By Debbonnaire Kovacs, June 2, 2016
Based on 1 Kings 17:17-24
How much time has passed between the miracle of the flour and oil that saved the lives of the widow, her son, and Elijah? In the Bible it almost looks like the next week, or the next day. We don’t know. I have imagined that a few months have passed, since 1 Kings 18 begins with “after many days, in the third year” of the drought. Read the first story here.
Yawning, wiping sleep from my eyes, I stir the coals under the ashes of yesterday’s fire and coax a bit of tinder to catch flame. I feed it carefully, adding the last of the small sticks. Ben was supposed to bring in a new load last night. “Ben! Up with you! I need more sticks for the fire!” I place the flat bakestone so that its surface will get hot.
Then I tip the flour jar and pour its contents into a bowl. I know I don’t have to tilt and shake carefully. There will be just enough for three flatbreads. I reach for the oil cruse and upend it over the bowl…and stop suddenly.
It’s the strangest thing, what a person can get used to! Not so long ago, I cried all night, believing Ben and I would eat our last loaf and die. Then came Elijah the prophet, asking me to feed him first, and trust Yahweh. I did (not entirely trustingly, I admit) and miraculously, there was enough oil and flour the next day…and the next. Just enough water for life. The next day…and the next week…and here I am, just calmly expecting the right amount every day, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. I don’t even have to grind it! A quiet laugh shakes the last sleep from me, and I begin to rub oil into the flour between my palms, murmuring heartfelt thanks to the Holy One, my provider, Yahweh Yireh. As always, I add an apology for my previous lack of faith.
“You don’t have to keep apologizing.”
I jump a little at the voice behind me. “What?”
“Sorry, I overheard you. I just wanted to say, once the Holy One forgives, he forgives. It’s done. Your faith has grown, hasn’t it?” Elijah gazes at me with his knowing eyes. He’s been living with us, in a room on the roof.
I nod. He’s right. I add a tiny bit of water to my bowl and make a dry lump of dough, dividing it into three balls. “Ben!” I shout. Where is that boy?
Elijah goes outside. I don’t know if he’s looking for Ben, or going out on business of his own. I pull and pat one of the balls between my hands until it’s a nice flat circle and lay it aside, picking up the next ball.
By the time I have three flatbreads ready to bake and the fire is going out with the stone barely warm, I am irritated. Calling, I begin looking for my son. There’s only the one room, plus the roof, and a bit of dry courtyard with a dead olive tree and the remains of vines. I go look in the lean-to where we used to keep a goat.
I can barely hear the voice. A spurt of fear shoots through my chest as I run out the gate. I can see my son, some distance away, on the ground, with sticks all around him. I rush to him.
“I don’t feel good, Immi.”
His face is burning, and his breathing is rapid and shallow. Terrified, I grab him up. He seems lighter than he should be. I rush back to the house, forgetting all about breakfast. I put Ben on the bed mat and get some of our precious, hoarded water to dampen a cloth for his face. Where did Elijah get to?
“Ben, Ben, oh, Yahweh,” I gasp. Is his breathing slowing? Is he breathing at all? I lean down to put my ear on his chest. “Ben!” I scream, and begin to shake him and hit his chest with shaking hands. “Yahweh, why did you save us? Just for this?!”
A shadow darkens the doorway, and I look up. I can barely see the prophet, barely speak through my sobs. “What do you have against me? You say my sin is forgotten? How can it be? You reminded Yahweh of it!” I shriek the last words at him, my child crushed to my chest. “Now my son is dying!”
Elijah looks at me, seeming stunned. The fire in his dark eyes is banked like my kitchen fire. He moves suddenly, holds out his arms. “Give me your son.”
“No!” I scream, rocking my baby and wailing.
“Give him to me,” says the man of God, and he pulls Ben’s limp body from my arms. I fight for a minute, then collapse on the empty bed mat, crying as I did not even when my husband died. Jabez! Where are you now? Oh, my boy, your son that you wanted so much! Does Yahweh hate us?
Elijah has carried Ben up the stairs to his own room. Why, I don’t know or care. The world has no meaning for me now. I shall die, too. I won’t eat. I’ll…
I am startled by a cry as piercing as my own. For a disoriented moment, I think it’s my husband, crying over his son. Then I realize I can hear Elijah, shouting to the Holy One just as angrily as I am.
“Oh, Yahweh, my God, have you brought calamity even to this widow with whom I am staying? Have you killed her son?”
I hold my breath. Somehow it seems even more irreverent for a man of God to talk to the Great Creator that way. I hear movement, and then another cry.
“Oh, Yahweh, my God, let this child’s life come into him again!”
My heart seems to stop. Could it possibly be?! Feeling dizzy, I dash to the stairs and creep up them until my head is high enough that I can see through the open door of the prophet’s room. He is lying on top of Ben’s small body, stretched full length. He gets up, lays his ear to Ben’s face, and then lies on him again.
I can barely breathe, barely see. I feel barely alive. Feeling faint, I turn suddenly and stumble back down the stairs. I fall onto the sleeping mat and somewhere inside me, my whole soul prays with Elijah as he repeats his movements and his begging. Let him live! Let him live!
There is silence. I lift my head. Footsteps. Cowering in mingled fear and hope, I listen to footsteps coming down the stone stairs. Elijah appears…and my son is in his arms, smiling. With a wail I fling out my arms and receive the sturdy body. Elijah seems tired. He reaches out a hand to the wall and says to me, “See, your son is alive.”
It takes me a minute to respond. Ben and my tears are both strangling me. “Now I know,” I manage to gulp, “that you are really a man of God, and the word of Yahweh is truth in your mouth.” I can’t raise my eyes to him. And I have to beg Yahweh’s forgiveness again. Has my faith really grown at all?
“Immi, I’m hungry!” says Ben.
I hear a ghost of a laugh from the prophet. “So am I!” He holds out his hand. “Let’s go get those sticks you dropped so your immi can bake our bread!”
Picture credit: Found here with these words: “Use this picture to illustrate your Sunday School or Devotional message.”