This week has had various moments of contemplating another quote in I Kings 17. “Now I know that you are a man of God.” Those are famous last words by a widow lady in Zarapheth. She only confessed them after a great deal of duress.
She was young and had been attractive but had become thin and frail as she literally starved to death. In an effort to keep her young son alive she’d given him the largest portions of her rations. But the realization that she had no options for life anymore bore heavily on her as she stumbled home one last time with the only two sticks of firewood she could carry. It was in this emaciated state that she met her ‘prince in shining armour’. He was standing by the gate, obviously healthy, but dirty from travel and obnoxiously unobservant. He was foreign, selfish, and had no time for her misfortune or her family. All he could think about was his empty tummy.
When she weakly tried to explain her dilemma he brushed her reasoning off with a frivolous promise that his God would take care of her. If she’d only known that the God he claimed would provide for her, had let the brook at Kerith dry up and the scrawny crows had stopped bringing him food. Now he wanted her last biscuit.
And that wasn’t all. He had the gall to shack up with her. He said he was a priest but it obviously didn’t bother him that his reputation as well as hers were ruined, not just by the town gossips, but also by Scripture record. The only odd thing about the live-in arrangement was the fragment of flour she found in her tin. Even though she scraped and washed it daily, there always appeared another morsel.
Unlike that widow lady I’ve had access to reading other bits of Elijah’s history. From that, I don’t think he was the kind of bachelor I would tolerate for very long in my house. I imagine the next few months of living with an opinionated, self-centered, know-it-all, may not have been the easiest for her. But it was better than seeing her son starving.
At least it was better until her poor son couldn’t even cope with bread and water and he wilted slowly away into death. I can imagine her dismay when he stopped breathing and not one person, not even her housemate Elijah, did anything to console her. I suspect that having lived with him for those months she began to have doubts about the stories of his escapades. (Even ‘saints’ are human.) Relations had worn pretty thin in her tolerance of his presence. Now it was only after she’d angrily and disparagingly tore a strip off him that he did anything. In response he’d dubiously disappeared with her little boy’s body.
The chapter states earlier that she’d been commanded, or directed, to ‘keep’ Elijah. I’m really curious to discover how those instructions came about. Were they as vague as those Elijah received? How had she reacted to such an impossible directive? Or had she just ignored them as obviously not being divine? I would have! It was only after Elijah reappeared, leading her son back that she exclaimed: “Now I know that you are a man of God.” What had she concluded he was before?
These Beaver Tale discussions, have been a helpful avenue for me to share insights, discoveries, and my heart. Periodically someone ventures to tell me I’m wrong in something I write. (eg: “I’ve been going over your study and there are several things I call into question.”) The notes below are excellent illustrations from the article I wrote above.
A long time ago I was taught to read Scripture from the inductive study approach. That is a different process than most researchers use, especially those familiar with The Word. The more common approach to deciphering Scripture is deductive.
- Deductive contemplation often begins with an accepted or traditional understanding /theory about a topic. Observations and data are collected to confirm (or not) the original theories. It works from a general understanding to the specific.
- Inductive contemplation begins with specific observations to detect content, patterns and regularities; then formulates a tentative hypotheses that can be explored, and finally ends up developing general conclusions.
Inductive research is a prolific user of the questions: ‘who, what, when, where, why, which and how’. (I call them my Seven Studying Men. Rudyard Kipling didn’t include ‘which’ and called them his Six Serving Men.) I realize that asking heaps of questions is frowned on by some motivational giftings but my gifting thrives on them, especially ‘why’.
My discussion about ‘Elijah and the Zaraphath Widow’ raised some interesting responses and became a good illustration of applying inductive versus deductive perspectives.
Where do you get the idea that she was young? There is no mention of her age in the passage. She had a son who was still of an age that she felt responsible to be his provider.(v 12) He was little enough that she could hold him in her bosom and small enough that Elijah could carry him (v 19). Maybe she was in her 20s … at least under 40 years … and to me that is young!
There is nothing in the passage that indicates that she was attractive? She had been married so someone thought she was attractive. Her parents undoubtedly thought she was attractive too. And her son adored her. Jehovah thought she was attractive enough that He commissioned her to provide for Elijah.
Was Elijah’s promise frivolous? He said ‘fear not—for thus saith the Lord God of Israel’. She was Sidonian, a gentile nation that had no regard for the gods of other nations. Even if she favoured Jehovah, she probably only understood Him through her pagan perspective. In reality, what did Elijah’s statement mean to her? Besides Elijah had just witnessed God’s miraculous provision at Kerith dry up. Was he quoting something of what God had told him (v 14) or was it inspiration of the moment.
Elijah’s request was to try her faith, and her response proved it! What faith did she have? She was preparing one last meal before dying and had no intention of providing for anyone else. She responded as any obedient female subservient to the males who lorded it over her. What thoughts and mutterings were going through her mind as she cooked the biscuit? What did she tell her son about this intruder? How did she continue to feel about Elijah over the months that followed?
‘Shack-up’ in modern terms is an immoral situation. There is no indication that was the case. I don’t suspect that there was immorality going on, but she didn’t live in a glass house. How would the town’s people know that this long term live-in arrangement could be anything else? Is there a lesson here about ‘reputation’ versus ‘obedience’?
There is no indication that he was a priest. The definition of a priest is ‘any person authorized to perform the sacred rituals of a religion’. Elijah did that regularly.
I don’t see anything in the account that she angrily “tore a strip off him”. Every English translation I read says “She said …” But read what she said. Do those words reflect a soft, even toned, monologue? Her use of the term ‘man of God’ in verse 18 versus verse 24 come through very different to my ears. The first is derisive while the second is awe struck and reverent.
I don’t believe God’s instructions to Elijah or the widow, were ‘vague’. The record of what God said to Elijah gives very little detail. Zaraphath was quite a large populous city. How many widows lived there? In the several days it took Elijah to travel there, what enlightenment did he have of how he would find this one widow? And when he arrived did he realize this first lady was a widow … and that she was the one? Or did he just ask the first person he met at the gate, for a drink before he proceeded on a street by street search?
I love chipping at the notions that have stagnated in my brain, and dusting out the cobwebs! … john
(original post Aug 30 2015)