A Retelling of Elijah and the Widow
Ahab the king of Israel had married Jezebel from the land of Sidon. She was a Baal worshiper and had brought her god with her. And for the people of Israel, they had given their hearts and minds over to Baal, turning away from worshipping God and instead worshipping Baal, this god of thunder, the god known outside of Israel as the one who rides on the clouds, bringing rain, bringing life to earth.
But Elijah knew Baal was a false god and he could see the people were trying to pursue life for themselves, but in reality, they had really chosen death instead. So he tells Ahab, who is considered to be the most wicked king that Israel ever had, that Israel isn't going to even see a drop of rain the next year because you and your wife Jezebel have led the people astray. It had been Jezebel who made Baal worship the official religion of Israel and Ahab backed her in trying to replace the God of Israel with a new god.
Days passed. And then weeks. And then months. And then three and a half years where not a single drop of rain hit the land, nor even dew graced the ground. During this time, Elijah had been hiding near a brook on the other side of the Jordan river, far away from Ahab because God had told him he needed to escape quickly or risk being killed for what he had said and done.
And while there, Elijah was eating like a king, eating two full meals of meat a day, and drinking plenty of water to survive the drought. But eventually, the brook dries up and that's when God tells Elijah to go to the land that Jezebel was from, to the town of Zarephath. It would be there that a widow would feed Elijah.
And that's where our story really begins. Elijah finds this widow and asks her for something to eat. And I'm sure this widow was thinking, you've got to be kidding me. She was out and about trying to find a few sticks to start a fire so she could bake some bread. No one was taking care of her, because at this point in the story, it was every person for themself. Out of bewilderment, she tells Elijah, “I have just enough flour and oil left to make one more loaf of bread for my son and I before we go off to die because this drought is so bad.”
The widow had given up on life. There wasn't any life in the land and she had finally surrendered to death. As far as she was concerned, there was nothing worth trying to live for at this point. She was tired of just surviving. But that wasn't going to be the end of her story. Elijah, by the word of God tells her, you're not going to run out of flour and oil before God sends rain on this land to end the drought. Now go eat and drink.
And it was so. The widow, one who at least one point in life been a Baal worshipper, believed the word that God had given Elijah. She didn't run out of oil. She didn't run out of flour. And most importantly, she didn't run out of hope. She and her son would continue to eat until the rain came just as Elijah had told her.
And like this widow, like the people of Israel, like Ahab and Jezebel, we all tend to go looking for life in all the wrong places. You might even find yourself in this widows shoes currently. Maybe you know you've looked for life in all the wrong places and like the widow, maybe you feel like you should just be forgotten. Maybe you feel like giving up. Let me resoundingly say, don't give up hope. Even if you're an old Baal worshiper whose given up on everything, God hasn't given up on you. There's still oil and flour waiting and like the widow, all you have to do is believe.
Storyline Commentary on 1 Kings 17:1-16
Every story can be broken down into a few parts. The setting, where the story takes place and why it might be important. The characters and their emotions and thoughts invested in the story. A tension that needs resolved. A resolution that brings us through the tension, and a through line (aka main idea) that carries the story through from beginning to end.
The Setting Ahab, the King of Israel has married Jezebel, and Baal, a god that Jezebel has brought with her from her homeland of Sidon, has captured the hearts and minds of the Israelites.
- Elijah – A prophet called by God who delivers a dire message to Ahah that God is going to stop the rain because the people are looking to a false God for rain that they think will bring life to the land.
- Ahab – Marries Jezebel and supports making Baal worship the official religion of Israel, turning away from the God of Israel
- The Widow – An old baal worshipper who discovers that God cares for her nonetheless.
- God – The one who brings life.
The Tension The story is being setup to show that it's God who is sovereign over creation, not Baal. Baal was the god of thunder and for three yearsdrought has hit not only Israel but Sidon as well, now modern day Lebanon. Baal, the god who was supposed to bring rain was nowhere to be found and the land is dying, along with the people. As our story focuses in on the widow, we learn she is ready to give up hope. She's ready for one last meal with her son and then off to die.
The Resolution By the word of the Lord, Elijah tells the widow not to give up. Her oil and flour won't run dry like the rain had. And in fact, the God of Israel would continue to provide for until rain began to bring life back to the ground.
The Through Line We often look for life in the wrong places, in false gods but the true God has flour and oil waiting for us, welcoming us to the Kingdom table.
Reflections on God's Care for the Widow
Why has this story endured? This story is the backstory to Elijah on the mountain calling out the false prophets of Baal. It lays the groundwork for for showing the Baal is a false god, missing in action. If Baal were real, the peoples prayers to Baal should have brought rain to the land but the land stayed unusually dry for three and a half years.
What is true for them then that is still true for us today? Like most of the characters in this story, we often look for life in the wrong places. We often thing money, power, or the right relationships will bring us life and nothing could be further from the truth. God can certainly use those things, but it's God alone that brings life.
How does this story help us love God? God showed care to someone who had no care for God. God isn't vindictive like Baal, ready to strike down all those who aren't in full devotion to him. The widow in this story was likely a life-long Baal worshipper and Baal was satanic in character. God extends love and care to any who are willing accept it and this is the main difference between the false prophets of Baal and God. God's grace will always be bigger than our own ability to extend grace and if that's God, and it is, then God is worth loving.
How does this story help us love others? It's a reminder that no one is exempt from God's love, even when they come from the most wicked of places. It's God's image in people that define people, and not their circumstances or beliefs. Love is an act of honoring the image of God of others and when we choose to not love others, we're choosing not to love the image of God in others.