The Widow of Zarephath.

1 Kings 17:8-24.

Christian Friend vol. 19, 1892, p. 225.

After the brook Cherith had dried up, Elijah was sent away to new scenes, outside of the limits of Israel, to learn new lessons of God's grace and power. "The word of the Lord came unto him, saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee." The correspondence and contrast in the life of our blessed Lord will not fail to be remembered. After He had passed judgment upon the moral condition of the blind leaders of the blind, He "went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon," and there, having exposed the real state of the heart of man, as seen in His professing people, He revealed the heart of God to a poor Canaanitish woman who was destitute of all claim upon His goodness and mercy. (Matt. 15.) Elijah was sent to the same region to be sustained, and also to become the channel of God's grace, and even of resurrection power.

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Two things may be noticed in the command he received. We learn everywhere in the Scriptures, that when God's people fall into a backslidden condition, and refuse His testimony, He turns, as it were, to those who are outside, and exhibits there the sovereignty of His grace. The Lord Himself reminded His hearers in the synagogue of Nazareth of this fact, and cited in support of it this very case of the widow of Zarephath, as well as that of Naaman the Syrian. (See also Acts 13:46.) So it was with Elijah. Israel would not listen to his message, and Jehovah sent him for a season to one who was an alien from the commonwealth of Israel, and a stranger from the covenants of promise. But in the very service, on which he was sent, his own faith was tested. A widow is expressive in scripture of one who is desolate and without resources, and it was to such an one Elijah had to go for support, that he might learn the lesson for himself, to qualify him for his future work, that, when all created streams are dried up, the fulness of God remains immutable.

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An unfailing mark of a true servant is obedience. When Elijah was bidden to hide himself by the brook Cherith, "he went and did according unto the word of the Lord," and now, commanded to go to Zarephath, "he arose and went to Zarephath." This simple and unquestioning obedience justified his statement that he "stood" before the Lord God of Israel. The very term servant implies subjection to the will of another; and on this very account we have the presentation of the Perfect Servant in Him who came not to do His own will, but the will of Him that sent Him. And it should never be forgotten that obedience is the sign of power. If asked to specify the greatest display of power in Elijah's service, many would refer to the scene on mount Carmel, wherein he challenged the priests of Baal to prove the existence of their god, and, when on their failure, after Jehovah had vindicated His servant by sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice, he commanded them all to be put to death. But true spiritual power, silent and constant, is far more conclusively demonstrated to the spiritual eye by obedience to the will of God.

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Arriving at Zarephath, he was instantly brought into contact with the poor widow who was to be his hostess. There she was, by the gate of the city, "gathering of sticks." The faith of Elijah perceived no difficulty, either in her appearance, or in the evident poverty of her circumstances. He knew that she had been commanded to sustain him, and therefore, resting on the sure word of Jehovah, he requested that she would fetch him a little water in a vessel, that he might drink. As she was going to fetch the water, he added another request: "Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand." This second requirement was used to elicit the condition in which this poor widow was found. She concealed nothing: "As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die." She had thus come to the end of all her resources, and for her and her son there was only the prospect of death; and yet it was to this destitute widow that Elijah was sent for sustainment.

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Whenever God commands He bestows the power for obedience, if we can receive it. So in the case of this poor widow; and hence her own state of soul is the first thing brought to light. Her obedience and confidence in God and His word are to be tested. Thus, notwithstanding her declaration of utter poverty, Elijah said, "Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son." How hard and unreasonable such a request would have seemed to the natural mind, one that unbelief might have said ought never to be preferred. But He who made it, in the person of His servant, sustained the widow's faith with a sure word of promise: "For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, the barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth." If all things are possible with God, all things are also possible to him that believeth; and accordingly the widow, trusting in God (the mark of a "widow indeed"), "went and did according to the saying of Elijah."

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The statement follows: "And she, and he, and her house, did eat many days. And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which He spake by Elijah." Several points in these words are worthy of attention. The first is, that, if God commanded the widow to sustain Elijah, He Himself supplied her with the means of doing it. The second is a consequence of the first, viz., that in using what we have for the Lord our means are multiplied. Can any give to the Lord without reaping an abundant recompense? Another is, that, instead of the son being mentioned, it is now "her house," illustrating God's ways of grace with His people in blessing their households through the heads. Thus if Obed-edom received the ark into his house, the Lord blessed Obed-edom, and all his household. (2 Sam. 6:11.) In like manner, if Elijah dwelt with the widow, her house shared in the blessing. Lastly, God will magnify His own faithfulness. His word had promised, and according to His word the blessing came - the word which He spake by Elijah.

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That there is a typical import in the barrel of meal and the cruse of oil few will doubt. The former will point to Christ and the latter to the Holy Spirit. And the lesson is twofold. First, we are taught that all our needs are abundantly supplied in Christ and the Holy Ghost, as long as faith is in activity. The widow believed the word of the prophet, and she went, in the obedience of faith, and did according to the saying of Elijah. As a consequence it was that "she, and he, and her house, did eat many days." To understand this is of the utmost importance. Christ is all-sufficient in our deepest needs, and yet, even though we have the Holy Spirit, we cannot avail ourselves of the resources we have in Him apart from faith. Secondly, we learn that, cut off from the ordinary ministrations of blessing (the rain being withheld, see Amos 4:7, 8), and isolated from all Christian fellowship, the Lord will prove Himself enough for us in the power of the Holy Ghost. There may be both dearth and drought, but it is the privilege of the believer to satisfy himself at the sources of blessing, to find that all his springs are in the Lord Himself.

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A new experience, and one fraught with still larger blessing, was in store for this pious widow. She had received succour and deliverance through the visit and sojourn of Elijah, but she was now to learn, in a still deeper way, the nature of the One who had so graciously cared for her. Death - death which is the end of all human hopes - came into her household. Her only son, the light and joy of her life, like the son of the widow of Nain, fell sick and died, and she was bereft and desolate. If the sword entered into her soul, it was yet in mercy, for through it, in the very poignancy of her grief, she learnt what she was in the presence of God (v. 18); and therein she was prepared for further blessing. For until we come to the end of self, we cannot apprehend what God is for us in grace.

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The moment the lesson concerning herself was learnt God came in, and, through Elijah, and in answer to his prayer, raised the widow's son to life again, and the prophet "delivered him unto his mother." (Compare Luke 7:15.) The Lord thus revealed Himself to her soul as the God of resurrection, thereby establishing her in the truth, and confirming her faith, by causing her to rest upon a foundation, which, because it is beyond death, is for ever immutable. The effect was to demonstrate, beyond all doubt, the character of Elijah as a man of God, and the certainty of the word of the Lord as spoken by him. (v. 24.) So also our blessed Lord Himself was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4), and thereby, moreover, His word was confirmed. (Luke 24:6-8.)