And the word of the Lord came unto Mm, saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there; behold, I have commanded a widow woman to sustain thee. So he arose. . . I Kings 17:8-16
So he arose!
Elijah was he that stood before God, Whom in all his activity and appearance he represented on the earth, and as such he was the obedient servant, waiting for and acting upon the Word of the Lord.
For the Word of the Lord he had waited at Cherith.
There the ravens had brought him his food every day. And there he drank out of the brook. And for a considerable period he must have remained there, in complete oblivion, far from the scene of action. For “after a while” the brook dried up. And the sight of that drying brook might have filled his soul with anxiety, and might have rendered him impatient to depart from Cherith. Drying brooks are serious causes for worry if they are our only means of sustenance. And many of us leave our Cheriths, and depart from the Word of the Lord for far less significant reasons than drying brooks. Not so Elijah. It was by the Word of the Lord that he had been sent to Cherith. There he must abide until that same Word would bid him depart.
And the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, Arise!
So he arose!
For to Zarephath the Word of the Lord directed him this time. And he arose and went to Zarephath.
A strange call this; one, perhaps, which Elijah would rather have declined. For was not Zarephath situated between Tyre and Zidon, the country of the enemy, the very center of the worship of Baal. Must he, then, leave his people, and turn to the land’ whence the worship of Baal had been introduced into Canaan?
Must he, without whose word there never would be rain again upon the land, now forsake the people of Jehovah, and, perhaps, leave them desolate?
But the Word of the Lord had come to the servant: Arise, get thee to Zarephath!
So he arose and went to Zarephath.
Elijah and the widow of Zarephath!
A sign similar somewhat to that of Jonah the prophet!
For thus the Lord Himself, whose forerunner and type the prophet was, interprets this incident to the supercillious citizens of His home town, when He preaches to them “the acceptable year of the Lord.”
O, indeed, they gave Him witness and wondered at the gracious words that proceeded out of His mouth. But they knew Him as Joseph’s son, and that was sufficient for them to reject His Word. And they would say unto Him: “Physician, heal thyself! Thou wouldest come to us, thou, son of the carpenter, to preach the gospel to the poor, while we are not poor; to heal the brokenhearted, while there are no brokenhearted in Nazareth; to preach deliverance to the captives, while we are all freemen; and recovering of sight to the blind while we all’see clearly; to set at liberty them that are bruised with chains, while we never were subjected to the yoke of bondage?
“Physician, heal thyself! Come with better credentials than fair speech, and the wonders which, according to rumor, thou performedst in Capernaum, do also here in thy country, that we ma y believe thee!”
“Show, us a sign!”
Always a wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and always the same sign is given unto them, the sign that was given them more than once in the past, but whicif”they were too blind to read; the sign which the Lord, Whose sign it was, interpreted to them, and which was fulfilled when the kingdom of God was taken away from them through His death and resurrection!
Did they not know that Elijah was sent to the poor widow at Zarephath? Did they not know that he was thus sent to the heathen widow, and away from Israel, at a time when the heaven was long shut up, and when there was great famine throughout the land?
They knew the fact, and they hated to be reminded of it.
But had they never inquired as to the reason why the prophet that stood before God had been sent out of the land of Israel to a heathen woman at such a time of distress? Were there, then, no poor widows among Israel, that the labors of the prophet had to be extended to heathen women? O, indeed there were!
There were many widows in Israel at that time, and they were all in distress. That was not the reason why the prophet received the call to go to Zarephath!
But his departure from the land of Israel was a sign and a threat to Israel!
For the Word of the Lord was inseparably connected with the prophet Elijah, and with Him departed that Word! It was the Word of blessing in a double sense: the Word that must reopen the heavens to give rain upon the earth; but also, and that was far more serious though immediately related to the former, the Word of God’s covenant with Israel, the Word of salvation!
His departure from Israel was the departure of that Word!
It was a sign of blessing, indeed, to the Gentiles that knew not God; a sign of that sovereign grace of the Most High that was in no way bound to the nation of Israel; of that sovereign dispensation of God that would always be merciful to whom He would be merciful, and that would harden whomever He pleased to harden.
For, right in the heart of the dominion of Baal, God had one little chosen vessel, poor and forgotten, but precious in His sight, that must be blessed by His everlasting mercy through the Word of the prophet!
And a threatening sign that Israel’s house would be left desolate was given to the generation of that time, and to the wicked and adulterous generation of all times!
Elijah and the widow of Zarephath!
Amazing sign, indeed!
A severe test!
To this the poor widow was subjected at once.
Must not he that would enter the kindom of God wholly trust in the Word of the Lord, and have regard for the things that are not seen, rather than for the things that are seen?
Must he not always seek the kingdom of God first, believing that all things shall be added unto him?
Already the heart of the poor widow had been prepared for the trial and the choice, both by the knowledge of Jehovah, the God of Israel, of whom she had undoubtedly heard, and by the mysterious operation of the efficacious Word of God in her heart. For that she knew Jehovah is evident from her oath: as the Lord thy God liveth! O, indeed, she professes Him here as Elijah’s God, whom she at once recognized as the prophet of Jehovah. She dare not say: Jehovah, my God! But she heard of Him. She was aware of the fact that it was by His Word that the windows of heaven were shut, and that the famine devastated the earth, and had also invaded the very dominion of Baal. And she believed that He is the living God! More than that: she swears, not rebelliously by Baal, but humbly and believingly by Jehovah, the living God! And that her inmost heart had been prepared for the test by the mysterious, efficacious Word of God is implied in the Word of the Lord to Elijah: I have commanded a widow woman to sustain thee!
No, this does not necesarily mean that God had spoken to the widow explicitly that He would send a prophet to her, and that she was to take him under her roof and shelter and feed him. This is not even probable. For not only does the first reaction of the woman belie such an interpretation, but the command of Jehovah to the widow was also similar to the command which, before this, the Lord of hosts had issued to the ravens. The Word of His power had directed the ravens as a command to bring food to the prophet at Cherith; that same Word of power had mysteriously and efficaciously prepared the heart of the woman to be obedient to the command of the living God as soon as it would come to her through the mouth of His servant.
And is it not always thus?
When the Lord opens the heart, when His efficacious Word has wrought its mysterious, regenerating wonder in the inmost soul of man, he is able to hear and to obey the calling Word.
Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink!
Thus came the Word of the Lord to the woman, who, at the very moment when the weary prophet reached the gate of the city, was there, not indeed to meet and to welcome him, but to gather a few sticks for the preperation of a last meal!
Fetch me a little water!
This first command did not overstrain her faith. Water could, evidently, still foe had, even though the famine had spread to Phenicia. And though there cannot have been an abundance of water, the woman was ready enough to comply with the request of the prophet. Was she not preparing her last meal? And what good would water be to her, more water than she needed to quench her present thirst and moisten her dying lips?
And bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread!
That was hard! Impossible it seemed; or, at least, extremely unfair a demand. And pathetically she cries out: As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it and die!
Yes, but the Word of the Lord stands!
Fear not; go and do .as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son! Only, now the Word is accompanied by the promise: For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth! It is the promise of the Wonder that will save him that believeth, and, therefore, the promise that can be embraced only by faith!
First the kingdom of God!
First unconditional obedience!
And then, when according to all human calculation and reasoning there should be nothing left of the meal and the oil, then make for thee and for thy son! And to perform this super-rational act, cast thyself upon the apparently impossible promise of the Wonder: when there should be nothing left, there will be enough!
It is always thus!
Always we stand before the same alternative as the woman of Zarephath. It is the alternative, not, as it is sometimes stated, between the thing certain and the thing uncertain. For there is nothing more certain to him that believes than the promise of God, even though all reason and all experience witness to the impossibility of its realization. But it is the choice between the seen and the unseen, between our word and the Word of God, between the kingdom of God and the things of this world, between the temporal and the eternal
Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness!
Perhaps, we are inclined to argue (for our deceitful heart always argues against the Word of God!) that the woman’s test was not so severe as ours, that she had not much to risk, that she could easily gamble with the handful of meal and the little oil, as a venture rather than as an act of faith. But what have we, what have you or I to risk, except the same little handful of meal, and the same small amount of oil in a cruse? Are not the things that are seen temporal, do we not fly away, and do we not die tomorrow? And are not the things of the kingdom of God eternal?
Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness!
Yes, the test is severe; it was so for the woman; it is so for us.
But severe for the flesh only! For faith embraces the promise, the promise of the wonder!
The never failing promise!
Glorious realization of God’s faithful Word of salvation!
Only a little moment, a sign of the Wonder the widow of Zarephath witnessed of it at the time. More she would see and taste of it, no doubt, as the days flew by that she sheltered the prophet under her roof.
For a wonder she witnessed indeed!
For she obeyed the Word of God through the mouth of Elijah, and they that believe and obey are never put to shame. She and the prophet, and the entire house of the widow, ate many days. And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Elijah.
Was the meal gone and the cruse of oil empty after each supper she prepared for them all, and did she find the barrel and the cruse replenished every morning? Or did the quantity of her supply of meal and oil remain unaltered, no matter how often she used of it? Either may have been the case. But whether the one or the other appeared as the form of the wonder, each time she dipped into the barrel of meal and poured out the oil from the cruse she performed an act of faith, relying on the Word of the Lord. And every day she found that the Word of the Lord abideth forever, faithful and true!
Out of the hand of Jehovah she lived!
And what is more blessed than the peace of a heart that may daily trust and taste that the Lord is good!
And in that partial wonder did she not approach the Wonder of which her constantly replenished, never dimishing supply was a sign?
Soon He would come, who would take a few loaves and a couple of fishes in His mighty hands, and with them feed thousands!
The Bread of life! Heavenly Manna!