The Widow of Zarephath

Starting the Story! Jump to 1 kings 17. We’re going in media res. Elijah is before king Ahab and declares before him that it will not rain for years! He gets right to the point with the king. If I hadn’t studied who Ahab was previous to starting this, I probably would have wondered why he was declaring this. His speech is very forceful and eloquent. I’m going to copy in what he said. 

“ As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.”

Pretty direct huh? I like how he states which God is doing this and the reality of Him. There are no Phoenician gods capable of such a thing.

Elijah of Tishbe

I’ve already gotten waaayyyy ahead of myself though. I didn’t even talk about some good footnotes in relation to who Elijah is. As you hopefully remember from the Bible Dictionary (BD)

preface, Elijah is a Tishbite from the inhabitants of Gilead. If you skipped the preface, just read verse one and you will be up to speed. Look at footnote 1a. The Hebrew translation of Elijah is Eliyahu or Eliyah. The Greek translation is Helias or Elias. It’s an interesting tidbit of information. Look at footnote 1b. He is from Tishbe in Gilead. If he is from Tishbe, why does it say in the Bible Dictionary  that there is not a derivative for being called a tishbite? Tishbe, tishbite, seems a logical conclusion. Let’s see if I can find it on the map….Nope.

In Exile

The Lord comes to Elijah and tells him to leave and go eastward and hide himself by the brook Cherith that is before Jordan. Footnote 3b. The brook Cherith is east of Jordan. I have tried to find the brook along the Jordan River but It isn’t labeled. As I’m looking at the map, it seems like Elijah is hanging out in the wilderness next to a tributary of the Jordan River. Good times.

The Lord tells him to drink from the brook and the Lord has commanded the ravens to feed him. Are there even ravens in that area of the world? If the Lord is using ravens probably so. Unless it is a name for another bird. Can you imagine ravens coming to feed you? That would be pretty cool!  What do you think the ravens brought him? Elijah, being from the wilderness, probably was ok with anything. I just think it would be cool to have breakfast, lunch and dinner delivered to you every day. Just kidding, he is only brought food in the morning and afternoon.

After who knows how long of hanging out by the brook, it finally dries up because there hasn’t been any rain. The lord tells him to get up and go to “Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon.” Because there is a widow there that will sustain him. He must have been next to that brook for a very long time! Maybe a few weeks or months, depending on how big the brook was. Cross reference Luke 4:25. It looks like he was there for a total of 3 years and 6 months.

Who or what or where are Zarephath and Zidon? Bible dictionary time! Not much on Zarephath. It says that it is a city lying between Tyre and Sidon. Zidon has an interesting entry. It’s a fisher’s town (or means that). It is sometimes spelled Sidon. It was the most important city of Phoenicia (that’s why Phoenicians are sometimes called zidonites in the Old Testament). It was on the border of Asher but was never occupied by that tribe. The town is now known as Saida, midway between Tyre and Beirut. Look at map 10 in the back. Sidon and Tyre are northernmost cities on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

Location of Sidon in relation to Samaria

According to the scripture, Zarephath is between Tyre and Sidon (or Zidon as it is spelled in the scriptures.) I guess my next question is where was Elijah? We know he is at the brook Cherith, which is east of Jordan. The Jordan is super far from Zarephath! I can’t imagine walking the hundred plus miles to Zarephath.

Elijah and the Widow

The next part, a widow that will sustain him. Do widows play an important part in the scriptures? Jesus talks about the widow’s mite, a widow sustains the prophet Elijah and President Monson visited a lot of widows when he was a bishop. I think what they represent are the humbleness of people. By small and simple things are great things brought to pass. I will have to wait till I actually get to the widow but this one probably has a humble home and give all she can to help the prophet. The widow’s mite was the greatest tithe given because it was all she had.

I just had an epiphany. I was wondering if Ahab had gotten guards or others to try and kill Elijah and that’s why the lord told him to flee. I think so. It said in the BD that Ahab and Jezebel tried to eliminate the prophets. While I was thinking about that, my eyes happened to wander over to the map labels. I perchanced upon #7 Samaria.

Map labels of the Holy Land

I leaned that it was the capital of the northern kingdom and that Ahab had built a temple to Baal there. This was where Elisha and Elijah ministered. And then it clicked! If Elijah ministered in Samaria, and Samaria is the capital of the northern kingdom, then Ahab lived there! And the first scripture in kings 17:1 says Elijah was talking to Ahab! Not only that, but the river Jordan is just over 20 miles outside of Samaria. East of the Jordan River is Gilead, which is where Elijah is from. Having come from Gilead, he probably would have known the location of the brook and the fastest way to get there! How cool is that! If anyone was attempting to follow him from Samaria during his flee to the brook, he probably knew all the good hiding spots as well.

Elijah walks the 100+ miles to Zarephath. Despite the journey, he arose and went. I really like that. Verse 9, the lord tells him to go. First line in verse 10 says that he arose and went to Zarephath. There were no questions, no complaining, he just did. Man, if only I could be like that all the time! When I’m asked to do something by the Lord, I just get up and go. The thought never having crossed my mind of whether I would be capable of making it. Just perfect faith and trust in the Lord.

I need to back track a little. Talk about the widow some more. Cross reference Luke 4:25-26. It is talking about how the widow was the only one who could accept him. But for whatever reason, this was the one he needed to go to. Kind of similar to many are called but few are chosen. There were a lot of widows but only one was ready. And she wasn’t even in the same country! Which brings me to my next point. In verse 24 of Luke 4 it says that no prophet is accepted in his own country. This is especially significant considering what just happened with Elijah. He literally has to leave his own country and go to the most idolatrous one to be accepted.

Back to the story. He arrives at Zarephath at the exact moment the widow is at the city gate gathering sticks. Why was she gathering sticks? Elijah calls out to her to fetch him some water to drink and bread to eat. Do you think the Lord told the widow beforehand that Elijah was coming? Do you think she freaked out when she saw Elijah? Probably not. Elijah is used to living in the desert. He can probably come to a destination looking decent. Cross reference Alma 8:20. This is the scripture saying what Amulek said to Alma after he took him into his house. Amulek says that an angel told him in a vision about Alma and when he met him, to take him in and impart of his food. Do you think this is how the encounter worked out for the widow? She had a vision where an angel told her that a prophet was coming and when he arrived, to impart of her substance? If it’s a cross-reference, it’s entirely possible.

The widow brings up a good point. She is gathering sticks because she is going to eat them with  her son so they die. They are all out of food! But that isn’t the reason or the point I wanted to bring up. That is, she needed Elijah more than Elijah needed her. He had crows feeding him! This woman is clearly destitute. Why was she the one widow who was supposed to help Elijah? I think this may be a possible answer: Having nothing, she prayed to the Lord for sustenance and help. As is the case usually with God, the answer to that prayer did not arrive in the manner she anticipated. It came as an opportunity to bless the life of another person, a prophet of God. How many times in our lives have we prayed for something or a certain quality and that thing or quality comes in the form of a chance to serve someone? That by serving them, we ourselves gain the very thing which we sought. Those who lose themselves in the work of the Lord will gain what they seek.

The Miracle of Food

Elijah says to go make him some food despite their circumstances. When she gets to her house, there is food! She and her house did eat many days with Elijah. The food was not wasted and there was always enough according to the word of the Lord which Elijah had spoken.  Cross reference 1 Nephi 3:7. I really like that this reference is here. Even though the woman knew for a fact she had no food, she had faith in both God and God’s mouthpiece, the prophet Elijah, to obey his direction trusting that the Lord doesn’t tell you to do anything without providing a way for you to do it. What she discovers was something that she did not expect. More food than she though she would obtain. Enough even to eat MANY days. Even after those days of feasting, there was still plenty. This instance of going and doing I imagine is similar to Jesus passing around the fish and bread but on a more personal and individual level.

The Son Dies

The widow’s son grows really sick. To the point that there is no breath in him. The woman asks Elijah what he is doing and what he wants from her. She asks If he is there to call her to repentance and kill her son. This is the same woman who just had all the food in her house miraculously right?! Why is it that as soon as something bad starts happening, she blames it on the prophet and gets angry at him? She sounds a bit like Laman and Lemuel. Sounds like all of us at times. I think this is a good instance of how faith precedes the miracle. Miracles don’t give faith, they confirm it. What this means is that if you don’t have faith, it doesn’t matter how many miracles you see, you won’t have a long-term increase in faith. Despite her murmuring, I think she gains that faith by the end of the story so let’s keep going.

Elijah asks the woman to give him the boy. He takes the him out of her arms and carries him to where his bed was. He lays him down and begins to cry to the Lord on this woman’s behalf. Elijah is a great man. It seems like he had complete control of himself. After getting chewed out by this woman, he asks for the child and then petitions the Lord on her behalf. Elijah didn’t snap back. He fought anger with righteousness. I think this worked very well considering the rest of the story.

The Lord hears the cries of Elijah and the son is revived. He then carries the son back to the widow and says that her son lives. The mother exclaims that she knows that he is a prophet and that he speaks God’s words which are true. The feeling I get for the reason he didn’t snap back at the widow was because he had an eternal perspective. He knew what the Lord was capable of and knew how much he was supposed to help this woman. He had no need to chastise her because the Lord was going to have her learn for herself. Elijah, being the vessel of the Lord, merely repaid the rude comments with healing her son. Elijah had every right to get mad at her by the world’s standards. Someone chews you out, you put them in their place. But that is not the Lord’s way, and Elijah knew that. My ways are not your ways, my thoughts are not your thoughts. The Lord’s ways transcend mankind and man may not always understand, but through obedience and diligent seeking, we are able to understand His ways and are brought to a new place of living. Instead of living OUR way, we are living HIS way. Our thoughts become his thoughts, our ways become his ways. Instead of living by mens standards, we live by God’s. That’s how we get to the Celestial kingdom.

An Example From the Revolutionary War

I am actually reminded of an instance which took place during the Revolutionary War. General Washington captured some British soldiers during a battle and was keeping them to trade for other prisoners the British had. My understanding is that the British soldiers did not treat their prisoners of war very well and that had spread to the men in General Washington’s army. As a result, the men in charge of the British prisoners desired to treat them harshly. Starve them or yell obscure things at them. When Washington found out about this, he reprimanded his troops and told them to treat the prisoners well. As humans. I’m not familiar with the exact words he said but in this short exchange of words, Washington told his men that this army transcends the cruelty of their British brethren and will not descend to their level. This is just a quick side note example of the moral character of Washington and how God commands us to transcend those who use or do bad things to us.

Growing Faith

I wanted to finish up on how I thought the woman gained the faith to believe that Elijah was a prophet sent from God. I already mentioned how I thought she didn’t have the faith before because after she saw the miracle of having all this food and after her son got sick, she chewed Elijah out. But I think the seed was planted right when she handed her child over to Elijah. I think she saw that he didn’t react how she had expected when she tried to provoke him. Realizing her foolishness and the prophet asking for her son, she was given a chance to exercise faith in God and in his servant Elijah. I think ultimately it was the mother’s love for the child that allowed her to exercise the faith to have her son return. She thought he was dead! Alma says that if you can have no more than a desire to believe, that is sufficient. I think that is what she had. She had a desire to believe that God would do something for her son. And he did.  God allowed the son to return. Thus the cycle of miracles was complete. Faith precedes the miracle. She had faith—a trust in God—If even a little, and God worked with it, expanded it and made it into more than she could have hoped for. The woman had learned for herself that Elijah was a prophet and that God was real and that he know her.

Take Away

One thing this story confirms for me is that even though prophets receive revelation for the entire world and direct the affairs of the church on behalf of God, they still minister on a personal level. We hear stories all the time at General Conference that President Monson visited someone. The prophet has even done it for us! The first presidency themselves approved my family’s temple sealing! Even though Elijah worked primarily in Samaria, he would still visit individuals and minister unto them personally as demonstrated in this story. Another cool connection that I realized is that is also how God works. He is the ruler of the universe, he directs all the affairs of the church, but at the same time, he knows every single one of his children personally. He knows their name, needs, wants, and desires of their heart. He listens to and answers prayers on a person to persona basis. He is the ultimate task manager! He works on the grand scale to create worlds, direct his church, and bring about his eternal purposes. But at the same time, he works on the small-scale to help us create worthy lives, direct our families back to heaven and bring to pass the eternal life and immortality of man. It’s quite amazing.

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One thought on “The Widow of Zarephath

  1. Pingback: Alma Meets Amulek | Towards a Greater Light

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