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Raising the Widow's Son
Written January 27, 2019

 

Hello.  My name is Doniya.  What's yours?

No, wait!  Mother always told me that little girls should never talk to strangers.

But I'm almost grown up now, so maybe I am allowed to tell you this story.  It's about talking to strangers.

It all started late one afternoon, maybe five years ago.  I was playing outside the city walls with my brother Arwadi.  The great drought was in its second year and all the grass had died, but Arwadi and I were making up games using rocks.

Suddenly, we saw a scary homeless man walking toward us!  He was skinny and barefoot, with a sheep's skin draped over his shoulder and a dirty cloth wrapped around his head.

The stranger stopped, towering over us.  And then he spoke!  His voice was very loud, like a preacher's. 

“Children!” he shouted.  I tried to hide behind Arwadi.  “Blessings be upon thee, and the peace of the LORD Jehovah!”

“Je-who-vah?” asked Arwadi.  He had a lot more nerve than I.

“Jehovah,” the stranger repeated.  “Or Yahweh, as some say it, or the LORD.  I speak for the god of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob.”

“Oh, you're Jewish then,” Arwadi said.

“No, my child, Jewish people come from Judea.  That's the LORD's southern kingdom, and its temple is in Jerusalem.  I'm from the LORD's northern kingdom, Israel, and our capital is Samaria.”

“Judea and Samaria.  What's the difference?”

“We have different kings.  But both lands worship the One True God.”

“Well, here in the land of Lebanon, we're halfway between Tyre and Sidon.  And we worship Baal.”

“Baal?!” the man exclaimed, and I shrank back even more.  He spun about, throwing his arms into the air.  “Baal is no god!  Your people claim he rules the sky and the rain — but has the sky brought forth any rain upon the land?  It has not! Never in these past two years!  The land is dry as dead bones!  Baal is worthless!”

We didn't know how to respond to that.  We simply gaped wide-eyed at the crazed vagabond.

Suddenly he was distracted.  A crow had landed near him.  The bird stared at a small shiny rock, turned it over, picked it up, and flew away.  “They do that, you know,” he remarked quietly.  “I wonder whither he will take his pebble.”  We still didn't know what to say, but the bird's appearance seemed to have calmed the stranger.

“I must explain myself unto you, dear children,” he said.  “The crows and the ravens are my friends.  They supplied my needs when I lived in the Kerith Ravine.  Do you know where Kerith is?  Over east of the Jordan.  That's where I was hiding out.”

Arwadi and I looked at each other.  Hiding out?  This man was a fugitive!

“I obtained my water from the brook,” he continued, “and my bread and meat came from above.  The LORD Yahweh commanded the ravens to bring it unto me.  They delivered food every morning.  They delivered food every evening.”

This man was also deluded!

“But then the brook dried up because of this present drought, and the LORD commanded me to come hither.  This city is called Zarephath, is it not?”

“Yes, it is,” answered Arwadi.  

“Are your parents nearby, that I may share a word with them?”

“Our father died.”

“Oh, how sad.  So you children dwell all alone?”

“We have our mother.  That's Mom over there.”  She was just outside the city gate, gathering loose twigs and sticks to build a cooking fire.

“Ah, I see.  A widow, at Zarephath!  I received a word from the LORD concerning a widow at Zarephath.  Thank you, children.  I shall speak with her.  Oh, ma'am?” he cried out.

Mom turned to look in our direction.  She herself was hesitant to talk to strangers.

“I have come a long and dusty journey,” he called pitifully.  “Could you bring me a little water in a jar so I might have a drink?”

I could tell Mom didn't want to be bothered, but she had taught us to treat other people the way we'd want to be treated.  “All right,” she called back, laying down her bundle of kindling and wiping her hands on her apron.  “Let me go back to my house and get it.”

“And if it would not be too much trouble,” he continued, "please bring me a piece of bread."

Mom froze.  The strangely-dressed man had started walking toward her, and she stared at him.  “Are you a Jew?” she asked.  I thought that was rather rude.

“No, ma'am,” he replied, “but I do proclaim the word of the LORD Yahweh.”

“Well, we have a different god here,” she said.  “But as surely as your god lives — ‘the LORD Yahweh,’ is it? — I have no food to bring you.”

I knew Mom was not being completely honest.  Of course, whenever she swore by our god she told the whole truth, but that was not required when swearing by his.

“There's a drought, you know,” she explained.  “Everyone is hungry, and I don't have any bread baked.”

“So you and your children have nothing?”

“In our kitchen there is only a handful of flour in a jar, and a little olive oil in a jug.”

“Oh, how sad.”

Mom didn't tell him about the two large amphorae hidden in our cellar.  One was filled with flour and the other with oil.  The neighbors had brought them over to help us out after Dad died.

Instead, she continued to beg off from feeding the ragged stranger.  “I've been gathering sticks to take home so I can cook one last meal for my children.  Arwadi and Doniya and I will eat it, and afterwards we'll probably all die.”  In other words, go away and stop bothering us, you beggar.

“Oh, dear widow, you must not fear starvation,” the homeless man said.  “Here's what you should do.  First go home and use what you have to bake a small loaf of bread.  Bring it to me.  Then you can go back and make something for your family.”

“I don't have enough flour and oil for that!” she protested.

“But you shall.  For this is what the LORD Yahweh, the God of Israel, is telling me:  The jar of flour in your kitchen will not be used up, and the jug of oil will not run dry, until the day that Yahweh sends rain upon the land.”

“Your god lies.  It is Baal who will send rain.”

“No, it is Yahweh.  Now go, woman!”

Mom sighed.  There was no use arguing with this true believer.  “All right, stay here.  Children, you can come along and help me.”  We went home, opened the cellar door, and took some flour from one amphora and some oil from the other.  In the kitchen, we filled up the jar and the jug and used part of those provisions to make a loaf.  We put it in the oven to bake.

The sun had begun to set by the time Mom took the bread out to the stranger.  He thanked her so tenderly that, to my surprise, she invited him to stay overnight!  We now had a man living with us, upstairs in the spare room.  And he stayed for months!  His beard grew long and white.

Like a Member of the Family

Every day, the people of Zarephath secretly gossiped about the situation.  And every day, Arwadi and I secretly added a little flour to the jar and a little oil to the jug to keep the man happy.  He had promised they wouldn't run out, and we didn't want to destroy his faith, however misguided.  He and Mom did seem to be happy, especially in the evenings after supper.

The man told us that he was under the rule of the king of Samaria, Ahab.  Of course, our ruler is the king of Sidon, Ethbaal, which meanswith Baal.”  Our houseguest bristled at hearing that.  He told us that he himself was called Elijah.  That translates to “my god is Yahweh,” because Eli means my god and Jah is short for Yahweh.

Elijah claimed to be a prophet, a spokesman for a god, and his very name reminded us which god.  He loudly proclaimed the “words of Yahweh” whenever they came to him.

For example, it seems that his king had married our king's daughter.  When King Ahab defiled his capital with a Baal temple for his bride, Elijah cursed him to his face.  “I said to the king,” he told us, “‘I swear by the life of the LORD the God of Israel, whom I serve, that there will be no rain for years — not even any dew — unless I, Elijah, give the word.’

“Well, Ahab threw me out.  That's when I became a homeless fugitive.  I was fed by crows.  But now I have the good fortune to be fed by you, Entela.”  That was the first time I'd heard him call Mom by her name.

The Crisis

One day later that summer, my brother and I were playing outside again.  The dry earth had become even dustier, and suddenly Arwadi was taken with a coughing fit.  He had always had trouble breathing at certain times of year, but this was much worse.  He hacked and staggered and finally fell to the ground.  His mouth was moving, biting the dust, but he couldn't speak.

I ran into the house and screamed for Mom.  “What's the matter, Doniya?” she asked.  “It's Arwadi!” I exclaimed.  “He's sick!  He's really sick!”

Mom ran to bring him inside, and I ran upstairs to fetch Elijah.  Maybe he could help.  We came down to find Arwadi thrashing about in Mom's arms.  He was getting worse and worse, and finally he stopped breathing altogether!

“He's dead!” Mom cried.  “My son is dead!”  She turned on our houseguest.  “This is your fault, Elijah!” she sobbed.  “You did it!  You brought the worship of your foreign god into my home.  You tried to tell me it is sinful for us to honor Baal!”  She stared down at Arwadi's pale face, then looked up again with tears in her eyes.  “What do you have against me, man of Yahweh?  Did you come here to kill my son?”

Elijah seemed strangely calm.  “Now, now, Entela, he may not be truly dead.  Don't give up just yet.  Give me your son.”  He took the limp boy from her arms and carried him upstairs.  Mom collapsed on the floor, wailing, but I followed Elijah back up to his room to see what he was going to do.

He laid Arwadi on his own bed and cried out, “Yahweh my god, is this how you repay this dear widow?”  He stretched himself across my brother's motionless body.  With his fingers he cleared the dust from Arwadi's nose and mouth.  He laid his whole weight upon the boy and bounced up and down, compressing his chest, forcing out the dusty air.  Then he raised himself up and cried out, “Yahweh my god, let this boy's life return to him!”  But Arwadi remained very still.
 

The man lay down and rose up praying a second time.  But Arwadi remained very still.

The man lay down and rose up praying a third time.  Suddenly, Arwadi coughed!  He was breathing again!

Elijah picked him up, carried him downstairs, and gave him to Mom, saying, “Look, your son is alive!”

Needless to say, Mom and I were overjoyed.  She hugged the miracle worker.

“Oh, Elijah!  My Elijah!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!  You have restored a poor widow's son to life!

“This proves you are a man of God.  Now I know that when you speak the word of Yahweh, it is the truth!”

 

So our family turned away from Baalism.  Elijah proudly proclaimed to our neighbors the three miracles that had led us to convert — the never-ending flour, the never-ending oil, and the resurrection of the dead.  We all became witnesses to Jehovah.

However, the LORD had not yet ended the drought.

 

(a retelling of I Kings 16:29 through chapter 17)

I have permitted Obadiah to continue the story.
Spoiler: Elijah finally relents and prays for rain.

 
Click here for other Bible stories I've retold in the first person.

TBT

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