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1 Kings 17:7-24

Do you remember the mother with a daughter who was demon-possessed and who featured in study twenty-six? She was a foreigner and is known simply as the "Syrophoenician Woman", Well, now we're going to look at the wonderful testimony of another foreigner from this same area: the region of Tyre and Sidon. Again, she has no name but, many years ago, God chose to include the story of her encounter with the prophet, Elijah, in His written word. He did so to draw us closer to Him, to encourage us and give us direction. In fact, her story has many similarities with other women in the pages of the Bible, such as the "Shunammite Woman" whose story we examined in study six. On that occasion, it was Elija's successor (Elisha) whose prayer raised a dead boy to life. Perhaps Elisha was simply copying what he had heard that Elijah had done? Then there is the widow with the copper coins, whose story we looked at in study twenty-five. They all shared a willingness to give their all when God asked it of them.

Supernatural provision

Elijah, as God's prophet, had been instructed to tell the king of Israel (Ahab) that a great drought was imminent and would last for "the next few years". (1 Kings 17:1) King Ahab had not believed him because the king worshipped Baal, a god of rain and abundance. He preferred to put his faith in Baal rather than the living God, so he was not really concerned. Immediately after delivering his message, Elijah was told to go and hide himself in the Kerith Ravine, east of the River Jordan. There he was supplied with food by ravens and was able to drink water from a brook that flowed through the ravine. When the rain duly stopped falling and the brook dried up, God told Elijah to travel away up North and over to the coast on the West - in the area that we now know as Lebanon. This was the stronghold of the cult of Baal, which Ahab had imported to Israel. There he was to find a place called Zarephath and make contact with a widow who lived there. God told Elijah that He had instructed the widow to supply him with food.

What an amazing thought: that God had it all planned well in advance for Elijah and the widow. What God commands He also enables. She was a foreigner but would undoubtedly have heard about what God had done for the Israelite nation. Nonetheless, her obedience demanded great faith. Imagine being told by God to help some foreign preacher who is going to turn up on your doorstop one day, especially when you are desperately poor yourself and getting perilously close to the end of your resources!

Simple faith - no drama

Elijah arrives in Zarephath at the eleventh hour. The woman has gone out to collect some firewood so that she can prepare a meal with the very last of her flour and oil and they meet at the town gate. Just on its own, this is a remarkable circumstance. So often, when God has called us to do something specific, He arranges things in this way. Others might see it as a "coincidence", but it is simply God's exquisite planning. Even so, it required a significant step of faith on the woman's part. Water was in short supply and she was down to her last ounce or two of flour. Elijah's simple request for a drink of water and some bread obliged her to share with him the very last of her depleted resources.

Moreover, this wasn't just about her; she had a young son, still a boy, who depended on her as well. She explains her situation to Elijah, who tells her not to worry because the living God, the God of Israel, has promised that the flour and oil will not run out until the day when He sends rain on the land once again. The woman accepts that what the man of God has told her is true and goes away, reassured, to do as he asks. She put her faith in Elijah and, through him, in the promise of the God of Israel.

What an assurance for any of us going through a trial: "Don’t be afraid"! (1 Kings 17:13) Are our words encouraging people to take on "faith projects" or are we "prophets of doom"? God calls us also to walk by faith every day in order to please Him. (Hebrews 11:6) We need to plant the seed of His word in our hearts and its growth is nurtured when we share our lives with other, faith-filled believers. (1 Timothy 4:6) As we encourage one another to walk in faith, it helps us to stay focused on solutions rather than problems, remembering that Jesus Himself is the author and perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2)

Had this woman heard stories about how the God of Israel, who had supplied His children with "manna" after they escaped from Egypt and wandered in the desert for forty years? Surely, as she saw the oil and flour being renewed daily in her own home and supplying the needs of herself, her son and Elijah, her faith in this God must have increased. What did she talk to Elijah about when cooking his meal? As she heard more about God, her faith must also have grown. How do we feel when we have been with friends who talk about all they have learned about Jesus? This really builds us up and challenges us. It is so helpful in our everyday lives to talk and share about what Jesus has done for us and is still doing in our lives. We talk so easily about clothes, houses, relationships and all the hundred and one things that fill our lives each day but, if we never think or talk about Jesus as well, we can so easily become focused on an unhealthy desire for more "stuff" and fail to see the needs of others around us.

Resurrection

The faith in the one, true God that was growing in this woman's heart was about to face a severe test. Her son becomes ill. His condition quickly worsens until he stops breathing. Her first reaction was to blame herself, thinking that the presence of the man of God with her had somehow exposed her sinfulness and resulted in the death of her son. She had forgotten that, all too recently, both of them had been facing death by starvation. This was clearly far more serious, but Elijah is there, bringing with him the presence of God, even in this stronghold of the Enemy. Elijah realises that only God can restore the boy's life, so he calls upon Him to do so. He covers the boy's body with his own to allow the power of God in him to pass directly into the boy. God answers Elijah's prayer and the boy's life is restored.

This is the first recorded instance in the Bible of a dead person being raised to life again. Some see it as God preparing Elijah for the coming test against the prophets of Baal that he was about to face. The nation of Israel was spiritually dead. If God could raise to life the body of a dead foreigner, from the very heartland where Baal was worshipped, He could also raise to life the nation of Israel. This experience of trusting in God's leading and having his prayers answered must have given Elijah great confidence when he later faced the trial by sacrifice with the prophets of Baal. (1 Kings 18:16-40)

For the widow of Zarephath, this must also have been a tremendous experience of God's love and power. God had done great things for her, despite her not having been one of His "chosen people" and living in the heart of enemy country. Often our own faith becomes deeper when it is stretched in a time of difficulty. It gives us an opportunity to show to God our genuine love for Him. (1 Peter 1:6-7) Faith that remains after a test is purified. (1 Peter 4:12-13) She would certainly have been a different woman after her experience of God's daily provision and then the resurrection of her son. She confirms her new relationship with Jehovah, the God of Israel, by declaring: "Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth". (1 Kings 17:24) What a victory for this woman: provision, resurrection and salvation! And her story is recorded for later generations to learn from. Jesus Himself even makes mention of her specifically when talking about Elijah. (Luke 4:26)

Sowing and reaping

There is a great challenge here to give hospitality, even in the depth of poverty. If God asks us to entertain someone, we cannot refuse, even if we have only our last resources to share. When she was giving Elijah the last of her food, this generous widow did not realise that she was, in fact, sowing seeds of provision into the good soil of Elijah and his work for God. She must later have heard the outcome of Elijah's great contest with the prophets of Baal and stopped to reflect on how his time with her and her son and helped to prepare him for what lay ahead. Her faith must have been so strong after all they had been through together.

Giving to others is like planting seed. That "seed" may be money, time, talents, food, clothing or hospitality - just about anything that we give and do not expect to see again. When the seed is sown, it grows up... always. God's economy always works perfectly every time. If you sow into good soil - good seed with good water - you're going to have good growth and a good return. So give cheerfully, in faith, and surround it with praise and worship, saying: "Lord, I bring my gift to you and I give myself to you, body, soul and spirit, as a living sacrifice." (Romans 12:1) Then pray over your specific seed, reminding God of His word concerning your situation. Fill it with faith, then plant it! It's guaranteed to grow up and warm the heart of the Father, to be a blessing to the receiver and give you an abundant harvest.

Jesus went to a lot of trouble to help us understand the power of sowing and reaping, ultimately sowing His own life so that we could reap eternal life. In the parable of the sower, He pointed out that it is the key to understanding all His parables. (Mark 4:3-25) The principle of reaping and sowing is a key to laying the foundation for a very successful life in the future. (Mark 4:13) For Jesus' teaching, the seed is likened to the word of God. All the different kinds of ground got the same seed, but they used it in different ways.

The parable of the sower

Round the edge of the field is the path, where there is no soil. (Mark 4:3) This represents people who are totally unresponsive to God's word, be it preached, shared, seen in creation, or through the many different circumstances in which God tries to speak to them.

Then there are the rocky places. (Mark 4:5-6) Here, there is a tiny amount of soil in which the seed can make a very small root. This is a picture of the hearts of those who receive God's word and get excited at first, but find that their situation doesn't improve or they get gossiped against and, before long, their faith withers away.

Next come the seeds that are sown among thorns. (Mark 4:7) These describe the lives of those who receive God's word but allow it to be suffocated and choked by the cares and anxieties of the world and the distractions that surround them all the time. When it comes to making a choice, God's word is lost under a welter of other possibilities.

But the best part of the field is sown with seed that goes into good soil and produces thirty, sixty, or a hundred times as much as was planted. (Mark 4:8) This represents the hearts of those who receives God's word, act on it, feed it, nurture it and believe it so that it can bring forth fruit in abundance. (2 Timothy 2:4)

Sowing God's word

Seed always produces according to its own kind: tomato seeds produce tomatoes, apple seeds produce apples. No one can get apples from sowing a tomato seed. So the widow gave food and was supplied with her meals. Seeds need the right kind of soil and the right depth of soil for the seeds to become established. They need the right surroundings in order to grow because they need light, heat and nutrients. Light allows them to breathe and grow, heat encourages growth and the nutrients from good soil make them fruitful and strong.

The all-powerful, living word of God is a priceless treasure. Through the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, we must do everything to plant it firmly in our own hearts and into the lives of others. We need to decide that we are going to hold onto that word, come what may. Let's not be "stony ground" Christians! The best way to be good soil is to get truly excited about God's word. We get excited about whatever we focus on the most! Just as there is amazing power within a tiny seed to become a very fruitful tree, so it is the same with the word of God. When it is planted by faith in our heart, it will bear fruit in an abundance of blessings and more faith. Let's cancel the papers for a week, turn off the television and spend all our spare time in the Bible. We will have our own revival! Watch while the tiny seed inside our hearts bears amazing fruit. God will cause desires and actions to rise up inside us and give us the strength to obey His word. He will show us good works that He has designed for us to do and His way of doing them. They might not be spectacular, but they will bear abundant fruit for the kingdom of God.

All the time we are feeding our spirits with His word, we are planting seeds of health, wholeness and victory in our lives. The Bible is not an ordinary book. It has spiritual seeds of supernatural power. But we must be good soil: planting it, watering and feeding it; not letting the thorns grow up. Go around every day with the most effective weed killer: praise and worship!

There is no greater need today than to make the word of God the priority in our lives. (Luke 13:18-19)

  • If you sow love, you will reap love.
  • If you sow faith, you will reap faith.
  • If you sow joy, you will reap joy.
  • If you sow harmony, you will reap harmony.
  • If you sow faithfulness, you will reap faithfulness.

 

  • If you sow love, you will not reap hatred.
  • If you sow faith, you will not reap fear.
  • If you sow joy, you will not reap sorrow.
  • If you sow harmony, you will not reap strife.
  • If you sow faithfulness, you will not reap unfaithfulness.

Every seed produces according to its own kind. (Genesis 1:11-12) Don't forget: seed takes time to bear fruit but, eventually, given the right conditions, it will.

"Give, and [gifts] will be given to you; a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will they pour into [the pouch formed by] the bosom [of your robe and used as a bag]. For, with the measure you deal out [with the measure you use when you confer benefits on others], it will be measured back to you". (Luke 6:38 - Amplified Version)

This sums up the widow of Zarephath’s life. It is a daily challenge to us to walk with Jesus, moment by moment, being led by His Spirit. Let us feed God's word, planted in our hearts, and give our all, that others might live eternally.


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