February 21, 2022
“He also said, 'I assure you: No prophet is accepted in his hometown. But I say to you, there were certainly many widows in Israel in Elijah’s days...'”
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“He also said, ‘I assure you: No prophet is accepted in his hometown. But I say to you, there were certainly many widows in Israel in Elijah’s days, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months while a great famine came over all the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them – but to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. And in the prophet Elijah’s time, there were many in Israel who had serious skin diseases, yet not one of them was healed – only Naaman the Syrian.’ When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was enraged.” Luke 4:23-28
Many Christians believe it was Jesus’ Messianic claim that enraged the members of His hometown synagogue. Although the people of Nazareth did reject Jesus as Messiah, their rage mainly was in response to Jesus’ reminder that, in days past, God blessed faithful Gentiles over unfaithful Israelites.
Jesus cites two familiar instances from Israel’s prophetic heroes. The first was the story of the widow of Zarephath in 1 Kings 17. In response to Israel’s king Ahab and his queen Jezebel’s idolatry, Elijah pronounced a 3 & 1/2 year drought. Since the drought brought famine to the entire nation of Israel and surrounding regions, it signified that the vast majority of Israel’s citizens had followed Ahab & Jezebel into idolatry.
With famine comes death, and with death comes widows and orphans. Instead of hearing Israel’s pleas for mercy, God sent Elijah to a Gentile widow and her son. The Lord provided miraculously for them because their faith surpassed that of Israel. Meanwhile, Israel suffered in unbelief.
The story of “Naaman the Syrian” is found in 2 Kings, chapter 5. Naaman was the Syrian army commander. At the time, Syria was Israel’s most dreaded enemy. Naaman was a powerful man of war, but he had leprosy. To an Israelite, the only thing worse than a Syrian would have been a Syrian with leprosy!
Naaman’s Jewish slave girl told him that Adonai (the Lord) could heal him. This led Naaman to Elisha’s front door. Because of the Gentile’s faith, he was healed. Meanwhile, Israel’s king had responded in fear, doubting that God would heal Naaman, symbolic of Israel’s unbelief. While the Gentile was cured, no Israelite was healed.
With His statement in His hometown synagogue, Jesus revealed the Jewish prejudice against the Gentiles. By invoking these images from Israel’s history, He was essentially saying that Israel’s present Roman oppression was due to Israel’s sin. Jesus was also exhorting that until the people repented from their sin, God would continue to overlook their unrepentant stance in favor of Gentiles who, by faith, would believe.
Even today, by His grace, God has chosen to save Gentiles who put their faith in Messiah, Jesus, to provoke Israel to jealousy, that they would by faith believe in Him and receive salvation. (Romans 10:19)