Bible Study - Oil Part 2: Two widows & the jars of oil

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Bible Study Series: Holy Spirit - Roles, Types and Imagery

Holy Spirit - Oil Part 2: The two widows & the jars of oil

Bible study jars of oil holy spiritby I Gordon

Welcome back. We're exploring some of the imagery and roles of the Holy Spirit in scripture and last time we looked at the most common type of the Spirit in the the Bible... can you remember what it was? Oh you were away that day? Ok - it is oil. Amongst other things we examined the first use of oil in the Bible where Jacob anointed a stone after experiencing God for the first time in Bethel. It was an interesting encounter made all the better for it pointed, in picture form, directly to Jesus! I would like to carry on this topic of oil as a picture of the Holy Spirit today and look at oil in the vessel. 'What?' you say... "do you mean like an oil tanker?' Um, no... well, not exactly though you might be able to use that analogy! The Bible is clear that the believers' body is a vessel for the Holy Spirit and as such we are instructed to be 'filled' with God's Spirit.   

So we'll keep it pretty simple today. We'll look at:

  • Three New Testament passages around being a vessel of the Holy Spirit
  • An Old Testament story about a desperate widow and a jar of oil
  • And an Old Testament story about a desperate widow and a jar of oil

Now, you may be thinking "Oh dear... this guy is getting old and losing it. He is starting to be forgetful, repeating himself, and um, forgetful.' Yeah, while in general it is hard to argue against that, in this particular case it's ok - there are actually two very similar stories about a prophet, a desperate widow and a miracle with a jar of oil. So we will explore that and make a few comments about the picture of the Holy Spirit in both of these stories. I also want to speak a little about God's provision and providence as well in these uncertain days so we'll mix that in there somewhere... sometime... somehow.    

The New Testament Truth

But before looking at the Old Testament stories that have been given to illustrate New Testament truth, let's look at, well, New Testament truth. Consider the following three passages:

1Co 6:19-20 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; (20) you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

Eph 5:18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

2Co 4:7-11 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (8) We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; (9) persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (10) We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. (11) For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.

I would like to think that you are very familiar with all three of these passages. 

  1. The first passage tells believers that their body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Just as God's Spirit and presence was experienced in the tabernacle and temple in days gone by, now in the age of grace, our body is that temple and dwelling place for God's Spirit.
  2. The second passage instructs believers to be filled with God's Spirit. The Greek tense is a continual command - 'Be ye being filled with the Spirit.' So our bodies and lives, this vessel for God's Spirit, should be filled and not empty.
  3. The third passage tells us that God's power, expressed through His indwelling Spirit, is contained within earthen vessels - jars of clay. This emphasizes that we are nothing... just clay pots, often a wee bit brittle, with a few dings and prone to shatter when dropped! But He is powerful and for that power and light to be seen, there often requires a difficulty that produces a crack in the pot to release the life and light of the One within. 

So there you have it. You are a temple of the Holy Spirit. You need to be filled with that Spirit. And that Spirit is release and overflows often when difficulties arise. Bible study over. Best of luck!

Ok... there is a little more to this. As mentioned there are two stories in the Old Testament concerning oil in the vessel that illustrate and give us some extra insight, into this topic. They come in the life of Elijah and Elisha. I'm not sure about you but I tend to learn better through stories and the two I want to look at, while similar, can teach us a little more about this oil (Holy Spirit) in a clay jar (our bodies and life). So let's begin with the story in the life of Elijah.

Elijah, the Widow and the never ending jar of oil

1Ki 17:7-16 It happened after a while that the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land. (8) Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, (9) "Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and stay there; behold, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you." (10) So he arose and went to Zarephath, and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks; and he called to her and said, "Please get me a little water in a jar, that I may drink." (11) As she was going to get it, he called to her and said, "Please bring me a piece of bread in your hand." (12) But she said, "As the LORD your God lives, I have no bread, only a handful of flour in the bowl and a little oil in the jar; and behold, I am gathering a few sticks that I may go in and prepare for me and my son, that we may eat it and die." (13) Then Elijah said to her, "Do not fear; go, do as you have said, but make me a little bread cake from it first and bring it out to me, and afterward you may make one for yourself and for your son. (14) "For thus says the LORD God of Israel, '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.'" (15) So she went and did according to the word of Elijah, and she and he and her household ate for many days. (16) The bowl of flour was not exhausted nor did the jar of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD which He spoke through Elijah.

1 Kings 17 is the first mention of Elijah in the Bible. While I haven't quoted the start of the chapter, if you read it you will see that Elijah had prophesied to the wicked King Ahab that there would be no rain or dew but by his word. This obviously didn't make Elijah very popular or win him any new friends! During this time of drought God instructed him to hide by the brook Cherith, east of the Jordan, where he was fed by ravens. 

Prophetic Pointer

As a side note let me throw in a little prophetic pointer here. Both Jesus and James specifically tell us that this period of no rain went on for 3 years and 6 months (Luke 4:25 and James 5:17). So does 3 years and 6 months sound familiar? If you know Bible prophecy it should. It seems that this episode in the life of Elijah was but a trial run for the real thing at the end of the age. 'Ok' you say... 'what are you talking about?'  

During the tribulation period there will be 'two witnesses' that will prophesy for the same period of time (Rev 11:3) - 1260 days or 42 months or 3 1/2 years. We read that they, like Elijah, 'have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying' (Rev 11:6) In fact one of these witnesses is likely to be Elijah himself as the Old Testament closes with the words that Elijah shall come again before the great and terrible day of the Lord (Mal 4:5). During this coming time the two witnesses will be able to use fire to destroy their enemies as Elijah did in his original earthly ministry (2 Kings 1:10, Rev 11:5). And like Elijah's stand against the wicked king Ahab, the next time Elijah will stand against the Antichrist... until the appointed time is complete (Rev 11:7)

Moving back to our story, as time went by the brook slowly dried up and God appointed another strange source of provision for Elijah. This time it would come from a dying Gentile widow up north in Sidon (within Lebanon).1 This widow had nothing to live on herself and was about to take her last meal with her son before dying. In fact all she had was a little oil and flour. And yet God did an incredible miracle and just as Elijah had said by the word of the Lord, the oil and flour did not diminish! It didn't matter how many times you went back to the bowl there was always flour. It didn't matter how many times you went back to the jar, there was always more oil. That would certainly simplify your trips to the supermarket and reduce the bill! The flour and oil provided for them all through the drought, right till the time that the rain returned. Now I mentioned at the start of this study that I want to look at these stories in terms of God's provision and providence as well as the spiritual picture concerning the oil so let's begin with a few quick thoughts on what God would remind us for our day from this passage.

God's protection, provision and providence

Sometimes the brook that God provides dries up. I can't help but say again that without the return of the Lord, believers, and the world at large, are heading for difficult days. We have forces at work in our world that actually want to bring the current financial system to it's knees. They desire and are in the process of enacting 'the great reset' so they can 'build back better' (as they see it) to suit their desire for power, wealth and control. The World Economic Forum (WEF) is at the forefront of this. Their plan is that by 2030 'you will own nothing' and apparently be happy. Translation - they will own everything and be happy. Ultimately however, mankind is not in control... God is in control. He sees the wickedness, He sees the quest for power, He sees their rebellion against Him... and, according to Psalm 2, laughs. He will then terrify them in His anger and wrath. With everything that is happening in our world be it pandemics, wars, potential food shortages, dictatorships, ID cards and vaccine passes etc... You need to remember that God is in control. He has a plan and has allowed this as it fits His purposes for what must take place. 

And this is true for the big global picture as well as our individual lives as believers. One quick testimony that came my way in the last week concerning this... I have an 'website email friend' in Singapore whom I've been corresponding with through the latter period of this Covid plandemic. She didn't feel at peace about getting vaccinated and was given a deadline of the 1st March by her work to do so or she's lose her job. She was under a lot of pressure from family, friends and even church pastors to do so. Her mother even told her that if she would just take the jab, she would come to church! Yet she didn't have peace about it and so committed her ways into God's hands, trusting that He is in control and will be with her even if the current brook runs dry. The days ticked over and soon it was the end of February. So she wrote her resignation letter as instructed by her employers and was about to deliver it when she had a last minute call telling her not to hand it in just yet. A fellow worker had spoken up for her at a board meeting and her employment had been extended! Praise God for His care. But what if the current brook of supply does run completely dry? What if you lose your job or food shortages occur? Jesus told us that our Heavenly Father knows our needs. He feeds the sparrows and will look after us too! God is in control - even when He allows things (from our perspective) to be out of control.      

Lessons from the widow and her oil

Let's look at this also in terms of the typology of the oil and the flour. As mentioned oil is a type of the Holy Spirit. Flour, especially fine flour2, is a type of the perfect life of the Lord Jesus, in which there was no sin or evil but only evenness, balance and perfection. So, as a picture, the only two provisions this widow had point to Christ and the Holy Spirit. Let's look at seven application points from this story concerning this widow:    

  • She was in the future plans of God (without knowing it)- God told Elijah to go to Sidon where 'I have commanded a widow there to provide for you'. The problem was the widow didn't know it yet! God has plans to use His sons and daughters which we don't even know about. The question is will you agree when the time comes? Will you be willing to obey when God calls or puts something or someone on your heart? 
  • She had little to give - The woman had next to nothing. All she had was a little flour, a little oil and a lot of worries. We too may feel like we have little to offer. The fact is, in and of ourselves that is true! But if what we offer is of Him, and His life through the Holy Spirit in us, then it can be used and multiplied! 
  • She gave what she had in faith - Though the woman felt like she was about to eat her last meal, Elijah asked her to use what she had on him! In other words she had to step out in faith based on the promise of God to provide, and give the last that she had away! That is not easy but she obeyed, in faith! The application is this - God's provision and life through His precious Holy Spirit is seen when we step out in faith in the word of God.  
  • She experienced a constant supply! - Obeying what Elijah had told her to do, she found there was hope in this flour and oil! It kept on giving! The Father's supply is through His Son (the flour) and the Holy Spirit (the oil). There comes a time in your Christian life when you find that your best efforts in the flesh aren't good enough. But you also find that God uses and blesses the flour and oil! Php 3:3 '...for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.'

    "“Make sure it is God's trumpet you are blowing- if it is only yours it won't wake the dead, it will simply disturb the neighbours.”
    W. Ian Thomas

  • She experienced constant oil in a time of difficulty  - It should also be remembered that it was in a time of difficulty (she was about to die) that she experienced the life giving oil in the jar. This reminds us of 2 Cor 4:7-11 above. His supply, through His Spirit, often comes in trying times when we, like Jehoshaphat in the days of Kings of Judah, can but say 'O our God... we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you." (2Ch 20:12)
  • She experienced supply in proportion to her faith -It is also good to remember that God's supply was all there, but she had to use it. Imagine what would have happened if she became fearful that it might run out. 'Maybe this oil and flour will run out... Maybe I should only take a little?' She could have cut down to 1 meal a day and just made it through the day always being hungry and a little famished... even though there was a rich supply of flour and oil! But she didn't have to live just getting by. In faith she could say 'Thank you God. You have provided and I no longer need to be fearful. I'll use this for my 3 meals a day knowing that you will fulfill your promise!'... and it wouldn't have run out. It makes you wonder does it not how much fear robs us in this life. Often fear takes over and we live, just sipping and eating a little spiritually speaking, instead of trusting that our future is in the hands of the Lord. And I'm talking about your soul here, not your bank balance... though God has promised to look after our needs. To illustrate:

    "The Mount Morgan gold mine in Queensland, Australia, is one of the richest in the world. For many years, though, the original landowners lived in deep poverty on the mountain's barren surface. Even though the vast wealth was out-of-sight, it was beneath their feet all the time. Many Christians live in a similar situation. They plod along and struggle through their spiritual lives, laboring every step of the way. They are unaware of the vast riches God has promised them, and therefore they do not claim them. Grace, forgiveness, strength, wisdom, direction, the power to resist temptation, reconciliation, protection, lightened burdens—all these riches and many more are ours. But how do we become aware of them and claim them? The answer is: Prayerfully read the Bible and pay close attention when the Word of God is preached or taught.
    Here's a suggestion. Whenever you read the Scriptures or hear them taught, look for the truths about "every spiritual blessing" God has given to you (Ephesians 1:3). When you discover a truth or a promise that clearly applies to you, say to yourself, "That's for me!" As you do, you'll be tapping into the riches of God that lie right beneath your feet."
    Today in the Word - David C. Egner

  • She experienced supply until the rains came. The flour and oil would sustain them during this time but there was also the pointer to a time of abundance once again. It wasn't always going to be a time of drought for this widow and her son! The imagery in this little promise points to the coming Messianic age where there will be an abundance of rain over the entire planet- an abundance of God's provision, presence and Spirit once again!  

So what's the take-away? Firstly acknowledge that you don't have anything to really give in and of yourself. But also acknowledge and thank God that as a believer He has given you oil in the jar. And this oil won't end. If we can face each new trying situation saying 'I can't, but you can because I have You!' it's a good place to be. So by faith keep putting your hand in the barrel and in the jar for more flour and oil! 

Ok - that's the story of the prophet, the desperate widow and the jar of oil. Let's now move on to the story of the prophet, the desperate widow and the jar of oil. Argh, the other one in the life of Elijah's apprentice Elisha.

Elisha, the Widow and the multiplying jars of oil

2Ki 4:1-7 The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, "Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the LORD. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves." (2) Elisha replied to her, "How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?" "Your servant has nothing there at all," she said, "except a little oil." (3) Elisha said, "Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don't ask for just a few. (4) Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side." (5) She left him and afterward shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. (6) When all the jars were full, she said to her son, "Bring me another one." But he replied, "There is not a jar left." Then the oil stopped flowing. (7) She went and told the man of God, and he said, "Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left."

So here we have a similar story of the prophet, a widow in desperation, and a jar of oil. When God tells the same sort of story again He obviously wants us to take notice! Now there are definitely similarities with the previous story in the life of Elijah and Ill point those out, but there are also additional points of focus in this story. Consider the following seven points from this story: 

  • How can I help you?  - The desperate widow sought Elisha out and he replied 'How can I help you?' This widow had many needs. She had lost her husband, she was in debt and no doubt despair. Life can be very difficult and we often ask for God's help do we not? That is common to all humanity. We want help to overcome this and that. We ask for help to pay the bills and health for our bodies. We ask for help to find the strength and courage to do what we need to do. There isn't anything wrong with asking for help as it expresses our need upon God as our Father and supplier. But sometimes it can come from unbelief or a lack of understanding that He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus (Eph 1:3) Often the prayers for help could be replaced with thanks for what He has already given us and has already promised to do!3 But don't despise your times of need! It is in these times that God often teaches and shows us the most! That is where Elisha's next question comes in...  
  • Tell me, what do you have in your house? - That was Elisha's question for the widow. 'You have many needs, but what do you already have? What have you received already?' God could well ask us the same today when we ask for help - 'What do you have in your life? What have I already given you?' 'I am with you am I not? Am I not enough?' 
  • Your servant has nothing there at all," she said, "except a little oil. - We may feel like that. We may say 'Well Lord, I haven't got anything... well, except a little oil. You have given me... Yourself. You have given me Your Spirit... And you have said that you will always be sufficient!' What a blessing to see that the Lord is with us in all things and is able in all things! Does that not put the heart at rest? As a British friend often says 'there's trouble at t'mill'. Things are becoming unstuck on this planet. But God, through His Spirit, is with believers. There is oil in this vessel and it won't run dry! 
  • Go... ask all your neighbors for empty jars - Note also that all types of jars were used. Imagine the shapes, colours and sizes that have come in from the neighborhood. There was likely some odd vessels in there! In like manner God pours His Spirit into all types of people. Even some odd ones! You might be one of those! : ) Never be surprised at who God will fill and use. The widow used all types of jars and so does God - as long as they are empty! 
  • Pour oil into all the jars- Here was the miracle - The oil would keep filling each vessel that they had even though the original source seemed so little. The spiritual principle is this - God pours in as we pour out! In other words, we may not think we have much oil or anything to offer but as we use what God has given us to bless others, God keeps pouring in, and through, our life. I don't really like talking about myself but I do want to acknowledge that God has been very faithful to me with the Jesusplusnothing website. It is only a small ministry compared to some but I want to acknowledge that God has faithfully poured in as I have given out. What did Jesus say? "Give, and it will be given to you... For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Luk 6:38)   

    "We are not cisterns made for hoarding, we are channels made for sharing."

  • When all the jars were full, she said to her son, "Bring me another one." - This gives a little pointer to evangelism. As they filled the jars with oil, so God desires to fill vessels today with His Spirit. Maybe He is saying to you 'Bring me another one'? Maybe He is putting someone on your heart to pray and share the good news with? Until Jesus returns, this is the command of our Lord. The widow's sons had to find empty vessels and we too are called to do the same. They can be filled, but only if they are empty and not full of themselves! And to be fair, this is where is gets hard today. Most people seem so sure of themselves, so set that they know it all and don't need to know about a Saviour. Maybe that is why God has allowed things to get shaken up in this world. So the temporal things and crutches will fall away and that which is solid ground will remain.
  • But he replied, "There is not a jar left." Then the oil stopped flowing - When there are no more jars, the oil stops flowing. There is a prophetic pointer in this that there will come a time when the full number of Gentiles is reached and the Lord will return. Only the Lord knows this number and time. In the meantime, form a personal point of view, we don't want the oil to stop flowing! To be filled with the Holy Spirit is not a one off. It is not being a stagnant pool. It is running, living water. Fresh water. Moving water. And as long as we are willing to give out what He has given us, the oil will continue to flow.


F.B Meyer sums up the two stories well emphasizing the importance of the empty vessel and the willingness to give out. 

"When our need is urgent, and we spread it before God, the question is never about the amount of oil, but of the empty vessels. We fear that there will not be enough oil; God is concerned lest we fail to bring sufficient vessels to hold all He wants to give. The oil was multiplied in the pouring, as the meal of the other widow was increased in the spending. God’s oil will never be exhausted so long as we can receive and impart. According to our faith will it be done. It is not a question of how much God can give, but how much we can use."
F.B Meyer

So to keep it very simple, here are three takeaways from all of this:

  1. Come to the Lord, not as someone full of themselves, their own ability or agenda, but as an empty jar of clay needing to be filled by Him
  2. Thank Him that He has given you Himself, through His Holy Spirit, and that He is enough for all situations you find yourself in. 
  3. And give out to others from what God has given to you and the oil of His Spirit will continue to flow.

 We will continue this study of the oil as a picture of the Holy Spirit in a third and final study next time. This time looking at light from the oil. God bless.

  1. The Bible Knowledge Commentary states;
    "Elijah was directed to Zarephath, a town on the Mediterranean coast between Tyre and Sidon in Phoenicia, the homeland of Jezebel (cf. 1Ki_16:31) and the heart of Baal-Melqart territory. Zarephath was 80-90 miles from Kerith. God told Elijah that a widow would feed him (cf. Luk_4:25-26). Widows were usually poor people; normally they ran out of food first in a famine. This famine had been created by the drought. Therefore going to a widow for food was a strange directive. God was again using an unusual source to feed His prophet."

  2. It should be noted that the grain offering was to be of fine flour and oil. CHM comments well on this:

    Lev 2:1 'When someone brings a grain offering to the LORD, his offering is to be of fine flour. He is to pour oil on it, put incense on it

    "Now, the shadow of this perfect man (Jesus) passes before us in the "fine flour" which formed the basis of the meat offering. There was not so much as a single coarse grain. There was nothing uneven - nothing unequal - nothing rough to the touch. No matter what pressure came from without, there was always an even surface. He was never ruffled by any circumstance or set of circumstances. He never had to retrace a step, or recall a word. Come what might, He always met it in that perfect evenness which is so strikingly typified by the "fine flour... As to the materials, the "fine flour" may be regarded as the basis of the offering; and, in it, we have a type of Christ's humanity, wherein every perfection met. Every virtue was there, and ready for effectual action, in due season. The Holy Ghost delights to unfold the glories of Christ's Person, to set Him forth in all His peerless excellence - to place Him before us in contrast with all beside."
    Charles Henry Mackintosh

  3. "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17), and here the word to pray does not mean to beg or to plead as if God were unwilling to give--but simply to expose by faith every situation as it arises, to the all-sufficiency of the One who indwells you by His life.”
    Major W. Ian Thomas"