With an estimated 63,000,000 orphans worldwide, and even 500,000 children who are displaced from biological families in US foster care, sometimes we wonder if God really does act on behalf of the poor and needy. Doesn’t He recognize that children are dying all around us, separated from a family that loves them? Sometimes it is good to ask the tough questions. Sometimes He might even give answers.
There is a witness from the historical acts in the Scriptures which reveals God as “a father of the fatherless, a defender of widows” (Ps. 68:5). Just as we now live with an epidemic of fatherlessness, thousands of years ago, there was an orphan crisis in ancient Middle East. A wicked king ruled the land and oppressed the people and dragged them into his worship of false gods. On top of that, there was widespread drought and famine in the land, which was brought on by the LORD (I Kgs. 17). This was the historical backdrop against which God disclosed his true nature to a widow living in a country outside of the promise given to Abraham. It’s a story about divine intervention for widow and orphan; furthermore, it foreshadows the provision that God has given in His Son for the whole world.
Before he came to the window and the orphan, Elijah, the prophet of the LORD, spent time in the wilderness east of Gilead, where he first told the wicked king Ahab there would be no rain for a time because of the king’s evil deeds. Elijah received miraculous provision from the Lord by ravens who brought him food twice a day. Eventually, the LORD told him to go to the region of Sidon, where a widow would provide for him. Elijah obeyed the words he heard and left for the village of Zarephath, where he found the widow just as the LORD had told him.
Of all the people that God could have sent Elijah to visit, He doesn’t show favoritism to His people in Israel. The Gentile woman’s predicament was bleak but typical in those days. One, she was a widow. Two, she had a son at home. Moreover, she was a citizen of the land of Sidon, a people known for pagan worship, who practiced all sorts of immorality. With all of this against her, it seems out of place that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would send His prophet to her (note Jesus’ remark to the Jews about this divine choice of visitation in Luke 4:25-26).
The prophet encountered her on a day when she was at the end of her rope. As he came across her path, Elijah told her that she should get water and bread. Her reaction displayed her fear and hopelessness to Elijah; however, he encouraged her that the LORD would provide food supernaturally until the drought broke. She obeyed, and it came to pass just as the man of God said. She offered Elijah a place to stay in her house during the drought, and they were given plenty through the supernatural multiplication food in her cupboards. Just when the widow thought all of her problems were solved, an unexpected illness killed her son and left her completely destitute of family.
Her reaction was to accuse Elijah for bringing this tragedy upon her household and for bringing up her sins before the LORD. She thought that this was the result of judgment against her for her sin (I Kgs 17:18).
While she still wept with her deceased and fatherless son in her arms, Elijah asked for his body. Elijah brought the corpse upstairs and cried out to the LORD to bring life back into his body. After asking three times, God revived the boy, and Elijah was able to present the resurrected son back to the widow with great joy.
Finally, the woman believed in the words of the LORD.
It seems as though the LORD was interested in this woman, and in leading her to trust Him to provide for their food and resurrect her once-dead son. While others perished in the famine, God set His eye upon this widow and orphan to do them good.
— Peter Kiiskilla