In my last blog, I pointed out that the Lord said that those we would expect to be open to the teachings of His Word often are not, and that those who are open are often those whom we would not expect to be. Those who preach the message of grace find this to be true.
As examples of this principle, the Lord used two Gentiles in the OT (Luke 4:24-27). In this blog, I would like to look at the first example–a widow in the town of Zarephath, in the region of Sidon. Her story is found in 1 Kgs 17:8-24.
This widow lives in the days of Elijah the prophet. The Nation of Israel has fallen deeply into sin. The evil king Ahab, and his even more evil queen Jezebel, have led the nation into idolatry and all the depravity that brings.
The Jews are a privileged people. They have the Scriptures, in which the true God has been revealed. In their history, God has shown that He is the only God and that they are His chosen people. They know of His power. His temple is located in Judah, among their relatives to the south.
Out of love, the Lord disciplines His people for their sin in order that they will repent, thus allowing Him to bless them. He sends Elijah the prophet for this purpose, and the prophet performs many miracles to show that his message is from God. One of those miracles is a drought that lasts three-and-a-half years. This should get the attention of the Jews in Israel.
But it doesn’t. Elijah is then told by the Lord to go to Gentile country, to a town called Zarephath, in the area of Sidon (v 9). There, he will stay with a pagan widow.
The woman has been impacted by the drought. She and her child are about to starve to death. But through Elijah, God miraculously provides her with food. The Lord gives her a supply of food that will never run out.
But God does even more. Her child dies. Through Elijah, the boy rises from the dead.
How does the woman respond to all of this? Even at the beginning of her dealings with Elijah, she states that the God whom Elijah serves is the Lord who lives (v 12). She obeys everything that Elijah tells her to do regarding what little food she has.
When her son dies, she goes to Elijah. She acknowledges that he is a “man of God” (v 18). When her son is resurrected, the story ends with a great confession on her part. She says, “I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth” (v 24).
This woman lives in a land filled with idols. The temple of the Lord is not located in her country. She is not a part of God’s chosen people. Her idols are said to be able to provide food and life, and she has been taught this her whole life. But when confronted with the truth of God’s Word and His power, she believes the truth and rejects idolatry.
The Nation of Israel, on the other hand, responds in the opposite manner. They have been given so many advantages that this woman does not have. How do they respond? They are not open. Even though they hear the preaching of Elijah, and then Elisha, and see the miracles they perform by the power of God, they are closed to what they see and hear. They could have been blessed, just like this widow. But they reject the truth and turn to the vain idols the widow rejects. Eventually, as the books of 1 and 2 Kings point out, they repudiate the words of Elijah. God will discipline them with the destruction of their country and captivity in a foreign land. The widow is blessed with plenty and with a son raised from the dead. The nation, with all its privileges, experiences destruction and death.
As the Lord said in His sermon at Nazareth, this woman is a demonstration of a Scriptural truth. We often find people whom we least expect to be open to God’s Word to be, in face, the most open. The opposite is also true. Don’t be discouraged when people whom you think will be interested in God’s grace are not. When we teach it, there will be those who believe what they hear. We will sometimes find them in the most unexpected places and circumstances.