Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath


“And the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.’”
(1 Kings 17:24)

Read: 1 Kings 17

Devotion: The Kingdom of Northern Israel never had a good (read: righteous) king. But when Elijah comes onto the scene, Israel was in its lowest spot in its entire history. Sure, under King Ahab and his father Omri, Israel might have been prospering and expanding, but spurred on by his pagan wife Jezebel, Ahab had erected a temple to Baal in his capital and expanded idol worship throughout the land. The people followed suit (1 Kings 16:29-34). 

Instead of worshipping Yahweh, the maker and sustainer of Creation, the people worshipped Baal—the Canaanite god of rain and fertility. It is no surprise, then, that the first thing Elijah is called to do as God’s prophet is to declare a three-year drought which would end, not by the word of Baal, but by Yahweh (1 Kings 17:1), for is the true God of rain.

Now, as this drought continues for three years, the nonexistence of Baal is becoming more and more obvious to everyone, and as the Lord’s people run out of food and become increasingly desperate, we might expect that God would send Elijah all over Israel to call the people to repentance and to declare the Lord’s authority over the Lord’s creation. But God doesn’t do that.

First, he sends Elijah to a brook in the wilderness where he provides him food and water (1 Kings 17:3-4). Then, once the drought is at its peak, he commands Elijah to go, not to a town in Israel or to Judah, but to Zarephath in Sidon! Sidon was a Gentile nation, the home of Jezebel, a historical enemy of Israel, and ground zero for Baal worship. Sending Elijah to Sidon was certainly an unexpected move for the Holy One of Israel, but it was there that God said he had commanded a widow to feed his prophet demonstrating that unlike Baal, God’s authority is not just contained to the nations that worshipped him, but spans across all of his creation. 

Despite this strange command, Elijah obediently goes to Sidon. The instant he reaches the gates of the city he providentially meets a widow who was collecting sticks to bake one last morsel of bread for her and her son to eat before they died of thirst and starvation (1 Kings 17:12). By all human wisdom, the deck would seem stacked against Elijah. He is in a foreign, pagan nation that historically dislikes Israel. But the widow recognizes Elijah as an Israelite as she uses the covenant name “Yahweh” when speaking to him (v. 12), and, although this this widow—one of the most vulnerable and poor members of ancient society—and her son are in the middle of a severe drought, she doesn’t hesitate to get water for Elijah when he requests it! It’s only when he asks her for a portion of food that she refuses, and that only because she is literally at the end of her food supply and understandably plans to feed herself and her son.

But Elijah, trusting God’s Word that he would provide, tells her to go and make him some food and gives her God’s promise that her food supply will not run out until he causes the rain to fall again. Although it isn’t stated, we need to be reminded: she is a Sidonian living in the land of Baal. No doubt, she had been praying and making sacrifices desperately to Baal for rain and food without any success. And now here comes a Jew telling her that his God has promised her life if she would only trust and obey his Word. There is a possibility that she truly believes Elijah at his word, but more likely she is doing the logical thing of jumping at the very last possibility to save herself and her son. However, some bread and a full stomach is not the true salvation that she needs. Rain is the not the salvation that she, her son, or all of Israel need. As the perpetual flour and oil pointed to, they needed bread and water that lead to eternal life. 

That greater need is exemplified in the next event involving the widow and Elijah. The woman’s precious son dies, and though she hasn’t fully comprehended the nature of God yet, as she talks to Elijah, she rightly points out that Yahweh is the One with authority over life and death, and that her sin deserves death (1 Kings 17:12). In response, Elijah, by faith, takes the boy up to his room and prays to God that he would return the boy’s life to him. Though there was no historical precedent of a bodily resurrection, like Abraham before him, Elijah considered that God was able even to raise this boy up from the dead (Heb 11:19). Elijah’s conviction was that if the Lord so willed, even death could not stop his purposes.

Well, the Lord so willed and the boy lived. Elijah carried him to his mother’s arms alive, and as he did she declared, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth” (1 Kings 17:12). On that day, not only did she receive the life of her son back to her, but she received the gift of eternal life. A pagan, Gentile widow was saved in Sidon before Christ came to the earth. She listened to the voice of God’s prophet. In other words, she listened to God’s word, reckoned it as true, and believed.

The widow, and her faith, serve as a stark contrast to Israel during this time. While Yahweh is supernaturally providing for her and she is believing God’s prophet, Israel is languishing in a drought because they refused to listen to God’s prophets and instead worshipped foreign gods.

Like the widow, we need to hear the words of Christ and believe that they are true.

There are many important lessons we can take away from this true story, the most important of which is that like the Sidonian widow, our greatest problem isn’t an empty stomach, a lack of wealth, or a lack of rain. Our greatest problem, as the woman observed, is our sin and the wages which we’ve earned from our sin, which is death (Rom 6:23). We need that problem taken care of, which is exactly what Christ came to earth to do, and what he finished on the cross. Jesus is the bread of life (John 6:35), and he alone can give the water that becomes a spring of water in the heart that wells up to eternal life (John 4:14). Like the widow, we need to hear the words of Christ and believe that they are true. When we do, it won’t matter if we go through drought or famine or persecution, because we will have the assurance that though we may die, we will live forever with Christ (Luke 23:43; 1 Cor 15:20-22). 

Ponder and Pray: Consider God provided for this widow both physically and spiritually. Why is that important? Finish by thanking God for his gift of Jesus Christ and eternal life.

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