God's Prophet, Elijah - Goes to Zarephath
Updated: Aug 30
Then the Lord said to Elijah, "Go and live in the village of Zarephath, near the
city of Sidon. I have instructed a widow there to feed you."
1 Kings 17:8-9
We continue our story of God's prophet, Elijah. He has been hiding at the Kerith Ravine because God told him to go there and hide from King Ahab, but the waiting is over. The Lord has another assignment for him. He now wants Elijah to go to Zarephath, a small town on the Mediterranean coast between Tyre and Sidon.
Sidon was the homeland of Jezebel and the heart of Baal worship. Zarephath would have been heavily into Baal worship as well. When Jezebel became queen in Israel, she brought this false god with her. You can imagine how displeased God was that Israel had started worshiping Baal.
God was preparing Elijah for the upcoming showdown with the prophets of Baal. But first, God had to get this prophet ready. Elijah learned that God would miraculously provide for him at Kerith, and now God was about to show him that He could do the same for others, even Gentiles. So He sends Elijah to Zarephath to find a widow who has been instructed to take care of him.
That's all the instruction Elijah gets. I would have lots of questions. I would want to know her name and how I would know how to find her. Or would she recognize him?
What questions would you ask the Lord?
I don't know if Elijah asked questions because the Bible doesn't tell us. What the Bible does tell us is that Elijah went to Zarephath.
Elijah Finds a Widow
When Elijah arrives at the gate of the city, he sees a widow gathering sticks. Were widows recognizable? Most likely, yes.
Do you notice how God is again using an unusual source to feed him? First, it was the ravens, and now it's a widow. Generally, widows were poor and would be the first to run out of food in a famine.
All we know is Elijah asks her for a drink, and she says okay. As she leaves to get him a drink, he calls out to her, "And bring me a piece of bread also." She stops in her tracks because getting him bread was going to be a problem.
A Handful of Flour and a Bit of Cooking Oil
As she explains her situation, that she is out gathering sticks to cook one last meal of bread for herself and her son, Elijah says, "No worries. Go ahead and make the bread and give some of it to me. The Lord has said there will always be flour in your jar and olive oil in your jug until He sends the rain and the crops grow again."
Remember, when the Lord told Elijah to go to Zarephath, He also said Elijah would find a widow to take care of him. Is she thinking about that now? Does she recall what God had told her? Is this an easy decision for her? And is it unusual to find a Gentile in Zarephath who worships the God of Israel?
It sounds like God knew what He was doing!
Imagine you are this widow. You have just enough flour and oil to make a little bread for you and your son. After that, you will have nothing left, and you are sure you will die.
Elijah, this prophet of God, shows up and asks you to give him some of the bread you make. He seems confident the Lord will continue to provide. If you do this, it won't be your last meal. Or so Elijah says. What would you do?
God has instructed her to feed him. Elijah says the flour and oil won't run out. It's a risk; it requires faith, but what does she have to lose? She thinks she and her son are going to die anyway.
She makes the bread and gives some of it to Elijah. And you can guess what happens. God is faithful. He doesn't say He will do something and then not do it. It's a miracle; the flour and oil never run out. Day after day, there is always enough.
The Son Dies
Many days go by. There is always enough flour and oil to bake bread to feed the three of them. Life might not be ideal, but the Lord is miraculously providing, and I'm sure they were grateful. Maybe the impact of all the Lord is doing for the mother and son is not lost on them. They wake up each morning thankful to be alive.
Until one day, the son gets sick. He gets worse and worse, and then he dies. The widow is beside herself. Listen carefully to what she says. "O man of God, what have you done to me? Have you come here to point out my sins and kill my son?"
This mother thought her son died because of some sin she had committed. In her grief, she thinks this is the real reason Elijah had come. Does this sound ridiculous, or can you relate? When something terrible and out of your control happens, do you blame your own sin as the reason? Do you think you God is punishing you?
There are indeed consequences for sin. We see this taught throughout the Bible. But not every tragedy is a result of someone's sin. The only time something like this happens that comes to mind was when God told David his son would die because he had Uriah killed to cover up his affair with Bathsheba. But is this why the widow's son died?
Elijah Says, "Give Me Your Son."
Elijah seems genuinely confused. He says, "Give me your son," and he takes the dead boy to the upper room. There, Elijah cries out to the Lord. He, too, wants to know why this happened. To his knowledge, God wasn't sending him to judge this widow for some sin she committed. God hadn't said anything like that at all.
So he does the only thing he can do. He inquires of the Lord, "O Lord my God, why have you brought tragedy to this widow who has opened her home to me, causing her son to die?" Elijah is seeking answers too.
He then does something peculiar; he stretches himself out over the boy three times as he cries out to the Lord, "O Lord my God, please let this child's life return to him." And it happens. God brings the boy back to life.
Excited, Elijah brings the boy down to his mother and says, "Look, he's alive!" Another miracle! God had another reason for allowing the son to die. And it wasn't only so He could bring him back to life.
It would be easy to miss what God was doing here. Absolutely, He was preparing Elijah for his next assignment, but he was also making Himself known to this widow. Her response to getting her son back was to say to Elijah, "Now I know for sure that you are a man of God and that the Lord truly speaks through you."
This widow has already seen God provide food for them, and now as a mother, she witnesses God bringing her son back to life. I doubt this is not how she would have done things if she were in charge.
God rarely does things the way we would do them. But if you know Him, you will trust Him. He is who He says He is, and His ways are always good. God sees the big picture, and we don't. If you believe He is God, then you will trust His ways even when they don't make sense to you.
Who knows what God is preparing you for. As you trust Him, you will find out in His time.
Have you seen God answer a prayer differently than you would have done it?
Let me know in the comment section below. Also, feel free to share any thoughts or questions that come to mind.