Have you ever read through a familiar passage of scripture and been surprised to notice something for the first time? That happened to me recently. In reading through 1 Kings, I came to the account of the Prophet Elijah’s early ministry, at the time of the great drought during which he hid from King Ahab in the Kerith Ravine and then took up residence with a widow in Zarephath. Here is the particular passage that I had never truly noticed before: after commanding Elijah to leave the ravine and go to Zarephath, God says, “I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.” (1 Kings 17:9).
So Elijah, that intrepid man of God, leaves his hideout just south of the Sea of Galilee and walks over a hundred miles to the Phoenician town of Zarephath located on the Mediterranean a long day’s hike north of Sidon. And he encounters a widow and asks first for water, and then for food. Her response to the latter request is worth noting in full:
“As surely as the LORD your God lives, I don’t have any bread – only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it – and die.” (1 Kings 17:12)
Notice – although she had some familiarity with the God of Israel, she is not herself a worshipper of that God. Her reference to the LORD is like that of King Saul in his last conversation with the Prophet Samuel, in which he refers to God three times as “the LORD your God.” (1 Samuel 15:15,21, and 30). So, this widow hears from a God with whom she has the slightest acquaintance and is commanded to do something she cannot possibly accomplish. She only has enough bread for one last meal – not enough to feed a stranger for months!
Have you ever felt that God is asking you to do the impossible? Elijah’s response to this dear woman may be helpful to you. Elijah says, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel says,: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.” (1 Kings 17:15).
Elijah encourages her not to be afraid and suggests that she follow her plan – but first she should obey the LORD and supply the prophet with a small loaf of bread. This instruction is followed by a promise that the LORD himself will provide what is needed for her to obey his command.
Too often we don’t want to obey God’s commands until we have a year’s supply of flour and oil in the pantry. We want to see the miracle first – then we will obey. And so we miss many, many opportunities to grow in our walks with God and to be effective in serving him and others. What impossible, or even merely difficult, things is God calling you to do? Are there areas in your life where you know God has called you to be someone or to do something and you simply don’t have the gifts or resources necessary? Trust God and obey him as a first order of business. Perhaps you will discover that he is able to provide you with your daily bread – even in impossible situations.
N.B. The image above is Elijah Receiving Bread from the Widow of Zarephath, oil on canvas painting by Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647). This image is made available by Getty’s Open Content Program.