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Hard Times, Small Things

1 Kings 17:8-16

Many of us are of the opinion that our faith is tested and shown in “great moments.” That may be – but our faith is grown in hard times and small things.

(1 Ki 17:8-16 NIV) Then the word of the LORD came to him: {9} "Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food." {10} So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, "Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?" {11} As she was going to get it, he called, "And bring me, please, a piece of bread." {12} "As surely as the LORD your God lives," she replied, "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." {13} Elijah said to her, "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 bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. {14} 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.'" {15} She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. {16} For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah.

Preliminary: Zarephath

Place names have a way of blurring in your mind when you read the Bible. I live in Southern California, so I’m used to Spanish place names. We tend to skip over names like Zarephath. Just where is this place?


Now you know. But if you know your geography of the time, you’ll see that this city is outside Israel. Elijah is the first prophet to the Gentiles.

More than that, Zarephath is the home town of Jezebel – the queen who is the source of most of the trouble. I suspect that no one went looking for him there! But more important is this: it is God’s way of showing us just exactly who is in control. His methods are different from ours:

  • The evil would see Elijah as a fugitive, running from their power. God sends Elijah, his servant, as he pleases. By our weakness is his power shown; Ahab, for all his power, can’t find the man. And he’s in Jezebel’s home town!
  • It’s a city of Gentiles. The super-righteous might be shocked by that; it’s unclean! But by the unclean things God sustains his people, showing that all things are under his power.

How often we envy the evil, considering them powerful – when in fact they are so powerless that God can protect his children with even the weakest of methods.

The character of the widow

Widows of this time were a symbol of poverty, and a common one. It is normal for women to live longer than men; in this time women were often married to a man several years older than themselves. That almost guaranteed widowhood to a woman; the poor you will always have with you. But what do we know about this particular widow?

  • She’s gathering sticks. If you’ve ever cooked over a campfire, you know that sticks are kindling – not firewood. Whatever she’s going to bake, it’s not going to take long.
  • She’s rather a fatalist. She’s accepted the fact that she and her son are going to die of starvation. She has given up hope.
  • She is appointed by God to keep Elijah.

Now what kind of appointment is that? Surely God could find someone with a better attitude? But no; he chooses the small, the poor and the hopeless so that we might see his power. Her main qualification for the job is that she has no qualifications other than faith.

Faith in desperate times.

See how she greets Elijah: “As the Lord your God lives” – she is not Jewish, but she recognizes the living God. It’s probably pretty obvious to her that Baal, the god of rain, thunder and good crops, has been of no help lately. The word has probably gotten around that it’s Yahweh who’s responsible for this drought. So this woman is probably not a worshiper of God. But she knows who he is.

She has faith – without hope. Not being Jewish, she has no access to the living God. Therefore she has no hope of remedy at his hands. But she knows; she believes. It is a pittance of faith, with neither hope nor joy – but it is enough. She takes the prophet at his word, and shares her last meal with him.

Faith tested in simple things

What does the prophet ask?

  • A drink of water. It is a small request, and much honored, for it would be discourteous to refuse. Bread too – the simplest of foods, a bread without yeast made only of oil and flour – is so small.
  • He asks it of a woman who has so little. Notice that he does not tell her that her supplies will not fail until the end of his request.

It is a small, simple thing – but consider the reward God gives. Our Lord tells us that to receive a prophet is to receive a prophet’s reward[1], and she will receive the same food Elijah gets – and his company as well.


It may not seem like it, but this meeting is a test for Elijah as well.

  • He is tested by her lack of supply. God did not tell Elijah that he was going to work this miracle; he just said go. Can’t you imagine that Elijah felt he had the wrong widow?
  • He is tested by her lack of hope. Most of us are heavily influenced by the attitudes around us, and Elijah is no exception.
Elijah’s message

Elijah answers the challenge to his faith.

  • “Do not fear.” Fear was the original reaction to sin in the Garden of Eden, for sin breaks the bond of trust with God.
  • He challenges her to step out on faith, and give of her little. One is reminded of the widow’s mites in the New Testament – a great faith, a great gift.
  • He assures her that God will multiply what she has. As our Lord taught,

(Luke 6:38 NRSV) give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."

As Hudson Taylor put it, “God’s work, done in God’s way, will receive God’s supply.”

The unchanging nature of God

All this comes back to trust in God. If you trust him, you must know him.

  • You must know his infinite supply. He is the God who created all things, and if you are doing his work he will (as Oswald Chambers put it), “tax the farthest star in the universe” to maintain you.
  • You must know his constant supply. It is not to your benefit that he supply you with everything at once, for then you might grow content and forget Him. But he will supply your daily bread.
  • You must know his will, for it conditions his supply. His will is that you should have faith. This widow did, and she met God-who-supplies three times a day. This is his love for us.


All this happened a long time ago. What lessons are there for us today?

The world is a stage

Things are not always as the appear – nor as they will be tomorrow. That which seems sure today may be gone like so much dew.

  • Does evil seem overwhelming? It often did to Elijah. But where did he hide? Jezebel’s home town – and stayed there almost three years, undiscovered.
  • Does it seem you’re out of supplies? Not on God’s watch you aren’t. You will not hunger – neither will you need to build a barn to hold things.
Faith is tested in small things

The small things are the crucible from which God forges great believers. Most of us believe that if some great crisis of faith came around, we’d rise to the challenge. Therefore, we think, we needn’t bother with the small stuff, since we can handle the big things.

It is not so. God prepares us for the big challenges of faith in the small ones. If we will not be diligent in answering the small challenges, we will not be able to answer the great ones. Faithful in little, faithful in much.

The providence of God

We see also the characteristics of God’s providence.

  • Little is rewarded with much. God’s nature is to provide liberal reward for those who trust him with the little they have.
  • His providence is always adequate, but it can never be stored up. Like the manna of the ancient Israelites, it’s for today only. Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof; but also, sufficient to the day are the blessings of God.
  • His providence is based upon his eternal nature: He is infinite, he is unchanging and he desires fellowship with us. Therefore there is no limit to his supply, either in amount or time, as long as we keep faith with him.

[1] Matthew 10:41-42

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