The widow of Zarephath encountered God’s undeserved grace when He sent Prophet Elijah to her in her time of need.
The story of the widow of Zarephath is recorded in 1 Kings 17. She received an abundant supply of flour and oil that lasted her and her family through the drought and famine through Prophet Elijah.
8 Yahweh’s word came to him, saying, 9 “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and stay there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to sustain you.”
10 So he arose and went to Zarephath; and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her, and said, “Please get me a little water in a jar, that I may drink.”
11 As she was going to get it, he called to her, and said, “Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.”
12 She said, “As Yahweh your God lives, I don’t have a cake, but a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jar. Behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and bake it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”
13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go and do as you have said; but make me a little cake from it first, and bring it out to me, and afterward make some for you and for your son. 14 For Yahweh, the God of Israel says, ‘The jar of meal will not run out, and the jar of oil will not fail, until the day that Yahweh sends rain on the earth.’”
15 She went and did according to the saying of Elijah; and she, and he, and her house, ate many days. 16 The jar of meal didn’t run out, and the jar of oil didn’t fail, according to Yahweh’s word, which he spoke by Elijah.1 Kings 17:8-16
When I first read this account in 1 Kings, I thought this widow of Zarephath was so kind. She made bread and gave water to the Prophet Elijah even though she has so little for herself and her family. And that God rewarded her for her kindness.
I also thought of her faith. How much she trusted the word of the Prophet. What if things did not turn out as he said?
However, Jesus interpreted this story in a different way in Luke 4:25-30. He pointed out that God sent the Prophet Elijah to no other widow except her. God supplied her out of all the people who were suffering from the drought.
I was focusing on the actions of the person. Her kindness, her strong faith.
Jesus was focusing on the actions and heart of God. The famine was over the land. Many people were affected. Both Jews and non-Jews. Why did God sent supply to this woman? I’m sure there are many widows and needy people at that time.
25 But truly I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land. 26 Elijah was sent to none of them, except to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.
27 There were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed, except Naaman, the Syrian.”
28 They were all filled with wrath in the synagogue, as they heard these things. 29 They rose up, threw him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill that their city was built on, that they might throw him off the cliff. 30 But he, passing through the middle of them, went his way.Luke 4:25-29
Why Did the Widow of Zarephath Receive from God?
Just by looking at the story of the widow, it is not clear why but if we also look at the other person whom Jesus mentioned in Luke 4:25-30, then the reason may be clearer.
The other person mentioned by Jesus is Naaman the Syrian. His story of healing and restoration was recounted in 2 Kings 5.
These 2 people cannot be more different. One is a woman, the other a man. One is a poor widow, the other is the mighty captain of the Syrian army. Their needs are different. The widow is starving while Naaman has leprosy. One needed supply, the other healing.
So, what is their commonality?
Both the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian were non-Jews.
According to God’s law at that time, they were not entitled to receive any blessing or healing. They are not qualified because they are not God’s people. Yet, they did receive God’s blessing. It seemed that those who did not qualify received the miracle of abundance and healing.
The reaction of the people in the synagogue who heard Jesus mentioned this was one of wrath. They were angry with Jesus and wanted to harm Him.
Why are the Jews angry? Should not they rejoice that God has the power to bless and heal? Whoever that may be?
Their anger highlighted their pride and hardness of heart.
Jesus implied that they are proud of their birthright and relied on it instead of on God Himself. I also think that they are more concerned about living by the laws they laid down around God’s commandments rather than following God Himself. They think they deserve blessings from God because they are Jews and obey the laws.
With the story of the widow of Zarephath, God demonstrated that His blessings and provisions are undeserved. We cannot earn it, we are not entitled to it.
When we see others blessed, we do not have any right to be angry or jealous. God’s blessings belong to God. He bless who He wished. When we are blessed, we have no right to be proud, because we do not deserve it. We should be grateful. We had experienced undeserved grace.
16 Rejoice evermore. 17 Pray without ceasing. 18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Actually, the widow of Zarephath’s faith was not that strong once we read the second part of 1 Kings 17. Her son became gravely ill and her first reaction was to remember her sin and that God is punishing her by killing her son.
18 She said to Elijah, “What have I to do with you, you man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to memory, and to kill my son!”1 Kings 17:18
I do not know what sin she is referring to. But I think most of us are guilty of something at one point or another. And how easily we can recall something that convinced us that the bad or difficult things that are happening to us are due to our sin.
Whether we are proud of our achievements or ashamed of our sins, all we are doing is focusing on ourselves. This is the time to look away from self and to God.
I will lift up my eyes to the hills.
Where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from Yahweh,
who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not allow your foot to be moved.Psalm 121
He who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 Yahweh is your keeper.
Yahweh is your shade on your right hand.
6 The sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 Yahweh will keep you from all evil.
He will keep your soul.
8 Yahweh will keep your going out and your coming in,
from this time forward, and forever more.
It is heartening to know that the widow of Zarephath is such an ordinary person. Because I am also a very ordinary person. If God can bless her, God can bless me. She received both abundant supply and healing. So will I.