Elijah, the Drought & the Widow

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• a lesson in faith during uncertain times
• a reminder that God cares and provides for His servants
• a story of miracles

 

Key Verse

Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. —1 Corinthians 16:13

 

Prologue

After King Solomon’s death, the Kingdom of Israel was divided into two groups: the northern tribes and the southern tribes. The northern tribes came to be known as the Kingdom of Israel, and the southern tribes came to be called the Kingdom of Judah. 

At the time this story takes place, it had been about 60 years since Solomon’s death and the division of the tribes. King Ahab was reigning in Israel. And it was during this time that God was working with a prophet named Elijah. 

Elijah’s purpose was to warn Israel to return to the one true God and turn away from idolatry. God worked powerful miracles through His servant Elijah. Several of these miracles are recorded for us in the books of 1 and 2 Kings. Elijah’s purpose was to warn Israel to return to the one true God and turn away from idolatry.

 

Story and Study

(This story is based on the events recorded in 1 Kings 17:1-16.)

A prophet with a message

Elijah was a prophet of God from the region of Gilead, on the eastern side of the Jordan River. He lived about 30 miles (roughly 50 kilometers) from Samaria, the capital of Israel. 

Elijah had been given a message by God to deliver to King Ahab. The message? There would be no rain or dew in the land for the next few years. Yes, years.

In an area of land like Israel, rain and dew were life-giving and life-preserving necessities! The rainfalls that occurred throughout different seasons of the year were essential for the growth of crops, like grains and fruit trees, and for watering livestock. Rain in its proper season also ensured enough groundwater in the wells, sources of drinking water. 

Elijah set off early on his journey to Samaria. He walked through beautiful green valleys, breathing in the pure air, heavy with dew. All around was life, vibrant and lush: trees bearing fruit, flowing water, gentle lows and noisy bleats from cattle and sheep. What would the landscape look like in a few years? Would Ahab listen to his warning message and repent?

Ahab also chose to marry a woman named Jezebel. She came from a nation that worshipped idols.

King Ahab

As a group, the kings of ancient Israel were not known for their stellar examples of morality. Each king is described in the Bible as being worse than all the kings before him, and Ahab was no exception (1 Kings 16:30).  

Ahab was a poor spiritual leader and a wicked king who rejected God, instead choosing his own gods and methods of worship. Ahab worshipped Baal, a Canaanite god that people believed had control over rain, storms, and farming.

Ahab also chose to marry a woman named Jezebel, a Phoenician princess. The problem was not her ethnicity but that she came from a nation that worshipped idols. Through this marriage, Israel and Phoenicia became allies. Together Ahab and Jezebel led Israel in Baal-worship and other pagan customs.

By his example King Ahab also encouraged the Israelites to mix their worship of the true God with these pagan idols and pagan methods of worship, despite the specific commands given to Israel to not mix pagan worship with true worship of God (Deuteronomy 6:13-14).  

Idolatry had become a big problem in Israel. 

Enter Elijah

The prophet continued on his journey toward Samaria, breaking to enjoy a meal after refreshing his feet in the Jordan River. He passed productive farms and tidy houses as he climbed the hill into the city of Samaria itself. 

As he turned onto the main road of Samaria, he froze. There, rising up before him was a massive temple with a large wooden statue of the pagan god Baal. His gaze continued across the city, resting on the gleaming white palace and then on another temple, this one dedicated to the pagan goddess Asherah. 

Huge pagan temples in the Israelite capital city! Had he not known for certain that this was Israelite territory, he would have assumed he had somehow wandered into Philistia or Phoenicia, or some other Canaanite region. 

Elijah’s face fell. No, Ahab would not repent, he thought. There would be a drought. And the people of Israel would suffer for it. 

Ahab sat on his throne with a smug expression, waiting for the prophet to speak.

Message delivered

Elijah strode into the palace and was brought into the presence of the King. Ahab sat on his throne with a smug expression, waiting for the prophet to speak. 

And Elijah said to Ahab, “As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word” (1 Kings 17:1).  

Ahab scowled. Elijah could feel Ahab’s mood beginning to darken. He left the throne room, then sensed God speak to him once more.

“Get away from here and turn eastward,” God instructed Elijah (1 Kings 17:3). Gratefully, Elijah fled both the city and the angry king and followed a familiar path back toward his homeland in the east. Instead of returning to Tishbe, however, where Ahab’s soldiers were likely to begin searching for him, Elijah headed to the Brook Cherith, a feeder of the Jordan River, where God had instructed him to hide. 

The prophet had had no time to prepare a large stash of food or gather supplies while hiding in the mountains near the brook. What would he find there? A brook with run-off from the higher elevation of the mountains would likely give him fresh water for a time. But where would his meals come from? God had said he had commanded the ravens to feed the prophet. What did that mean? 

And how long would this last? What would happen next? 

Elijah lay down exhausted. The message of drought, the idolatry of Samaria, the anger of King Ahab, and the realization that he couldn’t go home were enough to overwhelm him! 

But Elijah had faith. He obeyed God and settled in by the Brook Cherith. He fashioned a shelter, built a small fire, closed his eyes, and fell asleep. 

With astonishment, the prophet watched as ravens began to place food on a flat stone.

Miracle by … ravens?

“Kraaaaaw! Kraa, kraa, kraaaaaaaaaw!” 

Elijah’s dreams were cut short and he was startled awake by the jarring noise! What was that hideous sound!?

“Kraaaaaw!”

There it was again! No, he was definitely no longer dreaming, realized the prophet. Elijah blinked at the morning light. What time was it? It was already hot. Ah, but then it would be, with no dew to help cool the morning air. 

Elijah rolled over and saw … a raven? No, not just one raven. He began to count the large, glossy-black birds. 

God had told the prophet that he had commanded the ravens to feed him. But ravens were unclean. He would never eat an unclean thing! Was this a test? Elijah sat up, puzzled. 

“Kraa, kraa!”

It was as if the ravens were trying to get his attention. What was going on? Elijah blinked and looked again. With astonishment, the prophet watched as ravens began to place food on a flat stone. He continued to watch as ravens filled the stone with food. Then as quickly as they had appeared, they were gone, flapping away into the cloudless sky!  Elijah realized, with gratitude and surprise, that even in this unusual place and during these unusual times, God was going to provide for him.

As the noisy birds flew away and Elijah could once more hear the gentle trickle of the brook, his eyes returned to the stone. He walked over to it to discover meat! And bread! His stomach rumbled with hunger. 

Elijah realized, with gratitude and surprise, that even in this unusual place and during these unusual times, God was going to provide for him. Elijah praised the God of all creation, who has power over all things, and settled down to his morning meal. 

He spent the day constructing a better shelter and praying to God. As the evening approached, a now familiar sound pierced the sky. 

“Kraa, kraa!”

Elijah chuckled, shaking his head in amusement and admiration as the ravens began to pile more food onto a stone. So this was what God had meant! 

Once more the prophet’s camp returned to the gentle quiet of the brook and the normal sounds of evening as the birds flew away. And once more the prophet gave thanks and enjoyed a meal delivered by ravens.

Elijah sighed with contentment and appreciation. It was different than what he had grown used to, but he could do this. He trusted in God and had faith, praying daily for God’s will to be done. And every day, God sent ravens bearing food for the faithful prophet.

As was his custom, Elijah knelt down and bowed his head in prayer. Once more, God spoke to Elijah.

Moving on

After a time, less water flowed in the brook. The drought was clearly in full effect, and it was becoming more and more difficult to collect water. And Elijah began to notice, too, that the ravens were bringing less food. 

He looked around at his camp which had become a temporary home, knowing he would soon need to leave and trusting in God to provide the way. Where would he go? It was not yet time to return to Ahab and declare the end of the drought. 

As was his custom, Elijah knelt down and bowed his head in prayer. Once more, God spoke to Elijah: “Go to Zarephath and dwell there. A widow will provide for you.” 

Zarephath! A city on the coast of the great sea (the Mediterranean) in the region of Phoenicia. So God was going to send him out of the nation of Israel completely! 

Phoenicia was the homeland of Ahab’s evil wife, Jezebel. She hated Elijah and all God’s true prophets. Elijah nodded. With Jezebel hunting down all the prophets, he would certainly be unwelcome in any part of Israel right now and would be a danger to anyone trying to shelter him. Onward to Phoenicia. 

Elijah collected some water in a skin and prepared for a long journey. 

“I do not have any bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar.”

Zarephath and the widow

Snap! 

Elijah’s foot stepped on a dry twig which gave easily under the prophet’s weight. He was just outside the city gate of Zarephath. He could smell the saltwater from the great sea. This was normally a bustling port city, filled with activity and trade, but today it looked almost deserted. 

A short distance away, a woman was collecting sticks. Was this the widow God meant him to find? She looked up as she saw him approaching, glancing over his disheveled appearance. Her eyes looked wary but kind.

“Please,” began the prophet, “bring me a little water in a cup, that I may drink.” 

With compassion she nodded and turned to retrieve it. If this was the right woman, reasoned Elijah, she would provide his second request as well.

He called out as she walked, “And please bring me a morsel of bread.” 

With sorrowful eyes, she turned and addressed the prophet, rightly identifying him as an Israelite: “As the LORD your God lives, I do not have any bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” 

Tears began to collect in her eyes and her lips began to tremble. The drought had touched this land, too, and there was little left. With no husband to support her in this ancient land and culture, she was left in utter poverty. She literally had only one meal left.

Elijah spoke with authority and kindness. “Do not fear,” he said. “Go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son.”

The woman’s tears began to spill. Something in the prophet’s tone gave her a sense of what she had not felt for some time. It was hope.  “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the LORD sends rain on the earth.’”

Elijah stepped closer and placed his hand gently on her shoulder. He knew that for her act of mercy and faith, God would reward her. 

With assurance he spoke: “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the LORD sends rain on the earth.’”

The widow now burst into sobs. Could she afford to trust this prophet? Was he really a prophet? Well, what difference would it make? If he wasn’t, this would be her and her son’s last meal anyway. She turned and went to make the prophet’s bread as requested. Why did she agree to do as the prophet said? For a moment she doubted, and as her gaze rested on her pale, sleeping son, her jaw set in fierce protection.

An endless supply

The widow of Zarephath worked in her kitchen. On a table she placed her meager ingredients: a bin almost empty with a little flour and a jar once full of olive oil, now with just a few scant drops. 

She threw the bundle of sticks she’d collected into the oven and stoked the ashes. Then she poured the remainder of the flour and oil out on the table with a little water and began to knead them together as the tears rolled down her cheeks. With swift motions she had made hundreds of times before, she scooped the dough into the oven and waited for it to bake. 

The familiar aroma filled the house and her stomach growled fiercely. She sat down from exhaustion and cradled her head in her hands. Why did she agree to do as the prophet said? For a moment she doubted, and as her gaze rested on her pale, sleeping son, her jaw set in fierce protection.

Then with a deep breath, she softened once more. What if? she thought. What if this prophet speaks the truth? 

The bread smelled done. She skillfully removed it from the oven and wrapped it in a cloth. She turned to look once more at her son still sleeping soundly, then cast an eye at the bin and the jar on the table. Still empty. The tears began again.

She stepped over her threshold with the small loaf still warm in the cloth and found the prophet once more. He took the bread from her hands and immediately bowed his head to pray. 

There—right there on the table where she’d left them, the bin of flour and the jar of oil were absolutely overflowing!

The woman turned and walked back toward her home, head hung low, tears blinding her path. As she stepped back through the door and into the living space, she wiped her tears, then looked up and stopped short with astonishment. Her eyes grew huge, and she took in a sharp breath. There—right there on the table where she’d left them, the bin of flour and the jar of oil were absolutely overflowing! 

This prophet was true and this God was real! Very real! Happy, joyful tears now burst forth and the widow began to laugh and sob, taking deep breaths in between. Quickly and gratefully she set to work to prepare another loaf for her and her son. 

Even during times of doubt and uncertainty, God can and does provide. He is the great Provider and Comforter, and He is merciful.

Conclusion

As the days passed, Elijah’s words proved true and God blessed the widow. Her bin of flour was never used up, and her jar of oil never ran dry. Elijah came to lodge in the home, renting the upper room, and the entire household ate plenty for months. The Bible never records that the supply ceased during the entire time of drought. 

There is an important lesson we can learn from these events recorded for us in Scripture: Even during times of doubt and uncertainty, God can and does provide. He is the great Provider and Comforter, and He is merciful. And like Elijah trusting in God’s direction at the Brook Cherith and like the widow of Zarephath, we must show God our faith and trust in Him by our actions (James 2:17-18).   

This widow’s faith would once more be deeply tested—and affirmed—when her son was struck with a serious illness. You can read about it and God’s miraculous intervention in 1 Kings 17:17-24.

Elijah spent many months with the widow and her son in Zarephath. Then three years after the prophet had delivered his initial message to King Ahab, God once more prompted him to journey to Samaria and declare the drought over. God would bring rain in a dramatic fashion, leaving no doubt of His power and authority.

But that’s another story for another time.

 

Questions

1. Knowledge

God commanded Elijah the prophet to deliver a message to which king?
What was the message?

2. Comprehension

Why was rain important in Israel?
How did Elijah react when God told him to do something? Did he complain about his circumstances?

3. Connections

The Bible talks about the right amount of rain at the right time being a blessing. Why? 
What other examples of faithful individuals can you find in the Bible? 

 

Discussions

1. Have you ever wondered where your next meal is coming from? Can you imagine looking into your refrigerator or your cabinets and not seeing any food? How would you feel? What would you do? 

How does a drought affect the food and water supply? How does it impact the land and animals?

2. Have you ever experienced a drought? How does a drought affect the food and water supply? How does it impact the land and animals? In our very interconnected world, what happens when one country experiences a catastrophe like a prolonged drought or natural disaster? Is there anything you can do to help?


 

Activities

1. You Are an Ornithologist!

Do a search for ravens online. What do they look and sound like? Did you know they can talk? If you like, draw a picture of one or write a short paragraph about them. 

2. Miracle Stories

God has provided some dramatic miracles over the years! So many are recorded in the Bible for us to learn from. Do you have a favorite? Discuss it with your parents and your friends. Then discuss miracles God has done in your own lives. 

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