Ahab, the wicked King of Israel, was sitting in his house at Samaria, when suddenly there appeared before him a wild-looking man, with long hair and a cape of woolly sheepskin on his shoulders, his rough tunic girdled with a broad belt of leather, and thick sandals on his feet. Elijah, the Prophet of God, was his name. Born and bred in the wild desert country, he now dwelt amid the hills and valleys of Gilead, across the river Jordan, and he had come to warn the king that trouble was in store for his kingdom.
|As God lives, before whom I stand,| he said, with upraised hand, |there shall not be dew or rain for years, but according to my word.| And he said more, for this king was married to Jezebel, a wicked princess of another nation, who had got her husband to set up images and altars to Baal, a wooden idol, although he knew it was wrong. Also, to please his wife, Ahab had killed the priests of God, and set up priests of Baal in their stead; and so when King Ahab heard the words of the wild prophet he was both angry and afraid.
Elijah did not wait for an answer, but fled out of the king's house and out of the city; for he knew that when King Ahab told his terrible wife of what he had said, she would send out men to capture him, dead or alive. She had tried to kill every prophet of God in the land, and thought indeed that she had done so; but Obadiah, the king's officer, had hidden one hundred in caves by the riverside, and kept them alive with bread and water.
So the wild prophet Elijah, with his sheepskin cape or mantle on his shoulders, fled away to the lonely country of rocks and bushes, wild beasts and robbers. But he had no fear, for he had no riches to lose, and he always carried a stout staff in his hand; and no one ever refused him shelter, for he was known everywhere as |the Man of God.|
He fled eastwards, having received a message from God to go and hide in the deep valley of the Cherith, a small stream running between high banks down to the river Jordan -- a place of caves where many ravens had their nests; and he had been told also that the black ravens would feed him there with the food they brought. There he hid himself from King Ahab's men, who were searching the country for him; and the ravens brought him food morning and evening, and he drank of the water of the brook until it dried up, for there was no rain.
When he could no longer live there he had another message from God, bidding him leave his hiding-place. Climbing the wooded hills of Galilee, he started to go down the other side to the town of Zarephath, by the seashore, where he would be out of King Ahab's country. With his thick staff in his hand and his woolly mantle on his shoulders, his head shaded by a shawl hanging down each side of his face, he crossed the plains, and going up a cleft in the hills, passed between them towards the coast -- a journey of about seventy miles, that would take him at least four days, for he would have to keep out of sight of the king's men.
Sleeping now in a cave, now in a friendly tent, avoiding villages and bands of men, the wild prophet came to the fields outside Zarephath and waited; for the place was a walled town with a low stone archway, and gatekeepers to question all who came in.
Now as he loitered among the trees a poor woman came out to gather broken branches to kindle her fire, and the prophet called to her, --
|Bring me, I pray thee, a little water in a dish, that I may drink.|
She looked at the man's strange figure, with the long black hair falling over his sheepskin mantle, and turned away with her bundle of sticks, intending to bring a drink of water to him; and when he saw that she was going home, he called again, --
|Bring me also a morsel of bread in thine hand.|
The woman, who was dressed in the rough blue and red clothing of the country, with a few brass coins in her hair, and glass beads round her neck, came nearer, and he saw from her face that she was plainly in deep distress.
|As thy God liveth,| she said earnestly, |I have not one cake left, but only a handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse. I am only gathering a few sticks, that I may go home and bake one more cake for my son and myself, that we may eat it and then die.|
|Fear not,| replied the wild man in a gentle tone; |go and do as thou hast said: but make me a little cake first, and bring it to me, and afterwards make a cake for thyself and thy son. For thus saith the God of Israel, 'Thy barrel of meal shall not waste, nor thy cruse of oil fail, until the day that He sendeth rain upon the earth.'|
The woman wondered at his strange words, but she believed the man, and went away to her poor home; there she soon kindled a fire, and baked a little cake, and took it out to the hungry prophet sitting outside the city gate. Then she returned and baked another cake for herself and her son. And we are told that after that her barrel never lacked meal, neither did the oil in her cruse fail, according as the prophet had said; and Elijah stayed with the woman at her humble home.
Now it happened some time later that this widow's son fell sick and died, and his mother came to Elijah in great distress. Then the prophet took the boy and carried him up into the loft where he slept, and stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried to the Lord, --
|O Lord my God, I pray Thee, let this child's soul come into him again.|
And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah, and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. Then Elijah took him and brought him down out of the loft, and placed him in his wondering mother's arms, and said, |See, thy son liveth.|
And the woman said, |Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth.|