Last week’s Elijah story was full of sound and fury, with fire falling from the sky. This week’s story—we’ll call it a prequel, as it happened before last week’s showdown with the priests of Baal—is more tender, a reminder of how powerful God’s grace can be.
Again, I need you to read it first. Today’s story is from 1 Kings 17:8-24.
A little background: Elijah had predicted the great drought that was going to fall on the disobedient people of Israel and the lands surrounding them. For a time, he had been in the wilderness, drinking from a brook running into the Jordan River and relying on ravens sent by God to bring him food. But the drought finally became so severe that the brook dried up, and God sent his prophet to Zarephath.
Zarephath, by the way, was in Phoenicia, outside the bounds of Israel and the center of Baal worship. God chose to hide and care for his prophet in the midst of his enemies!
God told Elijah to go to a widow he had “commanded” to care for the prophet. As we read the story, however, we should notice something odd. The widow seemed to need convincing. In fact, as the story proceeds, it is not clear that she considered the Yahweh God of Israel her god.
I suspect she had heard from God the way we often do. She had an intuitive sense that something was about to happen, that despite her dire circumstances, she was not completely out of luck. She must have experienced some confidence that her intuition was divinely inspired, too.
Her first act of faith was to use what little meal and oil she had to make something for the prophet rather than for her and her boy. The result of that act was her trading what would have been their last meal for many miraculous meals to come. At this point, her intuitive hope began to take on an astonishing reality—it must have been amazing to go morning after morning and find there still was flour and oil in what had been an almost empty jar and jug. The God of Israel truly had drawn her and her boy into his circle of grace and love.
In this broken world, tests of our faith abound, however. Despite being in one of the few households with food, the boy became sick and either died or was near death. The wording is a bit obscure; we’re told there was “no breath left in him.” Some of us have seen that point where people hover on the edge of death, leaving us unsure whether they remain with us. The Scripture may be written that way simply to reflect the doubt so many people have experienced waiting with their critically ill loved ones.
The mother was of course distraught. So was Elijah. He was not a detached prophet. He had come to love these people. I imagine Elijah interacting with the boy day after day, growing fonder of him over time.
Elijah’s act of stretching out on the child was an effort to share his life with the boy. It perhaps had physical implications, the prophet’s weight compressing the child’s lungs and heart, but it certainly had spiritual implications. It was like spiritual CPR, a desperate prayer physically expressed, and it worked. The boy was revived and restored to his mother.
The widow’s final statement was one of conversion. She believed in the prophet, and more importantly, she believed she had found the God of Truth.
This story is very much a precursor to Christ’s work. Jesus, of course, stretched tiny meals to feed thousands and raised the dead more than once. In Luke 7:11-17, we see a story with a lot of similarities to our story in 1 Kings. Jesus saw a funeral procession for a widow who had lost her only son, this one a young man.
Her situation was sad and about to become very desperate with no one to care for her. But Jesus raised her son from the dead, letting him walk away from his funeral bier.
And of course, in dying on the cross for our sins and proving his power in the resurrection, Jesus opened the door for all of us to one day experience the grace these widows felt firsthand. The dead will be raised; sickness shall be overcome!
The God of Truth guarantees it.