If you grew up in or around church (like I did), you might associate the word Zarephath with a certain widow. If, however, you’re wondering if Zarephath was a place discovered by the starship Enterprise, let me briefly enlighten you.
Chapter 17 of 1 Kings tells us the story of an unnamed widow who lived with her son in a town in Israel called Zarephath. The only other things we know about this woman is that she was poor, she had no one else to care for her, and she was living in a pretty desperate situation. The town of Zarephath was experiencing a drought, and it had been going on for a decent length of time: a few years, to be exact. At this point, the poor widow and her son had nothing left in the pantry but small amounts of oil and flour, which was just enough to make a “cake” for them to eat as their last meal, and then they planned to simply die.
Well, God had other plans for this widow and her son. What they didn’t know is that they were about to have some company. See, the prophet Elijah had also been having a difficult time finding grub, and God had told him that a widow in Zarephath would provide for him. When Elijah arrived, he asked the widow to give him the cake that she had planned for her last meal, and said that if she would do so, God had promised to provide for her and her son until He ended the drought. Our unnamed friend bravely decided to exercise a little faith, and she fixed the cake for Elijah. And God made good on His promise by never letting her run out of oil or flour, until the day the rain returned.
Now I have grown up my entire life hearing this story in Sunday School lessons and church camp sermons, but it didn’t really hit home to me until recently.
A few weeks ago, my pastor preached from this story, and while he emphasized what kinds of miracles God could do for us, I was inspired a little differently. I decided to Google the name “Zarephath” to see what it meant, and I discovered that in Hebrew, it means “smelting place”.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that God performed this particular miracle in a place named for a process that, while known for being extremely harsh, is also known for creating beautiful materials.
Gold ore itself isn’t anything spectacular. If not for smelting, we would never have the pure gold we value so highly. The widow of Zarephath could have starved to death and we would never know about her. But God used a strange, very uncomfortable process—giving up her very last bit of food—to bring about a better thing—providing her food every day until the drought ended. He used something that required a good deal of trust to prove that, even though life was hard, He would take care of her. And that wasn’t the only miracle God did for her. Shortly after this story (but still during the drought), her son died. She questioned why God would seem to go back on His promise, when He specifically said that He would take care of them. But God proved Himself yet again by bringing the boy back to life.
While the miracles of the oil and flour and the resurrected son amaze me, I’m encouraged by the not-so-obvious miracle. God didn’t immediately stop the drought. He didn’t really change her uncomfortable situation. God took care of her in the drought. He was faithful in spite of the circumstances.
I’ve been in my own Zarephath a few times, and God has done some miracles for me there. That’s why I chose zarephath for my blog name. Because if I’ve learned anything about God in my short life, it’s that He will always, and I do mean always, be faithful. He may not always change my situation, and I may get really, really uncomfortable. But He will never leave me, and He will never stop taking care of me. My pastor put it this way:
“When our need is the greatest, God is the nearest.”
I don’t need God to keep my refrigerator perpetually full, or to bring a dead family member back to life. I do need Him to put some things in order, though, and I may have to pray about them for a few years. But in the meantime, I can rest, because I know this:
He will take care of me, no matter how long the drought lasts.