Despite the Bible never giving her name, Ros Clarke explains why she is inspired by the incredible faith of the widow of Zarephath, who used her last oil and flour to make bread for Elijah.
Who are your heroes – or heroines – of the faith? Very often we’re drawn to people with dramatic stories of trusting God in the midst of persecution, or perhaps on dangerous missionary journeys, or accomplishing great things for the kingdom. But more often, God calls his people simply to be faithful at home, in small ways, in stories that go untold.
As I was writing about some of the women in the Bible, I was struck by so many of these small stories, by women who showed enormous faith in their domestic lives. And none more so than the widow of Zarephath. You can read about her in 1 Kings 17. Her story is so small that we’re not even told her name. Usually she’s thought of as no more than a minor character in the much larger story of Elijah. But the widow of Zarephath had faith to rival any of the great heroes of the Bible.
At the point where we meet her, there has been a great drought in the land. And when there is drought, famine follows. For this widow, without a husband to help her provide for the family, things have come to the point of no return. There is no food. There is no money to buy food and no hope of growing food. There is nothing but a handful of flour and a drop of oil. Just enough to make one last loaf of bread for her and her son. It is the end.
For this widow, without a husband to help her provide for the family, things have come to the point of no return. It is the end.
Until Elijah appears, asking her to make the bread and give it to him. It is an outrageous request! Would you take the only food you had to give your child and hand it over to a stranger? Of course not!
But listen to what Elijah says, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’” (1 Kings 17:13-14)
The request comes with a promise: if you give me the bread, God will give you everything you need for the future. If you will let go of the little you have, God will fill your hands abundantly full. It is a test of faith, isn’t it? Will you trust God’s promise? Will you trust it enough to take the bread out of your child’s mouth? Will you give him everything you hold dear? Not the flour or the oil, but your life. Your child’s life.
If you will let go of the little you have, God will fill your hands abundantly full.
It is the same request and promise that Jesus asks of us all in the gospel: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)
The widow of Zarephath responded with faith. What good would it have been for her to cling to the little she had – and lose her life? How much better to give up the flour and oil, in order to receive abundant supplies – and save her life? Is there something you are still clinging on to? Is there something God is asking you to give him? Are you willing to lose your life for Christ – and thereby save it?