Bible Reference: 1 Kings chapter 17
Back Story: This story begins with King Ahab of the Northern Kingdom having built a temple to Baal in Samaria. The king set up idols to Asherah throughout the land. Asherah, called the Queen of Heaven, was a female goddess worshiped as the consort of Yahweh. King Ahab made a political marriage with Jezebel, daughter of the king of Sidon which abounded with Baal worship. In all probability the widow of Zarephath worshiped Baal.
Elijah lived and prophesied during Ahab’s 22 year reign over the Northern Tribes of Israel. Elijah was from Tishbe, a town east of the Jordan River in Gilead (1 Kings 17:1). Elijah related to King Ahab that God would send a drought on Israel because of their idol worship. Through Elijah, God wanted King Ahab and the Israelites to realize that Baal was no more a living god than Jeroboam’s calves. After announcing the divinely appointed drought, Elijah hid himself by the brook of Cherith, an area north of Tishbe. While hiding there, ravens brought Elijah meat and bread and he drank from the brook.
Story Line: Eventually, the Cherith brook dried up because of the severe drought. Then, God directed Elijah to go to Zarephath where God would command a widow to feed Elijah. The entire way to Zarephath, Elijah must have been thinking, “Zarephath! Really, God?” Elijah knew Zarephath was near the center of the Sidon kingdom. It teemed with Baal worship. Why in the world would God send him to Zarephath?
When Elijah arrived at Zarephath’s city gate, he saw a widow gathering sticks. Elijah called to the woman and asked for some water. As she turned away to get the water, Elijah directed her to bring him a morsel of bread. The widow’s response was that she had no bread baked; and, she had only a handful of flour and a little oil. Her plan was to make a small cake of bread and bake it using the sticks for fuel. After eating the bread, she expected that she and her son would die. Although God directed Elijah to go to the widow in Zarephath, God gave no directions to the widow to feed him. Perhaps, God did not speak to the widow because she did not believe in him.
After hearing the widow’s words, Elijah told her to fear not but to go and make a small loaf of bread for him and then a small loaf for her and her son (1 Kings 17:13-16). The widow may have concluded that Elijah didn’t really understand how little flour and oil that she had. She knew that if she made a small loaf of bread for him, she would have no flour and oil left to make bread for her and her son.
Possibly, the widow thought it doesn’t matter much if we start to starve now or after one more small loaf of bread. Alternatively, she may gave zeroed in on the prophet’s words that the jar of flour and jug of oil would not be empty until the drought lifted and it started to rain. She hoped, even prayed to Baal, that the man’s words would come true. Despite flour and oil continuingly replacing themselves in the containers, probably, the widow still did not believe in God. Likely, she did not understand that the man staying with her was a prophet of the true God.
Pondering Relationships: At some point, the widow’s son died! She was so distressed that she told the prophet that her son’s death was his fault. She concluded that Elijah/s presence caused her to remember her sins which were substantial. As a result of the remembered sins, divine vengeance fell on her. Elijah ignored the widow’s accusation that God caused her son to die in an act of vengeance. Seemingly, Elijah understood that the widow saw her god as vengeful rather than forgiving.
Without speaking a word, Elijah took the widow’s son from her arms and carried the boy into his bedroom. There, Elijah stretched himself on the boy’s body three times praying that God would send life back into the boy’s body. The result was that God listened to Elijah’s prayer. The body started to breathe again. Every time I read that Elijah stretched himself on the boy’s body three times, I want to conclude that Elijah gave the boy cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR); thus, the body’s heart re started to beat and he started to breathe. This explanation makes more sense to me (who am a nurse) than the simple belief that God performed a miracle because Elijah prayed. I guess that says something about my unbelief in Old Testament miracles.
After the boy revived, Elijah carried him downstairs and handed the boy to his mother with the words, “See, your son lives” (1 Kings 17:23, NIV). The widow of Zarephath was overwhelmed. She knew that her son was dead but now he lived! She concluded that Elijah was a man of God and that the God of Israel not more than a worthless idol. From living with Elijah, listening to his words about God, and experiencing the miracle of bottomless jar of flour and oil, the widow began to have faith in Elijah’s God. Seeing the rebirth of her son, cemented the widow’s belief in God.
Reflection: Of all the Old Testament characters that Christ could have referred when he taught in the Nazareth synagogue, he chose the widow of Zarephath. What do you think Christ wanted to teach the people of his home town?
If you are interested in more Lesser Known Bible Characters, check my book by that title on www.CarolynRothMinistry.com.
Copyright October 18, 2016; Carolyn A. Roth.