“And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook.
“And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land.” – 1 Kings 17:6-7
There was a famine in Canaan. The Lord told Elijah, the man of God, to go down to the brook Cherith, east of the Jordan, where he could drink of the brook, and the ravens would bring him food. There he remained until the brook dried up from lack of rain.
In its letter this story is a picture of the Lord’s care for one who looks to Him seeking to do His will, making all things from the water of the earth to the birds of the air serve him. It seems a strange way of caring for Elijah, but the Lord does care for us in many unexpected and strange ways. This is one of the miracles that the Lord wrought. Skeptics have questioned it, as they have questioned all the miracles of the Word, but this miracle testifies to the power of the Lord to serve mankind in unsuspected ways.
The Lord might, of course, have saved Elijah in another way, but He wished to write the Word in such a way that the deeper meanings which lie beneath the surface might eventually be made known, clarifying our vision so that we might know without a doubt that the Word is Divine and that through it the life of God is brought to us.
The Lord cared for Elijah in this way that He might tell us in parable form the deep mysteries of His kingdom, for only in parable can there be truth within truth, truth within truth leading up to the mind of God Himself.
Elijah is described as of Gilead, a land outside of Canaan, the country east of Jordan, considered unholy as compared to the land west of this dividing river. Every Christian starts life there, for no one is born in the faith of the Church. We are born natural – into the love of the world, into those selfish and wrong desires which we see so often manifested in children without ever having been learned from without. Everyone who becomes a Christian must be born again, born again by learning the truths of the Word, of the Holy Land, of heaven, and by living according to them and so cultivating the love of them.
Elijah had gone over into Canaan. He had been living there when a famine came and the Lord sent him back over Jordan into his own country. How like this is to the experience of every follower of the Lord. He leaves his native state, his natural external life, and sets out to dwell in heavenly things, which is spiritually to dwell in Canaan. But what man ever did this who was not overtaken by famine?
Intellectually we cross over Jordan, we dwell in the midst of heavenly and holy things and desire to make them our life. But the old natural life cannot be sustained by heavenly things. We cry, as did the Israelites of the manna, “Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread,” and “Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full.”
We know well this spiritual famine when we set out to develop a new kind of life centering on heavenly rather than on worldly interests. The inebriate knows it when he sets out to reform, when his body thirsts for its usual gratifications. The dissolute knows it when he seeks to mend his ways. The Christian knows it when he seeks to live up to his ideals. “No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new.”
The first attempts to live the heavenly life are Elijah in the famine-stricken land. Then like Elijah we are permitted to go back across the Jordan – down from the ideal life to former states – to drink of the brook of natural pleasures. It cannot be otherwise. Heavenly things must be brought down into the natural little by little. There is no great jump from the seed to the fruit. There is the gradual succession of leaves, flowers, and fruit; “First the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.” So of everyone who is born of the spirit.
The story of Elijah fed by ravens at the brook Cherith reveals to us how the Lord sustains us when we are in natural states and have no desire for spiritual things, when religion seems unreal and joyless. He then sends the ravens to feed us, that bird which under the Jewish law was unclean and which is the symbol of what is false and destructive, which robs the nests of the birds of song and feeds upon their young.
We recall that at the end of forty days Noah first sent forth a raven, which went to and fro over the waters. The raven flying over the waste of waters is representative of that state of life when worldliness like a flood covers the earth of the mind, suffocating spiritual life. Of this desolation of the spirit, of the human soul in which heavenly things are destroyed, Isaiah writes: “From generation to generation it shall lie waste… the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it: and he shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness.” The Jewish law, as given from Sinai, prescribed: “These are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls… Every raven after his kind.”
Ravens are the falsities of the natural mind, the natural unregenerated man, when spiritual things lie covered beneath overwhelming floods of naturalism and materialism, the state of the natural mind before it is able to be delighted and vivified by the truth and life of religion. The meat that the ravens brought to Elijah night and morning is the fictitious good brought by the thoughts and the hopes of the natural man which sustain him in the morning of his delights and in the evening of his disappointments.
In mercy the Lord lets these things sustain us “for a while,” because there is nothing else by which the natural man can be kept in some form of orderly living. It is reported that one once said, “If you want to be successful, when you settle down join the largest church.” The ravens were feeding him. A man does right because it is the best policy. The ravens are feeding him. If one gives to charity to be thought well of, the ravens are feeding him. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.” The Lord “for a while” can make use of our raven states; they feed us until the brook dries up. For a while the motives of natural ambition and of worldly prosperity will inspire a man to work and to perform uses. The hope of honor, fame, wealth, personal gain spur him on – the ravens of natural and worldly thought. These sustain him in the morning of his joy and in the evening of his trials, until the hollowness of the natural and temporal appears, and the brook dries up. Then we, like Elijah, can be led back across the Jordan, back into the heavenly land of our spiritual ideals.
When the brook failed, as all natural ambitions do, Elijah was led to the widow’s house to be sustained by the meal that wasted not and the cruse of oil that did not fail.
May we so look to the Lord and live by His truth that we shall no longer be fed by the hopes of this world’s pleasures, by that which is false, temporary, and perishable, but that our hearts may be filled with love for the truths of the Lord’s kingdom. May we be found worthy to be fed by the bread which cometh down from Him out of heaven, and be sustained by Him through the truths of His Word.
“Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.”
“They said therefore unto him… Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.
“Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.”
“Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread.
“And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”