Justice and Grace

By: Jim O'Brien 

Hi Friend,

As prominent as ancient Israel is in the narrative of God’s people, few people know the history of Israel. That is shocking because the Bible repeatedly refers to God as the God of Israel. Most aren’t aware that a civil war divided Israel into two nations, Judah, the southern kingdom, and Israel, the northern kingdom. The civil war erupted during David’s life, but David, in an act of humility, left Jerusalem to prevent the split.

But division came. Despite all of God’s blessings, the people were discontent with life. During the approximate 200 years of Israel’s existence after the nation divided, a succession of 19 kings ruled the northern kingdom. The astounding fact is that not one of those kings was good! How strange that Israel, the people of God, never had a good king. So much for the belief that God’s people can put their trust in human government.

But some kings were worse than others. The worst of all was Ahab, a religious man who was married to Jezebel, a woman who was also religious. The problem was their religion was corrupt. Unfortunately, the citizens tolerated their lack of ethics and their fraudulent worship practices.

The nation that had once been great made an about-face. A family with values grew into a nation that abandoned the cornerstone of its foundation. It was hard to recognize it as the same country founded on the values God had once given them. Leaders with character were gone. Politicians who dressed well but had no substance replaced them. The nation that had once worshiped God became a nation that rejected everything God taught.

It was during this scene of events that Elijah first appeared. Almost as if dropping from a cloud, this Prophet of God materialized, a rare bird at the time. It was so rare that Elijah believed he was the only one in Israel who still worshiped God, which meant the only worshiper of God on earth. Elijah chastised Israel for its lack of justice, eventually calling for a famine to sweep across the land for three and a half years. Elijah suffered through the famine along with the others, but God provided an unexpected refuge. "Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in the place to supply you with food" (1 Kings 17:9 NIV).

When wicked men are in power, it is the citizens who suffer. A woman with a child and no husband in such a land would have been in abject poverty. Interestingly, God sent Elijah to her for help. When Elijah instructs her to bring him food, she replies, "As surely as the Lord your God lives, I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die" (verses 10-12). It’s hard to imagine the frame of mind of a woman, looking at her last morsel of food, knowing that after it’s gone her and her son will starve.

This account raises many questions, and every answer leads to another question. That a Prophet of God needed to depend on a starving widow with a child to provide food for him is one perplexity. That she complied is another. But both had faith in God, and God blessed them with food for the duration of the famine.

But that isn’t the end of the story. In the book of Luke, Jesus reminds the pompous Pharisees of this account. He is speaking to men who refer to gentiles as "dogs," and will not even eat with them. So he cuts to their hearts by saying, "there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years….yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon" (Luke 4:25-26).

Imagine the anger that boiled inside the Pharisees! Jesus, in effect, was saying that a gentile widow was more respected by God than these scholarly men of the law.

Even more astounding, the widow would have agreed with the Pharisees. From the sound of her reply to Elijah, she did not have a high regard for herself.

After the miracle of grain and oil, her son became gravely ill. At the point of the child’s death, she said to Elijah, "What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?" (1 Kings 17:18 NIV).

After numerous miracles, she remembers a sin that God has long forgotten. God seems to see man in a different light than man sees himself. He values the humble and despises the proud.

What’s the moral of the story? Maybe men should not think too highly of their opinion—even themselves. The opinion that is foremost comes from the One who created us.

Until next time,

Jim O’Brien

February 2, 2024

Pastor, Church of God Cincinnati

You can contact Jim O’Brien by: 
Email: jimobri@gmail.com


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