So to recap: the prophet Elijah leaves home to give the Lord’s message to Ahab, that there will be a drought, to prove that the Lord not Baal is the true and only God. And since this is not a message that King Ahab will like, the Lord protects Elijah first by sending him to a Wadi to hide and have water, and sends Ravens with food. Then when that water, due to the drought, also dries up, God sends him to the Widow of Zarephath, which is even further into the land of Baal worshipers. And this land is suffering from the drought and the widow and her son were going to eat the last of their food, and die, but suddenly this strange man shows up and the flour and oil do not run out. They all live. Instead of having no one, suddenly this is an odd little family unit in a way.
But the widow of Zarephath maybe still doesn’t trust her strange boarder, who is now lodging in her attic. And we don’t know how old her son is — not old enough to provide for her except in the hope that one day he might be able to. Having a son is the only gold this woman has. If he lives, learns a trade, he can provide, he could even marry and fill up the house with a daughter-in-law, children, love, laughter.
However the son grew so ill, “there was no breath in him”. And in complete despair she yells at Elijah — she had thought that dying with son was the worst thing, but now she knows that living without him, without hope for the future would be the absolute worst thing. She says: “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!”
So much to unpack, so many feelings —
First “breath” — the most essential God-given spark of life is in breath. I think back to Genesis and how God breathed over the world, and how God breathed life into Adam. Breath of life.
And the Widow (how I wish she had a name) needs a reason for this awful event; so she blames Elijah — not that Elijah hurt her child by his hands, but that he brought the attention of God to her, and since God knows everything He suddenly remembered the sins of the widow and punished her by killing her son. That’s her reasoning. But lets think about “remembrance” and remember ourselves that to re-member is to actually take things that have been broken apart (“dismembered”) and put them back together. Remembering can bring wholeness, understanding…. perhaps. Perhaps it also gets complicated, yes? But she and her son were so alone, so isolated that they had food one more meal and no hope of obtaining more. They were going to die. And Elijah’s God rescued them from that. He brought the basics of life — food, oil, water — in the form of Elijah.
And He heals them again — Elijah asks God to heal the boy and God does. God has not brought punishment and death to the Widow’s son, but life itself.
“Now I know,” says the Widow, “that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”
Perhaps also now Elijah knows it without any doubt as well. The story doesn’t say what Elijah might be feeling — desperation that if the son dies his hiding place will be ruined? Some feeling of horror that the Lord is using him to bring drought, and therefore death and despair, to many many people? We would feel horrible, wouldn’t we? “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow ….” Perhaps the resurrection of the widow’s son is also to reassure Elijah that God brings life/hope as well as death/judgement.
So how long is this drought going to last anyway? Is everyone going to be happy to have rain again?