Bible study #1 – The Widow of Zarephath

widowDisclaimer: I am not a Bible scholar! I love reading God’s word and learning and studying it – but I do not claim to be a deep theological thinker or teacher. You’ve been warned. This is the first of this type of blog – a type of small group study – to share ideas and thoughts and answer some questions. So here goes.

The text for this story is I Kings 17:8-16

The story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath is found in the 17th chapter of I Kings. When I first heard/read this story, I thought it was mostly a story about the great prophet Elijah. And it is…but there is a lot to be learned from the obedient widow in the story as well. First of all, she was living in the land that was associated with the worship of Baal – a god thought to be responsible for nature – rain, crops, etc. She did not worship the one true God. This is evident in verse 12 when she says to Elijah, “I swear by the Lord your God…” (emphasis mine). She and her son are in the middle of a famine. They are both facing starvation. Along comes Elijah and asks her for the very little bit of food that she has left. She doesn’t know this guy. All she knew was that she had very little food left…so little that she told the great prophet that she was going to “cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.” verse 12. But you know what she did…she gave it to him. She was obedient to Elijah and to God. She gave it to him knowing that it would leave her with nothing. She gave it to him not knowing that God would provide. But Elijah told her “Don’t be afraid.” So she was obedient, trusted him, and stepped in faith to do what he said. She was such a shining example of faithfulness. True faithfulness means that we must place the kingdom of God above any personal concerns. Matthew 6:33 tells us, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”

So here is why I love this story…my lessons and takeaways. First, God used this dying widow (whom we assume worshipped a false god) to take care of and sustain one of his greatest prophets. God knew her situation, he knew her needs and he knew her heart. He used her as an instrument to demonstrate amazing faith. If God knew her like this, this says to me that he knows each of His daughters – including me! He is aware of my needs! She had so much faith. She did not know how the situation would turn out. She did not know that God would truly provide enough to sustain her and her son…but she walked blindly – by faith – into the unknown. She sacrificed what very little she had to be obedient. God wants us to be willing to sacrifice everything for him. Even when it looks like there is nothing left in our “barrel” we should be willing to be obedient to him. And here is the part I really take a strong lesson from. God gave the widow enough flour and oil in her jar to make that day’s meal. And each day she was faithful to know that it would be there. He didn’t give her an endless supply all at once. He gave just what she needed on a daily basis. I believe that God truly does know what we need and asks us to trust him to supply it as we need it. We just have to be faithful and obedient.

So here are some follow-up questions for ‘discussion’. You may choose to answer any or all of them. In your comment, either refer to the question number, or refer specifically to the question.

1. Why does God ask us to sacrifice?

2. What made the widow’s faith remarkable?

3. What other examples can you find in the Bible when the Lord asks for complete surrender?

4. When was the last time you had to reach out in raw faith trusting in what you could not see or understand?

5. How is this woman similar to you and experiences you have had in your life?

Here are some follow-up verses that I think connect well with this story; Philippians 1:6, Proverbs 28:27, Luke 6:38

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18 comments on “Bible study #1 – The Widow of Zarephath

  1. Susan says:

    So, I’m going to give this a shot and I hope that I don’t look too stupid! 🙂

    1. Why does God ask us to sacrifice?
    I feel that God asks us to sacrifice so we trust him. In this story, the woman is asked a tremendous thing. She’s asked to sacrifice the last little bit of her food to a man she doesn’t know, so he can eat. Does this seem fair? Uh, no. Not hardly but God had a plan and a great reward for her faith. He reassured her (through Elijah) not to be afraid and she believed. I’m not sure I understand why or how she believed, but she did. She trusted what Elijah told her and did what was asked. To me, it boils down to trust. When God calls, we must not be afraid. Fear is a human emotion and one that does not come from God. Isn’t this so much easier said then done?

    2. What made the widow’s faith remarkable?
    She trusted! She believed! She knew nothing of the man before her (Elijah) and she just took his word for it and did what was asked. How many of us can say the same? I can tell you that I don’t know that I would do the same. It would be extremely hard.

    3. What other examples can you find in the Bible when the Lord asks for complete surrender?
    Genesis 22 – Abraham is asked to sacrifice his only son (only son with Sarah) to God. He’s asked to go up to the mountain and sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering. (This is the story that stood out to me the most.) Abraham did what was asked of him. As Abraham was getting ready to sacrifice his son, an angel of God came down and stopped him. Because of Abraham’s obedience to God’s instructions, he was richly blessed.

    4. When was the last time you had to reach out in raw faith trusting in what you could not see or understand?
    I blogged about this but I’ll put a shorter version here. A few months before my nephew was born, we were told that my nephew would have a heart condition and he’d likely have to have open heart surgery the day (or within days). This news was super scary for my family. I gave it to God. I told God I trusted him with Jakson and that I knew, no matter what, he would heal him and I wasn’t going to worry about it. (I know the situation is different but sorta the same.) Anytime I found myself worrying about Jakson or what would happen, I would say (sometimes out loud), “God, I trust you. I know you’ll take care of Jakson.” Jakson was born and his heart was good! He did spend the night in the nursery for observation but he was released the next day to my brother and Alicia. Last week, he went to see the neo-natal cardiologist and was given the all clear (with a follow up in 2 years.). God took care of Jakson, just like I knew he would.

    5. How is this woman similar to you and experiences you have had in your life?
    I’m not sure. I can’t really think of a time God asked me to trust him without knowing what was going on. But, I normally miss things like this so it may have happened. 🙂

    • juliesuman says:

      Susan! When I thought about complete surrender, the first thing that came to my mind was also the story of Abraham and Isaac! And then I thought of Jesus calling his disciples. He basically asked them to surrender the only life they had ever known to follow him. Like one minute they are fishing and Jesus comes along and says “Follow me” and they left everything behind.
      I’m so curious why she was so faithful and obedient to a man she didn’t know…and to a God she did not follow.

  2. Susan says:

    You know who I also thought about? Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. (I totally had to Google the correct spelling of their names!!!) Their story is slightly different but they had such devotion to God that they refused to worship another God and were willing to sacrifice their lives for it. God rewarded them by protecting them from the fiery furnace.

    • Roxann says:

      Well, Miss Jules, My first thought upon reading our first scripture/topic was that we sure did start out with a tough one!! I agree with you and Susan ( hi, Susan!!) in many areas.

      It is almost impossible for me to grasp the widow’s ability to trust Elijah and, more importantly, Elijah’s God, to take care of her and her son. Sometimes I struggle with having that kind of faith even knowing full well what He has done and can do to meet my needs. But the widow had no knowledge of Him and His amazing love and care. Yet, she trusted Him & Elijah with their very lives. Definitely a God thing!!

      Sacrifice …. another hard one. When I think of that word, I think of giving all I have until there’s nothing left to give. On the radio today I heard this statement, “when you are at the end of yourself, you are at the beginning of God”. When I have nothing, then I must trust God for everything. So sacrificing brings me closer to Him in a very real and tangible way. I need to do that more!

      I loved your examples of Abraham & Isaac and the three Hebrews in the fiery furnace! I also thought of Ananias, who God sent to speak to Saul/Paul. Knowing that he may be killed by Saul, Ananias went any way, and delivered God’s message. I want the ability to trust God like that!!! Also, the widow and Abraham both had children who they were trusting God to protect….much harder, I think, than just trusting Him for your own protection. Which makes God’s sacrifice of His own Son even more powerful!

      I really liked thinking about the fact that God gave the widow exactly the right amount of ingredients for each day’s need. Wow! So why do I get stressed worrying about the future???!! Sounds like He will be there when I arrive with just enough of whatever I need at the very moment I need it : ). I also liked the picture at the top of the page with the scripture. The flour is trickling in at the top (our daily blessings that are just enough for that day) but at the bottom there is a huge mound piling up of all the amazing ways that He is taking care of us!!!

      Thanks so much for taking the time to do this for us, Jules! I really enjoyed reading your thoughts, girls……keep ’em coming!! Love u!

      • juliesuman says:

        It is a tough one in that I cannot fathom how or why this woman was so obedient without much question at all. But it is one of my favorites! I love also that God used her as an instrument to serve his great prophet Elijah. It must have taken some faith on Elijah’s part to trust God knew what he was doing. Here Elijah was asking a starving woman for the very last bit of anything she had. Her obedience had to most definitely be a testimony to Elijah for the rest of his days.
        Roxann, during those times when I start to stress about money, bills, groceries, etc…this is my “go-to” story. God provides what we need AS we need it.
        Thank you so much for your insight and thoughtful responses! I am definitely feeling blessed by all of us sharing! Love you!

  3. Roxann says:

    Well, here I was thinking about how hard it must’ve been for the widow to say “yes” to Elijah’s question and not even considering how hard it must’ve been for Elijah to ask her the question in the first place!! Thanks for that reminder, Julie!

  4. Michele Hoskins says:

    I almost couldnt finish reading for the tears! Number 4:I am reaching out in faith right now. Stuck in a catch 22 and all I can do at this point is let God guide me. Ive never lost so much in so little time in my life. I lost my car and a way to work. I have to support my grandkids so they dont go hungry and the financial burden keeps me from fixing my problem with a car. Only God can fix this and because I choose to be still and wait for God it has cost me the man I love. Another loss. I am by no means asking for sympathy. My faith and focus is on God and I wont let anyone stop me. #1 God asks us to sacrifice to strengthen our bond to him…teach ourselves humility and faithfulness.

  5. juliesuman says:

    Michelle, your faithfulness through ALL that has been thrown at you is a beautiful display of your love for God. Not seeing an “end” or solution to the things you’re enduring is truly what it is to have raw faith – in the midst of the unknown. And I do agree that sacrifice strengthens our bond with God. If anybody knows and understands the pain of sacrifice, it is our heavenly Father…us learning to be like Him – even in small ways – draws us closer to him. Thanks so much for your input. Praying for you! Love you!

    • Roxann says:

      Dear Michelle, I am astounded by your honesty in sharing with us what you are facing right now. One of those situations would be more than enough to deal with, but you are facing multiple and major issues. There is no doubt that God is honoring your faithfulness and strength …. You and I alone are not strong enough, but the Holy Spirit is bringing you strength from the Father’s own hands because of your sacrifice & faith! God gave our little study group the perfect scriptures at just the right time … Thank you, Julie, for listening to God’s leading! I am coveting with you to pray and ask God to move mightily and clearly in all these situations. We are here for you in any and all ways. You are loved!

      • juliesuman says:

        I have to be honest…I was in the bank drive-through when I read this reply and it brought me to tears.I am so blessed to have each of you ladies in my life and I am certain that God intended for us to lean on each other through all kinds of situations. Michelle – this may sound weird, but as I pondered your response (thank you for the raw honesty) I thought that you are a lot like the widow in this story…sacrificing all that she had and giving it to Eiljah…not knowing how she would sustain herself. You are sacrificing all that you have and giving it to those beautiful babies…not knowing how you will get by. It’s just a living example of dying to ourselves…and I know that God will bless your faithfulness. (Crying again).

  6. Susan says:

    I feel like sometimes God puts us in situations so we learn to depend on him. What seems impossible for us, is not impossible for him. I have no doubt that God will (and is) honoring your faithfulness and devotion to him. I can’t imagine how hard it must be but please know, you’re never alone! I love you tons and tons and I’m always praying for you.

    I also feel that God puts us in situations sometimes so that we may learn the truth. Not that long ago, I faced a difficult situation. I prayed and prayed for answers and the truth and I was met with silence. Or, so I thought. I continued to pray about this situation and slowly but surely, things started to show themselves. The truth slowly came to light. It wasn’t an easy truth either. But, God ultimately, answered my prayer. He showed me the truth and helped me (and is still helping me) deal with the truth. He knew it wouldn’t be easy for me and he showed me in his own time. I know the situations you face are very difficult and challenging (understatement!) but I know God has a plan for you, as he does for all of us.

    I love you.

    • juliesuman says:

      Beautifully said…and as I relate it to this woman of the Bible…maybe her “truth” to be found in this situation was a belief in the one true God!

  7. michele hoskins says:

    I want to thank each one of your for all of your prayers and encouraging words. I know that God has a plan. I am doing everything I can to be still and wait for his answers. I will continue to pray as well. I really feel that I will be lifted and redeemed. My faith is all that I have and the amazing ladies that I know from Gracepointe which includes all of you.

    Love you all!!!

    • Roxann says:

      Good morning, girls! I was reading my inspirational thought-for-the-day that a dear friend got me, and I found two I wanted to share with you!! (I know….it’s designed to be one a day, but I just can’t resist looking ahead! Or back at days past. Pitiful, aren’t I?)

      “You are never alone. You are never ignored. God is paying close attention to everything that concerns you….the sad, the happy, and every moment in between.”

      What an amazing reminder that we are constantly on God’s mind….pretty hard to grasp!
      But, I am oh, so, thankful!!

      And one that seems especially perfect for Michelle right now ….”From pain will emerge a deeper trust in God….a beauty we cannot imagine.”

      Can’t wait to see the beautiful things God will do for you and through you, Michelle!

      Hope everyone has an awesome day!

      • juliesuman says:

        “God is paying close attention” That is such a comforting reassuring thought! He is in the details of my day! So thankful for that.

  8. Roxann says:

    Happy Friday, all! Just ran across some more great words that I wanted to share, especially with you, Michelle.

    “Growth in the Christian life depends on obedience in times of crisis”. This comes from Dr. Dobson’s Family Talk site.

    Michelle, I know your desire in the midst of all your crises is to be obedient to God.

    Actually, as I’ve been reading the replies by all three of you, the one thing that has stood out to me was your maturity!! At the time, I thought that would be a silly thing to mention…..but after reading the above statement, I now realize that the maturity in your life with Christ has come through being obedient to Him, especially in times of crisis!! Thank you all for sharing your wisdom with me here!

    • Susan says:

      I’m not sure I’d say that I’m mature but thank you for thinking so! I feel like the worlds worst Christian most of the time because I don’t read my Bible like I should (working on that) and I often catch myself going back to my “old” ways. I’m growing, as I think we all are and it’s a very slow process for me. I just keep plugging along and I’m so thankful that God allows me to start each day with a fresh start. It’s like hitting the reset button each morning.

      I’ve enjoyed reading what everyone has had to say so far and I’m super excited by this online Bible blog thingy (that’s the official title of this study, in case you didn’t know. HA!).

      By the way, tried to read Judges last night…..not a fan. Is it bad to not be a fan of a book in the Bible? 🙂

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