Down to her last penny. Broke. Destitute and discouraged. That was the widow of Zarephath. She was in a hopeless situation, or so it seemed.
Does this describe you? Feeling hopeless?
What can we learn from this single mom with only enough groceries to make one last meal?
I can tell you it has nothing to do with suddenly becoming prosperous.
No. This is a much richer story.
Who was the widow of Zarephath?
There are only a few facts about the widow of Zarepath found in1 Kings 17. But there is a lot more available through Jewish History and other parts of the Bible.
The back story of the widow of Zarephath
This account is found in the Bible the Old Testament. The majority of the kings in Israel were getting progressively worse with each generation, leading the nation to do the same.
Any time people neglect their relationship with God, there are predictable consequences. But in this case, there were special consequences to help wake people up.
There was a terrible drought with no rain for three years. Food and water were becoming scarce, especially for those with little financial means.
Her national origin
The widow of Zarephath was not Jewish. Her Phoenician village was not Jewish. Yet they were becoming open to YHWH (pronounced Yaw-Way), the God of Israel and of the prophet Elijah.
Her financial status as a widow
“Widowhood presents a difficult time in a woman’s life, especially when compounded with a diminished ability to meet financial needs, a common circumstance in the ancient patriarchal world of the Bible.” (1)
The fact that this woman was down to her last groceries and had no means to get more, she was destitute and hopeless.
Her status as a mother
Sons were important to any Jewish woman, but especially to a widow.
“Following the death of her husband, a widow’s best hope for security would be her son’s ability to provide for her. The loss of a son was thus an even greater tragedy for a widow.” (1)
Why did God send Elijah to Zarephath?
Elijah was a prophet in Israel at a time when the whole nation was going downhill in its relationship with God.
When the drought began, God sent him to live by a brook between Israel and Zarephath. Eventually, though, the brook dried up and God sent him on to the village of Zarephath.
This mission was important for many reasons as we will see.
What happened in Zarephath In The Bible?
This is a story of faith, hospitality, provision, great sorrow, and then great joy. Sounds almost like a movie.
God sent Elijah to this poor widow. He asked her for bread and water. She informed him that she had no bread and was getting ready to make her last meal before she expected that they would be facing starvation.
Elijah did not offer to help her but instead asked her to share with him. Surprisingly, she agreed. Even in her desperate situation, she was hospitable and willing to serve others.
Because of this widow’s attitude, little by little God gave her an endless supply of flour and oil. Her storage jars never ran out! Every day she had enough to cook bread for the three of them.
Unfortunately, her son got sick and died. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. She blamed Elijah.
When God used Elijah to bring the son back to life. That tipped the scales and the widow finally believed that YHWH was the true and living God.
And here is the rest of the story:
The Phoenician widow’s son, Hiram, was “the builder of Solomon’s house and Temple and culminates in Jesus, the ultimate Builder of the Temple.” (3)
Seeing ourselves in Elijah and the widow of Zarephath
There are a lot of lessons we can learn from the widow of Zarephath. It is more than a story about a single mom down on her luck.
- God can use us regardless of our background, national origin, or difficulties in life (2 Corinthians 1:4, John 14:12)
- God cares about those in need (Psalm 34:18, James 1:27)
- God wants us to rely on Him for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11)
- Serving others is rewarded by God (Matthew 6:3-4)
- Being in need helps us trust God like no other time in life (Proverbs 30:8-9, Exodus 8:15)
- God will bring good from the bad things in our lives if we put Him first (Romans 8:28, Genesis 50:20)
(1) God can use anyone
The Bible is full of widows, orphans, the poor, outcasts, prostitutes, thieves, the mentally ill or physically ill, and a whole lot of other undesirable situations.
We often can’t change some of the circumstances into which we are thrown. But those situations don’t have to be a life sentence.
God wants us to commit our lives to Him so that He can change our sad stories into stories of hope. He did it for the widow of Zarephath and He will do it for you.
(2) God cares about those in need
When we are in need, it is hard sometimes to ask for help.
Jewish history tells us that Elijah didn’t like to rely on others. I think that is human nature. God had something to teach not only to the widow of Zarephath but also to Elijah.
What is so sad is that people often don’t want to rely on God either. Yet He is the one who cares the most about us.
Whatever our needs, God wants to encourage us and take care of us.
(3) God wants us to rely on Him for our daily bread
Daily bread is our basic need. Too often people want God to give them designer clothes, a fancy house, an expensive vacation, and so on. These are not what God promises to us.
Even with little, we still can be grateful, and celebrate the good things in life.
(4) Serving others is rewarded by God
When we put God first in our lives, and then others, we can be sure that God will give us a purpose and something to do for Him.
The question is, do we have a servant’s heart? Yes, there are those who could care less about God and still help others in need. However, the rewards come from God when we know Him personally.
(5) Being in need helps us trust God like no other time in life
It is human nature to forget God when life gets comfortable. It usually happens gradually until we think little about God and what He wants.
This is what happened to the nation of Israel leading up to the story of the widow of Zarephath. It happened multiple times throughout Scripture.
And if we are honest, it happens to us.
We even see non-Christians think about God during times of disaster, but when things return to normal, they could care less about trusting God and what He wants.
(6) God will bring good from bad things in our lives
This is a promise only for Christians. Here is what Scripture says,
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28, ESV
Do you love God? Have you begun your journey with Him through a personal relationship with Jesus?
If you don’t know Jesus, you probably have questions. The people at Chat About Jesus have answers. You can text, call, or chat with them online any time of the day or night.
We all face times when life seems hopeless. If we are trusting in our own resources, jobs, degrees, or ingenuity, these things will at some point disappoint us.
Hope comes from our relationship with God. This was the lesson learned by the widow of Zarephath.