Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 29, 1958
NUMBER 5, PAGE 7a,11b

Studies From Elijah (No. 3)

Connie W. Adams, Bergen, Norway

After Elijah had delivered the short but shocking words to Ahab in 1 Kgs. 17:1, "the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there. So he went and did according unto the word of the Lord: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook." 1 Kings 17:2-6.

The drought promised by Elijah ensued. This was the final test as to whether or not Elijah was a prophet of God, or a false prophet. In answer to the question "How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken?" God answered: "When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptiously: thou shalt not be afraid of him." Deut. 18:21,22. Many years later God said to Jeremiah "the prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them." Jeremiah 14:19. Elijah was not of this kind, for when his prophecy was ended, the windows of heaven were shut, the grass and herbage withered, the tongues of cattle parched and the want of water spread through the land. Israel then began to suffer the effects of a long-standing promise that the former and latter rains would be withheld because of sin. There can be no doubt but that as day followed rainless day and the situation became increasingly worse, Ahab often recalled the abrupt appearance of that desert prophet. and the terror of his words.

Jehovah — Jireh

While Ahab and his constituents were feeling the effects of the drought, God made provision for his faithful servant. Elijah was directed to a brook from which he drank and ate food miraculously brought by ravens. That calls to mind the time when the faith of Abraham was so severely tested, and behold, a ram caught in a thicket by the horns. God provided a sacrifice in place of Isaac, and Abraham erected there an altar which he called, "JehovahJireh" and which meant — Jehovah will provide. As Jehovah provided an ark for Noah, a Moses for the oppressed of Egypt, manna from heaven and water from the rock for the wilderness wanderers, a Joshua for a Moses-less people, so he provided Elijah with food and drink both by the brook Cherith, and at the home of the widow of Zarephath.

Jehovah not only provided sustenance for Elijah by the brook Cherith, he as well provided protection from any effort to reek vengeance on the part of Ahab. We learn from a later passage that Ahab made a thorough search for the prophet. The faithful Obadiah said to Elijah, "As the Lord thy God liveth, there is no nation or kingdom, whither my lord hath not sent to seek thee: and when they said, He is not there; he took an oath of the kingdom and nation, that they found thee not." 1 Kgs. 18:10.

Ravens Or Merchants?

1 Kings 17:4 reads, "And I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there." This passage has proved a battleground among scholars. In Lev. 11:13-24 there is a list of fowls that were unclean, and among them is the raven, (v. 15). It is argued that it is inconceivable that God would employ an unclean fowl, and one which fed upon carrion at that, to provide for his servant. It is further objected that the kind of food the raven would select would not be appetizing even for one accustomed to coarse fare, and that should that consideration be overlooked, a bird of such disposition would not likely relinquish its finding twice a day. It is therefore concluded that the word "raven" actually means "merchants." Adam Clarke argues in favor of this and says it is not God's way to employ a number of miracles to accomplish a given purpose. Now, without any presumptuous spirit, or inclination to dispute with the learned, in whose circle the writer is not suited to sit, he does wish to offer some suggestions. We have read the comments of a number upon this subject, and it seems that Clarke very well summarizes the argument that is made. Respecting then his summary, let it be said that the record says nothing about Elijah's eating the ravens. The prohibition in Lev. 11 is against eating those fowls mentioned. They were not to touch their dead carcasses. Moreover, while a miracle does not set aside God's law, it does either suspend or transcend it. Any question as to the place from which the ravens would obtain the food, ignores the whole design of what occurred. God engineered whatever took place. As the designer of this, he need not encounter any problem in executing his plan. The question "From whose table was it taken ?" is absurd. From whose table was the manna in the wilderness taken? From whose table came the meal that wasted not at the widow's house in Zarephath? As to the matter of a chain of miracles, did it not require three miracles to get the gospel brought to the Gentiles? Here was one simple object, yet three miracles occurred to bring it to pass. Certainly God could have used merchants had he wanted to do so, but does the passage demand that construction? We think not. The rendering of the great scholars who translated the King James and American Standard versions is rather weighty evidence. The Vulgate renders the passage with a word meaning "crows or ravens." To us, the problem is a fancied one. What a great to-do to make over a miracle performed by God for the care of his faithful prophet.

At Zarephath

While the food for the prophet was miraculously provided, the water was not, and the time came when "the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land." 1 Kgs. 17:7. It would have been as easy for God to have sustained the flowing of the brook, as for him to provide Elijah with food, but God had a purpose in sending the prophet to Zarephath. God said, "Behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee." 1 Kgs. 17:9. By the brook, ravens brought his food, but here, a widow was to sustain him. In both instances the source of the sustenance was the same — it came from God; but the means used to accomplish the purpose differed. In the former, a miracle pure and simple occurred; in the latter Providence employed human instrumentality, though the fact that the meal "wasted not" was certainly miraculous. Yet, much more than the provision of the prophet is involved in his stay at Zarephath. The sustaining of the man of God was also the means of sustaining the poor widow. Jesus said there were many widows 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 Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow." Luke 4:25,26. In his solitude by the brook the prophet learned to trust the Lord. At Zarephath he learned compassion for the suffering humanity. We may learn a vital lesson here. There is a great danger that one, who boldly and faithfully discharges his responsibility in setting forth God's truth, may become insensible to the feelings and problems of the taught. Faithfulness in teaching is essential, but a hard-boiled attitude toward the taught is out of order. When sin exists it must be attacked, and when need be, applied personally to the guilty. Still, hating sin does not excuse hating the sinner. There was something of pathos in the hopeless spirit the widow had when the prophet arrived. She was preparing the last morsel of food for herself and her son with no happier anticipation than to die for the want of more. Here the consequences of sin in the punishment promised were stark and real. Whether or not the widow bowed her knees to Baal is not stated, but the consequences of idolatry filled the whole land, and at the widow's house Elijah saw it and lived in its presence the remainder of the drought.

There is something touching in the way the widow, even in her despair, extended hospitality to Elijah. When he came and requested water, she went to fetch it. His request that she make first for him a little cake, upon the promise of God that the meal and oil would not fail, was promptly met. Thus, God sustained both Elijah and the widow's house through the famine.

The death of the widow's son brought a foolish charge from the widow. She accused Elijah of calling her "sin to remembrance," and slaying her son. How often have people charged both God and man foolishly in the presence of death. Elijah carried the child to his room and entreated God with these words, "0 Lord my God, hast thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son?" After stretching himself three times upon the child he said, "0 Lord, my God, I pray thee, let this child's soul come into him again." 1 Kgs. 17:20, 21. Here again, the statement was established that "the effectual prayer of a righteous man availeth much." God answered Elijah's prayer. "And the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived." This passage uproots the idea that the soul ceases to exist in death. His soul departed from his body, but it "came into him again." It did not go out of existence. What a joyful time it must have been for both prophet and mother, not to mention the child, when Elijah brought down the living son. From that point on there was no question in the widow's mind about Elijah. "Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth."

But now the drought had stretched over a long period of time, and Israel felt its force in every way. Through it all God had nourished his prophet. Elijah had learned dependence upon God, and participation in the problems of men. Both he and the people were better disciplined and prepared for the strange contest at Mount Carmel which will be discussed in the next article.