Charles Simeon Commentary - 1 Kings 17:22 - 17:23

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Charles Simeon Commentary - 1 Kings 17:22 - 17:23


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DISCOURSE: 343

THE WIDOW’S SON RAISED BY ELIJAH

1Ki_17:22-23. And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. 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.

THOUGH God was pleased to separate for himself a peculiar people, to whom alone he communicated the knowledge of his will, he gave frequent intimations to them, that his mercy should in due time be extended unto the Gentiles also. The history of the Sidonian widow was particularly noticed in that view by our Lord himself. In his first sermon at Nazareth, he warned the Jews, that they must not rest in their outward privileges, since, if they walked unworthy of them, God would again, as he had frequently done before, transfer to the Gentiles those blessings to which they foolishly supposed themselves exclusively entitled [Note: Luk_4:25-27.]. The peculiar mercy referred to by him is that which we have already considered, the feeding of her by miracle during the years of famine, whilst no such mercy was vouch-safed to any widow in Israel. But in our text we are informed of another mercy which she received, and which was the first of the kind that was ever vouchsafed to any child of man, namely, the restoring of her son to life. In bringing this part of her history before you, we shall distinctly notice,

I.       Her trouble—

She had lost her son, her only son. This was a very heavy affliction to her: it would be so to any parent; but it was more especially so to her, because she had previously been reduced to widowhood, and therefore had none to be the support and comfort of her declining years. In him all her affections were centered, and with him all her hopes were destroyed. But the affliction was the heavier, because,

1.       It was unexpected—

[Two years before, when she thought her child near to death, she spoke of it with the most perfect composure [Note: ver. 12.]: but now her distress and sorrow were exceeding great: on the former occasion she saw her little provision gradually consuming, and death advancing with rapid strides; and therefore her mind was prepared for the event: but here the event was so sudden that she had not time even to go to the prophet, and desire his intercessions in her behalf: hence the stroke was almost insupportable; and made her even reflect upon the prophet, as though he had occasioned her calamity.]

2.       It was singular—

[Had the calamity been general, she had found some consolation in the thought that she suffered nothing but what was common to those around her. We doubt not but that this consideration rendered the famine more supportable to each individual than it would have been if the calamity had been peculiar to himself. In like manner, if she had found many other widows despoiled of their children like herself, her sympathy with others would have lessened her grief on her own account. But no such consolatory thought was left for her: she seemed to be singled out to bear her burthen alone.]

3.       It was, in her apprehension, penal—

[This adds a ten-fold weight to any calamity which we are called to suffer: the wrath of God is the bitterest ingredient that can be infused into any cup. Hence was her grief so different from that which she had manifested on the former occasion: she regarded her calamity as a judgment sent from God. She knew that the famine had been sent for the wickedness of Israel, in answer to Elijah’s prayers; she thought therefore that this affliction had been sent to her by the same means, and on the same account, namely, for some transgressions she had committed previous to his visit, or for some which he had seen during his continuance with her. And here we may observe, that this is a view in which afflictions readily appear to a humble mind. A person truly humbled, is jealous of himself, and apt to fear that he has offended God: and whilst an affliction regarded as a paternal chastisement, would be borne by him with grateful submission, the same, as a vindictive judgment, would utterly overwhelm him. To this consideration chiefly we ascribe the impatience that was manifested in the widow’s address to the prophet on this occasion: she spoke, not the result of her deliberate judgment, but the hasty dictate of an oppressed mind.]

Let us now turn our attention to,

II.      Her deliverance—

The prophet, animated by the highest and best of principles, overlooked her unjust reflections; and, filled with tenderest sympathy, took the child out of her bosom, and carried it to his chamber, and laid it on his own bed, and, as though he would have infused life into him out of his own body, thrice stretched himself upon the corpse; and, after crying earnestly to the Lord in behalf of the child, restored him back again to the mother a living child. This was a wonderful deliverance to the afflicted mother: let us notice,

1.       How it was wrought—

[It were absurd to imagine, though some have been guilty of the absurdity, that the animal warmth of the prophet had any efficacy towards restoring a dead corpse to life: it was by prayer alone that he prevailed. He begins with an humble expostulation with the Deity; not as though he thought the stroke unjust, but as fearing lest the enemies of Jehovah should take occasion from it to represent him as a hard master, whom it was in vain, and even dangerous, to serve. Such was the expostulation which Moses offered, when God had threatened to destroy the whole Jewish nation [Note: Num_14:13-16.]: and no doubt, when dictated solely by a concern for the honour of the Deity, it is highly pleasing unto God; as its prevalence on this occasion fully proved. Next, he offers a petition, such as never had been before offered: “O Lord, my God, I pray thee, let this child’s soul come into him again!” What a wonderful petition! How presumptuous does it at first sight appear! But it is our misfortune and our fault that we are not more enlarged in our petitions at the throne of grace. I mean not to say, that we are authorized to ask for such an exertion of Omnipotence as this; but this I say, that “we are not straitened in God, but are straitened in our own bowels;” and that that is the true reason of our receiving so little from God. However “wide we might open our mouths, God would fill them,” provided we asked in faith, and according to his will. Great as the petition was, God answered it in its utmost extent, and enabled the prophet to present to the widow her child restored to life.]

2.       How it was received—

[We may in some measure conceive the joy that would pervade the minds both of him who had obtained the blessing, and of her who received it. But the effect which the deliverance produced in enlarging her knowledge and confirming her faith, is that which particularly calls for our attention. Her trial had so discomposed her mind as for a moment to shake her faith in God. ‘How can this be the true God, who, after all his mercies to me, afflicts me thus? and how can this be a man of God, who makes me such a recompence for all my attention to him?’ Nor let us wonder that a poor Gentile was thus shaken in her faith, when a similar effect was produced by an unexpected trial on one of the most distinguished servants of the Lord. Joshua, on the discomfiture of Israel before Ai, and the loss of about six and thirty men, actually expressed more than this poor widow even ventured to imagine [Note: Jos_7:7-9.]. Indeed this is the common fruit of affliction on our impatient minds: we are ready to ask, “Is the Lord among us, or not [Note: Exo_17:7.]?” But the manifestation of God’s power and mercy dispelled the cloud, and led her to confess him as a gracious and faithful God. This was the effect produced on Moses after the passage of Israel through the Red Sea [Note: Exo_15:11.]: and it is the proper effect to be produced on all.]

Let us learn then from this history,

1.       How to interpret providences—

[We are apt to listen to sense rather than to faith, and to say, “All these things are against me.” But how can they be really against us, when God has promised, that all things shall work together for our good. Against us they may be in some points of view; but they shall be for us on the whole. With what abundant benefit did this widow receive her child again! It is needless to repeat the benefits which Jacob ultimately received from the dispensation which he regarded as so calamitous. You all “know also the end of the Lord” in reference to Job, how abundantly his happiness was increased after his afflictions [Note: Jam_5:11.]. It may be that your temporal happiness may not be increased; but the loss of it shall be more than counterbalanced by your spiritual prosperity. What our Lord said respecting Lazarus, may be justly applied to every afflictive dispensation; “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby [Note: Joh_11:4.]:” and the reproof which our Lord afterwards gave to Martha, may justly be given to most of us; “Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God [Note: Joh_11:40.]?” Let us learn to regard afflictions as blessings in disguise; and let it be our endeavour to walk more by faith and less by sight; according to that direction of the prophet, “Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God [Note: Isa_50:10.].” If the dispensation be impenetrably dark, let it then suffice us to know, that “what we know not now, we shall know hereafter.”]

2.       How to improve them—

[Every leaf in the book of providence is full of instruction respecting the perfections of our God. O what might we not learn of his wisdom, his power, his love, his faithfulness, if we were observant of his dispensations towards us? Many a time should we exclaim with the widow, “Now I know that his word is true;” I do not take it upon trust; I see it, I know it; and am ready to attest it before the whole universe. This is the kind of evidence which Job had, when he said, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee.” A small measure of such experience as this is of unbounded value. If it were only for our own comfort, we should cultivate it to the uttermost; but it is of unspeakable benefit to those around us, inasmuch as it encourages them also to trust in God. See how David represents this when emerging out of temporal affliction; “Many shall see it,” says he, “and fear, and shall trust in the Lord [Note: Psa_40:1-4.]:” and again, when brought up from the depths of spiritual trouble; “For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found [Note: Psa_32:3-6.].” The knowledge which we have of God and of Christ is mere theory, till we have learned the same by our own personal experience; but when our faith is confirmed by actual experience, then it is as convincing as sight itself. O that we may all aspire after this knowledge, and improve every dispensation for the attainment of it! then will it be to us a source of unclouded peace, and prepare us for that blessed place, where faith shall be lost in sight, and hope in enjoyment]