Time: Divided Kingdom-Israel ~900-722 B.C.
“So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.’” MATTHEW 6:31-34
David reigned on the throne of Israel for 40 years. Solomon, who was God’s choice to inherit his father’s throne, strengthened Israel’s defenses, conducted trade throughout the known world, and engaged in numerous building operations including a magnificent temple for God and a massive palace for himself. Famed for his wisdom, which he requested and received from God, Solomon wrote the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. But tempted by his foreign wives, Solomon unwisely turned his heart away from God. As a result God promised judgment upon Solomon’s death—the kingdom would be divided.
Here’s how it happened: For centuries friction had existed between the northern and southern tribes. This friction was evident throughout David’s reign. From 1010 to 1003 B.C., David ruled over the southern tribes (Judah), while the northern ten tribes (Israel) supported Saul’s son Ishbosheth. Following Ishbosheth’s death, Israel accepted David as king (2 Samuel 5) but then rebelled briefly toward the end of his life (2 Samuel 20).
As Solomon inherited David’s kingdom, the seeds of discontent became apparent. The Israelites chafed under heavy taxation and forced labor. Upon Solomon’s death, they sought relief, which finally came but only through permanent division. The prophet Ahijah appeared to one of Solomon’s officials, Jeroboam (1 Kings 11), and prophesied the divided kingdom, ordaining Jeroboam king over Israel. Solomon’s son Rehoboam proved himself foolish and unworthy to rule, and the northern tribes rallied around Jeroboam (1 Kings 12). When the dust cleared, the united kingdom was no more. Jeroboam, however, refused to obey God’s Word. He founded a renegade religious system and led his nation on the pathway to ruin. Israel’s history featured religious apostasy and unstable leadership. Godless kings turned the people away from their God. Sin always brings judgment, and in 722 B.C. the Assyrians destroyed Samaria, Israel’s capital, bringing the Northern Kingdom to an end.
1. Read 1 Kings 16:25-33. Ahab ruled Israel in the middle 800’s B.C. He was the 6th king after Jeroboam. His name may already be familiar to you. What does the Scripture say about Ahab’s kingship?
2. An idol is any human-created God substitute. Idolatry is giving glory to something else that belongs only to God. Read Exodus 20:2-6 and Deuteronomy 11:13-17. What did God demand of His people? What did He promise to Israel if they set up idol worship?
3. Generally, what human-created God substitutes do we have in our culture today?
4. Your Life’s Journey: Personally, what tends to take God’s place in your life— possessions, family members, position, power, fitness, appearance? What behavior suggests that something has become an idol to us? Ask Jesus to reveal to you what you love more than Him. Through the Holy Spirit’s power within you, ask Him to release you from that idol’s power in your life. Write out your prayer here.
5. The prophet Elijah lived during this time. Elijah’s name (meaning “The LORD is my God”) was the essence of his message. Since a prophet spoke the very Word of God, it was necessary that Israel distinguish between true and false prophets. Read Deuteronomy 13:1-5 and 18:14-22. What characteristics distinguish God’s true prophets?
Historical Insight: The Hebrew Prophet — Besides godless kings, Israel’s history also featured religious apostasy characterized by an ineffective or nonexistent priesthood. God called men to become His mouthpiece, that is, receiving a message directly from God and proclaiming it to God’s people. Unlike the priest or the king, the prophet did not inherit his office. He received his calling directly from God. Some examples are Jeremiah before birth (Jer. 1:5), Samuel as a young boy (I Sam. 3), and Amos as a farmer (Amos 1: 1). The prophet’s life was usually difficult, sometimes involving grave physical abuse. Jeremiah was held captive in a muddy pit, and according to tradition Isaiah was sawn in half.
6. The spiritual condition of God’s people under the rule of Omri and then Ahab was one of idolatry, especially worship of a god called Baal, one of the leading Canaanite gods. Baal, whose name meant simply “lord,” was considered the god of storms and thus of fertility, for the rain he supposedly sent watered the crops and provided a bountiful harvest. Read James 5:17 and 1 Kings 17:1. Elijah prayed according to God’s promise (Deut. 11:16-17), and then he told Ahab about it.
· What do you think was God’s point by Elijah’s message in 1 Kings 17:1?
· According to James 5:17, how did God answer Elijah’s prayers?
· Why would this challenge the people’s idolatry?
7. Imagine that kind of drought. What effects did God’s answer to Elijah’s prayer have on the land and people in Israel and surrounding nations as well as on himself? See also 1 Kings 18:4.
8. Think About It (Optional): Sometimes when we pray for the Lord to draw unbelievers to Him, the believers have to suffer the consequences as well. Is it worth it?
9. Read 1 Kings 17:1-6. What did Elijah learn about God’s creative provision in a tough time?
10. Read 2 Corinthians 8:13-15 and Philippians 4:10-20. What do you learn about God’s provision from these verses?
11. Tell Your Story: Was there a time in your life when God creatively provided for you as things looked hopeless—whether it was physical, emotional, or spiritual provision? Write a short paragraph describing what it was like to trust Him for that. Share with your group.
Look on a map of the Ancient Middle East in the back of your Bible or to find the area of Tyre and Sidon. Zarephath was located between those two cities. This was Gentile territory and, specifically, the home of Ahab’s queen Jezebel and Baal worship.
12. Read 1 Kings 17:7-16. Based on the information given, what words would you use to describe the Widow of Zarephath if you were there watching her?
Spiritual Insight: The meaning of commanded is “chosen, planned”. It was God’s decree. God was not bound by His covenant with the Jews to bless this Gentile woman. But, He did. God’s grace and mercy is always available to individuals.
13. What was her problem, and how was she trying to deal with it?
14. What might have been her emotions at this time?
15. Read Psalm 146:5-10. How does this apply to our story?
16. What was the widow’s responsibility? Refer to Psalm 56:3,4.
17. List the many ways that her faith and obedience were rewarded. [NOTE: Only a true God can provide flour and oil in a drought!]
18. Your Life’s Journey: Elijah stayed with the widow and her son, eating flour and oil cakes twice a day for almost 3 years. Imagine that. A modern day equivalent could be peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. How long could you stay grateful while eating those twice a day for 3 years?
19. Your Life’s Journey: Reflect on the words of the song below. How grateful are you for what the Lord has already done in your life? Do you thank Him for the times He says, “No”? See Colossians 1:11-12; 2:7; 3: 15-17. If an attitude change is necessary, ask someone in your small group to pray for you to be more thankful. Share with her the results of “joyously giving thanks” to Him.
Had a lot of dreams that never came true. Things I could have done, but never got the chance to do. When I couldn’t see the path of the storm your wisdom wouldn’t let me go that way. And it broke my heart, but now my heart can say,
Thank you for the times you said, No. Thank you for the doors that you closed. All the ways you never let me go and the things you never gave me. So many times I didn’t understand and wouldn’t let you take my hand. But now I want to fall at Your feet and thank you for the things you never gave me. (“Things You Never Gave Me” by David Meece)
20. Read 1 Kings 17:17-24. Now, what was her problem? What was her response to the problem?
21. What do you think she meant by saying, “Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”
Focus on the Meaning: This is a common reaction among people who do not know God’s ways well when personal tragedy hits their lives. It’s the pagan view of life: “When things go well, the gods are pleased with me. When things go wrong, the gods are angry with me.” Jesus declares in Matthew 5:45 that God sends sunshine and rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous equally. It was not her sin but God’s opportunity to take this woman another step along her faith walk, making it personal.
22. Your Life’s Journey: Have you ever experienced anger at or distrust of God when something bad happened? If so, how did you get over it?
23. Deeper Discoveries (Optional): I Kings 18 and 19 are interesting accounts of the further ministry of Elijah to the nation of Israel. They contain stories made familiar through children’s Sunday School lessons. Read them and gain terrific insights into both God’s and Elijah’s characters.
24. Discuss Elijah’s response and how God answered Elijah’s prayer.
25. Read Acts 2:22; Hebrews 2:3-4. Why does God perform miracles? Did it work this time?
26. Read Matthew 6:31-34. Apply this passage to today’s lesson.
27. Your Life’s Journey: Through a near tragedy, this woman came to know the living God in a personal way. Do you know of someone who turned to the Lord only after exhausting all her/his other resources? Share the results with your group. When might it be good to pray for someone to reach desperate circumstances? Discuss with your small group.
Elijah served God as His prophet and priest in the northern kingdom for many years. He mentored Elisha, a farmer’s son, to help him and continue the ministry after Elijah was taken to heaven (2 Kings 2:1-25). Three characteristics distinguished God’s true prophet: 1) He was loyal to Jehovah alone, 2) His predictions came to pass, 3) His message agreed with previous revelations. The performance of miracles was not the primary test, because false prophets could perform miracles through the power of Satan (Deuteronomy 13:1-2).
28. Read 2 Kings 4:1-7. The widow’s husband had been a faithful prophet, part of the company of prophets. Read 1 Kings 20:35; 2 Kings 2:3,5,7,15; 4:1,38; 5:22; 6:1; 9:1. What do you learn about the company/sons of the prophets? Who were they? What did they do? Who were their leaders?
29. Think About It (Optional): The company of prophets can be considered similar to modern seminaries where men and women learn from distinguished God-gifted teachers. One community of prophets was located at Bethel, just north of Jerusalem. Bethel was originally established as a holy place to worship God, particularly during the time of the patriarchs and the judges, especially Samuel’s ministry, it later became a center of Baal worship instead. Can you think of any modern day equivalents?
30. The Mosaic Law provided for paying off debts by working. See Leviticus 25:39-41. How did God limit this practice?
31. Read Exodus 22:22, 23; Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 24:19-22. What responsibility did God place on the entire community regarding widows and orphans?
32. Read Isaiah 1:17, 23; 10:1-2. How effective and persistent was Israel at carrying out this responsibility?
33. Read Deuteronomy 10:17-18; Psalm 68:4-5. What does God promise to do then?
34. Back to 2 Kings 4, what was this woman’s crisis situation, and how did she deal with it?
35. List all the things that Elisha as God’s representative commanded her to do.
36. What was this woman’s responsibility? Did she do her part?
Historical Insight: Olive oil was expensive and time-consuming to make. It was used for cooking, lighting lamps, dressing wounds, and as a deodorant when water wasn’t available for bathing. The wealthy used it for bathing and as a skin softener. It was also used for anointing kings and the dead for burial as well as for ritual offerings. The widow had a valuable commodity.
37. When Elisha told the woman to ask her neighbors for jars, what could have been the benefits of doing so—to them and to her?
38. How do you think this incident impacted her sons? In what practical ways can you show your children what God is like?
39. Looking at the kind of help this woman had sought from God and what she actually received, how did God “defend her cause” (Deuteronomy 10:18)?
40. Your Life’s Journey: Read 1 Timothy 5:3-8,16; James 1:27; and Romans 12:9-16. As followers of Christ, what does God expect of us as women in our homes, church, and community? In today’s society, who would be considered widows? What do they need besides material provisions? Study these passages and ask God to reveal a specific area where He wants you to be obedient to Him as you reach out to meet the need of someone in your sphere of influence. Share this with your small group and ask them to pray for opportunities.
God loved the two widows and their children. He knew what was going on in their lives. He was able to do something about it. But, God did not give the widows their husbands back nor did He prevent them from having to go through the agony of watching food supplies dwindle or facing threats from a creditor. His provision was not luxurious foods or easy money. During their walk, a loving God said no to some things. Yet, they chose to trust Him rather than submit to fear. And, God rewarded their faith with an outpouring of His blessing. Likewise, God may not choose to resuscitate your dead loved ones. But, in any and all situations, you can count on these truths…
§ God loves me.
§ God knows what is going on in my life.
§ God can do something about it.
§ I can trust His goodness in whatever He chooses to do!
41. What kind of fears did the widow living in Zarephath face? How did she respond to God by faith?
42. What could have terrified the prophet’s Widow? How did she demonstrate faith?
43. Your Life’s Journey: Often, we overlook what God has already provided for us and concentrate instead on what we don’t have. What do you deduce from the fact that God used what both women already had as a resource? Read Exodus 4:1-5 and Mark 6:35-44. What principle can you derive from these verses? Reflecting upon your own life, either now or in the past, describe a specific application of this principle in the space below.