The text for this lesson is 1 Kings 17:8–24
- God cared for Elijah through the widow and for the widow through Elijah. Through others, God cares for me.
- Law: My sinful nature believes I deserve God’s goodness. I am resentful when things do not go my way and when I encounter trials of any kind.
- Gospel: God sustains all things by His wisdom and power and, for the sake of His Son, causes all things to work together for good for me and all those who love Him, especially in the gift of faith through the power of the Word, that I might have life, now and forever.
- Elijah’s prophetic ministry takes place at a low point in the kingdom of Judah. King Ahab had married Jezebel, a princess of Sidon. The Sidonians were one of the Phoenician peoples, and they had settlements along the coast throughout the Mediterranean region. As a result of the marriage, Ahab had begun worshiping the false Sidonian gods. He built an altar to Baal in Samaria and erected an Asherah pole (a symbol of Baal’s wife).
Because of Ahab’s marriage alliance and its resulting idolatry, the author of Kings tells us, “Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (1 Kings 16:33).
Before Elijah comes to Zarephath, he stays at the brook Cherith, where God sends ravens to feed him. This sojourn is necessitated by Ahab’s anger over Elijah’s announcement of a coming drought in judgment of Ahab’s wickedness. After Elijah leaves the brook Cherith, he goes to Zarephath, which, ironically, is in the realm of Jezebel’s father. After Elijah’s stay with the widow and her son, he will confront Ahab and his prophets on Mount Carmel, after which all the false prophets will be slain and the drought will end.
- Elijah’s stay in Zarephath takes place after his confrontation with Ahab, when he is hiding from the king during the famine. Zarephath is a region within Sidon, and that makes certain details of the account very striking.
When Elijah first encounters the widow, he asks her to bring him bread and water. Under most circumstances, this would not have been a difficult request to fulfill, but the famine has already been going long enough that the brook Cherith, where Elijah had been staying, has dried up. The widow is planning on this day to prepare a last meal with her son and die.
An adherent to the Sidonian religion might have taken a different approach. Rather than succumb to death, the widow might have sacrificed her son in hopes of ending the famine and saving herself. But this widow is a loving mother for whom child sacrifice is not an option. Hearing the Word of the Lord that Elijah speaks, the mother obeys his command and brings him what he asks for. God is true to His word and graciously provides for her family during the rest of the famine.
But there is more suffering in store for the widow’s family. Her son falls ill and dies. The widow’s immediate response is a mix of anger and repentance. She is angry because her son is dead, but she is also sure that it’s the just consequence of some forgotten sin. However, like all of God’s people, she is called to bear the cross (Matthew 16:24) of trials in this world that God’s glory might be seen. Elijah responds by praying to God for the son’s resurrection. God’s gracious healing of the boy foreshadows Christ’s resurrection and our own and gives the widow certainty that Elijah is who he says he is and that his God is the true God.
In each of the accounts at Zarephath, we see a God who graciously provides for His people through the loving service of their neighbors, reminding us of what the catechism says about God’s love and ongoing care for us: He gives us “food and clothing, home and family, work and play, and all that [we] need from day to day” (Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, Question 110). He is the only true God, who, through His chosen people Israel, also rescues us from sin and death through the sacrifice and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.