It’s not surprising with the current spiritual condition of Israel that one of God’s prophets appears on the scene. It was time to work miracles through Elijah, who was certainly a man of great faith.
If you remember there were already a few false prophets around who were involved in idolatry, who were put in place by Ahab and Jezebel, 1 Kings 16:29-33, but now it was time for a true prophet.
When Elijah speaks to Ahab, he tells him that God is the God of Israel and He is the living God, which is used in contrast the Baal who wasn’t.
He also prophesies that there will be no dew or rain for the next few years. This tells us that a severe drought was coming and it was coming from God as a form of punishment for nations’ idolatry, Deuteronomy 11:16-17 / 2 Samuel 2:3.
When we read James 4:17, we learn that the drought was the request of Elijah, which tells us that it was Elijah who was standing up against the idolatrous practices of Ahab and he was preparing the way for God’s judgment upon the northern kingdom of Israel.
As we shall see later, this drought prepared the way for that famous showdown between Elijah and all the false prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, 1 Kings 18:16-40.
It appears that the Lord planned to hide Elijah for a period of time in the wilderness by the Brook Kerith and then later, in the house of the widow of Zarephath.
What we read here is nothing short of miraculous, as God commands ravens to bring Elijah food. They brought bread in the morning and meat in the evening. God was using the ravens to provide His prophet food. This has to be miraculous because there is simply no other explanation for what has been recorded here.
The journey from Gilead, 1 Kings 17:1, to Zarephath in the region of Sidon, was quite a journey, but this region was out of Ahab’s jurisdiction. Zarephath was a relatively safe place because it was near where Jezebel’s father lived. When Jesus spoke about Zarephath, it was in relation to His lesson about a prophet not being accepted in his own town, Luke 4:26.
We saw earlier how God miraculously fed Elijah by using ravens, now we read about this widow, whose name isn’t mentioned, feeding Elijah out of her poverty. She was willing to take care of Elijah, even though she was in a desperate state of poverty and had no hope for the future.
Elijah first asks for water, which she was gladly going to get, despite there being a drought, 1 Kings 17:7, but then Elijah asks for some bread. She is honest enough to say that she only has enough bread for one more meal for her and her son.
Elijah tells her to go and make that bread and bring it to him because God has told him, that as long as she takes care of him, the flour and the oil will never run out in your house. Now she had a decision to make. She had to make a decision, is she going to trust the God of Israel and obey Him and let Him take care of tomorrow?
She went home and she made that little bit of bread and she brought it to Elijah and they went back to her house and there was flour in that jar and oil in that jar. There was flour and oil in her house as long as the prophet lived there and so, she chose to obey God and trust Him for her long term future, 2 Kings 4:1-7.
This reminds me of the times when Jesus fed the multitude with only a few fish and loaves, Matthew 14:13-21 / Matthew 15:32-39. She trusted God’s Word, that His mercies were new every morning, Lamentations 3:21-26, She trusted God for her daily bread, Matthew 6:11, and she certainly didn’t worry about tomorrow, Matthew 6:25-34.
Sadly, sometime later, the widow’s son became ill and died and she appears to be blaming Elijah for this happening. After questioning God, Elijah throws himself on top of the boy three times and cries out to the Lord. God graciously heard his prayer and granted his request and the boy was raised back to life.
With this miracle, the widow was overwhelmed that her son was now alive and she then knew that Elijah was indeed a true prophet of God. Although this was a private event, when we get to the New Testament we see Jesus demonstrating that He too could raise people from the dead for God’s glory so that the people would know He was from God, John 11:38-43.
Hebrew tradition suggests that the boy who was raised back to life was actually Jonah and his father, his mother’s husband was Amittai, Jonah 1:1, but this can’t be proven.
If Jonah was the son of the widow at Zarephath, he would have been around 80 years old at the beginning of Jeroboam II’s reign. But the beginning of Jeroboam’s reign is not marked by the bitter affliction of Israel. On the contrary, the end of his father’s reign, Joash, was marked by repeated victories over Syria, 2 Kings 13:25, and a great victory over Judah, 2 Kings 14:12-13.
In fact, Scripture talks about Joash in terms of ‘his might’, 2 Kings 14:15. So we see the bitter affliction spoken of in 2 Kings 14:26 as rising sometime afterwards during the reign of Jeroboam II. If we allow 5 to 10 years for the affliction to become bitter, this will place the prophesy around 100 years after the son of the widow of Zarephath would have been born. I think it is unlikely that Jonah was the widow’s son.
But this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible that Jonah was the son of the widow, but it is highly unlikely. We also note that the widow was a foreigner from Zarephath in the territory of Sidon, 1 Kings 17:9.
Jonah was from Gath Hepher, 2 Kings 14:25, which was in the territory of Zebulun, about two miles from Nazareth. If Jonah was the son of the widow, one wonders why he is said to be from Gath Hepher rather than from Zarephath. Once again, I don’t find any good evidence to link Jonah and the widow.