The key to understanding the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8-16) appears to be “the word of the Lord.” The phrase first occurs at the beginning of the story where God tells Elijah to go to Zarephath to a widow who will feed him. Then at the end of the story there is another reference to “the word of the Lord” that came to Elijah.
Bracketed by these two instances of the same phrase, the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath demonstrates “the word of the Lord” in action. God’s word is faithful.
So far, so good. But what is often overlooked in this story is that the word of the Lord does not come only to Elijah. A careful reading of the passage reveals another detail: the word of the Lord had also come to the widow of Zarephath. In verse 9, the narrator records God’s own words: “for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”
No wonder the woman willingly brings water to Elijah and even bakes him a cake before she makes one for herself and for her son. God had spoken to her, prepared her, moved her to feed the prophet of Israel.
In this story, I see that
- God’s word transcends geography, not confined to religious places like the temple, but comes even to the small Phoenician town of Zarephath;
- God’s word reaches the poor who have little to eat;
- God’s word comes to ordinary people of faith, not only to prophets, priests, and other religious leaders;
- God’s word breaks through ethnic and cultural barriers, unbound by family background or culture or race.
Like the widow of Zarephath, we too may live quietly, away from the official centres of religious life and power, occupied with the daily work of making a living and caring for our households. We too may be unnamed and ordinary, poor or ethnic minority. Yet we too may receive the word of the Lord, for God is faithful.
Adapted from Remember Lot’s Wife and Other Unnamed Women of the Bible.