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1 Kings 17:13-14 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”

I have read that James and John immediately followed Jesus because the most religious Jews lived in Galilee & that in the sea trade routes they had more knowledge as to who he was & that it was considered an honor to be chosen by a Rabbi.

But what of Zarephath? It was a Phoenician town that worshiped the Baal’s. Could a simple widow know who Elijah was, let alone believe in the God of Israel and his promises? And if she knew who he was, how did she know?

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  • I added to my answer a comment on what the word translated commanded means here because this also seems key to your question.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented May 11 at 11:21

2 Answers 2

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Short Answer: The Bible does not provide explicit details about whether the widow of Zarephath knew who Elijah was before their encounter. However, I believe there are a few hints in the test:

Hint #1: 1 Kings 17:8-9.

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.

Here, God commands Elijah to go to Zarephath, where a widow would provide for him. This implies that God had revealed to the widow in some way that a man of God was coming.

Hint #2: 1 Kings 17:24

Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth.”

It was only after witnessing the miracles performed by Elijah, such as the unending supply of flour and oil and the resurrection of her son, that the widow acknowledges Elijah as a true prophet of the Lord. This would at least suggest that her understanding of Elijah’s identity and authority grew over time through her experiences with him. This means that she either did not have full understanding of Elijah's identity prior to this or that she did not fully believe it prior.

Hint #3: 1 Kings 17:11-15.

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 [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.

The widow was willing to use her last bit of flour and oil to make bread for Elijah, as he instructed. This perhaps indicates a level of faith and obedience or if not that then at least self-sacrifice. Now, whether this could have been faith in Elijah himself or in the God of Israel we don't know.

Context: Zarephath was a Phoenician town, and the people there, including the widow, likely worshipped Baal. However, I would like to note that the Bible contains several instances of individuals from different cultural and/or religious backgrounds recognizing and believing in the God of Israel after encountering His prophets or witnessing His power. This is to say that she didn't necessarily need to know Elijah.

To conclude: Even though the Bible does not give explicit details about the widow’s prior knowledge of Elijah, it is clear that her encounter with Elijah led her to recognize him as a man of God and to experience the power of the God of Israel.

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  • One notes she refers to the Lord your God.
    – Mary
    Commented May 11 at 2:03
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What we know:

  1. She used the name of Israel's God, but she said, "your God," not "my God," while she did recognize who Elijah's God was.

  2. She expected that she and her son would die. Even Elijah said to not be afraid. A person in that state is willing to try almost anything if it might possibly work.

And she said, “As the LORD [יְהוָ֤ה] your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now 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.” (1 Kings 17:12, ESV)

“As the LORD your God lives,” she replied, “I have nothing baked, nothing but a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am just gathering a couple of sticks, so that I can go home and prepare it for me and my son; we shall eat it and then we shall die.” (1 Kings 17:12, JPS1985)

What is strange in the wording related to the woman doing what Elijah said is in v9 because from what the woman said we get no indication that the woman knew about a command from God.

“Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded (צִוִּ֥יתִי) a widow there to feed you.” (1 King 17:9, ESV)

Figure 1. Senses of צוה in the Hebrew Old Testament (generated with Logos Bible Software)

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Thus, the context seems to indicate that the meaning of this verb here is God cause the woman's circumstances to be such that she did what Elijah said in order to feed Elijah, her child, and her.

“Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon, and stay there; I have designated a widow there to feed you.” (1 Kings 17:9, JPS1985)

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