Commentary on Sabbath School Lesson for 12.11.10
Sometimes you come across a story in the Bible that just doesn’t make any sense from our decadent postmodern perspective. One of those situations, for me anyway, is the story of the widow of Zarephath and Elijah.
“So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, ‘Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?’ As she was going to get it, he called, ‘And bring me, please, a piece of bread.’
“‘As surely as the LORD your God lives,’ she replied, ‘I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.’” 1 Kings 17:10-12
Okay, so, let’s think about this for a minute. Now I realize that my point of view is completely “first world” (as opposed to third world), western hemisphere, postmodern, but I’m pretty sure that if a man I didn’t know walked up to me and asked me for anything, I mostly likely would make some excuse and back away as quickly as possible.
Add to that the fact that widow and her son were starving. Not, “when are we eating, I’m starving” starving, but really, “this is my last food on the planet and I hope my child dies before I do or he’ll be left alone with no one to take care of him until he dies” starving. And I don’t believe that most of us can even imagine that kind of hunger.
I know there are places in the world where people still die of malnutrition, but those places seem very far away. I have never had to look into my child’s little face and explain that this one piece of bread was all we were going to have to eat until tomorrow, knowing that there wouldn’t be anything to eat at all tomorrow.
If someone asked for some of what we had, I might share with them if I knew them, but the widow didn’t know Elijah at all. She’d never seen him before. She might have been thinking that it wouldn’t make that much of a difference if she divided the bread three ways instead of two…but that’s not what Elijah wanted.
“Elijah said to her, ‘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.’” 1 Kings 17:13
Wait, what? She just told him that was all that stood between her and her son and death, and Elijah wants it? I know, I’d like to believe that I would have done what he asked, but I live in a world where most folks don’t even stop to put a few coins in the Salvation Army bucket, never mind giving anything to a random stranger who happens to walk up to us and ask us for money.
But wait, you say, Elijah promised the widow that ‘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 17:14
If I didn’t know you (and maybe even if I did), you could probably insist all day long that God had told you something,…but I’m not sure I would ever believe it. But this is where this widow did an amazing thing! She did exactly what Elijah asked her to do. She went home, cooked that final bread and gave it to Elijah.
Did the jars of oil and flour looked empty, or did they ever look full? Or did they always have just enough to make three little loaves of bread and no more? Do you think the widow kept walking back over and rechecking the jars to make sure she hadn’t imagined seeing flour and oil in them? Did the widow ever consider maybe cooking some extra bread and selling the bread to make some extra money along the way? Apparently, if she was tempt, she didn’t give in.
“Wonderful was the hospitality shown to God’s prophet by this Phoenician woman, and wonderfully were her faith and generosity rewarded. ‘She, and he, and her house, did eat many days. And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which He spake by Elijah.’ ...The widow of Zarephath shared her morsel with Elijah; and in return, her life and that of her son were preserved. And to all who, in time of trial and want, give sympathy and assistance to others more needy, God has promised great blessing. He has not changed. His power is no less now than in the days of Elijah.”
The widow of Zarephath had more than faith, she had dangerous faith – a faith that allowed her to move beyond her fear. She knew that God would take care of her and her son, even though it didn’t’ seem safe to believe.
“One summer Aaron went to a youth camp. … it was a church camp. I figured he wasn't going to hear all those ghost stories, because ghost stories can really cause a kid to have nightmares. … they didn't tell ghost stories … they told demon and Satan stories instead. And so when Aaron got home, he was terrified.
“‘Dad, don't turn off the light!’ he said before going to bed. … Daddy, I'm afraid. They told all these stories about demons.’
And I wanted to say, ‘They're not real.’
“…‘Daddy, Daddy, would you pray for me that I would be safe?’ I could feel it. I could feel warm-blanket Christianity beginning to wrap around him, a life of safety, safety, safety.
“I said, ‘Aaron, I will not pray for you to be safe. I will pray that God will make you dangerous, so dangerous that demons will flee when you enter the room.’
“…, ‘All right. But pray I would be really, really dangerous, Daddy.’
“Have you come to that place in your own life where you stop asking God to give you a safe life, and make you a dangerous follower of Jesus Christ?”