1 KINGS 17:8-16

By: Rev. Rosemarie C. Smurzynski


Scripture Reading: 1 Kings 17:8-16 (17-24)

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you." So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, "Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink." As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, "Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand." But she said, "As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die." Elijah said to her, "Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth." She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah. 

(After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. She then said to Elijah, "What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!" But he said to her, "Give me your son." He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. He cried out to the Lord, "O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?" Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, "O Lord my God, let this child's life come into him again." The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, "See, your son is alive." So the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.") 


Of course we know the Hebrew song, Dayenu, sung ritually at the Passover Seder. The minute I set my eyes on I Kings 17, I hadn’t read since I studied Old Testament at Divinity School, my mind began to sing, Dayenu. “If God had done just this, it would have been enough” the song plays through fifteen verses of God’s great acts toward Israel. Our lectionary today reads two miracle stories, and is prefaced by a third.

By history we know it was the worst of times: King Ahab ruled with his Baal worshipping wife beside him, the infamous prophet slayer, Jezebel. The kingdom was in drought and Ahab succumbed to the worship of the storm God of his wife. Elijah enters and in prophet form, speaks truth to power. There is but one God, the God of Israel. And so Elijah flees for safety.

By scripture we know it was the best of times: Elijah’s message falls on ears ready to hear, of God’s great act to care for God’s people. 

Miracle one: When Elijah flees to safety in the wilderness everything he needs to survive he gets. God’s own creatures, the ravens, nurture him until God gives Elijah further instructions. The word comes: “God now to Zarephath and live there.” A prophet listens, at lest some of the time, and some of the time a prophet questions the ways of God. Not this time; Elijah goes to Zarephath where he finds a widow who will care for him. As if this isn’t enough there is:

Miracle two: This is also a story of hospitality and in a give and takes conversation Elijah and the widow dialogue in few words how this care is to be. She fetches Elijah water and makes a cake for him out of her dwindling supplies of meal. But a miracle happens, along the lines of a Moses miracle and where there seems scarcity, the widow finds abundance: the meal replenished as she uses it up. A simple story and a simple miracle bring sustenance when hope seemed gone. As if this isn’t enough there is: 

Miracle three: This is also a story of healing. The widow’s son gets ill, so ill that there is “no breathe left in him.” The widow’s faith in Elijah wanes. People do that, don’t they, they lose faith when death comes calling for their loved ones. Elijah meets this need threefold: first he takes the child from the widow; then he questions God’s ways: “O Lord, my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son.” And in Job-like cry Elijah requires a response. “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” And the Lord God listened for God listens to our loud voices and our whispered words as we will find out in a later lectionary reading. 

Walt Whitman wrote in his poem, Miracles:

Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles….

He recounts abounding miracles and goes on to say: 

To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle, 
every cubic inch of space is a miracle, 
every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same….

I Kings 17 has no corner on miracles that abound; its stories merely invite us to open our eyes to see, to give thanks and yes, to sing Dayenu, not only at Passover, but on any day the melody shows up in your mind.

Focusing Questions: 

  • The widow is a marvel of trust. She listens and takes in Elijah’s four important words: “Do not be afraid.” Even in her fear in miracle three for her son’s life she continues her conversations with Elijah. In what way are you like that widow? How deep is your trust in the God of your faith even into hard times? 
  • In what ways like Elijah do you bring a bring people to life where life has ebbed?
  • Take a moment to journal with pen and paper or in your thoughts the things for which you are grateful In fact, if you are so inclined start a gratitude journal. 


Meister Eckhart’s Prayer: 

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "Thank You," that would suffice.”

And this excerpt from the paired Psalm # 146

Do not put your trust in nobles, in mortals, 
    in whom there is no help. 

When their breath departs, 
    they return to the earth; 
on that very day their plans perish. 

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob…. 
who keeps faith forever…. 

Praise be to God!