The Widow’s Oil

Thanksgiving Address

By the Rev. James P. Cooper

Olivet Church, October 7, 2007

  1. In the story we read from the Word this morning, we heard that there was a terrible famine in the land that lasted such a long time that people used up every bit of food that they had stored away until there was simply nothing left anywhere.

    1. The natural cause of the famine was a drought that lasted so long that all the plants died, so there was nothing for the animals or the people to eat.

    2. The spiritual cause of the famine was that king Ahab and his wife Jezebel were trying to prevent the people from worship the Lord, and trying to make them worship idols instead.

      1. Their leadership was without any truth whatsoever, and since truth is represented by water, there was no longer any water falling from heaven as rain.

    3. That’s why the lesson began with Elijah’s words, “As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.”

      1. One of the main things about evil spirits is that they want to hide the evil they do and blame the misfortune they cause on other people.

        1. Since the Lord’s words had come from Elijah’s mouth, Ahab told everyone that the famine was Elijah’s fault. The people believed Ahab and were so angry that Elijah had to run away and hide.

        2. This shows us that the drought was not just because of Ahab and Jezebel, but because almost everyone in Israel was in the same wicked state.

        3. And so the Lord commanded him to get away from those people, to go into the wilderness and hide. The Lord cared for him there by providing water in the brook Cherith and ravens brought him food.

        4. The drought was so severe that even the brook dried up, and so the Lord told Elijah to seek out the widow of Zarephath who, the Lord promised, would provide for him.

    4. The problem was that by the time Elijah got there, the widow and her son had eaten everything but a small morsel of food, and she was in the process of preparing their last meal when Elijah arrived and asked her for food!

      1. What was she to do? Did the Lord really want to take the last taste of food from out of her mouth and the mouth of her son so the Elijah could eat it?

        1. What a terrible thing to ask!

  2. It sometimes seems to us that the problems in the world are too big, that we have so little to offer to help.

    1. We may have enough to take care of ourselves and our family, but are we really expected to take care of everyone else too?

      1. And it’s not just anybody who has showed up on her doorstep – it’s the famous prophet of the Lord, Elijah!

        1. Sometimes it seems that the Lord asks us to make hard decisions, to give up important – even life saving – material things for the sake of spiritual things that only He can see.

        2. It requires real trust and faith for us to do what He asks of us.

  3. There’s a story about an old fashioned hand pump by an old house out in the wilderness. A traveler, thirsty and out of water arrives at the pump. There’s a jar of water next to the old, dusty pump. There’s a note that says that in order to get the pump to work, you first have to pour all the water in the jar into the pump to prime it.

    1. In order to understand this you need to know that the most important working part is a piece of leather. When it’s being used every day the leather stays soft and flexible and makes a good seal. If you don’t use it for a while, the leather gets dry and shrinks and no longer makes a seal. The pump stops working – unless you can soak the leather. But if the pump doesn’t work, where do you get the water? You fill a jar with water and put it in a safe place.

      1. (Show the little jar)

    2. Here’s a test of your faith. If you take the safe route and drink the old water that’s been sitting in the jar, that’s the end of it – and for everyone who follows you because now there’s no water to prime the pump, and no way to refill the jar because the pump can’t work if it’s not primed.

      1. But, if you take the small amount of water that you have in the jar and give it away (pour it in the pump to prime it), then the pump works and you are able to draw as much fresh water as you need, and fill the jar again to benefit all those who follow you.

        1. The hard part comes when you realize that you can’t be sure the pump will work if you prime it. You have to have faith, give up the sure, but small supply of water in your hand for the promise of unlimited water.

  4. The widow was faced with the same kind of choice.

    1. There had been a terrible drought in the land. All the crops and animals had died. All the food that had been stored had been eaten up. Once she ate the little food that she had left, there was no place where she could get any more. She was gathering sticks to make a fire so she could cook the last morsel of food she had in the world.

    2. Then the prophet Elijah comes to her and tells her that if she will give away what little she has, she will be given much in return.

      1. She must have wondered where Elijah was going to get more food – she had already looked everywhere, and there wasn’t any.

      2. Should she give away what little she had in return for a promise of something she couldn’t see or touch?

        1. Why should she risk her own life and the life of her son to protect Elijah? Why did the Lord need her to be involved?

      3. Elijah – the Lord speaking to us through the Word – had asked her to do a simple thing, something completely within her power and abilities, but a thing that seemed contrary to her own self-interest. She was asked to give food away when she and her son were hungry unto death.

        1. No doubt there were other unanswered questions and worries. But what did she do?

      4. {15} So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah;

        1. And what happened when she courageously did what the Lord had asked of her?

      5. And she and he and her household ate for many days. {16} The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the LORD which He spoke by Elijah.

  5. So here we are on Thanksgiving Day surrounded with examples of the Lord’s bounty, thinking about the wonderful meal we’re about to eat and trying to understand why a woman acted the way she did in the midst of a terrible famine.

    1. Bread and oil are used in the Word to represent different kinds of good; good deeds that we do to one another, and the interior loves that come to us as gifts from the Lord and motivate us to do good deeds for others.

    2. The story about the widow’s gift to Elijah is revealing a secret about our relationship with the Lord, something for which we should be truly thankful.

      1. There will be times when we are hungry in our spirit, sad because things don’t seem to be going well for us, uncertain because we don’t feel confident that we know what to do.

      2. It’s when we are in our lowest states that the Lord comes to us, as Elijah came to the widow’s house.

        1. And here’s the wonderful secret: instead of just granting our every wish and giving us everything we need, He will instead ask us to make a gift when we feel we have nothing to give.

          1. It sounds kind of crazy, but unlike anything you can think of, when you give love away, you always end up with more than you started out with.

      3. Are you willing to give up a little of yourself in return for a never-ending supply of oil and flour – eternal life in heaven?

    3. As we go to our homes today to share a meal with family and friends, let us remember to be thankful to the Lord who sustains us with a never-ending supply of love through our own states of spiritual famine. Amen.

Hear now the Word of the Lord as it is written in …

First Lesson: 1KI 17:1, 8-16

And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.” … {8} Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, {9} “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.” {10} So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, indeed a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Please bring me a little water in a cup, that I may drink.” {11} And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, “Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” {12} So she said, “As the LORD your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” {13} And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. {14} “For thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the LORD sends rain on the earth.’” {15} So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and he and her household ate for many days. {16} The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the LORD which He spoke by Elijah. Amen.

Second Lesson: AC 4844:12, 13

[12] It is recorded in 1 Kings 17:1-17 that Elijah was sent, when there was a famine because there was no rain in the land, to a widow in Zarephath. He asked her for a little cake, which she had to make for him first and give it to him; after that she was to make one for herself and her son. When she did so her jar of meal was not used up and her cruse of oil did not run dry. All this was representative, like everything else recorded about Elijah, and in general throughout the Word. ‘A famine in the land because there was no rain’ represented truth laid waste within the Church, 1460, 3364; ‘a widow in Zarephath’ those outside the Church who have a desire for truth; ‘a cake which she had to make for him first’ the good of love to the Lord, 2177, whom, from the very little she had, she was to love above herself and her son. ‘The jar of meal’ means truth derived from good, 2177, and ‘the cruse of oil’ charity and love, 886, 3728, 4582. ‘Elijah’ represents the Word, by means of which such things are effected.

Here end the lessons. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen.



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