- Bible Reading: 1 Kings 17:1-16 [17-24]
- Free Resource: Discussion Questions (Small Groups – NL)
- Unit Theme (November 1—November 22): God Sightings
- The Point: God provides for us, often in ways we do not expect.
Two Israelite insiders—a king and a prophet. Two Sidonian outsiders—a princess and a widow. The wicked king leaves God’s way leading to drought, while the faithful prophet follows God’s way to miraculous provision.
Insiders Become Outsiders
Like Israel’s first king, Saul, David ruled over a kingdom including all the people of Israel. This, however, didn’t last. As soon as David’s son Solomon was dead, the kingdom divided. Solomon’s son Rehoboam became king, but he rejected sound advice on how to be a compassionate leader and clung to personal power instead.
Most of the tribes of Israel then rejected Rehoboam as king and set up his opponent Jeroboam as the ruler of the newly independent northern kingdom, confusingly called Israel. The southern kingdom consisted of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin and became known as Judah (sorry, Benjamin). Although this division was a realization of a prophecy, the northern kingdom abandoned not only the Davidic monarchy, but proper worship of the Lord as well (ironically moving back to the worship of golden calves). The insiders became outsiders.
Ahab and Jezebel
Even though the northern kingdom left the Davidic dynasty and proper temple worship, they are still a part of the people of Israel with whom God had declared a covenantal relationship. They are still insiders to the promise, no matter how they act. And they acted horribly. The king whom we encounter in today’s story is so far the worst of the worst.
Ahab son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him. Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him.1 Kings 16:30, 33
One of the evil things he did was to marry an outsider, Jezebel the princess of Sidon, a worshipper of Baal. This was not necessarily horrible. If she had converted to the worship of YHWH like Ruth, the story would have a happy ending. But she kept her religion, and Ahab imported and adopted her practices. Ahab, the Israelite insider, was working really hard to become an outsider.
God was not pleased with Ahab’s behavior (and later Jezebel’s cruelty). So, God sent the prophet Elijah with a dire message: God would cause a long drought because of Ahab. This was given as a statement, without a “unless you repent.” However, Ahab much later hears a different judgment for which he repents, and God shows mercy, demonstrating that Ahab could have likely avoided the drought with repentance.
Elijah and the Widow
A counterpoint to Ahab and Jezebel is Elijah and an unnamed widow. Elijah was an Israelite like Ahab, born in this northern kingdom. However, he did not abandon God but became one of YHWH’s most well-known prophets.
An odd thing is that after he delivered God’s declaration, God sent Elijah out of Israel, into gentile territory. This was not to convert the locals but to be safe and provided for (by God). After resources become scarce because of the aforementioned drought, God sends Elijah up to Sidon, the very place Jezebel was from! And it is most reasonable to assume that the woman, the mother, he encounters was also a worshipper of Baal.
While Jezebel goes from being a princess to a powerful queen, the unnamed woman likely started out as a peasant and then became among the most powerless, having lost her husband and therefore financial and social security. God took away providence from Ahab, Jezebel, and the land, but gave abundance to this mother, her son, and Elijah. The outsider becomes an insider.
Boundaries exist. This is an indisputable fact. And boundaries are natural. We live in physical communities with city (town) limits. You either live inside a city or outside of it. We gather in communities of like-interested people. You either belong to the art society or you don’t. Our churches have boundaries, however you might draw them (most simply by who associates with your congregation and who does not).
God’s chosen nation, the Israelites, had specific boundaries, drawn by God in the Torah. A repeating theme in Scripture is “don’t be like the other people.” They were insiders and God expected them to act differently than the outsiders. As strict as this boundary was, it was not an impenetrable wall. Clearly, the Israelite insiders often passed through to be like their outsider neighbors. But God’s work also didn’t end at the boundary.
Inside Out and Outside In
In today’s story, Ahab remained inside the kingdom’s borders but spiritually acted like an outsider. Elijah left the kingdom’s borders but his connection with God remained as strong as ever.
While the princess went from Sidon to Israel, Elijah went from Israel to Sidon. While Ahab and Jezebel used their power to oppress God’s people, Elijah and the Sidonian widow experienced God’s power to provide and free them from hunger. People tried to bring the outside in, but God was busy bringing the inside out.
One space for building community is a small group gathered around fellowship, prayer, and study, a place where insiders can be strengthened to do God’s work outside. This week, I am providing a selection of our discussion questions from our Living the Word: Small Groups (Narrative Lectionary) discussion guides that can be used virtually or in-person.
In the unity of God’s love,
Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
A Few Notes
While it may not arise in your teaching or preaching, I would recommend limiting Jezebel’s “fault” in this (though there is plenty of that later in her story). She plays a passive role here and did not even lead Ahab astray; he was heading there full tilt on his own.
Also, while it is faithful to the biblical text to only refer to the woman as the widow, I would also suggest varying the terms used to describe this woman. Sadly, we are not given her name (another example of her powerlessness), but in addition to being a widow (named for what she lacks), she is also a woman, the mistress of the house, and a mother (who she is and what she has). The language we choose matters.
Our Faith Formation Resources
- Home Faith Formation for the Narrative Lectionary and the Revised Common Lectionary
- Resources for the Narrative Lectionary (products for all ages)
- Resources for the Revised Common Lectionary (home-based and intergenerational classroom)
- Cross+Generational Confirmation with an optional online community
- Worship and Liturgy Education
- Information page: Our Products and COVID-19.