1 Kg 17:8-16
“Well that doesn’t sound like such a great idea.” One could sympathize with the prophet Elijah if this thought went through his head when he received this instruction from Yahweh at the beginning of our text: “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”
Elijah lived during the ninth century B.C. He was a prophet in the northern kingdom of Israel at a time when things seemed to be going well for the nation. Ahab was king and was enjoying a long reign – some twenty two years. He had married Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Tyre and Sidon. This was an important alliance since it meant that Israel had access to the port city of Tyre. Trade was booming and things were good.
Except things weren’t really good at all – at least the things that really mattered. Jezebel and the Sidonians worshipped the false god Baal. King Ahab began to worship Baal too. He built a temple for Baal in his land of Samaria. We learn in the previous chapter, “Ahab did more to provoke the Yahweh, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.”
Moses was the first prophet that God gave to Israel. Yet after Moses, when we look at the prophets sent by God, we find that they really become a regular part of the life of God’s people once the nation had kings. The existence of prophets and kings parallel one another for a very good reason. The prophets were Yahweh’s spokesmen. They were there to speak the word of Yahweh to the king. They were there to remind the king that Yahweh was the real king.
That was not a message that many of the kings, such as Ahab wanted to hear. So at the beginning of this chapter, Yahweh had Elijah deliver this message to Ahab: “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” Elijah told Ahab that God was sending a drought – something that would have serious consequences for life in that area.
Then Yahweh told Elijah, “Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” Elijah was to go to the other side of the Jordan – the east side – and hide himself there by a brook. This worked out well for a time. The brook provided water to Elijah. God sent ravens to bring him bread and meat every morning and evening.
However, eventually the lack of rain caused the brook to dry up. And so we hear in our text: “Then the word of the LORD came to him, ‘Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.’”
It would have been understandable if Elijah had thought: “Well that doesn’t sound like such a great idea,” for two reasons. First, Yahweh had told Elijah to hide in the wilderness area east of the Jordan River. Elijah was hiding because Ahab and Jezebel were not going to be happy about the drought that Elijah had announced. And yet now, God was sending Elijah into pagan territory – he was sending Elijah into Jezebel’s back yard, because Zarephath was only seven miles from Sidon.
And then on top of this Yahweh said “Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” Now in the ancient world, a widow was among the most vulnerable in society. Her husband, who had been the source of her support was dead, and so she had no real means to provide for herself. Hearing that a widow was going to support you in ancient Israel was like being told today that a street person was going to do this. It didn’t make any sense.
But Elijah obeyed Yahweh’s word and went to Zarephath. When he arrived at the city gate he met the widow who was there gathering sticks. Elijah asked her to bring him some water. And then he added to bring him a little bread. The woman replied by telling Elijah about her desperate situation. 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 my son, that we may eat it and die.”
God’s prophet replied, “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.’” It was a shocking request that was followed by a promise from Yahweh.
Both our Old Testament and Gospel lessons today discuss the need to trust in God to provide us with daily bread – all that we need to support this body and life. The widow’s predicament in our text reminds us about how abundantly God provides for us. You and I have never faced the prospect of making one last meal and then waiting to die of hunger.
Our crises are … less critical. We face the “crisis” that this year we may not be able to afford the vacation we want to take. We face the “crisis” that we can’t buy that newest tech gadget we want. We face the “crisis” that we see other people on Facebook and Instagram who are able to afford so much more fun than we can.
You know that you do it. We all do. Jesus’ words in the Gospel lesson hit us right in the gut: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
In our text the widow was called to trust the word from Yahweh. And she did. We aren’t told why. It made no sense from a worldly perspective. But we learn: “And she went and did as Elijah said. 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.” She trusted and obeyed the word of Yahweh delivered through Elijah and God provided for the widow, her son and the prophet.
Like the word of Elijah to the widow, Jesus Christ speaks the word of God to you today. He says, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Jesus tells you not to worry, just like Elijah told the widow not to worry about their next meal. The good news is that you have more reason to believe and trust this word than the widow in our text ever had. You do because you know what God has done in Christ for you. You know that the Son of God became flesh and lived in this world for you. You know that he humbled himself to the point of death for you – even death on a cross. You know that through this death he has reconciled you to God – you have peace with God through Jesus Christ. And you know that the life that will once again be very good has already started in the resurrection of Jesus.
All of this has become yours through baptism. In Christ you have everything. You are a saint; a child of God; an heir of the kingdom of God. You know what God has done for you in Christ Jesus. And through this Gospel knowledge the Holy Spirit begins to change the way you look at things.
Now the old Adam is still there too. He’s not interested in trusting God’s Word. He wants to make money and all that goes with it as his god. That’s why we need to continue to hear God’s Word about our physical needs. That’s why we need to hear about the blessing of contentment. St. Paul wrote, “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”
God’s Word teaches us to view our desires for what they really are: idol. We churn out false gods as we focus on wants. Yet in Jesus Christ we already have everything that we need – everything that really matters. And in his word we have the promise that God will give us what we need to live in this world. To trust this promise, is to trust in the One who has conquered death by rising on third day.
In the Old Testament lesson today, Yahweh’s word through Elijah feeds them with bread a jar and jug of flour and oil never run out. In order to sustain us in faith so that can be content – faith that trusts in God to provide us with what we need - the ascended Lord feeds us through his word. Here in our midst his word does something more wonderful than providing a continuing source of bread. Instead he gives us the bread of life. He gives us himself as through his word he gives us his true body and blood. He feeds us in this miracle so that we may receive forgiveness for the ways we have not been content. And he nourishes the new man within us so that we can grow in our trust in his care and ability to provide us with what we need for this body and life.