Jezebel began life as a princess and ended it as a queen, living a life of luxury in a palace. She moved into Israel, living among the people of God, but proceeded to convert the whole land to Baal worship, chasing down and killing the prophets of Jehovah. That is how Elijah eventually met the woman of Zarephath.
This widow to whom God sent his prophet was a poor woman. She was even at the time she first saw Elijah, gathering wood to make one last meal for her and her son. Yet she shared with the prophet first and God provided for them all until the famine ended.
Both of these women knew of Jehovah. Jezebel was canny enough to use the very law of God when she connived to snatch Naboth’s vineyard away from him. She paid two false witnesses (“at the mouth of two or three witnesses”) to have him accused of a capital crime. The widow mentioned to Elijah “Jehovah your god,” at their first meeting. Elijah, who traveled throughout the northern kingdom, was not unknown, and surely who and what he was had reached as far as Zarephath, but at that point Jehovah was probably just another god in the pantheon she knew about. Still, with the witness of the never failing pot of oil and jar of meal, she served Elijah, probably the greatest prophet in the Old Testament as evidenced by his inclusion on the Mount of Transfiguration, for as long as he needed her.
And that woman, as poor and uneducated as she likely was, understood that she was a sinner. When her son died, she brought that very fact up to Elijah. “Having you here has made my sin obvious, and now I am paying for it,” she accused. When Elijah raised her son from the dead, she seemed to finally reach the correct conclusion about Jehovah. “Now I know,” she said, “that you are a man of God and that the word of Jehovah in your mouth is truth.” If this is not a confession of belief in Jehovah as the one true God, then I don’t know what the word means.
But Jezebel? Even after all the miracles, even after all the preaching, even after all the prophecies concerning her family that came true, she refused to serve Jehovah. When God sent Jehu to kill her, she saw death coming and simply put on her makeup. She accused him of being a “Zimri,” a servant who rose up against his king and killed him in 1 Kings 16, the man her own father-in-law succeeded as king. As defiant as ever, she went to her death, thinking she was dying with dignity, while the God she defied made certain she did not.
And so here are the two women—one who had all the advantages of wealth, position, power, family, influence, and life among God’s chosen, and the other, a poor heathen widow whose name even today we do not know. But which one did Jesus himself use as an example?
In Luke 4:24-29, he tells some unwelcoming Jews that God had to send Elijah to a Gentile, and a woman, because none of his own people would have cared for him, and the same was happening to him. Jesus was unacceptable to those first century Jews. He hung around with the wrong people. He didn’t understand the value in wealth and worldly/political power. He insulted the wrong people, the religious pillars. He was too ordinary and plainspoken, too simple, not a good-looking orator/soldier who would lead them to a glorious and glitzy victory.
And the lesson to us today? If Jesus were to come in the same way, would the church welcome him with open arms, or would God have to send him to unbelievers to be cared for? Would only the sinners we look down on listen to him? One way to know is how we accept his messengers. What do we expect of our preachers? Are they too blunt, too negative, and too impractical? Do they just need “to move on for the good of the cause?”
I have seen and heard of far too many churches that would have chased Elijah to Sidon. I have seen far too many churches whose values do not match the Lord’s. And so for us comes this question: Which Sidonian woman is our role model?
For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, for they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth, 3 John 2-5,7-8.