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In 1 Kings 17 we read how Elijah announced a drought that lasted years. In verse 7 the brook that he was drinking from dries up and God directs him to a woman who will feed him (through a miracle). She had no problem getting him the water he requested (verses 10 & 11) though the food required God's miraculous intervention.

So my question is: where did the water come from? Despite the drought which dried up Elijah's brook, that area appeared to have water without a miracle. Why was that?

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The passage indicates that the lack of water affected the availability of food; that is, there was enough water to drink, but not enough water to develop food. The parallel is Jacob and his sons who lived in a severe drought. That is, they went to Egypt (where they met Joseph), but what they brought back to Jacob was not water, but food. In other words, there is water available in the droughts described in the Bible, but not enough to cultivate and develop food. Remember: the widow of Zarephath did not tell Elijah that she and her son were going to die of thirst, but of starvation (1 Ki 7:12). –  Joseph Jan 28 at 22:47
Sorry about the hacked together first version of my answer. This site does not lend itself to missives typed from mobile. I've fixed it up a bit so that I'm at least not embarrassed by the 'accept'. –  Caleb Jan 29 at 10:21
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1 Answer

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The text does not give a direct answer to this question. That is not to say we must be left wondering! There are two common reasons why a text may omit details that would seem relevant to us.

  1. They are simply not relevant to what the author was trying to communicate.1
  2. It is assumed that the immediate audience would have understood the scenario given their knowledge of the contemporary context.

I would suggest that this is a case of the latter. It fact I would go farther and suggest that knowledge of the contemparary scenery is unnecessary. We don't need to know the exact lay of the land or details on wells and other water sources in order to understand what transpires in this passage. Applying a little bit of pragmatic awareness to the situation will leave us with no question at all.

Drought is not the complete absence of water.

If it was, everybody would be dead. Mammals cannot survive for more than very brief periods without water. Rather, just as famine can happen even when there is some food but just not enough to go around, so a drought can mean simply a water shortage. There isn't enough to meet all the needs.

The passage in question clearly indicates that God was in charge of the local weather patterns and that the state of 'drought' was a direct result in it not raining when in otherwise might have. This is actually a common problem even today.

I just got back from an area of sub-Saharan Africa where subsidence farming is still the normal way of life. One region I visited was stuggling with a season of drought. It is normal for it not to rain for a time, but last year's rainy season came early and the local water table did not get replenished when it needed to be. As a result the region's water table has dropped. The local villages are surviving because they can carry water from the few wells in the area that are deep enough to still have some water, but the extra effort, distance and time mean that—while they can still drink every day—they are unable to sufficiently irrigate their crops. They are still raising some produce in small gardens close to water sources, but they are also eating through stored crops to survive the year. If such conditions last, it will turn into famine. Caused by drought. The is water in the area, just not enough.

If you consider a scenario like this one, the story you reference makes perfect sense. This is not a definative answer on where the widow got her water. Rather I would only conclude that this question does not raise any real difficulty in the text. The lack of rain and state of drought would quite naturally make food scarce even while there was some water available. Water was undoubtedly precious, but obviously the situation was not so acute that nobody was drinking (or there would be no-one to tell this story) however the amounts needed for drinking are a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed to effectively raise crops.

That the widow could come up with a jar of drinking water raises no concern about the text or the state of drought in the land.

1 In Christian theological frameworks this concept is generally extended to God (who is believed to be the ultimate author of the text). If the human authors left out a detail is often taken to mean that the God does not consider it necessary or important to know that detail to understand the point of the story. This answer will do nothing to explain the point of the story, only note that it is plausible.

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Yes, I agree. Drought is the result of the lack of rain. God in His gracious provision created ground water, aquifers, underground springs, and such, which may be affected by the lack of rain, but they don't completely dry up. What's happening out west in the U.S. may require tapping into underground sources of water, which is an expensive proposition but is a very real possibility. (As if California doesn't already have enough financial woes!) –  rhetorician Feb 7 at 20:12
@rhetorician Do you see how different a wavelength that comment is on? I stopped after resolving the perceived issue in the text, you are stretching my answer to apply to Californian politics. Even in comments let's keep the venue in mind. Why are we here? To examine the text and understand it on its own terms. What we do with that knowledge is the scope of a different venue. –  Caleb Feb 7 at 20:35
You: "[We are here to] understand [the text] on its own terms." Have you ever thought that maybe your brand of hermeneutics is also a form of eisegesis. In other words, according to you, the text's meaning can somehow be divorced--bracketed--from today's reality. That bifurcation is rhetorically derived and is not derived from God's "Ten Commandments of hermeneutics." If you think what I've just said is a bunch of fancy sophistic footwork, think again. At the bare minimum, a text observed is a text changed by one's present reality. –  rhetorician Feb 7 at 22:21
I prophesy we will be butting heads for the duration ("Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another," but I surmise you think I remain dull for my eisegesis!). I have a feeling your response to my last comment will be be, more or less, "But bifurcation of an old text from today's reality is necessary for a thorough-going hermeneutic. And besides, the majority of the moderators want the site to be run this way. So, rhetorician, get in lockstep with the moderators." My response: No. The moderators and all who contribute to or read BHB need my perspective for a well-rounded hermeneutic. Selah –  rhetorician Feb 7 at 22:27
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