8Then the word of the LORD came to him, 9“Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 10So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” 11And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12And she said, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a 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.” 13And Elijah said to her, “‘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. 14For 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.'”15 And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. 16The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah. – 1 Kings 17:8-16
Elijah’s journey to Zarephath is yet another test of faith for him. God commands him to leave the place from which he had been receiving food from Ravens and enter into land that had been greatly affected by the drought, which God had brought in judgment of Israel’s idolatry, and to seek provision from a widow of all things.
Widows at this time were not considered wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. In fact widows were typically the poorest of the poor and God tells Elijah that a widow in Zarephath would feed him. Not only that but going to Zarephath meant traveling through the nation of Israel, where Ahab had put a bounty on Elijah’s head, and traveling to Sidon—the nation that the Ahab’s pagan wife Jezebel was from!
Elijah passes this test of faith and seeks out this widow and presents her with a test of faith. During a tremendous time of famine and drought, Elijah asks this widow to bring him some water! But then He goes even further and essentially says, “while you are at it, bring me some bread!”
The widow’s response is heart wrenching, and I don’t think she is exaggerating. The famine was severe in the land, and she says, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a 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.” She literally has only enough flour and oil to bake one last bit of bread for herself and her son, and then starve to death.
What else was she going to do? She surely did not have the money or provisions to move outside the boundaries of the famine, and who was going to provide food for one such as her? No one else had food or water to spare. Yet Elijah commands her to bring him some bread anyway and tells her, “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. 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'” (17:13-14).
Interestingly enough, she does what he asks. She believes that this man of God, this prophet’s word, would prove true. Se does what Elijah says, and God pours out grace upon her and her son. While the nation of Israel is starving (and many are surely dying because of the drought), the Lord provides food for this widow and promises to provide for her until the end of the drought.
In addition, we need to realize here that this woman is a Gentile (a Sidonian). She was from the same people as Jezebel. And yet while Israel had heard Elijah’s pronouncement that it would not rain in Israel except by his Word because of their idolatry, no one was responding to Elijah’s Word by faith. As a prophet of God, Elijah spoke God’s Word and presumably no one was openly responding to the Word of God in faith. No one was openly opposing Baal worship like Elijah.
Later (see 1 Kings 19:18) we find out that apparently the Lord had preserved a remnant of 7,000 people who had not bowed the knee to Baal, but at this time, none of these 7,000 were open about their commitment to Yahweh like Elijah was. And in this time when the nation of Israel had by and large neglected Yahweh and sold themselves to worship Baal, this Gentile woman responds to the Word of God by faith and the Lord pours out his grace upon her and saves her and her son from starvation.
Deuteronomy 32:21-22 tells us that when Israel falls into idolatry, God promises to make them jealous by paying attention to Gentile nations! What is incredible here is that while Israel rejects Yahweh and worships false Gods, this widow of Zarephath believes Elijah and the Lord pours his grace out upon her. When Idolatry runs deep in Israel, the Lord pours out his grace on the nations! You see the same thing in Acts when Paul begins to share the gospel to Jews in the Synagogues in various towns and is run out of town and he then turns to the Gentiles and begins to see many Gentiles come to faith in Christ!
There are two lessons here. First, when God offers His grace to you, the only response is faith. That’s it, believe in God, believe that He is true to His promises, that He alone is God and that He alone is worthy of worship. If you are here this morning and you have never responded to God in faith, if you have never trusted in Christ for salvation, right now as I speak and you are hearing the call of the gospel to put your trust in Jesus Christ, God is offering you His grace.
You can face God in your sin and present before him all your idols and you will face his wrath (like the prophets of Baal soon will), or you can face God on the merits of Jesus Christ if you simply believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and that He died to save sinners like you and me.
Secondly, when you serve the Lord, do not worry about the results. Everyone may reject your Word, but God is still God. People may hate you and revile you and say all kinds of evil things against you. They certainly did so with Elijah. Ahab had spread the rumor that Elijah was the troubler of Israel and it was his fault that Israel was facing this drought. No matter how people respond to your ministry, to the gospel, the Lord, He is God and He is sovereign over everything and His name is glorified when you are faithful to proclaim it no matter how people respond.
As you seek to serve the Lord, rest in His promises. He has called us to make disciples and in that call there is also the promise that He will be with us. He has promised that He will work all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. As you seek to serve the Lord, do so by faith, trusting that God is the sovereign Lord over all creation and that He will be true to every one of His promises.
I think the Lord also used this encounter with the widow to encourage Elijah who had by and large been rejected by Israel. When faith is present, even from the most unlikely of people, praise God!