God often illustrated His will to the Prophets in peculiar ways. Elijah is the greatest example of that. Whenever something peculiar happened in Israel, Elijah was probably behind it in some way. So what was God teaching the people through this strange prophet? What is He teaching us today? The answer lies in 1 Kings 17.
Hide and Seek
You might be interested to know that Guterman wrote those words in 1936.
And if I can learn anything from that poem it is this - over time has changed the comforts of mankind, but time has not improved the hearts of mankind.
In fact, the Bible has made it very clear that as humanity rushes toward it’s climactic encounter with the final judgment that mankind will only grow more sinful, more perverse and more proud. The old King James says, “Men will wax worse and worse.”
The truth is, Satan is not really very original . . .but he is very clever. He will take the same old lies and repackage them for every new generation.
Every generation has to deal with Satan’s deceptions and destructions.
READ FROM CHRISTIAN HISTORY MAGAZINE
Frankly a great majority of the church today seems pre-occupied with the darkness; pre-occupied with the latest onslaught of depravity. I’m afraid that our pre-occupation with the problem has become a part of the problem.
Yes, we are surrounded by ecologists and astrologists and feminists and activists and egotists and liberal strategists and on and on . . . while we are to pray - we are not to panic.
We are to penetrate - to permeate the darkness with light.
Has it ever occurred to you that a lighthouse never once got rid of a storm - it’s purpose is to simply stand and shine through the storm. The darker the storm, not only is the light brighter, but it is even more desperately needed.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the light that our generation desperately needs today is the light that Pauls day needed and Elijah’s day needed - David wrote, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”
When the power failed in our home sometime ago, it would have done little good for me to sit in the living room with my family and friends around me and rail and rant against CP&L. How undependable they are - and to call others around for a small group study on the failure of modern day power companies - what I need to do is light a candle!
It is not enough to curse the darkness - you must introduce the light.
Our world today needs a candle for the kingdom - Our world needs a word from God.
If there was ever a day when Satan’s Kingdom seemed to have the upper hand it was in Elijah’s day.
In I Kings chapter 16 we have already learned that this was a generation of child sacrificers, idolaters and immoral deviants - and at the same time an absolute silence on the part of God’s prophets.
While Jezebel was personally paying the salaries of 450 false prophets, Obadiah, the leading prophet of his generation was fearfully compromising his stand and he was hiding a hundred prophets in caves.
In other words, the score was Baal - 450 to Yahweh - 0. You might have concluded that the game was already over . . . you should just as well leave the stadium or cheer for the other side.
Look at it - the nation is experiencing regular rainfall and enjoying bumper crops. The birds are chirping and the lakes are flowing . . . maybe Baal is the “Rider of the clouds; Perhaps he is the sustainer of life.” . . . maybe we should bow before his mistress Asherah, mother earth.
Oh no . . . it’s time for a word from God; spoken through a messenger from God.
In the Book of I Kings, chapter 17, when the days of Israel were the darkest ever known, a man suddenly, without a royal invitation, walked up the palace steps, strode confidently past the palace gaurds, into the inner court where the twin serpents Ahab and Jezebel sat, coiled and hissing in all their wicked splendor.
Elijah had come! Not with a candle of revelation but with a flamethrower of God’s ultimatum.
Elijah, James told us, was an ordinary man. And that he was - unlettered, uncultured, unimportant - The distinction of Elijah was this - he had a word from God.
And Elijah was able to speak becuase he was convinced that God was alive; as he announced to Ahab in verse one, “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand.” In other words, it didn’t matter to him if the score was Baal - 1 million to Yahweh - 0. He was convinced that Yahweh was permanently victorious! And that Baal was only temporarily in the lead.
Notice the rest of verse 1b. (Here’s the word from God) “There shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”
I can imagine that a gasp emanated from all those courtside scholars and politicians surrounding the twin thrones - “How dare he. . .” “What does he know. . .” “Just who is he”!
Elijah is in effect declaring, “Baal doesn’t control the dew and the rain - the God of Israel controls the dew and the rain.” “Baal is not the rider of the clouds, God is the rider of the clouds”.
What a moment! What a brilliant light from the life and lips of an ordinary, but obedient man.
Elijah, in the public arena was faithful - if not spectacular.
But now, for today, I want you to pack your gear and come with me on Elijah’s “SILENT” ASSIGNMENT:
What we will observe next is Elijah in private - and this, my friends is a far more difficult assignment.
Notice v. 2. And the word of the Lord came to him saying, 3. “Go away from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the brook Kerith, which is east of the Jordan.
The Hebrew word hide yourself could be translated and amplified, “purposefully absent yourself from view”.
God basically gives Elijah assignment number 2.
“Elijah” “Yes Lord”
“I’ve another assignment for you” “Ready”
“It will take great courage” “Check”
“It will stretch and develop your faith” “All systems on go!”
“This assignment will be personally difficult” “I’ll push the pedal to the metal Lord, just name it”
“Go and hide yourself by the brook Kerith”. “Lord, there seems to be some static in this frequency; I’d better check the antenna. . .there. . .Now, do what?”
“Go hide yourself by the brook Cherith.” “That’s what I thought you said. But Lord, I just got here. I’ve just begun my public ministry - I’m the only one speaking and my first speech was so effective, the King and Queen were left speechless. . . you saw it Lord!”
“Go and hide yourself, Elijah”
No - I made that up becuase that’s how I would respond. But you don’t find one word of complaint or correction or argument from Elijah - look ahead at verse 5 - “So he went and did according to the word of the Lord.”
He just did it!
Ladies and Gentlemen, the mark of maturity is not obeying whenever we might understand, but obeying when we might not understand!
Elijah has done a tremendous service for God in the public sector!
And don’t overlook the fact that Elijah’s public statement will challenge the faith of Israel; this private seclusion will challenge and develop the faith of Elijah.
Easily forgotten truths:
1) We tend to forget that “God is as interested in doing something in us as He is in doing something through us.”
2) God is as interested in developing our faith as He is in demonstrating His power!
He could have cut off the rain without Elijah - but God is always pleased to allow ordinary people who are convinced that He is alive to co-labor with Him, so that when it’s all said and done - God’s work is accomplished not only in the world but in the life of His willing servant.
After God gives Elijah his assignment, He then provides the assurance - verse 4. And it shall be that you shall drink of the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there.” (that job’s for the birds!)
5. So he went and did (!) according to the word of the Lord, for he went and lived (!) by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan.
We all like Elijah’s first asignment - “God, I want You to use me in the palace!”
That’s spectacular - results are immediate!
But not the second assignment - “Elijah, I want you to get to know Me in the wilderness.”
I want to pull you out of the limelight and the spotlight and tuck you away out of everyone’s view but mine . . . WHY?!
May I suggest a few reasons why!
1) A period of isolation usually precedes an entirely new ministry of involvment!
I think of Moses who would leave the palace of Egypt in exchange for the wilderness - but God was preparting him for the greatest task yet.
Joseph spent a number of years forgotten and abandoned in an Egyptian prison before he ever enjoyed the publicity of prime minister.
Paul, following his conversion was obscured by God in Arabia for three years while God prepared him to become the greatest missionary to live. We know almost nothing of his three years in private obscurity.
There seems to be a pattern here - it seems that the wilderness may be the best place in the world to get to know God.
2) While we would never volunteer for lonely obscurity, it is in secret where God’s choicest work is accomplished.
It is in the secret place where we learn God’s character best.
3) Faith is forged under private pressure! These three truths say the same basic thing - Isolation is preparation!
Now God never gives his children a difficult assignment without providing an assurance. Back in verse four God said, “I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there.” Now in 6. And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he would drink from the brook.
Now we have to ask ourselves, why use birds?!
-to reveal to Elijah that He was in control of creation.
Now the liberal theologians don’t like the miraculous element that ravens brought Elijah his breakfast and supper. So they have suggested that the Hebrew word for “ravens” “orebim” could be changed a little to stand for “Arab’s”.
That may be a slick way to tinker with the text, but it won’t fly; pardon the pun. Although it would be a miracle for an Arab to feed an Israelite - it’s not the miracle here!
Frankly, if God is powerful enough to create the universe, He is powerful enough to command the universe. Not only does He re-order the natural water cycle so that dew and rain cease - He also re-orders the natural inclination of some common birds.
Birds don’t cater meals to mankind - they don’t bring food to human’s - I know - I’ve got one - and that little glutton is good for nothing!
My friend, if you can believe the first chapter of Genesis, you can believe the 17th chapter of I Kings. . .and everything else for that matter.
Every morning and every evening Elijah received his food from the beaks of birds.
And James, you remember from last Sunday, told us that Elijah was a man just like us - which may mean that between breakfast and supper he could begin to doubt God’s care; and during the darkness of the night he might begin to question God’s plan - then the birds would come.
And every time they came - Elijah was reminded that God was bigger than Baal - Baal at this moment is unable to make one stalk of wheat grow - one drop of rain fall - but God can provide a full course dinner of meat and bread.
Now pay careful attention to what the birds brought Elijah - meat and bread - did you notice the birds did bring Elijah any vegetables? I think God’s trying to say something - we need to apply this . . . some of you ladies are saying, “Well, the ravens didn’t deliver any glazed donughts either . . . that’s a misapplication!
Leave the preaching to me!
One more reason God may have chosen to use the ravens to deliever this model meal.
2) God was re-assuring Elijah that anyone He chose could serve as His messengers.
Did you know that according to the Old Testament book of Leviticus, the raven was considered an unclean animal!
God chose to use something unclean!
Gene Getz suggested that should Elijah be tempted to doubt his worthiness to ever be used by God, the ravens would remind him two times a day - unworthy things who obey God’s commands serve as His finest messengers.
Whenever you and I are living by our brook of obscurity - isolation - when God pulls us into the secret place of His counsel - we, like Elijah can be overwhelmed by thoughts of unworthiness.
It was there, by that brook, that Elijah learned that God works through weak and obscure instruments to do His work for Him.
Now, notice verse 7. (this is what I’m referring to as A Severe Answer) “And it happened after a while, that the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land.”
Now wait a second - there was hardly any food in the land either - but God miraculously caused the ravens to deliver it - why not cause this brook to continue flowing!
Imagine - Elijah, for more than a year has stayed by this brook. He’s probably built himself a hut; some crude furniture - he’s used to the outdoors - God had already prepared his body for this - but now He wants to prepare His soul.
And so Elijah notices the trees and the shrubs slowly dying off - the land is barren and the hot days blend into each other, the wind whipping up the dry land and swirling the dust as the land groans for a drink of water.
His brook begins to slow and he notices the bank of the brook becoming more and more exposed as the brook narrows to a trickle and then finally trickles down to nothing. The ground where the brook used to flow now bakes under the sun and turns hard, like everything else,
The wilderness to Elijah had been a place of isolation and preparation - it now becomes a place of desolation.
You need to understand that Elijah was experiencing the answer to his own prayer! And it was a severe answer.
Suffering would become a part of God’s process in preparing Elijah for the task.
You may wonder, as I heard another person ask, “How in the world can you be in the center of God’s will and experience a drying brook?!”
Desolations Deep Truths:
1) Desolation/Adversity enables us to understand the hurting world we are trying to reach.
May I suggest to you that isolation identified Elijah with God’s power; desolation allowed Elijah to identify with the nation’s pain.
The season of silence and refreshment preparation besides the brook would cause Elijah to identify with God’s sufficiency; my friend, the season of desolation that now personally impacted Elijah would help him to identify with the nation’s suffering.
Paul wrote in 2 Cor. that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
There isn’t anything more out of tune in the orchestra of God’s church than a believer who runs around to hurting people and slaps them on the back and says, “C’mon get over it . . . what kind of testimony is are tears!”
There isn’t anything worse than an insincere Christian exhorting another person who’s just lost a job or a child or a mate - “Hey, listen, All things work together for good?” Don’t you just want to slug ‘em!
God is as interested in your sorrows as he is your triumphs! He takes equal note of your tears as He does your smiles.
I’ll never forget what I recently learned about J. Oswald Sanders, that distinguished Bible teacher and and author. He had just delivered what he considered to be a compelling message and was leaving the building where he had spoken when he overheard a conversation between two elderly women. “What did you think of Mr. Sander’s message?” one asked.
“Oh, he’s alright, the other replied, “but he’ll be better after he’s suffered awhile.”
A.W. Tozer has written, “God cannot use us deeply until we have suffered greatly.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, suffering was an indespensable part of the prossess in preparing Elijah to serve . . . and for us as well.
2) Desolation/Adversity is part of the curriculum for learning disciples.
In fact, it is during those confusing, challenging episodes that God accomplishes His finest remodeling in our souls.
Adversity takes us to a place where we’re hidden away; and God meets us there and turns it into a place where we seek Him and find Him.
Perhaps you’re here this morning,and this passage has your name all over it.
You’re at a point in your life when it seems God has put you in a room and closed the door and pulled the shades . . . you’re sitting by a brook that’s drying up. You can look at Elijah and say, “That’s me . . I’m in the wilderness and it’s desolate.”
Let me read you what David Roper wrote about the brook Kerith as he applied it to the life of every believer:
READ FROM DAVID ROPER’s BOOK
Dear Christian may I suggest that you and I become willing to play Gods version of hide and seek - He plays for keeps. If we like Elijah will obey the command to Kerith - and leave the answers to Him . . . then that place of hiding will become a place of holiness; that desolate place becomes a place of worship and instruction and intimacy with the only one who understands.
Remember, He’s the one who experienced Gethsemane where, in agony, his sweat became like drops of blood. If anybody understands drying brooks, He does. “He, although He was a Son, learned obedience through the things He suffered.”
And our Lord has a way - with Elijah, with you, to turn desolation into restoration; lonliness into learning; isolation into preparation for something new that’s just ahead!
One ordinary believer put his drying brook experience into an anonymous poem; to this day, no one knows who he, or she was - maybe it’s best that way - so that you can put your signature at the end: here it is:
Have Thine Own Way Lord, have thine own way;
Thou art the potter, I am the clay,
Mold me and make me, after thy will,
While I’m am waiting, yielded and still.
ATTACH TO CHRISTIAN HISTORY
Listen to some letters written during the days of the Apostle Paul; uncovered by archaelogists:
Here is a letter detailing a mystical experience a man had with the god Asclepius (the god of healing).
“For there was a feeling as if taking hold of him and of clearly perceiving that he himself had come; of being midway between sleeping and waking; of wanting to look, of struggling against him departing; my hair stood on end; my tears flowed in joy; the burden of understanding seemed light. What man is able to put these things into words?”
Here is a letter from a man to his wife who is evidently pregnant and due. “Know that we are still in Alexandria. Do not be anxious. I beg and entreat to you, take care of the little one and as soon as we receive our pay, I will send it up to you. If by chance you deliver the child, if it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, cast it out.”
I find it incredibly fascinating that the Apostle Paul wrote without peppering his letters with these latest atrocities. As wicked and diabolical as Paul’s day was, you will not find one shred of evidence in the New Testament that the Church was supposed to stop everything and panic - or at least to change the priority of their mission.
Kerith is being disregarded, misunderstood, criticized and accused. It is losing out as others take our place. Kerith is the death of our dreams. It’s waiting in lonely isolation with hope deferred, without promised togetherness and with no end of waiting in sight. Kerith is obscurity. It is dreary duty that no one sees or applauds. It is humdrum, tedious tasks, some boring, some distasteful; it is being unknown, uncelebrated, unnoticed and unimportant. Kerith delivers us from the need for “men’s empty praise” and makes us satisfied with God’s “well done” alone. Kerith is learning to do without - without love, beauty, money, marriage, or health. It is being stripped of friends, father, mother, brother, money , reputation. It is being weaned away from all other passions but a passion for God. Kerith is going without feelings - it is learning persistence - not mere resignation, but a hardy obedience to a course we know to be right regardless of how we feel. Kerith makes us thirsty for God. Slowly, steadily, God strips us of all our longings, leaving us with nothing but desire for him alone. Until we say with Israel’s poet: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And besides you there is nothing I desire, nothing on earth.”
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;
I was made weak, that I might learn to humbly obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things;
I was given sickness, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy;
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men,
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need for God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life;
I was given life, that I might enjoy good things.
I got nothing that I asked for,
But everything I needed.
I am, most richly blessed.
Arthur Guterman penned these words:
First dentistry was painless; Then bicycles were chainless
And carriages were horseless, And many laws enforceless.
Next, cookery was fireless, Telegraphy wireless
Cigars were nicotineless, And coffee, caffeinless.
Soon oranges were seedless, The putting green was weedless,
The college boy hatless, The proper diet, fatless.
Now motor roads are dustless, The latest steel is rustless,
Our tennis courts are sodless, Our new religions, godless.