GEMS FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT
(For context, please read 1 Kings 17:1-16)
Scripture says that Ahab was more evil than the kings before him and that he thought it was a trivial thing to walk in those sins. He overtly promoted the worship of Baal. Ahab’s apostasy signaled dark times ahead for the people.
Elijah let Ahab know that the Lord God had taken notice, and for the next three years there would be neither dew nor rain—a direct slap in the face to Baal, who supposedly ruled the sky and brought rain. God determined to save the life of Elijah from the vengeance of the king and from drought-caused famine, and He did so in some unexpected ways.
First, God sent Elijah to hide in the Cherith Ravine, where a brook flowed into the Jordan. The Lord sent ravens to keep him well fed, and there was the refreshing brook for his thirst. When the brook dried up, the Lord sent Elijah to a city in Sidon where a widow would provide for him.
Now, hold on! This is, in many ways, more unexpected than being fed by ravens.
Wasn’t there anyone he could stay with in Israel? Why Sidon? Jezebel was from Sidon. The religion there was rank idolatry, and the people were Gentiles. The prophet of the Lord God was going to be taken care of by a Gentile?
And not just a Gentile, a Gentile woman! In that society men were the caretakers upon whom the women depended. The prophet of the Lord was going to be taken care of by a woman?
Yes, God chose to save Elijah by sending him to a pagan land to be cared for by a Gentile woman. Oh, and she was also poor. One might have expected Elijah to be sent to some nice, God-fearing family of means somewhere in Israel. That would have been more comfortable and familiar in every way; but that is not what God did. Why?
Let’s go to Luke 4:16-30, where we read that Jesus entered the synagogue in Nazareth on a Sabbath Day. After reading a portion of Isaiah 61, He began to preach to the people. It began well enough, as the people all “marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth.” (v. 22) Then Jesus referenced how God had sent Elijah to Sidon to be cared for by a widow who was a Gentile; and then the episode where Naaman, also a Gentile, was healed from leprosy as directed by Elisha.
Jesus pointed out how there were many widows in Israel during the time of Elijah and many lepers during the time of Elisha. Both the widow of Zarephath and Naaman of Syria were blessed tremendously by their experiences with prophets of the Lord God. They came to know the God of Israel as the one true God. The citizens of Nazareth, however, were outraged that Jesus would reference two occasions in which the Lord God blessed Gentiles in ways that He had not blessed those in Israel. They were offended at the idea that the Lord God would love and bless outsiders—people who were not descendants of Abraham. They became so upset with Jesus that they tried to kill the rabbi Who had called Nazareth His home town.
It is no small thing that God would seek out and bless individuals with backgrounds far different from those who grew up knowing Scripture from their youth. “The Lord knows those who are His.” (2 Timothy 2:19) God was committed to keeping Elijah safe and sound to preach another day, and He was committed to giving the widow an opportunity to hear God’s Word and come to know that the “Word of the Lord…is the truth.” (1 Kings 17:24)
We rejoice that the Lord is so often blessing us in ways that exceed our expectations!
Delwyn Maas is pastor of Gift of God Lutheran Church in Mapleton, North Dakota.