A Thing About Ravens

Image“Now Elijah the Tishbite, from the Gilead settlers, said to Ahab, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, I stand before Him, and there will be no dew or rain during these years except by my command!”
Then a revelation from the Lord came to him: “Leave here, turn eastward, and hide yourself at the Wadi Cherith where it enters the Jordan. You are to drink from the wadi. I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there.”
So he did what the Lord commanded. Elijah left and lived by the Wadi Cherith where it enters the Jordan. The ravens kept bringing him bread and meat in the morning and in the evening, and he drank from the wadi. After a while, the wadi dried up because there had been no rain in the land.
Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Get up, go to Zarephath that belongs to Sidon and stay there. Look, I have commanded a woman who is a widow to provide for you there.”

1 Kings 17:1-7 (illustration by Lou Davis, a fantastic artist I met in Edinburgh last year)

The old wizard lay on the edge of doom. No, not Elijah. Gandalf. You know, big, long, grey beard, staff with a crystal top that lights up like a billion LEDs, and a dramatic way of stating basic facts — that Galdalf. Anyway, in The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf is in a major fight with Saruman, the evil white wizard and our beloved grey beard is losing badly. Suddenly, as he’s about to be cast off of the top of a tall tower a little butterfly/locust/bug comes up to him and he cradles it in his hand. He whispers something to the winged creature and it flies off. As the dramatic scene concludes, Gandalf leaps off the tower before Saruman can destroy him and lands on the back of an eagle, which carries him to safety. In the movie The Hobbit: There and Back Again, Gandalf does the same thing, ordering a small winged creature to bring in a flock of eagles to save himself and his companions.

Gandalf displays an ability in fiction that God uses in fact to rescue another wizard, the prophet Elijah, in his distress. But this time, instead of a butterfly, the author of the Book of Kings says God commanded ravens to come to rescue Elijah by bringing him meat and bread. Maybe I’m alone, but I wonder how God did this. Did the ravens fly upward to hear the audible voice of God, or was there some internal voice in their heads? Did God whisper into their ears via another prophet and they obeyed? I’m fascinated! One thing we know for certain from the text: God commanded and the ravens obeyed.

This simple story of a prophet, some birds, and a wadi introduces the Biblical audience to one of the Bible’s major characters: Elijah. A Tishbite from Gilead. And it’s quite a start for the prophet. His first words are troubling: Ahab, King of Israel, I’m a herald of the Almighty Creator, and there will be no more rain unless I say so! Gulp. Huh? Elijah was from “among the Gilead settlers,” so I wonder if he got an audience with the King of Northern Israel as one in a larger party. You know, settlers from the Jordan River Valley come to pay tribute to the king and one guy, this cooky fellow, steps forward and says there won’t even be enough moisture for DEW unless HE says so. Who is this guy?

Well, needless to say, Elijah needed to go on the run. God says, “I’ve got a great hiding spot east of here.” It’s a wadi, or, as they say here in New Mexico, an arroyo — a sandy, dry eroded canyon with a seasonal creek. It’s a desert thing. Elijah, in a semi-arid to arid land, went towards the arid side. But the great thing about an arroyo is that the canyon walls are usually fairly steep and provide shade. And the water in an arroyo, unless it is churned up by flooding, is clear and naturally filtered by the sand. Think Ozarka. With a slightly sandy twist.

There are many layers to this story, from God’s choice of ravens to the stuff they brought Elijah. I won’t go much deeper than this. Let’s just say it wasn’t gourmet food and ravens probably don’t make great waiters. But even Survivorman would be jealous! Fresh water and two types of food? Protein and carbs? Must not have been any cattails around. I wonder if he found any old No. 10 cans to boil the water first… But I digress.

God provided the ravens twice a day, just when Elijah needed energy most. God certainly knows the human body. But the inevitable happened. The brook dried up. After all, some cooky fellow from Gilead had shut up the heavens! No rain brings a whole lotta sand. And no water. Not even dew. Remember?

So God sent Elijah to a human being, one in personal distress, no less. God commanded the woman to care for Elijah. A much bigger raven. And the story of God’s provision continues.

This story illustrates several important principles about God and his relationship with His servants. First of all, when you do a task for the Lord, He will take charge of the potential consequences. What I mean is this: if you are faithful to the Lord in serving Him, He won’t leave you abandoned to face the wrath of sinful man. Ahab could have killed Elijah. In fact, the king and his dastardly wife tried multiple times to “whack” the prophet but God provided a way out each time. In this story, God had a perfect hiding place for Elijah already picked out. Not only was the place good, but God took care of the other details, too. All Elijah had to do was obey the voice of the Lord.

Second, expect God to often use the un-ordinary to accomplish the ordinary. Sometimes God provides our daily bread through expected means, such as a paycheck from a hard week of work. Other times He sends ravens. Or widows. Or angels! I’ve seen this in my own life this year. Several times I have had great need and God has sent ravens — people — to care for me. I did not know they were coming. They may not have known what I needed. But even when I was too proud to ask for help, God knew my need and, out of love and grace, provided the physical goods I needed, as well as simple encouragement. Being fed by ravens is humbling. Little black birds brought Elijah meat and bread every day like manna from heaven. A couple from the town showed up at my campground with sweaters, soup, and a heater for me. The revelation that I was cold came from a casual conversation I had with them as they picnicked in the campground weeks earlier. Then they showed up out of the blue with exactly what I needed. To the item. Ravens.

God provides for our needs, whether we’re humble enough to admit them or too proud. He will not forsake or abandon His children. In Elijah’s day, God protected His prophets from the wrath of sinful monarchs. And, like with Naomi and Ruth, He provided for the destitute in the midst of the famines and storms. Boaz? Was a raven.

Jehovah Jireh. Our provider. His grace is sufficient for me.