The other morning as I was pondering the prevailing freeze in the world economy and where we, a company with eighty-five employees, will find ourselves in the coming months, I was prompted to take a deeper dive into the OT story of the Jewish prophet Elijah and his encounter with a widow in Zarephath. What did I find? A treasure chest of riches loaded with truth for the season of distress we currently find ourselves in. Here’s what I discovered.
Good and Evil Come to Us All
Elijah had just informed Ahab, the evil king, that there would be no rain or dew in the land for a few years. Little did Elijah anticipate that he, also, would soon be starving for food and thirsting for water. I’m reminded of the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, “He sends rain (or withholds rain) on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45b). The COVID 19 virus is no respecter of persons. There is no getting out from underneath the threat of infection, even us, His beloved children.
Even when God instructed Elijah to hide near a water laden brook where ravens providentially brought him bread and meat. Maybe he would be spared the harsh effects of the drought? No, the earth’s cisterns emptied and the brook ran dry. Another lesson to learn: even the best planning and strongest cash reserves can be no match for an epidemic of seismic proportion.
God Provides for His People
But God knows how to rescue the righteous in times of need. He leads Elijah to a widow near a town gate. She, together with her son, were expecting to die. Elijah, in appearing to add insult to injury asks the impoverished woman for a little water and a piece of bread. After letting him know she really only has a handful of flour and a little oil left, Elijah says to her:
And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” (1 Kings 17:13-14)
Although this has every appearance of Elijah putting himself at the front of the line in the middle of a drought, God has a higher purpose. By calling the widow to first share before her own needs are met, we learn a powerful truth that penetrates deep in our current situation. Are we as Jesus followers ready to be givers before we become takers? Are we ready to embrace the words of Jesus when He says, “it is more blessed to give than to receive”?
And what became of the widow? We read, “The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty.” We can never empty our pockets faster than God can fill them! Paul commended the Macedonian churches in 2 Corinthians, saying
In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. (2 Corinthians 8:2-5)
Let’s give ourselves fully to our Lord in these turbulent times so that He would fill us with the joy of salvation thereby helping us to excel in the grace of giving. He is the one that fills that ultimately can keep the vats full.
I am reminded of the time during the Russian revolution, when my great-grandmother received a care package from fellow believers while experiencing indescribable hardship in a prisoner camp on a tiny island in the Siberian gulag. What did she do? She took the contents of the package and divided them equally amongst the remaining survivors, a group of seventy-five that had begun as seven hundred and fifty. Let’s follow the example of the heroes of faith that have preceded us.
God is Drawing Us to Himself
But things don’t end there with the widow. She is launched into ultimate despair as her only son suddenly stops breathing and dies. Elijah takes him up to the room he was staying in and cries out to God to return life to the boy. God hears Elijah’s cry; the son comes back to life and the woman exclaims, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth” (1 Kings 17:24). God in His mercy and faithfulness provides another manifestation of his power to draw her into even greater reliance on him.
In the times that have come upon us, when some of us may lose our jobs, personal or corporate bank accounts run dry, or our bodies become infected with the Coronavirus, we can easily fall prey to the enemy’s whispering voice that our sin is coming home to roost and that’s it’s payback time for God. However, in all of this, God’s purpose is to draw his children into deeper fellowship, strengthen our faith and lead us to the place where we are ‘lacking in nothing’. (James 1:4)