Reformacja w Polsce, Reformation in Poland

Biblical Horizons Blog

James Jordan at

Biblical Horizons Feed

No. 40: Elijah’s Exodus

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 40
August, 1992
Copyright 1992, Biblical Horizons

1 Kings 17, which abruptly introduces Elijah into the history of the northern kingdom, is a carefully constructed literary unit. In its basic structure, it follows a clear exodus-return pattern. Like Jacob and his sons, Elijah was driven out of the land by a famine (vv. 1-4). In exile, Elijah received food from ravens and then from a Gentile widow, just as Israel was given the fruitful land of Goshen. In a Passover scene, he raised the widow’s son from the dead (vv. 8-24). Finally, in the middle of a week of years (cf. Lk. 4:25), Elijah returned to the land to carry out the ban against the prophets of Baal (1 Ki. 18).

Several of the details of chapter 17 indicate other dimensions of this pattern. First, the Lord directed Elijah to move to the east of the Jordan (1 Ki. 17:3, 5). This connects his exodus with the exile of Adam, Eve, and Cain from Eden (Gen. 3:24; 4:16), and with the geographical symbolism of the tabernacle (Nu. 3:38). Elijah was not driven out of the sanctuary-land by his own sin, however, but because of the sins of Ahab and Jezebel. Elijah’s exile east of the land also points forward prophetically to Israel’s capture and exile in Babylon.

While camping at the brook Cherith, Elijah was fed bread and meat by ravens (1 Ki. 17:4, 6). Ravens were unclean birds (Lev. 11:15), symbolizing the nations surrounding Israel. The connection between the ravens and the Gentile nations is strengthened by the parallel between the ravens and the widow of Zarephath. In verse 4, the Lord says, "I have commanded the ravens to provide for you," while in verse 9, he says "I have commanded a widow there to provide for you." The fact that Elijah was fed by ravens was a sign that, in exile, he would be sustained by Gentiles. Later, Israel would also be sustained by Gentiles while in exile (cf. 2 Ki. 25:27-30).

The fact that the ravens fed the Lord’s prophet "morning and evening" may be a reference to the daily sacrifices of the tabernacle and temple, which included meat and bread and were sacrificed morning and evening (Nu. 28:1-8). As the Lord’s representative, Elijah received the tribute of the Gentiles. Similarly, the widow’s bread was sacrificial in two senses: first because she fed the Lord’s prophet, and second because she gave in spite of her great poverty. Even in exile, the Lord’s prophet received honor.

The fact that Elijah was aided by a widow points in several directions. It is, first of all, significant that the widow was a Gentile. The prophet of the Lord, the bearer of the life-giving Word, was rejected by Israel, and went to bring God’s blessing to the Gentiles. Jesus later said that Elijah’s ministry to the widow of Zarephath was a prophetic type of the rejection of the Messiah by the citizens of His home town and of the Messiah’s turning to the Gentiles (Lk. 4:25-26).

The widow, moreover, lived in the territory of Sidon. In context, her self-sacrificial generosity toward Elijah was a foil to the murderous rage of the other woman of Sidon, Jezebel (1 Ki. 16:31; 19:2). The Sidonian queen in the land sought to kill the prophet, while the poor Sidonian widow offered him food and drink. Again, there is a sharp contrast between the spiritual condition of the nation of Israel and the receptiveness of the Gentiles.

The fact that the woman of Zarephath was a widow is likewise significant. In part, her widowhood heightens the contrast with Jezebel: Widows and queens are a opposite poles of the social scale (cf. Rev. 18:7). Ironically, it is the vulnerable widow, not the wealthy queen, who provides for the prophet.

Moreover, Israel is several times depicted as a widow (Is. 54:4-8; Lam. 1:1). This image should be understood against the background of Israel’s covenant marriage with the Lord. Because of Israel’s prostitution, the Lord abandoned her. Deprived of the love and protection of her husband, she was left mourning. In the book of Ruth, Naomi embodied the widowhood of Israel during the time of the judges, a widowhood that is turned into rejoicing by the kinsman-redeemer Boaz.

Given this background, what is the significance of Elijah’s being sent to a Gentile widow? When Israel prostituted herself with Baal and Asherah (1 Ki. 16:28-34), her Husband threatened to abandon her, to leave her a "widow" and to seek another bride among the Gentiles. This warning was prophetically symbolized in the activities of Elijah. The Divine Husband’s command to the prophet-husband to leave the land symbolized His threat to abandon the apostate nation. (Later, in Ezekiel 8-11, we see the Lord Himself abandon the land and temple.) The Lord’s plan to find a faithful bride was imaged in Elijah’s relation to the widow of Zarephath. Elijah was a husband to the Sidonian widow. He provided for her (1 Ki. 17:13-16), and gave her a son (vv. 17-23). In a sense, all Gentile nations were widows; they had not entered into a marriage covenant with the Lord, and were without God in the world. But Elijah’s activities foretold of a day when the Gentiles would join together with the remnant of faithful Jews in the one Bride of the Lord.

Finally, the circumstances of Elijah’s first meeting with the widow are significant. Several of the details of the text point to a judicial context. Elijah met the widow at the gates of the city, a placing of testing and judgment (v. 10). She was gathering sticks to stoke up a fire (vv. 10, 12), which James B. Jordan has shown is a symbol of enthronement and judicial authority (Sabbath Breaking and the Death Penalty). At the gates, Elijah put the widow to the test: She must trust the word of the Lord, and refrain from eating until she has first fed the Lord’s prophet. Elijah implicitly warned, "If you eat bread before honoring the Lord’s prophet, you will indeed eat and die."

Unlike Eve, who ate before she was permitted to do so, the widow of Zarephath obeyed the word of her "husband" (v. 15), kept the fast, and received as her reward an abundant provision of food in the midst of famine. She was preparing to stoke a fire for herself and her son, and then eat and die. Elijah offered an alternative: First stoke a fire and offer bread to the Lord, and then He will provide for all your needs. By giving honor to a prophet, the widow received a prophet’s reward.