Entertaining a Stranger
1 Kings 17:16
And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD, which he spoke by Elijah.

We naturally ask why Elijah should have been sent at this crisis to Zarephath. The fact that it lay so near to the birthplace of Jezebel, and in the very home of the Baal worship, may have had something to do with this. It might be a safer place of retreat for the prophet than it seemed to be, for Ahab would scarcely dream of following him there. But other reasons are suggested by the use our Lord makes of this incident (Luke 4:25, 26). The prophet was not "accepted in his own country," but found a confiding welcome and generous hospitality at the hands of an alien. God rebuked the proud unbelief of His own people by making this poor lone widow, in the midst of her idolatrous associations, the instrument of His purposes. And thus that early age had its foreshadowings of the grace that should hereafter be bestowed on the Gentiles. The lessons of the narrative lie upon the surface.

I. GOD'S SURE GUARDIANSHIP OVER HIS SERVANTS. Elijah is perfectly safe under the shield of Divine protection, as safe in the region of Sidon as he was by the brook Cherith. He who commanded the ravens to feed him can put it into the heart and into the power of the Phoenician woman to do the same. When one resort fails He can provide another. He causes one and another to fail that He may show how boundless His resources are. There is absolutely no limit to the possibilities of God's sustaining and protective power. "He shall give his angels charge concerning thee." The angels of God are many and various. There is nothing which He cannot make to be the instrument of His purpose, the vehicle of His power. And He causes them to wait in duteous ministry on those whom He has called to high and holy service in His kingdom. God has a grand mission for Elijah to accomplish in Israel and will take care that he shall be able to fulfil it. "Man is immortal till his work be done."

II. THE HONOUR GOD PUTS ON THE LOWLY. We see here not only the Divine preservation of Elijah, but a special act of grace towards the woman of Zarephath. It was a signal honour to have been thus singled out from the crowd for such a Divine visitation, to be used as an important link in the chain of great public events, to have her name handed down to future ages as the "woman of Sarepta," whose glory it was to "entertain a prophet in the name of a prophet and receive a prophet's reward." And in this there was not merely a providential arrangement of outward circumstances, but a gracious influence exerted on her own soul; for God lays His sovereign hand not only on the course of external events, but on the secret springs of moral life. Her readiness to respond to the prophet's appeal was from Him. Poor and humble as she was His eye was upon her for good. "He regarded the low estate of his handmaiden." Thus has God often put distinction upon those who might least have expected it. Let none think themselves beneath His notice, or too insignificant to be made by Him the instrument of some high and holy purpose. "Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly" (Psalm 138:6).

"He hears the uncomplaining moan
Of those who sit and weep alone." The forlorn and desolate, if only they walk humbly and reverently before Him, are the objects of His tenderest regard. He is nearer to them than He seems to be, and often has surprising grace in store for them. The poor widow casts her two mites unnoticed into the treasury, but He to whom the secrets of all hearts are open clothes her with honour above all the rich pretentious people who only gave what they so well could spare. The sinful woman, in self forgetting devotion, pours her rich ointment on the head of the incarnate Love; captious onlookers see no glory in her deed, but a word from Him crowns it with an everlasting halo of worldwide fame (Matthew 26:18; Mark 12:48, 44).

III. THE REWARD OF TRUSTFUL AND OBEDIENT FAITH. The poor widow "showed her faith by her works, and by works was her faith made perfect." At the prophet's word she drew freely from her scanty store, and "the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail." The reward of her faith came in the form of a miracle similar to that of Christ's multiplication of the loaves and fishes to feed the hungry multitude. It surpasses our comprehension, but is not more wonderful than the mysterious process that is ever going on in the building up of the tissue of plants and of the animal frame. Shall not the Power that is perpetually changing the elements of earth and air and water into nourishing food for man and beast be able to increase "the meal and the oil" as it pleases? The true life of faith is one of patient continuance in well doing, coupled with calm dependence on that ever active power. Of the righteous God says, "Bread shall be given him," etc. (Isaiah 33:16). "In the day of famine they shall be satisfied" (Psalm 37:19). Christ. did not mock us when He taught us to pray to our Father in heaven, "Give us this day our daily bread." Tread faithfully the path of duty, and "He that ministereth seed to the sower will both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness" (2 Corinthians 9:10). - W.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And 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.

WEB: The jar of meal didn't empty, neither did the jar of oil fail, according to the word of Yahweh, which he spoke by Elijah.

Modern Liberality, and the Widow of Zarephath
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