The Widow’s Mite And The Widow Of Zarephath—Truth In Tension
Today we’re looking at two Bible stories which are often thought of as parallel. However, they actually demonstrate truth in tension. Understanding this will help us to experience heaven on earth in the area of giving, finances. and supernatural provision.
The Widow Of Zarephath
First Kings chapter 17 contains a remarkable story of supernatural provision. There was a drought in the whole land and God had sent Elijah to drink from a brook and be fed by ravens. Wow! Think of that! If that’s how God provided for Elijah, how much more can He provide for us!
When the brook dried up, God commanded a widow who thought she was going to starve to feed the prophet Elijah! Notice how Elijah received God’s provision. He heard God’s voice and obeyed, even when it sounded a little crazy, like “ravens are going to feed you” and “I’ve commanded a widow to feed you.”
1 Kings 17:8-15 (NIV) Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”
“As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”
Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”
She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.
God’s nature is love. Participating in his nature gets our eyes off of our problems and struggles. So often when we have a need, God leads us to a place of joy by enabling us to meet someone else’s need. We also experience supernatural provision for our own needs. Both Elijah and the widow with her son experienced a daily miracle of supernatural multiplication.
Philippians 2:4 (NIV) …not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
This story parallels other stories of food being multiplied supernaturally. The fish and the loaves in the New Testament were multiplied when the disciples gave them to the people, and there were plenty of leftovers for their own provision as well. In one of my most popular stories, Supernatural Multiplication Of Ham, my grandfather cut up the little ham they had and gave it to guests. There was plenty for them to eat as well, and to make sandwiches for the next day. So my grandfather also experienced provision for his own family.
However, before we start telling everyone in need to sow a “miracle offering,” let’s review the story of the widow’s mite.
The Widow’s Mite
We often hear the story of the widow’s mite taught as a bible lesson encouraging people to give when they have a need of their own, like a parallel to the story of the widow of Zarephath. However, few realize that such an interpretation is taking the story way out of context!
Of course, the chapters and verses we have in the Bible are helpful for finding things, but they were added long after the Bible was written. The immediate context for the story of the widow’s mite is at the end of the previous chapter. The following verses provide even more context.
Luke 20:45-47 (NIV) While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
Luke 21:1-6 (NIV) As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
Jesus was not teaching a lesson in giving out of your need in this verse! He was rebuking the teachers for devouring widow’s houses and making a show of their religion! When he pointed out the widow, he was exposing injustice and oppression! Jesus was saying “This is wrong!,” not “This is a great example for others.”
Are you still unconvinced? If you’ve never read the Bible from cover to cover, I encourage you to do so. The Old Testament is full of commands for Isreal to care for widows and the disadvantaged. Widows did not give a tithe in the Old Testament. The actually received it. (Deuteronomy 14:22-29, Deuteronomy 26:12-13) When they ate their tithe in the presence of the Lord, God commanded them to share it with the orphan, widow, and Levite, who had no inheritance in the land. One of the major subjects in scripture is justice for the orphan and widow.
The New Testament also teaches that it’s the church’s responsibility to care for widows who have no family members to help them. Every single offering initiated by the apostles in scripture was taken to help people in need.
Here in Brazil, I heard an old woman lamenting “I can’t go to church today. I don’t have my tithe money.” She could barely pay for half her needs with her own income, and was relying on others to help. Was her church especially legalistic? No. Her pastor would say she totally misinterpreted what they meant. He wouldn’t want her to feel like she couldn’t come. Yet even so, he was teaching that she needed to support the church with a tithe. In fact, he taught God would curse her if she didn’t. This scenario is all too common, especially in third world countries.
It wasn’t that he was a bad person. He was teaching what he was taught, the standard doctrine, as so many do. Yet so much of the “standard doctrine” flies in the face of what scripture teaches. Did he consider that in the Old Testament, widows received from the tithe, and in the New, the church provided for widows if their family couldn’t?
Instead of caring for the widows, the teachers of the law in were interested in a big religious show and a temple adorned with beautiful stones and “gifts to God.” According to the law, it was their responsibility to take care of her. Yet she was giving all she had to live on to adorn their beautiful temple.
While Jesus’ disciples were admiring the temple, Jesus said “You see this? It’s all going to be destroyed in judgment!”
Two different places in the book of Acts say that God doesn’t dwell in temples made by hands. (Acts 7:48, Acts 17:24) God desired people for his temple. God doesn’t care about a pretty building adorned with beautiful stones. Jesus wasn’t impressed with that “temple” like his disciples were. He cared about the true temple of God—people.
So we have one story where God commanded a widow to give her last bit of food to a prophet, and another story where Jesus rebukes the teachers of the law for devouring widow’s houses! This is truth in tension. Next week we’ll look deeper into the truth that’s found in the tension between these two stories. We’ll also see how even these stories seem similar, they were actually quite different circumstances. And we’ll compare the generosity of the Macedonians (who gave out of need) to that of the widow of Zarapheth.