There is here a clear theme of need/provision. Shattering ideas of the good old days or innate human goodness, I Kings 16 (and the chapters before it) steadily intensifies the desperate need of Israel: “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” becomes a nauseating refrain. The judgment of the Lord is complete, unwavering and final: “You have made my people Israel to sin, provoking me to anger with their sins, behold, I will utterly sweep you away.” King after king comes to power, ruling with increasing evil. And time and again the king is judged and replaced. Evil is here a centrifugal force: it gathers its own inertia, intensifying and expanding.
“Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did more evil than all who were before him”; “and Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord . . . Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.” The idolatrous evil of Israel’s kings pushes out and expands.
Like the old Fabergé Shampoo commercials, the entire screen is soon full of evil kings (“I told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on!”).
Israel is desperate for a word of hope, and God provides the prophet Elijah. Elijah’s very name points to another: “my God is Yahweh” or even more simply “Yahweh is God.”
In I Kings 17, the need-provision tension is clarified, demonstrating that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4, quoting Deuteronomy 8). Elijah predicts a drought to show that we shall exist only by the very word of God: “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives . . . there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word” (I Kings 17:1). And true enough, there was no rain in Israel until it was sent by God (the end of I Kings 18).
At a micro-level, Elijah’s very sustenance was dependent on the command of the Lord to the ravens to feed him. Like an infant completely dependent on its mother, so also was Elijah desperately dependent on the Lord.
Elijah then encounters a widow, as famine continues in the land. The widow has nothing to offer to eat: all she does have is a small jar of flour and a small jug of oil. Foreshadowing the loaves and fishes, from the time of Elijah’s request until the time there was again rain, “the jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah” (I Kings 7:16).
There is a memorable scene in Stephen King’s Desperation (centrifugal evil begets centrifugal need!). In flight from demonic evil, a ragtag group bands together, finding themselves in an abandoned theater, hungry and scared. One returns with a small, beer-can sized bag from a convenience store and a box of Ritz Crackers. A can of Blue Fjord Fancy Sardines is in the bottom of the brown bag.
A child asks if he can say grace, an awkward moment for most of the adults. After grace is offered, which clarifies the gift of provision for need, the crackers and sardines are passed around. And the famished group keeps eating, but the crackers and sardines remain sufficient. “[Looking at the sleeve of crackers, he] could have sworn that it was still half-full; that the number of crackers in it had not changed at all.”
Need and provision. Human need and God’s sufficiency. Our desperation and God’s gracious satisfaction.