Elijah had done a very hard thing. He had taken an unpleasant message from God to King Ahab, the most wicked, vindictive, and conscienceless sovereign who ever reigned over Israel. To risk Ahab’s ire was to take your life in your hands. But Elijah had obeyed the Lord anyway and had given Ahab this announcement: “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word” (I Ki. 17:1b).
God Himself acknowledged the danger Elijah faced as a result of delivering God’s message: “Go away from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan” (v. 3). What a relief! God was going to protect Elijah from Ahab’s wrath. Furthermore, the Lord assured His faithful prophet, “It shall be that you will drink of the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there” (v. 4). What could be better than that? The land would suffer severe drought, but God would provide his faithful servant with water. The drought would bring on terrible famine, but God would provide Elijah with food. “So he went and did according to the word of the Lord, for he went and lived by the brook Cherith” (v. 5). And just as God had promised, “The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he would drink from the brook” (v. 6).
But there was a fly in the ointment (cf., Eccl. 10:1): “It happened after a while that the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land” (v. 7). What? What about Elijah’s faithfulness? Is this the reward for doing the hard thing that God required? What about Elijah’s needs? What about God’s promise?
The truth is, friends, that after a while, the brook dries up. Everything natural fails. Success may fall prey to failure. Wealth may turn to poverty. Popularity may turn to disregard or even contempt. Health may give way to illness. Life will eventually succumb to death. God is going to provide for Elijah but only in such a way that Elijah’s faith rests in the Lord rather than in things, in the Giver and not in His gifts. Yes, it is easy to forget that the fresh, cold, continuously flowing water in the brook Cherith is there for Elijah by the providence and grace of God. Perhaps, it is more difficult to forget the supernatural power that guided the ravens to bring bread and meat twice daily. But after a while, even the most gracious and unusual provision by God grows commonplace, a spirit of thankfulness replaced by a spirit of entitlement, then presumption and even ingratitude.
Whether this progression happened to Elijah, the Scripture does not say. But, surely, it would have happened to me. And, perhaps, to you? And so, the brook dries up. God has not failed. His promises have not failed. He has not forgotten nor forsaken us. He has not despised any past faithfulness we have exhibited. But He is turning our minds and our hearts away from the earth to heaven; He is moving us to look to Him, not to our brook, for water. He wants our hope and confidence, our expectation, as well as our faith, love, and devotion to be anchored in Him alone.
How easily we trust in the brook; how readily we expect the ravens to come; how quickly we forget the One responsible for both. But just when the throat started to become parched and the hunger pangs started to stab, “The word of the Lord came to him [Elijah], saying, Arise, go to Zarephath . . . and stay there; behold I have commanded a widow there to provide for you” (vv. 8, 9). The Lord has commanded—sometimes a brook, sometimes a raven, sometimes an impoverished widow—to provide for us. Will we see in our occasional paucity the hand of the Lord touching our chin and lifting our eyes from the dusty creek bed upward to Him? Will our need spur our faith, fund our patience, strengthen our love, increase our thankfulness, and invigorate our service for Him? What brook that you depended upon has dried up today? Will you respond in fear? Anger? Despair? Resignation? Or will you see in it the hand of the Lord sanctifying you and preparing to provide through “a widow . . . gathering sticks” (v. 10)?
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