Unnamed Heroines of Scripture: The Widow of Zarephath

There are many well-known women in Scripture who are remembered for their Christ-like attributes. Who hasn’t heard of Mary, who is known for her worship, and Martha, for her service, or Esther, who is greatly admired for her courage? But what of those women whose identity is concealed in anonymity? Are there not spiritual and practical lessons to be learned from them as well?

We will take a look into the life of an obscure widow abiding in Zarephath, which means a place of refining. Refining is exactly what Elijah, a prophet of God, needed before he would take a stand for God before wicked king Ahab and the prophets of Baal. God knows what we need and when we need it, as well as those who have made themselves available to provide that need. To the condemnation of the many widows in Israel, God chose to use a poor, Gentile widow who was willing to give all that she had.

In 1 Kings 17, Elijah is first introduced as God’s prophet. His name means “Jehovah is my God,” which is expressive of the truth that was preached and practiced his entire life. He springs onto the scene at a time of Israel’s departure from God. They had immersed themselves in idolatry and immorality. God had raised up Elijah to direct His people to repent and return to the Lord. A spiritual drought was the result of Israel’s idolatry, and now God would use a physical drought to bring them to repentance and restore Israel to Himself. “For whom the LORD loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights” (Pro 3:12 NKJV).

At the onset of the drought, God directed Elijah to the brook Cherith that is before the Jordan River and commanded the ravens to feed him there. (If you have ever witnessed ravens feeding on roadkill, you will observe that they are not known for sharing.) Elijah obeyed God’s word, and the ravens fed him bread and meat twice daily. God miraculously sustained Elijah there until the brook dried up. Next, God would direct Elijah to a widow for his provision. How humbling it would be for Elijah to be fed by unclean birds and then a poor, unclean (Gentile) widow. This teaches us that God can use anybody, such as a tender-hearted Josiah or even a hard-hearted Pharaoh, to do His good will.

Elijah obediently went to Zarephath, about a 100-mile journey, and encountered a widow woman at the gate of the city. Perhaps to determine if this was the woman to whom God had sent him, he first asked her to retrieve water to satisfy his thirst. As she began to go for water, he also asked her for a morsel of bread to satisfy his hunger. She revealed to Elijah that all that remained in her possession was a handful of meal and a little oil in a jar. When Elijah arrived, she had been preparing her last meal with her son before they would die of starvation. She had literally reached the bottom of the barrel. Elijah calmed her fear and told her to “make me a little cake first.” In this request we can all learn a valuable lesson.

God Is First

If we are to see God’s blessing in our lives and in the assemblies, then God must have first place. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mat 6:33).[1] God must be first in our living. “Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase” (Pro 3:9). God must also be first in our giving. This poor widow, possessing very little, was willing to give all that she had to sustain God’s prophet. She was then given assurance from the Lord through Elijah that there would be no lack of meal and oil through the remainder of the drought. In this promise we learn our second valuable lesson.

God Is Faithful

The Lord says, “Them that honour me I will honour” (1Sa 2:30). God is no man’s debtor. Try as we may, we can never out-give God. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom 8:32). God always keeps His word.

When the poor widow obeyed the word of Elijah and served him first, God was faithful to His promise. “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” (1Ki 17:16). Each day this widow would be reminded of God’s promise as she retrieved the necessary ingredients for their next meal. Similar to the manna, God proved Himself faithful and sufficiently provided for all, one day at a time. God supplies as the needs arise. Now they would all learn the greatest lesson of all.

God Is Infallible

They had all been faithful to God and God was faithful to them. Suddenly, her son became sick and died. Was this divine retribution for her past sins? she may have wondered. Make no mistake, God makes no mistakes! At times the Lord may lead us into circumstances which don’t make sense to us. It is then that we must lean upon His promises. “As for God, his way is perfect” (Psa 18:30). Even when we’re faithful, trials will come to test our confidence in God and to give Him opportunity to prove His good and perfect will.

Releasing her dead son from her grasp, Elijah took him up to the room where he had slept. He stretched himself over the child three times and cried out to God to restore his life. The Lord heard and answered his prayer. Elijah returned the child to his mother and said, “See, thy son lives!” God had manifested His power in resurrection. She acknowledged Elijah as a man of God whose word is truth. This poor Gentile woman showed faith in the God of Israel.

The Bible is filled with unnamed and unsung heroes of the faith. Some are referred to as maids, messengers or servants. May we follow the example of this poor widow and give all that we have in service for the Lord, and may God continue to refine and mold us until His work is done and we are conformed to the likeness of His Son.

[1] All remaining Scripture quotations are from the KJV.