"Get up, go to Zarephath of Sidon, and stay there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you."
Psalm 37:19). Let us meditate upon -
I. THE COMMAND OF GOD TO THE WIDOW.
1. She is to sustain the prophet of the Lord.
(1) What an honour is this! For two years and a half to entertain the man that "stands before Jehovah," at whose word the clouds are sealed or the windows of heaven opened! (See ver. 1 and 1 Kings 18:41.) The man whose prayer was to bring fire down upon the sacrifice on Carmel to the confusion of idolatry! (ch. 18:38.) Who was to bring the same element down upon the soldiers of Ahaziah I (2 Kings 1:10-12). Who was destined to ride alive into the heavens in a chariot of fire! (2 Kings 2:11). Who was destined, many centuries later, to appear in glory with Messiah on the mount of transfiguration! (Matthew 17:8). And who is yet to come before the great day of judgment to gather back the children of Israel from their dispersion! (Malachi 4:5, 6).
(2) How could she hope for such distinction? A poor widow, so poor that she has no servant and no fuel in her house! A widow with her son, both at the point of death! A stranger, and a stranger of Zidon too - the land of Baal - and the land of the wicked Jezebel! Note: God's ways are not as our ways. He brings unlikely things to pass. How little do we know what may be the thoughts of His heart concerning us!
2. But how is she to accomplish this?
(1) Unbelief might murmur at such a requisition. It might charge God foolishly as a tyrant requiring brick where he had not supplied straw. Those who shrink from Church work because of fancied incompetence fall into this error, neglecting to trust God.
(2) It is enough that God has commanded. His commands are promises. (See Exodus 3:10-12; Judges 6:14.) See how the meal and oil are multiplied in the hands of the widow. The more difficult (humanly considered) the undertaking, the more gloriously will the excellency of the power of God appear. (See 2 Corinthians 12:9.) Attempt great things for God. Expect great things from God.
II. THE REASONS OF THE COMMAND. I. Elijah needed succour.
(1) The brook is dried up. Now is the time to test the prophet's faith. But he is a man of prayer, so is familiar with God. Those who best know God have most confidence in Him. Let us be much in prayer.
(2) Then "the word of the Lord came." Man's extremity is God's opportunity. In no strait let us despair of help while we keep a single heart. God knows all things. He can do whatever He will
2. The woman needed succour.
(1) She too had come to extremity - to the last handful of meal. What a touching spectacle is that widow at the gate of Zarephath gathering a few sticks to prepare the last meal for herself and her son!
(2) Had she not prayed? No doubt; and most sincerely. She was evidently a believer in the God of Israel. Jehovah was not unknown in the land of that Hiram who "was ever a lover of David," and so materially aided Solomon in building the temple (1 Kings 5.)
(3) But then she was not an Israelite to whom "were the promises." So in addressing Elijah her words are, "As the Lord thy God liveth." She believes in the "living God," but cannot presume to call Him her God. (See Romans 9:4.) What right had a poor stranger of Zidon to lock for any special consideration from the Lord?
(4) "He giveth grace unto the humble." He that reads the heart saw that she would believe if only she had a promise to authorize her faith. He accordingly gave her the opportunity which she seized and improved. (See Acts 10:1-6.) Let us act up to our light, and God will guide us into all the truth.
3. But were thee no widows in Israel?
(1) Upon the best authority we know that there were "many," and as needy as this Zidonian. In the severity of such a famine deaths from starvation were no rare occurrence.
(2) But the same authority informs us that there were none so worthy as this widow of Sarepta (Leviticus 4:24-26). No widow in Israel would have received the prophet as this widow received him. The moral is that if we would have special favour of God we must have special faith to receive it. Let us ever be in that attitude of wholehearted consecration to God which will make us eligible for any service he may be pleased to promote us to. To be permitted to do anything for God is an unspeakable honour. - J.A.M.
I. FAITH IN THE PROMISES OF GOD.
Arise, get thee to Zarephath.Jeremiah 48:11). The quiet life is by no means the greatest life. Some characters can only reach the highest standard of spirituality by the disturbings or displacings in the order of God's providence. Will not this cast light upon God's dealings with Elijah? Once he stood in the vessel, "Home"; then emptied into the vessel, "Jezreel"; then into the vessel, "Cherith"; and now into the fourth vessel, "Zarephath": and all that he might not settle upon his lees. Believe only that your circumstances are those most suited to develop your character. To one who lives ever in the presence of the unchanging God, and who can say, "Thus saith Jehovah, before whom I stand," the ever-varying conditions of our lot touch only the outer rim of life; whatever they take away, they cannot take away that; whatever they bring, they cannot give more than that. The consciousness of that Presence is the one all-mastering thought; the inspiration, the solace, the comfort, of every waking hour.
I. FAITH AWAITS GOD'S PLANS. "It came to pass, after a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land." Week after week, with unfaltering and steadfast spirit, Elijah watched that dwindling brook; often tempted to stagger through unbelief, but refusing to allow his circumstances to come between himself and God. Unbelief sees God through circumstances, as we sometimes see the sun shorn of his rays through the smoky air; but faith puts God between itself and circumstances, and looks at them through Him. Only then, to his patient and unwavering spirit, "the word of the Lord came, saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath." Most of us would have got anxious and worn with planning long before that. We should have ceased our songs, as soon as the streamlet carolled less musically over its rocky bed. And, probably, long ere the brook was dry, we should have devised some plan, and asking God's blessing on it, would have started off elsewhere. Alas! we are all too full of our own schemes, and plans, and contrivings. "Lord, show me Thy way; teach me to do Thy will: show me the way wherein I should walk, for unto Thee do I lift up my soul."
II. GOD'S PLANS DEMAND IMPLICIT OBEDIENCE. "So he arose and went to Zarephath," as before he had gone to Cherith, and as presently he would go to show himself to Ahab. We catch sight of God's ideal; we are enamoured with it; we vow to be only His; we use the most emphatic words; we dedicate ourselves upon the altar. For awhile we seem to tread another world, bathed in heavenly light. Then there comes a command clear and unmistakable. We must leave some beloved Cherith, and go to some unwelcome Zarephath; we must speak some word, take some step, cut off some habit: and we shrink from it — the cost is too great. But, directly we refuse obedience, the light dies off the landscape of our lives, and dark clouds fling their shadows far and near. Search the Bible from board to board, and see if strict, implicit, and instant obedience has not been the secret of the noblest lives.
III. IMPLICIT OBEDIENCE SOMETIMES BRINGS US INTO A SMELTING-FURNACE. "Zarephath" means a smelting-furnace. It lay outside the Land of Canaan, occupying the site of the modern Surafend, which stands on a long ridge, backed by the snowclad steeps of Hermon, and overlooking the blue waters of the Mediterranean. Many things might have made it distasteful to the prophet. It belonged to the land from which Jezebel had brought her impious tribe. It was as much cursed by the terrible drought as Canaan. It was impossible to reach it save by a weary journey of 100 miles through the heart of the land, where his name was execrated, and his person proscribed. And then to be sustained by a widow woman belonging to a heathen people! Surely it was a smelting-furnace for cleansing out any alloy of pride, or self-reliance, or independence which might be lurking in the recesses of his heart. And there was much of the refining fire in the character of his reception. When he reached the straggling town it was probably toward nightfall; and at the city gate a widow woman was gathering a few sticks to prepare the evening meal. To some it might have seemed a coincidence; but there is no such word in faith's vocabulary — that which, to human judgment Is a coincidence, to faith is a Providence. "Everything that may abide the fire, ye shall make it go through the fire, and it shall be clean" (Numbers 31:23). If, then, there is aught in you that can bear the ordeal, be sure you will be put into the furnace. But the fire shall not destroy; it shall only cleanse you.
IV. WHEN GOD PUTS HIS PEOPLE INTO THE FURNACE, HE WILL SUPPLY ALL THEIR NEED. God had said that he should be fed, and by that widow; and so it should be, though the earth and heaven should pass away. Difficulties are to faith what gymnastic apparatus are to boys, means of strengthening the muscular fibre. Like the fabled salamander, faith feeds on fire. And so with heroic faith Elijah said: "Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: 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." Our only need is to inquire if we are at that point in God's pattern where He would have us be. If we are, though it seem impossible for us to be maintained, the thing impossible shall be done.
(F. B. Meyer, M. A.)
I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee.1. This woman was a Phoenician, of Jezebel's own race and country, and by birth and training a believer in those very idolatries which the bloody Queen was then establishing in Palestine, and against which it was the chief part of the prophet's burden to witness. From earliest days she had adored her gods. Doubtless the gorgeous ritual of Baal-worship had impressed and awed her senses, and under the terror of Astarte, the lover of blood, she had lived and cowered. Yet it is in her home that the persecuted Preacher of Jehovah finds refuge and welcome! And it is to her home that, in turn, he brings blessing. The Prophet of the Separation is also the Apostle of the Reconciliation. The essential germ of ultimate universality, that was in the Church from the beginning, bursts forth even in him who is the vindicator of her Dispensational exclusiveness. What a world of suggestion lies in the picture of Hebrew Prophet and Phoenician widow, Jehovah's champion and Jezebel's countrywoman, under the same roof, sharing the same meal, in friendship and fellowship! The sternest anti-idolater of history by the side of an idolater, blessed and blessing! It is a forecast and prophecy, amid the world's enmities and hates, of the reconciliation of the future to be wrought out by a greater than Elijah.
2. We have here, too, an illustration of the part which, in the economy of God, suffering plays in the education and perfection of men. The presence of common woe or want, of common peril or pain, has been to multitudes as the very angel of God, conciliating feuds, softening asperities, enlightening prejudices, cementing sundered souls, and forming those sympathetic attachments which give warmth to character and sweetness to life. These two in that marrow house at Zarephath, dwelling in harmony under the pressure of a common straitening, represent in themselves the emollient and healthful influence of suffering in softening and sweetening souls. They illustrate the part which the "Divine economy of pain" plays in purifying from prejudice, in bridging over the chasms of alienations and the gulches of hate. Dearth, drought, and the wrath of evil men drove these two to their meeting, a meeting for the gain of both, and of us too, and of all who have come between.
3. In this widow we have also a beautiful example of that faith that pleases God and is blessing to the soul in which it abides. I dare say there are some who may so unworthily judge about the matter as to think that she somewhat superstitiously concluded that this stranger was a miracle-worker, or that he was a God-possessed man, and that her "faith" was simply the credulity that led her to that conclusion. But I hope such persons are few. Lot us not draw that sharp line between faith and faithfulness which such a way of thinking implies. The two are not, indeed, as some would seem to say, the same thing. There is a difference; but it is such a difference as that which exists between bud and flower, flower and fruit, or fountain and flow. Faithfulness is that which impels a man to walk in the way of duty or charity, no matter how hard it may be, and to bear the consequences, be they what they may. Faith makes him do all that, but it adds its own element too. Her faithfulness would have made her do her duty: her faith made the doing of it to be religious. In this spirit and confidence she received her guest, followed her purest instincts — the dictates of her womanly affections — into the ways of self-forgetful charity, and looking up to the giving God overhead, left issues to Him. I do not say she thought or reasoned about it any more than a child would be likely to think or reason about the laws of respiration before breathing, or a flower to speculate scientifically before giving out its aroma. She herself was good, and kind, and self-denying, and she lovingly did her duty so as, according to her light, to please the power of the skies. A very commonplace village woman, in a lowly rut of life, tenderly doing the duty that lay next to her hand; and, within, a trustful heart, and an eye to look up.
4. But the point to which, just now, I must give the chief and closing emphasis is that she was a heathen. "But of a truth I say unto you, There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, and unto none of them was Elijah sent, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Zidon, unto a woman that was a widow." The point to which he here calls attention, and which was so distasteful to the Jews, is that the prophet was not sent to any of those within the circle of the visible Church, but to one living outside, in the darkness of a heathen land. And in her, the child of disprivilege, he found that faith which he found not among the children of privilege.
(G. M. Grant, B. D.)
II. OBEDIENCE. Elijah obeys God at the risk of his own life. The widow obeys when requested by the prophet to bring him first a little water, and then a little cake. As disobedience led to the ruin of our first parents, so is it ever still the cause of endless difficulties and dangers in our spiritual course.
III. THAT GOD'S DEMANDS OFTEN INCREASE GRADUALLY IN THEIR STRINGENCY. The prophet asks the widow first for a little water, and afterwards, as if water was not sufficiently difficult to be obtained in such a time of drought, he further requests a little cake, when only a small store of meal and oil was left to the poor widow. So God demands often the lighter sacrifices from us first, and then, as our faith and our patience increase, He afterwards asks from us sacrifices of a higher character; until at length, when, by a course of afflictions He has weaned us from earthly attachments, He exclaims, "My son, give Me thy heart."
IV. THAT THE DARKEST HOUR OFTEN PRECEDES THE DAWN. It was when the widow woman was about to resign herself to despair, and to despondently await death, that the prophet appeared with the promise of prolonged support for life. The darkest cloud frequently has a silver lining. "Never despair," is a good motto, and is a still better one if coupled with another maxim, "Put your trust in God."
V. THAT GOD IS NO RESPECTER OF PERSONS. This moral our Lord Himself draws from the story of this widow of Zarephath, or Sarepta. The lesson that to the Gentiles also the mercies of God were to be shown, was one that the prejudiced and self-righteous Jews were loath to admit. In the same way the modern Pharisee is disinclined to allow that salvation is possible for those who are outside his own little coterie of professors.
(R. Young, M. A.)
II. WHAT SEEM TO BE OFTEN OUR WORST TRIALS, ARE REALLY OUR BEST BLESSINGS. What could seem worse to this widow than the advent of Elijah demanding that she make him the little cake? But what seemed worst embosomed what was best — the unwasting meal, the unfailing oil. Do not let us be overmuch scared at black trials; they may hold the best benignancies.
III. HOW SMALL SOEVER OUR RESOURCES, WE CAN STILL DO SOMETHING FOR GOD.
IV. THE VALUE OF SHARING. "This woman gave one meal to the prophet and God sustained her for two years." It is as we give we get. This is specially true in religious experience. If we seek to impart the blessedness of our own faith we infallibly get increase of faith."
V. GOD FIRST. Elijah, representing God, commanded, Make me a little cake first. Ah, that first I Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you."
(W. Hoyt, D. D.)
(H. O. Mackey.)
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