By Debbonnaire Kovacs, Nov 4, 2015 Based on 1 Kings 17:8-16
Last night I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I knew Ben* would sleep through anything, but still, I went up to the rooftop, huddled down in a corner by the low wall, where the dead branches of what was once a productive olive tree still hang over, and stuffed a corner of my mantle into my mouth to muffle the sobs and wails that wanted out so badly. I wanted to shriek to the sky, to shake my fist, even—Yahweh Yireh, is this what You call providing? I have done every single thing I know to do, worked hard, prayed harder, made our rations smaller and smaller! But this is it! We run out tomorrow. Then we die. Is that what you want?!”
The truth is, I hardly eat anything at all—Ben gets most of it. I sometimes get away without eating, if I tell him I ate while he was outside. But he’s started insisting. Young as he is, he is smart, that boy. He won’t put a bite in his mouth unless I do.
Oh, my boy, my boy! I have to hold both arms over the cloth, practically smothering myself as the sobs grow wild again.
He’s all I have left! After Jabez died, I thought I would die, too, but I had to live for Ben. And we’ve done all right. As long as we have each other, we can make it. He’s continued to remind me, “Only a few more years now, immi, and I can be a full apprentice and begin taking care of you!”
But even Ben’s sturdy spirit has begun to dry like the land. He is thin and aged-looking. I am glad I don’t know what my own face looks like. My hair is gray despite my youth, and my hands look like the dead twigs of the old olive, rubbing together in the wind that comes off the desert like the searing heat from a potter’s kiln. Neither of us has spoken much, the past few days.
I know that what I am facing is no different than other mothers. Many have already lost children. Some of them, especially the ones with babies, have lost them all. Last week, a bereaved mother was found dead by her own hand.
I can understand that. I have to live while Ben still lives, but if he died…
Well, he will die. Soon. Tomorrow—and he knows it; I couldn’t hide it from him—we make our last tiny cake and share it. Then we wait.
Dawn—a travesty of the word—yellow and gray as if the sun has bleary eyes—begins to lighten the blasted landscape. I haven’t slept, but my vigil is over. I will go gather a few dry sticks while Ben finishes his sleep. Not his last sleep, not quite. We will wither for a few more days, maybe even a week. I am tempted to hasten it for his sake, but that would be a grave sin.
Not that Yahweh seems to care…
I am near the gate, coming back in with my pitiful bundle when a man speaks to me. I can’t believe what he says to me!
“Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.”
I just stare at him for a second, but after all, why not? Our last drops of water may as well be shared three ways instead of two. I turn away, but he adds to his shocking imposition by calling after me, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.”
I try to keep my voice and eyes calm, but my chin quivers and I can’t meet his gaze as I reply, “As Yahweh 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.”
There is a depth of kindness in the man’s voice that surprises me when he says, “Do not be afraid.”
I look up after all, and find his eyes just as kind. He understands, after all. But then he adds, “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. For thus says Yahweh the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that Yahweh sends rain on the earth.”
For a few seconds, I can’t move. I stand like a stone, staring at him. His eyes, the power in his voice—could this be a prophet of Yahweh? Truly?
I feel both shakier and stronger as I turn to lead the man toward my house. Ben comes to greet me, looking curiously at the man. I simply shush him and let him get the small fire going as I pour the very last drops of oil into the very last handful of meal in my bowl. It will make only a small portion for the three of us—should I give it all to the prophet?
Ben watches with burning curiosity in his eyes as I make one cake, almost normal sized, and take it out to the man, who did not come in the house. He nods to me very solemnly as he takes the first bite. I watch, feeling breathless. Ben peeks out from behind me.
Suddenly, in a flurry of movement, a small whirlwind of hope, I rush inside and look in my flour jar. “Ben, look!” I tip the oil cruse. Ben begins to laugh.
I begin to cry.
Oh, Yahweh…oh, Yahweh…
*Hebrew for “son”