God’s plan of salvation always included both Jews and Gentiles. Including the Gentiles as recipients of grace was not God’s plan B, but part of his original plan. This is clearly seen already in the Old Testament. Dale Ralph Davis has a helpful commentary on 1 Kings 17:8-12 that talks about God’s grace shown to a foreigner. Specifically, this is the story where Elijah goes to the widow in Zarephath during the famine brought on by Ahab’s idolatry.
Let us look more closely at this widow. What really fascinates us is her mailing address: ‘Rise, go to Zarephath which belongs to Sidon’ (v. 9). Zarephath stood about eight miles south of Sidon and thirteen miles north of Tyre (and about 80 miles north of Samaria), in the domain of Jezebel’s daddy Ethbaal (16:31). So Elĳah is headed for Baalsville in Gentileland. Here one of Baal’s subjects will trust in Yahweh’s word (vv. 14, 15) and will find that Yahweh daily sustains her (v. 16), though Baal had left her in the pit of hopelessness and on the verge of death (v. 12). Yahweh will press her into his service for the benefit of his prophet and yet in the process give her far more than he demands of her. Here is a gentile widow awash in the wideness of God’s mercy; here is grace that moves beyond the boundaries of the covenant people and embraces one of Baal’s most hopeless pawns. We know her address but not her name, and yet this nameless widow joins the likes of Melchizedek (Gen. 14), Jethro (Exod. 18), Rahab (Josh. 2, 6), Ruth, Naaman (2 Kings 5), and Ebedmelech (Jer. 38) as one of those standing within the circle of Yahweh’s grace long before the glad day when Peter preached Jesus in Cornelius’ house and the Holy Spirit fell upon all the riff-raff (Acts 10–11). What happens in the street and house in Zarephath in 1 Kings 17 is but a foregleam of that day when God would grant ‘even to the gentiles repentance that leads to life’ (Acts 11:18).
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015