1 Kings 17:16 (ESV) … “The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.”
While Elijah was still at Cherith the Lord told him to go to Zarephath where he would find a widow who had been ‘commanded’ to provide for him (17:9). There is no reason to believe that this woman was at the time a believer in the God of Israel. When Elijah encountered her, she referred to his God but gave no indication that she shared his faith (17:12). It would not be long before she did.
Here then is the sovereignty of God at work. The Lord had chosen this woman before she was ever aware of it and had given her a disposition to respond kindly to Elijah. This is always God’s way. All those who are saved were chosen by him long before they ever became aware of it, and all who are saved manifest God’s work in their hearts by a disposition that kindly receives the Word of God.
The widow’s response indicated just how strongly God had worked in her heart. She and her son were down to a mere handful of flour and a drop of oil and, when Elijah found her, she was gathering sticks to build a fire, so she could make a little cake. She and her son would share that meagre meal and then wait to die because she had absolutely no hope of securing any resources for the future (17:12).
Such a sad and depressing account would make any of us apologize for asking, as Elijah had done, for a cup of water and a piece of bread (17:11). We would have whispered our condolences and best wishes and gone on our way. But not Elijah. He asked the woman to make her cake and give it to him! Why would the prophet make such an unfeeling and harsh demand? It was because he had a promise from God to place alongside the demand. If this woman would give her all to the prophet, she would find meal in her barrel and oil in her jar until the drought finally released its grip (17:14).
On one hand the woman had her meagre resources. On the other hand, she had the promise of God. Would she cling to her resources, meagre as they were, or would she cling to the Word of God? The author gives us the answer: ‘So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah …’ (17:15).
The author also shares the blessed sequel: “And she and he and her household ate for many days. 16 The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.” (17:16).
It must have seemed to the widow that she was giving up so very much to honor the Word of God, but she was really only giving up a tiny bit of meal and oil. It was all she had, but it was temporary and perishing, and by giving it up in obedience to God she received that which was lasting. In like manner, the gospel of Jesus Christ demands that we give ourselves up to it totally so that we may receive that life which is eternal.