For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry . . . (1 Kings 17:16)
Is this how God rewards obedience?
Elijah had hidden himself by the brook because that’s where God told him to go. It was neither a place nor plan of his own choosing. Hiding by the brook was an act of obedience. And now the brook was dry.
We would like to think that obedience leads to reward. What we see in Elijah is that obedience simply prepares us for the next act of obedience. God used the dry brook to send the prophet to Zarephath in the pagan region of Sidon – not a popular destination for a Hebrew prophet.
Whereas Elijah had been fed by ravens by the Kerith Ravine, a widow would feed him in Zarephath. As promised, Elijah met a widow at the gates of the town. When he asked her for a piece of bread she made it clear to Elijah that she had enough for one meal, and that meal would be for her and her son. After that they would likely die soon.
But God spoke through the prophet, inviting an act of trust on the part of this widow. She used her meager supply of flour and oil and fed Elijah first. Seeing a miracle sometimes means taking a risk. Having used what she had to feed Elijah this widow discovered a fresh supply of oil and flour every day.
It is striking that some of the best known stories in the Bible are bread stories
As Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt and through the wilderness, God provided bread from heaven every morning. Jesus replicated God’s gift of wilderness manna when he fed a multitude with a few loaves of bread and some fish (John 6:11-12). Later Jesus would say that he himself was the bread of life, the bread that comes from heaven and gives life to all people (John 6:35).
And then there’s Elijah and the widow discovering the daily deposit of oil and flour.
The wilderness manna, the oil and flour, the multitudes fed with fishes and loaves: we naturally regard these things as gifts from God, great blessings that speak of God’s love and grace. But in Deuteronomy 8 we learn that often God uses blessings to test us. "Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands." (Deut. 8:2-3).
God does not test us solely in trouble and affliction. Testing does not come strictly in the form of loss and grief, illness and death, physical pain and mental distress. Such things test us, to be sure – but just as often God tests us in blessing.
Blessings and gifts reveal the posture of our heart as much as suffering does.
When we wake up every morning and find fresh oil and flour, the test is this: will we love the oil and flour? Will we depend on bread? Or will we love the God who meets us daily with more grace and sustains us in wilderness places?
How have you been blessed today – and what does the blessing show you about the affections of your heart and the object of your hope?
“Break thou the bread of life, Dear Lord, to me; As thou didst break the loaves beside the sea; Beyond the sacred page I seek the Lord; My Spirit pants for thee, O Living Word” (Break Thou the Bread of Life, The Hymnbook, p. 219)