When the waiter set down the lemon tart I’d ordered, my first thought was, Well, that’s disappointing. It was small—no more than four bites in total—graced with a single raspberry and a dollop of homemade whipped cream. But when I put the first bite in my mouth, that opinion changed drastically. The rustic graham cracker crust was buttery with a perfect amount of crunch to compliment the soft curd filling, which was a balanced mix of sour and sweet. Unlike a buffet stocked with mass-produced desserts that tantalize but somehow fail to satisfy, this diminutive tart delivered. I savored each bite, enjoying the way the flavors and textures worked together, and when the last of it had been swallowed, I sat back—content and truly filled.
When it comes to food, the prophet Elijah was a man who understood the concept of less as more—though his fare was of a far humbler sort. After he announced to King Ahab that neither rain nor dew would fall without his say-so, God sent him to a brook called Cherith, just east of the River Jordan (1 Kings 17:1-3). And in this isolated and sacred space, he waited to make good on that promise in the Lord’s timing. While there, he drank from the brook, and ravens—considered unclean by the Jewish people because they ate dead flesh—brought him “bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening” as reliably as Uber Eats (1 Kings 17:6).
Elijah’s meals were not grand banquets that fell directly from the sky. They came in, piece by piece, via the beaks of birds. Though they are the largest members of the crow family, ravens average only about 24 inches in height. It would take several to bring him enough food for two meals a day. The prophet’s portions may have been small, but they were enough to preserve him until the brook dried up and he had to move on.
Elijah traveled to Zarephath, a Gentile city in Sidon (modern-day Lebanon). There he met another tiny black bird of a sort—a widow gathering sticks for her cookfire—and asked her for food and drink. At first blush, this request doesn’t seem extravagant, but consider the situation. There was little water to be had in the land since the drought began, and the poor widow had only enough flour and oil left to make a final meal for herself and her son so that they “may eat and die” (1 Kings 17:12). This woman was down to the dregs, scraping the literal bottom of the barrel, but that didn’t change Elijah’s request. “Do not fear,” he told her. “Go, do as you have said, but make me a little bread cake from it first … and afterward you may make one for yourself and for your son” (1 Kings 17:13). Amazingly, she did just that; this little Gentile raven split her portion with the prophet because of a promise from his God: “The bowl of flour shall not be exhausted, nor shall the jar of oil be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain on the face of the earth” (1 Kings 17:14).
We are not told how long Elijah stayed with this widow, though we do know the drought he prophesized lasted roughly three and a half years. And in all that time, despite the lack of rain and their poverty, none in the house went hungry. The flour, as promised, never ran out. There was always oil enough. God’s Word makes no mention of either container being filled to the brim; this blessing was not “pressed down, shaken together, and running over” (Luke 6:38). It, like Elijah’s meals in the desert, came in daily batches. Each morning and evening, the widow went to her kitchen and discovered, yet again, that Elijah’s God was Yahweh Yireh—the One who provides. Meal by meal, she took in another morsel of truth.
In Psalm 37:18-19, David tells us, “The Lord knows the days of the blameless, and their inheritance will be forever. They will not be ashamed in the time of evil, and in the days of famine they will have abundance.” Different editions of the Bible handle this last word in various ways. In the New International Version, we are told God’s people will “enjoy plenty.” The English Standard Version says we will “have abundance,” and the New King James promises the blameless “shall be satisfied.” The last of these three translations is the most accurate to the original Hebrew text. The word David uses is yiśbā’ū—a derivative of saba, which means “to be sated or satisfied.”
The word satisfied carries with it a rather different connotation than any of the other words it is swapped out for. It speaks of contentment, completion, and fulfillment in a way that has nothing to do with quantity or mass. A person who is satisfied wants for nothing. It is the reason why those four bites of lemony perfection I enjoyed were more filling than a platter full of sweets—and why Elijah and the widow never once felt neglected.
Jesus came so that we “may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10), but more often than not, that abundance barely resembles the world’s definition. Whether motivated by greed or fear, many people grab rapaciously for sex, power, riches, love—whatever they believe will safeguard them from want. Like the house in D. H. Lawrence’s short story “The Rocking-Horse Winner,” they are haunted by the unspoken phrase “There must be more money! There must be more money!” They consume and are never satisfied. It is never enough. But we who follow Christ know true satisfaction, the wholeness that comes with our salvation. We know there is something beyond even the matchless fulfillment we enjoy in this life. That is the last lesson the widow must learn.
Before Elijah left, tragedy struck. The widow’s son, her one consolation in suffering, died unexpectedly. Faced with this great loss, she temporarily forgot the lessons she’d learned from the daily miracle of God’s provision. “What do I have to do with you, O man of God?” she shouted. “You have come to me to bring my iniquity to remembrance and to put my son to death!” (1 Kings 17:18). She did not yet know the true power of the Lord—the Bread of Life who says, “Test Me now in this” and pours out blessings overflowing, the One who has “the keys of death and of Hades” (Mal. 3:10; Revelation 1:18).
But when her son came down the stairs, alive in the prophet’s arms, she saw. She understood. Elijah’s God was more powerful than she knew, a provider of more than a few handfuls of flour and oil. He was all-sufficient, more than enough. In the face of such a miracle, she looked at Elijah and could say only, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth” (1 Kings 17:24). And with this confession of faith, “That we may eat it and die” became “Take, eat, and live.”
Illustrations by Adam Cruft