"Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you" (1 Kings 17:9).
hy did God send Elijah to the home of a Gentile widow?
There's much in these circumstances that is surprising and unexpected. In the first place, this woman was a Sidonian, a Gentile—not even a member of the covenant nation. In the second place, she was in dire straits herself. She was on the verge of starvation. When Elijah met her, she was preparing a meal with the expectation that this would be the last morsel of food she would ever taste before she and her little boy starved to death.
Now, in normal circumstances, it would have been quite wrong and unreasonable for Elijah to seek refuge in this woman's home. She was a widow living in poverty, on the very brink of starvation. She was more a candidate for Elijah's help than he was for hers. If the Word of the Lord had not expressly come to Elijah telling him to seek food and shelter from this woman, it would have been a violation of principles set forth in Old Testament law for him to show up at her doorstep demanding food.
Exodus 22:22-24 says, "You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless."
Remember that most widows and orphans without means in that society were dependent on food they gleaned from other people's fields after harvest-time. There was no government-sponsored welfare in Sidon. Under normal circumstances, it would have been considered heartless and merciless for a foreign beggar to seek food and shelter from a widow—especially a woman facing such formidable needs in her own household.
But I'm convinced Elijah knew God's design was to show this woman mercy as well as him.
When we understand this, lots of things that were mysterious suddenly make sense. Here is why God uprooted Elijah from his safe haven by the brook and directed him into the heart of enemy territory in the midst of such famine: It was God's sovereign purpose to show grace and mercy to this one widow and her son (Luke 4:25-26).
In other words, when Elijah's provision at Cherith dried up, that did not signify that God's grace had dried up. Rather, it meant God was ready to multiply His grace for the sake of this woman and her son. Elijah's want led to the supply of their need.