Sunday, July 21, 2013

Odd Provisions: Ravens' Mouths & Foreign Widows

Imagine you're Elijah.  One moment, you're on the mountain top, receiving and delivering a message from the Lord to evil King Ahab, saying, "there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word" (1 Kin. 17:1).  

As time passes, though, you become the victim of your own prophecy.

When Elijah spoke those words declaring a moratorium on rain, he might as well have painted a bright red target on his back.  His words did not bring the desired repentance in the King.  Instead, they so angered King Ahab that Elijah became the most wanted man in all Israel.

God, though, would provide for Elijah and protect him.  Yet, it wouldn't be easy for Elijah.

First, the Lord sent Elijah to the Kerith Ravine and told him, "You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there" (1 Kin. 17:4).  Each morning and evening, the ravens brought bread and meat, and the brook provided sufficient water to drink.

While this may not sound too terrible to us, as an Israelite, Elijah must have wondered why God chose to provide for him in this manner, especially considering Scripture referred to such birds as unclean and detestable: "These are the birds you are to regard as unclean and not eat because they are unclean: the eagle, the vulture, the black vulture, the red kite, any kind of black kite, any kind of raven (Lev. 11:13-14). 

As time passed, even this provision from unclean birds seemed insufficient, especially when Elijah's prophesy began to come true.  The rains stopped.  The land began to suffer.  Elijah's brook even dried up.

I wonder if Elijah thought his one corner of the country would be spared the drought and subsequent famine?  Or maybe that God would continually supply living water to this brook even when the water had dried up at its source.  Whether or not Elijah had anticipated going to sleep with a severely parched mouth and waking from dreams of water, we don't know.  What we do know is what Elijah did next--he waited on God to provide.  

Many of us would have prayed and asked God to spare us from the judgment passed on an entire nation when we, ourselves, were not guilty of X, Y, or Z.  But, Elijah didn't do that.  As Dr. R. T. Kendall says, "Elijah could not make himself the exception to the rule.  He would live under God's judgment along with the rest of the people of Israel. So rather than pray for rain, he waited on God to see what would be--yet again--the next step forward" (p. 46).

Again, God provided for Elijah.  And again, it was in a way that surely caused Elijah to scratch his head in wonder.  Scripture records the Lord telling Elijah, "Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food" (1 Kin. 17:9).

Zarephath was not a city in Israel.  Instead, this was in the territory of the Gentiles a hundred miles away from his present location.  What's worse, Zarephath was also suffering from the drought and famine such that the widow at first rejected Elijah's call for help, telling him she and her son were about to eat their last supper and then wait for death.

These details tell us that God's judgment can be far-reaching, that the righteous are sometimes called to suffer along with the unrighteous and that even when God is specifically passing judgment on one country, other countries may suffer as well.

But why Zarephath?  If it, too, were suffering from drought, why not send Elijah elsewhere where there was no drought?  Or, instead, if Elijah were required to be under the same judgment as the rest of his people, why ask him to make the harrowing trek across 100 miles of barren land?  Couldn't Elijah have done just as well with a closer, Jewish widow to help him?

Jesus spoke to these exact questions.  He explained, "no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon" (Luke 4:24-26).  

Jesus' Jewish audience was furious at His implication that God would offer salvation to the Gentile because the Jew had rejected it.  They even ran Him out of town.

Yet, this passage illuminates why God used the unclean raven and of the Gentile woman to provide for Elijah.  Both uncommon methods of provision were foreshadowings of things to come in God's kingdom, when He would make a way for both Jew and Gentile to enter the Kingdom of Heaven through the sacrifice of His beloved son on the cross.

In Christ, Paul said of unclean food (as was the raven), " I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean....For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:14,17).

Concerning Gentiles and their place in the Kingdom of God, Paul said, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile" (Rom 1:16).

To see this far back in history God's plan for me and you to be adopted into the Kingdom just goes to show there is no shadow of turning with our God.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

Kendall, R. T.  These are the Days of Elijah.  Bloomington: Chosen P, 2013.

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