Women in the Bible
The Widow and the Prophet
1 Kings 17:7-24; Luke 4:25, 26
The Widow of Zarephath
Background: 10th Century B.C.
Ahab and Jezebel were ruling the Kingdom of Israel in wickedness. Not only were they worshiping false Gods, but Jezebel had also commanded all the prophets in the land to be killed. Because of the great iniquity of the people, the Lord caused that there would be no rain, this lasted for three and a half years. Elijah the prophet was commanded by the Lord to dwell by the brook Cheribth, where the Lord told him that He would provide for him and keep him safe from Jezebel who wants him dead. Ravens feed Elijah for many days, but when the brook dries up he is commanded to go to Zarephath where the Lord has prepared a widow woman to sustain him. Jezebel was from this same area, so in sending Elijah to Zarephath God was sending Elijah into Jezebel’s territory. It was a trip that was WAY out of his way, but he went because he knew that God had prepared someone to provide for him, and more importantly that there was someone who needed him.
Facts about her:
She was a widow with a son;
She was from Zarephath, a city in Zidon (about where Lebanon is today). She would not have been one of the covenant children of Israel;
She was the mistress of a household (1 Kings 17:17);
The Lord knew her, her situation, and the condition of her heart. He had been preparing her to be an instrument in His hand;
She and her son were dying of starvation and when Elijah found her they had nothing left to eat but “a handful of meal in a barrel and a little oil in cruse;”
When Elijah asked her, she brought him water and food, even though she knew that she and her son would have nothing to eat;
She prepared food for Elijah with the last of her food, and trusted his words that her barrel would not be empty;
The barrel and cruse did not fail and she and her house ate for many days;
Elijah lived in the widow’s household throughout the famine;
After the famine is over her son got sick and died but was brought back to life by Elijah.
Speculations about her:
Perhaps she was a widow because her husband had already passed away during the famine from starvation;
Maybe she was gathering sticks at the gate of the city because she was too weak from starvation to go much further.
The Lord knows her and is aware of her needs.
This story bears testimony to me that God knows and loves each one of his daughters, because it is obvious in this story that God is VERY aware of this widow and her needs. Elijah had to travel way out of his way to get to this woman. Zarephath was in the opposite direction from where he was. Yet, she was important enough to God that he commanded Elijah to go to her. One can only imagine what her prayers must have been. Perhaps she had been praying for a miracle and for deliverance. I bet she didn't think her prayers would be answered like they were.
She has faith to walk into the the unknown.
It is important to know that she did not know who Elijah was, and she did not know that there would be more meal and oil left over after she had fed him. She gave ALL she had and put her trust in the Lord. She went to the very edge of her faith, and God caught her and sustained her by his hand. Often times God asks us to go to the very end of our limits, the bottom of our barrel, calling upon all our resources before he provides deliverance. He asks us to sacrifice ALL that we have, in order to gain much greater blessings.
She receives revelation from the Lord and is faithful and obedient.
In verse 9 the Yehovah tells Elijah that He has commanded a widow woman to sustain him. How long had the Lord been preparing this woman? How long has she known in her heart what would be asked of her? It is a beautiful testament to her character that she was able to receive revelation from the Lord and was obedient to it, even in the hardest of circumstances.
She is pushed to the end of her rope, doubts, and becomes stronger.
After all that this woman goes through, her son gets sick and dies (vs.17). This seems to be more than she can bear and she reaches her breaking point. She exclaims to Elijah:
“What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?”
Even though she had witnessed a miracle, and had been fed by the hand of the Lord, she still had her moment of weakness and doubt. Despite her faith, she feels like God has forsaken her and is punishing her. Even Elijah asks God “Hast thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son?” After much pleading Elijah is able to bring her son back to life. As he hands the living child back over to his mother she remembers her faith and the mercy of the Lord and cries “Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth.” God does not leave her alone, as once again he hears her prayers and provides deliverance.
Lessons to be learned from her:
Every day we are dependent on God for our lives. Whether we recognize it or not God sends us manna from heaven each day we are alive. We live by faith.
God does not leave us alone. He hears our prayers, and he answers them. Often in ways that we never imagined.
We can receive personal revelation from the Lord. When we are obedient he works miracles through us.
“If we allow Him, God will take us to that place where there is no one else to help us but Him.”
Camille Fronk, lecture on Women in the Scriptures, Brigham Young University, 2005
Questions to think about:
1. How old do you think she was? How old do you see her son being?
2. What made her faith extraordinary?
3. Why does God ask us to sacrifice?
4. How is this woman similar to you and experiences you have had in your life?
5. Are you willing to sacrifice EVERYTHING for Jesus Christ?
Posted by Heather@Women in the Scriptures at 5:32 PM
A Widow’s Last Flour 1 Kings 17:9-16
by Bob Burridge ©2014
There was once a woman out gathering sticks to build a fire.
Her husband had died leaving her alone to take care of herself and to raise her son. She went to find fire-wood by the gate of the city of Tsar-pha-TAH ( צָרְפַ֙תָה֙ ). In our English Bibles the city is called Zarephath. It was in the land of Sidon, a pagan country ruled by King Et-baal. His daughter was the notorious Jezebel who had married Ahab, King of Israel.
It was hard for widows in that culture because they weren’t able to earn their own living. They had to raise or gather what they could on their own, or be cared for by others.
This woman faced a specially hard situation.
God had sent a great famine at that time. It was a judgment that came because of the sins of King Ahab of Israel.
His marriage to the pagan woman Jezebel was a total rejection of God’s covenant. But even worse, Ahab promoted and took part in the worship of the pagan gods.
1 Kings 16:33, “And Ahab made an Asherah. Ahab did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.”
An “Asherah” seems to have been some kind of crafted image of the Phoenician goddess by that name, who was worshiped through all kinds of perverted acts.
That is why the God of Israel, sent the prophet Elijah to announce a judgment. He told King Ahab that for 3½ years there would be no rain or dew. This would bring devastating famine, sickness and death. Even the secular histories of that time tell about this great drought and the famine it produced.
Another thing this widow was troubled by was that she believed in Yehovah, the God of Israel. But she lived in Sidon, the center for Baal worship. This made her an unwanted outcast in a pagan nation.
So the widow went out to the city gate to gather sticks for a cooking fire.
She had only a handful of flour left, and just a little oil. Her plan was to make a fire to bake a pastry of her last measure of oil and flour. She and her son would eat this last meal. Since there was nothing else, they would probably die. Here was a woman, who didn’t have much, but she was industrious and busy to the end. Instead of sitting around brooding over her problem, she responsibly did what she could.
She thought she was only there to gather sticks. But she was part of the history of God’s Kingdom we read about thousands of years later.
While she collected wood for her last fire a man came along.
It was the prophet Elijah. He was that rugged Tishbite from the mountains of Gilead, called by God for this special mission. He was the one who delivered the message about the famine, and God promised to provide for him until it rained again and the crops were restored.
First he was sent to a brook at Cherith. For about a year, God provided for Elijah supernaturally. Ravens brought food twice a day, and the little brook provided water, even during the drought. But then the brook dried up. It was God’s time for him to move on. The change came suddenly. It ended his secure daily routine.
The next phase of the plan became clear as God explained to the prophet.........
1 Kings 17:9, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there.Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”
He knew that it would be foolish not to trust God’s word. So Elijah obeyed.
1 Kings 17:10a, “So he arose and went to Zarephath. …”
Elijah did exactly as God directed him. He left the refuge of Cherith, and traveled the long way from the Jordan valley. He went to Zarephath in the pagan land of Sidon, the land of wicked Queen Jezebel, the very hub of Baal worship. There he stayed for the remainder of the drought in the shadow of the palace where the evil Jezebel was born. God knew this was the safest place for His prophet, as Jezebel would never think to find Elijah there!
Immediately as he entered the gate of the city he met that widow — just as God said…….
10b, “… And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. …”
This was hardly what natural reason would expect with much confidence. How could this widow with no means of provision care for God’s prophet?
But Elijah knew this wasn’t just an accidental encounter, and he trusted the promise of God. He was told that the widow of Zarephath would provide for him. It was God’s word. God always does what he says.
So he approached her as verse 10 continues …
1 Kings 17:10c-11, “… And he called to her and said, ‘Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.’ And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, ‘Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.’ ”
Asking her for a drink was a simple courtesy commonly expected of travelers. So the woman immediately started off to get the water. Though water was very hard to come by during the drought, she didn’t question the stranger. She knew her duty before God was to do what she could to help, so she obeyed.
Before she got very far, he asked her for some bread too. This was also something commonly asked by travelers, but in more normal times. These weren’t normal times. There was a great famine.
It was stranger still that he would ask something like that of a widow. People knew they weren’t likely to have much for themselves, much less to have bread to spare even in times when food was plentiful. However, this was not just a normal encounter. God had made a specific promise to Elijah. When God gives his word about something, anything, it would take a fool to doubt him.
The woman didn’t know what God promised to Elijah. She wasn’t sure she was able to help.
1 Kings 17:12, “And she said, ‘As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and myson, that we may eat it and die.’ ”
The word “LORD” in verse 12 is the special covenant name of God YeHoVaH (יהוה), Jehovah. It shows that she was not a Baal follower, but a woman who respected the God of Israel. God had prepared this believing widow to be the one Elijah would meet in the midst of a heathen land.
Her answer didn’t sound very encouraging. Based on what she knew, the woman saw no way she could provide for the stranger. She was not just being pessimistic when she said they expected to die after the meal. People were dying in the nations all around her. Why would she be any different? She knew she just had enough flour and oil for one last small meal for herself and her son.
Elijah knew that if God could provide for a year by ravens and a brook at Cherith, certainly he could provide through this widow.
The woman had no special promises from God about her provisions, not yet. But the promise was on its way — just moments off!
Next Elijah explained the situation to her:
1 Kings 17:13-14, “And Elijah said to her, ‘Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, “The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.” ’ ”
The prophet was not being selfish by asking for her to make her last bread cake and feed him first. God told Elijah that a widow there would provide for him. If the woman did this hard thing, it would confirm that she was the one God had chosen. But she wasn’t sent off blindly to do something without knowing God’s promise first. Elijah explained that there was no reason to be afraid to obey him. Until the drought ends, the meal and oil would not run out.
When Yehovah, God of Israel, makes his promise, he never fails or goes back on his word. 1 Samuel 15:29 says that God “… will not lie nor relent…”
He cannot break his oath. That would make God contradict his own nature. In the book of Hebrews it says…………..
Hebrews 6:17-19, “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain.”
A.W. Pink put it this way, “Faith is not occupied with difficulties, but with Him with whom all things are possible. Faith is not occupied with circumstances, but with the God of circumstances.”
The woman proved that she trusted in the True God by acting on his word.
1 Kings 17:15a, “And she went and did as Elijah said. …”
God said he would sustain his prophet at Zarephath through a widow there. The prophet obeyed and so did that simple widow who became one of those heroes of God’s Kingdom.
They left God’s part for him to take care of. Each knew that his own part was to obediently demonstrate a living faith.
James 2:17 tells us that a faith without works is a dead faith. Faith without obedience is just blind trust or mystical hope. A disobedient faith is not one implanted by the Holy Spirit that rests with assurance in God’s word. A faith that doesn’t act upon what it professes, is just a foolish and empty claim.
God did exactly what he promised his prophet and this widow. He must always keep his word.
1 Kings 17:15b-16, “… And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah.”
The supply was sufficient every day. The flour and oil never ran out. One of God’s names in Scripture is YeHoVaH YiReH ( יְהוָ֣ה יִרְאֶ֑ה ), “the Lord provides” (Genesis 22:14).
As believers, we need to continue trusting in God’s promises too.
Like this widow, we might not always understand how his word can be kept. But we trust that all he promises will be kept.
The third verse of the hymn By Grace I am an Heir of Heaven ends with the words, “What reason cannot comprehend, God doth to thee by grace extend.”
This kind of faith is not the kind the world imagines. It’s not a blind trust in irrational things. It’s a confidence that the promise of God is the most rational thing of all. When a person is trusting in God’s provision for his soul in Christ, he discovers the obvious reality of God’s power and promises.
The kind of reasoning that starts by assuming God can’t help, ends up in despair. It frets and worries about things beyond our own control. It ends up inventing all sorts of false religions, superstitions, and misleading science to cover the hopelessness.
The true and living faith, the kind that comes from Christ in the heart, is active. Instead of complaining or giving up in times of challenge, it looks for what to do. It moves ahead with action based upon God’s promise.
When God promises something, no matter how hard it is for us to image him doing it, what we see as improbable, or even impossible, becomes inevitable.
Its just plain irrational to think that God can’t or won’t accomplish all he promises! We have the word of the absolutely truthful and infinitely powerful God.
Several years ago I challenged my congregation to keep a “promise list.”
As you read your Bibles, or hear God’s word explained in a sermon or lesson, have a place to write down God’s promises. Not the special promises he made to individuals like Noah, or Elijah, but the general promises God makes as principles for his children living in his world.
For example: The promise Yeshua/Jesus made in John 11:25-26 to Martha was about all believers. He said: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. …”
All who confess their complete need for a Savior from their guilt before God, and who trust that Messiah Yeshua, [Jesus Christ] paid their debt in full on the cross, are assured of forgiveness, of the power to grow in personal godliness, and of having eternal life.
How can sinners be welcomed into God’s presence forever? God provided the way, and His work and promise cannot possibly fail. Our responsibility is to trust him, and show that trust through your obedience to His commandments.
God’s promises can’t fail when you really trust him enough to do what he says. That’s what Elijah did. It’s what this poor widow in Zarephath did. It is also what we each need to do.
Trust him that obeying his moral principles is really the most satisfying way to live.
Trust his word that promises blessings to your children if you ground them in God’s truth and ways.
Trust him that keeping the Sabbath biblically, is better for you than stealing God’s time.
Trust him that faithful giving to your church makes better economic sense than spending God’s money for yourself.
Trust him that marriage is the only right place for sexual intimacy.
Trust him that it’s good to help others to trust in Jesus Christ, and to unite with his church.
Trust him that doing all things the way he says is right, is better for you, for your loved ones, and for your country, than following popular trends, the latest fads, and human theories.
Elijah obeyed God, went to his enemies land, and trusted a widow with no food or money. The widow believed God’s prophet. She gave what little she had, and proved her trust. Both understood that God is to be trusted, even when his ways were unexpected.
This simple widow is a good example for all of us. Those who didn’t understand the power and promises of God might have laughed at her. They would have felt sorry that she was so gullible.
But Elijah wasn’t just a typical con-man using religion to get things for his own selfish ends. He was God’s prophet who told what God had said. God’s Spirit at work in the widow assured her that obeying God was the only right way.
This is how we need to live too. Sometimes the challenges of this world can seem like impossible barriers. The lures of compromise and temptation are designed by God’s enemy to seem appealing. Pressures from others can all too easily pull us toward ways that are not right and are not good for us.
We need to be heroes of God’s Kingdom and stand firmly upon God’s ways. If God says he will promise things that seem like they will not work, it’s our seeming that needs fixing, not God’s promises.
Even though we do not have prophets like Elijah with us today, we do have God’s prophetic word in our Bibles. We dare not let go of His promises just because we don’t understand how they can help. We ought to trust them all the way to full obedience to them. Nothing should tempt us to lay them aside even for a moment. The very idea that disobeying God can help in certain situations, even for a moment, is to listen to the voice of the enemy of God.
Just as Elijah obeyed, and the widow obeyed when God’s ways seemed unworkable, we too will find out that the impossible and improbable become inevitable when we steadfastly rest in and act upon God’s revealed word.
A Vietnamese Perspective on the Widow of Zarephath
By: Quynh-Hoa Nguyen, Northern Illinois Annual Conference
This article represents a Christian Vietnamese woman’s reading of the story of the widow at Zarephath.
The lady in question belongs to the Evangelical Church of Vietnam, which was established in Vietnam by the Christian and Missionary Alliance in 1911. Most people have their own stories to tell, stories of celebration or anguish. Vietnamese Christian women also tell their stories, and identify with biblical stories available to them, and derive their own meaning out of those stories. Wesley Kort, professor of religion, argues for the ubiquity and primacy of narrative in human life. In Story, Text, and Scripture, Kort asserts that “narrative undercuts the distances and differences, however great they may be, between cultures, so that the culture of ancient Israel, different and distant from our own in so many respects, is also joined to our own in this way.” Narrative is ubiquitous and fundamental to human understanding because it carries timeless human experiences across time, space, and race. Vietnamese Christian women can recognize their stories in ancient biblical narrative because they are both connected with the divine, the sacred that together constitute the lasting values for giving meaning to human life.
At first sight it appears that Vietnamese Christian women perceive female biblical figures as symbols of virtue and godliness. The virtuous, godly woman is primarily filial, faithful, prayerful, giving, self-sacrificing, and courageous. When asked about their favorite women in the Bible, Vietnamese women choose Ruth as a model for filial obedience; Jochebed and Hannah as those mothers who raised their children with faith; Anna as one who was fervent in prayer; Rahab as a woman of faith; Esther as one who feared God and was willing to sacrifice for her people; Mary, whose anointing of Jesus demonstrated wholehearted and quiet giving; and the women at the cross as role models of faithfulness and courage. The images conveyed in these readings predominantly reflect the traditional roles of women and reinforces their subordinate place in the patriarchy. It is perhaps because Vietnamese Christian women are deeply embedded with those values of the Christian tradition that they readily identify in these biblical stories the virtues traditionally set out before them. They find in these women's stories the experiences and values that have been significantly upheld in the family life, if not public life, of the Christian community.
It is perhaps because Vietnamese Christian women are deeply embedded with those values of the Christian tradition that they readily identify in these biblical stories the virtues traditionally set out before them.
However, a closer reading of Vietnamese Christian women's engagement with biblical stories reveals a desire to claim divine empowerment. This claim is biblically grounded in the story of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8–24). Niem T. Vu, a forty-five-year-old woman, found her own story mirrored in the biblical account of the prophet Elijah and the unnamed widow. The story unfolds as she recalls the days after the fall of Saigon when her family encountered political-economic powerlessness:
“My family lost everything including our house and our basic needs for survival in this event . . . You know, life was very hard after 1975 . . . My father was sent to a re-educational camp because he was an officer of the old regime, so my family was in great difficulty. In those hard times I remembered the story of Elijah. Elijah was also in a very difficult situation, but God used ravens and a widow to feed him. We prayed together, telling God, You fed your prophet through the ravens and the poor widow; now please provide for us too. We just prayed in the morning, and the ravens and widow came in the afternoon.”
The larger context of the biblical story engaged here begins with Elijah’s announcement to King Ahab of the coming great drought. Consequently, he is sent to the Wadi of Cherith and Zarephath, where God commands ravens and a widow to feed him respectively. The prophet who once has power to confront the king becomes politically vulnerable and economically disadvantaged. It is more striking that he has to rely on the ravens and the widow—the neediest—for his survival. However, it is the prophet, not the widow, who is generally presented by academic scholars as the focus of the story.
Frank S. Frick describes Elijah as a “miracle worker” who saved the widow and her son. He argues that the story of the widow of Zarephath reveals the prophet’s concern for the oppressed and socially marginalized. It also serves to affirm Elijah’s larger national mission, which included a foreign widow, socially and religiously located outside the Israelite society.
It is interesting that in her reading the Vietnamese woman credits the starving widow, not the prophet who works miracles to preserve the lives of her and her son. It is the poor widow who provides the persecuted prophet with food and home. Relating her family's desperation to Elijah’s, she identifies him as a persecuted prophet who takes refuge in the widow’s home. She remembers the poor widow as God’s never ending provision for those socially and financially marginalized. In her memory, the widow remains as one who turns a desperate situation into hope and fulfillment.
As the above reading shows, the widow represents empowerment in the sense that she is socially and financially vulnerable, but she is able to carry God’s mission. She appears to have nothing to give, but she eventually can empower the prophet even in her dire circumstances. The life of a widow in ancient Israel, according to the Hebrew Bible, is commonly associated with poverty and dependency. The poor are described in the law codes generally as those “socially inferior, politically powerless, economically needy and therefore dependent on the rich and the powerful for their survival.” The image of the widow is also predominantly constructed as one who is poor and virtuous throughout Israelite literature. The widow of Zarephath, though not belonging to the Israelite society, does not escape the socially underprivileged condition particularly typical of widowhood. Her difficulty is certainly more challenging than other widows’ because she also has a son to take care of in the great drought. The widow of Zarephath thus is not only a widow but also a mother of an orphan, both of which by all means belong to the most disadvantaged in the patriarchal society. The starving widow, nonetheless, turns into empowerment to fulfill the divine command despite her marginal status.
The Vietnamese woman reader of this story challenges the concept of marginality as being weak, subordinate, inferior, or nothing. The widow is defined as marginal within her society and even a “non-entity” in a patriarchal religious society, yet her marginality does not render her powerless and helpless. Despite her precarious existence, the widow actually demonstrates that having little or nothing becomes something significant.
Wesley A. Kort, Story, Text, and Scripture: Literary Interests in Biblical Narrative (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1988), 8.
Niem T. Vu, interview by investigator, transcript of tape recording, Saigon, August 13, 2007. Name has been changed to protect the subject.
Frank S. Frick, “1 Kgs 17:8–24: Widow of Zarephath,” in Carol Meyers, gen. ed.; Toni Craven and Ross S. Kraemer, assoc. eds.,Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, and the New Testament(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001), 272.
Compilation and comments © by Dr. David G. Sloss, PhD – edited by Stephen J Spykerman 2018