Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath
Bible Background Addendum
"How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal."
That the "widow" in Elijah's story is not a Hebrew isn't a problem. Ruth was a widow who was not of Israel. And in Luke 4:25 Jesus quotes the Zarephath story to his accusers in Nazareth. He clearly uses the "widow" as a representation of "the people to whom the Messiah comes" -- those who the "religious authorities" would have considered "outside" the covenant.
Israel is often described as God's bride. God as husband. Isaiah - another prophet, is the one who most often describes the people and God in this way. Jeremiah also follows this image (Jeremiah 2:2), "Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the Lord: I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown." The Israelites often express a sense of abandonment. Yet throughout scripture, God promises to provide, give shelter, and bring protection and prosperity, ie, act like a husband according to the understandings of that day.
In prophetic terms, the resurrection of the boy is a foreshadowing, much like the resurrection stories in the New Testament. They demonstrate God's triumph over current events.
In fact, amazingly in Luke 7:11, just like Elijah -- Jesus raises a widow's son! And the people claim him to be a great prophet. Later they wonder if he is Elijah. Great connection, huh?
In a metaphorical way, then, the Widow of Zarephath is a widow only in that God seems dead or gone (because there is no rain -- remember: fertile fields and water in the Old Testament are often used as signs of God's favor, even his existence!). She feels abandoned, she cannot trust the word of the Lord. The Widow’s affirmation (our memory text) is an affirmation of the people to God. "Now I trust!" Throughout the prophetic scriptures, prophets are engaged in seemingly SINGLE ACTS that have prophetic significance.
Prophetic acts are almost always meant for a wider audience, very much like parables (which is why Jesus/Gospel writers would say "let them who have ears, hear!") They tell a profound truth and/or foreshadow the future. One good example of this is the RAIN which fell on Mt Carmel after Elijah beat the prophets of Baal. The rain is a symbol of God's power/defeat over Baal who was a weather god (among other responsibilities). The Widow and son were dying because of the drought. But God provided (husbanded).
We take the same interpretive license with most of the healing and miracle stories. It isn't the disciples in the boat, it's us, it's the church.
God fed the Hebrews manna, God feeds US manna, etc etc.
If you need references on the subject of Israel = Widow, here's one: look up "widow" in the Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology.
SIDON is another interesting piece of work. Zarephath was in that region. Sidon was originally part of Canaan. Jesus refers to it several times in the New Testament.
Jesus spoke to "... a great multitude of people from all Judea ... and Sidon. Luke 6:17
"For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago!" Luke 10
Sidon was a descendant of Ham, Noah's son. Sidon was considered part of David's greater kingdom and included in the census of soldiers. 2 Samuel 24.
What then is God saying by sending Elijah to Sidon?
Written by Neil MacQueen for Rotation.org
Copyright 2006 Rotation.org
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