The Prophet Elijah was certainly one of the greatest figures of the Old Testament. When Christ appeared in the Transfiguration before his key disciples, the vision they experienced involved Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah – doubtless representing the very personifications of the Law and the Prophets of Old Testament revelation (Matthew 7:1-13).
Yet Elijah was just as subject to human problems and the need to learn as you and I are (James 5:17). The Old Testament records many stories about the prophet, and one is particularly fascinating regarding lessons that Elijah perhaps needed to learn and from which we certainly can profit. The book of 1 Kings tells us that after Elijah delivered an unwelcome message to Ahab, king of Israel:
Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.” So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” So he went to Zarephath (1 Kings 17:2-10).
It's a small story, but one packed with lessons and reminders that apply in our own lives. Here are just five that are immediately clear:
1) The first thing we learn from this story is that sometimes God protects us, and sometimes he encourages us to flee. God protected Elijah on numerous occasions, but on this occasion he specifically informed the prophet to flee and “hide” (vs. 3) until God was ready to have him speak truth to power again. This is an important principle found throughout the Bible (see our article, “Should Christians Flee?”), and Elijah was either taught the lesson or given it as one of many examples recorded in Scripture for our benefit.
2) Sometimes God lets us look for what we need, and sometimes he brings it to us. God did not instruct Elijah to try to forage for food or to miraculously replace the same food, as he did on another occasion (1 Kings 17:13-16). Rather, God sent what Elijah needed directly to him by means of birds – ravens. Sometimes we have to learn to let God provide, also. Interestingly, Jesus used ravens as a means of teaching this very lesson (Luke 12:24).
3) God provides, but often not more than we need. The story tells us that twice a day the ravens brought enough food for a half day. It is clear that God sent a number of ravens, and we know that these large birds can carry quite large objects and weights with ease – but God only had them deliver food for Elijah’s immediate need. This is similar to the way in which God provided manna to the Israelites on a daily basis, and it is clear that he was teaching them lessons in that situation, also (Exodus 16:4-27).
4) Sometimes God lets things happen to move us on. The story ends by telling us that the small stream that provided water for Elijah dried up. This was God’s way of preparing Elijah for the news that it was time to move on, and it’s a reminder we can all remember. Sometimes God ends something good to give us something better – in Elijah’s case, it was a better opportunity to serve others who needed help and that may sometimes be our situation, too.
5) Perhaps the most important lesson or reminder we can take from this story is one that applies to all the points we have considered above. In each aspect of this story, God acted in an unexpected way. In every case we are reminded that God’s way of doing things is often not what we would have expected. It may not be what we would have done or even chosen. Humanly, we could question every aspect of this small story. Why didn’t God just protect Elijah – why did he have to flee? Why did God send Elijah to an area with no food within many miles and then force him to just sit and wait to be fed? Why did God not provide at least a whole day's food at one time? Why did God have the stream dry up – why not just tell Elijah it was time to go back?
Whatever the answers may be to some of the questions that are raised by this story, we see that things worked out – God looked after Elijah and Elijah was able to fulfil God’s purposes. Our own lives are really no different. The greatest lesson we can learn from this small story is that, like Elijah, we can always accept on faith what God commands or does (1 Kings 17:5, 10). It is a story that reminds us even if we do not always know why God does what he does in our lives, we can be sure he has a purpose and that he always knows what he is doing.