When Elijah shut off the money supply and caused a drought, the economy plunged into depression and people suffered. The poor were especially hard hit by the famine in Elijah’s day, including the widow Elijah lived with. When he first saw her she was in the process of preparing a last meal for herself and her son before dying. When Elijah was sent to her house it provided access for her – she found God through interacting with this prophet that had been instrumental in causing the meltdown. The event shows us that God is crashing the economy while He also cares for those affected by it.
Widows are used symbolically in the Bible to represent the weakest of society: “As he taught, Jesus said, "Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely” (Mark 12:38-40). The famine in Israel – and the modern meltdown – provides an access point for people to find God. At the same time it exposes the charlatan preachers and false church for what it really is – a cash oriented machine that is upset whenever the flow of income is diminished. The Fourth Parallel between Elijah’s famine and the Economic Meltdown is that it Provides Everybody an Opportunity to Find God.
Everybody is a key word here – God wants the widow to find him in the midst of the meltdown, and He wants to provide for her and her household. Jesus told the Pharisees, “I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon” (Luke 5:25-26). When the Brook Cherith dried up God told Elijah to go to Zarephath because “I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food” (1 Kings 17:9).
The woman had no idea she had been commanded by God, and when Elijah appeared she was desperate and afraid. She had a choice to make; instead of being selfish she took her last bit of food and made Elijah a meal, and by so doing she opened the supply of heaven which sustained her, her son and Elijah throughout the entire famine. God wants people to find Him and He wants to supply for them, and it is important what we place our emphasis upon when the downturn comes.
The widow represents those on the lower end of the socio-economic scale. They live on the margins, struggling to live paycheck to paycheck. One blip in the economy and they lose their job or house. Like the ancient Gentile widow whose name we don’t know, the modern meltdown affected many across the nations. In America an additional 4 million fell below the poverty line. The meltdown increased inequality and put a greater burden on the poor as 1 in 7 Americans live in poverty with all of the associated issues of lack of health care, poor nutrition, lower income (and thus higher crime) neighborhoods, etc. Globally, the more than 1 billion who live on less than $1 a day were stressed even further by the crisis. The despair of poverty intensifies during times of financial stress. Below are some real-life examples of how people responded to the 2008 meltdown:
In a tragic scenario of unemployment and terrible choices, one man and his wife chose murder and suicide. The husband/father and his wife lost their jobs in the recession, and the despair of poverty overwhelmed them. They killed their five young children aged eight and younger, and then the husband shot his wife and finally took his own life. The man faxed a suicide note to the local ABC affiliate in Los Angeles expressing despair at their plight, saying after the dual firing "my wife felt it better to end our lives; and why leave our children in someone else's hands ... we have no job and 5 children under 8 years with no place to go. So here we are." He ended the note with “Oh Lord, my God, is there no hope for a widow’s son?” 1 It was tragic that this family didn’t respond the way an ancient widow and her son had thousands of years before.
In the Indian state of Chattisgarh, 1,500 farmers committed suicide in April 2009 after being driven to debt by the meltdown and crop failure. The water table, which used to be at 40 feet, had dropped below 250. The meltdown was piled on top of the drought, stressing the already indebted farmers to the point of desperation and suicide. 2 The propensity to commit suicide as a way out may have strong ties in Hinduism which does not teach ultimate consequences, but the first example in Los Angeles indicates it is not just a religious philosophy but a response to desperation.
Some homeowners in the U.S. had the ability to pay their mortgages in the downturn but chose not to. As negative equity increased and people got more underwater they simply refused to pay and instead they walked away from their homes. This became known as “strategic default”, where people chose not to pay their mortgage not because they couldn’t but because it benefited them to not pay. Nearly 30% of defaults in 2010 were strategic defaults. 3
One family unabashedly confessed to staying in their home even though they couldn’t pay. There were so many foreclosures that the process took months and sometimes years, and one couple chose to stay in their house even though they hadn’t paid their $1850 monthly mortgage in two years. When interviewed they freely divulged that the “savings” of having no house payment allowed them to re-invest in their family business, eat at nice restaurants, go out on their boat on weekends and visit the Hard Rock Casino. They justified their non-payment in their own minds by reasoning that they had re-financed their home at the height of the real estate boom, but saying the lender went outside their own guidelines on debt to income ratio to make the loan and therefore the lender put themselves in jeopardy. The owner said “Instead of the house dragging us down, it’s become a life raft; it’s really been a blessing.” 4
Jeff and Victoria King (not their real names) are life-long friends, and they lived in an area of the U.S. where the real estate boom drove housing prices to incredible heights before the crash. Jeff was a superintendent for a company that built million dollar homes. They began to feel the impact of the downturn about a year before the crash, when housing sales slowed down in the last quarter of 2007. Then Jeff lost his job with the home builder because people were no longer qualifying for the large loans. Jeff scrambled and was glad to find a new job, even if it meant taking a 60% pay cut.
He also had a side business investing in real estate and building homes for personal clients. He had 3-4 houses and lots he had financed as personal mortgages. Money was so available and confidence that housing prices would increase that he was able to carry 4-5 mortgages. Banks reasoned that if someone got in trouble they could simply sell the house in the booming market. Jeff tried to sell those homes in 2007 but by then the market was softening and no one was buying, then the meltdown hit in 2008 and massive value evaporated. They did their best to pay their debts but it became impossible and they filed bankruptcy in 2009.
They had been in a hyper faith church that was all about believers getting rich, and I had been concerned about them for some time. The painful process of the downturn ended up being redemptive for the King’s as they found God in the process and realized the meltdown saved them from the wrong emphasis of greed which had slowly crept into their lives. Their focus changed and they began to engage in personal growth and spiritual development, emphasizing eternal realities before they dealt with natural things like jobs, bills and houses.
Through the struggle of the meltdown and changing jobs, the Kings found God and today are very thankful for the difficulty. Like the widow who was unaware of God’s purposes until Elijah came to her house, this family entered into partnership with God at a new level. And like the widow, God also helped them financially as they turned to Him. They were able to pay off their debts and buy a house seven years after the meltdown nearly destroyed them. They are now in one of our core churches and their entire family has been spiritually reoriented, having been delivered from the self-indulgence that drives capitalism and which will destroy our children if allowed to fester and masquerade as the blessing of God.
What does the widow who fed Elijah represent?
- She was a Gentile and not of the household of faith until Elijah came and brought her into the fold. She and her son represent an Ingathering of people who don’t know God but who will find God in the midst of the crisis in the nations.
- She was so poor that she was preparing a last meal for her and her son. She represents those who live on the economic margins of the earth that God is concerned about. Jesus was especially upset about how the rich and powerful religious establishment “robbed widow’s houses”, and today God is moving against ministries that seek to exploit money from the weak. The Lord is also moving in the developing nations of the earth, releasing new provision to the depressed nations of the earth in a move towards equalization that must occur before the Lord comes.
- Coming into Awareness. God told Elijah that He had already commanded the widow to feed him but she didn’t know that until the prophet showed up at her house. Beyond getting food to eat, the widow became aware that God was behind the downturn and that there was Divine purpose in economic calamity.
- New Partnership. Elijah lived at the widow’s house, located less than 150 miles from Ahab’s palace, for a few years. Yet Ahab couldn’t find the prophet, even though he searched among all the surrounding nations and made them swear they didn’t know Elijah’s whereabouts. In ancient culture it was scandalous for a strange man to live with a widow and her son. In addition, he was Jewish and she a Gentile – ethnic prejudices divided people then as they do now. But neither the woman nor her neighbors ever turned Elijah in to the authorities. Elijah was sheltered from the government manhunt, hiding in plain sight because the people in Zarapheth gave him refuge as they partnered with God.
There are obvious implications and questions we can ask ourselves: a) Have we been too focused on money and drifted from correct spiritual focus? b) How did we respond to conditions when the meltdown happened? c) Is our focus correct ethics and the fear of the Lord, or getting ahead financially at any cost? d) Have we found God in the crisis?
1 "With no job and 5 kids, 'better to end our lives,' man wrote" - CNN, retrieved June 10, 2009
2 1500 Farmers Commit Mass Suicide in India - The Independent, retrieved April 15, 2009
3 Financial Trust Index - University of Chicago, retrieved January 10, 2012
4 Owners Stop Paying Mortgages, and Stop Fretting - NY Times, retrieved June 1, 2010