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The prophet follows the call of his God; the same hand that brought him to the gate of Zarephath, led also this poor widow out of her doors ; she shall then go to seek her sticks, when she shall be found of Elijah ; she thought of her hearth, she thought not of a prophet, when the man of God calls to her, “Fetch me a little water I pray thee, in a vessel, that I may drink.” It was no easy suit in so droughty a season ; and yet, at the first sight, the prophet dares second it with a greater, “ Bring me a morsel of bread in thine hand.” That long drought had made every drop, every crumb precious ; yet the prophet is emboldened by the charge of God to call for both water and bread; he had found the ravens so officious, that he cannot make doubt of the Sareptan. She sticks not at the water, she would not stick at the bread, if necessity had not pressed her. “As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but a handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse ; and behold I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it and die.'
If she knew not the man, how did she know his God? and if she knew not the God of Elijah, how did she swear by him? Certainly, though she were without the bounds of Israel, yet she was within the borders; so much she had gained by her neighbourhood, to know an Israelite, a prophet, by his habit; to know the only living God was the God of the prophet, the God of Israel, and if this had not been, yet it is no marvel if the widow knew Elijah, since the ravens knew him. It was high time for the prophet to visit the Sareptan ; poor soul ! she was now making her last meal; after one mean morsel she was yielding herself over to death. How opportunely hath God provided succours to our distresses! It is his glory to help at a pinch ; to begin where we have given over ; that our relief might be so much the more welcome, by how much it is less looked for.
But, oh! what a trial is this of the faith of a weak proselyte, if she were so much! “Fear not, go do as thou hast said ; but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it to me, and after make for thee and thy son: for thus saith the God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, nor the cruse of oil fail, till the day that God shall send rain upon the earth.” She must go spend upon a stranger part of that little she hath, in hope of more which she hath not, which she may have; she must part with her present food which she saw, in trust of future which she could not see: she must rob her sense in the exercise of her belief, and shorten her life in being, upon the hope of a protraction of it in promise ; she must believe God will miraculously increase what she hath yielded to consume; she must first feed the stranger with her last victuals, and then after, herself and her son. Some sharp dame would have taken up the prophet, and have him sent away with an angry repulse: Bold Israelite, there is no reason in this request; wert thou a friend or a brother, with what face couldst thou require to pull my last bit out of my mouth ? had I superfluity of provision, thou mightest hope for this effect of my charity: now, that I have but one morsel for myself and my son, this is an injurious importunity; what can induce thee to think thy life, an unknown traveller, should be more dear to me than my son's, than my own? How uncivil is this motion, that I should first make provision for thee in this dying extremity! it had been too much to have begged my last scraps. Thou tellest me the meal shall not waste, nor the oil fail ; how shall I believe thee? let me see that done before thou eatest: in vain should I challenge thee, when the remainder of my poor store is consumed. If thou canst so easily multiply victuals, how is it that thou wantest? Do that beforehand which thou promisest shall be afterwards performed, there will be no need of my little. But this good Sareptan was wrought by God not to mistrust a prophet ; she will do what he bids, and hope for what he promises ; she will live by faith rather than by sense, and give away the present in the confidence of a future remuneration : first, she bakes Elijah's cake, then her own, not grudging to see her last morsels go down another's throat, while herself was famishing. How hard precepts doth God lay, where he intends bounty! Had not God meant her preservation, he had suffered her to eat her last cake alone, without any interpellation; now the mercy of the Almighty purposing as well this miraculous favour to her, as to his prophet, requires of her this task, which flesh and blood would have thought unreasonable. So we are wont to put hard questions to those scholars, whom we would promote to higher forms. So, in all achievements, the difficulty of the enterprise makes way for the glory of the actor.
Happy was it for this widow, that she did not shut her hand to the man of God, that she was no niggard of her last handful: never corn or olive did so increase in growing, as here in consuming. This barrel, this cruse of hers had no bottom, the barrel of meal wasted not, the cruse of oil failed not: behold, not getting, not saving, is the way to abundance, but giving. The mercy of God crowns our beneficence with the blessing of store; who can fear want by a merciful liberality, when he sees the Sareptan had famished, if she had not given, and by giving abounded ? With what thankful devotion must this woman every day needs look upon her barrel and cruse, wherein she saw the mercy of God renewed to her continually! Doubtless her soul was no less fed by faith, than her body with this supernatural provision. How welcome a guest must Elijah needs be to this widow, that gave her life and her son's to her for his board! yea, that in that woful famine, gave her and her son their board for his house-room. The dearth thus overcome, the mother looks hopefully on her only son, promising herself much joy in his life and prosperity, when an unexpected sickness surpriseth him, and doth that which the famine but threatened. When can we hold ourselves secure from evils ? no sooner is one of these serjeants compounded withal, than we are arrested by another.
How ready are we to mistake the grounds of our afflictions, and to cast them upon false causes! The passionate mother cannot find whether to impute the death of her son, but to the presence of Elijah, to whom she comes distracted with perplexity, not without an unkind challenge of him, from whom she had received both that life she had lost, and that she had ; “What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God ? art thou come to me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son ?"
As if her son could not have died, if Elijah had not been her guest; whereas her son had died, but for him ; why should she think that the prophet had saved him from the famine to kill him with sickness? as if God had not been free in his actions, and must needs strike by the same hands by which he preserved. She had the grace to know that her affliction was for her sin ; yet was so unwise, to imagine the arrearages of her iniquities had not been called for, if Elijah had not been the remembrancer; he who had appeased God towards her, is suspected to have incensed him; this wrongful misconstruction was enough to move any patience. Elijah was of a hot spirit; yet his holiness kept him from fury: this challenge rather increased the zeal of his prayer, than stirred his choler to the offendent. He takes the dead child out of his mother's bosom, and lays him upon his own bed, and cries unto the Lord, O Lord my God, hast thou brought evil also upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son ?” Instead of chiding the Sareptan, out of the fervency of his soul he humbly expostulates with his God: his only remedy is in his prayer;
that which shut heaven for rain, must open it for life. Every word enforceth; first, he pleads his interest in God, “ O Lord my God:” then the quality of the patient, "a widow," and therefore both most distressed with the loss, and most peculiar to the charge of the Almighty. Then his interest, as in God, so in this patient, “ with whom I sojourn ;” as if the stroke were given to himself, through her sides; and lastly, the quality of the punishment, “by slaying her son, the only comfort of her life: and in all these implying the scandal that needs must arise from this event, wherever it should be noised, to the name of his God, to his own : when it should be said, Lo! how Elijah's entertainment is rewarded: surely the prophet is either impotent or unthankful.
Neither doth his tongue move thus only; thrice doth he stretch himself upon the dead body, as if he could wish to infuse of his own life into the child, and so often calls to his God for the restitution of his soul. What can Elijah ask to be denied ? The Lord heard the voice of the prophet, the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. What miracle is impossible to faithful prayers? There cannot be more difference betwixt Elijah's devotion and ours, than betwixt supernatural and ordinary acts; if he therefore obtained miraculous favours by his prayers, do we doubt of those which are within the sphere of nature and use ? What could we want, if we did not slack to ply heaven with our prayers ?
Certainly Elijah had not been premonished of this sudden sickness and death of the child ; he who knew the remote affairs of the world, might not know what God would do within his own roof. The greatest prophet must content himself with so much of God's counsel, as he will please to reveal; and he will sometimes reveal the greater secrets, and conceal the less, to make good both his own liberty and man's humiliation. So much more unexpected as the stroke was, so much more welcome is the cure. How joyfully doth the man of God take the revived child into his arms,