A Woman who Sustained a Prophet (Lk 4.25-26)
The context of Luke 4 is the rejection of the Lord Jesus by His own townsfolk at Nazareth. They were not prepared to give Him the honour that was His due. He had been anointed by the Spirit to minister to the poor, the broken hearted, the captives, the blind and the bruised. Those of His own country were not ready to take their place amongst such categories. To illustrate the way in which the grace of God went beyond the privileged and brought in the needy Gentiles He referred to examples from the history of Elijah and Elisha. This resulted in a revolt against the Lord. They would have cast Him over the brow of the hill but He passed through their midst and went on His way.
Valuable lessons are to be learned when we consider the woman (1 Kings 17.8-24) to whom the Lord refers simply as "a woman that was a widow" (Lk 4.26). There are three overriding principles that merit consideration.
The sovereign command of the Lord
God told Elijah, "I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee" (1 Kings 17.9). Is it not remarkable that God in His grace, and yet in His sovereignty, bypasses the many widows of Israel, to send His servant to a widow of the Sidonians at Sarepta? Not to a wealthy woman with a store of provisions, but to a woman in the direst need, reaching the end not only of her resources but of life itself!
Why was Elijah sent here in time of famine? No doubt to teach him lessons that would further refine him in the school of God. Israel was steeped in idolatry and unbelief but God always has those who are prepared to submit to His command. This woman is a lovely example of passive submission to divine authority. How the command came to her we do not know, but God sent His word from the throne and she obeyed as He knew she would. Thank God for women who, in obedience to the truths of Scripture, are prepared to stand out against the fashions of modern life and current day political correctness, and submit themselves to the Lord.
Elijah had already learned at the brook Cherith the importance of being where God would have him to be. Now He directs him to this widow woman.
Have we the conviction that we are in the place of divine choice? In the job I do, the home I live in, the assembly I fellowship with, the service that I am occupied in? Can I say that God has said to me, "There"? That is a blessed and secure place to be. For Elijah it did not mean luxury, just enough! The effects of the drought were felt, but God would provide all the way through. He may have been in Sarepta for the greater part of the three years and six months of the drought but there he stayed until he had another word from God to move on (1 Kings 18.1).
It was the place of sustenance. Do I believe that God is able to sustain me? You may be thinking, "You dont know my circumstances or the burdens I have to carry". But God knows and promises, "Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee" (Ps 55.22). We do the casting and He will do the sustaining! Do it one at a time as the burdens arise and dont wait until there is a weeks or a months worth before you come before the throne of grace to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb 4.16)! God might use ravens, or widows who are prepared to wash the saints feet, or young men dropping their handfuls of purpose. He is wise to know the means to use, but it is He who will sustain. Let us not be self-satisfied about our giving, as the exercise arises from God Himself and it is of His bounty that we have the wherewithal to meet the need of others!
The sacrificial demand of the prophet
Consider the demand made to the widow when Elijah came to the gate of the city (1 Kings 17.10). He didnt have to search. "Behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks". "Behold", indeed with amazement, the precision of Gods dealings with us. Gods timing is perfect! She was gathering sticks." Surely those sticks remind us of ourselves in the frailty of our human condition. She says it was two sticks (v.12) and they no doubt speak of herself and her son. The outlook was bleak, they were about to eat their last meagre meal and were prepared for death!
The demands Elijah makes seem on the face of it no great burden. "Fetch me a little water", and then, "Bring me a morsel of bread". A little in a time of drought was a big demand and to give someone else a morsel when it constitutes your last mouthful and you are staring death in the face is a tremendous sacrifice! As she was fetching the water he made his second demand upon her and at this she felt the need to explain her predicament.
She was clear about what she did not have: "I have not a cake" (v.12). Maybe we are only too well aware of our limitations and lack of resources! There seems to be a tremendous negativity creeping into our thinking as Gods people today. We are preoccupied with our failures and weaknesses instead of Gods faithfulness and power!
God knows our limitations, but His desire is still to use us. God calls us to make sacrifices for Him as well as offer sacrifices to Him. There is the sacrifice of praise (Heb 13.15) and the spiritual sacrifices of holy priests (1 Pet 2.5) that need to be offered to God, but there are the practical sacrifices in meeting the needs of others that Paul writes of in Philippians 4.18.
God was interested in using what she had, that He might be magnified. She knew exactly her resources and how far they would go - "a handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse". She had just enough for herself and her son to share a last simple meal together. However, the prophet makes her aware that little with God is much if we are only prepared to obey. There is reassurance in the "Fear not", obedience in the "go and do as thou hast said", precedence in the "make me thereof a little cake first" and confidence given as the prophet confirms, "The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail" (1 Kings 17.13-14).
The sustaining hand of the widow.
Clearly the widow set great store in the word of the Lord, for "she went and did according to the saying of Elijah". The miracle came from the hand of God, but the cakes came from the hand of the widow! Note again what this widow had - a handful of meal and a little oil.
The handful of meal speaks of our appropriation of the Lord Jesus and the oil a picture of the application of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It was only a handful, not a barrel full, of meal and only a little oil. There may be weakness on our part, but the meal shall not waste or be finished and the oil shall not fail. There is an inexhaustible supply in the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit will not fail in His presentation of Christ to us. Let us fill our hand today and come again tomorrow and every day, for there is yet more of Christ to satisfy the hungry soul.
Notice that "she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days" (v.15). There was something for the widow and something for the prophet and something for her family according to the word of the Lord. What an experience of God to have tasted of divine provision, and yet how quickly we tire of it! We turn so easily to follow the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes or the pride of life. May God help us to eat many days, and to be satisfied with what He has given to sustain us.
Remember the word of God to Moses: "What is that in thine hand?" (Ex 4.2). God has already given us what we can use for Him. It might only be a rod, or a few loaves and fish, or just a handful of meal. If they are consecrated through the Spirit of God and surrendered in the current of His will, who can say how the testimony will be furthered by what we have in our hand? Thank God for faithful women today who are still being used to sustain the servants of God and thus play their part in the furtherance of His work.
To be continued.