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ELIJAH AND THE WIDOW OF SAREPTA
1 Kings 17:15-16. And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days. And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Elijah.
MUCH as temporal calamities are to be dreaded and deprecated, there are occasions whereon a pious man may desire, and even pray for, the infliction of them upon his fellow-creatures. As St. Paul “delivered an offender unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus,” so we may wish for some divine interposition to arrest sinners in their course, and to bring them to a sense of their guilt and danger. It was in this view that Elijah prayed for a famine that should correct and reclaim the whole nation of Israel: and, when he had obtained from God an assurance that the judgment should be inflicted upon them, and never be reversed but in answer to his prayers, he boldly warned Ahab of the impending calamity, advertising him for what end it would be sent, and how it was to be improved for the nation’s good [Note: Compare ver. 1 with James 5:17-18.]. As for himself, in obedience to the divine direction, he retired to the brook Cherith, and was for a long time supported there by ravens, which brought him bread and meat regularly twice a day: and, when that brook was dried up, he went to Zarephath, or Sarepta, which belonged to Sidon, and was there nourished by a widow woman, whom God had appointed to sustain him. Thus, whilst the iniquities of the nation were severely punished, the care which God takes of his obedient servants was the more signally manifested.
The account given us of his abode with the Sidonian widow is very interesting, inasmuch as it displays the unbounded goodness of God to her in return for her kindness towards his faithful servant. Let us consider,
Elijah going, as he was commanded, to the city of Zarephath, found the widow gathering a few sticks for the purpose of dressing the last remnant of provision that remained to her for herself and her son: and after soliciting a draught of water, he requested her to give him a morsel of bread. This led to a disclosure of the circumstances in which she was: but he assured her, that she need not fear; for that God would so multiply her little store, that it should never be exhausted till after the famine should have ceased. On this occasion we behold,
The extent of her liberality—
[Having but a sufficiency for a single meal for herself and her son, and having no prospect whatever of obtaining from man any further supply, she imparted to this stranger a portion of her provision, and dressed it with her own hands on purpose for him. Perhaps since the foundation of the world there never was so striking an illustration of the character given many centuries afterwards to the Macedonian churches; of whom it is said, that, “in a great trial of affliction, their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality [Note: 2 Corinthians 8:2.].” We admire, and justly too, the astonishing liberality of the widow in the Gospel, who, possessing only two mites, cast them both into the treasury: but great as that was, it by no means equalled that which is recorded in our text: for the widow who gave her two mites, had herself only to support; whereas the other widow had a son also: and, though the widow with her two mites knew not where to obtain more, yet there was no general pressure at that time and place; so that her neighbours, if willing, were able to supply her wants; whereas the other widow was surrounded by those only who were involved in the same calamity with herself; and consequently could hope for no relief whatever; since, however her neighbours might have the inclination, they had not the ability, to relieve her. Well therefore may this act of the Sidonian widow be “published, (as that of the Jewish widow is,) through the whole world, as a memorial of her.”]
The strength of her faith—
[Though a Gentile woman, she may well be called a daughter of Abraham; for she very closely walked in the steps of Abraham [Note: Romans 4:12.]. The declaration made to her as from God was made by a perfect stranger, and was unsupported by any miracle; yet was it made the ground of action by her without a moment’s hesitation: we may say of her therefore, as of Abraham, She “staggered not at the promises of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded, that what He had promised, he was able to perform [Note: Romans 4:20-21.].”]
Let us now contemplate,
Richly was she repaid for this act of faith and love—
[“Her barrel of meal wasted not, nor did her cruse of oil fail,” for the space of two years, during which time the prophet and herself and family were supported by them. We behold in the common course of providence, seed producing “thirty, sixty, and even an hundred-fold:” but never was there seen, either before or since, such an harvest as this. But truly, if “God is known by the judgments that he executeth,” so is he also by the gifts that he bestoweth. He has said, that “what we give to the poor, we lend unto the Lord; and that whatsoever we lay out, he will repay us again:” but, in the instance before us, “the handful of corn sprang up as the woods of Lebanon.”]
This fitly represents what shall be done in the eternal world—
[There will be a proportion between the works of men and their reward, so far, that the more we have done for the Lord the more we shall receive from him, reaping sparingly or bountifully according as we have sown [Note: 2 Corinthians 9:6.]. But what proportion exists between any work of ours, and the lowest reward that can be conferred in heaven? Surely none: a whole life spent in the service of God is nothing when compared with, an eternity of bliss. We need not however doubt on this account the certainty of God’s promises; but rather may enlarge our expectations to the utmost extent of them, assured, that in the accomplishment of them our most sanguine hopes shall be more than realized.
But let us never forget what it is that God has promised to reward; it is the obedience of faith. Had the widow bargained, as it were, to receive a recompence for her provisions, she never could have hoped for such a return as she received: but when she gave freely for the Lord’s sake, and cast herself wholly upon him, then God esteemed nothing too great to confer upon her. So, if we would purchase heaven by our works, we shall in vain look for such blessedness: but if in a way of holy self-denial we will consecrate all that we are and have unto the Lord, for the exalting of his name, then will God load us with his richest benefits both in time and in eternity.
Let not any one say, “This mercy may be shewn to others, but not to me:” for God is sovereign in the distribution of his gifts; and, if he has already given us a desire to serve him, he will infallibly recompense our services in a better world. The widow of Sarepta was a Gentile: yet, as our Lord told the Jews, was Elijah sent to her, whilst all the widows that were in Israel were passed by [Note: Luke 4:25-26.]. In like manner may God send his blessings to us, however far we are off from him; yea he may send them to us in preference to those who appear more likely to obtain them. This to a proud Pharisee is an offensive truth [Note: Luke 4:28-29.]: but to a humble penitent it is replete with comfort. Let us only attend to his word, and it shall be well with us: “Believe in the Lord, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper [Note: 2 Chronicles 20:20.].”]
THE WIDOW’S SON RAISED BY ELIJAH
1 Kings 17:22-23. And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. And Elijah took the child, and brought him down out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him unto his mother: and Elijah said, See, thy son liveth.
THOUGH God was pleased to separate for himself a peculiar people, to whom alone he communicated the knowledge of his will, he gave frequent intimations to them, that his mercy should in due time be extended unto the Gentiles also. The history of the Sidonian widow was particularly noticed in that view by our Lord himself. In his first sermon at Nazareth, he warned the Jews, that they must not rest in their outward privileges, since, if they walked unworthy of them, God would again, as he had frequently done before, transfer to the Gentiles those blessings to which they foolishly supposed themselves exclusively entitled [Note: Luke 4:25-27.]. The peculiar mercy referred to by him is that which we have already considered, the feeding of her by miracle during the years of famine, whilst no such mercy was vouch-safed to any widow in Israel. But in our text we are informed of another mercy which she received, and which was the first of the kind that was ever vouchsafed to any child of man, namely, the restoring of her son to life. In bringing this part of her history before you, we shall distinctly notice,
She had lost her son, her only son. This was a very heavy affliction to her: it would be so to any parent; but it was more especially so to her, because she had previously been reduced to widowhood, and therefore had none to be the support and comfort of her declining years. In him all her affections were centered, and with him all her hopes were destroyed. But the affliction was the heavier, because,
It was unexpected—
[Two years before, when she thought her child near to death, she spoke of it with the most perfect composure [Note: ver. 12.]: but now her distress and sorrow were exceeding great: on the former occasion she saw her little provision gradually consuming, and death advancing with rapid strides; and therefore her mind was prepared for the event: but here the event was so sudden that she had not time even to go to the prophet, and desire his intercessions in her behalf: hence the stroke was almost insupportable; and made her even reflect upon the prophet, as though he had occasioned her calamity.]
It was singular—
[Had the calamity been general, she had found some consolation in the thought that she suffered nothing but what was common to those around her. We doubt not but that this consideration rendered the famine more supportable to each individual than it would have been if the calamity had been peculiar to himself. In like manner, if she had found many other widows despoiled of their children like herself, her sympathy with others would have lessened her grief on her own account. But no such consolatory thought was left for her: she seemed to be singled out to bear her burthen alone.]
It was, in her apprehension, penal—
[This adds a ten-fold weight to any calamity which we are called to suffer: the wrath of God is the bitterest ingredient that can be infused into any cup. Hence was her grief so different from that which she had manifested on the former occasion: she regarded her calamity as a judgment sent from God. She knew that the famine had been sent for the wickedness of Israel, in answer to Elijah’s prayers; she thought therefore that this affliction had been sent to her by the same means, and on the same account, namely, for some transgressions she had committed previous to his visit, or for some which he had seen during his continuance with her. And here we may observe, that this is a view in which afflictions readily appear to a humble mind. A person truly humbled, is jealous of himself, and apt to fear that he has offended God: and whilst an affliction regarded as a paternal chastisement, would be borne by him with grateful submission, the same, as a vindictive judgment, would utterly overwhelm him. To this consideration chiefly we ascribe the impatience that was manifested in the widow’s address to the prophet on this occasion: she spoke, not the result of her deliberate judgment, but the hasty dictate of an oppressed mind.]
Let us now turn our attention to,
The prophet, animated by the highest and best of principles, overlooked her unjust reflections; and, filled with tenderest sympathy, took the child out of her bosom, and carried it to his chamber, and laid it on his own bed, and, as though he would have infused life into him out of his own body, thrice stretched himself upon the corpse; and, after crying earnestly to the Lord in behalf of the child, restored him back again to the mother a living child. This was a wonderful deliverance to the afflicted mother: let us notice,
How it was wrought—
[It were absurd to imagine, though some have been guilty of the absurdity, that the animal warmth of the prophet had any efficacy towards restoring a dead corpse to life: it was by prayer alone that he prevailed. He begins with an humble expostulation with the Deity; not as though he thought the stroke unjust, but as fearing lest the enemies of Jehovah should take occasion from it to represent him as a hard master, whom it was in vain, and even dangerous, to serve. Such was the expostulation which Moses offered, when God had threatened to destroy the whole Jewish nation [Note: Numbers 14:13-16.]: and no doubt, when dictated solely by a concern for the honour of the Deity, it is highly pleasing unto God; as its prevalence on this occasion fully proved. Next, he offers a petition, such as never had been before offered: “O Lord, my God, I pray thee, let this child’s soul come into him again!” What a wonderful petition! How presumptuous does it at first sight appear! But it is our misfortune and our fault that we are not more enlarged in our petitions at the throne of grace. I mean not to say, that we are authorized to ask for such an exertion of Omnipotence as this; but this I say, that “we are not straitened in God, but are straitened in our own bowels;” and that that is the true reason of our receiving so little from God. However “wide we might open our mouths, God would fill them,” provided we asked in faith, and according to his will. Great as the petition was, God answered it in its utmost extent, and enabled the prophet to present to the widow her child restored to life.]
How it was received—
[We may in some measure conceive the joy that would pervade the minds both of him who had obtained the blessing, and of her who received it. But the effect which the deliverance produced in enlarging her knowledge and confirming her faith, is that which particularly calls for our attention. Her trial had so discomposed her mind as for a moment to shake her faith in God. ‘How can this be the true God, who, after all his mercies to me, afflicts me thus? and how can this be a man of God, who makes me such a recompence for all my attention to him?’ Nor let us wonder that a poor Gentile was thus shaken in her faith, when a similar effect was produced by an unexpected trial on one of the most distinguished servants of the Lord. Joshua, on the discomfiture of Israel before Ai, and the loss of about six and thirty men, actually expressed more than this poor widow even ventured to imagine [Note: Joshua 7:7-9.]. Indeed this is the common fruit of affliction on our impatient minds: we are ready to ask, “Is the Lord among us, or not [Note: Exodus 17:7.]?” But the manifestation of God’s power and mercy dispelled the cloud, and led her to confess him as a gracious and faithful God. This was the effect produced on Moses after the passage of Israel through the Red Sea [Note: Exodus 15:11.]: and it is the proper effect to be produced on all.]
Let us learn then from this history,
How to interpret providences—
[We are apt to listen to sense rather than to faith, and to say, “All these things are against me.” But how can they be really against us, when God has promised, that all things shall work together for our good. Against us they may be in some points of view; but they shall be for us on the whole. With what abundant benefit did this widow receive her child again! It is needless to repeat the benefits which Jacob ultimately received from the dispensation which he regarded as so calamitous. You all “know also the end of the Lord” in reference to Job, how abundantly his happiness was increased after his afflictions [Note: James 5:11.]. It may be that your temporal happiness may not be increased; but the loss of it shall be more than counterbalanced by your spiritual prosperity. What our Lord said respecting Lazarus, may be justly applied to every afflictive dispensation; “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby [Note: John 11:4.]:” and the reproof which our Lord afterwards gave to Martha, may justly be given to most of us; “Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God [Note: John 11:40.]?” Let us learn to regard afflictions as blessings in disguise; and let it be our endeavour to walk more by faith and less by sight; according to that direction of the prophet, “Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God [Note: Isaiah 50:10.].” If the dispensation be impenetrably dark, let it then suffice us to know, that “what we know not now, we shall know hereafter.”]
How to improve them—
[Every leaf in the book of providence is full of instruction respecting the perfections of our God. O what might we not learn of his wisdom, his power, his love, his faithfulness, if we were observant of his dispensations towards us? Many a time should we exclaim with the widow, “Now I know that his word is true;” I do not take it upon trust; I see it, I know it; and am ready to attest it before the whole universe. This is the kind of evidence which Job had, when he said, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee.” A small measure of such experience as this is of unbounded value. If it were only for our own comfort, we should cultivate it to the uttermost; but it is of unspeakable benefit to those around us, inasmuch as it encourages them also to trust in God. See how David represents this when emerging out of temporal affliction; “Many shall see it,” says he, “and fear, and shall trust in the Lord [Note: Psalms 40:1-4.]:” and again, when brought up from the depths of spiritual trouble; “For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found [Note: Psalms 32:3-6.].” The knowledge which we have of God and of Christ is mere theory, till we have learned the same by our own personal experience; but when our faith is confirmed by actual experience, then it is as convincing as sight itself. O that we may all aspire after this knowledge, and improve every dispensation for the attainment of it! then will it be to us a source of unclouded peace, and prepare us for that blessed place, where faith shall be lost in sight, and hope in enjoyment]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Kings 17". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany