Do you ever imagine something one way and then, when you revisit it later, you realize that your impression was all wrong? You meet someone who’s a little standoffish at first, only to realize later that maybe they were busy or distracted. Or you watch a movie that you think is hilarious, but years later wonder why you thought it was so funny. Sometimes revisiting people, stories, or experiences can offer a new perspective.
This happens to me when I re-read Bible stories. I will imagine a story one particular way, but then will come back months or years later only to find that it’s not as I had originally pictured. I’m so grateful that God is in the little details and continues to help us understand him more and more as we revisit even the most famous Bible stories.
The other day, as I was reading in 1 Kings, I came across a familiar story: Elijah and the widow. In fact, I wrote about this unnamed woman earlier this year. But I noticed something new this go-around that I’m not sure I had spotted before.
This precious woman was at the end of her rope. She was going to make one last meal for her and her son and then they were going to die—she wasn’t being dramatic, things really were that bad. That’s when Elijah shows up and asks her for water and bread. When she explains their horrible situation, Elijah sets the stage for an amazing miracle.
“Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf 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 sends rain on the land.’” 1 Kings 17:13-14 (NIV)
What a promise! If this woman, who was out of hope, would serve this man of God, she and her son would be provided for. She could’ve been selfish and said ‘no’ or stubborn and gone through with her plan, but she did as Elijah instructed and God was faithful to his word. I’m so comforted that God is still actively working even when things don’t look as we expect them to.
But the story continues…
“She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and 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.” 1 Kings 17:15-16 (NIV)
When I’ve imagined this story in the past, I think my own love for spectacle and theater took over, detracting from the beauty of this simple miracle. I always pictured that the jar of flour and jug of oil were filled to the brim and stayed at that level. Even if they took out scoops of flour or poured out lots of oil, it would miraculously go back to the full line. But I don’t think that’s what happened here.
What if the miracle was that the flour and oil gauge stayed on empty but they never ran out?
In Exodus, we read about the Israelites and their 40-year hike around the desert. God provided manna from heaven for them every day, but just enough for that day (with the exception of the Sabbath). I wonder if that’s how this miracle played out for this precious woman, her son, and her house guest. Instead of them being confident in the amount of flour and oil because they could see the excess, what if they had to have faith that each day God would come through for them? Imagine the dependence and faith that must have built in them as day by day they had to rely wholly on his provision.
It’s such a small change in the reading of this story, but it gives me so much more hope. God is always faithful to his promise even when it doesn’t look how we expect it to. He has daily provision for us which sometimes comes from the most unlikely of sources. And even in the seasons of lack, he is still with us. Even when things look bleak, we can trust in God’s word and promises because he is our good and loving father.
What stands out to you in this story about Elijah and the widow?
How are you seeing God’s provision and promise in this season?