As I began to study the Widow at Zarephath, I saw a lot of parallels of what is happening today in our country and world. Our leaders seem to direct us to worship the government (pagan god), which has hampered the voice of “priests” to bring the truth of God’s word to the people. We are living in economic- and faith-troubled times. I want to again use the words of Paul, who was imprisoned (definitely troubled times): “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)
Elijah was the first in a long line of important prophets God sent to Israel and Judah. At this time Israel had no faithful kings, as each king was wicked, actually leading the people to worship pagan gods. Few priests were left from the tribe of Levi, and the priests appointed by Israel’s kings were corrupt and ineffective. With no king or priests to bring God’s word to the people, God called prophets to try to rescue Israel from its moral and spiritual decline.
Those who worshiped Baal believed he was the god who brought the rains and bountiful harvests. When Elijah walked into the presence of the Baal-worshiping king, Ahab, and told him there would be no rain for several years, the king was shocked. Elijah bravely confronted the man who led his people into evil, and he told of a power far greater than any pagan god – the Lord God of Israel. “Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.’” (1 Kings 17:1)
The Lord directed Elijah to leave, first to the Kerith Ravine, and then Zarephath, where he was to meet a widow to supply him with food (1 Kings 17:9). A famine had hit the land where she lived, making it difficult for her and her son to survive. The economy had crumbled, and the country was experiencing far more than a recession. It was a depression affecting countless individuals.
“So he (Elijah) went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, ‘Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?’ As she was going to get it, he called, ‘And bring me, please, a piece of bread.'” (1 Kings 17:10-11) When the widow of Zarephath met Elijah, she thought she was preparing her last meal. But God has help for us where we least expect it, and provides for us in ways that go beyond our narrow definitions or expectations.
“‘As surely as the Lord your God lives,’ she replied, ‘I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.’” (1 Kings 17:12) The woman did not plan on eating again after this meal. She explained to Elijah that she couldn’t give him anything because she didn’t have anything to give.
“Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’” (1 Kings 17:13-14) This passage reiterates the third principle we learned in the Woman’s Olive Oil story from 2 Kings that we studied in Faith and Commitment. Give to others what you need God to give to you.“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38)
The widow used what she had left to obey God. She gave something to a complete stranger over feeding her son. Elijah’s request wasn’t practical. Elijah knew that the God who instructed him to do so would make good on His word. It didn’t make sense. In fact, it was downright ridiculous. Yet God had asked. And she obeyed in faith. “She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.” (1 Kings 17:15-16)
She had the faith of Linda (See The Power of Faith). The faith of Hannah (See The Faith of Hannah). She had faith that would bring heaven down to earth. God knew about this particular woman’s faith and that is why He sent Elijah to her. There were many widows at that time. The famine had gone on for almost four years. But not every widow gained God’s attention, because not every widow demonstrated a heart of faith. Jesus spoke about the widow in Zarephath, specifically highlighting the fact that God sent Elijah to this faithful woman for help in a crunch time in his ministry: “I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.” (Luke 4:25-26)
Often faith involves looking beyond what you can see or the limitations that you face. Maybe you don’t have enough time in the day to do all you need to do. Or maybe you really don’t have any resources to carry out all that needs to be done. Maybe your bank account is low, and you are doing all you can to find a job, and God is asking you to still honor Him with a portion of your money. Or it could be that you have received a report from your doctor that is not good, but God has placed the hope in your heart to believe in His healing touch. Whatever the case, faith acts on the truth that even though you don’t have enough, God has more than enough, and He has promised to supply all that you need.
There is more to the story – another blessing that God gave to this faithful widow. Because she was faithful in doing what God asked of her, the prophet Elijah was with her when a tragedy befell her.
“Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. She said to Elijah, ‘What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?’ ‘Give me your son,’ Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. Then he cried out to the Lord, ‘Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?’ Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, ‘Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!’ The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, ‘Look, your son is alive!’ Then the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.’” (1 Kings 17:17-24)
When we are faithful, our Lord God hears our cries, prayers and groans. “Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.” (Psalm 55:17)