Widows in the Word

Anna was left alone after a brief seven years of marriage. The only part of her life that God chose to include in His Word is that she spent the rest of her life serving in the temple until the age of 84. Oh, to know exactly what this must have looked like. Did she have a bedroom there in the house of God? As a prophetess, “a woman to whom future events or things hidden from others are at times revealed,” was she on the temple staff? “She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers.” Wow! She never ever left the temple? Was this her decision? Did she have other options? Did she actually pray from sunrise to sunset?

Fasting is giving up food for the purpose of prayer. Scripture records only one instance where Jesus fasted (Matthew 4:2) but His 40 day fast was unlike any other—it prepared Him for His three-year ministry that would end in victory of resurrection life over death.

Jesus, the Son of God, is known for prayer:

“But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” Luke 5:16

“Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” Matthew 26:36

If Jesus chose to fast and pray, these disciplines are worth our consideration as well. The widow, Anna, is the kind of woman I would like to enjoy a cup of tea with learning the details of her story and prayer life. Even though much is left out, there is enough information to present a challenge for our own personal lives:

She never left the temple. News and anticipation of a coming Messiah hovered over time and space. In those days, the temple represented the presence of God – He was there even before He was there! Anna chose to remain in the presence of God for the rest of her life in the absence of the man in her life. We don’t need to take up actual residence in the local church building today because through Jesus, God makes His home in us.

During our dark seasons of grief, we can choose to leave God in or out of our life. But He is indeed our covering and defense. With this promise, we can take Anna’s perspective to live in His presence—to never leave the temple. During the storm, to see God as refuge and fortress—and discovering great is His faithfulness.

She served day and night. One of the realities of being left alone is that you have been left alone. Time is on your hand even if you have been launched into the busiest season you’ve ever known with the extra tasks on your plate without a husband. How you spend your time is yours. When Joshua was called to lead His people to the Promise Land, he professed, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Precious friend, may we be like Anna in making the same declaration – as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. This new season has great opportunity. You can let life’s circumstances become a crutch to lean on or a chisel to mold you into a vessel of great use in God’s Kingdom.

She served with fastings and prayers. Anna modeled for us important tools required for serving the Lord and walking through this journey – with fasting and prayer. Fasting is surrendering lack in exchange for His presence and power paired with talking to the Almighty God in prayer.

Because of Anna’s position in the valley with over 60 years of fasting and praying while waiting for the arrival of the Messiah, when the Jesus was presented in the temple as a babe she recognized Him, gave thanks to God and shared this great news with others!

“At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Luke 2:36-38

No doubt the minute you entered this valley of transition, money crossed your mind – or the minds of family and friends – carrying with it a variety of emotions. Immediate loss or gain of income, the need to go to work or quit work, the fear of low income or responsibility of new riches could be a part of the loss you are experiencing.

Even though many widows are reduced to living on a poverty level, others represent some of the wealthiest women in the world. Money has power. It can bring false security and attempt to fill a void that only Jesus can fill. Or it can be a tool the Lord uses to build His kingdom and test our hearts.

Studies abound that tell us what we already know: for the most part, the income of a single woman is less – sometimes dramatically – than the income of a single man. There may be bills, known and unknown, that pile up, and accounts and invoices we did not know existed and aren’t sure how to handle. This is not true for all women, but it is a reality for some. Either way, we must cultivate a deeper trust in the Lord, whether riches abound or poverty crouches at the door.

In 2 Kings we get to see first-hand a widow whose financial burdens lurk at her door. I love it when God highlights a woman in Scripture that many can relate to, especially when it’s a widow.  Our identity is not in our status whether married, single, divorced, or widowed; however, it is interesting that often when God performs a miracle of faith for or through a widow, He mentions her identity—widow. Perhaps He does this just so other widows can be encouraged or perhaps because those He has allowed to carry the title widow have a calling and purpose that only God can fill because of His title, Husband to the widow.

In order to excel in our role as widow, we must understand that it is our job description to walk by faith. We have a clear example of this through the widow in 2 Kings.

When the curtain opens on act one, our 2 Kings (2K) widow is distraught. She has circumstances and needs similar to ours…a family, bills, loss, and pain. She faces these daily battles all while the shadow of grief hovers over her, yet we will begin to see how she is always under the umbrella of grace.

Mrs. 2K just experienced the death of her husband. He was a godly man; in fact, he was one of the sons of the prophets (possibly Obadiah). Wow—a very important person to the people and to God! Let’s take a peek into her situation. Would God allow pain to knock on her door? After-all, her family had given their lives to the ministry! The answer is yes He will, and He does. We are never exempt from pain in the economy of God. It seems that the environment of suffering is His favorite place to rain His grace and display the rainbow of His great glory.

Creditors knocked on this particular day to summon the precious sons of this brand-new widow!  How could this be? Her husband just died, and now the city officials announce they have a right to her sons because of insufficient funds to pay her debt. My guess would be that many have received notice from the bank announcing ISF, insufficient funds! That declaration in itself stabs at our stomachs, but to face the removal of a child would be a stab to the heart!

At this moment of need she cries out to Elisha, the top prophet in the land, for help. Was access to this man of God really as easy as Scripture reads? Before Mrs. 2K could pack away the past, God had made away for her present. Before she faced judgment for her debt, God sent the Judge to her defense. “God is a judge of the widow.”

Elisha asks, “What shall I do for you?”

The answer to the first question would be obvious, “Mr. Elisha, SAVE MY SONS!” I believe a secret lies within his reply. Elisha himself could do nothing for her outside of the amazing grace of God.

The second question, what do you have in your house?  Brings us to the place where all miracles begin—where we are.

Her response, “Your maidservant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.” We know from past Bible precedence that this is the perfect setting for God to work—at the moment of last things and resources. (Oil is often symbolic of the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.) When empty best describes the situation, we know that an eternal purpose is in the heart of God.

She was issued a command,

“Go, borrow vessels at large for yourself from all your neighbors, even empty vessels; do not get a few.”

So here she is at her end. Others now must be included in the story—her neighbors, of all people. I wonder if they had heard the news and gasped, “Poor widow (literally) to lose sons because of debt.” God is certainly able to perform a miracle without the audience of her neighborhood. However, in this crisis, the neighbors were summoned. After the jars were collected, the widow gathered her family, shut the door, and poured oil.

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

The widow had to step out in faith. She had to GO to her neighbors (uncomfortable), she had to GET a lot (unquestionable), and she was to GAIN provision (un-natural provision that is) not only for her debt, but for the rest of her life. The miracle took place because of her faith, and her provision was measured by her faith.

We are encouraged in Scripture that a faith capable of moving mountains begins the size of a small mustard seed. However, considering Mrs. 2K’s testimony, mustard seed faith is just the beginning of what God wants to do in our lives. To the extent of this widow’s faith was the amount of her provision. Do we obey in the areas God calls us to? Are we willing to include others? Are there regrets over the amount of faith we offer to God?

“And it came about when the vessels were full, that she said to her son, ‘bring me another vessel.’ And he said to her, ‘There is not one vessel more.’ And the oil stopped. Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, ‘Go, sell the oil and pay your debt, and you and your sons can live on the rest.” 2 Kings 4:6-7.

 

 

1 Kings 17

Widows, often unnamed, are scattered throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. The limited detailed biographies of these ladies who have been left alone offer a treasury of wisdom, encouragement, challenge, and hope reminding us that it is always good to put our trust in God.

*****

She was a young mother, living alone as a widow in a big city, Zarephath, with evil leaders who sought to put to death God’s messengers. Food and water were scarce, death seemed imminent and Widow Z was scared.

No doubt she had heard of the prophet in the land and the reality that his declaration to Ahab and Jezebel that there would be a drought in the land had come to pass. However, never did she dream this wanted man of God would show up, while she was picking up sticks, requesting a cup of water and her last breadcrumb.

How could this be? Here stood Elijah, the man on Jezebel’s hit list asking for her last meal announcing the supply of bread and water would match her need if she honored his request.

“Then Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go, do as you have said, but make me a little bread cake from it first and bring it out to me, and afterward you may make one for yourself and for your son. For thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘The bowl of flour shall not be exhausted, nor shall the jar of oil be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain on the face of the earth.’”   1 Kings 17:13-14

She was in the middle of a mess destined to end in the miraculous. Perhaps it was the little bit of hope from God’s promise that enabled her to take a step of faith, and another, and another as the Widow Z had heard of Elijah’s amazing God. Faith became sight and God’s Word was true – the bread and water did not run out for two whole years!

Scripture shares there were many widows living in the land however the Widow Z was the one chosen to play an important part in history. She may not have known the specifics of God’s command for her life, but through step-by-step participation in the unfolding unseen story of God, she experienced the miraculous. When fear knocked, she kneeled. When death triumphed, resurrected life restored her spiritual brokenness.

Little did she know that God’s temporary removal of grace over Israel, his chosen people, allowed for personal grace to come her way. Little did she know that her steps of obedience were orchestrated by God even before time began And, little did she know that her choices today would impact her tomorrow.

“And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them. How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” Psalm 139.

The story doesn’t stop there as each day has enough trouble of its own. Her circumstances went from bad to worse when her fatherless son died. She blamed herself and quickly shifted the blame to Elijah, yet all the while God was in complete control! Fortunately, this man who walked with God knew just what to do—grab the boy and run to God, the One who not only hears our cries but brings life out of death.

She wasn’t cast aside but set apart for a bigger story in history—His (God’s) story, right alongside the kings and prophets. God took care of her. She gave her all and received abundantly. Their story became her story. She was an empty vessel filled for God’s glory. God brought her in so he could make himself known to her. She had value, worth, the covering of God, His great love reaching out to demonstrate that she was not forgotten. She did nothing while God did everything. God brought a man of God to her, representing the body of Christ, leading her to put her trust in God. Elijah was the first step to her salvation. When the curtain had closed on her darkest hour, there was an encore to the story—even in death, God resurrected life.

“And He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.” Luke 4:23-26

How is God at work in your story? Jesus stands ready to interject powerfully the miraculous into our mundane activities—even while picking up sticks or the pieces of our lives. Pay attention to the “behold moments” where God is at work.

Accept death as God’s grace-filled plan to give you new life.