Elijah, the prophet, arrived on the scene at a time when the northern kingdom of Israel and Judah were at opposite extremes in their obedience to God. In the north, king Ahab had formally instituted Baal worship (1 Kings 16:32), but in the south, Jehoshaphat had removed the high places and groves out of Judah (2 Chronicles 17:6) that were being used for pagan worship. The initiation of Elijah’s ministry was linked to the rebuilding of Jericho. “This violated God’s intentions that the ruins of Jericho (Josh 6:26) be a perpetual reminder that Israel had received the land of Canaan from God’s hand as a gift of grace” (note on 1 Kings 16:34).
Elijah’s first act was to confront king Ahab with the reality that God was alive and well and still in control of his kingdom. “And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” (1 Kings 17:1). The drought which lasted three and a half years (Luke 4:25) was a sign of God’s sovereignty over his creation and an indicator of the powerlessness of Baal and all other false gods to control nature.
Elijah’s primary credential as a man of God was his ability to perform miracles. Much like Moses, Elijah got the attention of the people by showing them there was no limit to God’s power. Even in the worst of circumstances, God was able to protect and sustain those whom he chose to and without his help, the Israelites would have perished. In order to make this clear, the LORD chose to sustain a widow who took care of Elijah during the famine. The widow and her son had no means of support and were about to die when Elijah arrived at their home (1 Kings 17:12). In spite of her lack of resources, the widow’s household, including Elijah, survived the famine (1 Kings 17:16).
The interesting thing about the widow who took Elijah into her home was she was not an Israelite. She was a citizen of the kingdom ruled by Jezebel’s father, Ethbaal of Tyre and Sidon (Luke 4:26). Jesus’ explanation of why this woman was helped makes it clear that it was not because God had compassion on her, but because she had faith, she was a believer (Luke 4:25-26). Her survival of the famine was a testimony of God’s grace to all believers.