Stories Jesus told with women in them
The widow of Zarephath (Luke4:25-26)
(Her full story is found in 1 Kings 17:7-24)
God faithfully provided for both Elijah and the widow, for three years, during the drought and famine that ravaged the entire region. It was simple fare, the same olive oil and probably barley flour (the bread of the poor was made from barley), but it must have seemed a sumptuous feast to them, mana from heaven, as it were.
And the spiritual feast must have been rich and powerful, for the prophet who was loved and cared for by believers, and for the widow and her son, who otherwise had no others with whom to share in the Lord.
It seems like a horrible, random event, then, when the widow’s son became ill, gradually declined, and finally died. I’ve wondered about that boy for years. Why hadn’t he come with his mother to gather sticks that day she met Elijah? Had he been too young? Too fragile? Too selfish and lazy? When he died, the widow immediately assumed it was her fault. “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” she cried, heart scalded, utterly broken. I can’t even imagine how horrifying this must have been for her.
What had she done, what awful, dark secret had she been harboring, that now immediately leapt to mind? Had she always worried that her son might have to pay for her own wrongdoing? And Elijah didn’t get it either.
Taking the boy in his arms, (he can’t have been that big) Elijah took him to the room upstairs where he’d been staying, and began to pray at the top of his lungs. “God!” “O LORD MY GOD!” “Were You the one to bring tragedy even on this widow? Really? Is this You?”
Haven’t you been there? Why is this unspeakable thing happening?
Then Elijah says something heart-wrenching. “God! I know you have made me be like a plague to everyone I meet. Wherever I go I have to deliver Your judgement. This drought, this famine. People look at me, and they know I’m the one who prayed, I’m the one who spoke the words. Then You sent me to this widow to stay with her. And now her son is dead. Is this Your dreadful judgement, even on this kind, Canaanite woman, who took a risk of faith, taking me in?”
The Phoenician widow downstairs wept and groaned over the death of her son, and the prophet upstairs cried out to God, stretching himself over the dead boy. God responded to those aching hearts, and He brought the boy back to life. When Elijah brought the weak, but definitely alive child back downstairs, the widow had a profound spiritual experience.
“Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.”
I like to think she felt forgiven of God. I like to think that she learned God is gracious and compassionate, that He does not punish the children for their parents’ wrongs. I like to think Elijah, also, felt lifted from the burden of his own anointing, a prophet no one wanted to welcome into their home. A bringer of doom and destruction. But God had granted him the beautiful gift of bringing life, too, to the brokenhearted—life, love, and hope.
Maybe this is story that prompted Jesus to say, a thousand years later, “Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward” (Matthew 10:41)
Because of her great faith and compassion, Elijah was there when the widow's son died...and the Lord granted her prayer that Elijah bring life back to her son.