1 Kings 17:8–14
Did you ever call something a disaster? What did you mean by the expression? Disaster or calamity or cataclysm or catastrophe, how do you fit them into your understanding of God?
When Joseph was kidnapped and taken to Egypt as a slave, that looked like a personal disaster for him. Of course we all know that in the end God turned it to good. An earthquake is a natural disaster. Global warming is a man-made disaster. The destruction of the rain forests is an ecological disaster.
An age-old question for many people is: How can God allow terrible things to happen? You may have had someone tell you they cannot believe in a God who allows bad things happen to innocent people.
In British law there is a term, Act of God. You cannot usually be blamed for an act of God, such as a lightning strike or an earthquake. An act of God is an event outside human control, such as sudden natural disasters, for which no one can be held responsible. Is it really right or fair to blame them all on God?
I think you all know the answer already. We cannot blame God. You may believe God is all-powerful, or omnipotent. The Bible also teaches us about an enemy of God. Satan roams the world seeking to devour people, and he causes death and destruction.
In Genesis 41 there is the story of Pharaoh’s dreams and Joseph’s interpretation. In verse 25 Joseph tells Pharaoh the interpretation.
“Both of Pharaoh’s dreams mean the same thing. God is telling Pharaoh in advance what he is about to do.”
It seems that God is bringing a disaster on Egypt. Joseph warns how bad it will be in verse 30:
“But afterward there will be seven years of famine so great that all the prosperity will be forgotten in Egypt. Famine will destroy the land.”
God is warning Pharaoh through Joseph of what will happen. He has given Pharaoh and dream and he has sent Pharaoh a man who can interpret the dream.
God is not sending sudden destruction without warning. God is not about to cause a disaster for no reason. Genesis does say that God is going to do this thing, but not to hurt people.
Satan acts very differently to God. Satan’s intention is to damage and destroy our faith, and break our connection to God. God’s plan and purpose is to build it up.
We have to choose between the two ways. Now that Pharaoh has the knowledge, it is up to him how to apply that knowledge. God is not going to force Pharaoh to take any particular course of action. Praise the Lord, Pharaoh recognises the message from God and puts Joseph in charge of Egypt. The famine comes as God said it would, but there is no disaster. Why not? Because they listened to God and followed his instructions.
In Exodus 9 we have the seventh plague that God sent on Egypt. The plagues also could be called disasters. This disaster is a hail storm. Egypt is a country that normally doesn’t see rain except on a few days a year. Hail and thunderstorms are just about unknown. The lowest winter temperature is maybe 10 degrees Celsius. In December 2013, Cairo received a single overnight snowfall for the first time since 1901.
Anyone predicting hail would be laughed at, after they had explained that hail was lumps of ice falling out of the sky. Ice in hot Egypt?
This is the seventh disaster and God is beginning to get the attention of the people of Egypt, even if the new Pharaoh is not yet ready to listen. When Moses warns of hail, some people do not laugh it off as impossible or ridiculous. They take note and act on God’s warning. We read in verse 20 what they did.
“Some of Pharaoh’s officials were afraid because of what the Lord had said. They quickly brought their servants and livestock in from the fields. But those who paid no attention to the word of the Lord left theirs out in the open.”
God’s purpose is not to destroy. God’s purpose is to teach people to listen and obey so that they can receive his blessing. The Egyptians who listened and acted did not suffer from the hail. Those who relied on themselves, were doomed. They trusted in their own understanding. They believed in themselves when they thought it could not hail in Egypt. They decided that it was good to leave their animals in the fields and to work in the fields. They were wrong.
God warned the people, and those who listened were saved. As you read the Old Testament you will recognise many examples of this. Our God is a good God. Our God saves. Our God is a God of love. If we have faith he will lead us to safety.
During the reign of King Ahab of Israel (874–853 bc) about 900 years before Jesus there was a prophet named Elijah. This region has always had problems with draught and famine. The people of the northern kingdom under Ahab, husband of Jezebel, were worshipping Baal.
Baal was a Canaanite storm God. It was believed he controlled the weather and sent the rain.
God wanted to show the people that Baal did not control the weather and that he was a false god, so he sent Elijah to announce a draught. So Elijah went to the king and confronted him.
Elijah announced that it wouldn’t rain again until he told it to. Elijah declared that Yahweh the God of Israel controlled the weather, not Baal. Elijah’s name means ‘Yah’ is my God.
Elijah spoke and it stopped raining. Plants stopped growing. Food became scarce. Elijah was in a pickle. The famine hit everyone, even himself. God told Elijah where to go and what to do. He went to a small stream where he got water, and ravens brought him food.
Now Elijah’s faith got a severe test. The stream dried up. Have you ever felt like this? You trusted God for something and then his supply dried up. How did you react? Some people get angry with God at moments like this. Elijah was told to go to a small village near Sidon.
Sidon was far north, at the edge of the territory of Israel. It was the home of evil queen Jezebel, Ahab’s wife. Elijah was told he would be fed in this small village in enemy territory. He believed, and he went. When Elijah arrived, he found the widow who was going to feed him. She told Elijah she didn’t have any food for him. None. The cupboard was bare. Disaster!
I was thinking how I would react. I’ve trusted God. I’ve suffered for God. I’ve travelled to another country and now he’s let me down. He promised me food, but there is none. Disaster!
Verse 12, the widow says she is starving to death and she and her son are about to die.
But she said, “I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.”
We’ve all felt despair at times. We have trusted God and it hasn’t worked out. In those moments we can remember Elijah. In those moments we can remember that our God loves us and all he does is for the good of his people. He is working to bring all people back to him and to teach them of his love. It may seem strange when you are faced with starving to death, but that is why we need faith.
Elijah is a great example of faith. The widow says she has no food, and Elijah says “Don’t be afraid!” Now the widow has a choice to make. Does she believe the word of God spoken through the prophet or rely on her own understanding. Does she trust in her belief that she has only enough flour for one last meal, or does she trust God.
There are always these moments in life where we have to choose in what we trust. We have to decide who we trust and act on that faith. We have to live out our faith. This unknown widow chose faith and lived. There was always enough flour and oil to feed the three of them. When the time comes, you will have to choose. Are you ready to choose the way of faith?