God is disciplining Israel with a drought. Elijah is kept safe by the brook Cherith, until it dries up. God then sends him to a widow who needs him more that he needs her.
In our last time together one of the things I wondered about was what happened to the other people who still followed God during this drought and famine. For at least one little family, that question is answered in our reading today.
This is one of my favorite bible stories. How simple obedience and faith saved a widow and her son. That obedience happened on several levels. I want to rejoin our practice of stepping into the story today. We will look at events from a couple different ‘eyes’ while blending it into one story (hopefully).
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The days are hot and long. Elijah only has the ravens for physical company but his interactions with the Lord are far more real to him. Any who would wander by would think him strange as he appears to talk to himself much of the time but he has come to rely on his conversations with the Lord. They have deepened Elijah’s relationship with the Lord. Elijah cherishes this time with the Lord and the safety it provides. He is not blind to the fact that Ahab is angry with him for the drought.
As the days turn into weeks and the weeks into months Elijah sees the evidence of the drought even where he sits. The brook is slowly drying up. It took a while to be noticeable but for the last week Elijah has had to break the crust of the brook bed to reach water. It no longer flows freely. The ravens still bring bread and meat to Elijah each morning and evening. And he still feels the Lord’s presence and he hasn’t been told to do anything different so he waits.
Waiting isn’t always easy for Elijah. The heat of the day and the thirst it brings sometimes has him asking “Is it time yet?” But with that question comes the next one; “Time for what?” And this is why he continues to wait. He knows his life is in danger from Ahab. He also knows that God isn’t finished with getting Ahab and Israel’s attention. So Elijah continues to wait.
While Elijah waits by the brook Cherith a young widow and her son mark their days in Zarepath. Six months ago her husband left to find work. Their fields were dry and their crop was failing. As he journeyed to the next town over he was set upon by bandits. He lay at the side of the road for two days before someone recognized him and brought her word. His wounds were grievous and he died the night they brought him home. It was if he held on by sheer will until he could say good-bye to his wife and son.
The neighbors in Zarepath did all they could to help this little family but everyone was struggling. Mother and son lived on what little was left of the husband’s purse and what remained in their pantry. It didn’t take long for both to run dry.
Early one morning as Elijah sits by the dry brook he hears a voice that is by now as familiar as his own. It’s the Lord.
“Elijah, it’s time.”
“Time for what Lord? I’m ready for whatever it is.” Elijah was excited. He was ready for a change.
“Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you” (verse 9).
Elijah wastes no time. He gets up and starts walking. It was a long dusty walk but it was exciting. Questions circle in his mind. Not questions of doubt but of expectation. “What will this widow look like?” “How will I recognize her?” “Will she recognize me?” “Does she know I’m coming?” “Has the Lord prepared her heart to welcome me?”
In Zarephath the young widow and her son begin their day. Both rise slowly from their pallets this morning. There is nearly nothing left to eat. The young mother has been rationing what they had for the past month, living on barely enough to keep them alive. They eat but once a day; at noon. She gives most of what she has to her son. The one thing she doesn’t lack is love, which she lavishes on her son at every opportunity.
When they retired to bed the night before, the young mother knew she had reached her limit. There was but a very small portion of flour and oil left. Her heart was breaking as she lay her head down, knowing what lay ahead for the two of them.
Try as she might, the reality of their situation wasn’t completely hidden from the son. He is ten years old. Not old enough to be a man but not young enough to still be innocent of knowledge. He has seen his mother’s dresses grow larger on her frame. He has pretended not to notice when she gives him a portion of her meal. He has seen the worry on her face when she thinks he isn’t looking. He has also experienced the pangs of true hunger as their meals became smaller. And he has hidden his own fears and ‘growing tunics’ as best a boy can.
This morning after greeting his mother with a smile and a hug, he sits down in a corner of the room. He holds a wooden toy his father made him years ago. It nearly shines from him rubbing his hands over it lovingly and longingly since the death of his father. His mother told him last night that she would be gathering wood today and that she wanted him to watch over the house while she was gone. He asked if he could go in her place but she refused.
The mother spends time this day setting her house in order. She sweeps the floor, shakes out the mats, and freshens the linens by hanging them in the sun. She doesn’t know why she spends her precious energy doing these tasks but she can’t seem to stop herself. Late morning she sets off to gather sticks to make her final fire for the final meal for her son and herself. Her son watches from the doorway, still clutching the toy his father made, as she makes her way towards the city gate.
The gates of the city look just ahead. Elijah can see people moving about near the gates. Not as many as one would expect to see but the drought has slowed even the merchant trade. As Elijah approaches the gate he sees a woman walking about. She has her eyes fixed on the ground. She stops every now and then to retrieve a stick. She then resumes her search, adding each found piece to a small bundle held in her skirts.
As he watches Elijah’s heart stirs. “This is her. This is the widow the Lord has prepared to care for me.”
The widow raises her head to look around for another place to search. She has collected all she can see near where she stands. She sees a small scattering of sticks in the direction where Elijah stands watching. She moves towards them. Before she reaches her destination Elijah calls out to her.
“Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink” (verse 10b).
Tired and hungry as she is, she recognizes Elijah as an Israelite. His manner of speech and his appearance communicate this to her clearly. He is also a man. Being a woman, and one of Sidon, she doesn’t argue or question his request. She bows her head in acknowledgment of his request and turns towards the city gates to do his bidding. She is a few steps away when Elijah calls out to her again.
“Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand” (verse 11b).
She freezes in her steps nearly tripping with the abruptness of her motion. She turns back to face Elijah. With anguish in her eyes and on her lips she confesses her lack. “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug.” Her heart is breaking as she shares what she believes to be her final words. Words that signify the death of her son and herself. “And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son…” In a voice barely above a whisper she finishes. “…that we may eat it and die” (verse 12).
Elijah realizes why the Lord has brought him here. It wasn’t for his provision and salvation but for hers, IF she will allow it. “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. 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 far 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’” (verses 13-14).
Lightning didn’t strike as a sure sign of Elijah’s words to her but her heart recognized there was power behind his words. She didn’t know Elijah by sight but she had heard stories of the prophets of the God of Israel. She had also heard the stories of wonders He had performed for His people. These memories sprang up within her as she made her way back to her home.
“Surely the God of Israel has more important things to tend to than my flour and oil jar. I’m not even an Israelite. But if there is even a chance I HAVE to take it. Besides, if I’m wrong, what is one less meal to me and my son? We are dead without the help of Israel’s God.”
The son moved to the window to wait after his mother left. He sees her hurrying back to their home. She hasn’t moved with this much speed in months; not since his father’s death. “Something must be wrong!” He quickly meets her at the door. “What is it mother” he asks as she reaches him. He almost asked “What’s wrong” but the look in her eyes and the slight smile on her face changed his question.
She reaches out and strokes her son’s cheek. “A man of God, Israel’s God, spoke to me today and asked me to bring him some water and a cake. He said that if I do this our oil and flour will not run out until the Lord sends rain again to us.”
“I don’t understand. What does this mean?”
“It means that the Lord has heard the cry of my heart when I didn’t even know His name. He has sent His servant here to save us from death, if we will but obey.”
“But what if it is a trick? Maybe this man is just pretending.”
“When he spoke to me my heart just knew. Besides, what have we got to lose?”
“Ok. What can I do to help?”
“You can start the fire. Here are the sticks I gathered. After the fire is going, go to the well and fetch me a pitcher of water.”
Mother and son work together preparing the man of God’s requests. Both move with urgency and hope. As soon as the small meal is prepared they take it to the man together.
Elijah waited patiently by the gate for the woman to return. He had no doubt she would. He wanted to see her face when she looked again into her jars. He longed to tell her of the Lord who now provided for her. She was not an Israelite but the God of Israel still cared about her.
Mother and son arrive with the water and small cake for Elijah. “As you requested my lord” says the mother as she hands Elijah the still warm cake.
“Thank you.” Elijah takes a bite. “It is delicious.”
“Where are you staying?” asks the son.
“I have no place picked out. The Lord sent me here to your mother. He has a special plan for her.”
“She told me about what you said about the flour and oil. Is it true? Will they really last?”
“She gave out of her need. The Lord will surely do as He said as a reward for her faith.”
“Will you share what the Lord provides with us?” asks the mother.
“I would be honored to. In fact the Lord told me you would be the one to provide for me during this time.”
“He knows EVERYTHING!” exclaimed the son.
The three walk together back to the home of the widow and her son. Elijah talks of the Lord and his time with him at the brook Cherith. When they reach their door Elijah says a short blessing over the home.
Hunger has been driven from the home. The Lord replenishes the flour and oil vessels with each use and Elijah satisfies the spiritual hunger of mother and son with stories of the Lord. The hunger of loneliness has also left from the hearts of mother and son. And the human companionship that was lacking at the brook has been sated.
(to be continued)
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I don’t know if our widow recognized Elijah but she certainly recognized the authority he spoke with. “Thus says the Lord” isn’t a phrase to be thrown about idly. She had a choice to make at that moment. She could refuse God’s offer out of fear or she could take Him at His word out of hope. God saw her need even before she knew Him.
He knows our needs just as surely. And we have a choice to make too. Believe what He says and have hope or continue on our way of desperation. That ‘hope’ is found in Jesus. He wants to be our Living Bread. As the mother said to herself; “What have we got to lose?”
Father God, thank You for Your provision. You not only take care of my physical needs but You addressed my eternal need. I NEED salvation and You provided it through Jesus. You didn’t require I know all there is to know about You or follow some set rules before reaching out to help me. You gave me ALL I would ever need FIRST, before I even knew You. THANK YOU for hearing my heart’s cry and supplying EXACTLY what I need.
Something that just occurred to me is that God didn’t fill the widow’s jars. She had to continue to rely on Him. This set her up for the next part of the story.