THE HIDDEN LIFE: A study of Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath

There comes a time in our lives, if we are going to have a more intimate relationship with our Savior, that He must teach us about the hidden life. It’s a time to teach us to trust not in His gifts and what He can do for us, but to teach us who He is and to trust in Him. It’s a time to rid us of ourselves, our self life, so that we can come to know Him better and learn to fully depend on Him. It’s a time of shaking and cutting away all the unnecessary, so that what is left can’t be shaken, and so we can be the most fruitful. There came a time in Elijah’s life for this. Let’s study.

1 Kings 17: 1- 9: “And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.’ Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, ‘Get away from here and turn eastward, and hide by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. And it will be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.’ So he went and did according to the word of the LORD, for he went and stayed by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the brook. And it happened after a while that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, ‘Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.’”

It’s alway good, when studying the Word, to read every passage on the same topic. Often, the New Testament sheds light on an Old Testament passage and vice versa. Or, when studying the gospels, it’s always beneficial to read every account in each of the gospels of an incident to gain insights we might miss otherwise. Both Jesus and James mention Elijah and the drought in the New Testament.

Luke 4: 24-25: “But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.”

James 5: 17-18 “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.”

This was a time of great apostasy in Israel. It was the days of Ahab, when the government officially supported the worship of Baal. Elijah was feeling much alone. He thought he was the only one that had not bowed the knee or kissed the hand of Baal. There still were some that hadn’t, but he didn’t know that yet. He had prayed for the Lord to not send rain, and the Lord had answered that prayer. There was a severe drought and famine.

I will use the Blue Letter Bible, Strong’s and New King James Version Bible for this study.

The Lord tells Elijah to hide by the Brook Cherith. The word hide is cathar and means “to hide (by covering), literally or figuratively: —be absent, keep close conceal, hide (self), (keep) secret, x surely.”

Brook nachal means “torrent, valley, wadi, torrent-valley.”

Cherith Keriyth means “cutting.”

God had some cutting, some pruning to do. Pruning really hurts. But it is so necessary. I love to garden and gardening is so illustrative of the Christian life. Gardening teaches, emphasizes and reiterates so much of God’s word and His ways. Flowers on a plant are beautiful, but if they are just left there, they die, their beauty turns to ugliness and no other flowering occurs. But if you cut the dead or dying flowers off, more will come, often bigger and prettier than if no pruning had occured. Sometimes, however, no more flowers come that season. They were just there for the season, but when the season is over, it’s time to cut away the dead in preparation for the next season. That’s the time that plant can provide foliage as a background for other flowering plants whose time it is to shine. Same with dead shoots or even live ones that are just over crowded. Some cutting is necessary in order to produce the maximum. Plus, the dead has to be removed so disease won’t take over the plant, or the whole plant die. This is what Jesus was talking about in John 15: 1-2 “I am the vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

Sometimes we can be in a fruitful time in our life, and the Lord will still prune us and it’s hard to understand. But He knows just where and what to cut in order for us to bear the most fruit. And notice, we bear the fruit. He’s the One that produces it. The meaning of the word brook is significant here, too. In Israel some of the brooks are called wadis because during the times of rain, they are full, but soon dry up when the dry season comes. When they are full, they can sometimes be dangerous, thus the word torrents. This is similar to our walks with the Lord. Sometimes we are flourishing in the Living Water. We are hearing from the Lord and everything is wonderful. And then the dry season comes. That’s when we have to grope for Him. But it’s all in His design to give us depth and perseverance and to teach us to prioritize. If things were good all the time we could be in danger of taking things for granted and not progressing as we should...just sinking into our comfort zone.

Elijah was a mature Christian, a prayer warrior. Elijah means “Yahweh is my God.” But God wanted to take him to new levels in his walk with Him. He’s getting him away, not only to protect him, but for Elijah to find that God is his Hiding Place. He wants to train Elijah in his dependence on God. He wants Elijah to know that He is his provision. We always have more to learn about the Lord. That’s the beauty of Him and of His word. We can never have all there is of Him. He can never be exhausted. Nor His word.

Notice the Lord had commanded the ravens to feed Elijah by the Brook Cherith. He had bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the afternoon, and drank water from the brook.

Provision. Just as God provided for the Israelites supernaturally in the wilderness, He is providing Elijah with what he needs. Aren’t we all concerned about our provision? We want to make sure we have all we need to survive, to stay alive. But we want our comforts, too. We want all the things necessary to have the life we want. There comes a time, at least for some of us, when the Lord decides to cut everything away to show us that we’ve been depending on other things for our provision. Let me tell you how He’s dealt with me.

I had a great life. I had a wonderful husband and two little boys. I had a wonderful home and a great job where I had good hours and made lots of money. I had a loving mother and father and sisters and brother. My siblings and I all built houses on what we lovingly referred to as “the compound”, family land where my parents lived and we grew up. So I was surrounded by people I loved. I had been a Christian since I was nine years old, and loved the Lord very, very much. We were active in church. I had a great life.

Then my beloved father got sick in May of 2001. He had ulcerative colitis for some time and had been on steroids to treat that condition. The steroids had in turn lowered his immune system. My sweet daddy contracted cryptococcal meningitis, probably from picking up his golf balls that had fertilizer on them. A healthy person’s immune system would have fought this, but my dad contracted the disease. He would be in the hospital 101 days and would die from other bacterial infections that he contracted in the hospital. We buried my daddy the day before 9-11. This was a hard time for all of us in the United States, but it was even harder for my family and me. Our grief was more or less hijacked by our national shock and grief.

My father had been my major support system. I looked to him for advice and thought I just couldn’t live without him. This was the beginning of my “dark night of the soul.” I don’t know if you are familiar with this term. I wasn’t at the time, but the Lord led me to a few books that would explain what was going on with me. I read one by Henry Blackaby and a few by Nancy Missler that explained that when the Lord decides to draw us into a more intimate relationship with Him, often times He will use a time referred to as the dark night of the soul, where He seems to have gone silent on us. It seems as though our prayers don’t go past the ceiling. We have a sense of being all alone. Really, what is happening is the Lord is calling us into a more intimate relationship with Him. I knew that was what was happening with me. As soon as the Lord showed me this, He began wooing me closer to Him. He would whisper sweet things in my ear. He began opening His Word to me in ways that I had not known before. Things would jump out at me. I began to see how He was specifically speaking things directly to me, so I began dating passages in my Bible and making notes. It was a hard time, but a very special time. I would get so excited when I would wake up early in the morning for what He was going to show me that day.

I had read that often we will experience mountain top experiences before the “dark night of the soul” as more or less preparation for what’s ahead. That was true of my case. We had been blessed enough to go to Israel a few years before. Also, I had run across Chuck Missler’s Bible commentaries and began to study the Word very intensely. All these things were the working of the Lord in my life to bring me into a most intimate walk with Him. At the same time all this was occurring, I was dealing with the heartache of addiction in the life of someone very dear to me. Any of you that have dealt with addiction know what I’m talking about. For those of you who don’t, I pray you never have to know. It is the fury of hell unleashed in one’s life to kill and destroy and consume. I have lived through my worst nightmares because of this addiction.

We all have our afflictions and trials that the Lord allows and uses to mold us into the image of Christ. Our particular trials are customized for us in order to teach us things we wouldn’t learn any other way. He uses these times to show us hidden sin in our own lives. As I said earlier, it’s a time of shaking and cutting and also, sifting. I heard Beth Moore say one time that when the Lord sifts us, it’s to reveal and rid us of a specific sin. I realized I was being sifted during this time and He revealed to me the particular sin He was dealing with was spiritual pride and self righteousness. The Lord is so merciful to us as to not deal with everything all at one time. He knows we couldn’t handle that. He gently chips away, a little at a time. He knows what He’s doing, even when it seems He doesn’t.

Also, during these times of Him hiding us away, it can seem as though we are the only ones something this bad has happened to. It can seem as though no one could possibly understand what we are dealing with. It is so intense that it is hard to even put into words. Let me urge any of you that find yourself in this state now, please know that the Lord is doing something very precious in your life. Nothing is better than to know Him intimately. There are many, many books written that can help you understand and grow. I will list a few at the end of this study. When all is said and done, even though it is a very painful process, (it’s actually spiritual surgery without anesthesia), don’t we want what the Lord wants for us? I do. I want everything He has for me. There have been times when I’ve been curled up on my bed, almost ready to say I’ve changed my mind, but no. I want everything.

Back to Elijah. So the brook dried up, I might add, because the Lord was answering Elijah’s prayer to withhold the rain. Often it looks like our provision dries up. But He just moves us along, step by step. He’s just going to provide in a different way. The Lord told Elijah to go to Zarephath where He had commanded a widow to provide for him. Zarephath was a Gentile city. It was the general area where Jezebel was from...enemy territory. The word Zarephath means refinery. More pruning and refining. The Lord often refines us in enemy territory.

I’ve read or heard how when a silversmith is refining silver, he holds a flame to the piece, because the heat is what refines the silver. It melts away the impurities. But the silversmith has to keep his eyes on the piece the whole time, lest the flame get too close or too hot and destroys the work. That’s what our Father does with us. While He removes the impurities in our lives and refines us, He keeps His eyes on us the whole time, never taking them off, lest we be destroyed.

God sent Elijah to a widow. Most widows were destitute. This one was particularly poor. Not only was there a famine of bread, but she didn’t even have firewood. She was gathering sticks to make a fire. She thought she was going to die.

1 Kings 17: 10-16: “So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, indeed a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, ‘Please bring me a little water in a cup, that I may drink.’ And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, ‘Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.’ So she said, ‘As the LORD your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.’ And Elijah said to her, ‘Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD God of Israel: “The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the LORD sends rain on the earth.”’ So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and he and her household at for many days. The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the LORD which He spoke to Elijah.”

Notice in verse 13 Elijah tells the widow, “Do not fear.” He wants her to put away her fear and to trust in God. I find it easy myself to encourage others not to fear and to tell them to not be afraid, while in actuality, I am experiencing fear. Fear is the main thing I battle. It’s always what’s going on inside of me.

The widow obeyed what Elijah told her to do, and God was faithful. God is always faithful. He can’t be anything but faithful. He is unchanging. How wonderful to know that our God is the same yesterday, today and forever. We have nothing to fear. During this process of refinement in enemy territory, let’s remember that the Lord is sovereign. The enemy can only do what the Lord allows him to do. The enemy is just a pawn in the Lord’s hands. He can’t go beyond the boundary that the Lord sets. We have nothing to fear. And one more thing, this time of famine was what Elijah had prayed for. Sometimes we have to go through a famine or a trial while God works things to answer our prayers.

1 Kings 17: 17-24: “Now it happened after these things that the son of the woman who owned the house became sick. And his sickness was so serious that there was no breath left in him. So she said to Elijah, ‘What have I to do with you, O man of God? Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to kill my son?’ And he said to her, ‘Give me your son.’ So he took him out of her arms and carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his own bed. Then he cried out to the LORD and said, ‘O LORD my God, have You also brought tragedy on the widow with whom I lodge, by killing her son?’ And he stretched himself out on the child three times, and cried out to the LORD and said, ‘O LORD my God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him.’ Then the LORD heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came back to him, and he revived. And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper room into the house, and gave him to his mother. And Elijah said, ‘See, your son lives!’ Then the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is the truth.’”

This widow’s only hope for her old age was for her son to take care of her. She thinks he has died because of her sin. The enemy always likes to bring our sin up to us when we are in enemy territory. He is the accuser and will take every opportunity he has to accuse us. Things were looking bleak for Elijah and the widow. First the brook dried up. Now this tragedy. God’s provision was in question. But Elijah prayed three times. This shows persistence. This is the first time in the Old Testament that a person is raised from the dead. He prayed that the boy’s soul would return. The Lord heard Elijah and the boy’s soul returned to him. His life was restored. And the widow believed.

In our hidden times, when things are going on with us and no one else knows, we can still minister to people...probably better than any other time. It’s hard to minister to someone if we’ve never experienced what they are going through. But if we’ve been in that valley, we know. When we speak words of encouragement, even though it’s not what we are currently experiencing, we can be encouraged ourselves by the words that we are speaking to others. When I tell others not to be afraid, it helps me remember that I have nothing to fear. What is of the utmost importance though, is prayer and consistency with the prayer, and to not lose heart, but to hang onto the Lord. We have to keep our eyes on the Lord and not our circumstances. Elijah could have given up in despair, but he knew his witness was important here. Most of all, he knew His God. Through prayer, endurance and trust, the kingdom was expanded. Elijah and the widow now knew the Lord better for who He is, not just what He can do. Their faith was strengthened. They bore more fruit that would display God’s glory. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Books that I found helpful in understanding my journey:

Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby

The Kingdom Power and Glory by Nancy Missler

The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee


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