And then this happened: Elijah the Tishbite, from among the settlers of Gilead, confronted Ahab:
“As surely as God lives, the God of Israel before whom I stand in obedient service,
the next years are going to see a total drought –
not a drop of dew or rain unless I say otherwise.”
God then told Elijah, “Get out of here, and fast.
Head east and hide out at the Kerith Ravine on the other side of the Jordan River.
You can drink fresh water from the brook; I’ve ordered the ravens to feed you.”
Elijah obeyed God’s orders.
He went and camped in the Kerith canyon on the other side of the Jordan.
And sure enough, ravens brought him his meals, both breakfast and supper, and he drank from the brook.
Eventually the brook dried up because of the drought.
(1 Kings 17:1-7)
I heard a friend preach on this passage recently, and it’s stuck with me for months.
We’re introduced to two characters here: Ahab and Elijah. Ahab is in a competition with his deceased but equally evil father, King Omri, for the title of Worst King Ever. He doesn’t care for his people, worships false gods, and married a foreign queen in order to secure more power for himself. He’s part of a long line of really terrible rulers of Israel.
The other character here is Elijah, which is translated to “the one true God”. He’s a Tishbite, which to ancient people would have been like saying he was from an “underserved population”.
Can you see the power dynamic at play here?
So Elijah seemingly comes out of nowhere and calls out Ahab–the most powerful man in the land–about his evil-doing. He tells Ahab that there will be a devastating drought unless Ahab begins changing his evil ways. And then Elijah does what I think any of us would do in a similar situation: he hides.
The text tells us that God tells Elijah to head to a ravine where there will be some water to sustain him. And then he tells Elijah that the ravens will bring him food–croaking, carrion-eating, creepy ravens.
Elijah does as God says and he survives. And as God promised, the ravens brought him food. Elijah goes on to do some pretty amazing things. But I want to back up and talk about a point that my friend made about the text that has really stuck with me. He said that we, the church, are the ravens. And I think it’s a pretty solid metaphor: we are called to help support prophets bringing God’s message to the masses. We are called to show God’s love and grace. But like ravens, we are noisy and dangerous predators (even among our own). Thankfully, like the ravens, we are clever and resourceful.
So I did some research about ravens. Here’s the most fascinating thing I read from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:
“[Ravens] also use their intellect to put together cause and effect. A study in Wyoming discovered that during hunting season, the sound of a gunshot draws ravens in to investigate a presumed carcass, whereas the birds ignore sounds that are just as loud but harmless, such as an air horn or a car door slamming.”
So ravens can distinguish sounds and know how to react to them. Do we, as the church, exercise such good judgment? When we see someone in need, do we react with appropriate compassion or do we jump to conclusions about what poor choices that person must have made to get into such a situation? Do we run toward the hurt knowing there’s a person who needs us, or do we stay away because we’re uncomfortable? What would the ravens do?
When we see other Christians behaving badly, do we stay silent? Do we jump in and pile on? Do we humbly work to be the hands and feet of Jesus? What would the ravens do?
And when we’re faced with the very loud and desperate cries of our hurting planet, do we react appropriately? Do we change our behaviors and try to be better stewards of God’s awesome creation, or do we instead try to debunk the messengers and the scientists?
What would the ravens do?
Insight and inspiration:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being in one spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4)
Who are the ravens in your life who help sustain you? How are you a raven for someone else?