Kigundu Ndwiga, Stewardship Director

Eastern Africa Division

Summary: When the widow of Zarephath decided to put God first, she experienced three blessings: The blessing of the daily provision of food for herself and her family, the blessing of the miraculous resurrection of her son, and the greatest blessing of all—her awakening knowledge of the God of Israel.

Introduction. George Muller was a German visionary who felt called by God to open an orphanage for the needy children of Bristol, England. When God called him to this challenging task he had no money, no food to feed the hungry orphans, and no land on which to construct the orphanage. George Muller had only one precious commodity—faith in God’s willing-ness to answer prayer and in His ability to supply the needs of His children. Muller was guided and energized by one biblical promise, ?Ask and you will receive? (Jn 16:24).

Standing on the promise of the immutable God, Muller prayed. He believed God was able to do great things. He prayed for land, and God provided land. He prayed for money to build the orphanage, and God provided it. Muller soon had over one thousand orphans under his care.

It was a mammoth task to provide food, clothing, and life’s necessities for these children. What made the task even harder was Muller’s policy to never reveal his needs, but believe that if he talked to God in prayer, God would impress somebody to supply that specific need. What an unbelievable faith!

In his prayer journal Muller narrates an episode about when he had no breakfast to feed the orphans. He asked the children to take their places at the table and confidently thanked God for providing them with a healthy breakfast. At the prayer’s end, a loud knock at the door announced the arrival of an apologetic baker with a cartload of fresh bread!

According to Muller, his ministry of caring for the orphans was secondary. He confessed that the primary reason he got involved in this ministry was to prove to the modern, unbelieving generation that God can supply our day-to-day needs in answer to prayer, if we believe and obey His will.

When Jesus looked down time’s corridor to the last generation, He wondered aloud: ?When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?? (Lk 18:8). Even though unbelief was rife in Jesus’ time, He accurately predicted that there would be an alarming lack of faith in the last days of earth’s history.

A crisis of faith. A father brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus for healing, but did not fully believe that Jesus could do it. In his dialogue with the Saviour he introduced an element of doubt. Jesus rebuked him for his unbelief, and the man cried out, ?Lord, help my unbelief!?(Mk 9:2). Like Abraham in the saga over Hagar and Ishmael, we do not often believe God can be trusted to keep His promises to us. Even though He has repeatedly said He will supply our needs, the great sin of being independent and trying to be self-sufficient plagues us.

We limit our thinking to the mathematical process of subtraction, forgetting that our God specializes in multiplication! We think that if we give, we will grow poor. We cannot bring ourselves to trust Him to supply our needs when we put Him first. How many blessings we forfeit as we cling to the pittance we have!

God calls us to return to Him in childlike trust. He challenges us to believe that He is able to do all that He has promised. ?For He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us? (Eph 3:21).

The Bible records stories of faithful saints and the resultant blessings of their faithfulness. The story of the widow of Zarephath is one such story. Her exemplary faithfulness is cited by the Master in His powerful sermon. ?I assure you that there were many widows in Israel ?yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon? (Lk 4:25-26). The fact that this woman was not even an Israelite makes her stand tall in the chronicles of faith. Jesus singled her out as an object lesson of faithfulness.

The blessing of faithful stewardship. The widow of Zarephath looked in vain to the sky for hints of rain. Her heart was heavy as she recognized the first signs of starvation in her son. One morning, what she dreaded most came to pass. There was just enough flour and oil to make one more meal. She kept hoping that some miracle would change her impossible situation, but the gods of Sidon were unpredictable and unreliable. So, with a heavy heart, she went outside the town to collect some sticks to cook their last meal.

As she was lost in thought, a travel-worn man called out, asking her for a drink of water. Giving water to a thirsty stranger was no problem. It did not threaten her livelihood, but as she went to get the water for Prophet Elijah, his next request stopped her abruptly. ?And bring me, please, a piece of bread.?

Elijah had come here after receiving express orders from the Lord. Having delivered his bombshell to Ahab, God directed Elijah to hide at the brook Cherith. And while he was there, true to God’s promise: ?The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and ... the evening and he drank from the brook? (1K 17:6).

When the brook dried up, God spoke to Elijah saying: ?Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food. So he went to Zarephath? (1K 17:9, 10).

Asking for the impossible. And now Elijah asks for the impossible and the widow seeks to explain her plight. God did not send Elijah to someone with means, but to a poor widow. This is a rebuke to us who excuse our refusal to give to God on the pretext that we are having dire economic hardships.

?As surely as the Lord your God lives ? I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.? (1K 17:12) By using the terminology, ?As surely as the Lord your God lives,? she is taking an oath to tell the truth. What the widow expresses is the reality of her situation. She is still operating from the mathematics of subtraction.

?Elijah said to her, ?Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. 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.’? (1 K 17:13, 14).

As Elijah spoke, the widow began to see the limitations of her mathematical subtraction and decided to embrace heaven’s arithmetic of multiplication. She actually saw God’s way as the way out of her desperate situation.

Elijah’s diagnosis of the widow is true of us. One reason many of us do not give our tithes and offerings is because we are paralyzed by fear. We still embrace the arithmetic of subtraction. We are convinced that if we give tithes and offerings, we will surely come to financial ruin, for we hardly have enough to survive on. As we analyze our expenses and compare them to our little income, fear seizes us. When a ?prophet? comes and challenges us to put God first, we question how we are going to survive! We need to cast out our fear and, in faith, ask God to graciously assist us in shunning the earthly, temporal arithmetic of subtraction and embrace the heavenly, eternal arithmetic of multiplication.

The arithmetic of multiplication. When the widow decided to put God first, she experienced three blessings:

1) The first blessing she experienced was the daily provision of food for herself and her family: ?So there was food everyday for Elijah and for the woman and for her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah? (1K 17:15, 16). When she put God first, He multi-plied her limited resources. When she chose to lose her life for God’s sake, her life was sustained.

2) The second blessing she experienced was the miraculous resurrection of her son. God performed a rare miracle to reward her faithfulness.

3) The greatest blessing of all was her awakening knowledge of the God of Israel. The widow’s words to Elijah revealed this experience: ?Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth? (1K 17:24). Knowing God experientially is the greatest blessing that can be accorded to a human being. Jesus said, ?Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent? (Jn 17:3).

These blessings came her way because the widow decided to put God first. In her own way, she heeded the words of Jesus: ?But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be given to you as well? (Mt 6:33). Like the widow, God will bless us is ways that transcend our imagination. Shall we continue embracing the narrow arithmetic of subtraction, or will we reach out and embrace the new math of multiplication that initiates us into a glorious adventure with God?