Hospitable and Helpful

The story of the Good Samaritan proves that the way we treat people who are in trouble has more to do with our eternal destiny than many people realize. The question to be answered is not how do you treat your friends, but how do you treat people of other races and nationalities who are completely different from you? There is a story of a woman whose life was saved and that of her son because she exercised hospitality.

The Bible reveals that after the ten tribes separated from the two Israelite tribes of Judah and Benjamin they went into an apostasy of idolatry such as had never been seen in the land of Israel. Following is the Bible description of what eventually developed:

“Now Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him. And it came to pass, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took as wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians; and he went and served Baal and worshipped him. Then he set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. And Ahab made a wooden image. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.” I Kings 16:30–33.

The children of Israel had taken a solemn covenant that they would be the Lord’s people, that they would do His will, and that they would follow Him and keep His laws. And yet, in shameless violation of the solemn covenant they had made, they went into the grossest heathenism and idolatry. When God gave His law to the children of Israel on Mount Sinai and then wrote the Ten Commandments on two tables of stone, most of the commandments were very short. However, there were two that were much longer than the rest, giving more details about obeying them. It is interesting that when studying religious history it is seen that these are the two commandments that the devil has severely attacked over and over again throughout the centuries and millennia.

The second commandment says, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Exodus 20:4–6.

But in shameless violation of this strict command in God’s law, the children of Israel went into idolatry, gross idolatry, involving the offering of human sacrifices.

There was a man who lived on the east of Jordan in the mountains of Gilead who saw this apostasy and was terribly grieved over it. He knew that not only was the nation violating their covenant with God, but if something was not done to arrest this apostasy, the people would eventually go so far that they would commit the unpardonable sin of grieving the Spirit of God, making it impossible for them to recover and return to the Lord. So he began to pray about it and to ask the Lord if He would arrest the apostasy of His people by sending them judgments if need be so that they might repent and recover from their terrible condition.

The Bible describes this righteous man in James 5:17, 18. It says, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.”

When Elijah prayed the Lord answered his prayer. The Lord told him to go and announce to King Ahab that there would be no rain on the land. So, Elijah started out on his long journey down the mountains to the Jordan and clear across on the other side into the city of Samaria where he came to the royal city, the king’s residence. When he came to the palace of King Ahab he did not ask or solicit an admission or even wait for a formal introduction. Clothed in the course garments that prophets wore in those days, he passed by the royal guards, apparently unnoticed, and entered into the presence of the king, who was astonished to suddenly see someone standing before him unannounced. This was quite unheard of.

Elijah made no apology for his abrupt appearance because Somebody greater than any human king had commissioned him with a message. Lifting his hand toward heaven he solemnly affirmed before the king that the judgments of the Most High God were about to fall upon Israel. Elijah’s announcement is given in I Kings 17:1: “And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.’ ”

There was no physical evidence that what Elijah had predicted was going to happen. At the time everything was green and lush and there was plenty of water everywhere. However, Elijah made the pronouncement the Lord had given him to tell the king, then he immediately turned around and walked out.

The king was so astonished that he didn’t have time to say or do anything before Elijah went abruptly out of the palace and out of the city, not waiting to see the reaction to his message. “Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘Get away from here and turn eastward, and hide by the Brook Cherith, which flows into Jordan. And it will be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.’ So he went and did according to the word of the Lord, for he went and stayed by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the brook.” I Kings 17:2–6.

Time went on. The first day didn’t seem much different than before, maybe no change, even after the first week. But after a month had gone by and there was no rain and no dew, things began to get dry. And then six months went by with no sign of rain and no dew and things really got dry. Lack of rain in the second year caused a famine in the land. The pitiless heavens gave no sign of any rain. There was drought and famine throughout the whole land. During this time Elijah was praying and waiting. What will it take for these people to see that what they are doing is wrong? They seemed unable to discern in their suffering a divine call to repentance and a divine interposition to save them from taking the fatal step beyond the boundary of heaven’s patience and forgiveness.

The Bible teaches very clearly that it is possible to take that fatal step, to go beyond the boundary of forgiveness. This apostasy of Israel was actually more dreadful than the horrors of the famine that they were enduring. But as the famine went on, the time came when the brook Cherith had less and less water until it too dried up. When people study a story like this, some wonder why the Lord sends judgments. The prophet Ezekiel tells us what the Lord thinks and feels when He has to send judgments upon people.

“ ‘Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?’ Says the Lord God, ‘and not that he should turn from his ways and live?’ ” Ezekiel 18:23.

“ ‘Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,’ says the Lord God. ‘Therefore turn and live!’ ” Verses 31, 32.

Over and over this message is repeated in the Bible. Again in Ezekiel 33:11, it says, “Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’ ”

But the time came that people were still unrepentant. The brook Cherith was drying up and Elijah needed somewhere to go where he would be able to get water. The Lord sent him not to anybody in the land of Israel, but into a heathen land to live among the heathen.

“The word of the Lord came to him [Elijah] saying, ‘Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.’ So he arose and went to Zarephath [clear west of the land of Israel, over by the Mediterranean Sea, to the city of Sidon]. And when he came to the gate of the city, indeed a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, ‘Please bring me a little water in a cup, that I may drink.’ And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, ‘Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.’ So she said, ‘As the Lord your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.’ ” I Kings 17:8–12.

This was a favor that no person from that region of the world would ever deny, to offer a drink to a stranger who was thirsty. This woman was not only poor, but she was at the point of starvation, getting ready to prepare her last meal. There would have been no more food and she and her son would die.

“And Elijah said to her, ‘Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord God of Israel: “The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.” ’ ” Verses 13, 14.

This was a supreme test of faith for this heathen woman who was told that the God of Israel would provide for her need. She would have flour and oil to sustain her until the day that rain came upon the earth. She passed the test. She decided to do as Elijah had asked.

“So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and he and her household ate for many days. The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke by Elijah.” Verses 15, 16.

It is interesting that Jesus referred to this experience in one of His sermons (Luke 4:25 and 26). Jesus said there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah but he was not sent to any of them, but into a heathen land for a widow from Zarephath to provide for him. This woman was not an Israelite and had never had the blessings and the privileges of God’s chosen people. She did not have access to the Bible that they possessed. However, she was a believer in the true God and had walked in all the light that she had. This was the home to which God sent Elijah to find an asylum. She was hospitable to a stranger who asked a favor of her, a little food and a little water. Not only did God work a miracle to provide food for her until the end of the famine, but also provided for her for the rest of her life.

“Now it happened after these things that the son of the woman who owned the house became sick. And his sickness was so serious that there was no breath left in him. So she said to Elijah, ‘What have I to do with you, O man of God? Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to kill my son?’ And he said to her, ‘Give me your son.’ So he took him out of her arms and carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his own bed. Then he cried out to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord my God, have You also brought tragedy on the widow with whom I lodge, by killing her son?’ And he stretched himself out on the child three times, and cried out to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord my God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him.’ Then the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came back to him, and he revived. And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper room into the house, and gave him to his mother. And Elijah said, ‘See, your son lives!’ Then the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth.’ ” I Kings 17:17–24.

This woman practiced the gift of hospitality. She was tested because it looked like she was going to starve to death when she was asked to help somebody else who was hungry and thirsty. She shared what she had with somebody else who was in just as great a need as she was and the result was, not only her life, but the life of her son was spared. It is still true that God has promised a great blessing to any person who, in a time of trial, and want, and trouble, gives sympathy and assistance to others who are more needy. The Bible says that God does not change (Hebrews 13:8). He is the same today and He has no less power now than He did in the days of Elijah.

The Scriptures have a lot to say about providing sympathy and assistance to others.

Notice what the apostle Paul wrote about it in Hebrews 13:2. He said, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.” Jesus talked about it, as recorded in Matthew 10:40–42. “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And He who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.”

Throughout the Bible we are instructed not just to be considerate, but also to be hospitable and helpful to our fellow men and to anyone who is in need or who is in trouble. Isaiah the prophet described it this way: The Lord said, “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ ” Isaiah 58:6–9.

This widow was abundantly rewarded because she practiced hospitality to someone who was in need. It is still true today that our heavenly Father continues to place in the pathway of His children opportunities that are blessings in disguise. No act of kindness shown to someone in the name of Christ will fail to be recognized and rewarded. We should have the same tender regard for the feeblest and the lowliest human being, especially those who are in trouble.

If you are saved, you will meet this woman and her son in the kingdom of heaven. Remember, Jesus said in Matthew 10:41 that the person that receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.

The time came when it had not rained for three years and six months. The Lord saw it was finally time to show His hand. He told Elijah to go and present himself to King Ahab. Elijah met King Ahab out in a field. The first words from the king’s mouth revealed his inmost thoughts. “Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, ‘Is that you, O troubler of Israel?’ ” I Kings 18:17. While the drought lasted, the king had sent to all countries of the world to try to find Elijah, without success.

Ahab should have known that it was by the word of the God of the heavens and that it was because of their idolatry that this plague, this terrible disaster, had come. But he sought to cast the blame upon the prophet Elijah for what was happening. That same accusation is still happening in the world today. People get in trouble because of their sins and then they blame the trouble that they experience on God’s children who have told them the truth that they didn’t enjoy hearing.

Elijah had no apology to make. In fact, he was indignant at what the king and his wife Jezebel had done that had brought this terrible trouble upon the whole nation and had resulted in the death of many, many people. “And he [Elijah] answered, ‘I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and have followed the Baals.’ ” I Kings 18:18.

It is still true today. Why does trouble come upon the world? The world is fraught with trouble today because of the sinful way that we are living. We might blame anybody we want to, just like Ahab did, but Elijah told the truth. He said, “I’m not the problem.” God’s people, the ones who keep His laws and do His will and obey the laws of the Bible, they are not the problem. Elijah said, “You are the problem because you have forsaken the Lord and forsaken His commandments.”

How is it with you?

(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)

Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church of Free Seventh-day Adventists in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: historic@stepstolife.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.