Scripture: 1 Kings 17: 8-16
8 Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, 9 “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 10 So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” 11 As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12 But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” 13 Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. 14 For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” 15 She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. 16 The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.
The prophet Elijah had told Israel’s king that the country would experience a 3-year drought. Under King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, Israel had begun to worship the pagan god Baal. This drought would prove the sovereignty of Yahweh, the one true God, over Baal, considered by pagans to be the god of the storm, the bringer of rain.
Why did God send Elijah outside Israel’s borders to Zarephath? Why did he tell him to look for a widow, a person of no distinction? When Jesus returned from his days of temptation in the wilderness and began teaching in the synagogues, he mentioned this. In Luke 4: 25-26, Jesus says: “25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.”
We can learn from this. God sometimes leads us into uncharted territory just as he led Elijah. We can’t always play it safe; can’t always stay in our comfort zone. But we go because God tell us to go. When God sent Elijah outside Israel’s borders, he was actually beginning to tell the entire redemption story. The borders of God’s kingdom were always meant to expand beyond Israel and into the whole world. This is why we exist as a church today. This is why we engage in missions and teaching and outreach of all kinds. We are part of God’s continuing mandate to go and to act in the name of Jesus Christ. We are building his kingdom here.
We also learn from the widow. God had prepared her heart for this encounter. When Elijah asked her for help, what did she do? She gave an honest inventory of what she had. She didn’t sugar-coat it. “I have no bread.”
When God asked Moses to lead the people of Israel, he took an honest inventory and said, “I can’t do this alone.” When Peter was asked for help from the lame man, he took an honest inventory and said, “Silver and gold have I none, but what I have I will give you. In the name of Jesus, rise and walk.” When Jesus fed the 5,000, he first took inventory. He asked the disciples, “What do you have?” They (Jesus) worked with what they had.
Elijah promised her that her meal and oil would last longer. And in spite of her meager resources, she complied with his request. She didn’t walk away from it. She was willing to trust Elijah. They needed each other, just as we need each other. It is our shared ministry that keeps us going and doing in the name of Jesus Christ. Some of us are the fuel stored in the tank. Some of us are the electric spark that clicks to light the flame. Maybe, like the widow, we can only gather a few sticks. Those few sticks, that meager amount of meal or oil are not useless. They are the foundation for the fire that God intends to set in our lives. The fire is the Holy Spirit that guides us into ministry. The fire is our passion to serve in the name of Jesus Christ. The fire is our work to build the kingdom. Like Moses, it is our experience of God’s revelation, theophany, and call. We do not have a deficiency of resources. We have a God who can work with what we have.