Summary: God blesses those who put their faith to action. At various steps in our life's journey, the Lord brings situations where he tests our faith. If we exercise our faith, the blessing follows; if we do not, we will lose it.”
A great famine swept over all the land. This famine was prophesied by Elijah. This drought was the result of the judgment of the nation’s rampant idolatry, led by the royal couple Ahab and Jezebel.
1 Kings 17:1 - And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.”
God commanded the ravens to feed Elijah by the Brook Cherith during this time of famine. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and evening; and he drank from the brook. However, over the period of time, the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land. Sure enough, after all, a drought was in progress. But God was still providing for Elijah for now God sends Elijah to the care of a widow.
1 Kings 17:8 - Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.
Zarephath was a town located in Sidon, outside of Israel. Sidon, the mother city of Tyre was a place known for its trade and many dwelt despite its battles. Throughout its history, it had been an occupied city, first the Assyrians – then the Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, and so on. During the time of Elijah, Ahab was ruling Israel. Ahab married Jezebel through an alliance, she, being a princess from Sidon – daughter of the King of Tyre.
With this background, you would agree with me that Zarephath was an ironic place to be sent because it was not the city within Israel but was a town in Sidon, outside of Israel, that too near the home city of Jezebel and was considered the heart of the territory of Baal, the god of the Canaanites (It was often believed by the pagan worshippers that the gods were territorial). If this was true, then Elijah was taking a huge risk by moving near the home city of Jezebel. No wonder, Elijah would have had several other questions running in his mind. How can a widow provide for him, let alone a Gentile woman as this was outside the territory of God’s people. As a widow, life was difficult at best in that society where women largely depended on men for their shelter, food and protection. But Elijah went, in obedience to God.
This one was an unnamed widow in that place. She, herself, was worst affected by famine and in great need. She was already grieving the loss of her husband, but she was now responsible for her own care, and for providing for a child. There was no denying of the dire state that she was in. She was in her depth of poverty. She just had a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar that was just enough for a meal for herself and her son, after which she knew that they had nothing left to survive. This was a hopeless woman who saw no way out of her situation. This was a woman who was ready to embrace death for herself and for her son because there was no other alternative.
Most of us experience circumstances that appear to be hopeless. It could be a sickness that keeps worsening, a broken marriage, financial crisis, death of our loved ones and so on. Let us not forget that we have a hope in Christ!
Little did this widow know that the Lord had great plans for her. However, all her blessings began with an outrageous request – a request which I think most of us would have refused.
She was gathering sticks at the city gates to make fire for her last meal when Elijah met her and asked for water (1 Kings 17:10). She was indeed a hospitable woman. She stepped out of her own suffering to provide Elijah with a drink. Now, Elijah took this request further. He asked her for a morsel of bread. Giving the stranger a drink was fine but giving him bread was a problem. She probably recognized Elijah as a prophet or at least a God-fearing Israelite for she started her response in verse 12 with “As the Lord your God lives…” She responded explaining her situation.
I Kings 17:12 - “As the Lord your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”
This is when there is a turnaround in the story. Elijah made another request – probably an outrageous and an absurd one! He asked her to first make a small cake from the little flour for him first with a promise that doing so would bless her supplies so much so that she would not have any lack throughout the famine.