The Biblical introduction to Elijah is abrupt, almost startling. “Now Elijah the Tishbite, from the Gilead settlers, said to Ahab, ‘As the Lord God of Israel lives, in whose presence I stand, there will be no dew or rain during these years except by my command!’ ”(1 Kings 17:1). A nobody from nowhere bounded into the king’s court and confronted the evil monarch with God’s prophecy and promise. “Carefully obey my commands… Be careful that you are not enticed to turn aside, serve, and bow in worship to other gods. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you. He will shut the sky, and there will be no rain” (Deuteronomy 11:13–17). “Because of your disobedience and outright rebellion, God is sending judgment upon you and your kingdom! It’s gonna be a long dry spell!”
Ahab had thumbed his nose at God by doing “what was evil in the Lord’s sight more than all who were before him. Then, as if following the sin of Jeroboam son of Nebat were not enough, he married Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and then proceeded to serve Baal and bow in worship to him … Ahab did more to anger the Lord God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (1 Kings 16:30–33).
With the drought and famine boldly proclaimed, God directed Elijah to hide by a remote brook where God made miraculous provision. “The ravens kept bringing him bread and meat in the morning and in the evening, and he would drink from the wadi”(1 Kings 17:6). Takeout… straight from heaven!
When the brook dried up, God did something unusual and unexpected. “The word of the Lord came to him: ‘Get up, go to Zarephath that belongs to Sidon and stay there. Look, I have commanded a woman who is a widow to provide for you there’ ” (1 Kings 17:8–9).
Zarephath was a tiny village on the Mediterranean seacoast just south of Sidon. The twin cities of Tyre and Sidon were Phoenician, north of Israelite territory. They were pagan civilizations that gave rise to the worship of Baal. And, who was Sidon’s favorite son, or should I say, favorite daughter? The evil, wicked, nasty, blood-thirsty Jezebel, the one who was leading the bloody purge of those who worshipped the Lord (1 Kings 18:13).
Jezebel’s daddy was the king of Sidon, so it seems odd that God would direct Elijah to travel to Zarephath. First, because it would require Elijah to traverse Ahab’s empire where the prophet was wanted, dead or alive… preferably dead. And second, Elijah would be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. He was going to Jezebel’s back yard.
When Elijah walked into Zarephath, he saw a widow gathering firewood. She was so impoverished that she planned to bake a biscuit with her last morsel of flour and oil, then holding her small son in her arms, they would die of starvation.
Rather brusquely, Elijah called to the widow, “please bring me a cup of water and some bread” (1 Kings 17:10–11). Then, more compassionately, Elijah spoke God’s words. “Don’t be afraid … this is what the Lord God of Israel says, ‘The flour jar will not become empty and the oil jug will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the surface of the land.’ ” (1 Kings 17:13-14). “No matter how many cakes you bake, you won’t find the bottom of the flour bin!”
God sent His prophet to a distant land to provide for a poor unnamed widow. He met her needs during the harshest drought and famine. That’s grace.