulness is a debt we cannot repay, and so the master of our sin, death, comes for us.  And whatever we may have, our own righteousness or weekly attendance at church or money or power or reputation, like the oil none of it is enough to pay our debt.  But then God intervenes.  Through the miracle of Jesus death and resurrection, God pays our debt and gives so much that we can live forever on the bounty of His grace.

A Service Metaphor:  When we turn to God for the power to bring His Kingdom here on earth through our teaching, our preaching, and our service to others, He provides all we need.  But unfortunately, we usually ask way too little.  We want the time to spend a few hours at a food bank or in worship or feeding the hungry.  We ask for talent to help lead our church or family in worship.  We ask for a $100 bonus so we can help support a mission at our church.  But God wants us to do more.  Like the jars the widow collected, we don’t prepare for all the blessing that God might give us.  So when our small plans, our small requests are fulfilled, the miracle stops.  But it doesn’t have to.  It could keep going if we only had room in our plans, in our imagination, in our faith, for it to continue.  When you ask God for help, ask big.  He can fulfill our wildest dreams if they are dreams given by Him and utilized for His Kingdom

There are four incidents in the Old Testament where God parted a body of water for His people.  He parted the Red Sea through Moses, He parted the Jordan river through Joshua, He parted the Jordan again for Elijah before he was taken up to heaven, and then again for Elisha after Elijah was taken from him.  And in each instance, the parting of water is always a test, a sign, and a blessing.

Each time, the test is the usual one God sets for us: “Will you trust me?”  Will we trust God to provide an escape from those things that are keeping us hostage? Will you submit to that old fear that has kept you captive?  Will you step out in faith against the thing holding you back from your future with God?

For the 50 prophets of Elijah’s day, the crossing of the Jordan for both Elijah and Elisha was a sign that God was with these prophets.  It was a sign of where God was at work and through whom.

And in every case, it was a blessing of God.  Unlike the Egyptians and their Nile, the Israelites never worshiped the Jordan river but instead saw it as a barrier, an obstacle to be crossed over to get to their future.  With Joshua, the Jordan represented the Canaanite god Baal who had control over the flooded river, the storms and rain.  The stopping of the water, the crossing of the Jordan, was a blessing for the people, a reassurance that Yahweh was stronger than Baal, and would remove the barrier that stood between them and their promise.

What things are blocking your way to God’s future for you?  Will you trust God to remove them?  Will you allow God to bless you by clearing the path to your future with Him?

So far, it seems that the story of God’s people has been a true “us vs. them” story.  Again and again it has been the people of Israel against their enemies.  There have been a few exceptions to this, from Saul and David to Jeroboam and Rehaboam, but with Elijah and the dawn of the prophets, the enemies are more often than not God’s own people.  And so we find Elijah doing battle with Ahab and Jezebel, who we think of as God’s enemies, but are in fact the King of Israel and his wife.

And as the New Testament says, the prophets were seldom treated with honor, and were in fact regularly beaten, jailed, and even killed for bringing God’s message.  We see that with Elijah, whose life was threatened again and again, and today with Michaiah, who is thrown in jail for being the only true prophet to bring God’s message of destruction.

When we begin to think that doing God’s will, speaking God’s truth, shouldn’t bring us this pain, fear, and shunning, lets remember the prophets.  And Jesus Himself.  And all of His disciples.  They were almost all killed for their obedience to God’s mission.  Why are we confused when it is any different for us?  How can we possibly believe that if we are truly following God’s will, we will be wealthy, beloved, and popular?  And yet the most well-versed of us still does.

“Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you.  For that is the way their ancestors treated the false prophets.”

Elijah is such an intriguing character because he is one with whom we can identify.  Yesterday, Elijah (whose name means literally “God is the Lord”) saw one of the greatest victories he would ever have.  Calling down fire from the sky, his victory was not this control of power, for when it comes to God (or most anything else in life for that matter), “control” is an illusion we use to feel significant.  His victory was instead his faith, his trust in Yahweh to do what He had promised.  Even with a voice from God telling us what to do, how many of us would be willing to stand before the army of the current culture and not only show them to be helpless (“keep shouting!  Maybe baal is asleep, or on vacation!) but then put yourself in a situation where you are literally going to die unless God comes through?

But after this victory, when his nemesis finds out and threatens him, he flees to the mountains, hides in terror, and pleads for death.  And we in our self-righteousness say, “how could such a man of God, after a victory like that, be praying for death at a simple threat?”  But when was the last time you saw God at work, only to doubt Him the next day?  I know for me it sometimes doesn’t even take a day, but in the next hour I doubt and tremble.

The good news of this passage is that even in our weakness, terror, and doubt, God meets us where we are with a display of His character.  For God is not in the tornado, or the earthquake, or the forest fire, but in the still small voice.  “Elijah, what are you doing here?”

Today, we meet one of the most interesting characters in the bible, Elijah.  As the representative prophet of scripture, Elijah plays a huge role throughout the bible, from here through Revelation.

In today’s reading alone, Elijah confronts one of Israel’s most evil kings, raises a young man from the dead, and calls down fire from God.  Moving forward, Elijah becomes the forerunner of the coming Messiah and takes his place in the Seder celebration that Israel has been celebrating since the Exodus.  Not only does he have a Cup of his own (the other four are drunk in celebration of the events of the Exodus – only his cup remains undrunk throughout the meal), and not only does he have his own recitation, “Elijah the Prophet, Elijah the Tishbite, Elijah the Gileadite, come speedily…”, but he is prophecied to arrive at the Seder to herald the Messiah’s arrival.

In fact, Jesus even calls John the Baptist “Elijah, if you can understand it” not to say that Elijah was reincarnated – that doesn’t exist – but to say that as Elijah represented the forerunner of the Messiah, so John the Baptist was filling that role.

Later, when Peter, James, and John join Jesus on what has become known as the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus meets with those representing the entire Old Testament, the Law and the Prophets, and these are Moses and Elijah.

So prophet of the Messiah, representative of all the Prophets, Elijah is a deeply important figure.  But even one as important as Elijah is only a forerunner, a follower, a servant of Jesus.  We do not worship Moses, the law of the Old Testament.  We do not worship Elijah, the prophecy of the Old Testament.  We worship Jesus, the Son of God, the prophecied Messiah who came to fulfill the law.

After the kingdom divided, king after king ruled in Israel and Judah, and there was one common denominator among them: their success was directly dependent on their obedience to God.

It is a tricky thing, reading this one-to-one correlation between obedience and success.  We often try to read into this text a rule for our own lives: if I’m obedient to God, He’ll make me successful.  Thankfully, today’s reading in the Old Testament is tempered by our reading in the New.  When we see Jesus’ last day through the eyes of Peter, we are reminded that obedience is not always rewarded with success and disobedience is not always punished with failure.  This rankles our spirit of justice, yet is more familiar to our own experience.

Peter proclaims his worship of Jesus, claiming his willingness to die in obedience to Jesus.  Yet Jesus assures him that not only will he refuse to die, he will refuse to even know Jesus within the day.  And not only will he not pray fervently for Jesus in his suffering, he will fall asleep, one of the greatest ways to shun a loved one.  Yet Peter is not punished by Jesus, but is rather forgiven and restored to leadership not long after.  Isn’t it interesting how our flinching away from injustice is only present when we are not rewarded for obedience, not when we are not punished for disobedience.

So the age-old question applies: How then shall we live?  Will we seek to mete out justice in the name of God, assuring our own hypocrisy, or will be live out the grace of Jesus Christ, assuring our own ridicule?  Will we love those who are obedient or at least repentant, or will we love everyone regardless of their standing before God?