Elijah was done with obscurity. He’d paid his dues. Years in the silent rockiness of Gilead. Faithfully praying. Learning what it meant to stand before the LORD the God of Israel.
Yes, Elijah was done with obscurity, for now he had stood before the king. He had made that fateful declaration, the one he had been praying over for what may have been at least six months prior. His prayer had been released as a prophetic word to Israel’s king from Israel’s King.
And what satisfaction there must have been for this boy-turned-man from the hill country. How it must have seemed that this word flew as he declaimed it, months in the forming and soaked in the prayers and tears of Spirit-softened heart, rich in the anointing of God! How it must have resonated in the air as he spoke it, perhaps even a note of triumph in his voice, a secret delight when he informs this king that there will be no rain ‘except by my word’.
Yes, Elijah was done with obscurity – for now he was playing with the big boys. The word of God had come to him and he had spoken it. And, wait. Was that even now a second word hot on the heels of the first, being spoken to him by the LORD the God of Israel?
Depart from here and turn eastward and hide 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.
Say again, Lord?
Not the word Elijah may have expected. Not the word he perhaps wanted. As A.W. Pink remarks, ‘had he followed his instincts…would he not have embarked upon a preaching tour throughout the towns and villages of Samaria? Would he not have felt it was his bounden duty to do everything in his power calculated to awaken the slumbering conscience of the public..?’
Instead, a return to the secret place.
And so Elijah was not done with obscurity – for now he really was playing with the big boys. Moments of public ministry necessitating months, even years, in the silent hiddenness. Obscurity, the gift he may not have known as gift.
But Cherith? Really? The place of cutting, of shaping. Inhospitable gorge, place of isolation and separation. A brook for drinking water, yes, but the proclamation the zenith of his résumé thus far didn’t bode well for that. And ravens as waiters. Honestly? Unclean birds as source of supernatural provision? This was hardly the career move of a now-certified bona fide prophet!
Yet 1 Kings 17:5 betrays no hesitation in the one who stood before the Most High. 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. He walked willingly into the wilderness. Pink comments that ‘one with a zealous disposition would find it much harder to spend three years in inactive seclusion than to be engaged in public service’. But Elijah remembered what it meant to be a prophet. His was to hear and to obey immediately. Nothing more.
I cannot help but wonder what it was for him to be there, in that place of cutting, that place of isolation. What was it perhaps not to like the idea of raven-carried food yet to receive it as God’s gift? For no one knew where he was, that his sustenance in this rocky gorge depended entirely upon supernatural provision. No one knew what it was for the prophet to stand before the LORD the God of Israel then.
And, holding this up to the light of my own life, I wonder whether he realised that God had led him into the desert to speak tenderly to him. Did those long months of separation, presence to God and absence to others, become sweet to him? And after many days when the LORD sent him again to Israel’s king, when he saw the prophetic fulfilment of that word with fire and rain and slaughter, did he come to know that the cutting and shaping of Cherith had been the wounds of a Friend?
This piece is a part of a series of creative reflections on the prophet Elijah and his experiences as he stood before the LORD the God of Israel, especially in 1 Kings 17-18.