Summary: The little cake that the widow of Zarephath gave to Elijah was the first fruits of her labor and the seed from which every blessing came into her life.


by Pastor James May

1 Kings 17:8-24

1 Kings 17:8-9, "And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee."

Zarephath means smelting-shop, "a workshop for the refining and smelting of metals" and it would be here, at Zarephath, that the faith of Elijah, the widow and of her son would undergo some fiery trials in God’s refinement of their faith.

This would be a trial of Elijah’s faith because he was being sent to dwell in a place belonging to the Zidonians, among whom Jezebel was known as a princess. The King of Zidon was Jezebel’s father. Jezebel was angry with Elijah and she wanted him dead. He had made a fool out of her on Mount Carmel when her priests failed to defeat the God of Israel. Now she was out to get him and was a man on the run. I’m sure that Elijah wondered whether many of Jezebel’s friends would attempt to get even with him.

There was another trial of the Elijah’s faith also, because God had sent him to live with a poor widow woman, in a famine and drought parched land, and this poor widow was going to be his support. That was bad enough, but she was a Gentile and that posed even more problems.

If it was me that had received the command of the Lord, I don’t know if I would have taken it as easily as Elijah did. I would have asked the Lord, “if you are going to send me to someone who is supposed to give me a place to live, food to eat and provide for me, why don’t you send me to someone of means”?

But Elijah’s faith was already strong and he didn’t really question God. After all, God had sent food to him everyday that was delivered by ravens. A Raven was considered an unclean bird according to the Law.

God had been preparing Elijah for the time when he would be sustained by a Gentile widow and Elijah was willing to obey God because there was some greater purpose.

1 Kings 17:10-12, "So he 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. 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. 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."

I think that a trial of faith was also directed at the widow. I have to admire her grit.

Tradition says that this widow of Zarephath was only around 20 years old. She had a young son that she dedicated her life to. She lived a very meager existence, struggling day-by-day, not just to may ends meet, but just to survive. Every morning she would walk about gathering sticks for the fire. For 3 ½ years there had been no rain. The ground was hard and cracked. There was no harvest in the field where she could have gleaned from what was left by the harvesters.

I wonder how many nights she went to bed crying out in her heart, “where will I find the food for us to survive another day?”

Somehow she had managed to scrape together just enough cooking oil and just enough flour to bake one last cake. It probably wasn’t even going to be enough to fill the hunger of her son and yet they must both somehow survive on it for a while. They were already weak from hunger and tired of the struggle.

One more cake; one more fire; one more meal and then there would be nothing left. There was no supermarket, no corner grocery store, no neighbor to borrow from – nothing – nothing but another day to suffer and soon it would be over. They couldn’t last long in their weakened condition.

Then along comes this prophet of Israel. She had some knowledge of who he was but not much. It seems that God had been preparing her for Elijah’s arrival. Maybe it was in a dream or a vision. Or maybe it was just in a still small voice that whispered in her heart that somehow she would make it through. Or, maybe it was just the fact that she had grown too tired, too weak or too hopeless to say no.

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William Nowak

commented on Oct 20, 2006

Elijah's confrontation with the prophets of Baal happens after, not before, this passage--1 Kings 18:20-40. He's not "on the run" from that when he goes to Sidon.

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