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.' Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, 'Get away from here and turn eastward, and hide by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. And it shall be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.' So he went and did according to the word of the Lord, for he went and stayed by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the brook. And it happened after a while that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land. (1 Kgs 17:1-7)
In these seven verses of the Bible, two characters and a few other things are mentioned:
- Prophet Elijah, who was mightily used by God;
- King Ahab, the wicked king who listened to the ill advice of his idolatrous queen, Jezebel;
- the brook of Cherith, seldom mentioned in other parts of the Bible;
- the Jordan, which is well-known to Christians because God had performed a wondrous deed there by allowing the Israelites cross over the river on dry land; and
- a flock of ravens.
The Geographical Background
The Brook of Cherith was situated east of the Jordan. It flowed through the land which was allotted to the tribe of Gad. During the period of the kings the land belonged to the kingdom of Israel. Geographically, it was located in the heart of the land of Canaan. The land of Gad had high mountains, deep valleys, plains, and rivers that included Cherith (Josh 13:8-11).
This region did not usually encounter drought, but when King Ahab was ruling Israel he did great evil in the sight of God. This provoked the anger of God greatly, causing Him to bring a drought for three years and six months to the land. As a result, the Israelites suffered famine terribly all because of one man.
When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said, "Is it you, O troubler of Israel?"
Elijah replied, "I have not troubled Israel, but you have and your father's house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals" (1 Kgs 18:16-18). The wicked deeds of Ahab are described in the Bible:
Now Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him. And it came to pass, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboarn the son of Nebat, that he took as wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians; and went and served Baal, and worshipped him. Then he set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. And Ahab made a wooden image. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him. (1 Kgs 16:30-33)
When a king goes against the Lord God the whole nation will suffer. Similarly, if the leaders of the church deviate from the truth then the entire congregation will suffer.
According to James, Elijah was a man with a nature like ourselves. He prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again and the heavens gave rain, and the earth brought forth its vegetation. Elijah was mightily used by God because he was righteous. He totally submitted to the will of God, accepting the commission of God readily. When told to depart from Gilead and turn eastward and hide himself by the brook of Cherith, he did accordingly. He responded to God's call just like Abraham, going without any hesitation.
Elijah had great faith in God. Even when God told him that the ravens would feed him he was absolutely certain that what God had spoken would surely come to pass. His dealings with people were straightforward. He admonished King Ahab immediately and unreservedly. He remained pure towards the widow whom God told him to stay with. When the brook of Cherith dried up, the word of the Lord came to him, "Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you" (1 Kgs 17:7-9).
Elijah was also a man of courage. He challenged Jezebel's 850 false prophets on Mount Carmel. His victory on Mount Carmel revived the faith of the Israelites tremendously. After Elijah completed his mighty work on earth, God sent a whirlwind to take him to heaven. He was the second person who went up to heaven without tasting death.
In Leviticus, ravens are classified as unclean birds: "And these you shall regard as an abomination among the birds; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, the vulture, the buzzard, the kite, and the falcon after its kind, every raven after its kind" (Lev 11:13-15).
Human wisdom will never be able to comprehend the mighty works of God. Why did God not send a clean animal to bring food to Elijah? If God is willing, even unclean animals can be useful tools to Him. Harlots have no status in society and are considered outcasts. But when Joshua sent two men as spies to view the land of Jericho, a harlot named Rahab saved the two spies from the king's guards. God can use us even though we are lowly and untalented, as long as we are humble and willing to be used by Him.
Moses declined God's calling by saying that he was not eloquent, but a man of slow speech and of tongue. Then the Lord said to him, "Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?" Prophet Isaiah, too, said that he was a man of unclean lips who dwelt in the midst of a people of unclean lips. But God sent a messenger with a burning coal and touched Isaiah's lips to burn away his filth. God used Moses and Isaiah mightily. Paul said rather aptly:
For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many were of noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. (1 Cor 1:26-29).
Every morning and evening, the ravens by the brook of Cherith dutifully brought bread and meat to Elijah. In Guilin, China, people catch fish in the river not by using nets but cormorants. Cormorants are domestic animals very similar to ducks. They have long necks and are highly skilled in catching river fish. But before they are let out for the catch, their human masters fix a ring at the bottom of their necks. Otherwise, the fish they catch will go down their bellies. Yet the ravens at the brook did not eat up the food meant for Elijah. How wonderful is the providence of God.