Thursday, June 13, 2013

missional readings of Scripture: widow of Zarephath

The missional conversation expects us to read the Bible with missional eyes. That means we pay attention to the edges. We read texts asking – who are the marginal people, what are the marginal places? That then allows us to focus on encounters – the interactions between edges and centres, outsiders and insiders, powerless and powerful.

Take for example, 1 Kings 17, the story of the encounter of the widow of Zarephath with Elijah.

There is a geographic edge. As a consequence of the drought, Elijah heads to Sidon: 1 Kings 17:7-8: “Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. 8 Then the word of the LORD came to [Elijah]: 9 “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there.”

Sidon is a town mentioned in the previous chapter: 1 Kings 16:30: “Ahab …. married Jezebel daughter of [the] king of [Sidonians] and began to serve Baal and worship him.” So Elijah, God’s agent, heads to Sidon. To the place where Jezebel, the Kings wife was born, to the place where Baal worship is strong and thriving. This is a fascinating response to encountering a diverse belief system. You go to it.

Second, the people on the edge. Elijah finds a woman gathering sticks. To quote from a Bible commentary: There were many widows in [Elijah’s] Isreal and the surrounding areas because of war and famine. Traditional family and village systems of support for widows had broken down since the king … had started buying up the land and corrupting village leaders. Prices for oil were high because they were chief export crops. This widow could not afford them anymore.

They talk in the news media about needing to find the human interest story. Well here in 1 Kings is the human interest story. YHWH, the God of the Old Testament, has a human interest in widows.

Third, the interaction. Having gone to the edge, in place and person, we can now consider this story from the viewpoint of the widow. From this perspective, she is a most extraordinary example of hospitality and faith. She offers her last to a stranger. She says yes to a prophet, no matter how illogical. This is discovered in the “Baal” worshipping town. A redeeming God will always be found in the places the centre considers unlikely!

Finally, this text offers an insight regarding community empowerment. I am fascinated by the way that Elijah doesn’t give her a handout. Instead he empowers her. Invites her to simply give what she’s got. One book noted that “The key [to 1 Kings 17] is that [Elijah] does not do the miracle for [the widow] [Instead he] enables her to do it for herself.” Here’s a way to work with the poor, in ways that do not leave them victims, but invited to use what they have got – the twigs they can collect, their flour and oil.

This is a missional reading. The people of God are encouraged to journey to the places complicit with economic oppression. In this places, they are to concentrate of human interest. They are invited to look for God’s prior activity in those places, to seek those who already have the capacity for extraordinary faith.

Posted by steve at 09:01 AM


  1. I love that first paragraph. Very concise definition.

    Comment by Phil — June 13, 2013 @ 10:39 am

  2. Cheers Phil. I should write in a rush more often

    Comment by Steve — June 13, 2013 @ 9:09 pm

  3. Last night, I thought I’d apply this to another text. So gave Mark 5 a crack. Really interesting who is powerful/powerless, strong and weak voices in a crowd. And out of the two miracles Jesus only lets the crowd witness one. Sufficed to say the margins are closer than we think and going to them is a Spirit led thing. Thanks Steve, I enjoyed reading the scripture in this way.

    Comment by Adrian — June 16, 2013 @ 7:05 am

  4. That’s interesting and helpful Adrian. I like the way it sensitizes you to power and powerless voices and the way the margins “move” in your reading.


    Comment by steve — June 16, 2013 @ 6:00 pm

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