The Widow of Zarephath 1 Kings 17: 8-24 CLICK TITLE FOR AUDIO
Elijah stopped the rain in Israel during Ahab’s reign to break the country of its Baal worship. For a while, Elijah was able to survive on food brought by ravens and water in the brook Cherith. However, in due time the brook dried up and the Lord commanded the widow of Zarephath in Zidon to take care of him. When Elijah arrived in the town, he saw her in the gate gathering sticks for her and her son’s final meal. They were out of food. Oddly, Elijah not only requested a drink of water but also a morsel of bread from her. She granted his request and the Lord blessed her with sufficient oil and meal each day to last through the entire drought.
Here are the lessons we learn from our text:
You don’t have to be somebody great to do some great things for God – v.9 – this woman is an unnamed widow in a foreign country – she was the one person God chose to feed one of the greatest prophets to ever prophesy in Israel – what an honor and a privilege – God’s best examples of giving are an unnamed widow who gave two mites and a lad who gave his little lunch.
God’s commands will often take you to the limit of your desire – v.9-12 – when Elijah asked for water, she was happy to oblige – but when he then asked for a morsel of bread, she protested that she didn’t have enough to feed her and her son, much less him – we don’t mind doing things for God as long as they are things we can do and want to do – but when he lays on us something that seems extreme we balk.
You have to get to the end of possible before God can demonstrate the impossible – v.13-14 – she had to feed Elijah first and use up her resources before God blessed her miraculously with his limitless resources – so often we want to hold on to all of our resources and let God use his instead – faith never grows like that – look at Abraham and Sarah, Ishmael was born in the possible; Isaac was born in the impossible – you know which one was the promised seed!
Obedience to God’s commands is always rewarded with blessing – v.15-16 – when the widow did what the Lord commanded, the Lord blessed her for the duration of the drought with his provision – God promised Israel in Deut 28 that if they would do his commandments, he would bless them in every aspect of their lives – he also promised that if they didn’t do his commands that he would withhold his blessings and bring manifold curses upon them.
Past blessings are not a guarantee of future benefits – v.16-17 – after all that the widow had done for Elijah and after all that God had done for her, undoubtedly she expected nothing but blessings for the rest of her life – well, she met with tragedy instead when her son died – in this she was much like Job – God is always good when you are experiencing his blessings and when you are meeting with tragedy.
Bad circumstances are not always the result of your sin – v.18 – the only explanation that this poor widow had for the child’s death is that the Lord was bringing her past sin to remembrance and punishing her for it – Jesus Christ has already been punished for your sins – while it is true that you reap what you sow and that God will, in love, chasten you, it is rarely, if ever, true that the death of a loved one is the result of something bad in your past – the blind man in Jn 9 is a great testimony to this truth.
At some point, God can allow such pain in your life that not even the preacher can explain it – v.19-20 – before Elijah prayed for the widow’s son, he asked her to give him the boy – evidently she didn’t – he had to take him out of her bosom – she didn’t want to let him go – when Elijah prayed to the Lord about the death of the widow’s son, he asked the Lord, “hast thou also brought evil upon the widow?” He didn’t know what was going on – when times like this come to you, don’t ask “why,” ask “what,” because “why” may not be answered on this side of eternity – not getting an answer to “why” can make you bitter – asking “what” puts you in the mindset of seeking God and his will.
There is nothing too hard for the Lord – v.21-23 – as it turns out, the widow didn’t lose her son, just as Mary and Martha didn’t lose their brother – God raised him from the dead – and he can do miraculous things in your life if he so chooses.
The greatest blessings of serving God are the spiritual blessings – v.24 – the widow didn’t understand that the death of her son was in fact a great blessing – through his death and revival, the widow was able to believe the word of the Lord – she now knew that the Lord God is the true God – she would have never learned this without the tragedy – the blessing of knowing God and the truth of his words was greater than all the meal and oil combined!
Conclusion: The widow of Zarephath lived in Zidon, where Jezebel was from – Jezebel’s father was Ethbaal, the king of Zidon [1 Ki 16:31] – this woman probably only knew about the god Baal – by taking care of Elijah, she learned that the Lord God is the true God – in the end, then, this incident was not so much about what the widow did for God and God’s man but what the Lord did for her [see Lk 4:25-26] – in other words, in your service to the Lord, you are going to end up with a greater blessing from God than God is going to get from you!