Doing Right Pays Off

(Blessed for Faithfulness)

1 Kings 17:8-16

October 13

Background Reading: 1 Kings 17:1-24
Devotional Reading: Proverbs 3:1-10

Keep in Mind:

“The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah.”  1 Kings 17:16

Lesson Aim:

TELL how the widow of Zarepath was blessed for her faithfulness to do as the prophet instructed her;
FEEL confident that God can reward sacrificial faithfulness; and
PLAN ways to support people and causes as acts of faithfulness to God.

Background

In their first iteration, the books of 1 and 2 Kings were a single literary work meant to provide a continuous account of Israel’s history after the death of David, the second king of Israel.  God blessed David and his descendants and Jesus was part of his lineage.  In Hebrews texts, 1 and 2 Kings were divided into separate books during the Middle Ages under the influence of earlier Greek and Latin translations, which saw them as the continuation of the history of Israelite kingship beginning in 1 Samuel.  In Jewish tradition, they are part of the division of the Bible called the Former Prophets which includes Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings.  Together the books of the Former Prophets recount the history of Israel from the conquest of Canaan to the end of the monarchy and the beginning of exile.

The theological concern of these books is worship that was meant to happen at the temple in Jerusalem.  In 1 and 2 Kings, the rulers are assessed based on their adherence to regular worship in Jerusalem and their commitment to worshiping only the God of Israel.  For example, Ahab became king of Israel and did more evil things than all the kings before him (1 Kings 16:29-30).  Ahab and his wife Jezebel angered God by worshiping Baal.  In an abrupt introduction to the prophet, Elijah tells Ahab that there would be a drought in Israel (1 Kings 17:1).  The three-year drought proved the efficacy of God over Baal.  (Baal was a storm god who was believed to bring rain and fertility to the land).  God then commands Elijah to go live in Zarephath, which was in the heartland of the Baal cult (1 Kings 17:8-16).  God told Elijah that a widow there would feed him.  The story focuses on Elijah’s ability to perform miracles, but it also demonstrates the way God cares for those who love and serve Him. 

Lesson Commentary:

Encounter at the Gate (1 Kings 17:8-10, NRSV)

8Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying,
9"Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you."
10So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, "Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink."

Although there was a drought in Israel, God had always provided Elijah with meat, bread, and water.  God tells Elijah to go to Zarepath on the Phoenician coast south of Sidon (1 Kings 17:8-9).  It is a highly charged location for Elijah to visit because it is in the heartland of the Baal cult.  While there, Elijah learns God had commanded a widow to feed him.  Although in the ancient world hospitality would have demanded that the widow open her door to a stranger, she had no means to care for herself because she lacked the economic support her husband had provided.  Since the king did not provide for her, the widow was soon to become improvised.  In the midst of a drought, here is a woman who had so little and could not acquire resources for herself or her household because she was a widow, and she is the one Elijah asks to bring him some water to drink.  Elijah faithfully travelled into enemy territory and asks for resources from a woman who had very little to give.  

1.     What does Elijah’s commitment to following God and their shared commitment to caring for each other teach us about hospitality? 

Confronting the Fear (1 Kings 17:11-13, NRSV)

11As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, "Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand."
12But she said, "As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die."
13Elijah said to her, "Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son.

Just as the hospitable widow went to get water for Elijah to drink, he asked her to bring him some bread as well.  At this, she refuses his request.  She tells the prophet that she only has a handful of meal in a jar and a bit of oil.  Before his arrival, she had planned to cook her remaining meal in the rest of her oil for herself and her son.  After they ate it, they planned to die.  In the face of such dire conditions, it seems that the prophet would have left her alone. She only had a bit of food left and as a widow, she lacked the means to gain additional resources in the future.  The social expectations of the ancient world made women depend on the men in their lives to gain the resources they needed.  Even though Elijah was a man, he could not provide fro her, nut Elijah knew that the God of Israel was a provider.  He lessened her fear, promising that after she had made something for him, she and her son would still have enough.  

1.     What does this story reveal about the way God can provide for us even when we believe we have nothing left to give? 

God Provides Enough (1 Kings 17:14-16, NRSV)

14For thus says the LORD the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth."
15She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days.
16The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah. 

Although the widow had so little meal left in her jar, Elijah assured her that the jar would not be emptied and that the jug of oil would not fail until the drought was over.  She did as Elijah commanded her, and she and her household had food to eat for many days as the Lord had promised them.  The widow lived in Baal territory, and the Scripture does not reveal whether she believed in Israel’s God, but her wording to Elijah “the LORD your God” (verse 12) would imply the Lord was not also her God.  In this case, though, she listened to a prophet of the Lord and she was never without.  When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He taught them to ask for their daily bread, and the story of a widow who had so little yet received daily provision for herself and her household challenges us to be faithful to God, believing that God will provide what we need for each day.  

1.     What happens to the widow when she releases her fear of not having enough and surrenders to the will of God?  What might her witness have revealed to those who encountered her during the drought?

2.     What evidence in the Scripture demonstrates the extreme situation the woman is facing?

3.     Why did the widow do what this stranger, Elijah, instructed?

Lesson in Our Society

Many of us can relate to the feeling that we do not have enough to provide for ourselves and the people we love.  Many of us have encountered financial hardships.  Most of us have survived large and small natural disasters that impacted our quality of life.  In those moments, it feels like it is all we can do to take care of our own needs.  Some of us even feel like the widow in our Scripture for today, ready to use the scant resources we have left and then accept death, and yet, God provides.  The challenge this Scripture indicated that even in the midst of our struggles, there are people we are called to serve.  If you are enduring hardship right now, know that if you are faithful to God, God will bring you through every challenge; pray that you will be a source of hope, joy, and encouragement to others even amid your personal storm.  

Daily Bible Readings

 Monday: Keep God’s Commandments – Proverbs 3:1-10
Tuesday: On the Mountain with Jesus – Matthew 17:1-7
Wednesday: Prophetic Examples of Faithfulness – Luke 4:24-30
Thursday: Paul in Faithfulness Restores Life – Acts 20:7-12
Friday: God-sent Raven Feeds Elijah – 1 Kings 17:1-7
Saturday: Elijah Restores Life to Widow’s Son – 1 Kings 17:17-24
Sunday: Widow’s Faithfulness Rewarded – 1 Kings 17:8-16

 

Sources:

Achtemeier, Paul J. Harper's Bible Dictionary. 1st ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985.

Biblical Studies Press: The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006.

Brown, Raymond E., S. S., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S. J.; Roland E. Murphy, O Carm. The Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.

DeVries, Simon J., Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 12, 1 Kings. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2015

Dummelow, J. R., M.A. Rev. The One Volume Bible Commentary. New York: The Macmillan Company Publishers, 1961.

House, Paul R.: 1, 2 Kings. electronic ed. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1995 (Logos Library System; The New American Commentary 8).

James Orr, M.A., D.D., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Electronic Edition, Parsons Technology, Inc., Cedar Rapids, Iowa 1998.

Keck Leander E., The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Volume II: Introduction to Narrative Literature, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1& 2 Chronicles, New York: Abingdon Press, 2015

Morris, William, ed., Dictionary of the English Language, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981.

Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Hrsg.): The Pulpit Commentary: 1 Kings. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004

Strong, James, Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries, Electronic Edition STEP Files, QuickVerse, a division of Findex.com, Inc., Omaha, Nebraska. 2003.

Vine, W.E. Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Edited by Merrill F. Unger and William White Jr., Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996.