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JUNE 12 2016 ELIJAH PART TWO

Elijah Part Two

 

Our Scripture reading is I Kings 17:1-16. 

 

[I. Introduction] Last week we learned that Elijah was a great man of God and, by his example, he taught us certain things.

 

  • He was a man from small beginnings. Do not think because of the way you began, nor the way you have fallen, that you cannot finish strongly. Both Elijah and John Bunyan, who we also briefly considered, finished mightily. You can, too! Give yourself afresh to the Lord and do not hold back.
  • He was a bold prophet. Elijah rebuked the king.  We may never stand before the President, a senator, or a congressman, but we can speak to our family member, our neighbor, and our co-worker about what is right, about sin, and about our need of the Lord. Boldness is our benefit and it is from the Lord, not from us.
  • Elijah stood before God. We also stand before God. Let us never forget that. This remembrance will itself impart boldness.
  • Through prayer and personal righteousness Elijah stopped the heavens. Through your prayer and your holy living you can see the hand of the Lord move!

 

That was all gleaned from the very first verse of I Kings 17. As we see how the Lord blessed Elijah we can be encouraged in more ways. In verse 2 we read:

 

And the word of the LORD came to him.” The word of the Lord came to the patriarchs and the prophets in a different way than it comes to us. They sometimes heard the audible voice of the Lord Himself. This gave them the assurance that it was indeed the Lord speaking and not their own imaginations. The Lord can still speak in that manner to individuals today but, if He does, this certainly must be a very rare occurrence. I often hear Christians say, “The Lord spoke to me.” And, then they will repeat what they think the Lord said, that they have to go here or do this or that.

 

 Now, English words do have standard meanings. We cannot just make up our own definitions and expect to be understood very well.  To speak means “to communicate vocally,” according to the dictionary, and this is our common understanding as well. When someone says, “the Lord spoke to me,” I like to ask, “Did you hear an audible voice, like you are hearing mine right now?” I have asked that question many times. What answer do you think I get? “Well, no, it was a deep impression on my heart.” I do not doubt that the Lord can and does communicate in that way as well.

 

The primary way the Lord speaks today is through this word (the Bible). He can also give specific direction through dreams, through the counsel of wise elders, deacons, and other brothers and sisters in the Lord, and through impressions. My point is that he rarely, if ever, speaks audibly as He once did.  But, he did to Elijah! He audibly said to Elijah,

 

Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan.”

 

When the Lord said, “Depart from here,” he was telling Elijah to leave Samaria which was the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Elijah was supposed to hide himself. Why did he need to hide himself? Ans: He had just rebuked the wicked king and Ahab wasn’t going to take that well. The king’s already unfavorable disposition towards Elijah would only get worse when the drought that he prophesied began. So, the Lord sent him to a safe place, at the Cherith brook.

 

The word “Cherith” means “a gorge.” There are several places in the Middle East that have brooks, or rivers, that are dry during the dry season and run with water during the rainy season. They are called “wadis.” A wadi is a crevice-like bed that is dry in the summer and flows during other times of the year. Most Bible scholars identify Cherith with Wadi el-Yabis which is east of the Jordan in the northern territory of what is the modern nation of Jordan. Here, then, are pictures of wadis in the area where Elijah went to live for a time.

 

[II.] God takes care of his servants. There was drought throughout Israel. But Israel was west of the Jordan River. The drought probably extended east as well. But the brook Cherith came down from the northern mountains. It rains, sometimes only a drizzle, in the mountains when it is dry below. Even when it does not rain, mountains capture moisture from the clouds and it collects on the plants growing in the mountains as dew, it drips off, rivulets form, and then small streams. They collect and a brook or river comes down from the heights. Such a brook or river will run even when there is no rain. Such was Cherith.

 

While others were suffering from thirst, Elijah drank from the brook. While others were hungry, Elijah was fed by the ravens. God commanded the ravens to feed Elijah at the brook. Ravens are very interesting birds. First, they are the smartest of all birds and may be the smartest of all animals.

 

  • They are able to solve incredibly complex puzzles better than any other bird or animal.
  • In the wild, ravens have pushed rocks on people to keep them from climbing to their nests,
  • stolen fish by pulling a fishermen’s line out of ice holes,
  • and played dead beside a beaver carcass to scare other ravens away from a delicious feast.
  • They have been observed using tools, like sticks, to get things they could not reach.
  • If a raven knows another raven is watching it hide its food, it will pretend to put the food in one place while really hiding it in another.
  • One wild raven got into a tussle with a porcupine and had three quills stuck in his neck. He was smart enough to know that only a human could get them out, so he flew to a white fence and called to a woman in the field who came and he let her take the quills out.
  • They can imitate human voices and other sounds better than most parrots.

 

They are very large birds. Unless you’ve seen one at the zoo, you may not know how big they are. Their wing span can be four feet or longer. 

 

How providential that the Lord chose ravens to feed Elijah. They were smart enough to find the food and strong enough to bring it from a long distance if necessary.

 

Still, ravens have their shortcomings, too. They are known to be rather selfish birds. They sometimes neglect their own offspring even to the point of death. They are not good parents. Yet, here they were bringing Elijah food not once, but twice each day. It seems (from chapter 18) that Elijah was at this brook for about a year. Elijah must have gotten to know those ravens quite well and they knew him.

 

But it was not the ravens that were his company. They could not have lingered long with him since they had to be about finding food for him for his next meal. Elijah’s true company was the Lord.

 

How bountiful was the Lord’s supply to Elijah in a time of destitution! He had water, food, and the sweet presence of the Lord in his solitude. God cares for his servants! He is the Provider! Indeed, this is one of his names. In Genesis 22, when Abraham is about to sacrifice his son, Isaac, God provides a ram at the last second for the sacrifice. There Abraham calls God Yahweh-Yireh, the God Who Provides!

 

In Germany, 200 years ago, the story is told of a man who owed a debt. Back in those days, if you did not pay a debt you went to jail. Though he was a believer, he was in great despair because he had no means to pay his debt and he was expecting the final visit to his house by the collector who would also take him to prison if he had not the money. He left his door open because he did even want to hear the sound of his knock. While he was sitting there with a heavy heart a songbird flew in and lighted upon a shelf in his house and began to sing. Amazingly, the bird was singing the tune of a hymn entitled Fear Not When Darkness Reigns. He closed the door to keep the bird in and found a cage which he placed the bird. The bird continued to sing. He sat and listened to the song for a long while and found that his mind began to be comforted. While the bird was still singing, there was a knock at the door. “This must be the officer to take me away,” he thought. But it was a servant of a lady who lived nearby. The servant said that one of the neighbors reported to her mistress that the bird had flown into his house. She inquired if it were still here. “Yes,” he said and showed it to her. It is my master’s she said and took the bird. A few minutes later the servant returned and said, “My mistress values her bird quite highly and you have done her a great service. She requests that you accept this reward.” And she gave the man some money. He thanked her and she left. When he looked in his hand it was the exact amount that he owed. There was another knock at the door. It was the officer. He handed the collector the amount owed and the man thanked the Lord with great amazement.

 

Think of Elijah’s situation. A lone man in the wilderness without the company of another person. No sound of a human voice. No radio, no television. No music. Just the sound of bubbling water over rocks, the breeze through the trees, and the singing of birds. These were enough to bring him contentment. These, and his faith in the promise of God!

 

The Lord cares for his own servants. He cares for you! His bounty is ready to be directed your way both by natural means and by supernatural means. Trust God as Elijah trusted him! Even if you are dejected, as the German brother was, get ready to see the Lord’s hand of provision directed toward you. He is Yahweh-Yireh, the God Who provides!

 

Then we read in verse 7: “And, after a while the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land.” After many months, Cherith stopped flowing. It was so dry even the clouds disappeared over the mountains. Elijah may have been able to drink from pools left over after the brook ceased its flow. Eventually, even these would evaporate and the prophet would be in danger of dehydration.

 

[III.] This illustrates an important principle. God’s judgment upon the world reaches even the innocent. The way the physical world is structured by God and the imperative of cause and effect means that adverse conditions seldom only effect a few. They effect all. Elijah was spared for a time from both the wrath of Ahab and the effect of the drought. Then the drought catches up with him. The effects of sin reach even those who refrain from sin.

 

We, like Elijah, may have grown accustomed to comforts which we perceive to have been given by God. This, in itself, is a good thing. For there are many who take the liberty to enjoy the many benefits that God sends but who never thank him. But, even those who recognize all is by the gracious hand of God take it for granted and then comforts are removed and even needs go seemingly unmet. What will be our response in such a time? Will we complain? Will our faith waver?

 

What was Elijah’s response? The text is silent.  But, having spent a year in the Lord’s presence, I suspect that he waited on the Lord. The Lord had directed him to Cherith and provided for him supernaturally. He would do so again.

 

            Then the word of the LORD came to him, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”

(1 Kings 17:8-9 ESV)

 

[IV.] This command, surely, must have taxed even Elijah’s faith. God’s people must follow God’s direction even when it is not agreeable to flesh and blood. Zarephath was on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea between Sidon and Tyre. About 85 or 90 miles through wild and barren country in a time of famine and extreme drought. It was not to Israel he was going but to a the land of Sidon – a heathen people enslaved to vile idolatry. It was the country where Jezebel was from! The ruler of Sidon was Ethbaal, the father of Jezebel! Seemingly, Elijah is going from one danger into greater danger, if he can survive the eight or nine day journey by foot. Where would he find water on the way? He didn’t know. But he trusted Yahweh and he went.

 

How would he find this widow? He didn’t know. But he trusted God and he went.

 

God’s people must follow God’s direction even when it is not agreeable to flesh and blood.

 

Elijah arrives at the gate of the city and the widow is gathering sticks outside the gate. She is the first person he meets! You must see that God operates providentially. This means that all things are under his control, both inanimate objects – like the water from the skies, and animate objects  - like animals. Even the hearts of people!

            The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD;

                        he turns it wherever he will.

(Proverbs 21:1 ESV)

 

This widow went to gather sticks at the gate of Zarephath and was there at the time that Elijah arrived. This is not coincidence. It is the providence of God.

 

This is why God’s people can follow God’s direction: because all things are under the purview of his providence and we know that he directs all things. We can trust Him!

 

Further, God’s help comes from unexpected sources. This widow was not a follower of the true God. In verse 11 and 12 we read,

 

            And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” And she said, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.”

(1 Kings 17:11-12 ESV)

 

Observe that she says, “As Yahweh your God lives…” She did not say, “As Yahweh my God lives,” nor, “As Yahweh our God lives.” Yahweh was Elijah’s God, not hers. Yet, as we read, the Lord uses the meager resources of the heathen widow to not only provide for Elijah but to provide for the widow and her son so that they will not die.

 

Oh! God’s goodness and provision extends even to the lost!

 

What if she had refused? Her and her son would have died! If she had refused God would have found another means to supply the prophet with what he needed. You see, God had already commended her to feed Elijah. We do not know how God did this. Possibly, he have her a dream, as he did to Abimelech after he took Sarah to be his wife. Or, as a dream he gave to Pontius Pilate’s wife. God does speak often in dreams! Although we do not know how he communicated to the widow, she understood that God had told her to feed the prophet. We know from other passages of Scripture that the Lord softened her heart to heed God’s direction (because everyone is depraved). But she still heeded!

 

This means that even unbelievers must follow God’s direction even when it is not agreeable to flesh and blood.

 

If they must, how much more God’s own?

 

Again, just as at Cherith, we see God supernaturally provide for Elijah, the widow, and her son. The handful of flour and the little oil lasts for “many days.” This “many days” appears to have been a year or more because Elijah says, under the inspiration of God, that they would not run out until rain came (vs 14)!

 

He is Yahweh-Yireh, the God who provides!

 

[V. Conclusion & Application] Elijah continues to instruct us. His life is an illustration that:

 

  • God takes care of his servants. He does so both naturally and supernaturally.
  • God’s judgment upon the world reaches even the innocent. Do not be surprised when difficult times come. Yet trust Him!
  • God’s people must follow God’s direction even when it is not agreeable to flesh and blood.

 

Brothers and sisters, what must we do? Let us:

 

  • Be his servants. We all began as His servants. Since then, some of us may have fallen into a non-serving lifestyle. Elijah was a servant of the Living God. When you are intent on living for God, he makes a way for you to live in the midst of provision. Live for Him! To live for God now means to live for His Son, Jesus. For, he loves the Lord Jesus Christ above all and He has given all authority and power to him.
  • Know that God takes care of you.
  • Be not surprised when the effects of sin reach you. It reached Elijah.
  • Follow God’s direction. Get up. Do what God has commanded. You will find those commands here.

 

If a heathen Sidonian can follow God’s direction, you can too because the Spirit of God is with you. Let us identify with Elijah.

 

  • Be his servant.
  • Know his care for you.
  • Follow his commands.