The Faith of the Widow at Zarephath

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Sunday, May 6, 2018 0 comments

by Logan Ames

We’ve all heard that actions speak louder than words. I can preach a good sermon and talk for 30-40 minutes straight and people might even say I’m a good preacher, but that won’t go very far in determining what they think of me as a Christian. In fact, for Christians, the better thing to say would be that actions speak louder than “beliefs." Many of us know what we’re supposed to believe as Christians and we even know how to talk the talk. But even Jesus said that not everyone who calls him “Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who DOES the will of the Father (Matthew 7:21 [caps mine]). The Church is in an age when an increasing number of so-called “believers” either show no evidence of their stated faith or boldly show evidence that contradicts it.

Continuing in the series on the heroes of our faith shows us individuals who did more than just talk about what they believed. In many cases, they didn’t talk about it at all and in other cases, they weren’t even considered part of God’s people until the acts of faith for which they are now known. In Hebrews 11:35, the writer continues to tell about the faithful anonymous, reminding us that “women received back their dead, raised to life again." There are only a couple people from the Old Testament who would fit this description, and the one I will address this week wasn’t just anonymous to the writer of Hebrews, but also to whoever recorded her story in the first place. She is known as the widow at Zarephath and her story is found in the midst of Elijah’s story in 1 Kings 17:7-24.

The faith of Elijah and that of the widow are intertwined during a desperate time for both of them. Elijah has been on the run ever since he decided to confront King Ahab and his evil wife, Jezebel. God sends him to the middle of the wilderness and far away from any civilization where Ahab could possibly locate him, and he lives daily by depending on a brook for water and ravens who have been directed by God to bring him food. His faith is strong as he depends on God daily for his needs and doesn’t worry about the next day. But then, God decides it’s time for another move, which means another huge step of faith. The brook, Elijah’s one source of water, dries up, and God tells him to go to Zarephath in the region of Sidon because God has directed a widow in that place to supply Elijah with food (v. 9). Now, what we need to understand is that widows in those times were considered to be extremely poor because they had lost their source of income when their husbands had passed away. To Elijah, it probably made more sense for him to wait beside the dry brook and see what happens. When God calls us to move on, however, we can try to depend on the past and get the blessing back as much as we want and it still won’t change God’s mind.

God clearly had a plan to not only grow Elijah’s faith, but to bring this desperate widow to faith and knowledge of him. That’s often how it works. You might complain about your circumstances to the Lord, but they may not change because he may want to use the testing of your faith as an example to someone who doesn’t know him. Elijah goes to the widow as directed and he finds her gathering sticks at the town gate (v. 10). Elijah was probably hoping he would find that this widow was unusually rich, but what he found in reality is that she was even poorer than most widows. She didn’t even have firewood! After Elijah asks her to bring him water and a piece of bread, she declares that she has no bread and that she is gathering the sticks just so that she and her son can enjoy one last meal before they starve to death (v. 12).

At this point, Elijah has learned not to pay any attention to his circumstances when he knows what God’s word is and he is ready to live out his faith in front of the widow. He tells her not to be afraid because the God of Israel has promised that her oil and flour, the last resources she has available to her, will not be used up until the Lord sends rain on the land (v. 14). There had been no rain in the land because of Ahab’s wickedness and the lack of rain ultimately led to a great famine, which made the situation even more desperate for people like the widow. Yet, despite all of this, Elijah declared that God would miraculously meet her needs if she just trusts in him. That’s a big “if," for the widow at Zarephath and for all of us. God wants to bless us and we may “say” what we think we’re supposed to say to try to get the blessing, but our actions always speak louder than words when it comes to faith. Elijah boldly told the woman that she could make food for herself and her son, but the way she would show trust in the God of Israel would be by making a small loaf of bread for Elijah FIRST (v. 13). What if Elijah was wrong? What if he was selfishly taking advantage of a poor woman? Sometimes, God calls us to do things that will lead to us being misunderstood. But again, true faith trusts God with even those concerns. He can handle meeting daily food needs and he can definitely handle our reputations.

The woman has a choice to make. God is ready to bless her and Elijah knows it, but neither one of them is going to force her to LIVE her faith in this situation. The connection to our faithful choices and eventual blessing are all throughout Scripture. The blessing may not always look like prosperity, and the widow did not get rich off of her faith. But she did get her daily needs met. She did exactly as Elijah, who had spoken the word of the Lord, told her (v. 15), and she learned to put her full faith in the true God of Israel who could and would meet her daily needs.

The rest of the chapter tells us that her son would later get sick, so sick in fact that he stops breathing (v. 17). She assumes maybe Elijah has caused this but then immediately begins to look at her own sin as a possible reason. Elijah takes the boy and cries out to the Lord on his behalf, reminding God that the widow does not deserve this because she was very poor, trusted and followed him, and even continued to allow Elijah to stay with her. Elijah questions whether God would bring this tragedy on her and verse 22 tells us that God heard Elijah’s cry and allowed the boy’s life to return to him. The end result in verse 24 is that the widow at Zarephath states that she knows Elijah is a man of God and, more importantly, that the word of the Lord that flows through Elijah’s mouth is the “truth."

The widow learned that even in her most desperate circumstances, faith was about her actions and not words. She probably figured she had nothing to lose with the food. Whether you eat one more meal and die or eat no more meals and die, what’s the big difference? So, she did what God commanded through Elijah and received the blessing that came from it. But when it came to her son, she had everything to lose. Yet, she turned to the Lord then. Her newfound faith as a Gentile woman taught her that this God was real, and that his power could meet all of her needs and fix any situation if he wanted it to. When she put her full faith in God and his servant Elijah, she even received her son back to life even after he had been dead. The same can be true for you. I don’t know what you’re facing now in your life, but I do know that it’s there because God is giving you an opportunity to put your faith in him beyond your words and into your actions.

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