Fed By Ravens…
It has struck me that the realisations or revelations of the last two posts to this blog both ultimately led to what follows. Always, with God, there is a journey – with a starting point, and a destination – and the distance in between is where we learn. On the road. Sometimes, these journeys are lengthy and tiring. And, at other times, they are short. There are no hard and fast rules for journeying with God, for walking in His footsteps, but I am starting to realise that yielding to Him can make the journey at least enjoyable.
I often find myself thinking about the Israelites and the 40 years of wandering around in the desert. I have heard it said that if you were to walk from where they crossed the Rea Sea, to the banks of the Jordan opposite Jericho, then it would take you between 2 and 3 weeks. Just think about it for a moment…forty years. That is over 2,000 weeks. Some journey. But even in that journey, God was with them. He kept them. He provided for them. He taught them.
A few months ago I was talking to a fairly new Christian about the journey. I said to him that, with God, everyone has to go to Egypt and everyone has to go to Jerusalem. At the time I didn’t realise just how significant this statement was. Perhaps I was talking to myself more than the new pilgrim. Egypt will always represent captivity – a place from where God rescues us. But Jerusalem? Well, Jerusalem is different. Jerusalem is all about self-sacrifice. And you have to be rescued from captivity before you can show your appreciation with self-sacrifice. Somehow, it works better that way.
What has all this got to do with ravens? Not much really. It’s just that the realisation about the ravens is part of my own journey – one that has meandered through the wilderness and recently passed through the citadels of ‘The IF Statement’ and ‘A Job Lot of Trouble’, just places on the road to my own Jerusalem.
For Elijah, the ravens were a part of his own journey – like the people we meet on ours. Here’s what happened with Elijah:
“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 will 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.” [1st Kings 17:1-6 NKJV]
I should explain, at this point, that I keep a journal. It is vital to do so. Many things get lost in our memories but, having what we felt God say at a particular place along the journey recorded in our journal helps us. If you don’t journal already, I would urge you to start…today. And now, I turn to mine to refresh my memory of when this particular passage of scripture first became significant to me. It reads:
“8.30pm D***** called with scripture: [1 Kings 17] Elijah and the ravens. Feeding morning and night. That God can provide from any source – see MH’s comments on it.” (28.02.15)
Now, this blog is rapidly becoming an extension of the said journal – though you are spared having to decipher the scrawl from my fountain pen. Let me explain what I wrote. We occasionally ask people we trust to pray about particular subjects so to see what God says to them about it. I am not a real fan of such an approach but it does help to keep you on the straight and narrow. It provides a layer of extra accountability. At the time of this entry we were in the process of leaving a church and we were facing demands for money from all sorts of people. It was very difficult to see what God’s plan was and it felt like He wasn’t there because there was virtually no provision financially for either day to day living or the work at Cornerstone. When I received the phone call and this individual ‘gave‘ us this scripture something in me resonated. It felt right.
I should clarify, right now, that when I wrote ‘gave‘ I am referring to a term that Christians use regularly. The conversation would normally go something like this: “I was praying for you about such and such and I felt God remind me of this scripture.” If you were to put it into a New Testament context (for nothing of this nature is recorded in the New Testament ) you would perhaps call it a ‘word of knowledge or wisdom‘ – (see 1st Corinthians 12 on the gifts of the Holy Spirit). We should also remember that when any of the disciples mentioned scripture in the New Testament they are referring to the Old Testament or Torah. What we call the New Testament is a collection of their writings which aren’t referred to as being collected together until the early 3rd century AD. That doesn’t detract from the writings in any way but it is vital to remember that not all of what happened to the disciples after Jesus ascended and the Holy Spirit fell upon them is written down. Much of what we practice is modern churches isn’t contained in the New Testament. That doesn’t mean that it is not God-inspired but I would recommend that you talk directly to God yourself when anyone ‘gives‘ you scripture. Sometimes it can be from well-meaning individuals, and not from God. It is only in the last week or so that I am totally satisfied that this particular section of scripture was given by God to me (via a 3rd party) with the sole purpose of encouraging me. Back to the journal.
At the time, I took it to mean that God would provide from sources other than those that I expected. The person who gave it to me later came back to me and said it was about being obedient to whatever God says. The reference to MH’s comments relate to Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary of the Whole Bible, which was written in 1708. In his commentary on this particular chapter Henry says:
“The history of Elijah begins somewhat abruptly. Usually, when a prophet enters, we have some account of his parentage, are told whose son he was and of what tribe; but Elijah drops (so to speak) out of the clouds, as if, like Melchisedek, he were without father, without mother, and without descent, which made some of the Jews fancy that he was an angel sent from heaven; but the apostle has assured us that he was a man subject to like passions as we are (James. 5:17 ), which perhaps intimates, not only that he was liable to the common infirmities of human nature, but that, by his natural temper, he was a man of strong passions, more hot and eager than most men, and therefore the more fit to deal with the daring sinners of the age he lived in: so wonderfully does God suit men to the work he designs them for. Rough spirits are called to rough services. The reformation needed such a man as Luther to break the ice.” [http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/1-kings/17.html]
Of course, those of you who know me will concur that there are certain similarities to be drawn between Henry’s description of Elijah’s character and myself – and these weren’t lost on me.
Let me take you through what I know now.
Wherever Elijah appeared from I know not but the passage needs a little breaking down so that we can get all of the ‘meat’ out of it. The Ahab of whom the writer speaks, is the king of Israel. At this time the Jews are divided into two kingdoms – Israel and Judah. All of Israel’s kings are described as evil and Ahab was particularly bad. He had married Jezebel who dominated and influenced Ahab. So much so that she turned Israel from worship of God to the worship of Baal. Now, Baal was the weather god to the local peoples and when Elijah called a drought into being it was as a direct provocation to Ahab and Jezebel. It is the opening salvo in a battle that saw Elijah flee for his life, prophets of God murdered and sent underground before a final show-down atop of Mount Carmel which Elijah calls down from heaven the fire of God and humiliates the prophets of Baal.
Elijah could have commanded a drought from any place he chose but, instead, he did it face to face with Ahab. Then God tells Elijah to leave the country, out of reach of Ahab and his blood-thirsty wife. He hides beside the brook, from which he can drink and, just as God had said, he is fed by ravens morning and evening.
Quite often, when studying scripture, we can find all sorts of meanings in individual words. It happens often for me. Sometimes when you examine the meaning of a place name or of a person you learn something exciting. But on this occasion it wasn’t any particular word that ‘spoke’ to me. No, it was the ravens.
At a time when we had been expecting provision from within the church – and had left one church and found ourselves with nowhere to call home – we were seeking God on provision and He had given us the story of Elijah and the ravens. Now God could have given us any scripture which spoke of provision. The Bible is full of such passages. But this one? Why the ravens?
To Elijah, a raven was an unclean bird (see Leviticus 11) – most Jews wouldn’t have touched one or even gone anywhere near one for fear of being contaminated. And God still used ravens to feed Elijah. So what was He trying to tell me about our own provision?
We had (foolishly) made an assumption about where God’s provision would come from. We had very good reason to believe that God was going to provide everything we needed and, being a part of a church, had naturally assumed that He was going to prompt either the church as a body or individuals to provide for us. This happens quite a lot when people within a church are called by God to do something or other, and it makes sense. But, whilst we were part of a church when God told us He would provide, when we needed it most we were out on our own…just like Elijah. Now, let me say, that we have been blessed financially by people within the church. Several people have given us generous cash gifts and provided goods that we have been praying for. But what I am talking about is the day to day stuff. The ‘give us our daily bread’ stuff. The morning and evening needs for food. Then it hit me that God had actually been providing for us…but from outside the established church. Some friends of ours (who wouldn’t be classed as Christians by anyone in the church we had left, but who both believe in God and in helping others), had actually been giving us money each and every week for months. We used that money to live on. I had kind of taken it for granted until one day they came and said they couldn’t afford to do it any longer because one of their children had fallen on hard times and needed their help. I thanked them for their kindness and as I walked away and considered the ramifications of no income whatsoever, I felt the Holy Spirit inside of me simply say “Trust me”.
The following day, another friend (who would also fall into the same category of non-Christian, despite his belief in God and kind heart), and whom knew nothing of either the provision we had been receiving, nor it stopping, started to give us exactly the same amount and it hasn’t stopped since. Ravens. Considered unclean by men of God. In truth, by their kindness, God showed us that He can influence anyone He chooses at anytime He wants to provide for us. The problem was our expectation, not His delivery.
For the record, I would assert that the way in which modern churches decide who is or who isn’t a Christian is far too complicated and fails to look people in the way that God does. The Bible is pretty clear about it:
“…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” [Romans 10:9 NKJV]
“…that whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” [Acts 2:21 NKJV]
Simple, really. No need for complicating it with an altar call. And, after all, God looks at the heart.
So, when we trusted God and let Him get on with providing for us, He fed us with ravens. He is faithful. It is a lesson that we are still learning but the journey is such that new demands arrive all the time. Even today a new one has arrived. And we will have to treat it in the same manner as if we were believing for just £10. We just have to keep it simple. That’s what He asks for – just believe…wherever the journey takes you.