1 Kings 17: Elijah and the widow of Zarephath

Due to Ahab’s wickedness (1 Kings 16:331 Kings 17:1) the Lord sent a famine throughout the land of Israel.  After a time, Elijah is sent by the Lord to a widow that lives north of the land of Israel near Sidon in Zarephath (F1 on the map: Greek = Sarepta- see Luke 4:26).  It is possible that this woman is a widow due to the famine in the land.

Elijah is commanded to ask this woman to feed him.  She has only enough to feed herself and her son one last meal and so she states, “As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die” (1 Kings 17:12).

Elijah promises her that if she will feed him first, that her meal and oil will not run out (1 Kings 17:13-14).  She obeys and Elijah’s promise is fulfilled.

We saw the video entitled Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath on the Old Testament resource DVD package (disc 2).  I like how her blessing was portrayed in the video.  The barrel of flour was not filled to the top after she gave to Elijah- she had flour, but just enough.  I liked that visualization.  She was blessed to have sufficient for her need during the time of the famine.

Questions to ponder

1.  How are we like the widow in this story?

2.  What do the oil and flour represent?

3.  How do we give oil and flour to the Lord?  What are some examples of this?

4.  What happened to the woman?

5.  How are we like Elijah?  What made his assignment difficult?

Some responses the students gave in class were insightful.  Many students made the connection between the woman and the commandment to pay tithing.  After covering that aspect of the narrative, we examined how like the widow, we give of ourselves to the Lord when we give our time and talents to Him.  The oil and flour represent our life energy: we work for money, with the money we buy things (in this instance – food) and in this case Elijah is asking the widow to give of her life energy, her substance, to the Lord.  To those uninitiated in spiritual things this would be considered an unreasonable request.  Why should she do this when she is suffering so?  Yet she obeys.

We discussed how students give of themselves with respect to seminary attendance, service in their church assignments, and so forth.  Through this service, the Lord will provide us with what we need.

We then examined John chapter 6, the Bread of Life sermon.  In this discourse the Savior explains that through Him our needs will be supplied.  “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).  Through reading several verses in this sermon we were able to see that Jesus Christ was promising his followers that He would give them what they needed, but not always what they wanted.  What they wanted was free bread (John 6:26), what they needed was to have their spiritual needs met, to be filled by the Savior’s goodness (John 6:53-56).  This has relevance in the lives of teenagers as we discussed what it is that teenagers crave- what they so desperately need in their lives.

Several teenagers expressed the following in sharing their personal struggles:

1.  Time.  Teenagers struggle to balance the time constraints in their lives.  So many have a difficult time managing their time- whether it comes down to homework, sports, church assignments and familial duties, they are very much like adults in this regard.

2.  Body image issues.  So many youth worry about their appearance.  They so much want to look a certain way and are troubled when things don’t work out.  Add to this the fact that we live in a culture that glamorizes beauty and sets unrealistic expectations for young people, and you have a serious problem.

3.  Having friends.  Youth oftentimes feel like they are all alone and that they are not understood, especially by their peers.  I shared an experience I had when I was a teenager about a young man who had everything yet felt like he didn’t have any friends.  Every class shared a similar experience.  This is a common lot of youth, and it is important for them to know that they are not alone.

4.  Low self-esteem.  This is a subset of #2 and #3.  Either of these contributes to a feeling of low self worth.

5.  Dealing with the opposite gender.  Whether it is the attraction they have toward one another, or simply as one boy put it in class, “talking to girls is so tough!” Youth want to be able to communicate with one another in an effective manner.

The message of 1 Kings 17 and John 6 as they relate to teenagers is that the Lord has exactly what they need.  Through following Him they will have more joy than any other path they could choose.  That doesn’t mean that there won’t be any bumps along the way.  The rest of 1 Kings 17 teaches us this.  But through our widow-like obedience we have some amazing experiences and find how much the Lord does take care of us.

Another question we touched on as the class came to an end had to do with likening ourselves to Elijah.  Who had the tougher assignment?  The widow who had to act on faith and obey a prophet or a prophet who had to ask a poor starving widow to give him her last meal?  How are you like Elijah?  Have you ever had to do something hard that the Lord wanted you to do but were afraid?  Did you do it anyway?

There is no promise that it will be safe

It can feel frightening to follow the Savior.  Choosing the path that leads to becoming like Him was never meant to be easy, or safe, or free from stress.  The widow realized this as she continued in faith and through her friendship with Elijah (see 1 Kings 17:17-24).  CS Lewis gets this point across in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:

“Aslan is a lion–the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he–quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.” (C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe, chapter 8- what happened after dinner)

In many of our classes students came to the realization that when they do Elijah-type things that they are actually fulfilling the very teenage needs we discussed in class.  By their being Elijah-types, lives are blessed.  Youth gain friends, and both the giver and receiver gain an increased sense of self-worth.  The discussions varied in class, but as we examined ways that we are like both the widow and Elijah, we came to see how the scriptures have relevance today in the lives of young people.

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I write about ways scripture applies in our lives: LDSScriptureTeachings.org
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3 Responses to 1 Kings 17: Elijah and the widow of Zarephath

  1. Drew says:

    Thank you for your thoughts on this great story. I like this story’s multiple approach angles — and the ability to practice separating a principle from the detail used to explain it within it’s context. With my students tomorrow, I will try a number of different story summary statements emphasizing different aspects of the story: The widow Elijah meets is willing to put the Lord first…The widow has courage enough to obey the Lord’s prophet at great personal risk… Elijah gives the widow an opportunity to exercise her faith and serve… The widow woman trusts the Lord’s word enough to act on it at the peril of her life… The widow woman was willing to put her own appetite on hold to follow the prophet… After each summary statement I will ask “What were the results?” In this way I hope to make it clear what the Lord is teaching about obeying prophets, service to others, the Lord’s word, and appetites all in the same beautiful story. In order to make each one into an applicable statement of principle one only needs then to substitute their name and perhaps some personal appetite or some piece of prophetic counsel into each statement. If my students can learn this study skill it will surely bless their own private learning outside of the classroom for years to come.

    • I like that suggestion: have the students analyze the results of each successive decision made by the person in the text. It is vital that the students learn this skill so that they continue to learn when they are not with us. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Gods counsel is the best; anybody that take heed to it will never go astray

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