The Prophet’s Bed
“ . . . and he laid him on his own bed.”
(1 Kings 17:19)
Today is a good day, tomorrow a bad.
Today heaven is opened wide, tomorrow it is ceiled with bronze.
Today your prayers flow like a flood, tomorrow the string of your tongue cannot be loosed.
Today the righteousness of Christ sweetly rests upon your shoulders; tomorrow the fires of hell lick your sin-fouled feet.
Today you have, and to spare; tomorrow you are counting quarters and hoping for seconds on rice and beans.
Today your job is a straight path to a sure future; tomorrow your feet are pounding the pavement and circling the city.
Today you and your mate need say nothing; tomorrow you have nothing to say, and no desire to say it.
Today your body is a willing servant, tomorrow a cruel tyrant.
Today the world is a glorious Eden, tomorrow a waste and howling wilderness.
Today God is working all things together for good; tomorrow he is on a mission to search and destroy.
Welcome to the Prophet’s Bed.
The widow of Zarephath was doing well. For many days the bin of flour had remained full, and the cruise of oil had not run dry. So the prophet had promised, and so it had come to pass, saving both her and her son from starvation. Perhaps she could trust this man of God—and the God of this man—after all.
But then it happened. Then her son fell sick, so sick that there was no breath left in him.
“Why have you come to me, O man of God?” she asked. “Was it to bring my sin to remembrance before God and to kill my son?”
But Elijah, both seeing and hearing, simply said, “Give me your son.”
When she complied, he took the boy out of her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his own bed. Then, crying out to the LORD, he stretched himself upon the boy—face to face, hand to hand, foot to foot—and prayed again, saying, “ O LORD my God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him!”
And it did.
So Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper room into the house, and gave him to his mother.
“See,” cried Elijah with tears of joy, “Your son lives!”
To which the woman—both amazed and ashamed—replied, “By this I now know that you are indeed a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.”
Looking at things superficially, the saints of God might be tempted to think there is really very little difference between their life and the life of their non-christian neighbor. Both get born, both die, and in between both grow, learn, struggle, marry, parent, work, win, lose, joy and sorrow. In the end—a saint might be tempted to think—all lives are cut from the same piece of cloth, all are cast in the same basic mold.
But nothing could be further from the truth. To see why, let us put on our New Testament glasses, the better to understand a mysterious Old Testament text that is loaded with comforting types and shadows of our own life, and of every life that has died and is hidden with God in Christ.
In this amazing (true) story, the widow represents the living Church: all who are presently alive to God in Christ.
Her house is the whole world—the heavens, the earth, the seas, and all they contain—the dwelling place of God and his people.
The widow’s son is also the Church, but this time the portion of the Church that is still dead in sin. He dwells in close proximity to the living Church, and is loved by the living Church, but desperately needs to be made alive again in Christ.
Elijah is Christ, the supreme Prophet, dwelling with the living Church in the house of this world, mighty in word and deed to bring truth and life to the dead.
As our story begins, the widow pleads with Elijah for the life of her son. Here we see the Church, pleading with Christ for the eternal life of God’s elect; for the salvation of all her dear children, wherever they may be.
Elijah commands her, “Give me your son.” Just so, Jesus commands his living Church to give her dead sons and daughters to him; to surrender them in prayer to the only One who can give them life; and to bring them, through the preaching of the Gospel, to him.
So the woman obeys, giving her son to Elijah, who carries him to the upper room where he is staying. Here too we behold Christ, this time granting new birth to those are dead in trespasses and sins; carrying them up—spiritually speaking—into the heavenly places, where they might dwell there with him in the uppermost of all upper rooms!
Now, mark carefully what Elijah does next! He lays him on his own bed. Moreover, having done so, he lays himself on the boy—head to head, hand to hand, body to body—and he cries out to God that he might live.
And so he does.
The Meaning of the Story
Saint of God, do you see what the Spirit is saying here? Do you see why your life is so profoundly different from those who are in the world? And do you see why we must be eternally grateful for it? It is because God has laid you—his chosen and beloved child—in the Prophet’s bed. And it is because he has laid His life upon your life. It is because he has ordained, from all eternity, that you should be conformed to the image of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And it is because, even now, he is causing every object and every event in the whole universe to work together for this very purpose; to work together so that you might live like Christ, and look like Christ, forever.
Think for a moment what this means. Was the Lord Jesus born into this world? Did he increase in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man? Did he pray to God, and hear from him often? Did he receive the Spirit for ministry? Did he minister—in word and deed—in the power of that Spirit? Was he loved, honored, and obeyed? Was he hated, dishonored, misunderstood, tempted, betrayed, falsely accused, and rejected? Did it seem, in the end, that his work was in vain? Indeed, did it seem that God himself had forsaken him? And did his Father—when men least expected it—vindicate him after all, and greet him with joy at heaven’s portals, saying: “Well done, good and faithful servant?”
If so, then we—the widow’s once-dead son—must not fail to understand: This, the life of Jesus, is the Prophet’s Bed upon which we have been laid; this is the Prophet’s body, superimposed upon our own; this is the image to which we are being conformed; this is the course in which we are predestined to run; this is the life—and the death—which, in one way or another, we are appointed to live and die.
Beloveds, at every moment of every day of every week and month and year of our Christian life, God the Father has us in the Prophet’s Bed. In every high and low, every struggle, every victory, and every (temporary) defeat, he is skillfully at work to pour the life of Christ into us. Our part is simply to understand—and cherish—this greatest of all privileges. It is to thank God for laying us in the Prophet’s Bed, and to co-operate with him as he—by his Word, his Spirit, and his all-encompassing Providence—superimposes upon us the very life of His Son.
The Happy Ending of the Story
After God revived the widow’s child, Elijah brought him down from the upper room into the house and gave him to his mother, saying, “See, your son lives!”
Here is Christ, filled with joy, descending from heaven in the Spirit, presenting the newborn Christian to his Mother, the living Church. Henceforth, they will live together in the house, the Prophet with them. And henceforth, they will continue their ministry of love, serving the Prophet, proclaiming his Gospel, and placing a multitude of dead sons and daughters in his arms, that he might carry them to the upper room and lay them in his bed.
Soon, however, the Prophet will come down from the Upper Room one last time, bringing the whole family with him in glory. When he does, he will again say to the Woman—and to the Father himself—“Behold, your son lives!” And in that day, all people everywhere will know that this is indeed a Man of God, and that the word of the LORD in his mouth was truth.