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Following the Lord in obedience: A lesson from the life of the prophet Elijah

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(This is the 2nd post in an ongoing lesson-study from the life of the prophet Elijah.)

Following the Lord should always be joyous, regardless of our surroundings or situations. Although, while it should always be joyous, there may be times when God calls you to do something, or to go somewhere, where you could face potential hardship in the world, or hostility from the world—as God did with the prophet Elijah.

God called Elijah to some difficult and daunting stuff. First, God sent him to King Ahab to tell the king there would be no rain or dew in the land of Israel for the next several years. Why? Because the northern kingdom of Israel had forsaken the Lord’s commandments and given themselves over to unrestrained wickedness, atrocities, and idolatries.

That word from the Lord was pointed and painful. So, Elijah must’ve been somewhat trepid before speaking to the Ahad. After all, Ahab was the ruling king over the land, which gave him authority to have Elijah imprisoned or even put to death.

You can imagine several things likely crossed Elijah’s mind before he faced Ahab.

First, what would the king’s reaction be to this word from God? Would Ahab repent? Would he immediately plead for the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness? Or, would he simply disregard the word of God? 

Elijah also must’ve imagined what the king could do to him. For, if the word of the Lord didn’t humble the king, it would likely infuriate him. If so, would Elijah become the object of the king’s anger?

Further, even if the king didn’t take his anger out on Elijah, how would Elijah survive the drought? Even though Elijah was innocent, that drought on the land would affect him too.

Before Elijah proclaimed God’s word to Ahab, God hadn’t yet told Elijah what would come next.

Still, Elijah was obedient. Regardless of any fear or reservation, he did that thing God called him to, which was to speak God’s word to Ahab and Israel. He then waited and listened for the Lord to give him the next word—or “the next thing.”

Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah: “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordon. You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.” (1 Kings 17:2-4)

It was only after Elijah first did what the Lord told him, that the Lord “then” told him the next thing to do.

Elijah followed God step-by-step. He was faithful in doing the thing God called him to, and then listening to God for the next word, or the next thing, God would have him do. We see that many times in Elijah’s life. And, it exemplifies how we are called to follow God, step-by-step in obedience.

Too, Elijah tended not to procrastinate. He was man of earnest prayer, who fervently sought God’s face and God’s direction. Then, when he heard from God, he did what God called him to do, and went where God sent him.

Looking at the faithfulness and obedience of Elijah both teaches us and challenges us.

As followers of Christ, we are called to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7, NKJV). But that can be difficult. We may be reluctant if we don’t know “the whole picture” for what God is calling us to. We may procrastinate because we want to know the end from the beginning. Yet God calls us to follow Him step-by-step. And, He does know the end from the beginning, so we can trust Him!

Still, when God calls us to do something, we can begin to worry about possible consequences, or we can begin to fear the unknown. You know—maybe like what Elijah felt before he spoke the word of the Lord to Ahab.

The Lord calls us to be obedient in each step. Then, in taking that step, it may be in that place when God reveals the next thing.

That’s what the Lord did with Elijah. It was after Elijah spoke to Ahab, that the Lord said to, “Leave here, turn eastward and hide . . .”

Those words, “leave here,” in their imagery and implications, are really heart they-wrenching. Elijah was God’s most prominent and outspoken prophet of that day. So, when God sent Elijah across the Jordan, it was symbolic of God’s word being silenced among Israel for a time.

Israel was about to endure a time with neither rain or dew in the land. Yet, far worse than that, the northern kingdom would undergo a season of drought from hearing the word of the Lord.

The people had dismissed the One True God and had given themselves over to worship false gods, and they “entrusted” their care to their idols. So, the Lord gave them over to their “man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell” (Deut. 4:28).

Even so, although the people had turned from the Lord, the Lord did not abandon them. Rather, He graciously sent this drought—but only for a time and with purpose.

Graciously? Could a 3½ year drought be considered gracious? Yes! For, the people deserved much, much worse. But for the Lord’s love and grace . . .

During those years of drought, God first sent Elijah to go hide in the Kerith Ravine.

The word Kerith means “a cutting” or “separation.” By sending Elijah to the Kerith Ravine, it symbolized a “cutting off” of the Lord’s message from Ahab and the people of the northern kingdom of Israel. Too, the withdrawal of Elijah, the messenger, from the northern kingdom of Israel served to intensify the Lord’s chastening of the people.

Elijah was told to hide there, but it wasn’t because God couldn’t protect him! It was more like God telling Elijah to be patient, to wait upon Him, and to “hide” in Him.

When we “hide” in God, we are trusting and resting in Him. For, “You [Lord] are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. I [The Lord] will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I [the Lord] will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (Ps. 32:7-8).

Too, part of what it means to hide in the Lord, is waiting on the Lord. “Wait for the LORD: be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD” (Psalm 27:14). “Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

Though our circumstances may be sorrowful or stormy, there is tranquility in His presence. Though our pain may be profound; in the Lord, we can enjoy His comfort, love, and nurturing. Though life seeming confusing; in the Lord, there is direction and protection.

We are to wait on God’s direction, wait on His perfect timing, and wait on His empowerment. Furthermore, many times, we are called to wait because God is working on others. (Conversely, others may be waiting on the Lord while God is working on us.)

God’s primary purpose for sending the drought on the land of Israel was to discipline His people, with the purpose of breaking through their hardened hearts and calling them to repentance. While Elijah was waiting, the Lord was working on the hearts of the people of Israel.

Sadly, rather than render their hearts before God, people often only seek ways to appease God in hopes that He will rid their hurt.

That’s what Ahab intended to do when he searched for Elijah throughout those years of the drought (1 Kings 18:10). Ahab seems to have wanted to find Elijah and pretentiously offer some show of penitence to God—but only in hopes that God would put an end to the drought.

God isn’t looking for temporary remorse or fake contrition. True repentance changes a heart that in turn changes a life.

God chastened Israel with a drought to call them to repentance. And God called Elijah to go to the Kerith Ravine, which was a remote and seemingly desolate place. That “next thing” God called him to, could’ve been as daunting as the first thing God called him to do. And, God didn’t yet tell him how long he would stay there or what he was to do after that.

We need to remind ourselves, “Elijah was a human being, even as we are” (James 5:17). So, he could’ve looked upon this “next thing” either with reservation and reluctance, or with excitement and anticipation.

Properly, Elijah could’ve looked forward to this, as a wondrous time of living in dependance on, and fellowship with the heavenly Father. Conversely, if Elijah’s trust in the Lord fluctuated, Elijah could’ve looked upon this as a time of depravity, hardship, and survival in a lowly place.

The key to Elijah’s perspective rested upon the degree of Elijah’s trust in the Lord’s goodness, presence, faithfulness, and sovereignty. And, in the surety of God’s Word.

Likewise, the key to our obeidence rests largely upon our trust in the surety of God’s character and faithfulness; and in the surety of His Word.

Elijah put his hope in the Lord. For, it was the Lord who was Elijah’s caretaker. It was the Lord who supplied Elijah in the Kerith Ravine.

If Elijah succumbed to a mindset of being dependent on ravens to provide for him, he could’ve easily become worrisome and dejected. He didn’t. Instead, Elijah rightly depended on God!

God simply used ravens as vessels to deliver His provisions! Elijah, even in a desolate place and under seemingly dire circumstances, was cared for in a miraculous way.

When we find ourselves in a lonely place in our life, we can take joy in knowing we are never alone. Our God is with us always, and He is for us, not against us. We have this assurance, “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19 NKJV).

Elijah could’ve chosen to look at his circumstances—which would lead to worry. Or Elijah could’ve chosen to look upward and trusted in God—which would lead to worship.

If you habitually look to your own understanding and rely on your own strength; stressful or painful times can be discouraging or even overwhelming. Yet, in Christ, you are reminded to “trust in the LORD with all you heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). And, “set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:2-3).

When you fail to take God into account and take your eyes off of Him, you will invariably start to focus on the difficulties and dangers you face. Or, like Elijah did while he was in the Kerith Ravine, you can take confidence in knowing you are in the very place God placed you.

Instead of looking down or looking around, we ought to look up! Instead of focusing on problems, look to the Provider. Instead of seeing an obstacle as an unscalable rockface, seek the face of the Rock! For, “my flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:26).

When you faithfully serve God, what do you expect to see? You ought to expect wondrous and miraculous things!

In a peculiar place, under seemingly harsh circumstances, the Lord Most High commanded ravens to supply Elijah.

So he did what the LORD had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. (1 Kings 17:5-6)

God used ravens to serve Elijah, because Elijah was a man who served God. Wow!

That’s something only God can do. Yet, if we are honest, thoughts of ravens carrying bread and meat for Elijah can be a bit gross. For, ravens are scavenger birds that feed chiefly on carcasses of birds and animals.

Rather than think of ravens here as scavenger birds, it’s more appropriate to think of these ravens as servant birds. These ravens were used as servants of the King to carry provisions from the King’s table!

This about this. It was uncommon for most people in those days to eat meat daily—much less twice a day. That would’ve been more of a rarity in a period of drought. Yet, kings ate meat twice a day—and those close to the king who were served from the king’s table. We have accounts of that with King Saul, King David, King Soloman, and others.

But, you say, it was carried in the mouths or claws of ravens. Isn’t that nasty?

Again, what are our expectations from Almighty God? People are prone to envision God’s works by own their perceptions or within limited expectations. In God, we ought to expect the miraculous, better than we can imagine.

Elijah wasn’t simply surviving on some repulsive morsels. Rather, he was likely well fed and thriving on delicious portions.

If the Lord can use a donkey to talk sense to its rider who was acting foolishly (and He did, Num. 22:28-30); can He not use ravens to deliver the best of the land? If the Lord can take the worst of sinners and make them “white as snow,” should we doubt that He can make ravens as sanitary and sightly servants?

Another thing about those ravens, they served as continual affirmation to Elijah of God’s constant presence and provision.

God can take the common, and do the impossible. “Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare” (Ps. 40:5).

God’s work isn’t limited to physical possibilities. But, to an extent, it can be limited by our obedience.

What can He do in you, and with you if you allow Him? How much we miss by failing to submit to what and where He calls us to?

When Elijah did what the Lord told him, the Lord was true to His word and provided for Elijah!

Our God is Faithful and True! What a marvelous and wonderful heavenly Father; our Abba Father who watches over His children. While the king of Israel went about parched, though living in a palace; Elijah was miraculously provided for, though in a remote place.

In the Kerith Ravine, the Lord sustained (saved from death) Elijah by providing a brook of precious, refreshing water. The Bible says Elijah “drank from the brook.”

Elijah was  strengthened by bread and meat that were carried to him through the air by ravens. In essence, the bread came down from heaven.

Can you see imagery in this of Jesus’ provisions?

Jesus is the true source of salvation and eternal sustenance? Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51). And, “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water, I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

In Christ, though we might face trials or go through difficult times, which could be compared to an emotional or physical drought; in that, we still can lavish from that fountain of living water—a fountain of joy and satisfaction to our soul that will never run dry.

“How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light” (Ps. 36:7-9). “I cry to you, LORD: I say, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.’” (Ps. 142:5)

Elijah was providentially cared for in that remote place—until God would call him to his next place of ministry.

“Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the LORD came to him” (1 Kings 17:7-8).

Why did God allow that particular brook to dry up? Because it was God’s timing!

The brook flowed until it was time for Elijah to do “the next thing.” It was then that God spoke to Elijah and gave him the next word. And Elijah followed step-by-step in obedience to God’s word. Elijah went where God sent him, to do what God told him, and that, when God called him.

As Elijah did, the Lord calls us to be faithful in doing that “next thing” He calls us to. Understandably, we may have anxiety and doubts in going forward. But God is bigger than our fears and more powerful than our foes. We overcome fear with faith! We overcome doubts by first knowing God loves us; and from there, focusing on His majesty and trusting in His goodness.

We are to trust the Lord, our Savior, step-by-step, word-by-word.

When we faithfully do what He called us to, working and waiting in that place He last sent us; it’s there that we can expect to hear His “next thing” for us. And, that, in the timing He knows is perfect.

As we are faithful in whatever that may be, though it might be difficult, we can be sure it will ultimately be glorious and God will be gloried!

If you missed the 1st post in this ongoing study, you can find it here:
Elijah’s prophecy of a coming drought: A lesson for America from 1 Kings 17 

My next lesson in this series will from 1 Kings 17:9-16.
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