We have here an account of the further protection Elijah was taken under, and the further provision made for him in his retirement. At destruction and famine he shall laugh that has God for his friend to guard and maintain him. The brook Cherith is dried up, but God’s care of his people, and kindness to them, never slacken, never fail, but are still the same, are still continued and drawn out to those that know him, Ps. 36:10. When the brook was dried up Jordan was not; why did not God send him thither? Surely because he would show that he has a variety of ways to provide for his people and is not tied to any one. God will now provide for him where he shall have some company and opportunity of usefulness, and not be, as he had been, buried alive. Observe,
I. The place he is sent to, to Zarephath, or Sarepta, a city of Sidon, out of the borders of the land of Israel, 1 Kgs. 17:9. Our Saviour takes notice of this as an early and ancient indication of the favour of God designed for the poor Gentiles, in the fulness of time, Luke 4:25, 26. Many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, and some, it is likely, that would have bidden him welcome to their houses; yet he is sent to honour and bless with his presence a city of Sidon, a Gentile city, and so becomes (says Dr. Lightfoot) the first prophet of the Gentiles. Israel had corrupted themselves with the idolatries of the nations and become worse than they; justly therefore is the casting off of them the riches of the world. Elijah was hated and driven out by his countrymen; therefore, lo, he turns to the Gentiles, as the apostles were afterwards ordered to do, Acts 18:6. But why to a city of Sidon? Perhaps because the worship of Baal, which was now the crying sin of Israel, came lately thence with Jezebel, who was a Sidonian (1 Kgs. 16:31); therefore thither he shall go, that thence may be fetched the destroyer of that idolatry, “Even out of Sidon have I called my prophet, my reformer.” Jezebel was Elijah’s greatest enemy; yet, to show her the impotency of her malice, God will find a hiding-place for him even in her country. Christ never went among the Gentiles except once into the coast of Sidon, Matt. 15:21.
II. The person that is appointed to entertain him, not one of the rich merchants or great men, of Sidon, not such a one as Obadiah, that was governor of Ahab’s house and fed the prophets; but a poor widow woman, destitute and desolate, is commanded (that is, is made both able and willing) to sustain him. It is God’s way, and it is his glory, to make use of the weak and foolish things of the world and put honour upon them. He is, in a special manner, the widows’ God, and feeds them, and therefore they must study what they shall render to him.
III. The provision made for him there. Providence brought the widow woman to meet him very opportunely at the gate of the city (1 Kgs. 17:10), and, by what is here related of what passed between Elijah and her, we find,
1. Her case and character; and it appears, (1.) That she was very poor and necessitous. She had nothing to live upon but a handful of meal and a little oil, needy at the best, and now, by the general scarcity, reduced to the last extremity. When she has eaten the little she has, for aught she yet sees, she must die for want, she and her son, 1 Kgs. 17:12. She had no fuel but the sticks she gathered in the streets, and, having no servant, she must gather them herself (1 Kgs. 17:10), being thus more in a condition to receive alms than give entertainment. To her Elijah was sent, that he might still live upon Providence as much as he did when the ravens fed him. It was in compassion to the low estate of his handmaiden that God sent the prophet to her, not to beg of her, but to board with her, and he would pay well for his table. (2.) That she was very humble and industrious. He found her gathering sticks, and preparing to bake her own bread, 1 Kgs. 17:10, 12. Her mind was brought to her condition, and she complained not of the hardship she was brought to, nor quarrelled with the divine Providence for withholding rain, but accommodated herself to it as well as she could. Such as are of this temper in a day of trouble are best prepared for honour and relief from God. (3.) That she was very charitable and generous. When this stranger desired her to go and fetch him some water to drink, she readily went, at the first word, 1 Kgs. 17:10, 11. She objected not to the present scarcity of it, nor asked him what he would give her for a draught of water (for now it was worth money), nor hinted that he was a stranger, an Israelite, with whom perhaps the Sidonians cared not for having any dealings, any more than the Samaritans, John 4:9. She did not excuse herself on account of her weakness through famine, or the urgency of her own affairs, did not tell him she had something else to do than to go on his errands, but left off gathering the sticks for herself to fetch water for him, which perhaps she did the more willingly, being moved with the gravity of his aspect. We should be ready to do any office of kindness even to strangers; if we have not wherewith to give to the distressed, we must be the more ready to work for them. A cup of cold water, though it cost us no more than the labour of fetching, shall in no wise lose its reward. (4.) That she had a great confidence in the word of God. It was a great trial for her faith and obedience when, having gold the prophet how low her stock of meal and oil was and that she had but just enough for herself and her son, he bade her make a cake for him, and make his first, and then prepare for herself and her son. If we consider, it will appear as great a trial as could be in so small a matter. “Let the children first be served” (might she have said); “charity begins at home. I cannot be expected to give, having but little, and not knowing, when that is gone, where to obtain more.” She had much more reason than Nabal to ask, “Shall I take my meat and my oil and give it to one that I know not whence he is?” Elijah, it is true, made mention of the God of Israel (1 Kgs. 17:14), but what was that to a Sidonian? Or if she had a veneration for the name Jehovah, and valued the God of Israel as the true God, yet what assurance had she that this stranger was his prophet or had any warrant to speak in his name? It was easy for a hungry vagrant to impose upon her. But she gets over all these objections, and obeys the precept in dependence upon the promise: She went and did according to the saying of Elijah, 1 Kgs. 17:15. O woman! great was thy faith; one has not found the like, no, not in Israel: all things considered, it exceeded that of the widow who, when she had but two mites, cast them into the treasury. She took the prophet’s word, that she should not lose by it, but it should be repaid with interest. Those that can venture upon the promise of God will make no difficulty of exposing and emptying themselves in his service, by giving him his dues out of a little and giving him his part first. Those that deal with God must deal upon trust; seek first his kingdom, and then other things shall be added. By the law, the first-fruits were God’s, the tithe was taken out first, and the heave-offering of their dough was first offered, Num. 15:20, 21. But surely the increase of this widow’s faith, to such a degree as to enable her thus to deny herself and to depend upon the divine promise, was as great a miracle in the kingdom of grace as the increase of her oil was in the kingdom of providence. Happy are those who can thus, against hope, believe and obey in hope.
2. The care God took of her guest: The barrel of meal wasted not, nor did the cruse of oil fail, but still as they took from them more was added to them by the divine power, 1 Kgs. 17:16. Never did corn or olive so increase in the growing (says bishop Hall) as these did in the using; but the multiplying of the seed sown (2 Cor. 9:10) in the common course of providence is an instance of the power and goodness of God not to be overlooked because common. The meal and the oil multiplied, not in the hoarding, but in the spending; for there is that scattereth and yet increaseth. When God blesses a little, it will go a great way, even beyond expectation; as, on the contrary, though there be abundance, if he blow upon it, it comes to little, Hag. 1:9; 2:16. (1.) This was a maintenance for the prophet. Still miracles shall be his daily bread. Hitherto he had been fed with bread and flesh, now he was fed with bread and oil, which they used as we do butter. Manna was both, for the taste of it was as the taste of fresh oil, Num. 11:8. This Elijah was thankful for, though he had been used to flesh twice a day and now had none at all. Those that cannot live without flesh, once a day at least, because they have been used to it, could not have boarded contentedly with Elijah, no, not to live upon a miracle. (2.) It was a maintenance for the poor widow and her son, and a recompence to her for entertaining the prophet. There is nothing lost by being kind to God’s people and ministers; she that received a prophet had a prophet’s reward; she gave him house-room, and he repaid her with food for her household. Christ has promised to those who open their doors to him that he will come in to them, and sup with them, and they with him, Rev. 3:20. Like Elijah here, he brings to those who bid him welcome, not only his own entertainment, but theirs too. See how the reward answered the service. She generously made one cake for the prophet, and was repaid with many for herself and her son. When Abraham offers his only son to God he is told he shall be the father of multitudes. What is laid out in piety or charity is let out t 2eb2 o the best interest, upon the best securities. One poor meal’s meat this poor widow gave the prophet, and, in recompence of it, she and her son did eat many days (1 Kgs. 17:15), above two years, in a time of general scarcity; and to have their food from God’s special favour, and to eat it in such good company as Elijah’s, made it more than doubly sweet. It is promised to those that trust in God that they shall not be ashamed in the evil time, but in the days of famine they shall be satisfied, Ps. 37:19.