A truly awful king had come to rule the northern kingdom of Israel almost 900 years before Christ. Indeed, King Ahab “did evil in the sight of the Lord more than any of his predecessors” (1 Kings 16:30). And that was saying a lot, since the people of Israel recently had suffered a parade of reprobate kings.
But perhaps mostly through the influence of his idolatrous wife, Jezebel, Ahab took the extraordinarily monstrous step of constructing a temple dedicated to the pagan god, Baal. This false god was worshiped by Jezebel and the people of her birthplace in ancient Phoenicia, which was located in what is now the coastal region of Lebanon and Syria.
The prophet Elijah was fit to be tied. Outraged he confronted King Ahab and told him that a terrible famine would spread through the land because of his actions and that the heavens would remain shut until Elijah gave the word. Although Ahab and Jezebel searched relentlessly for the insolent prophet who had dared to challenge the royal family, he hid in the wilderness near a stream where ravens brought food to him.
When the brook eventually ran dry, God instructed Elijah to go and stay in a territory near the Mediterranean ruled by Jezebel’s father. A widow there would provide food for him. Elijah obeyed and, as he approached the town of Zarephath, he spotted a woman gathering sticks and called out to her to bring him a cup of water and a piece of bread. She reminded the apparently clueless stranger of the drought that had decimated the land. “I don’t have any bread,” she said. “I only have a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug” (1 Kings 17:12). She had been gathering the kindling to make a fire to cook one final meal for herself and her young son before they both died of starvation. “Do not be afraid,” Elijah said, reassuring her that her generosity would not go unrewarded. The widow complied and was blessed by God.
Elijah must have had some serious reservations about receiving help from a Phoenician woman. Although they lived in close proximity to Gentiles in that region, faithful Jews of the time would not have mixed with the goyim. Elijah must have been further astonished by God’s command to reside in an area that was governed by the father of his worst enemy and the very person seeking to have him killed. But time and again God used unexpected heroes to advance the story of salvation in the Bible.
Our heroine this week in our message series on female heroes of the Bible, the widow of Zarephath teaches us that a hero has the courage to be generous because of her great faith. Listen to her amazing story in our weekend message or online at www.stbrendanparish.org, and then look for ways to be generous with others.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor