A POOR widow hugs her boy, her only child. She cannot believe her eyes. Just a short time earlier, she had cradled his lifeless body in her arms in a tender embrace. Now the woman looks at her resurrected son and thrills to his smile. “See,” says her houseguest, “your son is alive.”
That dramatic resurrection took place almost 3,000 years ago. You can read about it in 1 Kings chapter 17. The houseguest is God’s prophet Elijah. And the mother? She is an unnamed widow living in the town of Zarephath. The resurrection of her son was one of the most faith-strengthening events in her life. As we focus on her, we will learn some weighty lessons.
ELIJAH FINDS A WIDOW WHO HAS FAITH
Jehovah had determined that there would be a long drought in the realm of Ahab, the wicked king of Israel. After Elijah announced the drought, God hid him from Ahab and miraculously fed the prophet with bread and meat brought to him by ravens. Jehovah then told Elijah: “Rise up, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and stay there. Look! I will command a widow there to supply you with food.”—1 Ki. 17:1-9.
When Elijah arrived at Zarephath, he saw a poor widow collecting pieces of wood. Could she be the woman who would provide food for the prophet? How could she do so, since she herself was so poor? Despite any misgivings Elijah may have had, he began a conversation with the woman. “Please,” he said, “bring me a little water in a cup so that I may drink.” When she went to get him some water, Elijah added: “Please, bring me a piece of bread.” (1 Ki. 17:10, 11) Giving the stranger a drink did not trouble the widow, but giving him bread was a problem.
“As surely as Jehovah your God is living,” she replied, “I have no bread, only a handful of flour in the large jar and a little oil in the small jar. Now I am gathering a few pieces of wood, and I will go in and make something for me and my son. After we have eaten, we will die.” (1 Ki. 17:12) Let us reflect on what this exchange reveals.
The widow recognized Elijah as a God-fearing Israelite. This is evident from her words “as surely as Jehovah your God is living.” It appears that while she had some knowledge of Israel’s God, it was not to the point of using the words “my God” when referring to Jehovah. She lived in Zarephath, a town that ‘belonged to,’ or was apparently dependent upon, the Phoenician city of Sidon. Very likely, Zarephath was inhabited by Baal worshippers. Nevertheless, Jehovah had seen something exceptional in this widow.
Although the poor widow of Zarephath lived among idolaters, she exercised faith. Jehovah sent Elijah to her for the sake of both the woman and the prophet. From this, we can draw a vital lesson.
Not all the inhabitants of Baal-worshipping Zarephath were completely corrupt. By sending Elijah to this widow, Jehovah showed that He takes note of well-intentioned individuals who are not yet serving Him. Indeed, “in every nation the man who fears [God] and does what is right is acceptable to him.”—Acts 10:35.
How many people who live in your territory are like the widow of Zarephath? Although they may be surrounded by adherents of false religion, they may yearn for something better. They may have little or no knowledge of Jehovah and therefore need help if they are to embrace pure worship. Are you searching for and assisting such individuals?
‘FIRST MAKE ME A SMALL LOAF OF BREAD’
Consider carefully what Elijah asked the widow to do. She had just told him that after she made one more meal for her and her son, they would eat it and die. Yet, what did Elijah say? “Do not be afraid. Go in and do as you said. But first make me a small round loaf of bread with what is there, and bring it out to me. Then you can make something afterward for you and your son. For this is what Jehovah the God of Israel says: ‘The large jar of flour will not run out, and the small jar of oil will not run dry until the day Jehovah makes it rain on the surface of the ground.’”—1 Ki. 17:11-14.
‘Give away our last meal? You must be joking,’ some might have said. But that was not this widow’s reaction. Despite her limited knowledge of Jehovah, she believed Elijah and did what he asked of her. What a momentous test of faith that was—and what a wise decision she made!
God did not abandon that poor widow. Just as Elijah promised, Jehovah multiplied her meager supplies so that they sustained Elijah, the widow, and her son until the drought ended. Indeed, “the large jar of flour did not run out, and the small jar of oil did not run dry, according to Jehovah’s word that he had spoken through Elijah.” (1 Ki. 17:16; 18:1) If that woman had acted differently, the loaf of bread that she made from her meager supply of flour and oil may well have been her last meal. Instead, she acted in faith, trusted in Jehovah, and fed Elijah first.
A lesson that we can learn from this is that God blesses those who exercise faith. When you face a test of integrity and exercise faith, Jehovah will help you. He will be a Provider, a Protector, and a Friend in order to help you cope with your trial.—Ex. 3:13-15.
In 1898, Zion’s Watch Tower drew this lesson from the widow’s story: “If the woman had the faith necessary to obey, then she would be esteemed worthy of the Lord’s assistance through the Prophet; if she did not exercise the faith, another widow might have been found who would. Thus it is with us,—at various steps in the journey of life the Lord brings us to the place where he tests our faith. If we exercise the faith we will get the blessing; if we do not, we will lose it.”
When we face specific trials, we need to seek divine guidance from the Scriptures and from our Bible-based publications. Then we should act in harmony with Jehovah’s direction regardless of how difficult it may be to accept it. We will indeed be blessed if we act in harmony with this wise proverb: “Trust in Jehovah with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways take notice of him, and he will make your paths straight.”—Prov. 3:5, 6.
‘HAVE YOU COME TO PUT MY SON TO DEATH?’
The widow’s faith was about to undergo another test. “After these things,” says the Bible account, “the son of the woman who owned the house fell sick, and his sickness became so severe that he stopped breathing.” Searching for a reason for this tragedy, the grieving mother said to Elijah: “What do you have against me, O man of the true God? Have you come to remind me of my guilt and to put my son to death?” (1 Ki. 17:17, 18) What do those bitter words mean?
Had the woman recalled a sin that troubled her conscience? Did she think that her son’s death was divine retribution and that Elijah was God’s messenger of death? The Bible does not tell us, but one point is clear: The widow did not accuse God of any unrighteousness.
Elijah must have been shocked by the death of the widow’s son and by her idea that the prophet’s very presence was responsible for her heartbreaking bereavement. After carrying the boy’s limp body to the roof chamber, Elijah cried out: “O Jehovah my God, are you also bringing harm to the widow with whom I am staying by putting her son to death?” The prophet could not bear the thought that reproach would be cast on God’s name if He were to allow this kind and hospitable woman to suffer further. So Elijah begged: “O Jehovah my God, please, let this child’s life come back into him.”—1 Ki. 17:20, 21.
“SEE, YOUR SON IS ALIVE”
Jehovah was listening. The widow had provided for his prophet and had exercised faith. Apparently, God allowed the boy’s illness to take its course, knowing that a resurrection—the first one recorded in the Scriptures—would take place and would give hope to future generations. When Elijah entreated Him, Jehovah brought the child back to life. Just imagine the widow’s delight when Elijah said: “See, your son is alive”! The widow then told Elijah: “Now I know that you truly are a man of God and that Jehovah’s word in your mouth is truth.”—1 Ki. 17:22-24.
The account in 1 Kings chapter 17 says no more about this woman. In view of Jesus’ positive reference to her, however, she may have lived out her days as a faithful servant of Jehovah. (Luke 4:25, 26) Her story teaches us that God blesses those doing good to his servants. (Matt. 25:34-40) It proves that God provides for faithful ones, even in dire circumstances. (Matt. 6:25-34) This account also gives evidence of Jehovah’s desire and ability to resurrect the dead. (Acts 24:15) Surely these are excellent reasons for remembering the widow of Zarephath.