Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 34. Not just men
Heb 11:35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again.
There is a very simple, basic and fundamental truth here: when things go wrong and we are faced with the impossible, God has got to be our refuge for no one else can deal with the impossible. Here in this simple sentence in our verse above we have two stories with great similarities and they both involve faith in a women. Earlier in this series we considered the faith of Rahab who ended up in the genealogy of the Messiah in Matthew chapter 1, but also included there are Tamar and Ruth (v.3 & 5). You find Tamar’s story in Gen 38 and of course Ruth’s story in the book of Ruth. All three were Gentiles and all three were women of faith. There is also an indirect reference to Bathsheba in Matt 1:6 with “Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.” Possibly a step too far for Matthew to actually name her but she was a woman of faith who was joined to the Messianic family. All women of faith.
But the two women in the Old Testament who received back their dead sons by faith were the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17-24) and the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:8-36), each who put their trust in the Lord through the ministries of Elijah and Elisha respectively.
First of all the widow of Zarephath. She already shown herself to be a woman of faith who had encountered Elijah in the time of severe drought. In the time of shortage the Lord specifically sent Elijah to her (1 Kings 17:8) and he had instructed her to make a loaf of bread for them with her last flour and oil and said her jar of flour and oil would never run out. To give her last food away was a distinct act of faith, responding to the man of God, but she did it and experienced a miracle of provision (1 Kings 17:15,16) When her son subsequently becomes ill and dies, she challenges Elijah over the reason for it happening. Now note she doesn’t assume it is just one of those things that happen in life, but she puts a spiritual dimension to it. God is a life-provider and God is a life-taker, so was her son dying an act of God to punish her for her imperfect life?
How many of us look at the down times of our lives and wonder is God punishing us? My mother, who came to the Lord late in life, expressed this similarly when something went wrong early in her new Christian life. My answer was the same then as it is now: It is always possible that God may be disciplining or training us, to draw us closer to Him and to teach us to rely upon Him, but he will not be punishing you for your sin because Jesus has died to take all your punishment. So be clear, as His child, He will not be punishing you! She prayed and climbed out of the bad situation. In Elijah’s case he prays and “The LORD heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived.” (1 Kings 17:22) Faith provoked prayer which brought life.
The second case was the Shunammite woman who had encountered Elisha: “One day Elisha went to Shunem. And a well-to-do woman was there, who urged him to stay for a meal.” (2 Kings 4:8) as a follow on to that, she and her husband set up a room that Elisha could come and use whenever he passed by there. One day Elisha asked her what he could do to repay her kindness but she said she had everything she needed (see 2 Kings 4:11-13) so he asked his servant about her and he pointed out, “Well, she has no son and her husband is old.” (v.14) to which Elisha prophesies to her, “About this time next year, you will hold a son in your arms.” (v.16) A year later she has a son.
Some time later when the boy was still relatively young, one day he complained of head pains and died. (v.19,20) Now note what takes place – Elisha is not there: “She called her husband and said, “Please send me one of the servants and a donkey so I can go to the man of God quickly and return.” (v.22) Her instinctive reaction is to go and send for Elisha. So, “she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel.” (v.25) To cut a long story short, Elisha comes and clearly prays for the boy and he lives. Now Shunem to Mount Carmel was at least ten miles so it would have taken a while to travel the twenty plus miles there and back and so the son would have been well and truly dead – but once death has occurred. Time is irrelevant to God.
So here we have two women, both confronted by the death of a loved one, and both in contact with a prophet of God. Both of then could simply have quietly gone away to a place of seclusion and mourning but neither of them gave up; they had the resource of God living with them and so they turned to that resource and cried, “Help!” Their ways of doing that were very different but the outcome was the same in both cases.
Now I have to say, in wondering how we apply this, that I know of few people who have ever been involved in raising the dead, but there are some I know. I have know of churches praying for those terminally ill and that person has wonderfully been healed. I also know of the opposite, where a church prayed full of faith and the person in question still died. The negative summary of that: God sometimes lets people die. The positive summary of that: God sometimes God snatches people back from the jaws of death.
It is often said that Elijah and Elisha prefigured Jesus’ ministry. He too provided food miraculously and he too raised people from the dead. Lazarus (Jn 11) is the classic example of that but there is also the case of Jairus’s daughter (Mt 9:18,19,23-25) and also the son of the widow of Nain (Lk 7:11-17) Many of us believe these accounts and so know that Jesus can raise the dead. When it comes to our own personal circumstances that may involve terminal illness or it may involve some other ‘impossible’ situation, the question we have is ‘Does God want to heal this person?’ The answer has to be that God wants the very best for these circumstances – for them, for you, for other watchers. It is natural to cry out to God to save our loved one – He can heal them.
Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane should perhaps be our guiding light: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Mt 26:39) Yes, it is physically possible for God to intervene but how does it ‘fit’ in the overall plan or will of God? Figuratively speaking, step out and walk on the water of faith and cry out to God for healing, but if you sink into the depths of grief because you apparently get a negative answer, know that Jesus is still there and will stretch out and catch you and lift you up and stop you from drowning and will give you another day to go on with him, despite what happened.
We are on holy ground here. God feels for us and with us and sometimes, just sometimes, He does step in and we know miraculous deliverances but other times He just wants to enfold you in His love as we witness that which brings immense grief. However the challenge of these two stories is to pray and call out and use whatever resource is at hand to draw God’s hand of life down on your loved one.