A POOR widow hugs her boy, her only child. She cannot believe what she is seeing. Just a short time earlier, she had gently held his lifeless body in her arms. Now the woman looks at her resurrected son and is thrilled to see his smile. Her houseguest says: “See, your son is alive.”
That emotional resurrection happened 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? We do not know her name, but she is a widow living in the town of Zarephath. The resurrection of her son was an event in her life that truly strengthened her faith. As we read more about her, we will learn some very important lessons.
ELIJAH FINDS A WIDOW WHO HAS FAITH
Jehovah had decided that there would be a long drought in Israel in the days of wicked King Ahab. When the drought began, God hid Elijah from Ahab and miraculously fed the prophet by using ravens to bring meat and bread for him to eat. Then Jehovah 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.”
When Elijah arrived at Zarephath, he saw a poor widow collecting pieces of wood. Was she the woman who would give food to the prophet? How could she do so, since she was so poor? Even if he had any doubts, Elijah began a conversation with the woman. He said: “Please, 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 Kings 17:10, 11) The widow was not worried about giving this stranger a drink, but giving him bread was a problem.
She replied: “As surely as Jehovah your God is living, 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 Kings 17:12) What can we learn from this conversation?
The widow could see that Elijah was an Israelite who served God. We know this because she said: “As surely as Jehovah your God is living.” It seems that even though she knew some things about Israel’s God, she was not serving him. She did not refer to Jehovah as “my God.” She lived in Zarephath, a town that belonged to the Phoenician city of Sidon. It is very likely that many Baal worshippers lived in Zarephath. However, Jehovah noticed something special in the heart of this widow.
Although the poor widow of Zarephath lived in an area where many people worshipped idols, she showed faith in Jehovah. He sent Elijah to the widow to help both her and the prophet. We can learn a very important lesson from this.
Not all those who lived in Zarephath were completely corrupt. By sending Elijah to this widow, Jehovah showed that He notices sincere people who are not yet serving Him. Yes, “in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
How many people who live in your territory are like the widow of Zarephath? Although they may be surrounded by members of false religion, they may want something better. They may have little or no knowledge of Jehovah and need help to accept true worship. Are you searching for and helping such people?
“FIRST MAKE ME A SMALL ROUND LOAF OF BREAD”
Think about 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.’”
You can imagine what some people might have said: ‘Give away our last meal? You must be joking.’ But that was not this widow’s reaction. Even though she did not know much about Jehovah, she believed Elijah and did what he asked of her. This request was a huge test of faith. But what a wise decision she made!
God did not abandon that poor widow. Just as Elijah promised, Jehovah added to her supply of food so that there was enough to feed Elijah, her, and her son until the drought ended. Yes, “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 Kings 17:16; 18:1) If that woman had acted differently, the loaf of bread that she made from her small supply of flour and oil might have become her last meal. But she showed faith, trusted in Jehovah, and fed Elijah first.
A lesson that we can learn from this is that God blesses those who show faith in him. Jehovah will help you if you trust in him when your integrity is tested. He will be a Provider, a Protector, and a Friend in order to help you endure.
In 1898, an article in Zion’s Watch Tower taught this lesson: If the widow had faith and obeyed Elijah, she would receive Jehovah’s help. If she did not show faith in Jehovah, then another widow might have been chosen who would. The article went on to say that it is the same for us. Sometimes Jehovah allows our faith in him to be tested. If we have faith, it said, “we will get the blessing; if we do not [have faith], we will lose it.”
When we suffer trials, we need to look for Jehovah’s guidance in the Scriptures and in our publications. Then we should follow Jehovah’s direction, no matter how difficult it may be to accept. We will be greatly blessed if we do what this wise proverb says: “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.”
THE WIDOW GOES THROUGH ANOTHER TRIAL
Another trial was going to test the widow’s faith. The Bible account says: “After these things, the son of the woman who owned the house fell sick, and his sickness became so severe that he stopped breathing.” Trying to find a reason why this tragedy happened, 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 Kings 17:17, 18) What do those bitter words mean?
Did the woman remember a past sin that bothered her conscience? Did she think that her son’s death was punishment from God and that Elijah was God’s messenger of death? The Bible does not tell us, but we know this: The widow did not accuse God of doing anything wrong.
Elijah must have been shocked by both the death of the widow’s son and the idea that the prophet somehow caused it. Elijah carried the boy’s limp body to the roof chamber and 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?” It deeply upset Elijah to think that Jehovah’s name would be dishonored if this kind and hospitable woman was allowed to suffer even more. So Elijah begged: “O Jehovah my God, please, let this child’s life come back into him.”
“SEE, YOUR SON IS ALIVE”
Jehovah was listening. The widow had shown faith and had cared for Elijah’s needs. It seems that God allowed the boy to die because He knew that this resurrection, the first one recorded in the Scriptures, would give hope to millions in the future. Jehovah listened to Elijah’s prayer and brought the child back to life. Imagine the widow’s great joy 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.”
The account in 1 Kings chapter 17 says no more about this woman. However, Jesus spoke well of her, so she may have become a faithful servant of Jehovah. (Luke 4:25, 26) Her story teaches us that God blesses those doing good to his servants. (Matthew 25:34-40) It proves that God takes care of those who are faithful to him, even when they are enduring very difficult trials. (Matthew 6:25-34) This account also shows us that Jehovah has the desire and the ability to resurrect the dead. (Acts 24:15) Surely these are excellent reasons for remembering the widow of Zarephath.