Usually, we spend more time
preparing for the tasks we have if they are deemed important. If the task at
hand is particularly difficult, our preparations will be more intense. Athletes
undertake years of intensive training and strict diets before competing at the
Olympic Games to ensure the best chances for them to win a medal. The same
principle applies to how we prepare, and how God prepares us, to do His work.
We see this principle in action in how God prepared Elijah at the Brook Cherith.
Elijah served as a prophet in the
Northern Kingdom of Israel, during the dark period in history, when Ahab
reigned with his wife Jezebel. The Bible describes Ahab as one who “did evil in
the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him” (1 Kgs 16:30). Indeed, “there was no one like Ahab who sold
himself to do wickedness in the sight of the LORD, because Jezebel his wife
stirred him up” (1 Kgs 21:25). As a result of his
unfaithfulness, the whole nation of Israel was led astray to worship idols. It
was during these darkest of times that God called Elijah for a difficult, but
important, mission —to turn the nation back to Him.
GOD SENDS ELIJAH
The Bible introduces the prophet
Elijah with these words:
And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants
of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand,
there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.”(1 Kgs 17:1)
Elijah's appearance is abrupt and
lacking in details of his background. However, his name stands out as having a
special significance during a time when the worship of Baal and Asherah was widespread in Israel; Elijah means, “My God is
the LORD”. Both his name and his words were a powerful proclamation of the
living God. It was an especially stark message to the idolatrous society of his
James tells us that, true to
Elijah’s God-inspired word, there was no rain in the land for three and a half
years (Jas 5:17). But during this time of drought, Elijah also fell silent as a
prophet to Israel and went into hiding. This may seem like an odd course of
action for someone who had delivered such a bold prophecy, but this period of
silence allowed for two things: firstly, after three years of drought, the
truth of God’s word would have been verified. Secondly, his seclusion was a
period of preparation for Elijah before God used him on Mount Carmel against the
prophets of Baal. This was how God trained Elijah for His work.
GOD TRAINS ELIJAH
Elijah’s training began with God’s
command: “Get away from here and turn eastward, and hide by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. And it will be that
you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you
there” (1 Kgs 17:3–4). By trusting that God would
care for him while he hid by the Brook Cherith,
Elijah would learn to set his mind fully on God, to trust in His providence,
and to wait patiently for the word of God. This was to be both a physical and a
spiritual training for Elijah.
Training Goal 1: To Set Your Mind Fully on God
The Brook of Cherith was a place where Elijah could withdraw into
isolation and focus solely on God. Though God would later provide company for
Elijah in the widow of Zarephath and her son, it was
important for Elijah to first be alone with God. As His servant, a strong
relationship with God comes first and foremost.
Being alone also meant that, apart
from God, there was no one to provide food for Elijah. Because he was in
hiding, Elijah was unable to venture out to find food for himself; he had to
rely fully on God. As promised, God commanded the ravens to feed Elijah at the
brook (1 Kgs 17:4). In addition, there were no other
distractions or activities to occupy him; all he could do was wait patiently
each morning and evening for the ravens to bring bread and meat for him to eat (1 Kgs 17:6). Such an environment taught Elijah
to be fully reliant on God's providence.
In our modern society, Christians
face two great challenges: indifference—becoming numb to the things of God, and
distraction—where your attention is divided and you cannot focus on God. There
are many things in this world that can steal our attention and occupy our time.
Jesus warns us of the dangers of
letting ourselves be distracted: “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts
be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that
Day come on you unexpectedly” (Lk 21:34). Carousing
and drunkenness can also refer to things that are not necessarily sinful, but
nevertheless cause us to be distracted from the things of God. These could be
everyday matters that occupy our minds to such an extent that we lose focus on
Jesus warned that the last days
will be just like the days of Noah: “For as in the days before the flood, they
were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that
Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all
away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Mt 24:38–39). What wrong
did these people commit? We must eat and drink in order to be sustained
physically, and marriage was instituted by God Himself. Therefore, in and of
themselves, these are not sinful acts. For the people of Noah’s time, however,
these things wrongly became the entire focus of their lives.
When you take a photograph with a
shallow depth of field, the subject that the camera is focused on will appear
sharp. But what happens to the rest of the image? The area that is out of focus
appears blurred and unclear. When we focus all our attention on our physical
needs and pleasures, we lose focus on our spiritual needs. The people of Noah’s
time were so preoccupied with eating, drinking, marrying, and giving in
marriage that they did not realize their dire state until they were taken away
by the flood. Noah’s vehement warnings were like white
noise to them; they became indifferent to the things of God, unaware of their
The Brook Cherith
was the place where God wanted Elijah to bring his focus back to Him. God
removed every distraction, every relationship, and the need to labor or search
for sustenance, so that Elijah could concentrate on God alone. Today, God leads
us to our own Brook Cherith in many ways. For
example, when we attend spiritual meetings and theological courses, our
physical needs are looked after and we are removed from the distractions of the
world so that our indifferent hearts can return to God. Attendees of these
events are even encouraged to switch off their mobile phones for the duration
of the course so as to truly disconnect from the outside world.
Another example is how God allows
us to meet with hardships. When faced with illnesses or job losses, we will
understandably go through a period of questioning, reflection, and
supplication. Eventually, we will realize that everything is in the hands of
God. Our minds become clearer and our focus shifts back to Him. We begin to
earnestly seek His guidance, and acknowledge the grace we have already received
from Him. We may or may not regain our health or employment, but we will find
that through this hardship our relationship with God is re-established. This is
how God trains us at the Brook Cherith to set our
minds fully on Him.
Training Goal 2: To Fully Trust in God’s Providence
The second reason that God brought
Elijah to the Brook Cherith was to teach him to fully
trust in God’s providence. It was here that Elijah experienced the truth that
“man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the
mouth of God” (Mt 4:4).
God ordained that man should labor
to survive, but we often become so weighed down by the “cares of this life” (Lk 21:34) that we allow our work to distract us from our
relationship with God. We tell ourselves that God helps those who help
themselves, so we work harder. Yet we forget that everything we have has not
been gained through our own labor, but through God’s grace. God brought Elijah
to the brook to remind him of three truths regarding God's providence.
The first truth is that God can
provide by any means; there is no limit to what God can do, or how He can do
it. Here, he used ravens to feed Elijah. By nature, ravens are scavengers that
would aggressively steal and fight for food. However, they miraculously
provided generously for Elijah at God’s command. Why would God choose the
raven, considered unclean by the Jews, rather than a more esteemed creature such
as the dove? It is because God does not use the things that man deems worthy,
but that which is weak and despised (1 Cor 1:27), to perform His will. God
showed Elijah that He was able to use the lowliest of creatures to feed him.
Later, He would provide for Elijah through a widow—widows were among the least
honorable members of society because they could hardly provide for themselves.
In fact, 1 Kings 17 tells us that this particular Gentile widow had only a
handful of flour and some oil left, yet God was able to make use of her to feed
It is difficult to imagine that
God would use the ravens and a poor widow to feed Elijah. This was also how
Moses reacted when God told him that He would provide meat for the Israelites.
Moses asked: “Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, to provide enough
for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to
provide enough for them?” God’s reply was: “Has the LORD’s arm been shortened?
Now you shall see whether what I say will happen to you or not” (Num 11:22–23).
God is always able to accomplish more than we can imagine. He is able to use
the lowliest things to complete His will. The lesson for us is that if God is
able to provide for Elijah by the ravens and by the widow, then He can provide
for us even when we can see no solution ahead.
The second truth is that God’s
providence always comes at the right time and in the right order. If we had
been in Elijah’s shoes, we would wonder, “How will the ravens feed me? When
will they feed me?” We know what God has promised us, but we are unable to
fully trust in His promises because we want to know every part of God’s plan
before we feel secure. We allow our doubts and fears to erode our confidence in
God's promise to us, pushing us to work even harder through our own methods. In
Elijah’s case, God’s plan was revealed step by step. Only when Elijah had
obeyed God and went to the Brook Cherith did he
discover how the ravens would feed him, and how often (1 Kgs
17:6). And it was only when the brook had dried up that the next part of God’s
plan was revealed to him (1 Kgs17:7–9).
God’s providence is revealed to us
one step at a time. This is how God trains us to trust Him and believe that He
will always do the right thing at the right time. When the brook had dried up,
Elijah could have lost all hope in God, but it was at this point that God’s
word came to him. Would we have had the faith to trust that God is still in
Finally, Elijah learned that God’s
providence is always sufficient. The ravens brought food to Elijah at fixed
times twice a day—no more, no less. This was just enough to sustain the
prophet. Later, when Elijah was fed by the widow of Zarephath,
the training would go one step further. At the brook, the ravens brought bread
and meat, whereas the widow only provided bread. Through such physical
training, Elijah's spirituality was enriched. By curbing his natural cravings,
he could focus his attention more sharply on God.
This teaches us that we ought to
be content with whatever God has given us. As Paul wrote: “I know how to be
abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned
both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Phil
4:12). This refers to two extremes: one of abundance, and the other of poverty.
The former was experienced by the Israelites when they entered the Promised
Land—they became full and forgot about God (Deut 31:20). The latter is
experienced by people who face tribulation; if they cannot endure, then they could
fall away. These extreme situations can become a stumbling block if we are not
content with our God-given lot. Therefore, whatever physical blessings we
receive from God, whether they are abundant or just enough, we should learn to
be like Paul and Elijah and be content with God’s providence.
Training Goal 3: To Wait Patiently for the Lord
The period of drought was
primarily defined by waiting. Israel was waiting for the word of God to come to
pass—that rain would not fall, except at the word of Elijah. At the same time,
and more pertinently, Elijah waited at the Brook Cherith
for God’s instructions on what to do next. Waiting was a form of training for
The Brook Cherith
was a small tributary to the River Jordan, and Elijah knew it would eventually
dry up during the drought. God could have performed a great miracle and opened
a spring for Elijah. Instead, He allowed the natural order of things to run its
course. Elijah would have witnessed how the brook gradually became a trickle
and eventually dried up. Perhaps he even measured how much the water level went
down by each day. Would he have become more and more anxious as the water
diminished while God's word was still yet to come? If we were in his position,
would we have taken matters into our own hands and gone in search of another
source of water?
The inability to wait is a common
failure of God’s people. This was one of the reasons Saul offered an unlawful
sacrifice at Gilgal. The people had gathered to fight
the Philistines, but after waiting seven days for Samuel to come and offer the
sacrifice, Saul grew impatient and burnt the offering himself, disobeying God
and losing His favor in the process. Immediately after he had done this, Samuel
arrived. Saul only needed to have trusted and waited a little longer.
Waiting for God is a training that
we must all undergo. Waiting can be a difficult thing, and the longer we wait
for something, the more anxious we become. Yet if we are able to wait for the
Lord’s time to come, then we will be truly blessed.
Therefore the LORD will wait, that He may be gracious to you;
And therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
Blessed are all those who wait for Him. (Isa 30:18)
Often, we focus on the latter
portion of this verse, but the first part is just as important. The Lord is
waiting for us to be ready so that He may be gracious to us. This is especially
true for those who have yet to receive the Holy Spirit. They may think, “I’ve
been praying for so long; why has God not given me the Holy Spirit?” Whatever
blessing from God we are seeking, we may wonder why He is making us wait so
long. But have we considered that perhaps God is waiting for us?
This is like the story of a little
girl whose father promised to give her a gold watch one day. She waited day
after day, year after year, until she forgot all about it. Finally, on her
twenty-first birthday, her father presented the watch to her, saying, “Here is
the watch that I promised you. I’ve been waiting all these years for you to
come of age so that I may give it to you.”
We may feel like we are the ones
who are waiting for God, but in fact, God is waiting for us. He is waiting as
we undergo our training to become spiritually mature. Indeed, we may become
impatient and give up, but God is willing to wait for us no matter how long it
But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day
is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack
concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward
us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
(2 Pet 3:8–9)
Elijah succeeded in waiting
patiently for the Lord, without giving up or pursuing his own methods. When the
time was ripe and the brook had dried up, God’s word came to him. When the time
is ripe, God does not delay. It is therefore our responsibility to always be
ready to receive His grace and not give up midway.
In our life of faith, we may sometimes
feel as though our prayers go unanswered, our trials are interminable, and we
are just waiting for God to show us what our next step should be. We may be
zealous to serve God in a greater capacity but feel frustrated when it seems
that God is delaying in sending us to do His work. As the example of Elijah
shows us, this may be because God has an important task in store for us and so
He wishes to fully prepare us to serve Him. Just as He did with Elijah at the
Brook Cherith, so will He train us to overcome
indifference and distraction so that we can fully focus our minds on Him, to
trust in His providence no matter how impossible the situation seems, and to
wait patiently for His word no matter how long it takes. We can trust that
after our period of preparation, we will be ready to perform great works for
the glory of the Lord.