Food is a focal point. It’s true today, and it was true in the ninth century B.C. when Elijah the prophet lived. Back then, the situation was graver than on Yom Kippur, when we fast and quickly learn to appreciate our fuller pre-Temple hours. In Elijah’s time, there was drought, more drought and famine.
Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there.” (I Kings 17:2-4)
I Kings 17 depicts two connecting stories regarding this food and water shortage. Immediately after the drought begins, God sends Elijah to a secluded place with running water where ravens serve him as a divine delivery service. Once Elijah’s stream dries up, God then sends him to a widow in Zarephath who provides for him. The Torah commands that widows (and orphans) be provided for (Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 24:19-21). God orchestrates the entire scene, using human need as a catalyst for people from different cultures to bless each other.
Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid… . But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.’ ” (I Kings 17:13-14)
This gentile widow spills out her last bits of flour and oil, kneads out her doubts, and bakes bread for Elijah. She and her son take the leftovers. With Elijah as the means, God performs a miracle. The widow’s flour and oil miraculously last until the rains return.
Isn’t it amazing how God can meet both our physical and spiritual cravings? The God who controls the rain is the same God who, before Adam and Eve ever experienced thirst, had a plan to redeem humanity—to fill our cups to overflowing. The greatest human need is a relationship with our Creator. Whether it is seen through atonement under the Temple sacrificial system or his provision for Elijah and the Zarephathian widow, God shows his mercy to all people, including the disenfranchised and the nations.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).