WORD STUDY – BRANCHES עצימ
I Kings 17:12: “And she said: As the Lord thy God lives, I have not a cake but a handful of meal in a barrel, and, behold I am gathering two sticks that I may go in and dress it for me and my son that we may eat it and die.”
We automatically assume that this widow is collecting sticks to make a fire so she can bake bread with her remaining grain to make a final meal for her and her son. Yet why does Scripture say she was collecting only two sticks? Scripture is very specific, she was gathering shenayim two. Obvious two sticks would not create a fire to bake bread.
In ancient times fire was started by striking flint or using the bow and sting method. Normally, every household had a little stove or area where they kept hot coals that were constantly kept burning. They would throw a few twigs on the coals to start a fire. So this widow would not need too many twigs, but really more than two. Also she lived in a town called Zaraphath in Sidon. Zaraphath or Sarepta in the Hebrew became an eponym in the Hebrew for any place that has a smelter or forge. Fire building was pretty common in this town and it seems unlikely this widow was searching for wood for a fire when this town would have other means of fueling a fire.
The word for stick is asah which could mean a twig, stick, a branch or an entire tree trunk. Only the context will tell us which English word to use here. To understand the context we must understand the culture of this woman. Sidon was a Phoenician town which was heavily influenced by the Hebrews through commerce and trade. Scripture is not clear but I believe God made His presence known to those who are in lands where the knowledge of God Jehovah is not taught. Yet, people still had an awareness of God and they could choose to follow Him.
I personally believe everyone, no matter what land they live in has some knowledge of God. I read about a missionary who went to a remote tribe in the jungle. He was the first outsider to make contact with these people. He learned their language and taught them about God and Jesus. One day this missionary was just casually talking with one of the villagers one evening and this villager said something very startling. He said: “You know I prayed to your God many years before you came that He would send someone to us to teach us about Him and here you are.” I believe this passage of Scripture is a good Scriptural foundation for the fact that everyone human being is given a chance to follow God or not. I believe that is shown in the words shenayim ‘asah, two sticks. However from the context I believe we should use the word branches for ‘asah rather than sticks. The Bible said that God prepared this woman for Elijah. Just as God prepared that villager for the missionary. She may have even prayed that God would send someone to teach her and her people about Him.
As stories of the Hebrew people filtered through the lands she probably heard of a great temple in the city of Jerusalem and how they would worship their God. She probably heard about the showbread which was carried by the priest on a cloth suspended by two poles and how they would offer this bread to their God and then eat it in His presence. In the Northern Kingdom the people were not allowed to worship in the temple of the Southern Kingdom but the truly faithful, the remnant who had a sincere heart toward God, sort of adapted temple rituals to fit their particular environment. The ritual was for a family to tie a cloth to two sticks and put two pieces of bread on the cloth and then the husband and wife would carry it to an altar and ritually eat the bread before the presence of God as was done by the priest in the temple before the holy of holies.
This widow and her son had a heart sensitive to God, for how else would God have prepared them for the appearance of Elijah? I believe this widow and her son were actually believing God to provide bread for them. In fact, like so many of us, she and her son had waited for the fulfillment of God’s promise to provide to the point of starvation; it was now the eleventh hour and God had not provided anymore food. Do you ever feel this way? You keep trusting and trusting God and eventually it is the eleventh hour. The movers have your furniture loaded on the truck and you are about to forever leave your home when suddenly God says to the truck driver: “Ok, you can put it back.” I mean that’s hard on your heart.
So, now, in a last act of desperation this God fearing pagan widow and her son were going to carry out a final ritual and eat their bread before God as a demonstration of their faith in God’s provision and in worship to Him.
Oh, wait a minute you say, that was not God’s instructions on the use of the showbread, they had it all wrong. You know, sometimes there are people who accept the Lord as their Savior who have no understanding of how to properly worship God. Why they many even worship God without the benefits of a worship team, a guitar and drums. Would God really accept such a worship? I shared the story a couple days ago of a woman who was homeless with three small children. Due to the environment she grew up in she never went to church, she knew nothing about atonement, cosmology, theology, doctrine she only knew in her heart that there was a God and she called out to Him and He answer that very day in a miraculous way (Read the study on my website entitled The Agreement).
Note in verse 12 she says: “That we may eat it and die.” The word die is matanu which is a strange Hebraic form of the word moth or death. Originally there were no vowel pointings in the Hebrew. Hence without the vowels we cannot be certain if the root word was moth for death, or nathan which means to give. I suggest in this context that the root word should be nathan which has a final Nun meaning to give and to receive so you can give again. What this Godly woman would be saying then is: “I am about to offer my final meal to God. May He show us mercy and return the meal so we can live, for if He does not we will die.”
This woman’s faith had reached its limits, as one last act of faith she and her son would eat what could have been her last meal in worship to the God she learned to loved. At the moment who should suddenly appear, but Elijah ready to fulfill the promise of God.