A Widow in Zarephath By Scarlett Stough

God withheld rain from Israel for over three years during the reign of Ahab and Jezebel. Elijah, a prophet of the LORD God, announced the famine to Ahab and then went into hiding. Elijah lived off the land with what God provided, but when his source of water went dry, God told him: “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.” God sent Elijah into Jezebel’s home country into the heart of Baal worship. Baal was Sidon’s god of rain. Who is God, the LORD God or Baal? Could Baal send rain when the LORD God decreed no rain would fall?

When Elijah arrived at the town gate, he asked a woman who was gathering firewood to give him a drink of water. As she started to get it for him, he requested a piece of bread also.

“As surely as the LORD your God lives,” she replied, “I don't have any bread--only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it--and die.” (I Kings 17:12) 

The drought prevented a harvest that year; no grain to grind or flour to buy was being sold in the market place. She planned to make a small flat bread to have one last meager meal with her son. After that, she had nothing but starvation and death in her near future. This widow had lost all hope. She seemed to know that Elijah’s God brought about the drought; but she didn’t think of Elijah’s God as her God. Yet, Elijah offered her hope in a promise made by the LORD:

“Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.’” She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah.” (I Kings 17:13-16)

This widow knew she and her son were as good as dead. But she did as Elijah asked because his message from God was the only hope available to her. She knew her situation was desperate. She acted out of hope, not faith. She was not chosen for any great faith on her part. Her words reveal she believed this was Elijah’s God, the God of Israel, not her God. (I Kings 17:12)

Many months later, her son grew ill and stopped breathing. She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” (I Kings 17:18)

Elijah took the boy from her arms. He carried him to his room. He cried out to God with a complaint: “O LORD my God, have you brought tragedy also upon this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” (I Kings 17:20)

He pleaded with God for the boy’s life to be returned to him. God granted the boy his life. When Elijah laid the boy in her arms alive, she said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth.”

She did not start with faith. She started with need and despair. She acted on a glimmer of hope. She learned faith through the God who is faithful.

Jesus grew up in Nazareth. He called for repentance from sin. But he did not come to condemn sinners. He did not come to kill; he revealed himself to be the Messiah who came to take away sin and bring life. (John 3:16-21)

The people of his hometown rejected him because they did not want to be reminded they were sinners. (Luke 4:16-30) Who did Jesus think he was anyway? He grew up here; he wasn’t anything special; he’s just a man like we are. But Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth…no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.” (Luke 4:24-26) 

The name of Jesus is quite familiar to many people in many parts of the world. But today, as in the first century, people do not want to be reminded that we are all sinners facing death. There is a famine of the word of God in many places today, not because there are no Bibles or people to read them. There is a famine because the source of life, the Bread of life, is being ignored or rejected. Only a mere fraction of the world’s population believe and follow Jesus of Nazareth. Who is God? This question is as important to answer today as at any time. 

Christians have an obligation, a responsibility to share the Bread of life with others. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is food for the hungry. 

A starving man who looks at a loaf of bread and merely agrees it exists and doesn’t eat it will continue to be hungry. The Gospel must be obeyed or acted on to receive the promise as the widow in Zarephath obeyed the LORD’s command to feed Elijah. 

The widow’s declaration of faith sprang out of the mercy of God in raising her dead son to life. Our faith springs out of God raising his Son from death to life. Our faith grows stronger as we feed on that Bread of life and experience the spiritual life only Jesus provides. That faith saves those who believe the LORD is God from certain death and gives assurance of eternal life.

For the Scripture References and related Bible Study Guide, go to Bible Study Guide: I Don’t Have Any Bread