The Barrel of Meal
1 Kings 17:10-16
So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks…

In the East the people kept their corn in earthen jars to protect it from insects which swarm in the heat of the sun. What in our translation is called a "barrel" (כד) was one of these vessels. The store in this case was run low; there was but a "handful" left; yet this was so multiplied by the power of God that three persons found at least in it sufficient provision for two and a half years. Let us inquire -


1. Elijah came to Zarephath in quest of the widow.

(1) Such were his instructions (vers. 8, 9). But was there only one widow in this city of "smelting furnaces" (comp. 1 Kings 7:14), this hive of industry, this centre of population? How, then, is he to discover the right one?

(2) God knows her, and that is enough for the prophet. The Word of the Lord who came to him at Samaria and at Cherith will now guide him. (See Isaiah 42:16.)

(3) Let us follow the light we have and God will give us more. So was Abraham's faithful servant guided to Rebecca (Genesis 24.)

2. He found her at the gate of the city.

(1) She was there on an errand of her own, viz., to gather a few dry sticks to kindle a fire to cook her last meal in this world.

(2) She was there also, though unknown to herself, on an errand from God. She was commanded to sustain the prophet of Israel

(3) Yet these two errands harmonize. God uses man's purposes to work out His own. Man proposeth; God disposeth.

3. He readily identified her.

(1) He asked her for water, which, with admirable promptitude, she went to fetch. This was the sign by which Abraham's servant identified Rebecca (Genesis 24:14). The cup of cold water has its promise of reward (Matthew 10:42).

(2) Then he asked for bread, which further request opened the way for the whole truth, "As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but," etc. (ver. 12). From these words it is evident that she recognized Elijah, at least as an Israelite, and probably as the prophet of Israel; for he was a person of pronounced individuality. His profusion of hair, probably, placed Elisha in such contrast to him that Elisha was mocked as a "bald head." (Comp. 2 Kings 1:8, and 2 Kings 2:23.)


1. By the miracle-working power of God.

(1) "The barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord which he spake by Elijah." This supplied not only the guest but the widow and her son for two years and a half. As Bp. Hall remarks, "Never did corn or olive so increase in the growing as these did in the using."

(2) This miracle was similar to that of the manna. The off was used as butter for the meal, and the taste of the manna was like fresh oil (Numbers 11:8). Also to Christ's miracles of the loaves.

(3) The lessons are the same. The miracles all teach that "man lives not by bread alone, but by the word of God." That this spiritual food is the gift of God. That it differs essentially from the bread that perishes. Not only is it imperishable, but it multiplies in the using, grows as it is dispensed. How delightful were the spiritual feasts of that two years and a half in the widow's dwelling [(See Revelation 3:20.)

2. Through the faith of the widow.

(1) She was predisposed to believe. God saw this, else He had not honoured her with His command to sustain his prophet. (See Luke 4:24-26.) Let us ever live in that moral fitness to be employed by God.

(2) This disposition was encouraged. She waited for something to justify her faith in God, and she got it: "And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said," de. (vers. 13, 14). She knew that the word of the Lord was with Elijah And this instruction to make first a little cake for the prophet was according to God's order. (See Numbers 15:20, 21.)

(3) She proved the genuineness of her faith by her works. "She did according to the saying of Elijah." By works faith is perfected, And God justified the faith that justified him. - J.A.M.

Parallel Verses
KJV: So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.

WEB: So he arose and went to Zarephath; and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks: and he called to her, and said, "Please get me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink."

The Widow of Zarephath
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