Here is a collection of reliable resources to supplement your study of 1 Kings 17–19. FAIR Resources link to relevant questions which have been answered on the FAIR website. Other Resources link to resources outside of FAIR that are trustworthy and helpful. Under Church Resources you’ll find links to the different Come, Follow Me manuals, as well as other helpful links as applicable. Also on the page are the lesson summary and a guest scholar’s article. This week’s article is by Matt Crawford and is titled The Widow of Zarephath.
The house of Israel was in disarray: the unity and prosperity achieved under David and Solomon were long past, and the nation’s covenant relationship with the Lord was, for many people, a distant memory. Israel as a kingdom had divided, with ten tribes forming the Northern Kingdom of Israel and two tribes forming the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Both kingdoms were unstable spiritually, led by kings who violated their covenants with the Lord and influenced others to do likewise (see 1 Kings 11–16). But the apostasy was especially severe in the Northern Kingdom, where King Ahab encouraged Israel to worship the false god Baal.
It was in this setting that the prophet Elijah was called to preach. The account of his ministry makes clear that personal faith in the Lord can thrive among the righteous even in a wicked environment. Sometimes the Lord responds to such faith with impressive, public miracles, like fire falling from heaven. But He also works quiet, private miracles, like meeting the personal needs of a faithful widow and her son. And most often His miracles are so individual that they are known only to you—for example, when the Lord reveals Himself and His will through “a still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12).
For more about Elijah, see “Elijah” in the Bible Dictionary.
The Widow of Zarephath
A Way to Belong
The widow of Zarephath is one of my favorite stories from the Old Testament. Perhaps the greatest reason that this story resonates with me is because the widow is an outsider. She is not a member of the house of Israel—a fact the Savior confirms (see Luke 4:24–30)—and she meets Elijah at the gate of the city. That is, she is physically on the outskirts of this village where she lives. At least symbolically, the location of the widow’s initial contact with Elijah infers that she is marginalized. Yet her belonging came as she did one thing: she obeyed a prophet.
As Elijah, himself hungry and thirsty, traveled a great distance to meet this widow, I wonder what the prophet thought when he was told that a widow woman would care for his needs. Was he reticent about asking her when he saw her hunting for sticks? Wasn’t she already suffering enough? Would the added stress simply make her life worse? Or did he anticipate the miracle that would occur before he met her and found excitement in talking to her? Whatever the case, he invites her to act, and she responds.
Elijah “said, Fetch me, I pray thee a little water in a vessel, that I may drink…. Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand” (1 Kings 17:10–11).
The widow responds, “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).
When Elijah assures her of sufficient oil and meal until the famine is over, “she went and did according to the saying of Elijah” (1 Kings 17:15).
Following the Prophet is Always Right
The response of this widow is intriguing. It seems to me that she says, in essence, “What do I have to lose? Obeying this man will not make my life more difficult.” She already recognized that she and her boy would die and by doing what this stranger asked her to do she would not be any worse off. That said, she may have wondered why this man would even ask her to do anything. What did he know of her circumstances? How could he possibly help her?
For all the possible questions that she may have had, she did that which was counterintuitive. She chose to do that which was unexpected. Someone preparing to eat a last meal would hardly be asked to feed another first. “According to the world’s standards, following the prophet may be unpopular, politically incorrect, or socially unacceptable. But following the prophet is always right” (Sister Carol F. McConkie, “Live According to the Words of the Prophet,” October 2014 general conference).
Another Widow’s Experience
Consider the offering of the Filipino widow of Tondo told by one of the children, Len B. Novilla.
There are six girls and a boy in our family—a mix that does not bode well in a society where women are not regarded as men’s equals. I am the fifth child in that brood of seven. I was six when my father[, Tondo,] died of cancer. Our eldest had just turned 18, and the youngest was two years old….
Without a stable breadwinner and with seven children left to a mother without a job or a college degree, our finances were tenuous. We grew up in poverty—not just income poverty but also a scarcity of opportunities. We were too poor to get an education, but my mother persisted in her dream to have each of her children complete a college degree. She believed in the power of education to enlighten and transform lives, to equalize social standing, and to be the vehicle out of our dismal circumstances. She borrowed money even at high interest rates to keep us in school….
Meeting the Missionaries
Four years after my father died, two young American men knocked on our door looking for my mother. They introduced themselves as missionaries. Behind them was a throng of Filipino children fighting for their attention and calling out, “Hi, Joe.” Under the sweltering Philippine heat, these young men stood out in their white shirts, ties, and black briefcases; to us they looked like a toss-up between James Bond and CIA agents. I was about to say to them that my mother had told me to tell them that she was not home when my mother’s friends and their children, who came with the missionaries, showed up. My mom overheard and motioned to me to let them in. I quietly asked myself, “What are we getting ourselves into?” Inviting these Americans in was social suicide, as my mom was known in our community for her staunch devotion to the dominant faith.
…The year after my father died, martial law was declared in the Philippines. On top of that there was a national shortage of rice—the country’s staple food. To stave off the shortage, rice was combined with corn and rationed to five kilos per family. Food and jobs were scarce. For us to survive, my mom marshaled every inch of strength she had. She talked a friend into allowing her to be paid a meager sum for helping to deliver rice. She would leave at 4:30 in the morning and would come home at 11:00 at night. At the end of the day she would pick up grain after grain of rice and corn that had spilled on the floor of the delivery truck. She would not stop until she had several handfuls for tomorrow’s meals. Our life was already at its worst. How could listening to these Americans help? What could these missionaries offer that would make our life better?
What the Missionaries had to Offer
To our surprise, our mother listened to the missionaries….It must have exacted much willpower from my mother to stop drinking coffee and to stop smoking—just because two foreigners barely in their twenties said so—at a time when nicotine patches were unheard of. It must have taken real faith to part with a widow’s mite for tithing.
…My mother, my younger sister Ruth, and myself were the first to be baptized. My older sisters followed months later. My brother was baptized when he turned eight. It took years and a temple in the Philippines for our father to be baptized by proxy and for us to be finally sealed as a family.
What did the missionaries offer? They offered us the opportunity of knowing that families can be together even beyond death—something my father had always hoped we could be. The missionaries taught us that we have a Heavenly Father who knows each of us by name and who loves us dearly—a concept so foreign to us, for the God that we knew lashed out with punishments and heard only memorized prayers….
The Price of Faith
The fruit of the gospel is remarkably sweet, and we paid a high price for it. Following our baptism, relatives and friends distanced themselves from us. They charged my mother with blasphemy and insanity. Some refused to extend any help despite our needs. The loss of that social safety net was economic suicide for a family already living on the edge of poverty. Even as young children we were not spared from many trials, and we had to grow far beyond our years. When I was attending a private school of another religious faith, a nun confronted me in front of my sixth-grade class for choosing to be baptized as a Latter-day Saint. I came home that day in tears. My sister and I were eventually disqualified from receiving the highest academic honors. We were denied the very measure of success that we had worked hard for. This was not the end. Many more challenges came.
How did we keep the faith? …[I]t was never because we were smarter or stronger, nor were our lives easier. With the help of the Holy Ghost, a conversion rooted within our hearts drove the change. What helped us was that we stayed on course. We did not give up at the very first sign of adversity. We kept going even when the tempests in our lives were raging. We kept paying tithing even when the choices came down to not having enough to eat. We kept coming to Church with the thought that if we continued to do so, eventually principles that were once unclear would make much more sense. We kept going with the understanding that people around us were not perfect but were putting forth the effort to be better….
The Promise of Elijah Fulfilled
Has the Lord been mindful of our sacrifices? Yes! He is continually involved in our lives. There was no way that a mother widowed at age 41, without a job and a college degree, could have possibly raised seven children from two to 18 years of age without divine help. Heaven must have heard her many pleadings and interceded in so many ways that it amazes us even to this very day. Through the Lord’s design and blessings, each of us was able to complete our studies: two doctors, a nurse, a lawyer, an accountant, a hotel and restaurant manager, and an IT support specialist. Thus was the promise of Elijah also fulfilled to the widow of Tondo:
“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” [1 Kings 17:15–16] (Len B. Novilla, “Journey of the Soul, Anchors of the Heart,” BYU Devotional, February 1, 2011).
Obedience Brings Blessings
Preservation, strength, and ability to keep going come as we obey the words of prophets.
I personally observed this reality several years ago. Through the example of an extremely old brother, I am reminded to obey the prophet’s invitation to serve in the Church.
I visited a sacrament meeting and watched a hunched old man, an usher, ever so slowly shut one set of side doors to the chapel in preparation for the blessing and passing of the sacrament. As I observed his movements, I wondered if I was watching slow motion footage on television I wondered if he was going to be able to get the doors shut before the prayers began. With the sound of the closing click, the prayers started. He had done it. Following the completion of the sacrament, as if in slow motion replay in reverse, he opened the doors and set the doorstops.
After the meeting I inquired about this man. I found out that he was officially called and set apart as an usher and faithfully fulfilled his calling every week.
Following the prophet and doing what he asks is simply not easy all the time. It generally is not convenient. And it definitely takes faith in things we cannot see. Yet a poor, hungry widow, as well as many others, continue to show me how to trust prophetic words.
More Come, Follow Me resources here.
Matt Crawford is a husband, father, teacher, and writer. He resides with his family in Layton, Utah.