The Elijah story (1 Kings 17-19) tells how God surprises those who receive his Word. When God heeded Elijah’s prayer and stopped the rain, the crowd sought refuge in the cities, but God sent Elijah into the desert. Elijah did not ask the obvious questions like “How can God protect me by making my desolation worse? A fine protection that is! A great reward for my loyalty! Thank you so very much! With a Protector like this who needs enemies?” To common sense it seemed like a death sentence, but Elijah let the command of God be enough. He drank from the stream that the Lord showed him and the ravens brought him food. According to the Deuteronomic law, ravens were defiled creatures, but the power of God turned them into the means of sustaining his servant. Jesus tells us to “consider the ravens”.
When the stream ran dry, the Lord sent Elijah to a pagan widow facing starvation. This was also a defiled means of deliverance — a weak, miserable stranger tainted by idolatry. Elijah did not puzzle over how God could sustain him by such weak means. He simply let the command of God be enough.
When he found the widow she told him that a handful of meal, a little oil, and two sticks to cook it with, was all that remained. She would prepare it for herself and her son and then die. Elijah asked, “ . . . make me a little cake first . . .” To common sense this was a ruthless request, but the widow received the messenger of God more readily than had Israel. She built a fire before she saw the food. The meal and oil did not run out. She let God’s word of promise be enough. Thus, God miraculously sustained his prophet, the faithful widow, and her son. Later, when the child died unexpectedly, the prophet whose life she had sustained, restored the life of her son.
Madeline L’Engle says “It is when things go wrong, when the good things do not happen, when our prayers seem to have been lost, that God is most present. We do not need the sheltering wings when things go smoothly. We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly.”
When confidence in our own understanding is completely shaken, when we must step into the darkness, we can learn to discover God’s wonders hidden there which will refresh us along our way as they did Elijah and the widow.