Only A Little Flour And Oil
The nation of Israel has had many kings. One of them is named Ahab. Unfortunately, he was a very evil king, for he worshipped a false god Baal, as you can read in I Kings 16:32
He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria.
God was very angry with him and sent the prophet Elijah to him with a message that there was going to be a drought in the land for a few years as a form of punishment. You can read that in I Kings 17:1
Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”
No doubt, these words will have made the king very upset with Elijah so God sends His prophet to a safe place, a ravine where he hides and where he can drink from the brook, as you can read in I Kings 17:2-6
Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah, “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there.” So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.
However, one day the unthinkable happens for even that brook dries up, as you can read in I Kings 17:7
Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land.
What is Elijah to do now? Surely God will continue to take care of His prophet? After all, it is not his fault that there is a drought in the land. He has only been the one who has foretold the drought. But he is not the cause of it, and he should not really have to suffer the affects of the drought. It is true, God has taken care of him so far. But now the brook has dried up too, and God has not done something miraculous to make the brook continue to provide water for Elijah. Please read I Kings 17:8-9 to see what happens next:
Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.”
True to His faithful nature, God once again speaks to His servant, and this time tells him to go to a place called Zarephath in Sidon. That is interesting because that place is outside Israel. We might think that God will want to keep Elijah in Israel, because the nations surrounding Israel are all pagan nations. But, apparently God does not mind for his prophet to go to places he may not necessarily think of going.
Not only does God tell him which place He wants Elijah to go, He tells the prophet the person He has selected to take care of him: a widow. That seems to be quite an unusual choice, does it not? First of all, God is about to send his prophet to a place outside of Israel, and the next thing He has decided to do is to send him to a widow. If God wants to send him to a widow, why not send him to a widow in Israel? After all, there are plenty of widows in Israel so it makes no sense whatsoever for God to send him so far away to a widow who, very likely, does not even know the God of Elijah. Maybe it is because this widow is better off. Most, if not all widows in Israel, are poor, and God may have chosen this particular widow because she is a little wealthier, so it will be easier for her to take care of Elijah, and still take care of herself as well. Surely God must have His reasons why He is sending Elijah all the way to this widow in Sidon, and it makes sense to send him to one who is able to provide for him. Whatever God’s reasons, the prophet does obey God, and goes to Zarephath, as you can read in read I Kings 17:10-11
So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” As she was going to get it, he called,” And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”
No doubt, before his arrival at Zarephath, he must have wondered where exactly he will meet this widow, who is supposed to take care of him. Will he see her the moment he arrives, or will he have to go into the town to look for her? And how will he even be able to recognise this widow God has commanded to take care of him? On his arrival he does notice a widow, and he decides to try to find out if she is the one God has chosen for him. He suddenly realises as well that he is hungry and thirsty because he has not had anything to eat or drink for a long time, so he asks this widow for something to drink and something to eat. Surely her answer will help him decide whether or not she is the widow selected by God to provide for him. Please read I Kings 17:12 to find out:
“As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread – only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat – and die.”
This widow cannot possibly be God’s choice for Elijah, can she now? If God has spoken to her about taking care of Elijah then she must know about it, and welcome Elijah to her home. But it seems she has no idea that God has commanded her to take care of him. In fact, she makes it quite clear that she is not planning to entertain anyone, including Elijah, but that she is planning to cook one final meal for herself and her son. After that final meal she does not plan to cook anymore, but to just lie down and wait for death to come for her and her son. Surely Elijah will have realised from her words that she cannot possibly be the one widow he is supposed to stay with. This woman has nothing to offer him. She barely has enough food for one meal for herself and her son, and then she plans to die rather than take care of him. Her story is a very sad story but there is nothing he can do for her, and she certainly can do nothing for him. And he is really very hungry and thirsty. So, no doubt, he will make his excuses and leave her to her to do what she needs to do, so that he can go into the town to find the widow who will provide for him. Let’s read Elijah’s words to her in I Kings 17:13 to find out what his response is.
Elijah said to her,” Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son.”
Isn’t that interesting? It seems he believes he has already found the widow God has selected for him. However, having heard her say that she has only a little flour and a little oil left, just enough to feed herself and her son one more time, he still insists that she feeds him first before making something for herself and her son. It seems he does not understand that there is only food for two people and not food for three people. Does he not care that if she gives him food, either she or her son will starve without one of them even having had their final meal? Apparently Elijah does not care and you may wonder why. Can it be because he knows something that you don’t know? Please read I Kings 17:14 to find out if God has shown him something that you may not be aware of.
For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel says, “The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the Lord gives rain on the land.”
The reason Elijah is so persistent in asking that she make him some food first is because God has shown him that there will be flour and oil for the three of them until the time the rain returns on the land. And the widow, knowing that the rain stopped at the command of this prophet, believes his words that they will have food to eat while the drought lasts. And so she goes home to prepare a cake of bread for the prophet, as you can read in I Kings 17:15-16
She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word the Lord spoke by Elijah.”
The story sounds a little bit like a fairy tale. I don’t know if you know about fairy tales but they always end with the sentence “and they lived happily ever after.” Well, the three of them; Elijah, the woman and the son seem to live happily ever after. But then one day something terrible happens, as you can read in I Kings 17:17
Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing.
Disaster strikes. The son of the widow gets ill and dies. And that right under the nose of the prophet. He, who has been able to prevent rain from falling down for the last few years, is not able to prevent this boy from getting ill, never mind from dying. It looks like the prophet Elijah has become a failure. More importantly, it looks like God has failed, for He has not prevented this son from getting ill and consequently dying.
The presence of the prophet is supposed to bring blessing to the home of the widow and not disaster. But that is not what has happened. What can possibly be the reason for this terrible tragedy? You can see who the woman thinks is to be blamed, in I Kings 17:18:
She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”
The widow believes the prophet is responsible for the death of her son. It seems she has forgotten that without the prophet’s intervention in her life, she and the boy would have both died some time ago already. But we cannot blame her for her emotional outburst because God promised they would live through this drought, and it seems He has not kept His promise, so who better to blame than the one who represents him; the prophet?
How does Elijah respond to the woman’s words? Does he get upset with her and walk out of the house telling her that he will have nothing to do with her anymore for she is an ungrateful woman, who has completely forgotten what he has done for her? Thankfully, that is not what happens, as you can see from I Kings 17:19
“Give me you son,” Elijah replied. He took him from her arms and carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him out on his bed.
The prophet takes the boy from the widow’s arms and takes his body to his room. It is time for an encounter with his God for Elijah knows that he can do nothing without his God, as you can read in John 15:5b, where Jesus says
“…..Apart from Me you can do nothing.”
To the widow Elijah is responsible for the death of her son but Elijah knows he cannot be blamed for it for he is not God. You can see what Elijah thinks of this tragic situation in I Kings 17:20
Then he cried out to the Lord, “O Lord, my God, have You brought tragedy also upon this widow I am staying with, causing her son to die?”
Elijah knows he has not caused the death of this young boy, so it must be God who is to be blamed, for who else can be blamed for this tragedy? This whole situation does not make sense to him, even as the prophet of God. After all, he knows that God has sent him to this widow and her son for the sole purpose of keeping them alive throughout the famine. How can God then take the life of this boy? How can God be so cruel to this widow? Having poured out his heart to God, he decides that he needs to do more than just blame God for the tragedy, as you can read in I Kings 17:21
Then he stretched out himself out on the boy three times and cried to the Lord, ”O Lord, my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”
Elijah, having worked through his emotional outburst, once again relies on the intimate knowledge he has of his God. For he knows that his God desires to give life rather than death. So he cries out for the boy’s life to be returned to him. And how does God respond? Please read I Kings 17:22 to find out.
The Lord heard Elijah’s cry and the boy’s life returned.
It seems the Lord waits patiently for Elijah to work through his emotions and then, in answer to his prayer, is delighted to give the boy back his life. Elijah is, of course, overjoyed. God has answered his prayer; the boy has come back to life. But what about his mother. Should she not be told? You can find out what happens next in I Kings 17:23
Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive.”
When Elijah returns with the boy to the mother, there is no need for any word. The mother can see that death has left her child. Joy overwhelms her soul. Her son has been returned to her. And now she understands why God has allowed this ordeal in her life, as you can read in I Kings 17:24
Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.”
This tragedy has been used by God to help the widow trust the man of God, as well as his God more fully. She has already experienced the truth of Elijah’s words and the trustworthiness of Elijah’s God for some time because of the daily miraculous provision of flour and oil. Yet, God knows that this widow still has some doubts about the prophet and his God. Something more needs to happen in her life for her to overcome her doubts. Therefore, he allows this tragedy in her life, knowing that it will make her fully accept Elijah as the man of God that he is, and to trust his God completely.
God selected this widow, who was not even a widow in Israel, to take care of His servant. This proves that He knew who she was, knew where she lived, and knew her circumstances. And yet He chose her for this special task. His prophet needed a safe place to stay where he could rest and where he would be fed. We may have expected God to choose someone who would have been better able to take care of Elijah, but God did not for He knew that He would multiply the little she had so that it would be enough for all of them to last them for the time they would need it.
You may feel you are somewhat like this widow for no one knows you, knows where you live, nor do they know your difficult circumstances. But I want you to know that just as God knew this widow, so God knows you, knows where you live and knows your circumstances. And just as God chose to use this widow so God wants to use you. And just as God used the little she had and multiplied it in her life, so He will use the little that you have as you give it to Him and He will multiply it in your life. You may say, “Well I don’t even have what she had for I do not have any flour or any oil.” But I tell you, you have something to give to God for God to multiply in your life for the benefit of others. You can show kindness to someone who may not deserve it, can’t you? You can give forgiveness to someone who has hurt you, can’t you? These are some of the things God is looking for you to give away so he can multiply them in your life for the sake of others. And, as you give from your heart, more shall be given to you, so you have even more to give away. Jesus teaches these things in Luke 6:27-38, where He says
But I tell you who hear me, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you. If someone strikes you one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even “sinners” love those who love them. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even “sinners” lend to “sinners”, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
The widow gave whatever she had and, because of it, she and her son lived. Likewise, God will cause you to come truly alive in Him when you are willing to give whatever you can, be it in the form of kindness, love, mercy, or forgiveness to those who may not deserve it. And you will experience His Joy, His Peace, and His very Presence in a way you may not have known before.