THE WIDOW OF ZAREPHATH presents a unique and exciting situation when you think deeply about it. Elijah has been camping by the Cherith Brook (the Wadi al Yabis) in his home territory east of the Jordan River for a year or more. (We don’t know precisely how long he stayed anywhere because the text does not tell us.) We do know that the drought lasted 3.6 years.
Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. [James 5:17]
Then, after being fed by ravens and having water supplied by the drying-up brook, Yahweh said, “Elijah, get up, go to Zarephath and live there. I have already told a widow there to provide for you.”
Elijah arrives at a city not far from Jezebel’s hometown, the Phoenician town between Sidon & Tyre, where her father Ethbaal is king. Elijah is being hunted by Queen Jezebel (Ethbaal’s daughter) everywhere, and God sticks him right in her father’s backyard. After determining at the gate to the city, that they are meant to be living together, several exciting things occur.
God once again supplies food-to keep them alive. The widow and her son were starving when Elijah arrived, and she was about to cook her last meal. Now they had oil and meal to keep them alive. There is no reason to think that Elijah and she didn’t find other food sources in the hills, the desert, or the ocean. (We don’t know that—I’m just saying.) And how did they keep this strange living arrangement a secret? It wasn’t the 21st century, after all. Elijah probably lived in Zarephath for two years or so. Did she tell people that Elijah was a relative? Were there many people around? Elijah found her quickly at the city gate when he arrived. How many had died in her town of Zarephath before he got there?
She may have owned a small compound, as many did, with several homes for the extended family to be together, with room for the animals on the bottom floor and a wall around the perimeter.
Now here is a fascinating aspect of this story: This widow is not an old woman. She has a young son, small enough to hold in her arms. She may be in her late teens or early twenties. Her husband has died, and there are no relatives that we read about. Plus, Elijah is no old man. And how do I know that? I’ll be surprised if he is much older than in his early thirties. After the extravaganza on Mt. Carmel, where Elijah put to shame, and death, the 450 Prophets of Baal, he outran Ahab in his chariot back down the mountain to his palace in Jezreel. That, my friends, is about thirteen miles, give or take, on either side.
Elijah was a very fit man. After all, he’d roamed the mountain regions of Gilead his entire life. No fifty-year-old prophet was running thirteen miles (after cutting off 450 heads) and then—hiking a few hundred miles into the desert to Mt. Sinai. The point is, I believe both of these two individuals were in the prime of life at that time. The twenties or early thirties.
When Elijah raised the widow’s son from the dead (the first record of someone being raised from the dead), she finally believed that he was a true prophet. I ask myself these questions: What was their relationship like? Did Elijah hope that one day he would marry? Did they play games together, work in the yard, and gather wood? Did she become a Hebrew? Elijah may have been there for two years or even longer.
These are the type of questions I ask myself about Dynamic Men & Women of the Bible as I write Elijah-The Man Who Stopped The Rain.
March 15, 2023