The Life of Elijah
by A.W. Pink
The Drying Brook
"Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to fee thee there" (1 Kings 17:3, 4). Notice well the order here: first the Divine command, and then the precious promise: Elijah must comply with the Divine behest if he was to be supernaturally fed. Most of God’s promises are conditional ones. And does not this explain why many of us do not extract the good of them, because we fail to comply with their stipulations? God will not put a premium on either unbelief or disobedience. Alas, we are our own worst enemies, and lose much by our perversity. We sought to show in our last chapter that the arrangements here made by God displayed His high sovereignty, His all-sufficient power, and His blessed wisdom; as it also made a demand upon the prophet’s submissiveness and faith. We turn now to the sequel.
"So he went and did according unto the word of the Lord: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan" (v. 5). Not only did God’s injunction to Elijah supply a real test of his submission and faith, but it also made a severe demand upon his humility. Had pride been in the ascendant he would have said, "Why should I follow such a course? It would be playing the coward’s part to "hid" myself. I am not afraid of Ahab, so I shall not go into seclusion." Ah, my reader, some of God’s commands are quite humiliating to haughty flesh and blood. It may not have struck His disciples as a valorous policy to pursue when Christ bade them "when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another" (Matthew 10:23); nevertheless, such were His orders, and He must be obeyed. And why should any servant of His demur at such a command as "hide thyself," when of the Master Himself we read the "Jesus hid Himself" (John 8:59). Ah, He has left us an example in all things.
Furthermore, compliance with the Divine command would be quite a tax on the social side of Elijah’s nature. There are few who can endure solitude: to be cut off from their fellows would indeed prove a severe trial to most people. Unconverted men cannot live without company: the conviviality of those like-minded is necessary if they are to silence an uneasy conscience and banish troublesome thoughts. And is it much different with the great majority even of professing Christians? "Lo, I am with you always" has little real meaning to most of us. How different the contentment, joy, and usefulness of Bunyan in prison and Madam Guyon in her solitary confinement! Ah, Elijah might be cut from his fellows, but not from the Lord Himself. "So he went and did according unto the word of the Lord." Without hesitation or delay the prophet complied with God’s command. Blessed subjection to the Divine will was this: to deliver Jehovah’s message unto the king himself, or to be dependent upon ravens, he was equally ready. However unreasonable the precept might appear or however unpleasant the prospect, the Tishbite promptly carried it out. How different was this from the prophet Jonah, who fled from the word of the Lord; yes, and how different the sequel—the one imprisoned for three days and nights in the whale’s belly, the other, at the end, taken to Heaven without passing through the portals of death! God’s servants are not all alike, either in faith, obedience or fruitfulness. O that all of us may be as prompt in our obedience to the Lord’s Word as Elijah was.
"So he went and did according unto the word of the Lord." The prophet neither delayed in complying with the Divine directions nor did he doubt that God would supply all his need. Happy it is when we can obey Him in difficult circumstances and trust Him in the dark. But why should we not place implicit confidence in God and rely upon His word of promise? Is anything too hard for the Lord? Has His word of promise ever failed? Then let us not entertain any unbelieving suspicions of His future care of us. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but not so His promises. God’s dealings with Elijah have been recorded for our instruction: O that they may speak loudly to our hearts, rebuking our wicked distrust and moving us to cry in earnest, "Lord, increase our faith." The God of Elijah still lives, and fails none who count upon His faithfulness.
"So he went and did according unto the word of the Lord." Elijah not only preached God’s Word, but he practiced it. This is the crying need of our times. There is a great deal of talking, but little of walking according to the divine precepts. There is much activity in the religious realm, but only too often it is unauthorized by, and in numerous instances contrary to, the Divine statutes. "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves" (Jas. 1:22), is the unfailing requirement of Him with whom we have to do! To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. "Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous" (1 John 3:7). Alas, how many are deceived at this very point: they prate about righteousness, but fail to practice it. "Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21).
"And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening, and he drank of the brook" (v. 6). What proof was this that "he is faithful that promised" (Heb. 10:23)! All nature shall change her course rather than one of his promises fail. O what comfort is there here for trusting hearts: what God has promised, He will certainly perform. How excuseless is our unbelief, how unspeakably wicked our doubtings. How much of our distrust is the consequence of the Divine promises not being sufficiently real and definite unto our minds. Do we meditate as we ought upon the promises of the Lord? If we were more fully "acquainted" with Him (Job 22:21), if we "set Him" more definitely before our hearts (Ps. 16:8), would not His promises have far more weight and power with us?
"My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19). It is profitless to ask, How? The Lord has ten thousand ways of making good His word. Some reader of this very paragraph may be living from hand to mouth, having no stock of money or store of victuals: yea, not knowing where the next meal will come from. But if you be a child of His, God will not fail you, and if your trust be in Him, it shall not be disappointed. In some way or other "The Lord will provide." "O fear the Lord, ye His saints: for there is no want to them that fear Him. The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing" (Ps. 34:9, 10); "seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things (food and clothing) shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33). These promises are addressed to us, to encourage us to cleave unto God and do His will.
"And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening." Had He so pleased, the Lord could have fed Elijah by angels rather than by ravens. There was then in Israel a hospitable Obadiah, who kept a secret table in a cave for a hundred of God’s prophets (18:4). Moreover, there were seven thousand faithful Israelites who had not bowed the knee to Baal, any one of whom would have doubtless deemed himself highly honored to have sustained so eminent a one as Elijah. But God preferred to make use of fowls of the air. Why? Was it not so as to give both the Tishbite and us a signal proof of His absolute command over all creatures, and thereby of His worthiness to be trusted in the greatest extremities? And what is the more striking is this: that Elijah was better fed than the prophets who were sustained by Obadiah, for they had only "bread and water" (18:4), whereas Elijah had meat also.
Though God may not employ literal ravens in ministering unto His needy servants and people today, yet He often works just as definitely and wondrously in disposing the selfish, the covetous, the hard-hearted, and the grossly immoral to render assistance to His own. He can and often does induce them, contrary to their natural dispositions and miserly habits, to deal kindly and liberally in ministering to our necessities. He has the hearts of all in His hand and turneth them withersoever He will (Prov. 21:1). What thanks are due unto the Lord for sending His provisions by such instruments! We doubt not that quite a number of our readers could bear similar testimony to that of the present writer when he says: How often in the past did God in the most unlooked-for-manner provide for our necessities: we had as soon expected ravens to bring us food as that we should receive from those who actually bestowed it.
"And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening." Observe, no vegetables, fruit, or sweets are mentioned. There were no luxuries, but simply the bare necessities. "Having food and raiment let us be therewith content," (1 Tim. 6:8). but are we? Alas, how little of this godly contentment is now seen, even among the Lord’s people. How many of them set their hearts upon the things which the godless make idols of. Why are our young people dissatisfied with the standard of comfort which sufficed their parents? Self must be denied if we are to show ourselves followers of Him who had not where to lay His head.
"And he drank of the brook" (v. 6). Let us not overlook this clause, for no detail in Scripture is meaningless. Water in the brook was as truly and as definitely a provision of God’s as the bread and meat which the ravens brought. Has not the Holy Spirit recorded this detail for the purpose of teaching us that the common mercies of providence (as we term them) are also the gift of God. If we have been supplied with what is needful to sustain our bodies, then gratitude and acknowledgment are due to our God. And yet how many there are, even among professing Christians, who sit down to their meals without first asking God’s blessing, and rising up therefrom without thanking Him for what they had had. In this matter, too, Christ has left us an example, for on the occasion of His feeding the multitude, we are told that "Jesus took the loaves; and when He had given thanks, He distributed to the disciples" (John 6:11). Then let us not fail to do the same.
"And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land" (v. 7). Weigh attentively these five words: "And it came to pass." They mean far more than that it merely happened: they signify that the Divine decree concerning the same was now fulfilled. "It came to pass" in the good providence of God, who orders all things after the counsel of His own will, and without whose personal permission nothing occurs, not even the falling of a sparrow to the ground (Matthew 10:29). How this should comfort the children of God and assure them of their security. There is no such thing as chance with reference to God—wherever this term occurs in the Bible it is always in connection with man, referring to something taking place without his design. Everything which occurs in this world is just as God ordained from the beginning (Acts 2:23). Endeavour to recall that fact, dear reader, the next time you are in difficulty and distress. If you are one of God’s people He has provided for every contingency in His "Everlasting covenant" and His mercies are "sure" (2 Sam. 23:5; Isa. 55:3).
"And after a while" or (margin) "at the end of days." By this expression Lightfoot understood "after a year," which is frequently the sense of that phrase in Scripture. However this may be, after an interval of some duration the brook dried up. Krummacher declares that the very name Cherith denotes "drought," as though it usually dried up more quickly than any other brook. Most probably it was a mountain stream, which flowed down a narrow ravine. Water was supplied it by the way of nature or ordinary providence, but the course of nature was now altered. The purpose of God was accomplished and the time of the prophet’s departure unto another hiding place had arrived. The drying up of the brook was a forceful reminder to Elijah of the transitoriness of everything mundane. "The fashion of this world passeth away" (1 Cor. 7:31), and therefore "here have we no continuing city" (Heb. 13:14). Change and decay is stamped upon everything down here: there is nothing stable under the sun. We should therefore be prepared for sudden changes in our circumstances.
The ravens, as heretofore, brought the prophet flesh and bread to eat each morning and evening, but he could not subsist without water. But why should not God supply the water in a miraculous way, as He did the food? Most certainly He could have done so. He could have brought water out of the rock, as He did for Israel, and for Samson out of a jawbone (Judges 15:18, 19). Yes, but the Lord is not confined to any one method, but has a variety of ways in brining the same end to pass. God sometimes works one way and sometimes another, employing this means today and that tomorrow, in accomplishing His counsels. God is sovereign and acts not according to rule and rote. He ever acts according to His own good pleasure, and this He does in order to display His all-sufficiency, to exhibit His manifold wisdom, and to demonstrate the greatness of His power. God is not tied and if He closes one door He can easily open another.
"That the brook dried up." Cherith would not flow for ever, no, not even for the prophet. Elijah himself must be made to feel the awfulness of that calamity which he had announced. Ah, my reader, it is no uncommon thing for God to suffer His own dear children to become enwrapped in the common calamities of offenders. True, He makes a real difference both in the use and the issue of their stripes, but not so in the infliction of them. We are living in a world which is under the curse of a Holy God, and therefore "man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward." Nor is there any escape from trouble so long as we are left in this scene. God’s own people, though the objects of the everlasting love, are not exempted, for "many are the afflictions of the righteous." Why? For various reasons and with various designs: one of them being to wean our hearts from things below and cause us to set our affection on things above.
"The brook dried up." To outward appearance that would have seemed a real misfortune, to carnal reason and actual calamity. Let us endeavour to visualize Elijah there at Cherith. The drought was everywhere, the famine throughout the whole land: and now his own brook began to dry up. Day by day its waters gradually lessened unto soon there was barely a trickle, and then it entirely ceased. Had he grown increasingly anxious and gloomy? Did he say, What shall I do? Must I stay here and perish? Has God forgotten me? Did I take a wrong step, and after all, in coming here? It all depended upon how steadily his faith remained in exercise. If faith was active, then he admired the goodness of God in causing that supply of water to last so long. How much better for our souls, if instead of mourning over our losses, we praise God for continuing His mercies to us so long—especially when we bear in mind they are only lent to us, and that we deserve not the least of them.
Though dwelling in the place of God’s appointing, yet Elijah is not exempted from those deep exercises of soul which are ever the necessary discipline of a life of faith. True, the ravens had, in obedience to the Divine command, paid him their daily visits, supplying him with food morning and evening, and the brook had flowed on its tranquil course. But faith must be tested—and developed. The servant of God must not settle down on his lees, but pass from form to form in the school of the Lord; and having learned (through grace) the difficult lessons of one, he must now go forward to grapple with others yet more difficult. Perhaps the reader may now be facing the drying brook of popularity, of failing health, of diminishing business, of decreasing friendships. Ah, a drying brook is a real trouble.
Why does God suffer the brook to dry up? To teach us to trust in Himself, and not in His gifts. As a general rule He does not for long provide for His people in the same way and by the same means, lest they should rest in them and expect help from them. Sooner or later God shows us how dependent we are upon Himself even for supplies of every-day mercies. But the heart of the prophet must be tested, to show whether his trust was in Cherith or in the living God. So it is in His dealings with us. How often we think we are trusting in the Lord, when really we are resting on comfortable circumstances; and when they become uncomfortable, how much faith have we?