1 Kings 17:2-16
In the last issue, we were introduced to a man who came roaring out of the mountains of Gilead – a “rustic renegade from the rural regions”. This wild looking character marched into the palace of Ahab, pointed his bony finger at that wicked king and said, “As the Lord God lives, there’s not going to be dew or rain until I say so.” And just as quickly as he came in, he departed.
Although Ahab probably did not realize that he had just been confronted with a messenger of the living God, he soon came to realize that Elijah was more than a religious fanatic ranting about something of which he was ignorant.
It was time for the “former rains” to begin falling, but the next few weeks witnessed the continuation of the dry season. Ahab waited a little longer – perhaps there was a delay in the seasonal cycle. But the rain did not come. It was not long before Ahab realized that he had a serious problem on his hands. Thus began a drought that would not cease for three long and dreadful years. What happened to Elijah, and where did he go during this terrible drought? The answer is given in 1 Kings 17:2-16. As soon as the drought began and the country began to suffer, God said, “Go over beyond the Jordan to a little brook named Cherith and dwell there, and I’ll take care of you.” He did, and God provided water from the brook and food from the ravens which brought him meat. When the brook dried up, God told him to go to a Phoenician city named Zarephath to the north of Israel. There, a widow would take care of him. So, he traveled the 80 miles and, after arriving, he met a woman who was coming out of the city. He asked for some food, but she said, “Listen, we’ve got nothing. I’m gathering these sticks to make the fire for our last meal!” Elijah then told her, “Well, you go ahead and do that, but you will be surprised at what happens.” So she did, and when she prepared the last of the meal and the oil, she was amazed to find more meal in the barrel and more oil in the cruse for another meal, and then another, and then another; and for the rest of the three years, God multiplied that meal and oil so that she and her son were sustained and Elijah also.
I want you to notice four things in each of these two simple stories that teach us some amazing truths about God’s ways in our personal affairs. In each of them, there’s a command, a promise, and obedience and a supply.
His command was simple in the first event. “Go eastward. Hide yourself by the brook Cherith.” And in the second one. He said, “Get up from the brook and go to Zarephath in Sidon” – to a lonely brook in a wadi, to a town 80 miles away in the land from which wicked Queen Jezebel came. Two strange places. God’s commands are sometimes strange. His ways are not our ways. If we had written the Book, we would have written it a lot differently. But His ways are not our ways. He wrote the Book. So, Elijah was commanded to go to a brook in a very lonely place. This place was so lonely and so desolate that geographers are not even sure exactly where this brook is to be found on the map. And then Elijah was commanded to go to a lonely outpost in a foreign country, isolated from his friends and family. Both of the places where God commanded Elijah to go were out of the sphere of the influence of Ahab, and thus were isolated from his wrath and the ravages of the drought. But that was not the real reason that God sent him away. I would suggest that the reason God sent him away was this: for further judgment on Israel. The one person whom Israel and Ahab needed most during this time was Elijah. They needed the voice of this prophet more now than they ever did. The greatest need that Israel had in the darkest hour of their existence was the voice of a prophet, and they didn’t have it. He was gone. Proverbs 29:18 states: “Where there is no vision, the people perish . . .” The word “vision” there means prophetic vision, and where there is no prophetic vision with a resulting message from a prophet giving guidance to the people, then the people perish. When there’s no sure word from God, then the people starve and die. The prophet Amos warns Israel of this when he states, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11). Without a prophet in their midst, the people not only were suffering from a famine of food, but also from a famine of the word from God. So, God sent Elijah away as further judgment on Israel. Jesus recalled this incident in that fateful sermon before His home synagogue: “But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; But unto none of them was Elijah sent, but only unto Zarephath, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow” (Lk. 4:25-26). Jesus declared to the people of His day that they were no better than the wicked Israelites of Elijah’s day. They didn’t deserve to have a prophet among them!!
Attached to both of God’s commands were two unfailing promises. “And it shall be, that thou shall drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there” (17:4). When you go, I’ll take care of you. Don’t worry about accommodations, reservations, or room and board – I’ll take care of you. That’s a promise. Then God said, “Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Sidon, and dwell there; behold, I have commanded a widow there to sustain thee” (17:9). That’s the promise. You go; I’ll meet your needs. Whenever God commands us to do something, He also promises us the grace and means with which to do it. My dear friend, God will never ask you to do something without providing the grace and help to do it. Behind God’s commands lies His omnipotence. If God has commanded you to do something, don’t you dare say you can’t do it. With every command of God comes a promise to aid you in obeying that command. Notice that God employed some unlikely means: small ravens and a widow. I can’t think of two more unlikely means for God to use in fulfilling His promise. Ravens were unclean birds (Lev. 11:15, 20). Furthermore, can you think of a more unlikely person to meet the needs of a man during a famine and drought than a widow? In ancient times, the word “widow” was synonymous with “poverty”. The raven and the widow are examples of God’s sovereignty in employing unlikely means to fulfill His promises. Oftentimes, God meets our needs in unlikely ways. F.W. Krummacher, a German pastor in the eighteenth century, relates the following in his book on the life of Elijah:
“Who else was it but the God of Elijah who only a short time ago in our neighborhood delivered a poor man out of his distress and, not by a raven, but by a poor singing bird. The man was sitting early in the morning by his house door. His eyes were red with weeping. His heart cried to heaven for he was expecting an officer to come and detain him for a small debt. And while sitting there with his heavy heart, a little bird flew to the street, fluttering up and down as if in distress, until at length, quick as an arrow, it flew over the good man’s head into his cottage, and perched itself on an empty cupboard. The good man could little imagine who had sent the good bird, closed the door, caught the bird and placed it in a cage where it immediately began to sing very sweetly. And it seemed to the man that it was the tune of a favorite hymn . . . ‘Fear thou not when Darkness Reigns’, an old German Lutheran hymn. As he listened, he found it soothed and comforted his mind. Suddenly, someone knocked at his door. ‘Ah, it’s the officer,’ thought the man. He was terribly afraid. But no, it was the servant of a rich lady who said that the neighbors had seen a bird fly into his house, and she wished to know if he had caught it. ‘Oh, yes,’ answered the man. ‘Here it is.’ And the bird was carried away. A few minutes after, the servant came again. ‘You have done my mistress a great service,’ said he. ‘She sets a high value on the bird which had escaped from her, and she is much obliged to you and requests you to accept this trifle with her thanks.’ The poor man received it thankfully, and it proved to be neither more nor less than the sum he owed. And when the officer came, he said, ‘Here is the amount of the debt. Now leave me in peace, for God hath sent it to me.’ ”
Now notice that God said, I’m going to “feed thee there” (at the brook Cherith), and “I have commanded a widow there [in Zarephath] to sustain thee” (17:4, 9). The promise was to meet his needs only at the brook Cherith, and later only at Zarephath. Elijah had no promise that if he took off to the Gulf of Elat, God would take care of him. The place of God’s appointment is the place of His provision. In other words, you’ve got to be in the place God wants you to be if you expect to claim the promise that God will meet your needs. This is the Old Testament counterpart of a New Testament truth that’s stated in Matthew 6:33: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” If I am seeking first the kingdom of God, I can be assured that God will meet my needs. The place of God’s appointment is the place of His provision. Are you where God wants you to be? Then you can claim God’s promise that He will meet your need.
First Kings 17:5 and 10 state: “So he went and did according unto the word of the Lord . . .”; and “So he arose and went to Zarephath . . .” His obedience was immediate; it wasn’t delayed. Delayed obedience is disobedience. Partial obedience is disobedience. He wasn’t like Saul who partly obeyed the Lord by sparing Agag, the cattle, and the sheep, when he was commanded to destroy them all. Even when Saul said that he kept the animals to sacrifice them to the Lord, Samuel told him, “. . . Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).
It must have been lonely at Cherith. Ravens aren’t very good conversationalists! But there were lessons that Elijah learned there that he couldn’t have learned anywhere else. Before Carmel must come Cherith! Some of the greatest men of God had to spend time alone before they were used of God in a great way. After Moses’ forty years of college education in Egypt, he spent forty years of graduate study in the wilderness to prepare him for his life’s work. Paul had to spend three years in Arabia before his great deeds were accomplished for God. Before Elijah stood on Mount Carmel challenging the prophets of Baal, he had to spend some time alone at the brook Cherith. So often that’s true in our spiritual experiences. The discipline of loneliness teaches us things that we can never learn in the public place. My dear friend, there are lessons that you and I can learn only by the brook Cherith – lessons we can’t learn anywhere else. You may be discouraged because God seemingly has not opened the doors for you in some great way. It seems that try as you may, you’re still tarrying and waiting for God to open the door, but it may well be for a reason. Wait patiently for His timing in your life.
First Kings 17:6 simply states, “And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening, and he drank of the brook.” First Kings 17:11-16 relates the miracle of God’s providing enough meal and oil each day for that day’s needs throughout Elijah’s stay with the widow. The ravens were God’s supernatural supply. God miraculously changed the nature of these birds so that they did not eat the meat themselves, but brought it to Elijah. Have you ever experienced any of God’s ravens? If you haven’t, you’ve never learned to live by faith. Be thankful for God’s natural supply (i.e., the brook). God does not always send ravens. He expects us to scoop the water up out of the brook through our own effort. But sometimes God sends ravens. Thank Him for that.
During my days of preparation for the ministry, after I entered college with only $200 in the bank and four years of tuition, room and board facing me, I experienced both the brook and the ravens. I worked as a waiter, an usher, a clean-up boy, and at other menial tasks to pay the bills. But, occasionally, I would be notified that some anonymous person had made a gift toward my tuition – one of God’s ravens.
Then during my ministry, I regularly received a check from a bank in Philadelphia for a Christmas Club account and a Vacation Club account – accounts which I had never opened, but which had been opened in my name by one of God’s ravens.
Have you experienced any of God’s ravens? If you haven’t, I trust you will. I believe He sends them to those who, like Elijah, are willing to trust Him. You are not relieved of the responsibility of toiling and sweating for God’s natural supply, but occasionally, He will send ravens to encourage you as He knows your need. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills . . . He certainly can take care of you and me!
In the early days of the Dallas Theological Seminary, there was a serious financial crisis. The crisis was such that if a large amount of money was not received on a certain day, it would seriously endanger the life of the school. In those days, the president of Dallas Seminary, Lewis Sperry Chafer, would often be visited by a great Bible teacher who taught part-time at the seminary – Dr. Harry Ironside. Dr. Ironside happened to be at the school on that crucial day of the financial deadline. Chafer and Ironside and other officials of the school gathered in Chafer’s office for a prayer meeting, and they were asking God to meet the need. Ironside prayed what came to be known as one of his “famous” prayers. He said, “Oh God, You own the cattle on a thousand hills. Lord, won’t You sell some of those cattle and send us the money?” The secretary then came to the office and said, “There’s someone here to see you, Dr. Chafer.” He said, “Send him in.” A Texas rancher appeared and asked, “Are you Dr. Chafer?” “Yes,” Dr. Chafer replied. “Sir, I’m a cattle rancher, and I don’t know what came over me, but God has told me to sell some of my cattle and give you the money.” He handed Dr. Chafer the money, and the amount was exactly what was needed to alleviate the crisis!
My dear friend, if you’ve never experienced any of God’s ravens, I hope you will, because I believe it’s a token God sends us to remind us of how faithful He is to those who trust Him. Are you trusting Him?