Last time, we reviewed the situation that Elijah found himself in . . . who among us can imagine camping out beside a stream, waiting for ravens to bring bread and meat to us each day? And then, when the stream dried up, obeying God's instructions to go to Zarephath?
Elijah may have thought that he should stay there at the stream. Even if it was dry, it could offer some hope that perhaps a trickle might resume. But Elijah was true to his God, and did as He told him.
In the New Testament, we read of Jesus' being rejected by His own people. And He uses this example of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath, as an illustration:
He was obedient to His God. He went to Zarephath.
Picture this scene . . . Elijah is walking into the town of Zarephath, where the famine has struck hard. Remember the dust bowl days of the American plains? Nothing would grow. The soil was as dry and lifeless as the hopes of the people, and the grit would come into the houses as the wind blew.
This is what Zarephath (and the rest of the region) was dealing with. As Elijah comes into the town, he is looking for the widow that God has mentioned to him. The lady who was to provide for him. His sandals kick up the dust as he slowly looks around the town; it's a time of great famine and no one has much to eat -- so they sit and they walk slowly, to conserve their strength. He spots a woman with her head down, searching for twigs and sticks, a dried branch from the olive grove -- anything that she can use to make a fire. Her face is drawn and sad, for she knows that the only thing left in her house is a tiny amount of flour and a few dribbles of oil. What a heart-wrenching situation for her, as she sets her steps toward home, where her small son awaits her. She has been eating less and less, trying to make sure there is something to feed him, but he is still hungry every night, and her heart is breaking. This is her world.
And now the prophet of God steps into her world.
Into the world of a widow, a Gentile, a person of no standing in this era and culture. Into her world where she is intent on using up the last that she has, and then dying with her son.
But this is the widow that God has selected. He will use her to perform a miracle, one that will be read about for ages to come! She didn't know what was coming. But as we follow the story, we will see that she shows compassion on a stranger, and shows faith in his words. Let's look at her choice.
Elijah calls to her and asks, "Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may drink?" A simple enough request in most times, but it had not rained in years! But she turns on her heel and goes to bring him water. Perhaps her house was nearby, so she heads in that direction, to bring him a drink of water. She was going to do her best to be hospitable, and to be compassionate to this dusty, thirsty stranger.
But of all the nerve! (Grin)
As she was walking to her house, he calls after her, "And bring me, please, a piece of bread."
She must have wondered, "What is he thinking? I have nothing!"
So she responds to Elijah:
“As surely as the 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.” (I Kings 17:12)Can we imagine approaching a starving mother, who has just enough to feed herself and her little boy one last meal, and asking to be fed? I really think that in spite of his faith and obedience to God, it must have been awkward for Elijah.
But here is where the prophet gives her a reason to believe him:
So here is what Elijah is telling her; first give me water and make me some food, and then you can feed your son, and yourself. Oy.
What would we have done, in her sandals? Elijah's God wasn't her God -- did you notice that she responded to Elijah saying "your God" earlier? She was not an Israelite, but perhaps her heart sensed something as she heard him speak. Perhaps the Spirit moved her, and used his words "the flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry" to stir hope in her. She must have had some faith in him, to believe that this miracle might happen. She could not know that God had chosen her, or that He prepared her. But she had an open mind, and she was faithful (as God knew she would be) as a mother to her small son, and she must have sensed that this was a way to get beyond that "last" meal.
She must have sensed that hope just walked into town, in the form of this dusty stranger. And so, she went to do what he asked.
This is such a lesson for us: God uses us where we are, for His purposes. We only need to keep an open and responsive heart, and have faith that He can work through us. This widow's faith and service brought a miracle, a multiplication of resources, just like the loaves and fishes in the hands of Jesus.
We'll learn more from our story tomorrow. Join us, won't you?