October 14: 1 Kings 17

Gerald Bray
V. 18: And she said to Elijah: 'What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son.'

When the people of Israel first saw the land of Canaan, they realized that it was flowing with milk and honey. Compared with the wilderness in which they were journeying at the time, it seemed like a paradise, and they could not wait to enter it. But the truth is that Palestine is an arid part of the world, watered to some extent by the rivers that flow down from the mountains of Lebanon, but essentially dependent on relatively scarce and sometimes erratic rainfall. Droughts were common and if they lasted for any length of time they could be disastrous. People rarely had provisions for more than one bad season, and if the rain held off for longer than that, the land of milk and honey would soon turn into a desert.

That is what happened in the time of Elijah. God sent a drought of exceptional severity and it devastated the countryside. As a wandering prophet, Elijah felt this, because he was dependent on the generosity of others for survival. In good times people can be very generous, but in bad times they look after themselves. Even today, when there is an economic downturn, it is the church and charitable organizations that are the first to feel the effects as people rein in their giving and keep what little they have for themselves.

Faced with this situation, it is not surprising that when Elijah turned up on the doorstep of the widow of Zarephath that she saw his arrival as a burden too great for her to bear. But Elijah was not without resources of his own. He depended on her for food, but he was able to promise her that as long as she fed him, she would not do without. She took him at his words, and was blessed.

But there were other problems besides famine that she and her son had to face. Disease was common in the ancient world, and many people were struck down long before their time. This is what happened to the widow's son. He fell ill and after a short struggle, he died. The widow who had been blessed by Elijah now turned on him. So that was what he had really come for! The blessing of food was only an excuse to rob her of her son! It is easy for us to sit back and think that this was an irrational response, but people who have been struck with overwhelming grief do not act in rational ways. She was speaking from the heart, with that mixture of love for her lost son and fear for her own uncertain future that so often characterizes such tragedies.

Elijah rose to the occasion. The God who had provided food for life would surely provide life itself. He took the boy, prayed to the Lord, and his prayer was heard. The widow's son came back to life, and then she believed that Elijah was the man he claimed to be. It is all too easy to lose faith when things go badly wrong. Many people say that the death of someone close to them has destroyed their faith in a loving God and it is hard to know what to say to them. We cannot bring their loved one back to life, nor can we say why such a tragedy should have happened to them and not to others. But we can say that God will provide, and that whatever happens to us, we can trust in him for our future just as we have always trusted him in the past.