God told Elijah to leave the resort comforts of Brook Cherith and head to Zarephath on a 100-mile walk. Cool. Isn’t it? Of course not. There was a bounty on Elijah’s head by King Ahab and his wife Jezebel.
“And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee.” [1Kings 17:8-9]
Queen Jezebel had ordered all the prophets killed because of the pain of Elijah’s pronouncement. In the middle of all these, Elijah, probably the most wanted man in the world, has to leave his place of safety and take the public road to Zarepheth.
Apart from the hapless widow and her son, why did God have to send him all the way to Zarephath? It wasn’t going to be an easy journey because he would be travelling northwards with all the hills and high grounds he had to navigate.
Zarephath – City of the gods
Zarephath is preserved in the name of the modern village, Sarafand. In antiquity, the site was known as Sarepta or Sariptu. Zarephath is located about 8.5 miles (13.5 km) south of Sidon and 14 miles (23 km) north of Tyre. The earliest occupation of Zarephath dates to the Late Bronze Age, ca. 1600 BC, and the city is mentioned in Papyrus Anastasi I from the reign of Rameses II. Zarephath (Sariptu) is also listed among the Phoenician cities in Sennacherib’s campaign of 701 BC. During Esarhaddon’s reign (680-669 BC), Zarephath was taken from Sidon and given to the king of Tyre.¹
Sidon was the birthplace of Queen Jezebel, and Zarephath was known for one thing: it was where the idols for the worship of Baal were manufactured.
Between 1969 and 1974, James Pritchard directed excavations at Zarephath on behalf of the University of Pennsylvania. The excavations revealed that Zarephath was occupied continuously throughout the Iron Age, and was a centre for pottery production, olive oil production, metallurgy, and purple-dye manufacture. Twenty-two kilns were discovered, the earliest of which dated to the 13th century BC.
As the widow was about to fetch water for the thirsty prophet, Elijah observed that she was preparing to cook as well. “What does she need sticks for? Boil water? No, she must have some food. Good”, he mused. So, he upgraded his request, “Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand.”
In the process, the woman believed the animal-skin-dressed stranger and a miracle ensued.
Beyond the widow, Elijah was meant to see the source of Israel’s supply of idols, the bedrock of witchcraft, the home of Jezebel. Zarephath was the gateway where Satan was manipulating and polluting the lives of God’s people. It was the intersection where the spirits of darkness were given access to the nation of Israel – and God wanted Elijah to destroy it!
Elijah was not holed up in the house of the widow like some hermit, he went out, getting fresh air, soaking up the sun and getting some Vitamin D in the process.
At the same time, he was exposed to the evils going on around the city. He saw how Israelites came to trade, selling their sheep and buying the effigies of Baal and Asherah.
Over the two-and-a-half-year period he spent at Zarephath, he witnessed the travellers from the so-called nation of “priests” join in the worship of Baal, called Xmas and the holiday of Asherah known as Easter.
What more was going on in Zarephath?”
Battle at the Gates
When we see two armies challenging each other on the battleground we usually think that is all to it, but in reality, it is just half of the story. There is usually a spiritual side to the physical battle.
In Joshua 5, we read the account of Joshua’s encounter. As he and the children of Israel approached Jericho, something happened, Joshua met a stranger and he drew his sword to fight.
13 And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or our adversaries?
14 And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the LORD am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What saith my lord unto his servant?
15 And the captain of the LORD’S host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so.
What was going on? Joshua was simply privileged to see the spiritual side of what he was experiencing physically.
Behind the thin veil of reality, there were spiritual forces gathered to fight; were it not so, why was there a need for the “Captain of the host of the Lord” there?
The root word for the host, tsebâ’âh, means a mass of persons (or figurative things), especially regularly organized for war (an army) [Strong’s Dictionary H6635]².
It also means army, host, host (of organised army), host (of angels), gathered to wage war, fight, or go forth to war.
The host of the Lord was not there to watch proceedings but to fight. But, how do they fight? They fight with swords, bows and arrows, axes, etc. But, it is not exactly as you think or imagine.
This is not like a physical contact fight. It is the use of the spiritual versions of these weapons. For example, the sword is the word, either of God or of the devil. The words that are spoken materialize into things. The words spoken frame things, they cause invisible things to consist.
Due to the Blood of Jesus Christ, the devil (horde of darkness) is usually powerless against a child of God. The Blood makes a special covering, like the “cherub that covers”, forming a shield of protection. So, the devil employs a different strategy that works most of the time. It is recorded in Proverbs 6:2:
“Thou art snared with the words of thy mouth, thou art taken with the words of thy mouth.”
That was what was used to unlock the secrets of Samson after failing to overcome him physically. He was trapped and caged through the words of his mouth.
When you examine the different weapons, you would notice that they are engaged in different things. Your sword would be useless against someone who is employing a bow and arrow from a hundred metres away from you. While your arrow would be useless against someone at just arm’s length.
You must know that when the devil comes to fight, he doesn’t come to fight fair, it is the reason he is called a thief. He’s usually prepared to win at all costs, break every rule of engagement and annihilate you!
“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy….” [John 10:10]
Thieves don’t obey the law except you force them to do so. Elijah had come to Zarephath not just to rescue the widow from the certain death of hunger, but also to help deliver a whole nation from total darkness.
Elijah was going to be the light to challenge the darkness in Zarephath. God led him to the spiritual hill to shine His light into the darkest pit of Hell. For the next two and half years, Elijah battled the forces of darkness stationed in Jezebel’s home town.
He rammed the gates of Hell in Zarephath incessantly in fasting and prayers. Physically, no one knew him, but spiritually, the witches and wizards of the city began to notice an ever-increasing flame rising from the house of the widow. Oftentimes, Elijah’s host, the widow, would be accused by some people that she was selling her body to the wealthy stranger living in her house to get food.
As the months progressed, the provocation intensified with varying slander and gossip.
Elijah knew what was happening and taught her to ignore her adversaries. And she did until one day. One of her friends accused her that she had poisoned and killed her husband so she could spend time with her lover, the stranger whom she lodged in her house.
“I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me. I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even from good; and my sorrow was stirred. My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue…” [Psalm 39:1-3]
She could not ignore the lies, got very angry and responded, letting out expletives and exchanging harsh words with her accuser. It was all the agents of darkness needed – her anger. Anger, her weakness, became the weapon against her.
Two days later, her son fell sick and after three days of battling a nasty fever, the boy died.
“And it came to pass after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick; and his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him.” [1 Kings 17:17]
Her anger turned towards Elijah. Before his arrival, she had no trouble, but ever since he had been sharing stories about Yahweh, the God of Israel, with her and she had come to believe in Him, her trouble had started.
“And she said unto Elijah, What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?” [1Kings 17:18]
Elijah had prayed while the son was ill and nothing happened, but now the boy was dead, what would he do? He could not run away. He turned to God – it was his only hope.
Elijah took the son from her, laid him on his bed and started praying. It wasn’t instant as minutes turned to hours of incessant pleas before the Throne of Grace. He quoted Abraham, Moses, Samuel, and all the scriptures he knew. He did not stop praying until he got a miracle of resurrection power (1 Kings 17:19-24, Philippians 3:10).
Faith Challenge for Elijah
The resurrection of the boy taught Elijah something he didn’t know before. It transformed his prayer life. He became more direct and forceful, he learned “that men ought always to pray, and not faint” (Luke 18:1).
Elijah learned that there were three levels of spiritual warfare that every believer must engage in for every battle. An awareness of which paves the way to victory. They were the battle of the flesh, that of the world, and against Satan.
Take, for example, you want to fast for a day and spend time in prayer in God’s presence. The first challenge you are likely to encounter is not eating. That is when your favourite food will become appetizing. Ghrelin, the hormone produced in your stomach that signals a need for food and energy, would be used by your flesh (that fallen nature) to make your body resist your spiritual desire.
As soon as you overcome that hurdle another fight starts, and the world, using friends, colleagues, and even loved ones would start making a demand on you. It could be by asking you to come along for lunch or pestering you with the aroma of your favourite dish. If you can avoid all that, the Internet would be another weapon, causing you to watch things that distract you and potentially waste your time instead of praying or studying your Bible.
If all the above failed, the spirits of darkness would feel threatened and then put up a fight. They may have tried to use the above two levels to stir a fight against you by boosting those actions. But, they may start fighting against your soul. They attack your mind by reminding you how you have repeatedly failed God. How your past cannot be erased. How your parents may have failed and why you cannot escape. They would make you feel depressed with all kinds of negative and demeaning thoughts. Then you would be pressured to give up and stop trying.
Elijah had to contend with all these levels just as you may be contending with at this moment in time. James, the brother of Jesus, witnessed Jesus Christ contend with all these as He grew up. James had to write this as a reminder:
“Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.” [James 5:17]
Jesus Fought the Battles
Before Elijah’s departure to Zarephath, God was already planning the open disgrace and ultimate destruction of the representatives of the kingdom of darkness.
The preparation of Elijah for the showdown that would eventually unfold at Mount Carmel between him and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah (1 Kings 18:20-40) was at the house of his host, the widow of Zarephath.
Before he physically met the 850 false prophets, Like Joshua, Elijah had gotten involved in joining forces with the hosts of Heaven to displace, disarm and defeat Baal (the god of Christmas worship) and Asherah (the god of Easter worship).
Jesus later revealed what Elijah was busy doing at the house of the widow and the practice that is expected of all His followers, and of course, after meeting God’s requirement of holiness.
“And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” [Matthew 16:19]
Elijah learned to step into the heavenly realm (John 3:13) to obtain the authority, the keys of the Kingdom, to bind and render powerless the spirits of the darkness.
… And What Are You Doing in Zarephath?
Saint on earth, it is your turn to engage the gods in modern Zarephath, the cities of idolatry around where you live now. At least, like Elijah, you must have seen all the activities of Baal and Asherah in the abuse of children.
God has stationed you in the modern Zarephath, saying, “See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.” [Jeremiah 1:10]
God sent Moses back to Egypt to disgrace the Egyptian gods. He sent Elijah to disgrace the prophets of Baal and Asherah. He sent His only Begotten Son to this crooked world to destroy the kingdom of darkness. He has put you where you are right now to crush the enemy. He’s counting on you.