December 15 – Day 15
Ornament – Altar of Fire
After the death of King Solomon, the Kingdom of Israel was separated into two parts: the northern tribes, known as the Kingdom of Israel and the southern tribes, known as the Kingdom of Judah.
As Elijah enters our story, it had been sixty years since Solomon’s death and this great divide. King Ahab was reigning in Israel, though not well, as he had rejected Pappa and chosen his own gods.
Elijah set out towards Samaria, trekking through lush, vibrant valleys, enjoying the shade of fruit-heavy trees and resting alongside rushing rivers. Sadly, the land was also quite full of idolatry and Elijah carried a message to a king, that the landscape would soon change. A drought was being delivered, by a God generous enough to call His people back to Him.
The king sent Elijah away and Pappa received him alongside a bubbling brook called Cherith. Through water and raven, God provided for Elijah. Time passed and less water burgeoned the brook. The ravens’ load upon stone had grown lighter. The drought had taken hold.
As was his custom, Elijah bowed before the Lord, thanked Him and waited upon His word.
Go at once to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow there to sustain you. So he went to Zarephath, and then came to the gate of the city, behold, the woman was there gathering sticks: and he called to her and said,
“Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?”
As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”
“As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread–only a handful of meal and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering two sticks that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it and die.” 1 Kings 17:9-12
In days of drought, having enough to eat made one wealthy. The widow Elijah encountered was poor, carrying containers with only enough contents for a last meal. But meal and oil were not all she carried, for she had a word of the Lord, that a servant of God would come and what she gave to him, God would return to her. Elijah’s entrance and request for her first piece of bread was a confirmation of God’s word to her.
She was to sustain the man of God and God would be her sustenance. The weary widow told the poised prophet that she had only a handful of meal. The Hebrew word for handful is ‘kap’ which is “an empty vessel waiting to be filled.” Found upon her also was a flask, or ‘saphah’ in Hebrew which means “to spread out.” This waiting woman wasn’t empty; she was simply awaiting the arrival of being filled.
She would sustain and be sustained. ‘Laklaklak’ is the Hebrew word for sustain. What she lacked, the Lord was soon to bring. ‘Lak’ made three revealed an agreement between God and the three of them: she, Elijah and her son. Long before Elijah appeared, she said yes to being provided for. Because she waited with God’s word to her, she was able to recognize the One Whose coming heralded its fulfillment. The town of her tale is Zarephath, which means “gold refining.” She had only a remnant, that God would refine, according to His word. He loves to spin gold from His Word, within us!
When Ezekiel came through the city gates, he found the widow collecting two sticks. How curious. Two sticks would only be enough for kindling, not a fueled fire. And what of the dressing she was going home to make for the two twigs?
Well, there was a ritual, though pagan, which was adopted by the Northern Kingdom of Israel when separated from Jerusalem. A cloth would be tied to two sticks and two pieces of bread would be connected to the cloth. A husband and wife would carry it to an altar and eat the bread as an offering to their god.
Had this wondrous waiter fallen prey to pagan practices? No, she simply collected what was before her, so she could behold Him. So she could take hold of His word once more. This was not a last meal or funeral procession after all, for the word she used to speak of this meager meal was ‘nathan’ which means “to give, so you can receive and give again.” She still believed the Word wondering through her.
Elijah asked the widow to fetch him a vessel–but this was no canister he called for. One that would run dry after the last drop. The Hebrew word is ‘bakali’ coming from the root ‘kalah’ and means “to be completed or finished to a bride.” Maybe the widow was to be wed.
His request for a drink was followed by a call for bread. ‘Lechem’ is the ancient word, spelled lamed-chet-mem and transliterated is, “sustenance from Heaven joined with God, filled with hidden knowledge.”
That was a lot of vocabulary, but stay with me. A prophet’s purpose is to see what is not yet, as it makes its way, and to help others see its coming. Elijah could see empty things being filled and things once juxtaposed joined. Somehow, in the code of their conversation, Elijah and the widow were seeing a word that would be woven by Ezekiel. The widow gathered two sticks, not to join the pagan, but separate the sacred from the secular. In her wait, she wondered ahead into Elijah’s ignited invitation to see idolatry end.
I don’t have this near enough to say it well, but I’ll try. It’s just that a prophet to come, Ezekiel , would speak of two sticks being inscribed and intertwined once more (37:16-23). Two kingdoms and twelve tribes being restored, one to another, into One. I’m unraveling, but will keep sowing.
Elijah remained with the widow, her son and community for three years. Upon God’s word he departed and delivered a nation from its idolatry and back to its God.
At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed:
“Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. Let it be known today that you are the God in Israel and that I am yours and have done these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so that these people will know that you, Lord, are God and that you are turning hearts back again. Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, wood, stones and soil and also licked up the waters in the trench. 1 Kings 18:36-38
Twice he asks God’s answer, not because he fears its absence, but because he is so aware and awakened to the covenant of his question. Like the widow, open and offering, Elijah knew that love returned is be equal to that given. His love was kindled in Zarephath, with two sticks suspending sacrifice. This love is ‘chav’ or “kindling love.” It is love sustained. It may be barely noticeable when just two twigs find flame. But then ember meets altar, fire falls, hearts commune and the love of earth equals that which Heaven holds. Fierce, fiery love reveals much. Love never fails.
From fire felled, Elijah was harassed and hounded by Jezebel. With life threatened, he sought solace beneath a juniper tree and spoke.
He requested for himself that he might die and said, ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life.’ 1 Kings 19:2-4
When Elijah found the widow, she wasn’t preparing her last meal, she was readying her remnant for resurrection. In this moment, Elijah was not fleeing for his funeral. Indeed not.
The word “take” used here is not the usual one. It is ‘laqach’ which is the word used for “taking a bride.” It bears the idea of being joined to something. If Elijah wanted his life to end, a different word he would have used. The life he offered beneath tree and bearing burden was that of his will. The part of him that might rebel against his God.
He, who dwelt in the land of smelter and forge and was anchored at altar, had journeyed on and reached his refining. Here, he asked Pappa to join him, to have complete control. He wanted every pursuit, passion, dream and desire to be joined, joyed with Pappa’s. Once fed by ravens and widow, now he would be fed by God Himself.
From shade and surrender, he defined his refining. What he fought for, he found.
Fire is enflamed to reveal. After sifting and shaking, it comes to display the unshakeable. We are but dust, without the flame of Spirit within us. Our core may crumble and flesh fail, yet He catches shard and shatter and reforges in the fire, the truth of who we are, to Him.
Fire reveals. When one man’s blind eyes were opened, those scaled shut nearby, were revealed. When stones were held to hurl, Jesus fanned flame and found others standing with stone had also faltered.
We are Christ-shaped and His fire forging sifts and sorts through every element of us, that things unseen may surface and that which belongs not can burn away, that we would not break when we are made to bend, toward Him.
Sundown 6 – SHINE
The Light of the world entered our sphere, when it pierced a pure vessel, yielded to the precious and purpose of Heaven. Mary became a carrier of Light and our candle tonight is about our invitation to do the same.
The sixth candle represents the shining of the righteous. The righteous are described throughout Scripture as those who do the will of the Father.
Those yielding do shine as the brightness of the expanse, and those who justify the multitude (bring many to return) are as the stars to the age and forever. Daniel 12:3
The “let it be done” generation. The willingly set apart to light the way of others.
Mary said, “Let it be done according to your will.” Our rise and shine came long ago, into one called blameless, for she did not argue or complain, but yielded. A Hebrew definition of ‘done’ is “to bring pleasure.”
Mary’s righteousness translated says, “I know what You have asked will bring pleasure to Your heart and to mine. Because of this, we shall be as one.”
The shine of the righteous is joy. So unspeakable it must be arrayed.
Mary knew the joy of the Lord is the joy God has. It is the extravagance of our experience when we please Him.
Joy is the fruit of a full relationship with God. It causes us to experience Him more fully. This joy enables us to enjoy all that He gives.
We shine with the joy set before us, the knowing that we can never be taken from Him.
The shepherds waited beneath pinholes of light. Cold was their blanket, hard earth their bed. Yet they watched over their sheep, lest cunning thieves or ravenous ransackers seek crossing of their keep’s threshold.
Danger lurked as luster penetrated darkness and pierced their hearts. An eclipse that outshone the stars bent their beings. Circumstance could not hinder their faith, for they had given God the opportunity to do more. To be everything. Containment was not an option. Careening wildly into the dark and despairing was now their must and mighty.
As they began to choose the magnanimous moment before them, Light’s defining burst through them. A Hebrew word bloomed from them. ‘Or’, “to be or become light.” ‘Or’, “to light a fire, to kindle, to give light, to cause to shine.”
And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.” Isaiah 6:3
BEATITUDES (let this be our attitude)
Blessed (abundant) are they, they pure in heart, for they will see God.
This Light isn’t for a lofty goal. It’s a daily encounter. When we come pure, without agenda, entitlement and accusations, what remains is His wondrous will. Yielding to it brings us face to face, heart to heart, with the One who longs for nothing more than to truly be with us.