Summary: The prophet Elijah was God’s instrument to test this Gentile widow’s trust. It’s easier to be reminded of God’s promises than to act on them.
As someone who has moved 27 times in my life, I know that God decides how long we remain in place. I received orders from the Pentagon, but I regarded them as from God. Elijah was directly told when to move. We, on the other hand, do not have supernatural guidance, or access to God’s timetable, so we make our decisions based on the wisdom we’ve been given, then we rest in God’s will. “God’s plan for us cannot be discovered beforehand and it cannot be missed…Where there is no command, God gives us wisdom to choose” (Friesen). We sometimes trust open and closed doors--yet just because a door is open, that doesn’t mean we should enter; and just because a door is shut doesn’t mean we stop knocking. It’s not always easy to know what’s best. In Elijah’s case, it was a matter of waiting till God directed otherwise. Elijah was ready for anything.
In verse 7, the drought over the land causes the brook at Cherith to dry up, which was part of the divine plan. Just as God caused the drought, He could have kept the brook flowing with water. The dried-up brook was a signal to move on. Elijah was by himself for a year, yet prophets are not hermits; they don’t function in isolation, apart from society. Elijah’s solitude was temporary. God touches people’s lives by sending His servants to places of need. He wanted Elijah to do what prophets do--namely to confront evil and bolster the faith of the hopeless. God alone sustains us. God wants to teach us to trust in Him, and not in His gifts. The brook dries up, but not Elijah’s faith.
Verses 8-9 show that God cares about individuals; as Elijah is specifically sent to the home of an unnamed, starving widow. Zarephath was in Sidon, the Gentile center of Baal-worship, a 75 mile journey from Cherith. God will defeat Baal in his homeland. There’s no home-field advantage for him; the drought affected Sidon as well. The widow, while living in a pagan land, appears to be a believer; she responds in the Name of the God of Elijah, although she refers to Him as “your” God.
Why wasn’t Elijah sent to a widow in Israel? There were plenty of widows, but God is bypassing Israel as an act of judgment upon the land. This is what happens when a nation becomes apathetic toward God. What is the center of your life? If not God, the center is something lesser that has captured your attention. God deserves supremacy in our lives; He is worthy to be given preeminence; He deserves nothing less than total commitment. There are many “fans” of Jesus, but few disciples. I mentioned last time that Elijah’s name means “Jehovah is my God.” Can that be said of us, or are we merely fans? Elijah had a significant name in a time when most people had left the faith. And Zarephath means “refining” which is how God used it for Elijah. His time there was a refining experience, preparing him to battle evil. So why wasn’t Elijah sent to the home of a wealthy merchant? Some of us can only reach maturity through trying circumstance. God often does the opposite of what we expect.