I am irritated with the prophet Elijah. He assumed the widow was afraid. Commentators assume this too. They say Elijah needed to assure the widow that she could trust him. I don’t read it this way. The widow doesn’t feel afraid to me. She feels done. She tried to tell Elijah this.
As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” (v.12)
She’d been living on the edge of death for so long—a widow, a deadly drought, ravens circling over her son’s head. The ravens were feeding Elijah. What did he know of death? He’d spent the worst days of the drought kickin’ back by the Wadi Cherith, drinking and eating to his heart’s content! So I’m irritated with Elijah’s assumption that the widow was afraid. How dare he name her emotional state. As if he knows.
Do not be afraid,” he says to her, “go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son.” (v.13)
If the widow had not been done, I imagine she would have fought this ridiculous request—this request to make something out of nothing. She was a fighter. I know she was a fighter because she made it this far. (Mothers are fighters, in case you didn’t know.) She didn’t fight the request, though, because death was about to win and she was done. So she goes through the motions, feigning obedience. She takes a handful of meal, mixes it with a little oil and makes it into a cake. She bakes it and then they eat, all of them, for many days. And all of a sudden she wasn’t done anymore.
I wonder what that felt like? I’ve never been as close as she was to death. I’ve never been done. So I can only speculate. I imagine, though, that brushing so close to death gave her a perspective that few share. “Now I know that you are a man of God,” she says to Elijah when it is all over. Okay, okay. So Elijah’s done good. Maybe he’s not so irritating. But I’m intrigued that now she knows. Because from her journey with death I imagine she knows more than that Elijah is a trustworthy prophet. I think she knows that life is precious and vulnerable. I think she knows that she is not in control. I think she knows God as light and as darkness. I think she knows, more than ever, that she doesn’t know, and this makes her a very wise woman, indeed.