When God chose the widow in Sidon to provide food and shelter for the prophet Elijah, it was miraculous that he, she, and her son were all able to eat their fill throughout a three-and-a-half-year drought. God accomplished this through provision multiplication, as each day, the widow was able to bake bread from never-quite-emptying containers of flour and olive oil.
24 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.” 1 Kings 17:24 (NKJV)
The widow that God chose to support His prophet had not been a woman of faith. In fact, even this remarkable daily miracle of renewed and sustained provisions did not bring her to faith in God – that was done by something far more serious.
Despite the favor He showed in choosing her above all the widows in Israel, God still permitted her to go through a great personal tragedy. The widow’s beloved son got sick and then died. In her grief, she confronted Elijah about it:
18 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?” 1 Kings 17:18 (NKJV)
Like so many of us, our first reaction when tragedy strikes is to assume that God did it to us because of our sin. While God does sometimes send us warnings in the form of consequences, even those are for our own good to help turn us around, not to condemn us or to inflict a cruel punishment, such as the death of a loved one.
God’s heart breaks when we lose someone we love. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, the brother of His close friends, Mary and Martha. Jesus grieved, though He well knew that He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. Perhaps the pain that this trial inflicted on His dear friends touched His heart so deeply (John 11). On another occasion, Jesus raised the dead son of a widow back to life in the town of Nain, breaking up the funeral procession and turning her mourning into a time of great celebration (Luke 7).
When confronted by the widow’s tragedy, Elijah the Prophet was as shocked and confused by the situation as she was. But he knew what to do – drop whatever he was doing and go pray! He took the dead child upstairs to his room and pleaded before the Lord:
20 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?” 21 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.” 22 Then the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came back to him, and he revived. 1 Kings 17:20-22 (NKJV)
When the widow’s precious child was returned alive to her, she finally proclaimed her belief in God. A mother’s heart had been won by the grace and mercy of the Lord.
We do not know the specific reason why God chose this particular widow, but by bringing Elijah to her, the Lord went to great lengths to keep her and her child alive and safe throughout the lean years of the famine. From time to time, God will also bring people into our lives who provide us with spiritual and material lifelines.
Centuries after Elijah, when Jesus returned to His hometown of Nazareth, He found little faith there, and compared the people to those living in Israel in the times of King Ahab and Jezebel, unwilling to follow God, and worshiping popular idols instead.
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; 26 but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. Luke 4:25-26 (NKJV)
The people of Nazareth responded to Jesus’ judgment of them the same way that Jezebel responded to Elijah – they tried to kill Him. Neither would be successful, as both were under the protection of the Father. Jesus would later lay down His life for us at the cross, but it would be His and the Father’s initiative and timing, not the people’s.
Like Elijah, when tragedy strikes, we turn to God in prayer. The Lord is merciful and loving, hearing every spoken and unspoken word we speak and seeing every tear we shed. Jesus has promised to never leave us nor forsake us, and will hold our hearts in His hands. He brings us through our trial to a place of healing, restoration, and peace. And like the widow in Sidon, we, too, believe.
Many people of strong faith in God have gone through the extreme tragedy of losing a child. Most did not experience the miraculous resuscitation that the widow had with Elijah, or benefit from a medical miracle. Instead, their hearts were broken beyond measure, a wound that will never fully mend this side of a loving reunion in heaven.
But even in these tragedies, many of these believers will tell of a comfort Jesus has given to their broken hearts, granting them a peace and acceptance that surpasses all human understanding. Most continue to have a deep faith and trust in God, even after such a tragedy. In my experience, these tend to be some of the finest people that walk upon the earth.
There is no way that their painful loss was a punishment or penalty for anything they had ever done. No man or woman on earth is without sin, and we must all take our sins to the cross of Christ – that is why He came. Tragic loss is a consequence of living in a fallen world, one that will ultimately be restored, along with broken hearts, when we next see Jesus. Only God knows the timing, but a reunion with Him and our loved ones is coming for all of His children.
Father God, help us to work alongside You in bringing comfort to those going through a season of broken heartedness, be it due to the death of a loved one or some other form of painful loss or heartache. Grant us wisdom, sensitivity, and a divine and tender love. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen
May the Lord be with you today, and grant you the needs of your heart.