I Want to Go to Significant Places!

Zarephath…significantly located in Sidon. What makes that significant? Geography.

Today, where Sidon existed, sits Saida, Lebanon’s third-largest city.  God sent His prophet Elijah away from Israel, to an insignificant old Canaanite settlement in a land that had come to be controlled by the Phoenicians.  I imagine the people there lived in what must have been the poverty of the bitterly conquered. While some scholars believe the intended border of the Promised Land was far enough north to have included Sidon, Israel certainly never “possessed the land” that far.  The people of Sidon were not “God’s people”.  

Did I neglect to mention that this land of “unclean” Sidonian sinners was the homeland of the woman who would turn out to be Elijah’s mortal enemy, Queen Jezebel? [1 Kings 19]. Why would the Holy God of Israel send His anointed prophet there of all places?

Nevertheless, it was in Zarephath of Sidon a poor unclean widow—a woman facing starvation—extended her hospitality to God’s prophet. In return for sharing what she had and her obedience to the prophet’s direction, she received miraculous provision and blessings.  The supply of flour and oil came without further merit being required. That’s God’s grace.

We hear a lot said about being “sanctified, set apart”. The message often comes across as “Don’t go where the ‘sinners’ are! Be Holy because the Lord your God is Holy. You better stay in here with the rest of the flock where it’s safe”.  Worst case scenario: people start trying to “be holy” by their own efforts, and if the “flock” increases at all it can end up being plagued with inbred genetic defects like errant doctrines on how to be holy. (I said, “worst case”.  Some flocks manage to stay humble and dependent on mercy and grace.)

Perhaps we need a “flashback” to an earlier point in Elijah’s story. The entire region was experiencing severe drought.  God had been sheltering Elijah at the Brook Cherith, sending the ravens in with food. But then the brook dried up and God wasn’t ready for it to rain.

God kept Elijah alive by sending him to live among unclean sinners! And God’s blessings went with Elijah, to the benefit of the sinners, because the widow welcomed him. Face it, Israel was no better than Sidon in those days, with the Hebrew children building altars to Baal, setting up Asherah poles and killing all the prophets! So could the picture of God’s extension of provision, mercy, and grace to all people we view in Zarephath be more obvious?  Let us not ignore the Elijah side of it! Like Elijah, we can experience mercy and grace more deeply ourselves—in a way that helps keep us alive—when we extend it to others and bring them into contact with its source, Christ!

Where the “flock” is safely together, we can create an illusion of always-green pastures and still waters. But in a lot of places where the flock is gathered there is drought and the flock prays, “Oh Lord, send us revival!”  What if, when the brook dries up, God means for the flock to scatter and move to the seemingly insignificant places where He plans to keep us alive? The place where the flock huddles in what it calls safety is no more or less holy than any other place the Lord sends His people. His people are holy because He is holy. His Spirit lives in them. His Son has made His home with us and is literally building His house with His people as the material! Holiness goes where we go…at all times. It’s not “set apart” to be entered at the place we “go to” and call “the church”!

He fully expects to send us where the sinners are—not against our free will, of course, because we do have the dangerous option of being disobedient. But if we will go in obedience, He’ll send us where the sinners are…maybe even to the homeland of our mortal enemy.

“Why on earth would God send us there, of all places?” I can think of at least two reasons. First, because those places are filled with the “bitterly conquered”.  He died for them!  And secondly, He wants to keep us alive! When we go to the unholy places like Zarephath (where the sinners are), our holiness (which is Christ) and the testimony of God’s blessing and provision go with us.  Zarephath turned out to be a pretty significant place after all.  Look beyond the borders of the land that’s familiar toward the seemingly insignificant and bitterly conquered individuals out there and tell me, who do you think He wants to send with the Good News about His mercy and grace to “those sinners”?

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