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The Widow of Zarephath: A Faith that Lives

April 19, 2010

Welcome back for the next post in a new series With Child: Meditations on the Meaning of Motherhood. If you missed the previous posts, you can catch up by reading about Sarah, HagarRebekahJochebed and Hannah. Join me as I study the mothers of the Bible and discover what lessons can be learned from their lives. Come back each week for a new post in this series . . .

1 Kings 17:8-24

She went out to gather sticks for a fire. The land was dusty and barren in her village of Zarephath, Phoenicia. For many days there’d been a severe drought. All things living were drying up. Soon she and her only son would dry up and return to the earth themselves. All she had left was a little flour and some oil. There was nothing to do but make one last meal and await death.

“Can you bring me a little water in a vessel, that I might drink?” said a voice.

She looked up, her eyes meeting those of a stranger. Somehow, she knew that he was a holy man. And he was. He was Elijah, the prophet of Israel.

His God was not her god. She owed him nothing. But she did have some water she could offer this dusty, weary traveler.

“And might I have a morsel of bread too?”

Now this was too much. The woman we only know as “widow” responds she has only enough flour and oil to make a cake of bread for herself and her son, and then they have nothing more. They will die.

Then the widow receives a response she didn’t anticipate: “Do not fear; go and do as you have said,” Elijah instructs. “But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’”

For some reason, the widow decided to take a chance. Maybe she figured she had nothing to lose? She had nothing to look forward to but death. But just maybe, what this prophet said would come true. It was a small glimmer of hope.

And so, with just a tiny bit of faith, the widow’s hands reached for the flour, and then the oil. And every time she reached for it, there was just enough for one more cake of bread. “The experience was similar to God’s continued provision of bread to the Israelites in the wilderness,” observes Gien Karssen in Her Name is Woman. “It continued to be a daily challenge of her faith. The supply was always of such scanty measure that she could not put any food aside and trust in it. She could only trust in the promise of God.”

And so she lived. And so did her son. When drought, death, and destruction were all around them, the widow and her household lived. When God’s own people were apostate, this foreign woman had faith.

Then illness struck her son. Life left him.

The widow was confused and in despair. They had survived the drought yet her son was still to die? What was going on? This was worse than if they’d simply died together in famine! Now all that was precious to her was gone.

Her faith had grown with each new day of provision, but now it was struck down, withering like the grass all around them. Would her faith survive this test? “Deep suffering should stimulate greater faith,” writes Karssen in reference to this widow’s plight. “Such a faith, however, must first be tested for genuineness. God wants to know its value and, therefore, allows suffering. The faith that remains after the test of suffering is pure.”

Elijah pleads with God on behalf of the widow for her son’s life. God listens to Elijah and grants his request, breathing life back into the limp body of the boy.

Just as the son is brought to life again, so is the widow’s faith. “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth,” she tells Elijah.

Why did God care about this unnamed widow? Why did he solidify her faith by raising her son to life? Was it simply because Elijah asked? Was it because the woman had already exhibited faith by feeding God’s prophet instead of herself and her son? Did God want to strip her of any remaining doubt that he is, indeed, the true God?

We don’t know. All we know is God cared for this foreign woman who had little to give. Perhaps, when his own people had forsaken him to follow other gods, he decided to instead lavish his grace instead on someone else.

What we do know is this woman was rewarded for her faith. That she was rewarded for her quivering act of obedience. She obeyed God when it seemed futile, when it seemed like nothing but darkness and death awaited. Instead, she was given life. Life everlasting. I want to follow her example. No matter what the future may look like for me or my child, even when no trace of hope can be seen, I too want to take a step of faith and obey.

Can you share a time you obeyed in faith when a situation seemed futile? What was the result?

7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 19, 2010 7:19 pm

    Yeah. Right now. I’m living it.

    But God is right with me and I am learning that He is enough. Just him. Enough.

    • April 20, 2010 6:38 am

      Cassandra, thanks for sharing and I’ll be praying for you!

  2. April 19, 2010 7:19 pm

    Oh, and I love Elijah. Just love him.

  3. May 6, 2010 2:55 pm

    oh, my… i could share so many stories of when the situation looked hopeless, and God came to our aid… both from my childhood, and as an adult.

    i’m so glad you stopped by my blog, so that i would come here today. i needed this. i cried as i read it… even before reading it. you see, my husband and i {40 and 28 respectively} have been trying to have children for four years. we just started going to a fertility clinic, and remaining hopeful that with their help, God will grant us a child or two.

    so when i saw the image, it struck a chord. and then upon reading, even more. our pastor has recently finished a long series on Elijah. wow. so many good stories came out of that man’s life. so many great things that God wants to teach us. thank you for sharing this. it really did help me.

    i noticed that the link for “Life everlasting” leads to the ESV Bible web site. i used to work for Crossway Books and Bibles… the publisher that puts out the ESV.

    anyway, i just wanted to say how glad i am to have found your blog, and that you stopped by mine. i will definitely be back. oh, and one more thing… i see you have the hope quote by emily dickinson in your side bar… one of my all-time favorite quotes. i use it often on my blog. just love that!

    have a lovely day.



  1. Elizabeth: Faith for the Barren Years « Dancing by the Light
  2. Mary: A Humble Heart « Dancing by the Light

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