Monday, February 18, 2013

1 Kings 17:2-12 The Word of the Lord Directs God's Servant


TEXT:    1 Kings  17:2- 12 :
TITLE:  “The Word of the Lord  directs
                God’s servant”
DATE:   17th  February  2013     

The main theme of this  passage is “the  Word of the Lord”.  In the first verse of this  chapter the  Word of the Lord  came  through Elijah  to Ahab  the king  of Israel,   that there would be a drought in the land.  This was a word of divine judgment, because  Ahab and the kings  before him had forsaken the LORD  and worshipped  Baal.

In v. 1   Elijah is presented  as one  who stands  ( face to face) before the (living)  LORD .   He is the embodiment  of the Word of the  LORD to Ahab. The Word of the Lord  directs  Elijah’s itinerary (vv2,8).  He himself   is obedient   to the Word  (v.5) as he  stays  at the brook  Cherith. As circumstances change  (v.7)  the Word of the LORD  directs  Elijah to his next venue (vv 8,9)  to Zarephath in  Sidon   to a  widow.  This widow  is doomed to die in this  terrible drought, but because  of Elijah’s  presence , representing the Word of God,  she and her son are sustained  by the  Word of the LORD (vv. 14,16). The Word of the LORD  pervades  the  life of Elijah. This is incidentally  true for all the prophets of  God. They speak His Word : “Thus says the Lord!
God leads His servants  by His Word,  step by step. It is not as if the prophets know  everything in advance.  This is also true for us. Although we are so often tempted to want  to  know the future,  the principal  way in which we  are called to live is  “by faith”  - one step at a time.  It is not the way we like to live, but it is the  way we are called  to live.  Elijah’s  duty was  to obey the divine order and leave God to tell him  what he should do next. Elijah  is clearly  not a free agent.   His life is in God’s hands.

Having delivered God’s message  to Ahab  concerning the drought, Elijah receives the next  word from the LORD (Yahweh).   17:2-4 : And the word of the LORD came to him:  “Depart from here and turn eastward and hide [1] yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.”   

Hide yourself !   This  is not  a suggestion. It  is  a command.  We have no right of changing  God’s commands into God’s suggestions!  Jonah tried to run away from God’s commands , and by his fleeing Jonah suggested  that he did not think that this was a good idea. He  came off second best! We shall see that Elijah will fall into the same temptation in Chapter  19.  But  now   God commands him to hide  at the brook Cherith, and he obeys the Word of the LORD.  Cherith was one of the many little rivers  that flowed into the  Jordan from the mountains to the east of the Jordan river. 
Why did he need to hide?  “Cherith“ means  to cut’. Some expositors   have suggested that  this place of hiding   was to become  a place of  ‘pruning’ for  Elijah. Perhaps God  was intending  to prune , cut and prepare  Elijah for future service.  It is not uncommon  for God to hide and prepare  His choicest servants  for a while before He brings them out  into the open . 

A.W.  Pink  says :  Every servant that God deigns to use must pass through the trying experience of Cherith before he is ready for the triumph of Carmel. This is an unchanging principal in the ways of God. Joseph suffered the indignities of both the pit and the prison before he became governor of all Egypt, second only to the king himself. Moses spent one third of this long life at "the backside of the desert" before Jehovah gave him the honour of leading His people out of the house of bondage. David had to learn the sufficiency of God’s power on the farm before he went forth and slew Goliath in the sight of the assembled armies of Israel and the Philistines.” [2]  This  was also the case with Jesus  who only entered upon His  public ministry at the  age of 30.  John the Baptist came out of obscurity (the desert) only later – to announce the coming of the  Messiah.  There are  many  ‘silent years’  in which we know nothing  of  the  ministry of the apostle Paul. He was hidden. It was, most likely a time of spiritual preparation.

Moreover  Elijah  needed to hide  because   he was  an offense  to the  rulers  of the Northern kingdom. We know  that   Ahab and Jezebel  hated  the  prophets  of the Lord . Later  in 18:4,10 we note that this evil couple conducts a genocide of the prophets  of the LORD. So perhaps  Elijah needed   to hide because his life was in danger.   But here our theology  is tested.  Who  gives and sustains our  life?  Who takes life?    It is God, not  Ahab!  God has been known to keep His people  through and in trials. George Whitfield,  the English Evangelist  so greatly used of God  writes in the preface of  the  1756 edition of his journal:  I find we are immortal, till our work is done.”   Our days are in His hands!  There  is surely more to  Elijah’s hiding   than  the  mere protection  of  Elijah.  

So what else  might it be?   The commentator Dale Ralph Davies    suggests  that   the disappearance of Elijah spells the  absence of the Word of God from the life of Israel. Israel’s  judgment  is the drought  of the land and the silence of the Lord. Scripture  always  treats the withdrawal of his voice as an agonizing judgment [3].” ( see  1 Sam 28:6,15; Ps 74:9; Amos 8:11-12 )
Arthur Pink    concurs:  Ah, my reader, little as it may be realized in our day, there is no surer and more solemn proof that God is hiding His face from a people or nation than for Him to deprive them of the inestimable blessings of those who  faithfully minister His Holy Word to them, for as far as heavenly mercies excel earthly so much more dreadful are spiritual calamities than material ones ….and now all dew and rain was to be withheld from Ahab’s land, not only literally so, but spiritually so as well. Those who ministered His Word were removed from the scene of public action.” [4]

And so,  God sends Elijah  into  a lonely place for a number of reasons perhaps, and there he receives  God’s  special  and unusual care in the midst of this  terrible  drought.  You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there. (v.4)  How this was possible, I do not know. I do not even want to conjecture  how ravens could have  done this. God knows. Since we are interested in principles, I want us to be focused on the fact that God knows how to sustain His faithful servants  through the fiercest droughts  and famines (the testimony of the widow of Zarephath will confirm this again). God   who has taught  us to pray for  our daily bread is committed to give us our daily bread. Our job is to obey God. God’s job is to keep us alive until our work is done!   It was  Hudson Taylor of the China  Inland Mission that said: God’s  child , doing God’s  work in God’s way  will shall  never lack   God’s supply. So it was  with Elijah.

A.W.  Pink  has an interesting note  on this verse …” you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.  He makes the point that this was the  place of God’s appointed blessing  and providence  for Elijah  at this time . He writes :  “…The prophet might have preferred many another hiding-place, but to Cherith he must go if he was to receive the Divine supplies: as long as he remained there, God  pledged to provide for him. How important, then, is the question, “Am I in the place which God has (by His Word or providence) assigned me” ? If so, He will assuredly supply my every need. But if like the younger son I turn my back upon Him and journey into the far country, then like that prodigal I shall certainly suffer want. How many a servant of God has laboured in some lowly or difficult sphere with the dew of the Spirit on his soul and the blessing of Heaven on his ministry, when there came an invitation from some other field which seemed to offer a wider scope (and a larger salary!), and as he yielded to the temptation, the Spirit was grieved and his usefulness in God’s kingdom was at an end.
The same principle applies with equal force to the rank and file of God’s people … But how many professing Christians have we personally known who resided in a town where  God sent one of His own qualified servants, who fed them with "the finest of the wheat," and their souls prospered. Then came a tempting business offer from some distant place, which would improve their position in the world. The offer was accepted, their tent was removed, only to enter a spiritual wilderness where there was no edifying ministry available. In consequence their souls were starved, their testimony for Christ ruined, and a period of fruitless backsliding ensued. As Israel had to follow the cloud of old in order to obtain supplies of manna, so must we be in the place of God’s ordering if our souls are to be watered and our spiritual lives prospered.[5]

17:5-9: So he went and did according to the word of the LORD. He went and lived by the brook Cherith that is east of the Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. And after a while the brook  dried up, because there was no rain in the land . Then the word of the LORD came to him, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”

When the river dries  up, God ‘s Word has a fresh direction for changed circumstances. Elijah must  go to Zarephath where God has directed a widow to sustain him. This is fascinating since widows  were known to be needy persons. D.R. Davies  observes humourously:   If one could choose,  ravens sounded more dependable than widows! Is this not vintage Yahweh? Who would ever design to use the unclean ravens and the unlikely widow as sustainers of his servant? Who am I to object  if Yahweh delights to use dirty birds and hopeless women? We should adore the scintillating creativity of a God who brings  help to His people through channels they would never suspect.”

Vv 10 - 12  So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” And she said, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.”

He comes to Zarephath in Sidon. This is an interesting  fact. Zarephath is the territory of Ethbaal whose daughter  Jezebel married  Ahab (16 :31).  And now God is  going against the  conventional thinking of a kosher Jew!  He  designates a gentile widow, from a despised territory  to help a Hebrew prophet- a  Word bearer!  Jesus actually  told His  town people  this  story in Luke 4:25-26 – and  His   town people  became angry with Him . They had no place for gentiles and widows  in God’s plan. They wanted to kill Him! God’s grace is extended through Elijah beyond Israel because that grace was  being ignored within Israel.

What are we learning  from these few verses?

Major truths :

The Word of the Lord directs  the  believer
The Word of the Lord sustains the believer

The Word of the Lord  is Jesus  Christ  (Jn 1:1-14 ). Today He  directs and sustains  you and  I  who believe in  Him. We must steadfastly  look to Him. We must stand  before Him. And we must obey Him. We must give particular attention to the gospels in which He teaches  us  truths concerning the kingdom, and how we may know that we  will have access to that kingdom. Warnings  like Matt 7:22  must be understood. Discipleship (follow me)  must be a reality. We must read the Acts of the Apostles  to appreciate  the work of the Holy Spirit  and the fulfilment  of Jesus words. We  must read the  epistles of  Paul and John  and James etc  to find particular applications for church life. We must  read  the book of Revelation  to know our future –  to be assured that our future is in sovereign hands , and to  know  where we are going . To know the  living Lord in the written Word  is to  be directed  by Him every step of  our way – from  beginning to end and into eternity. Elijah is a living testimony to this fact .

[1] Hebr. ‘satar’
[2] A.W. Pink : Elijah ( Banner of Truth) , p.37
[3] D.R. Davies: The Wisdom and the Folly- Exposition of 1 Kings ; p 209
[4] A.W. Pink : Elijah ( Banner of Truth) , p.32
[5] A.W. Pink : Elijah ( Banner of Truth) , p.39

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