1 Kings 17 = Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath
Bible Background: The prophet Elijah is introduced abruptly, in a time in Israel when King Ahab and Queen Jezebel have led the people away from worshipping only the LORD, and have encouraged worship of Baal (Canaanite deity, thought to be in control of weather). This sets up a ‘contest’ between the LORD God and Baal, and a choice of allegiance for the people!
Digging Deeper: 1. Elijah is simply introduced as being from Tishbe, near Gilead (mountainous region near the Jordan River.) He declares there will be no rain for 3 years in Israel. This would create serious hardship. It would also demonstrate that Baal was powerless to cause it to rain. Elijah suffers through this time of drought like everyone else…except that God miraculously provides food for him.
2. Elijah lives as something of a fugitive, because you don’t tell the king something he doesn’t want to hear and then stick around for long! In his first ‘hideout’, God sends ravens to bring him food. Next, God directs him to Zarephath (coastal city) to a widow, who will feed him. Really? Ravens? And a widow? She would have few resources, and indeed, we learn she is all but out of food for herself and her son. Things are desperate.
3. But Elijah promises her that her little supply of oil and flour will not run out until the drought is over. Sure enough, it lasts! He eats. She and her son eat! But then, the bottom drops out: her son dies. She blames Elijah (and herself). Elijah angrily implores God to restore the life of the boy. God listens to Elijah, and the boy lives! This is the first story in scripture of God reversing the power of death! Ultimately, in Jesus, God will destroy death!
4. The widow (who happens to be a foreigner), is convinced that Elijah is a “man of God” and that the words he speaks are from the LORD, and true! (The drought will end in chapter 18, but only after Elijah has demonstrated clearly that the LORD is God, and Baal is nothing!)
5. Think of the two main characters: Elijah. What choices does he have? Does he dare to confront a misguided king? Can he trust that God knows what God seems to be doing? Does he take action or sit back while the faith of his nation (or the life of the woman’s son) are in the balance?
The widow. What choices does she face? To show hospitality to a stranger? To share what little she has? To trust this stranger’s incredible promise? To believe in the God Elijah represents?
6. What choices do we have? To believe in scarcity or abundance? To share or to hoard? To imagine that God might also be at work in the lives of outsiders-or in sending outsiders to us? To take responsibility for care of the hungry and the care of creation? To acknowledge and proclaim that the LORD is God?