Most of us in the dominant worlds of North America and Western Europe have no idea what it is like to be near starvation... to have our stomachs rumble in the kind of pain that cannot be known only by missing one meal. And even worse, we have no inkling of what it must be to watch your child slowly die from lack of food, and especially when as parents we feel the responsibility to provide for our offspring. And even in our time, in other places there are children dying from starvation each and every day. Sometimes we see their faces on TV during a commercial for hunger relief, but we quickly change the channel on the remote to avoid the horrifying images. It is difficult to see anyone dying, especially children.
The widow of Zaraphath is in such a desperate situation, and now she has just enough food to make a small morsel of a meal for her and her son before they resign themselves to death. Is it possible to imagine the the feelings inside this widow when Elijah asks for a portion of that morsel for himself first. Kathryn Schifferdecker writes,
What business has this man of God to ask her for bread, she who has so little? What business has he, asking her for bread before she feeds herself and her son? There is not enough to go around. There is not enough even for her and her son. The language she uses is the language of scarcity: "a handful of meal," "a little oil," "a couple of sticks." There is not enough. And Death waits at the door.Elijah tells her not to fear. He makes a promise from God: "For thus says the LORD the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth." She does what is asked of her and God through the prophet keeps his promise. She and her son eat from what is now a seemingly bottomless jar of flour and jug of oil.
But death is still crouching at the door. The widow's much beloved son may have been saved from starvation, but he will not be saved from death. Perhaps the effects of malnutrition have taken an irreversible toll on the child. He gets sick and dies. For his mother it seems to be a cruel joke. She says 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!"
But just as there is abundance of food that only God can provide, the same is true of life. In a dramatic act of stretching himself over the dead body and offering entreaty to God, the young man receives his life once again.
How the widow then responds to Elijah must not be missed. "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth." The widow of Zarephath knows that it is only by the provision of Yahweh, who is for her a foreign deity, that her son's life has returned along with their daily provisions. It is not Elijah; it is the divine truth that come from the prophet's mouth that can be trusted. Only by the word of the Lord is there hope even in the most dire circumstances. Cameron Howard observes,
Elijah's real power, the LORD's truth in his mouth, is that he can bring about life. This is the truth that is more difficult to believe, the one that flies in the face of all we know about the world, where death always seems to have the last word. Elijah's miraculous, never-ending oil jar hints at such life-giving power, but it is the widow’s witnessing of her child's renewed life that convinces her.Such words are a reminder of the word God spoke to Zerubbabel through the prophet Zechariah, "Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit." The power of God comes through the Spirit and it is the Spirit that gives the word of God.
When God speaks we can trust in what those words promise.