Charles Simeon Commentary - 1 Kings 17:15 - 17:16

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Charles Simeon Commentary - 1 Kings 17:15 - 17:16


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DISCOURSE: 342

ELIJAH AND THE WIDOW OF SAREPTA

1Ki_17:15-16. And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days. 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.

MUCH as temporal calamities are to be dreaded and deprecated, there are occasions whereon a pious man may desire, and even pray for, the infliction of them upon his fellow-creatures. As St. Paul “delivered an offender unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus,” so we may wish for some divine interposition to arrest sinners in their course, and to bring them to a sense of their guilt and danger. It was in this view that Elijah prayed for a famine that should correct and reclaim the whole nation of Israel: and, when he had obtained from God an assurance that the judgment should be inflicted upon them, and never be reversed but in answer to his prayers, he boldly warned Ahab of the impending calamity, advertising him for what end it would be sent, and how it was to be improved for the nation’s good [Note: Compare ver. 1 with Jam_5:17-18.]. As for himself, in obedience to the divine direction, he retired to the brook Cherith, and was for a long time supported there by ravens, which brought him bread and meat regularly twice a day: and, when that brook was dried up, he went to Zarephath, or Sarepta, which belonged to Sidon, and was there nourished by a widow woman, whom God had appointed to sustain him. Thus, whilst the iniquities of the nation were severely punished, the care which God takes of his obedient servants was the more signally manifested.

The account given us of his abode with the Sidonian widow is very interesting, inasmuch as it displays the unbounded goodness of God to her in return for her kindness towards his faithful servant. Let us consider,

I.       Her work—

Elijah going, as he was commanded, to the city of Zarephath, found the widow gathering a few sticks for the purpose of dressing the last remnant of provision that remained to her for herself and her son: and after soliciting a draught of water, he requested her to give him a morsel of bread. This led to a disclosure of the circumstances in which she was: but he assured her, that she need not fear; for that God would so multiply her little store, that it should never be exhausted till after the famine should have ceased. On this occasion we behold,

1.       The extent of her liberality—

[Having but a sufficiency for a single meal for herself and her son, and having no prospect whatever of obtaining from man any further supply, she imparted to this stranger a portion of her provision, and dressed it with her own hands on purpose for him. Perhaps since the foundation of the world there never was so striking an illustration of the character given many centuries afterwards to the Macedonian churches; of whom it is said, that, “in a great trial of affliction, their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality [Note: 2Co_8:2.].” We admire, and justly too, the astonishing liberality of the widow in the Gospel, who, possessing only two mites, cast them both into the treasury: but great as that was, it by no means equalled that which is recorded in our text: for the widow who gave her two mites, had herself only to support; whereas the other widow had a son also: and, though the widow with her two mites knew not where to obtain more, yet there was no general pressure at that time and place; so that her neighbours, if willing, were able to supply her wants; whereas the other widow was surrounded by those only who were involved in the same calamity with herself; and consequently could hope for no relief whatever; since, however her neighbours might have the inclination, they had not the ability, to relieve her. Well therefore may this act of the Sidonian widow be “published, (as that of the Jewish widow is,) through the whole world, as a memorial of her.”]

2.       The strength of her faith—

[Though a Gentile woman, she may well be called a daughter of Abraham; for she very closely walked in the steps of Abraham [Note: Rom_4:12.]. The declaration made to her as from God was made by a perfect stranger, and was unsupported by any miracle; yet was it made the ground of action by her without a moment’s hesitation: we may say of her therefore, as of Abraham, She “staggered not at the promises of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded, that what He had promised, he was able to perform [Note: Rom_4:20-21.].”]

Let us now contemplate,

II.      Her reward—

Richly was she repaid for this act of faith and love—

[“Her barrel of meal wasted not, nor did her cruse of oil fail,” for the space of two years, during which time the prophet and herself and family were supported by them. We behold in the common course of providence, seed producing “thirty, sixty, and even an hundred-fold:” but never was there seen, either before or since, such an harvest as this. But truly, if “God is known by the judgments that he executeth,” so is he also by the gifts that he bestoweth. He has said, that “what we give to the poor, we lend unto the Lord; and that whatsoever we lay out, he will repay us again:” but, in the instance before us, “the handful of corn sprang up as the woods of Lebanon.”]

This fitly represents what shall be done in the eternal world—

[There will be a proportion between the works of men and their reward, so far, that the more we have done for the Lord the more we shall receive from him, reaping sparingly or bountifully according as we have sown [Note: 2Co_9:6.]. But what proportion exists between any work of ours, and the lowest reward that can be conferred in heaven? Surely none: a whole life spent in the service of God is nothing when compared with, an eternity of bliss. We need not however doubt on this account the certainty of God’s promises; but rather may enlarge our expectations to the utmost extent of them, assured, that in the accomplishment of them our most sanguine hopes shall be more than realized.

But let us never forget what it is that God has promised to reward; it is the obedience of faith. Had the widow bargained, as it were, to receive a recompence for her provisions, she never could have hoped for such a return as she received: but when she gave freely for the Lord’s sake, and cast herself wholly upon him, then God esteemed nothing too great to confer upon her. So, if we would purchase heaven by our works, we shall in vain look for such blessedness: but if in a way of holy self-denial we will consecrate all that we are and have unto the Lord, for the exalting of his name, then will God load us with his richest benefits both in time and in eternity.

Let not any one say, “This mercy may be shewn to others, but not to me:” for God is sovereign in the distribution of his gifts; and, if he has already given us a desire to serve him, he will infallibly recompense our services in a better world. The widow of Sarepta was a Gentile: yet, as our Lord told the Jews, was Elijah sent to her, whilst all the widows that were in Israel were passed by [Note: Luk_4:25-26.]. In like manner may God send his blessings to us, however far we are off from him; yea he may send them to us in preference to those who appear more likely to obtain them. This to a proud Pharisee is an offensive truth [Note: Luk_4:28-29.]: but to a humble penitent it is replete with comfort. Let us only attend to his word, and it shall be well with us: “Believe in the Lord, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper [Note: 2Ch_20:20.].”]