This is a Bible story of a widow woman in the Bible. This woman lived in obscurity to all but God; in fact, we do not even have a record of her name. But God saw her and her situation and took note. As a result, she made an impact for eternity. She is what I call the “no way out” woman. In her desperate situation, she truly had no one to turn to for help, and no hope that anything would change.
Now who was this widow? She was apparently a gentile, not a Jew. She lived in Jezebel’s home territory of Sidon, not in Israel. She showed herself a believer in the true God when she swore by His name to Elijah. Look back at v. 12. She said, “as certainly as Yahweh Elohim lives.” An unbeliever would not have said such a thing. I read this: “In a heathen, idolatrous land Elijah finds in a poor widow what he had sought in vain in Israel: faith in the living God of Israel.”
In order to understand how desperate her condition was, we have to look at the state of her world.
Read 1 Kings 16:29-33.
Remember that the Jewish nation was divided at this time. Israel was the larger nation in the north, which included 10 of the twelve tribes of Israel. The southern kingdom was that of Judah, with only two tribes. The widow’s circumstances were brought on by the situation in the northern kingdom.
Samaria was the capital of Israel. At this point in the text a new king came to rule over that land. His name was Ahab, and he had the notoriety of being the most evil of all the kings that had led that nation until this time. And it had not had any good kings. They were all evil!! Anyway, Ahab was bad and then became worse when he married Jezebel, whose father was the king of the Sidonians, or the Phoenicians, as you may have heard them called. Their kingdom was on the coastline and they were known as great traders.
Jezebel and Ahab solidified the worship of Baal as the state religion of Israel. Baal was the pagan god of storms and fertility, whose name means “master” or “owner”. The fertility goddess Asherah was often associated with Baal, and their worship involved self-mutilation, ritual prostitution, and infant sacrifice.
With Ahab leading God’s people into that sort of idolatry, you can understand why God called him the most evil of Israel’s kings.
This was the religious situation at the time our story began.
Read 1 Kings 17:1.
The Bible suddenly introduces Elijah at this point. When the situation was at its worst, when the most evil king reigned, when the worship of the true God was most threatened, God raised up Elijah as His prophet. Elijah’s name means “My God is Yahweh.”
The text tells us that Elijah was a Tishbite, or from Tishbe in Gilead, which was on the east side of the Jordan River.
As far as we know, this was Elijah’s first appearance before Ahab. He introduced himself as one who stands before the LORD God, or Yahweh Elohim, the God of Israel. To stand before God meant that He was His servant and ambassador. Elijah also mentioned the certainty that the LORD God lives. What a contrast to a god of wood and stone!
Imagine Ahab’s surprise when suddenly, one of Yahweh’s prophets appeared and announced that there would be no rain or dew in the land until he said so. Remember that Baal was the god of storm, generating the rains and controlling nature. As one commentator put it, “lack of rain was tangible proof of Baal’s impotence.”
I’m sure that Ahab wondered what kind of joke Elijah thought he was trying to pull since Baal was the one who determined whether it rained or not, not this prophet of Yahweh!
God clearly threatened drought as a form of judgment on the Israelites hundreds of years before this event.
Read Lev. 26:1-5, 14-15, 19-20.
Through Moses God promised to bring drought if His people turned against Him. Here He was making that promise good. We have seen some of the effects of drought these past months. Imagine being totally dependent on the rain for food and water. That was why droughts were so serious!
Elijah told Ahab that there would be drought until he prayed otherwise. Notice that Elijah was a man of his word.
Read James 5:16b-18.
Here we see that this drought lasted 3½ years in all. God appointed Elijah to pray for drought and then to pray for rain.
James’ point was that prayer of ordinary people who follow God is effective, even as Elijah’s prayers were. I find this an amazing statement by James. After all, God specifically called Elijah to be His spokesman to Ahab, and God specifically called him to pray for the rain to stop and then to start again.
It makes me wonder how many answered prayers we could see if we just stopped and really listened to God to see how He wants us to pray. What is His will? What is He trying to do in His kingdom program? It may look very different from the way we would pray otherwise. Our tendency is to pray for rain in a drought. We are likely to pray for deliverance in the tough situations. What if we heard God tell us His will in the matter because we really listened? James says that we would see the answers to our fervent prayers if we pray as Elijah did.
You know the rest of the story of the drought. When God was ready to end it, Elijah told Ahab to call the prophets of Baal to a contest between Baal and Yahweh on Mount Carmel. At that competition the LORD God of Israel won hands down. Then, Elijah prayed for rain and the rain came.
But in the meantime there were 3½ years of drought to go through. Not only did those worshipping idols go through the drought, but Elijah and our widow did also.
Makes you wonder how many “churches” were praying for the drought to end? (I know there weren’t churches in that time!) But if it happened today, many of our churches would hold prayer vigils for the drought to end. They would be clueless that the drought WAS God’s will.
Bad things affect God’s people. Sometimes God’s people are caught in the effects of living in a fallen world. In this case God was judging His people for their idolatry, but there were still faithful men and women among them who had to live with the drought. In fact, after the drought was over and Elijah had defeated the prophets of Baal, he ran for his life from Ahab into the desert. While he was hiding, he and God had a conversation.
Read 1 Kings 19:13-14, 18.
Although Elijah felt totally alone as the last of God’s faithful followers, God let him know that there were actually 7,000 who had not worshipped Baal. All of these went through the drought also. All of these must have suffered in the same ways that the idolaters did. Speculation says, many faithful believers may have died because of the effects of the drought.
When Hurricane Katrina hit the Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana coasts, believers were affected, just as unbelievers were. Their homes and churches were destroyed and many were killed. We live in a fallen world. Some of the things that happen may be God’s judgment on specific sin, but some are simply what happens when there is sin in the world. The consequences of the fact that our world is now fallen include disasters and illness, which impact all of us, whether we are believers or unbelievers.
I do not claim to be able to say what God is doing in such situations. I know there have been very public statements by certain Christian leaders saying that the destruction of New Orleans was God’s judgment on the sin of that city. I don’t know that and think we are on thin ice when we proclaim such things. We are not Old Testament prophets. There are no such persons at this point in time. I know that God is at work, whatever happens. In the midst of these difficult disasters and personal hardships, He can work. But I cannot pronounce the mind of God.
We do know that both the righteous and the unrighteous are affected by living in a fallen world. Elijah and the widow both dealt with the effects of God’s judgment on Israel.
We also know that in the midst of such situations, when there is really no way out, God is there, caring and providing. When you are in a situation where there is no way out, remember that God is there, caring and providing so trust and obey Him, dying to self.
Movie-makers love the no way out situation. Movies are full of them. But they always end those scenes with some sort of miraculous deliverance. That is how the widow’s story ends, but it does not happen in every situation.
Sometimes the real-life hero dies. Sometimes she loses her job and her home. Sometimes she lives with a debilitating disease. There is truly no way out. But God is there, caring and providing even then.
If you face that kind of situation, know that He will not abandon you. He gives you grace and strength to make it in that place that you can’t escape. Cry out for help and obey what He tells you to do, dying to self.
And only God knows what your resulting impact will be.