“The Widow of Zarephath: The Leap of Faith”
The story of Zarephath is interesting because it contains an ironic twist of providence. The Lord often does things in an unexpected way, and chooses those whom we would never consider. What are His reasons for choosing? Are those He chooses more holy or sincere than others?
In I Kings 17:1-9, God reminds the Israelites not to mix with pagans nor adopt their practices. Israel is stubborn and goes its own way. The Lord reprimands them through the prophet Elijah by prophesying a 3 year famine. To preserve Elijah’s life, the Lord sends him to the land of Zarephath in Sidon, to a widow. Why, of all people, was a Sidonite chosen? Why not an Israelite widow? Our focus this week: Why God decides whom he will choose.
The Chosen Ones
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. –Luke 2:8-14
The shepherds were chosen to witness to the birth of the Messiah so they could be the bearers of good tidings to those in their country (Luke 2:17). Ellen White says that they were chosen because of their heart’s desire to see the Messiah. “Through the silent hours they talked together of the promised Saviour, and prayed for the coming of the King to David's throne” (Ellen White, The Desire of Ages, p. 47). In other words they were considering, talking about and praying for God’s promised Messiah.
The shepherds were actively expecting the Messiah, while most others were distracted and unconcerned about spiritual things. Unbeknownst to them, their hearts were hardened by traditions, formalism and legalism.
A similar reason is given for the choosing of the Widow of Zarephath as a refuge for the prophet Elijah. Christ says in Luke 4:23–27 that Elijah was without honor in Israel. The Lord sent Elijah away from Israel to a pagan land to find safety with a woman whose faith in Israel’s God was so strong that she literally gave her last morsel of food to the prophet. Her sacrifice proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that she loved the God of Israel more than life itself.
Ellen White says, “The servants whom God had chosen for a special work were not allowed to labor for a hardhearted and unbelieving people. But those who had hearts to feel and faith to believe were especially favored with evidences of His power through the prophets. In the days of Elijah, Israel had departed from God. They clung to their sins, and rejected the warnings of the Spirit through the Lord's messengers. Thus they cut themselves off from the channel by which God's blessing could come to them. The Lord passed by the homes of Israel, and found a refuge for His servant in a heathen land, with a woman who did not belong to the chosen people. But this woman was favored because she had followed the light she had received, and her heart was open to the greater light that God sent her through His prophet” (Ellen White, The Desire of Ages, p. 238).
History repeated itself again in the 1880’s. The Lord chose two young men to deliver a special message. By now we are familiar with Ellen White’s endorsement of these two chosen ones. “The Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message to His people through Elders Waggoner and Jones. This message was to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Saviour, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world” (Ellen White, Testimonies to Ministers, p. 91).
Many in church leadership had old, deeply rooted feelings of bitterness and prejudice against both E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones prior to the start of the 1888 General Conference. Their minds were set beforehand to reject the message. The leading brethren were “… unwilling to yield up preconceived opinions, and to accept this truth.” This prejudice was “…foundational to much of the opposition manifested at Minneapolis against the Lord's message through Brethren [E.J.] Waggoner and [A.T.] Jones” (Ellen White, 1 Selected Messages, p. 234, 235). Repeatedly the Lord, through His messenger, rebuked the leaders of the church for this attitude. The Lord revealed to her that Jones and Waggoner were as Joshua and Caleb in the time of Moses, and that the brethren were as the children of Israel stoning the “two spies” with literal stones and stones of sarcasm and ridicule. They were mimicking and making all manner of fun of these two brethren. Ellen White saw that those rejecting the message willfully rejected what they knew to be truth because it was too humiliating to their dignity. Elders Waggoner and Jones had no experience that others could not have had, had they been willing to receive all the light. Waggoner and Jones were chosen because they were listening to God while their brethren resisted.
We can conclude thus; in each case, the chosen are those who are eagerly and humbly listening to the Lord, and who are willing to follow what He says. They may not be the ones we would expect. They are the most willing. Are you willing? Are you listening?