by Heather Bock
God used a poverty-stricken widow to convict me this week. I started by questioning her faith and ended by admiring it.
Elijah had been in hiding, presumably from King Ahab (described as the king who did more to provoke the LORD than all the kings of Israel before him–I Ki. 16:33), during a major drought God brought on Israel as a chastening for their turning away from Him. God took care of Elijah during his concealment, using ravens to bring him bread and meat twice a day and placing him next to a brook that still had water. I like to think the ravens were stealing the food from King Ahab himself. God was already working miracles in this story, of course–most of us know that ravens aren’t usually that sociable (in fact, my friend in college had one swoop down and almost attack her head while she was walking). God could easily have made another miracle for Elijah by providing him with water from a rock when his little brook ran dry (He’s been known to do that). Instead, God decided to work a miracle using someone else, someone who might have needed some renewed faith.
He sent Elijah to Zarephath, a Gentile place with a name that meant something like “a workshop for melting and refining metals” (Strong’s). Not many metals may have been in the process of refining during that difficult time, but God still had some refining to perform there.
When Elijah met the widow of Zarephath, she was in a pitiable state, at the end of herself. She was on her way to gather a few sticks so she could bake a little bread for herself and her son out of the last of her flour and oil. She believed this would be their last meal before they died of starvation. However, when Elijah asked her to take a walk of faith by giving him the last bread instead, promising her unlimited flour and oil afterwards, I am amazed as I read that she gave him the bread. She trusted this man who followed a God who wasn’t even her own yet.
However, even the strong faith of this woman would be severely tested. After many days of clear provision from God through miraculous multiplying flour and oil, her only son (probably her only physical hope for the future, as she was a widow) died from a serious illness. Yes, she had seen the sustaining hand of God for many days, but I wonder if she thought, Who needs oil and flour without my son, my only son?
But God…and these two words of powerful intervention on its way stir me every time I dwell on them…But God had bigger plans for this widow, plans for a resurrection. He didn’t have to do this, and He didn’t do it for all the widows in Israel at that time, as Jesus pointed out in Luke 4:25-26, “But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.” But God did do this for this one woman who had decided to put her trust in Him.
It was then that the widow spoke these words to Elijah: “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth” (I Ki. 17:24).
At first I wondered how she didn’t understand this fact before now. After all, she was witness to daily miracles, the only way she was even kept alive. A moment later, my breath caught in my throat as God reminded me of some of my recent thoughts. This woman’s contrasted words of deepened faith suddenly convicted me.
I have also seen Bread, living Bread, multiplied in my life as Jesus has daily nourished me, both physically and spiritually. I also know of a resurrection of a one and only Son who is my only hope for the future. But how many times have I shown my lack of faith by questioning Him when I don’t understand what He’s doing? Just recently, I asked God why He hadn’t answered a prayer I’ve long prayed. I don’t believe it’s wrong to ask God that kind of a question, but I asked it with a seed of doubt in my heart.
Oh, that my faith would be strong enough to always say along with the widow of Zarephath, even when I don’t understand, The word of the LORD is truth. When my faith is tested, may I quickly speak His words of truth.
God is powerful (Ps. 62:11).
God is righteous (Ps. 11:7).
God is faithful (I Cor. 1:9).
God is love (I Jn. 4:8).