In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” In the Small Catechism, after asking and answering, “What does this mean?”, with Martin Luther we ask, “What is meant by daily bread?” We could divide the interpretations of “daily bread” into two broad categories, two basic, traditional answers that have been given. One answer, often thought of as the “spiritual” answer, is that the “daily bread” refers especially to “the living bread that came down from heaven” (Jn 6:51), which Jesus says He is, and to the body of Christ, in and under the bread, given to us in the Lord’s Supper. Within this so-called “spiritual” understanding, “daily bread” also refers to the Word of God, as Moses had taught the people of Israel, “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word coming from the mouth of the LORD” (Dt 8:3). This also refers to Jesus, as the beginning of John’s Gospel calls Him the Word Incarnate, and as we sang in our first hymn. This “spiritual” sense is why we pray the Lord’s Prayer in the Service of the Sacrament, before receiving the body and blood of Christ, in and under bread and wine. I understand that, early on, Luther accepted this sense of the Fourth Petition.
Later, Luther challenged it, and he embraced a more “earthly” or “physical” sense of “daily bread.” This understanding is familiar to us from the Small Catechism:
Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.
Luther expands on that in the Large Catechism, highlighting the need for good government, and that in this Petition we are praying for it and for the welfare of those who govern:
It is also necessary that we spend our days in peace and quiet among the people with whom we live and have dealings in daily business and conversation and all sorts of doings … In short, this petition applies both to the household and also to the neighborly or civil relationship and government. … There is, indeed, the greatest need to pray for earthly authority and government. By them, most of all, God preserves for us our daily bread and all the comforts of this life. … For where there are dissension, strife, and war, there the daily bread is already taken away or is at least hindered.
Luther further says, “But this petition is especially directed also against our chief enemy, the devil. For all his thought and desire is to deprive us of all that we have from God or to hinder it. He is not satisfied to obstruct and destroy spiritual government … He also prevents and hinders the stability of all government and honorable, peaceable relations on earth” (Concordia, pp. 443, 444).
Among the great, cherished traditions of the American republic is our fondness for complaining about the government. No matter who is in office, we complain about the government, and about those who govern. By the time of the Prophet Elijah, the unified kingdom of Israel had already been divided in two, a northern kingdom still called Israel, and Judah, the southern kingdom, which included Jerusalem. First Kings, chapter 15, tells that Abijam became king of Judah in the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam of Israel. Abijam “walked in all the sins that his father did before him” (1 Ki 15:3) and he reigned only three years. His son Asa succeeded him as king of Judah, and Asa reigned 41 years, doing “what was right in the eyes of the LORD, as David his father had done” (v. 11). On the other hand, the northern kingdom had a series of kings who “did what was evil in the sight of the LORD”: Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Omri, and Ahab. Some reigned a short time, especially Zimri, who was king of Israel for all of seven days; others had long reigns. Ahab, the most wicked, had the longest reign, 24 years. There was no guarantee that a wicked king would have a short reign, or that a good and godly king would have a long reign.
The Prophet Elijah first comes on the scene when, at the LORD’s command, he confronts wicked King Ahab and prophesies a drought: “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word” (1 Ki 17:1). During the drought, the LORD provided for Elijah, first by sending him into hiding, where the LORD would command ravens to bring the prophet bread and meat morning and evening, and where he could drink from a brook. After the brook dried up, the LORD sent Elijah to a widow in Zarephath of Sidon. Through the widow, the LORD provided enough food for Elijah, as well as the widow and her son. Though she had only a little flour and oil, by God’s miraculous provision neither ran out, “and she and her household ate for many days” (v. 15). Through Elijah, God raised back to life the widow’s son, on whom she would depend for security in her old age. With fatherly care, God did indeed give them “daily bread,” through both natural, earthly means and supernatural, heavenly means. He is the Maker and Source and Giver of both.
In Elijah’s second confrontation with Ahab, the prophet of the LORD challenges the prophets of Baal. With fire from heaven, YHWH, the LORD, shows Himself to be the true God, and that Baal is an idol, a false god; indeed, Baal is nothing at all. The people swore allegiance to YHWH, and those false prophets were put to death. At the word of Elijah, rain again fell upon the land of Israel. After all that success, Elijah was triumphant … not! That’s when Jezebel, wicked Ahab’s even more wicked wife, threatened the prophet’s life, and Elijah fled. He was so despondent that he wanted to die: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (1 Ki 19:4). How did God answer Elijah’s petition? He sent an angel, who gave him bread and water, twice. “And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God” (v. 8). There at Horeb, the LORD spoke again to Elijah. The Word of the LORD came to him, asking, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah declared his faithfulness, and that he alone was left of the faithful. The LORD was not in the wind, nor the earthquake, nor the fire that came, not in any of these forces of nature; rather the Voice of the LORD spoke, asking the same question, and telling Elijah that he was in truth not alone. For the LORD still had seven thousand faithful in Israel. As “faithful neighbors,” they too were part of God’s gift of “daily bread” to Elijah.
We may ask what this means for us, how these things apply to our life today. After all, the Apostle Paul does say, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom 15:4). Elijah is an example of the endurance of a faithful servant of the LORD. Should we take encouragement from his example? Sure; but there’s more—a more direct application for you and me. Jesus said to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “‘Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things [first] and [then] enter into His glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Lk 24:26–27). The most important instruction and application of the Scriptures is to understand that Christ Jesus is the Heart and Center and Focus of the Scriptures. What is written about Elijah is also written about Jesus, the pattern of suffering and endurance, of faithfulness to God but rejection by the world for that very faithfulness to God. You are baptized into Christ and into His suffering and death. You are clothed with the robe of Christ’s righteousness that covers all your sin. Living in Christ, you also live in the pattern of suffering and endurance, faithfulness and rejection.
While those who are faithful to God in Christ can expect to endure suffering in this world, as He has promised, we also receive His blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation through His means of grace, just as surely as He provides for all people. Jesus says that our Father in heaven “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt 5:45). To those who are His own, who are called by His name, He gives both His natural, earthly “daily bread” and His supernatural, heavenly food. Before the angel of the LORD came to feed Elijah, the prophet “lay down and slept under a broom tree” (1 Ki 19:5). So he found some natural shade and shelter under a tree. Then he is fed heavenly food, which strengthened him to journey for forty days and forty nights. The broom tree is a thorny shrub; its branches are used for sweeping, which gave us the term broom for such tools. Under the shelter of another tree, Christ Jesus, The Angel of the LORD, feeds us heavenly food, His own body and blood given and shed on that tree, and in that food our souls are strengthened for our earthly journey unto eternal life. With His tree of the Cross and the thorns he bore, Jesus sweeps away the filth of sin from us. To all appearances, the food that the angel fed Elijah looked like ordinary, earthly bread and water. To all appearances, the food Christ gives us looks like ordinary bread and wine. To all appearances, the broom tree was just another bush. To all appearances, the Cross was just two pieces of rough, barren wood—not even a full tree! Trust His Word, not your eyes, nor outward appearances. For He says that these things—bread, drink, a tree—are natural and earthly, yet by His Word He makes them supernatural and heavenly, gifts of His grace unto eternal life for you.
And the peace of God, which passes all understanding,
keep your hearts and minds in ✠ Christ Jesus. Amen.