THE WIDOW AND THE PROPHET
1 Kings 17:1-24
“Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months” (James 5:17).
This may seem an audacious thing to pray for, but the prophet's main concern was no doubt for the honour of the LORD, whose wrath and curse is pronounced against even the nation of Israel if she should turn aside from Him: “Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; And then the LORD's wrath be kindled against you, and he shut up the heaven, that there be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit; and lest ye perish quickly from off the good land which the LORD giveth you” (Deuteronomy 11:16-17).
After living some time by the Brook Cherith where he was fed by the ravens, Elijah was commanded: “Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee” (1 Kings 17:9).
In His inaugural Sermon in Nazareth, Jesus said: “Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country... Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow” (Luke 4:23-26).
A distinction was being made by the Lord between this Sidonian widow, and the Israeli widows. She had been singled out “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).
That this woman had received the gift of faith was seen early in her encounter with the man of God in 1 Kings 17. She professed the inability to feed him with the words: “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” (1 Kings 17:12). It has been well observed, that her desire was to feed her son, rather than to eat him as some Israelite women had done to their sons during a famine!
The circumstances might have seemed discouraging, yet even before receiving Elijah into her house, the widow woman knew that the LORD God of Israel was the true and living God! Perhaps even Elijah's sudden appearance was an answer to her prayers?
Certainly her felt needs were being met when Elijah responded: “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. 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” (1 Kings 17:13-14).
So grace could truly be said in that household for the time to come: she had received the LORD's grace, and the gift of faith, the gift of prayer, and now the gift of answered prayer - all she had to do was to obey: “And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days. 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 17:15-16).
However, lest the widow of Zarephath should imagine that she was singled out in preference even to the Israeli widows on account of her own merits, she was sent a trial of faith, which both made her aware of her sinfulness, and of the possible source of potential sin: “the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick; and his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him. And she said unto Elijah, What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?” (1 Kings 17:17-18).
Her reaction in blaming Elijah was a knee-jerk reaction against the God of Elijah, such as any of us might make on the initial impact of a hard providence. Notice that she is no longer calling God by his name, the LORD, nor is she calling Him the living God!
Yet in the end, she placed the blame on her own shoulders. She had not been sinless when called by God - none of us are - and she may well have been in danger of idolising her son who she was so concerned to protect, placing him alongside or even above God in her present life?
Elijah also questioned the LORD, but he did not lose sight of his faith, and put that faith into action in a manner God revealed to him: “And he cried unto the LORD, and said, O LORD my God, hast thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son? And he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the LORD, and said, O LORD my God, I pray thee, let this child's soul come into him again. And the LORD heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived” (1 Kings 17:20-22).
Now, indeed, prayer was being answered in that household, and having both her son - and her faith - restored to her: “the woman said to Elijah, Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in thy mouth is truth” (1 Kings 17:24).