THE BLESSER BEHIND THE BLESSING
And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there. [1Kings 17:4]
Ah, it was a brook and not a river—a brook which might dry up any moment. It is rare that God places His servants, or even His people, in the midst of luxury and abundance: to be surfeited with the things of this world only too often means the drawing away of the affections from the giver Himself. “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!” It is our hearts God requires, and often this is put to the proof. The way in which temporal losses are borne generally makes manifest the difference between the real Christian and the worldling. The latter is utterly cast down by financial reverses, and frequently commits suicide. Why? Because his all has gone and there is nothing left to live for. In contrast, the genuine believer may be severely shaken and for a time deeply depressed, but he will recover his poise and say, “God is still my portion and I shall not want.”
Instead of a river, God often gives us a brook, which may be running today and dried up tomorrow. Why? To teach us not to rest in our blessings, but in the blesser Himself. Yet is it not at this very point that we so often fail— our hearts being far more occupied with the gifts than with the giver. Is not this just the reason why the Lord will not trust us with a river? —because it would unconsciously take His place in our hearts.” Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation” (Deut. 32:15). And the same evil tendency exists within us. We sometimes feel that we are being hardly dealt with because God gives us a brook rather than a river, but his is because we are so little acquainted with our own hearts. God loves His own too well to place dangerous knives in the hands of infants.
And how was the prophet to subsist in such a place? Where was his food to come from? Ah, God will see to that: He will provide for his maintenance: “And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook” (v. 4). Whatever may be the case with Ahab and his idolators, Elijah shall not perish. In the very worst of times God will show Himself strong on the behalf of his own. Whoever starves they shall be fed: “Bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure” (Isa. 33:16). Yet how absurd it sounds to common sense to bid a man tarry indefinitely by a brook! Yes, but it was God who had given this order, and the divine commands are not to be argued about but obeyed. Thereby Elijah was bidden to trust God contrary to sight, to reason, to all outward appearances, to rest in the Lord Himself and wait patiently for Him.
“I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there” (v. 4). Observe the word we have placed in italics. 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 tarried there, God was 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: they must be “in the way” (Gen. 24:27), of God’s appointing if they are to receive Divine supplies. “Thy will be done” precedes “Give us this day our daily bread.” But how many professing Christians have we personally known who resided in a town whither 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.
Let us next view the instruments selected by God to minister unto the bodily needs of His servant. “I have commanded the ravens to feed thee.” Various lines of thought are hereby suggested. First, see here both the high sovereignty and the absolute supremacy of God; His sovereignty in the choice made, His supremacy in His power to made it good. He is a law unto Himself: “Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did He in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep place” (Ps. 135:6). He prohibited His people from eating ravens, classifying them among the unclean, yea, to be “an abomination” to them (Lev. 11:15; Deut. 14:14). Yet He Himself made use of them to carry food unto His servant. How different are God’s ways from ours! He employed Pharaoh’s own daughter to succour the infant Moses, and a Balaam to utter one of His most remarkable prophecies. He used the jawbone of an ass in the hand of Samson to slay the Philistines, and a sling and stone to vanquish their champion.
“I have commanded the ravens to feed thee.” O what a God is ours! The fowls of the air and the fishes of the sea, the wild beasts of the field, yea, the very winds and waves obey Him. Yes, “Thus saith the Lord, which maketh a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters; which bringeth forth the chariot and horse, the army and the power . . . Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. The beast of the field shall honour me, the dragons and the owls—yes, and the ravens too! —because I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people” (Isa. 43: 16-20). Thus the Lord caused birds of prey, which lived on carrion, to feed the prophet.
But let us also admire here the wisdom as well as the power of God. Elijah’s fare was provided for partly in a natural and partly in a supernatural way. There was water in the brook, so he could easily go and fetch it. God will work no miracles to spare a man trouble, or that he should be listless and lazy, making no effort to procure his own sustenance. But there was no food in the desert: how is he to get that? God will furnish this in a miraculous manner: “I have commanded the ravens to feed thee.” Had human beings been used to take him food, they might have divulged his hiding-place. Had a dog or some domestic animal gone each morning and evening, people might have seen this regular journeying to and fro, carrying food, and so been curious, and investigated the same. But birds flying with flesh into the desert would arouse no suspicion: it would be concluded they were taking it to their young. See then how careful God is of His people, how judicious in the arrangements He makes for them. He knows what would endanger their safety and provides accordingly.
“Hide thyself by the brook Cherith . . . I have commanded the ravens to fee thee there.” Go immediately, without entertaining any doubts, without any hesitation. However contrary to their natural instincts, these birds of prey shall obey the Divine behest. Nor need this appear in the least unlikely. God Himself created them, gave them their peculiar instinct, and He knows how to direct and control the same. He has power to suspend or check it, according to His good pleasure. Nature is exactly what God made it, and entirely dependent upon Him for its continuance. He upholds all things by the word of His power. In Him and by Him the birds and beasts, as well as man, love, move and have their being; and therefore He can, whenever He thinks fit, either suspend or alter the law which He has imposed upon any of His creatures. “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?”(Acts 26:8).
There in his lowly retreat the prophet was called upon to sojourn many days, yet not without a precious promise guaranteeing his sustenance: the supply of needed provision was Divinely assured him. The Lord would take care of His servant while hid from public view, and would daily feed him by His miracle-working power. Nevertheless, it was real testing of Elijah’s faith. Whoever heard of such instruments being employed—birds of prey bringing food in a time of famine! Could the ravens be depended upon? Was it not far likely that they would devour the food themselves than bring it to the prophet? Ah, his trust was not to be in the birds, but in the sure word of Him that cannot lie: “I have commanded the ravens.” It was the Creator and not the creature, the Lord Himself and not the instruments, Elijah’s heart was to be fixed upon. How blessed to be lifted above “circumstances” and in the inerrant promise of God have a sure proof of His care.
[Quoted from A.W. Pink’s ‘Life of Elijah’]