Another Mournful Monday in Zarephath

1 Kings 17:19-21 (NIV)

19 “Give me your son,” Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. 20 Then he cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” 21 Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”



It’s just another mixed up Monday in Zarephath isn’t it? We are now well into what will be a three year drought. God has miraculously provided sustenance for Elijah, the widow and her son every single day. And now her precious only son has died. He is dead. And she is understandably distraught. I want us to notice what she said to Elijah in the wake of this tragic happening.

18 She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”

In the prior verse, this widow gained a further description. In the Hebrew language, the word is ballah and comes from the same root word as Baal. It carries two meanings, mistress and medium. It appears in 1 Samuel 28:7 referencing the medium at Endor who summoned the spirit of Samuel from the dead. It also appears in Nahum 3:4 referencing a mistress of sorceries or witchcraft. It seems this widow may have been complicit as an active participant in the realm of darkness. It perhaps gives meaning to her question, Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?

At minimum it is interesting. As the living God is setting the stage to crush Baal and his prophets, He is working backstage to provide extravagant aid to one of Baal’s apparent consorts; an enemy of the Living God. You see where this is going. God is about to raise this dead son through Elijah. However, I want us to note Elijah’s frame of mind and tone in how and what he says to God.

Then he cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?”

Elijah seems kind of done, doesn’t he? This is vocal and even loud. He’s frustrated and more than a little bit tired with all this struggle. He seems to blame God for this “tragedy.” Two things to note here.

1. Elijah is transparent and honest with God. His words are a livid accusation and agonizing lament. What I want us to appreciate is the quality of gut-level honesty. God can handle our honesty. In fact, I think it is one of the most fundamental things God wants and expects from us. He knows already. To the extent we are not fully disclosing ourselves to God we are withholding, and to that extent we are protecting God from our pain; which is another way of saying we are hiding from God. And when we protect God from our pain we will develop one of two broken responses: We will internalize it or exercise it on others. We can’t handle that. Neither can they. God can and will. 

2. Elijah is not asking God the why question but the what question. The question is not, “Why did you let this happen?” That is the question of a victim. Elijah actually asks a much better question. Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” I hear Elijah asking, “Lord my God, what are you doing?” 

Here’s my sense of the text. God did this or allowed this for the sake of an extraordinary demonstration of his glory. Look at Elijah’s immediate next step: Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”

Did God let him die so he could be raised from the dead? Is that what God was doing here? Elijah jumps right into that work. And we get this:

22 The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. 23 Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!”

Here’s the real miracle: this widow received her son from the hand of God. God here demonstrates Himself in this most obscure yet profound way as the source of provision, the source of healing, and the source of life itself. I believe God was allowing the widow to be stripped of all her sources including Baal, her employment in his industry, and her son. All her idols were being cast down and crushed. God is doing in a very small and obscure way what He will do in a much larger way across the land. 

Next time it all goes south and life doesn’t make sense try these questions: What are you doing God? What are you up to in this confounding situation? Don’t ask why, but what. 

It reminds me to share some sad news with you. See the P.S. below for the update. 

This is the way—from glory to glory.


Abba Father, indeed your ways are not our ways. Your thoughts are not our thoughts. As your Word says, as high as the heavens are above the earth, your ways are higher than our ways and your thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Give us insight into what you are doing in our lives and in this world and give us the grace to join you in it. We do not need to know why as though that would somehow solve our problem. We want to know what you are doing. We don’t need an explanation. We are looking for direction. Praying in Jesus’ name, Amen. 


What are you seeing in the complex layeredness of this story? How is it stirring your memory and stoking your imagination? Are you seeing the distinction between the why question and the what question?

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt

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P.S. The Sad News

I have not wanted to report this, but I must. Perhaps it is my own disappointment with God that has kept me from it. You will remember when we prayed earnestly for little Lily, the premature infant born to Nathan and Caroline, and who struggled for over six months in a fight for life. She passed. I want to thank you for your faithful straight line prayers for Lily and her parents, “Do not be afraid. Only believe.” And “Up Girl!” Let’s continue to pray for the parents and the older siblings as they continue to heal from such a long ordeal. And let’s ask our good God to reveal in his way and timing the “what” question. God, what are you doing in this? What are you up to? 

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Comments and Discussion

5 Responses

  1. When we feel like all we can see around us (and even within us) is painful deconstruction, we need to look unto Jesus and see construction that God is doing. He is always working all things together “for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose,” whether it looks or feels like it or whether it doesn’t. He uses even the painful circumstances that occur my life to deconstruct my pride and rebellion so that I will be able to fully, humbly, and gloriously align with His abundant life.

  2. Teach me, Lord, to understand the “what” you are doing. Help me grasp when Your will is different than what I would have done. How do we grasp goodness when joy is removed from our lives? The loss of a child, the faith in an unconditional loving pet, sudden passing of a spouse.
    Maybe the what is a reminder that true, everlasting joy is found only in You!
    Prayers for healing to all who have lost!

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