Missional hermeneutics is looking at the Bible through the lens of the missio Dei (mission of God). Interpreting the Scriptures believing that they reveal God’s purposes.
We do not often think of the Old Testament having much to say about mission. That’s because we haven’t looked closely enough. From the beginning of the story of the People of God, God desired blessing for all of the world.
Today, we’re going to look at a story involving the Old Testament prophet Elijah. The story of Elijah, the prophet during the reign of King Ahab, can be found in 1 Kings 17-19. Elijah’s story is one of obedience to God and of victory over drought, other gods, hunger, and even death. Though Elijah dealt with issues concerning those outside of Israel on several occasions (including the contest with Baal in 1 Kings 18), the story of Elijah’s experience with the widow at Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8-24) gives a specific view of God’s blessing given to those outside of Israel.
Zarephath was located near the Phoenician city of Sidon on the Mediterranean Sea. The city was located near the border of Israel but was never under control of Israel. Zarephath was a foreign city to Israel. Yet, the Lord told Elijah to find food at the home of a widow there. It was during Elijah’s time in her home that miracles benefited the widow.
The first miracle performed on behalf of the widow was the multiplication of food. While the Lord sent Elijah to the widow for food, she made it clear that she only had “a handful of meal” (17:12). Elijah gave her instructions to bake the last meal that she had, and he told her that the Lord God of Israel would continue to fill her jars until the drought ended. By identifying fully his god, Elijah was setting the Lord God of Israel against any local deities that she may have recognized. This prophesy was completed as the widow and her son ate from the jars “for many days” (17:15).
While the food was the stated reason for Elijah’s visit, another miracle had a greater impact on the widow. During Elijah’s stay, the widow’s son grew ill and died. The woman recognized the power of Elijah and believed that he had killed her son as punishment for her sins. Upon hearing this, Elijah pleads with God to revive the boy. Through the fervent prayer of Elijah, God restored the widow’s son to life. The woman responds by saying, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is true” (17:24).
This story of Elijah and the widow at Zarephath shows Elijah’s desire to be a witness to the power and goodness of God. First, the provision of the Lord God of Israel was for the entire household, not Elijah alone. Second, Elijah’s prayer over the boy (17:20) indicates a desire that the goodness of God overcome the tragedy of death. Through the multiplication of food and the restoration of the son, the Lord God of Israel provided blessing for a widow who was outside of Israel.
Once again, the People of God bring blessing to others. This is the dream, hope, and mission of God.