1 Kings 17:8-24 – Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath

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1Kings 17:8-9

  1. At just the right time, when it was time for Elijah to move on, God tells Elijah to go to Sidon.
    1. Again we see that God leads one step at a time. If we are told too much of God’s plans far in advance, there is a great risk that we will not dare to accept God’s mission because it feels too big, too distant, or too difficult to understand.
    1. God leads Elijah to a pagan area, in present-day Lebanon just north of Israel, and to a pagan woman. Through this we understand that while we may think it smarter to use an Israelite, God has the right to choose whomever he wants as his instrument for his plan.
      1. We should never look down on those whom God calls as his servants, even if they do not look or behave as we wish.
  2. Widows had a very hard time in Bible times. With children to support and care for, but without a husband to work and earn money, life was extremely difficult. Add to that the fact that there was a drought in the land and most people understand that this widow was not even able to provide food for her own son, let alone Elijah. So it probably seemed rather illogical, almost ironic, that this poor widow would be able to offer food to Elijah.
    1. But in this way, God shows Elijah that God can use whomever he wants to do whatever he wants. We humans, who often look on the outside, would probably have dissed this widow beforehand and never given her a chance. But God, who sees her heart, knows that she may have nothing to offer, but that she is willing to serve God if he makes it possible.
    2. In the same way, we humans should be careful not to look only at appearances when judging whether a person is capable of doing this or that. After all, since the power and blessing is from God, it makes no difference whatsoever whether we are humanly weak or strong, good-looking or ugly, charismatic or dull, etc. What matters is the attitude of our heart and whether we are ready to serve God or not.

1Kings 17:10-12

  1. When Elijah arrives at Zarephath and encounters a widow, he asks her for some food and water. But not only is she poor, she is in such a desperate and desperate situation that she prepares to eat her last piece of bread and then die!
  2. The widow understands that Elijah is an Israelite and shows that she respects Elijah’s God, but that Yahweh is not her God because she is not an Israelite.

1Kings 17:13-14

  1. The widow, of course, was afraid of the situation she knew awaited her after she and her son had eaten the last piece of bread. But God had seen her heart and came to save her at the very last moment!
  2. Elijah challenges the widow to give Elijah bread first and then to her son, something he could do because God had told him that he would bless abundantly. This must have been extremely difficult for the widow, but in doing as Elijah says, she shows that she believes in the God of Israel.
    1. In the same way that the widow would first give to Elijah the man of God and then be blessed abundantly, the principle of tithing works. God commanded Israel to first tithe their harvest and then keep the rest for themselves (Ex 23:19, Deut 18:4, Neh 10:35). If they did as God said and gave their tithe, “blessings would flow out in abundance” (Mal 3:10).

1Kings 17:15-16

  1. The widow believed in God’s promise and acted on God’s word and was thus richly blessed.
  2. Again, we see that God did not give all that was needed at once, but only what was needed for the day. In this way, God ensures that the widow and the prophet continue to depend on God.
    1. It is probably no coincidence that poor people are more likely to believe in God’s miracles and to trust in God’s care. It is easy to stop depending on God when you are rich and have no greater need for God’s miracles.
    2. In a way, being poor is an advantage, at least spiritually (Matthew 19:23).

1Kings 17:17-18

  1. In the midst of all this miraculous blessing that the widow had received from God, she is struck by an unimaginable tragedy when her son dies of illness.
    1. The death of the widow’s son was a double tragedy that affected not only himself but also, by extension, the widow, since he was her guarantee of support when she grew old.
  2. The widow blames herself and her own sin for her son’s death and is angry with Elijah because she believes that he has somehow made God punish her for her sin.
    1. Exactly what sin is meant is not clear, but obviously she had something on her conscience that comes to mind when she suffers an accident.
    2. It’s easy to blame yourself and your own sin when you’re faced with disappointment. But not everything negative that happens to us is automatically a punishment from God.
      1. If it suddenly starts raining, does that mean it was God who sent the rain, or was it the devil who sent the rain, or is it raining because it’s autumn?
      2. Sure, God can send things our way that we are not always so happy about and that can serve as a lesson for us, but not everything that happens to us has to be from God. Especially not when, like the widow in this story, you have just been miraculously blessed.

1 Kings 17:19-21

  1. Elijah is dismayed by the death of the widow’s son and does the only thing he can do; cries out his despair to God!
    1. The dilemma facing Elijah and the widow is really the Theodicy problem: “how can a good God allow evil?”
      1. The answer to that question is not given in this chapter, but a good instruction on how to deal with tragedy is to cry out to God in despair.
  2. Elijah prays for the dead boy in a very strange way, he reaches out over the boy three times. Exactly why he did this is not clear from the text. But it was not Elijah’s somewhat strange approach that led to the answer to the prayer, but his desperate prayer. We cannot try to imitate Elijah’s way of praying for the boy and think that it automatically leads to an answer to prayer, but we can usefully imitate Elijah’s faith when he turns to God and prays.

1Kings 17:22-24

  1. This was the first time in the Bible that someone returns from the dead. Once again, God shows that he is vastly more powerful than the idol Baal.
  2. This miraculous miracle allows the widow to state that she now knows that Elijah is a man of God and that he conveys the truth of God.
    1. Although God did not send this tragedy to the widow, he did use it for something positive (Rom 8:29).
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