8 The Lord told Elijah, 9 “Go to the town of Zarephath in Sidon and live there. I’ve told a widow in that town to give you food.”
10 When Elijah came near the town gate of Zarephath, he saw a widow gathering sticks for a fire. “Would you please bring me a cup of water?” he asked. 11 As she left to get it, he asked, “Would you also please bring me a piece of bread?”
12 The widow answered, “In the name of the living Lord your God, I swear that I don’t have any bread. All I have is a handful of flour and a little olive oil. I’m on my way home now with these few sticks to cook what I have for my son and me. After that, we will starve to death.”
13 Elijah said, “Everything will be fine. Do what you said. Go home and fix something for you and your son. But first, please make a small piece of bread and bring it to me. 14 The Lord God of Israel has promised that your jar of flour won’t run out and your bottle of oil won’t dry up before he sends rain for the crops.”
15 The widow went home and did exactly what Elijah had told her. She and Elijah and her family had enough food for a long time. 16 The Lord kept the promise that his prophet Elijah had made, and she did not run out of flour or oil.
A Widow Takes A Risk
Have you ever felt like you were down to the very edge of your resources? That you had reached the absolute limit of your capabilities? That despite all of your best efforts you were done for? The unnamed foreign widow in today’s story must have known exactly how that felt.
We don’t know anything about her back story.
Maybe she loved her husband deeply and was distraught over his death. Or perhaps he had been horribly cruel and his death was the only thing that could ultimately save her.
Maybe her husband had died rich but years ago and hardship had come on her and her son slowly, over time. Or perhaps he had died penniless – or even owing debts to others – but only a short time ago.
Maybe she’s had people supporting her in little ways all along that have allowed her to stretch out this moment for as long as possible. Or perhaps for reasons we can only guess she has spent her entire life shuffled to the margins and the edges of life.
What we do know is that she is a foreigner – Elijah is a refugee on the run from Israel and is in the country of Sidon. That means that she has no knowledge of Elijah, or Elijah’s God or anything else that would make her willing or interested in listening to or caring for him. And we know that we meet her here at this point in the story: when she is ready to make one final meal for her and her young son and then lay down to die.
An Impossible Request
Right at that moment, however, a prophet named Elijah comes up and asks her for water – which is free – and bread – which is not. Despite the fact that the rules of hospitality of her culture demand that she says yes, she knows full well that the amount of flour and oil she has will barely quench the hunger in her body and the body of her son, much less feed a grown man.
With no other option, she breaks with the rules and gets vulnerable with Elijah. She tells him the story – how she is down to her final handful of flour and dribble of oil. Maybe she choked back sobs as she said it, or maybe her face was stoical, but I can’t even imagine the fear of thinking that I was about to eat my last meal and then lay down to watch what was left of my family wither away and die.
Elijah’s response must have been a complete surprise. “Everything will be fine. Do what you said. Go home and fix something for you and your son. But first, please make a small piece of bread and bring it to me. The Lord God of Israel has promised that your jar of flour won’t run out and your bottle of oil won’t dry up before he sends rain for the crops.”
It’s a huge risk: sacrifice some of the tiny amount of food that she has to a perfect stranger on the chance that this God of Israel would fulfill a promise. I don’t know how I would have responded. Maybe I would have been desperate enough to say yes, but I think our tendency when resources are scarce – more often than not – is to say no, I’m sorry, I can’t help you.
Risk Taken, Promise Fulfilled
The nameless widow has more faith than I do. Despite the fact that she knows nothing about Elijah or his God, she takes him at his word, goes home and does exactly what he said. And the result is that all three of them – Elijah, the widow and her son – all have food to eat. More than that, we read a little further on in 1 Kings that when her son gets sick and dies, Elijah even brings him back to life.
The community they form ends up caring for all of them – together they survive when separately they would have all died.
Are you feeling like you’re at the end of your rope? That your resources are stretched too thin – financially, relationally, emotionally, physically?
What hope can you draw from the widow’s story today?
Do you know anyone who is feeling stretched thin?
Is God encouraging you, perhaps, to be part of bringing hope to that person’s reality right now?
One of the biggest things I notice in this story is how the faith of the widow not only feeds her and her son, but it is also God’s provision for Elijah. It’s a story of relationship – of community – of interdependence. How can you come more deeply into community this week so that you are available to be part of God’s story of provision – in your life and in the lives of those around you?
This summer we are looking at ‘stories you missed’ in the Bible. Feel free to check out the other stories in the series here.