Pentecost 24 – “The Widow of Zaraphath” – 1 Kings 17:8-16 – 11/8/15

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“Good morning. I would tell you my name, but it seems as though it’s not important for you to know my name. It is enough that you know that I am from the village of Zarephath, which is in the region of Sidon, just north of Israel.

I have been widowed for some time now. It’s just me and my son. I do all that I can to provide a decent life for the boy. But it is not easy. There is no such thing as, what you call, ‘welfare’ or ‘social security.’ If I am to survive and feed my son, I must be resourceful and work hard, and we live a very frugal life. I am always grateful for the generosity of my neighbors which at times, has meant the difference between having something to eat and going hungry.

When the economy is good, that is, when the weather is good and the harvest is abundant, we get by. There is always plenty to go around and people are generous. But when the economy is bad, everyone becomes very nervous and a lot more protective of what they have and they are not as generous, which I can fully understand.

We have been in the midst of a severe drought now for several years and food has become very scarce for everyone. I have heard that the drought is due to a Jewish holy man named Elijah. As I heard it, Elijah prayed to the God of Israel that there should be no rain on the earth until Ahab, the king of Israel repented of his corruption and wickedness.

It’s been over a year without a single drop of rain. The thing is, everyone is suffering because of the king’s stubbornness. The famine has become severe and everyone is hungry, even we who do not live in Israel.

I myself am not an Israelite, but there is a synagogue in our village. One Sabbath, a friend invited me to go with her, and I did. The Rabbi spoke from the book of Genesis about Abraham and his only son whose name was Isaac. He told about how the God of Israel told Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, and of Abraham’s faith and trust in the God of Israel. As they walked to the place of sacrifice, Isaac asked his father, ‘Father, where is the lamb for the sacrifice.’ And Abraham answered, “the Lord will provide a lamb…, my son.”

The Rabbi certainly had my attention because I too have an ‘only son’ whom I love dearly. I thought about how hard for Abraham this must have been and how faithful to his God Abraham was. I admired that because all my life I have lived as though everything depended on me to provide for myself. How good it must be to believe that there is a God who will provide for you.

The Rabbi continued saying that Abraham bound Isaac and laid him on the altar and raised the knife over his head to kill his son. And the thought that flooded my mind was ‘how cruel and unfair this God of Israel is to put a man through such pain and misery as He was putting Abraham through.’ I know that it’s a weird thought, but I thought, ‘If God had an only Son, I bet He wouldn’t have the will to do such thing to Him.’

But then the Rabbi said, ‘God provided.’ God provided a ram as a substitute for Isaac, and Abraham sacrificed the ram instead of Isaac. And in his joy and relief, Abraham named the place – “Jehovah jireh.” Which means, “The Lord will provide.” To this very day, I have heard people refer to that place as the “mountain where the Lord provided.”

When I returned home, I thought a lot about what the Rabbi had said. I thought about this God who seemed to have the power to keep it from raining but also had the power to provide for those who put their trust in Him. And I began to wonder, would this God, the God of Israel provide for me and for my son too, like He did for Abraham and Isaac? Would He provide for me even though I am a Gentile and not a Jew?

It was the very next day that my supply of food was nearly gone. All I had was one handful of flour and just enough oil to make a small loaf of bread for my son and me to eat. It was all that I had.

I went to the gate of the city where I knew I could find enough sticks to build a fire to bake the bread with. And with each stick that I picked up, I repeated the words, “Jehovah, jeriah.” “The Lord will provide.”

As I stood up, there was a man standing right in front of me. He was not from Zarapheth and it was obvious he had been traveling. He looked weary and hungry just like a lot of us. I asked his name and he answered, “Elijah.” I said, “are you the prophet of the God of Israel? The one who prayed for this drought?” And he nodded his head.

He explained that he had been living in the wilderness for many days, hiding from king Ahab who was looking for him. For awhile the ravens were actually bringing food to him and he got water from one of the few brooks that still ran. But then the brook dried up and the ravens left.

And he said, “the word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” And he said, “you are the woman.” “Bring me a little water in a vessel that I may drink.”

How strange that the God of Israel would use, not only a ‘widow,’ but a gentile widow to provide for His Jewish prophet. How many Jewish men or Jewish widows were out there? Why me?

But, since the well in Zarephath still had water in it, I was pleased to get him some water to drink.

I hadn’t gone more than 10 steps however, when he called out to me saying, “And bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.”

And I stopped dead in my tracks. Really? Surely he had no idea what he was asking? It was impossible.

I explained, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.”

Honestly, I was angry with him for even asking such a thing of me, a poor widow. A lot of other people have a lot more than I have. Why not ask them? But he insisted that His God had sent him to me and that His God had commanded me to provide for him; and that if I would trust in the God of Israel, God would provide for me and my son.

“Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me and afterward make something for yourself and your son.”

Of all the nerve. He wasn’t asking for any scraps or leftovers that I might have after my son and I had eaten. He was asking me to give him some bread BEFORE we ate.

He must have seen the confusion and despair and even anger in my face, because he said, “For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.”

And I wondered, was he telling me that the God of Israel would provide for me and that I need only trust Him? I thought about Abraham. He trusted that “the Lord would provide” even when it seemed hopeless. Would the Lord do the same for me if I trusted in Him like Abraham did?

“I went and did as the Elijah said.”

As I mixed the flour with the oil and kneaded the dough, I looked at my son and he looked at me. He asked me, ‘mother, where is the bread for us to eat?’ And I answered him, “the Lord will provide bread, my son.”

If you asked me a hundred times to explain it, you’d still never be satisfied with my answer. I myself do not understand it. All that I know is that “the jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty.” My son and I ate and were satisfied “for many days.”

The one thing that I have learned is that this God of Israel is worthy of our trust. He provides our ‘daily bread’ and all that we need for our body and life in this world, no matter how impossible the situation may seem. To this day, I still call my jar of flour and jug of oil, “the place where the Lord provided.”

The whole thing seems more than a bit ironic if you ask me. That the God of Israel would send His prophet to me, a poor widow, and that He would use me to provide for His prophet. It’s a little strange, but it’s quite an honor really.

But the greater irony is that because I was willing to provide for the man of God out of my poverty, he was able to provide for me with so much more. The prophet provided me with a faith in God that I would never have had if I had refused his request. And for that I will always be grateful.

Now, no matter how impossible or difficult the situation may seem, I have become bold to say, “Jehovah jireh.” “The Lord provides.”

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