ELIJAH GOES TO SCHOOL
James R. Gray
[Reprinted from our website: www.bereanadvocate.com]
Elijah stepped into the pages of history from nowhere. He did so because he was a man with a message. He gave God’s message precisely and clearly; no rain except by his word. Now God commands him to go into hiding. The place he was to hide is at a spot by the brook Cherith. The revised International Standard Bible Encyclopedia tells us:
Traditionally this place is identified with Wadi Qelt, which is above Jericho on the west side of the Jordan; but this location is flatly contradicted by the biblical description in 17:3, “the brook Cherith, that is east of the Jordan.”1
The exact location remains unknown. We do know the region of Gilead, Elijah’s native land, is such a place. It is east of the Jordan and extends from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. It is an unglamorous place with steep mountains, a region loaded with caverns, deep recesses, towering cliffs, and numerous streams that feed the river Jabbok which empties into the Jordan. The brook Cherith may well have been one of the streams. One thing is for sure: wherever the Lord led Elijah along the brook, it was a lonely, remote piece of wilderness—deserted, except for him, the ravens, and God.
William Petersen observes:
God does things like that. He sends us back home to Cherith when we think we are ready for confrontations on Carmel. Life is humdrum beside the brook; it’s lonely. Even God’s sustaining miracles can become commonplace there. But you learn lessons at Cherith that you can learn nowhere else.2
Cherith was more than a hiding place: it was a place of higher education. Its classroom was creation; its caretakers were ravens; its teacher, God; its only student, Elijah; but it’s courses were universal. Let us look through the window of the text and see what courses were taught.
New college students need guidance. Guidance 101 is a basic course. Elijah was taught the basic principles of knowing the will of God. The text clearly reveals these principles:
Principle 1: The Word of God reveals the Will of God.
The Word of God revealed the will of God to Elijah (1 Kings 17:2-3). The Word of God is a fulfillment of the promise of God to instruct and teach us the way we should go (Psa. 32:8). The Word instructs us. It clearly reveals the will of God in black and white in many areas of our lives. For example, note 1 Thessalonians 4:3: “This is the will of God…that you abstain from sexual immorality.” Immorality under any circumstances is not in the will of God.
Yet, even with the many directions and clear-cut commands on moral and social matters given in the Word, some believers seem to want supernatural visions or voices of verification. I know of a case where a young lady married an unbeliever because God revealed to her that he would be converted after they were married. When confronted with the Scripture of not being unequally yoked together, she dismissed it on the grounds of what she felt God revealed to here. The husband was never converted, and her life with him was years of hurt. The voice she heard was not God’s, but that of her own passions and desires. God’s guidance will never be contrary to His revealed Will in the Word of God.
Principle 2: The Will of God is revealed progressively.
As you read of the life of Elijah, one thing stands out about the will of God. It was never revealed to him all at once, but one step at a time (17:3, 9; 18:1). When Elijah delivered his message to the king, he did not know what was the next step of God’s will for his life. It was only after he delivered the message that the word came, telling him that he was to hide himself by the brook. Notice also that the next step is not revealed until he takes this step.
Principle 3: The key to knowing the progressive will of God is obedience.
Theodore Epp brings this principle out clearly when he writes:
With God obedience always comes first; then He reveals the next step. Too many of us in doing the work of God want to see the end. But that is not trusting God: that is trusting sight. Faith does not see—it trusts and obeys. It was when Elijah had delivered his message to Ahab that the word of the Lord came to him telling him what his next step was to be.3
If we are to experience the guidance of God in our lives, the first thing we must do is act in obedience to what we know. We need to obey what we do understand of God’s will. Then, and only then, more explicit guidance will come. Obedience is what builds the chain of God’s will for out lives, but only a link at a time.
PROTECTION AND PROVISION 102
The next course that Elijah was introduced to was protection and provision. God knew that once the message began to be comprehended, Ahab would be determined to find Elijah (18:10). Elijah would be in danger. Thus, God commanded that he hide and a hiding place was provided. The hiding place was for protection. However, protection alone was not enough. To stay in the hiding place, Elijah would also need provision. Protection and provision go together.
This course teaches three important principles:
Principle 1: God’s Protection and Provision are based upon God’s Promise.
God made the promise in verse 4: “I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there.” God’s will was clearly known by Elijah. The command was given – go hide. With the command came a promise –I have provided for you. Howard Hendricks points out that: “God never gives a command without providing the dynamic to fulfill that command. He never calls you to a task without providing all the resources you need to accomplish it.”4
Like Ezekiel 1:3, those who hear the Word of God and obey it will feel the hand of God. The Word instructs; the hand protects and provides.
Principle 2: The Protection and Provision of God may be natural, supernatural, or both.
Elijah experienced both natural and supernatural protection and provision. The natural is seen in the hiding place that had water. God provided water from nature. But the place of hiding was not sufficient to grow food. His food came by a supernatural process. Here we have one of the first fast food delivery services. Ravens delivered it.
Although some feel that this was a natural process where Elijah simply ate leftovers from what the birds fed their young, the text indicates it was more than that. First, the text definitely says that the ravens were “commanded” by God to feed Elijah (17:4). This suggests not a continuation of something that is normal, but special intervention of the supernatural. The text also says, “the ravens brought him” food (17:6). It is personalized. God’s personal carriers deliver God’s personal promise of provision. Second, it is doubtful that the natural process of feeding young birds would have lasted long enough. The feeding of young ravens by their parents lasts only a few weeks. Elijah was at Cherith longer than a few weeks. Most estimates place him at the brook for about a year.
Principle 3: Protection and Provision comes in response to Obedience and Faith.
For Elijah to find the protection and provision of God, he had to go to Cherith. He would not find it anywhere else. He had to obey by faith and continue there. Once he obeyed, he had to continue to trust. Each meal was an exercise of faith. As Leon Wood declares:
He could not hunt the coney in the rocks, for the animal (i.e. raven) was unclean. There was no fish in the stream, for the ascent was too steep from the Jordan. Neither could he plant and raise food, for his possible “garden” was solid rock; and further, there was not rain.”5
COST OF SERVICE 103
Taking a stand means certain cost and consequences. The cost will affect the person who takes the stand. You would think that since God was going to protect and provide, the cost and consequences for Elijah would be very little. That is not the case. Just as the rivers dried up west of the Jordan, so did those on the east side. Thus, “the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land” (17:7). In fact, being a brook, it dried up faster than the rivers. Elijah was affected by the message he himself delivered. This course teaches:
Principle 1: Obedience brings Testing.
God tests His servants. Hendricks is absolutely correct when he comments: “The moment we take a significant step of obedience, we’re going to be put into the crucible; we’re going to be tested.”6 Testing is a natural result of obedience. Yet, this testing is never for our determent, but always for our betterment. It is to make us stronger. It is to build us up, not tear us down. That is hard to understand when we are in the midst of our brook drying up. Too often we look at God through the circumstances, instead of looking at the circumstance through God.
Principle 2: Trust and Obey in Spite of Circumstances.
It is one thing to have faith when the blessings are flowing, but another when they begin to dry up. We must remember God is in control. The brook dries up for a reason. Too many of us come to depend upon the gifts, instead of the giver. It is God’s way of producing change in our lives. The calamity of a slamming window opens a door of blessing. We must trust and obey in spite of the circumstances of the drying brook.
The key is to avoid bitterness, depression, and disaster. At such times we need to stop, wait and begin to listen to the voice of God. Trust in Him, His faithfulness. Waiting is not easy, but it is necessary. Trusting is difficult, but needed until the voice of God speaks again.
The University of Cherith was not an easy school for Elijah, and it is not easy at the school God sends us to. It gave Elijah a valuable education, as it is for us. Hendricks warns us:
Don’t despise the educational experience of your drying brook. Don’t throw in the towel. Don’t perform an abortion upon the divinely devised process. Let patience have her perfect work, that you may be mature and complete. He wants to make you just like His Son.7 ƒÞ
1 INTERNATIONAL STANDARD BIBLE ENCYCLOPEDIA, (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids), 1:641
2 William Petersen, MEET ME ON THE MOUNTAIN, (Victor, Wheaton), 37.
3 Theodore Epp, ELIJAH: A MAN OF LIKE NATURE, (Back to the Bible, Lincoln), 26.
4 Howard Hendricks, TAKING A STAND, (Multnomah Press, Portland), 22.
5 Leon Wood, ELIJAH, PROPHET OF GOD, (Regular Baptist Press, Des Plaines), 35.
6 Hendricks, 27.
7 Ibid., 28.