I Kings 17:1-24


Heidelberg Catechism Lord's Day 16

© Copyright 2010  Rev. Bill Versteeg

LD 16, Q & A 44 


Q. Why does the creed add,

   "He descended to hell"?

A. To assure me in times of personal crisis and temptation

   that Christ my Lord,

      by suffering unspeakable anguish, pain, and terror of soul,

      especially on the cross but also earlier,

   has delivered me from the anguish and torment of hell.


1 Kings 17

17  Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe  in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”

2 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: 3 “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. 4 You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there.”

5 So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. 6 The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.

The Widow at Zarephath

7 Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. 8 Then the word of the Lord came to him: 9 “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.” 10 So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”

12 “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”

13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.’ ”

15 She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.

17 Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. 18 She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”

19 “Give me your son,” Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. 20 Then he cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought tragedy also upon this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” 21 Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”

22 The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. 23 Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!”

24 Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.”


     This evening, as we look at the first recorded resurrection in the scriptures, we want to pay particular attention to the context and the behind the scenes dynamics, the spiritual conflict as it comes out in the narrative of I Kings 17.


     It was Ahab's time, - his reign, his chance to do the will of God as God's ruling representative - but he did more evil in the sight of the Lord than any of the kings before him - he loved and approved of evil, he married evil personified in the person of Jezebel - the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians, the people among whom Baal made his home. Ahab’s marriage to Jezebel was spiritual adultery.


     Israel and Ahab were committing spiritual adultery with Baal. Baal claimed control over the rain, and with the fertility goddess Asteroth, they claimed power over life itself. Sidon was Baal's throne, there his power ruled supreme, he was worshiped without question. People's lives were his. Sidon was his territory. But when the demons behind Baal and Asherah started spreading their power to the land of Israel through Ahab, they stepped on different territory, sacred territory, God's land, God's people. God tested the faithfulness of his people, but they found the tyranny of the devil more attractive than the covenant relationship that he had with them. The nation turned wholesale to the demon Baal, and their memory of God quickly diminished.

     Into the heart of Ahab's power came Elijah - the desert prophet, faithful to YWH. To those who acted as though they could sin with impunity, could betray their faithfulness to God without it having consequences because he was a s good as dead - Elijah said "As the Lord, the God of Isreal, lives!" That was a spiritual battle cry - the one true living God against those who set themselves up to be gods, the Baals and the Asheroths, the demons of Sidon.


     They claimed they were the power behind the rain and fertility in the land. God said "NO!" "There will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at MY Word!" This was a contest of power, and Baal was powerless when god would not permit rain. The priest and the priestess of Baal - Ahab and Jezebel seethed with anger like the demon behind them - yet they could do nothing.


     Elijah went and hid in the Kerith Ravine, we don't know exactly where that is - but there the Lord provided for him for a time (est 6 months) with a creek that slowly became more moss filled and slimy, and the garbage birds of the land, the Ravens, brought him bread and meat, maybe we don't want to know where from. Elijah - though he was provided for had to suffer with the people of Israel.


     But as the land was dried for 1 month, then two, four and six, this brook became nothing - the power of the Lord dried up the land - and exposed Baal as powerless to Israel. But that was not enough - God told Elijah to go to Zarephath - in Sidon, in the land of Ethbaal the king, father of Jezebel, in the land of the chief high priest of Baal. In short, God told Elijah to go to hell, to descend to hell where the powers of evil ruled!


     And there, Elijah discovered that the power of God was not only in the land of Israel - it was also in the land of Sidon, in the home of Baal and Asheroth. Baal was in chains even in his home. Hell had be dry, withou water - the worshippers of Baal without blessing or food - they were starving. Elijah was told to ask a starving widow and her son for provision. In that culture, in that time for a holy man to ask a women for any help was an unspeakable humiliation - but God who sees no distinction between male and female for he created them both expected his prophet to depend on this women for help.


     The women’s faith in Baal had been broken, she was going to make her last meal for herself and her son that they might die - Baal could no longer come to their rescue. But when this prophet from a foreign country came - and spoke with such authority - she had the insight to see the spiritual battle - and she trusted Elijah - she made the meal - gave to him and as she did - she found the blessing that follows those who obey the word of the Lord - the oil and the flour continued coming from these near empty jars.


     This was a contest of principalities and powers. But even more so, this is a story of God in control. The God who miraculously provided for their food was the one who also controlled all the rain - even in the Land where there was a demon named Baal who claimed to own the rain.


     But then came the intense battle - in Satan’s territory call Sidon - the battle was the challenge for a life - the challenge between God and the evil one - in Baal's territory. Suddenly - the young boy - son of the women who owned the house took a fever - became very ill and stopped breathing in his mothers arms. God gave them life through the miracle of the flour and oil, now Baal - the evil one, the murderer from the beginning, did all within his power to discredit the God who blesses, the God who is gracious and loving and kind, the Lord of all creation. Baal took the life of the young child. And his program to discredit the God of all was at first effective in the life of the women.

     "What have you against me, man of God?"

     "Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?"


The evil one is out to steal worship for himself - and the best way that he does that is by defaming the name of God. In one fell swop, he turned the women from faith to distrust of God's prophet, In one killing spree, he turned the God of love into a God of judgement and the curse.


But the battle was on - in the hell of Satan's territory. Almighty God would display himself even in the land of evil.


Elijah took the son - in his arms - a holy man should have never done that in that culture - it would have made him so very unclean, unworthy of God - but Elijah took him in his arms, became ceremonially dirty for the sake of the women, for the sake of the battle for the sake of the child - he carried the child to his upper room - and cried out to God - not understanding all the dynamics in the spiritual battle - he cried out to God WHY? Even Elijah did not see all the dynamics going on.


     And then he did something wonderful - he laid out his body on top of the dead child - some commentators suggest that this was to communicate his warmth to the child - maybe even breath in him the breath of life - but scripture gives us just the picture - he became like the child on the bed in its death - he identified with the child in its death and in identifying with the child, like a Priest he interceded to God on his behalf that his life might return to him.


     Elijah prayed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. A miracle happened! The child came back to life. The power of Baal was defeated. A child arose from death.


     In this resurrection Satan was defeated powerfully in his own territory. The dead son was raised in Zarephath of Sidon. A powerful blow was given to defeat the evil power in the land of Isreal. Later when it came to mount Carmel - Baal's defeat would be demonstrated to the entire nation of Israel - God had the power to give fire - Baal did not - for all the nation of Israel to see. But the real battle was won in intercession - when the dead son was raised in the land of Zarapheth.


      We confess with the words of the Apostle creed that Jesus like Elijah descended into hell. Jesus did that in his ministry and his enduring time till he cried out, it is finished on the cross. But our confession is a cry of victory because it boasts that even hell itself, even Satan’s territory must now bend the knee to the Lordship of Christ. Jesus has secured power even over death it self in death’s territory. Jesus has secured power over all evils themselves in hell’s territory. When we make the claim that Jesus descended into hell and then rose again, he arose from the very bowels of the enemies nest, he arose a victor from the dark domain, He arose to disarm and defeat our greatest enemy forever and ever.



   1. Low in the grave He lay,

      Jesus my Savior,

      Waiting the coming day,

      Jesus my Lord!

          * Refrain:

            Up from the grave He arose,

            With a mighty triumph o’er His foes,

            He arose a Victor from the dark domain,

            And He lives forever, with His saints to reign.

            He arose! He arose!

            Hallelujah! Christ arose!


   2. Vainly they watch His bed,

      Jesus my Savior;

      Vainly they seal the dead,

      Jesus my Lord!


   3. Death cannot keep its Prey,

      Jesus my Savior;

      He tore the bars away,

      Jesus my Lord!



(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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