“So, he [Elijah], arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink. 11 And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand. 12 And she said, As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die. 13 And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son. 14 For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth. 15 And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days. 16 And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Elijah” (1 Kings 17:10-16).
As the Widow Woman walked out the door, she looked up at the blue expanse and the burning sun. There were no clouds in the sky. There had not been any clouds now for many months. Famine hung over the land. “Oh, well, it does not matter,” she thought. “Before too long, I shall be dead and so shall my child. Others have died from this terrible judgment. Why not us?”
There was nothing that the Widow Woman could do except to gather a few sticks for a final fire. Inside the house was just enough food for one last meal. After that, the Widow Woman planned to place her frail arms around her child and wait for death.
Little did the Widow Woman realize that the God of all mercy was not going to let her perish. Even as she moved in the dusty, dry streets of her humble home gathering sticks, help was on the way. In the Providence of God the Widow Woman was about to meet an unusual man. In the encounter, the Stranger and the Widow Woman would transform each other forever.
The man the Widow Woman was about to meet was none other than the prophet Elijah. She could almost see him now in the shimmering heat of the hot sun. Walking towards her was her date with destiny, for the word of the Lord had come to the prophet saying, “Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon (1 Kings 17:9a).
Originally, this district of Zidon had been allotted to the tribe of Asher, which is significant because when Moses blessed the twelve nations of Israel prior to his death, he said something significant as recorded in Deuteronomy 33:24. “And of Asher he said, Let Asher be blessed with children; let him be acceptable to his brethren, and let him dip his foot in oil.”
God was sending His servant to a place where there was oil. The oil would provide life for many. By way of spiritual application, as we go to Zarephath, the place of refinement, we too will find the gift of oil, or the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who gives life to dying souls.
When Elijah heard the Word of God telling him to go to Zarephath, the word was so clear, and so compelling, that the prophet had no choice but to obey. He had to move to the place where God had appointed him to be. Here too, is a lesson that all Christians must learn. God is a God of movement and He wants His people to move with Him (Num. 9:18-23). Elijah moved with God. Elijah had been told that at Zarephath, he would meet a Widow Woman who would feed him. It is not unreasonable to believe that Elijah might have thought that the Widow Woman was rather well off despite the harsh conditions, and she would provide for him out of an abundance of resources.
Elijah knew that he had no natural resources. The birds of the air had been feeding him up till now. But the daily divine airlift flights had suddenly stopped. And the cool brook which had provided water dried up. The prophet had no money. Maybe the Widow Woman was rich.
As soon as Elijah saw his hostess at the gate of the city, he knew, this woman was not rich. At least, the Widow Woman was not wealthy with financial resources, but she was rich in faith once she understood that God was present.
As Elijah watched the Widow Woman, and assessed the new situation, it is obvious that he staggered not at the promises of God. The Lord had told Elijah that a Widow Woman would meet him, and here she was. Though she may not have been what the natural mind expected, Elijah had already learned that God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform. Elijah was not walking by sight, but by faith.
With the Psalmist, Elijah knew that, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, will not we fear, though the Earth be removed” (Psa. 46:1,2).
As the Widow Woman was at the appointed place, so was Elijah, which demonstrates the sovereignty of God over all situations. The beginning and the end are in harmony with Him as time, circumstances, and events meet together.
If Jacob needs food from Egypt, Joseph is already there waiting with dinner.
If the spies of Jericho are in danger, Rahab is already there with a hiding place.
If Mordecai needs the help of the king to save his people, King Ahasuerus has already had a sleepless night in order to discover that he can do good.
If the Ethiopian eunuch does not understand the gospel, Philip is already present to tell him about Christ.
If Elijah needs provisions, the Widow Woman is waiting to feed him.
Full of confidence that God is still behind this situation, Elijah spoke to the Widow Woman. His language is another test of his faith, and hers. The prophet’s faith is tested because the temptation was present to be silent. It had become obvious that the Widow Woman was in dire distress. Her clothing, the worried look on her face, her very spirit testified to a soul in despair.
How could the prophet ask her for anything? But he must, for God has told him she will be the instrument of divine provisions.
As Elijah’s faith was tested, so was the faith of the Widow Woman. When asked to share, she faced the temptation of being greedy, resentful, and angry. All she has is a handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a jar. What will she do?
The thrilling answer is found in the narrative. The Widow Woman will share her meager substances, because she has heard the voice of the prophet saying, “Fear not!”
Something in her soul responds. It is the silent leap of faith. The Widow Woman believed God (17:14). Suddenly, her faith burst into flames of great joy. She knew for certain that the gods of Baal were dead, but the Lord God of Israel was alive! The Widow Woman believed, and because of her faith, she was obedient to the gospel. The Widow Woman went and did as the Word of the Lord through His prophet instructed her. Because of her gospel obedience, the Widow Woman enjoyed not only the presence of God’s servant, but she witnessed a miracle day after day after day. The Widow Woman of Zarephath knew something about the glory and grace of God. There are a number of important lessons from this narrative.
First, the place of death can become the place of life when God draws near. This is true in the life of a person, it is true in the life of a nation, and it is true in the life of a church that is dying spiritually. So often we hear it said that a certain Christian ministry is dying. Upon examination it does seem that death is stalking the place, until suddenly, God comes in His infinite mercy and grace. He sends His word. He gives hope, and faith is revived. The place of death becomes the place of life because God has come back.
Second, little resources in God’s hands are adequate when made available. Moses had but a little stream of water from a rock but it quenched the thirst of a million people. Andrew found a lad with a few loaves of bread and some small fishes, but they fed a multitude when put into the hands of the Lord. Little is much if God is in it.
Third, when human resources are finally exhausted, God has a chance to be God. In the hour of desperation, God has a chance to show His glory and His grace (Miracle of Dunkirk). The glory of God is revealed in His sovereignty over men and women, circumstances and resources. The barrel of meal wasted not. The cruse of oil did not fail (Corrie Ten Boon). The grace of God is manifested when He takes pity on the poor, the weak, and hopefully, even the foolish. We all act foolish at times, and we all need God’s grace to right what we have done wrong, and to fix what we have broken.
Unbelief and death are united. The woman believed that she was going to die because she had lost her faith in God’s ability to help. Unbelief and death can be traced to inadequate views about God (17:12). The Widow Woman believed that the Lord lived, but did He care? The song writer sings,
“Oh! Yes, He Cares!
In times of great personal distress, faith must always replace fear, even when a human solution is not in sight (17:13). Miracles are temporary by design (17:14). God normally works through the laws of nature which He has ordained. Grief, and despair, and sorrow can quickly turn into joy when God’s word is heard and believed. The closer we are to the Word, the greater will be our blessing and the more we will know something of God’s glory and grace.