Elijah the Outlaw

A Lesson in Accepting God’s Provision

1 And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word. 2 And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, 3 Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. 4 And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there.

5 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. 6 And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook. 7 And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land.

8 And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, 9 Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee. 10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering of sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink. 11 And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand. 12 And she said, As the LORD thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.

13 And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son. 14 For thus saith the LORD God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth. 15 And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days. 16 And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Elijah. (1 Kings 17:1-16)

Background

The appearance of Elijah marks a low point in the history of Israel, and particularly the Northern Kingdom. In the year 3142 A.M. Jeroboam had been given the rule over ten of the tribes for the sin of Solomon, leaving only Judah, with a few Benjamite cities to the Davidic king, Rehoboam. Jeroboam showed his appreciation to the God Who had made him king over the greater part of the Lord’s people by setting up golden calves in the north and in the south of his territory, with a bastardized hireling priesthood in the place of the sons of Aaron and Levi, to prevent the people from worshiping Jehovah according to the Mosaic institution at Jerusalem. He was afraid that he would lose his hold over them if they remained on friendly terms with Judah. By these actions he earned the title of “Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin”, a title used 9 times in the books of Kings.

Now in 3165 A.M., after 22 years, the dynasty of Jeroboam had been deservedly extinguished, and a series of conspiracies and usurpations (7 kings in just 36 years) had at length left the Northern kingdom in the hands of Ahab and his Sidonian wife Jezebel, who were not only idolaters, as Jeroboam had been, but worshipers of Baal. Of King Ahab we read:

And in the thirty and eighth year of Asa king of Judah began Ahab the son of Omri to reign over Israel: and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty and two years. And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD above all that were before him. And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him. And he reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. And Ahab made a grove; and Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him.” (1 Kings 16:29-33)

God’s servant Elijah, the preeminent Prophet of Israel suddenly bursts on the scene with his announcement that Israel will be chastised with severe drought until they repent of their idolatries. He then prudently goes into hiding, with the promise that God will provide for him in a most unusual way:

“And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, 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 feed thee there.”

He will have to wait patiently for his meals, which will come to him in small pieces, one at a time. And so it happens!  He remains at the brook until it dries up. Then God calls him to Zarephath, to the house of a poor widow, whose already slender resources have almost run out! What a strange way God has of dealing with his faithful servant!

But consider – Elijah was a wanted man — an outlaw.   In 1 Kings 18:10 Obadiah tells Elijah,

As the LORD thy God liveth, there is no nation or kingdom, whither my lord hath not sent to seek thee: and when they said, He is not there; he took an oath of the kingdom and nation, that they found thee not” (1 Kings 18:10).

Ahab and Jezebel were serious. If Elijah had gone to some place where food and water were abundant, he would have been easily found and caught. And if he had gone to some poor place and lived too comfortably among them, he would have drawn attention to himself. One of the best ways to outwit an opponent is to do the unexpected. Ahab never found Elijah, despite great effort, until he wanted to be found. Furthermore, Elijah’s exposure to betrayal was held at a bare minimum by his isolation. The fewer dealings he had with people – the better.

Some Implications

In the meantime, Elijah was forced to live by patient waiting on God for his daily bread. This is a spiritual discipline that is both essential and rewarding, but it is not easy, let alone fun. We would all prefer to have a little more than we need today (well, actually, a lot more) just enough, so that every unplanned expense does not threaten to sink our boat. We like to have a little more income than outgo. We want to be able to find security in the present possession of things; rather than the mere promises of an invisible giver. We do not naturally want to live by faith, do we?

Four temptations of persons in a low condition

1. The text illustrates the fact that, when it pleases God to place us in such a dependent condition, we are not to infer that he is displeased with us. Elijah was a choice servant of Jehovah, greatly beloved of Him. He is the only man besides Enoch that was taken to heaven without dying! God was not peeved with Elijah’s imperfections; nor was he chastising him for some particular failure. He had just honored Elijah with a dangerous and difficult commission, and there was probably no one else capable of performing it like Elijah. Perhaps this time of destitution was meant to keep him humble, as a counterbalance to the honor that was laid upon him. He would have been very wrong to take it as a sign that God was not with him. We must never let ourselves give in to this temptation.

2. Another temptation is to become dejected because we are afraid that others will think that we are poor because we deserve to be. We may even begin to think that they might be right. Yes, there will be some who sit in the pews that will be tempted to look down on their poorer brothers, just because they are poor. But God’s opinion of us is not to be discerned in this way! And His opinion is what matters – more than the judgment of the whole world! If we are walking with Him day by day, living by trust in His Word, keeping His commandments, loving our neighbor and our brother – it matters not that we are poor and afflicted. Remember the word of James, “Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?” (James 2:5).

3. Another temptation of the poor is not limited to them, but comes to all who feel that their lot is not appropriate to their deservings. The self-righteous and proud man will find his heart rising against God when he considers what others have, and enjoy, and can do, that he cannot. “Why, I am as good a man as they, and better! Why should I be treated thus?” Elijah may have faced this temptation; for he was better than most, and you may be too. The righteous is more excellent than his neighbor. But what an ugly sin is the sin of discontent, for it is rebellion against the Loving Father!

4. There is another temptation to which we are exposed when we are poor in earthly resources: it is to seek to better our condition by disobedience. This can take many forms. It can be as blatant as stealing, or as subtle as flattery, or it may be by sly office politics. It may just be a growing conformity to and friendship with the world, in order to obtain its acceptance, and the benefits that can bring us. Many men betray the cause that they have espoused when they see that it brings them no gain. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.

The fundamental issue in every test

It is the will of our Lord that we be tested while we are in the world. The question is, will we love God for His own sake or no? The very first test was of this nature: Would Adam and Eve abide by and honor God’s prohibition of the tree just because it was God’s prohibition, or would they abandon Him for the sake of an imagined gain? All our tests have this element. We give in many times in the course of our lives; but we repent and return to God each time. If ever we should be overmastered by the love of the world, then we are in a place of grave danger:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” (1 John 2:15-17)

Let us then be content to let God provide for us as much or as little as He sees fit; when, where, and in the way, that pleases Him. We can pray for the easing of our affliction, and for the removal of it; and we ought to. But whatever condition we are in, even if we are miserable in it, has been ordained by the Lord; and until He is pleased to deliver us, it is our duty and privilege to patiently bear it and to trust Him. He did not forsake Elijah, and we can be sure that He will never disappoint us.  “And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail…”

Howard Douglas King,  September 1, 2015