10 June 2016

1 Kings 17:8-16

“For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied …” (v. 14)

Psalm: Psalm 101


Today's passage takes place at Zarephath, just south Sidon, on the coast and outside King Ahab's influence. Elijah is told by God to go specifically to a widow and her son. Verse 12 suggests that, although a Gentile (non-Jew), the widow was a believer in the God of Israel. Why was Elijah sent?

On first reading, it might be tempting to think that Elijah was extremely selfish. Taking the widow's last handful of meal and scrapings of oil to make Elijah a little cake, at the expense of feeding her son and herself, arouses many emotions. However, what then ensues demonstrates God's bountiful provision, and what God can do when people act obediently in faith. From that moment until the end of the drought, mother and son never go hungry, because both the jar of meal and jug of oil never run out. Interestingly, Jesus 'controversially' refers to the miracle in Luke's Gospel (Luke 4:26).

Note the contrast between this Gentile woman's faith and the descendants of the people of Israel. These rebellious tribes are disrespecting the name and commandments of the God who led them to this land in the first place. Elijah's main task is to speak to these tribes of Israel, notably at this point to those in the northern lands under the leadership of King Ahab. Their continuing rebellion against God cannot go unchallenged. For Elijah, how affirming and supportive it must have been to have found this outsider, in the midst of suffering, to be 'keeping the faith' alive.

As mentioned above, the reference by Jesus to this story in Luke 4:26 is controversial. It comes after he has read from Isaiah 61:1-2 in the synagogue in Nazareth, very early in his ministry. Jesus deliberately gives two examples of prophets Elijah and Elisha who, when faced with disbelief amongst their own people, were able to do wonderful things amongst outsiders. God had 'chosen' the Israelites as the original instruments of God's own word, but that universal message of saving love and redemption includes all people.

To Ponder

  • If no-one can be outside the love of God, how does this influence who you include in your prayers?
  • Who might you 'include' today in different groups, when you would prefer to keep them on the outside?
  • Does today's Bible reading have anything to teach about welcoming strangers either personally or as a country? If so, what might that be? And how do you react to it?

Bible notes author

Michael King

Michael King is a Methodist local preacher. From 2000-2011, he was leader of the Methodist Church's World Church Relationships team, and was the vice-president of the Methodist Conference in 2012/2013.