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
When God chose the widow in Sidon to provide food and shelter for the prophet Elijah, it was miraculous that they and her son were all able to eat their fill throughout a three-and-a-half-year drought. God accomplished this through miraculous multiplication, as each day the widow was able to bake bread from a never-quite-emptying bin of flour and jar of olive oil.
The widow that God chose 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 God showed in choosing her above all the widows in Israel, He still permitted her to go through a great personal tragedy. The widow’s beloved son got sick and 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 beloved.
God’s heart breaks when we lose a loved one. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, the brother of His close friends, Mary and Martha. Jesus grieved, though He knew He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, because 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 great celebration (Luke 7).
When confronted by the widow’s tragedy, Elijah was just 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 mercy of the Lord.
We do not know the 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 through the lean years of famine. From time to time, God will bring people into our lives to provide us with a spiritual and material lifeline.
Years later, when Jesus returned to His hometown of Nazareth, He found little faith there, and compared them to those living in Israel under King Ahab and Jezebel – unwilling to follow God but instead worshiping the popular idols Baal and Asherah.
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’ assessment the same way Jezebel responded to Elijah – they tried to kill Him. Neither would be successful, as both were under the protection of the Father’s will. Jesus would later lay down His own life for us at the cross, but it would be God’s initiative and timing, not man’s.
Like Elijah, when tragedy strikes, we turn to God in prayer. He is merciful and loving, hearing every spoken and unspoken word and seeing every tear. He has promised to never leave us nor forsake us, and will hold our hearts in His hands.
Many people of strong faith in God have gone through the extreme tragedy of losing a child. They did not experience the miraculous resuscitation that the widow had with Elijah or through a medical miracle. Instead, hearts were broken that will never fully mend this side of a loving reunion in heaven.
But even in these tragedies, most believers will tell you of a comfort Jesus has given to their broken hearts, a peace and acceptance that passes all human understanding. Most continue to have a deep faith and trust in God. And in my experience, they tend to be the finest people that walk the earth.
There is no way that such a tragedy and loss was a punishment or penalty for anything they had 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 their hearts, when we next see Jesus. Only God knows the time, but it is coming.
Lord, help us to work alongside You to bring comfort to those with a broken heart due to the loss of a loved one. Grant us wisdom, sensitivity, and love. Amen