W E TRAVEL out of Israel today. Out to a neighboring land. We grab our passports and go to Sidon. Sidon is part of Phoenicia, a rich land just north of Israel. We don’t go visit the holy sites or the birthplace of Jezebel, the evil queen who shows up later in Elijah’s adventures.
No, we travel to visit a widow.
A widow and her son, on the brink of starvation. The language she uses are words of scarcity: “a handful of meal, “a little oil,” “a couple of sticks.” There is not enough. And Death waits at the door.
She is provided with an oil jug that will not run dry and a stash of grain that will never be empty. The details of our visit provide a surprising look into our contemporary world.
† † †
THIS SCENE with Elijah, the starving widow and son, is part of three chapters that center on the nation’s economic collapse at the hand of the political leaders. This is the result of a severe drought that ruins crops and decimates the population.
In the opening verse of the cycle, we are told that Israel’s God has sent the drought.
† † †
YOU’RE GOING TO SEE a clip from an OXFAM documentary, “Sisters on the Planet.” This clip is the story of Martina, a Ugandan woman, during a time of severe drought. Her story eerily echoes our widow’s story. The women gather sticks to cook what meager food they can find. There are hints that the drought might be the result of a prophetic curse.
We experience the severity of the drought through the heartbreak of women unable to adequately feed their children.
Both stories require us to have compassion for the ways decisions in our country affect women in other parts of the world.
† † †
YOU SEE, the drought comes about because King Ahab builds a temple to the foreign god Baal. For our purposes today, Baal is the god of rain and crops. It’s a contest between Israel’s God and Baal as to which is really the God of rain and crops.
Ahab is concerned about the politics of religion rather than caring about the people. The consequences of this evil king’s indifference extend to all of Israel and even beyond its borders — all the way to the widow of Zarephath.
The effects of natural disasters and political power-plays are felt most acutely by women and children.
† † †
GOD SENDS the drought. God sends Elijah to Sidon. God provides for the foreign widow. Why here and not a starving widow from Israel? Here are a couple of possible reasons:
■ This is a story about competing religious claims.
At stake is which deity controls nature. In this regard the drought is a weapon in this divine cold war. Consequently, the widow is part of the collateral damage. God’s ability to start and to end drought undercuts the claim that Baal is the only effective weather god, not only in Israel, but also across the globe.
■ This is a story about the effects of economic injustice.
King Ahab and Queen Jezebel live in the same drought-stricken area. Are they starving? Of course not. Have you ever noticed that? Politicians keep drawing their salaries, keep looking out for themselves, keep ignoring the plight of the hurting during pandemics and disasters. While they claim that the gods are on their side, the story reveals that God is on the side of those ignored by policymakers.
We can’t just blame natural events for the economic and food insecurity of widows and the other poor. We see in the widow of Zarephath the faces of all those whose already compromised economic resources are made worse by events such as wars, mis-distribution of resources, political posturing and unlivable wages.
† † †
THE ROAD TRIP to visit the widow of Zarephath challenges our ethical conclusions that do not fully appreciate the impact of religious and political decisions on people at risk of starvation and death. Our journey suggests God is more present among those whose lives are most negatively affected by the decisions of those in power.