Bread. Who doesn’t like bread? In just about every culture it is a common table food. The categories of bread are endless, from a loaf, flatbread, tortilla, pita, naan, challah, and so on. If it has at least flour and water involved—it’s bread!
This begins our journey into the life of our anonymous woman, the widow of Zarephath. Her testimony is found in 1 Kings 17. It is a testimony because the two people in the story are tested in their faith and obedience. The outcome of their test is one that produces a miracle that teaches them about God’s faithfulness and life. More importantly, that God can be revealed to anyone, including one who is not Hebrew, but a gentile.
This is the same chapter that we are introduced to the prophet Elijah. Elijah is a man from Tishbe, in Gilead. Geographically, today it would on the side of the Jordan river that is in the country of Jordan. Somewhere between the sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret) and the Dead sea. Elijah encounters Israel’s king at the time, Ahab. This was during the time that Israel was divided into two kingdoms, Judah and Israel. The kingdom of Israel was the northern region. Elijah tells King Ahab that a drought is coming and it will last for a few years (1 Kings 17:1). God then instructs Elijah to go to the Kerith Brook near the Jordan river and drink from the brook and where He will command the ravens to feed him. Side note, that right there is a test. Who would eat food brought by a scavenger bird? This was Elijah’s first test of obedience. We don’t know what kind of food the ravens brought, but it was probably not steak and potatoes.
Eventually the brook dried up and it was then God instructed Elijah to make his way to Zarephath. Zarephath was located on the coast in Phoenicia (currently Lebanon), 8 miles south of Sidon and 14 miles north of Tyre. The city today is called Sarafand. If one was to drive it now, it’s about a 6-hour drive, but in Elijah’s time this would have been about a 3-day journey. Why in the world would God have Elijah travel that far, especially in a time when water was scarce. But the fact remains, He did and this was another test of obedience. God was teaching Elijah to trust.
Elijah arrives at the village gates of Zarephath and sees a woman collecting sticks. She was probably a young woman as her son is a child. We don’t know how her husband died, but she was preparing for her and her son to join him in death. God had already engaged this woman. We don’t know how, especially since she was a Phoenician woman, a Canaanite, and worshiped other gods. God had gone before Elijah and instructed her (some translations say commanded, just like He commanded the ravens) to feed him. The first question he asks of her is for a cup of water and then asks for a bite of bread. She responds to him “As the Lord your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” (1 Kings 17:12) We see here, she doesn’t know God personally as she refers to Him as “your God” at least she is willing. The problem is, she doesn’t have enough for the three of them, not to mention, most bread recipes call for more than two ingredients and she doesn’t mention that.
Elijah tells her not to be afraid, but if she feeds him first, then she will have enough for her and her son. (This is the principle in tithing as well. If we give God a tenth off the top, then we will have enough.) He goes on to say, “For thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.’” (1 Kings 17:14).
It was her obedience to this stranger’s God that her needs are met, continuously. She was able to feed her entire household for many days as well as Elijah. She even invited Elijah to stay in her home. This bread that she had made was life-giving bread. Only two ingredients flour and oil produced a miracle. But those weren’t the only ingredients used that allowed them all to continue living in the blessing. The most important ingredients used were “faith and obedience.” That’s right these two ingredients will produce more in one’s life than anything else.
Jesus calls himself bread. John 6:36 he says, “‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.’” When we put our faith to the test, and are obedient to Jesus, he will lead us through the droughts and famines that life can bring. Sometimes, like Elijah, we will have to go to places that don’t seem logical. Why would God send Elijah to a widow, especially because most widows had nothing and it’s really the man’s responsibility to provide for the widow or woman for that matter. Could it be that because she was living in a pagan village that a man staying at a woman’s house would not be unusual? This is similar to when Joshua sent the two spies to scout out Jericho and they end up hiding in Rahab’s house, the home of a prostitute (Joshua 2:1).
Sometime later, this widow’s son becomes ill (1 Kings 17:17). Elijah is still living in her home. This is the second time she needs a life-giving miracle. She has probably been learning about who God is because of having Elijah in her home. She cries out to Elijah and asks if it’s because of him, her son is dying. She recognizes her own sin and wonders if that’s why she is facing the death of her son. Elijah takes the child from her arms and carries him upstairs to his room. He lays the boy on his bed then stretches himself over the boy 3 times and cries out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him.” (1 Kings 17:21). This was another exercise of faith building for Elijah. Could it be that God sent Elijah to this woman to prepare him for the great acts of faith that were going to be required of him in the future? Did you know that Zarephath in Hebrew means “to smelt or to melt.?” It was a place of refining. God heard Elijah’s prayer and revived the child. When he brought the boy to his mother, she responded by saying, “‘Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth.’” (1 Kings 17:24) She now believed in the living God!
This is not only a testimony of God raising up a man of God, but reaching out to the gentile. Just like the two ingredients used to make bread, flour and oil, God used two people from different cultures in this story to reveal His glory. There are only two kinds of people on the earth, believers and unbelievers. It is God’s desire for all of mankind to be a part of His family. One day when Jesus is teaching in the synagogue. Teaching the people while his own people in Nazareth rejected him (unbelievers), he talks about a prophet not having honor in his hometown. He reminds the people of this widow. Her testimony of a living God who gives life to the Jew and the gentile. He tells them there were many widows in Israel at that time, but only the widow in Zarephath was willing to care for Elijah during the three year and 6 month famine (Luke 4:25-26). God sent Jesus as the main ingredient to eternal life. The bread that we have been given that was brought through the the Jewish people that even the gentile would be saved. Just like the widow fed her whole household, which likely included extended family, God’s desire is that His son, the Bread of Life, would feed the whole world.
As mentioned earlier in this story, it takes more than two ingredients to make any kind of bread. Even bread without yeast, salt and water are necessary. Jesus is the “living water” (John 4:13) and we are the salt (John 5:13). We see there’s a partnership here. There is so much to be said about this woman’s testimony. Her importance to God’s big story continues to build faith for those who find themselves in challenging times. Any one of us could insert our name in her story. God uses the most common of ingredients, people to work out His plan along with the main ingredient, Jesus. Even if there’s just a little faith, it can lead to the greatest miracle that one can experience, eternal life. You too can share a bite of the Bread of Life with those around you. It’s the greatest life changing miracle that one will experience.
Ingredients for a long life!
Joshua 1:9, NLT: This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
Deuteronomy 7:9, NLT: Understand, therefore, that the LORD your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.
Psalm 33:4, NKJV: For the word of the LORD is right, And all His work is done in truth.
Psalm 37:25, NLT: Once I was young, and now I am old. Yet I have never seen the godly abandoned or their children begging for bread.
Jeremiah 29:11-13, NKJV: For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.
Jeremiah 30:17, NKJV: “For I will restore health to you And heal you of your wounds,’ says the LORD, ‘Because they called you an outcast saying: “This is Zion; No one seeks her.”’
Lamentations 3:22-23, NLT: The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease.
23 Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.
Luke 6:38, NKJV: Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”
Luke 21:1-4, NLT: While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. 2 Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins. 3 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. 4 For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.”
Philippians 4:19, NKJV: And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
Hebrews 13:2, NLT: Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!
2 Timothy 2:13, NKJV: If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.