1 Kings 17:8–16
More Than an Inconvenience
Our lives depend on water. It controls our bodily functions and carries along our daily tasks of brushing teeth, flushing toilets, making dinner, and washing dishes and clothes. In times of drought, we observe water bans by washing fewer loads of laundry, allowing our lawns to yellow, shortening our showers, and dealing with dusty cars. We may hear alarming news reports, or see hikes in the prices of produce, but in countries with more developed economies, we rarely experience droughts as much more than an inconvenience. We bide our time and wait for rain.
Eat and Die
In 1 Kings 17:8–16, we meet a woman who has waited for rain. She is gathering sticks to light a makeshift fire to cook the dregs of flour and oil she has left for herself and her son. A widespread famine has driven her to the brink of death, and she knows she cannot hold on much longer. All her neighbors in Zarephath, a town on the Mediterranean coast once known for its exports of wine, olive oil, purple dye, textiles, glassware, and pottery have been brought to their knees.1 Then the prophet Elijah shows up at the town’s gates and asks her for water. As she turns to get him some, he also asks her for bread—a request that stops her dead in her tracks.
“I swear, as surely as your GOD lives, I don’t have so much as a biscuit,” she says. “I have a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a bottle; you found me scratching together just enough firewood to make a last meal for my son and me. After we eat it, we’ll die” (1 Kings 17:12 MSG).
Can’t we feel her desperation, her desire to help, and her inability to do so? Elijah spies her faith immediately in her response—“as surely as your God lives”—and tells her that it is God who sent him and who will fill the jar and jug. “For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” (v. 14).
Obey and Live
The text says that “she went and did as Elijah said” (v. 15). Picture her as she turns to walk to her house—a humble one, for a widow scrounging for firewood hints at her condition. Imagine the dust from the parched ground powdering her feet, the sun pouring over her like hot water, and Elijah following behind. What must have gone through her mind?
Her faithful obedience to welcome Elijah into her home and bake for him the meal she intended to sustain her and her son for a few final days yielded astonishing abundance: “And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah” (vv. 15–16).
In a culture chock-full of KonMari, “Instagram worthy” homes, HGTV, and countless cooking shows, we may shy away from inviting others into our living spaces for a meal, let alone a cup of coffee. We may perceive our spaces to be too small, too old, too dirty, or too cluttered. Or maybe our “jars” are literally empty, and we are experiencing famine like the widow because of real financial struggles as we wonder about our next meal. If we base our hospitality on these terms, however, we miss the point. In Christ our condition with Christ is similar to the widow’s at the end of the story—abundant and alive. Hospitality then, is a matter of life and death. How we respond to others can open or shut the door to the gospel.
Therefore, whether our pantries are stocked or stark, we can simply give what we have, just as the widow did, in obedience to Christ, and trust him to make what he will of our obedience and offer. We don’t have to fuss over our spaces, tidy up, or make apologies. We can smile and say, “Come in,” and trust that the living water2 and living bread3 will nourish our guests with a message of “Come, follow Me,” which will forever ring of welcome (John 7:38; 6:35)
1 Zarephath,” in New International Version Archaeological Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI:Zondervan, 2005), 514.
2 Archeological Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 1800.
3 Betty C. Monkman, “The White House State Dinner,” whitehousehistory.org
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