1 Kings 17:7-16 Elijah and the widow at Zarephath
This text was the lectionary reading for June 8, 2010. My notes from that day indicate that I was struck, as I read the story, by the widow’s faith. I have usually heard this story preached in terms of God’s provision or faithfulness. In fact, the theme of the responsorial psalm in the lectionary is God’s faithfulness to his people. While that may be a legitimate theme in the text, the widow was the focus of my attention.
Perhaps she stood out to me because she was a mother. Elijah finds her gathering sticks to make a fire for the last meal she will make for herself and her son. “I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it – and die” (v. 12). I have never been in those sorts of dire straits. I cannot even imagine the sort of poverty that knows that death by starvation is a reality. I can picture the images I have seen from war-torn countries, particularly in Africa; pictures of women holding dying children with bloated stomachs. Perhaps this is what it was like for the widow during the drought in Israel and the surrounding areas.
But then comes the most amazing part of the text. Elijah commands her to go ahead and make this last meal for herself and her son from the little bit of flour and oil she has left. But first, he says, “make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me.” After she has fed Elijah, she may make something for herself and her son. Elijah then promises her that if she does this, God has told him that “the jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD sends rain on the land” (v. 14). The crazy thing is, she goes and does what he says!!
Why would I think this is crazy? Call me a terminal skeptic, but I can envision myself, walking back to my hut thinking, ‘ok, so he says the flour and oil won’t run out, but how can I know that? If I make him the bread, even a little loaf, and he is wrong, I will not have enough left to make another loaf and my son will starve. And if I feed my son today, I may be able to beg for food, or find something somewhere for tomorrow. But if I feed this old man, I can’t even get through today. And who is this god of the Israelites? If he’s so powerful, why do we not have rain?’
Of course that is not what the widow does. She does exactly what Elijah commanded her to do, and the outcome is exactly what Elijah said it would be. Amazing! Which makes me wonder about my own faith, or the lack of faith. I wonder how often I hear God’s voice telling me to trust him, and I make my circumstances worse by trying to figure something out in what seems to me to be a more pragmatic way. I wonder how often I don’t even listen for his voice, but just soldier on, working out everything on my own, forgetting that the Creator of heaven and earth would love to help me out. If anything sounds crazy, that does.