ELIJAH: The Testing By The Brook - Part 1


The churches of Christ Greet You (Romans 16:16)



Text: 1 Kings 17:1-7




One of the new terms of our day is "virtual reality." We live in a day and time filled with imaginary stories, characters and scenes. These transport us into unreality, a world of make believe, even a world of science fiction that catapults us into another world. Now with modern science, we can experience virtual reality; that which truly seems real, but isn't. However, when we turn to the Word of God, we are brought face‑to‑face with reality. Contrary to what the skeptics say, Scripture is not myth or cleverly devised tales. Nor is it some kind of virtual reality, but true reality ‑ realities that teach us about the living God and about fallen mankind living in a fallen world.


Nowhere is reality more clear than in the book of the preacher of wisdom, Ecclesiastes. Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes, was a man who had everything. Indeed, he had everything in luxurious abundance. You will find no imaginary character in the book of Ecclesiastes ‑ not one. Instead, Solomon gives us inspired truth about what life is like on planet earth. He shows us what life is like under the sun: it is like chasing after wind, a phrase found eight times in this book. What is life under the sun? It is life without the dimension of God, life that fails to go beyond the sun into the heavenlies, into the realities of God's revelation. When you add the conditions of a society like Elijah faced, or like we face today, then the feelings of futility, pain, frustration, troubled hearts, dashed expectations, the sense of chasing the wind is magnified many times over.


Are you sufficiently depressed now? We truly hope so, because this is one of the key themes of Scripture. God has designed it this way in a world that has fallen into sin, particularly, the sin of seeking to live life and find meaning in life without God. Truly, our hope in Christ, like a brilliant diamond, needs the stark, black backdrop of the utter futility of life under the sun to show us our need and drive us to our knees. Surely, the word of the Lord that came to Elijah, "go hide yourself," desperately needs to be heard by every one of us.


The Communication


"And the word of the LORD came unto him saying" (1 Kings 17:2). To be more accurate with the Hebrew text, the word "and," is better rendered with "then" or by "thereupon" to show the idea of temporal or logical sequence. The communication from the Lord came after Elijah's faithfulness and obedience (vs. 1). This illustrates that, having ears to hear, obedience and application of the truth we know, lead to greater capacity for more insight into God's truth and sensitivity to God's direction in one's life. Obeying the revelation he had and being a man who spent time alone with God, he was prepared for more. In other words, he had ears to hear and to obey the commands of God even though he might not understand the nature of those commands. He was not conducting little debates with God.


By contrast, disobedience to the truth has the opposite effect. It hardens our hearts and closes our ears, killing our capacity to hear and respond to the work and ministry God wants to call us to (cf. Mark 6:52; Heb. 3:7‑15; 5:11; Ps. 40:6‑7). People often complain about how hard it is to know God's leading. The problem is not God's leading ‑ He is always ready to lead us. The problem is our listening, and too often our listening is colored by false expectations and selfish motives. We want the Lord to answer in our way. We want God's blessing on our will rather than seeking His will. We tend to make up our list of what we would like to do with our lives, even as it pertains to serving the Lord. We then present that to the Lord for His approval.


What the Lord would now tell Elijah was most likely contrary to what he was expecting. After all was he not a prophet, and had he not come to proclaim the Word to Israel? He was there to serve, preach, perform miracles, and to be active for the Lord ‑ right? But please note that the Lord didn't tell Elijah to do any of these things. In view of this, the command that follows is very interesting and illuminating. It reveals one of the great insights and priorities of the Word, one that busy, self‑sufficient, workaholic people that have been bitten by the bug of activism and/or materialism have a hard time grasping.


The Command: Retreat, Conceal Yourself


"Go away from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is before (or east of) the Jordan" (1 Kings 17:3). The "brook Cherith" was one of the many waddies or ravines that emptied its waters into the Jordan from the mountains to the east. Elijah was commanded to depart from Samaria, to turn eastward across the Jordan, and to hide there.


Remember, names in Scripture are significant and often shed additional light on a passage. "Cherith" is the Hebrew kerith that means "a cutting;" a place cut by some type of catastrophe like an earthquake, or more likely, by years of water flowing down from the hills to the Jordan. There were many brooks in this area to which Elijah could have been sent, but only one that was called by this name. We might note that the Hebrew kerithuth means "a cutting" and was used of divorce, of the cutting of matrimonial bonds.


Why is Elijah sent to the place of cutting? Some think for protection from Ahab. Perhaps that was part of it but it was not the primary reason because later God sent Elijah to face the king and the king made no attempt to slay him (1 Kings 18:17‑20). More likely the reason was seclusion, concealment. The Hebrew word for "hide" is satar that means "to hide, conceal, cover." In the Hebrew text it is a reflexive stem and refers to what one does to and for himself. So it means "to hide, conceal yourself." It refers to a deliberate and decisive choice in obedience to God's command.


A main idea of the verb is "to be absent, out of sight." Literally it means "absent yourself." The noun form, seter, is used of the womb as a secret place, a place of shelter (Ps. 139:15). Finally, the verb form is used in relation to God's presence as the omniscient One who becomes a hiding place, a shelter for His people. Psalm 17:8 says, "Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide (satar) me in the shadow of Thy wings." Psalm 31:20 says, "Thou dost hide (satar) them in the secret (seter) place of Thy presence from the conspiracies of man; Thou dost keep them secretly in a shelter from the strife of tongues."


The Challenges or Tests


There are at least four tests in 1 Kings 17:2‑7. The first test comes out of the command to go and hide himself, and in the reasons for this command. It is the test of God's guidance (1 Kings 17:2‑3). The testing concerned with God's guidance is seen in the command for Elijah to leave and hide by the brook east of Jordan. As the Lord works providentially and sovereignty in our lives, we are nearly always faced with a number of tests that challenge our faith, obedience, love for God, our values and priorities, and demonstrate just how real God is to us. What are some of these tests? We can divide them into three aspects: 1. The test related to our need of guidance, 2. The mystery of God's guidance, and 3. The perplexity of His guidance.


Our Need of God's Guidance!


We all must recognize how desperately we need the revelation and direction of the living God. After Elijah gave his message, he needed God's guidance to know what to do next. What is God's plan? What is my need at the moment? Man's tendency is to direct his own way, but Scripture firmly warns us against that: "I know, O LORD, that a man's way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps" (Jer. 10:23). "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Prov. 14:12). ‘“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,' declares the LORD. 'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts'" (Isaiah 55:8‑9). James addresses this in his epistle, James 4:13‑16 (READ).


For us to strike out on any venture or task without seeking God's direction is arrogant independence. It is acting as though we can direct our own way. The test is simply this: Do we recognize our need and prayerfully and studiously seek God's guidance? Do we wait on the Lord? This first test of God's guidance is a test of our basic orientation and attitude toward life. Will we follow the command of Proverbs 3:5‑6? Or will we turn to our own strategies? (cf. Isa. 50:10‑11; Jer. 2:12‑13). Do we hunger for God's Word because we understand our need? Or are we “proudly” confident in our own resources? (Isa. 66:2b).


One of the questions Elijah faced as the Lord revealed His will to him was "why does God want me to go and hide?" In answer to that question, the prophet faced two issues - one relating to the nation and one for himself. For the nation it was a judgment. God was removing His instrument of the Word from their midst, at least for the time being, until their hearts could be prepared by the suffering that would follow (cf. Ps. 74:1‑11, especially verse 9, also cf. Luke 4:21‑29). When there is no response to His Word, God eventually removes his human messengers, turns people over to their own devices, and replaces the messengers of the Word with His instruments of discipline (cf. Amos. 8:11‑14). For Elijah, however, this time by the brook was surely designed to maintain his inner life with God and to further prepare him for the testings and the ministry that would follow. It would become a place of testing but also of spiritual growth.


There are at least two reasons why God's people need this time alone. First, we need, as Elijah did, SECLUSION. We need time alone, away from the hustle and bustle and the comings and goings of the rest of the society, even from our own ministries to family, church, and friends. One of the great commands of Scripture is "Cease striving (be still, KJV) and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). How many of us truly hear the inaudible or see the invisible realities of God? What does it mean to have “ears to hear”? You see, there is no life in any one of those coins, nor can they buy happiness even if you have millions. The only way we find true satisfaction or meaning in life is to hear the invisible, inaudible voice of the living God, the Lord Jesus, through developing our capacity to hear and see Him by spending time alone with Him.


Application: Spiritually speaking, God has designed our time alone with Him (a place where we can feed on His Word and think on the Lord) to be a kerith to us, a place of cutting, a place where God can chisel away on our character and cut the world out of our hearts. It enables us to divorce ourselves from the world and its pulls. Without it we become married to the world. We need this time alone that we might draw upon our resources in the Lord, His Word and prayer for a life of faith.


Point: We are to get alone with God, first to just know and love Him, to develop our dependence on Him, and then to bring order and strength to our inner life. We are to do this to bring God's control over every area of our lives: our motivations, what moves us, the things that pull us to conform or to compete, our perspective of life, why we are here and what are we seeking, our priorities and values, the use of our time, talents, treasures, and truth, and our thought processes (2 Cor. 10:4‑5). Getting alone with God is not optional. If we want true spiritual success it is fundamental. It's a key part of God's plan by which our lives are first strengthened by the underground spiritual streams of life in Christ and then changed and cut into the ravine that God wants to use to make us a channel for pouring out the blessings of the Savior on others.


Here is the key to power or weakness. While this has varied from age to age, one of the battle grounds of life (especially of this age and of this country) is the inner, private world of the individual and his need to slow down and hide himself alone with his God. It is here that we either experience the power of God or the defeat of Satan and his world system. Our Lord Himself was the perfect illustration of this and He sought to impress this upon His disciples early in their education.


Compare two passages. First, note the priority the Savior put on having time alone with His heavenly Father in the midst of a very busy schedule and how this directed his actions and objectives (Mark 1:29‑38). Second, in Mark 3:13‑15 when the Lord called the disciples, His call or appointment consisted of three objectives: that they might be with Him (fellowship), that He might send them out to preach (service or ministry), and that they might have authority to cast out demons (victory over the enemy). The first, time alone and in the presence of the Savior, was certainly primary and fundamental to the others.


Another reason for Elijah's time alone was PROTECTION. Protection from what? Ahab? No! It was protection from himself, from things like a disordered inner life, spiritual defeat, being fat‑headed over accomplishments, selfish living, a spirit of demandingness, from operating by his own strategies or wisdom, from fear, from insensitivity to people and to the Lord. Hiding ourselves becomes a protection against burn‑out, against lives of futility, against living to please people rather than God, and from becoming preoccupied with this world rather than with our God and what we have in the Lord.


This is not a call to monasticism. Hiding ourselves does not mean that we will not be available for Christian service and ministry. If we are truly spending quality time in getting to know our Lord, it will mean special sensitivity to the very things God wants us to do, but it will be accompanied by a growing willingness to serve with the power of God in the ministry God gives. Furthermore, we will certainly be more apt to serve from biblical motives rather than the neurotic motivations of self‑centered living or from a misplaced sense of responsibility. Again, compare the Mark 1 passage. Peter, and those with him, sought to put a guilt trip on the Lord because of the demands of the people, but from His time spent alone with the Father, He knew what He was to do and he moved out in faith, trusting in the guidance of His Heavenly Father.


Let's look at some verses where satar is used. Remember, this word means "to hide." We found this not only interesting, but a challenge to our own spiritual life. In Deuteronomy 29:29 it is used of "the secret things (lit. The things hidden) which belong to the Lord." Some things God simply has not revealed about Himself and His plan. Much has been revealed, however, and we need time from the hustle and bustle of life to focus our lives on the Lord. In Psalm 119:18-19 the Psalmist prays for illumination that the Word might not be hidden but clearly understood. Through time alone with God, the Psalmist prays concerning the manifestation of God's presence (143:7‑8). It is a request for the manifestation of God's guidance, provision, and protection that he might know the sustaining power of God within and without.


Questions: (1) What causes God to hide His presence from our spiritual sight? (2) Why do we lose sight of God's presence when He has so forcefully promised never to leave nor to forsake us? (3) Why do we sometimes fail to experience the sustaining grace of His presence, strength and support so that we do not burn out, blow up, fall away, or deviate from a productive walk of faith with the Lord?


Answers: (1) Because we fail to hide ourselves in His presence to draw upon His life, to evaluate and reorder our inner life according to the principles and promises of the Word (cf. Ps. 119:30, 105, 130, 147‑148; 4:4; 5:3 with Ps. 119:23, 49‑52; and 143:4‑6 with verses 7‑8). (2) Another reason is because of unconfessed sin. We act as though God does not know nor care about what we do and we ignore our sins (Isa. 29:15; 40:27; Jer. 16:17; 23:24; cf. Isa. 59:1 with verses 2 and 9; and Ps. 32:1‑6 with verse 7). (3) Still another reason is because we seek refuge in the strategies or resources of our own making rather than in the Lord.


Isaiah 28:15 reads, "Because you have said, 'We have made a covenant with death, And with Sheol we have made a pact. The overwhelming scourge will not reach us when it passes by; for we have made falsehood our refuge and we have concealed ourselves with deception.'"


Principle: When people fail to hide themselves with Him, they fail to hide themselves in Him. So the Lord turns them over to their own resources and to their own pitiful ways. They fall apart, burn out, become vexed, frustrated, and they fail - with their children, in their marriages, in their sowing, in their ministry, or in their relationships with others.


Application: Scripture commands, "go hide, conceal, or absent yourself." And this is God's desire for all of us today. We need time alone with our God to hide ourselves in Him and His presence that we might reorder and strengthen our inner lives for a walk of faith. We live in an extremely busy world, a world where many are compulsive and neurotic activists or workaholics. All around us voices are clamoring for our attention, time, and service. Have you noticed that you can't even be put on hold when using the phone without some form of noise intruding on your silence?


One of the voices asking for our attention is the Lord's and in essence He is saying, "come apart, hide yourself, get alone with Me, be still, cease striving and know that I am the Lord." He is saying, "if anyone has ears to hear, let him hear because I am there and I have spoken."


For the church of Jesus Christ, the Scripture directs us two basic ways by which we hide ourselves in the Lord to hear his voice. First, there is what we might call The Dailies. This is scheduled time for reading, study, meditation, and prayer; but the dailies include moment‑ by‑moment trust wherein we pray without ceasing and seek to relate to and rest our lives on the Lord (Heb. 3:7, but also remember Ps. 5:3; 1 Thess. 5:17, 2 Cor. 5:8). Then there are The Weeklies - the times when we stop our regular routines and come together as members of the body of Christ (Heb. 10:23‑25).


In the final analysis it is not what you hear from the pulpit, a tape, or read in a book. It's what you hear from the Lord; it's what really gets through to you and to me as a word from God. So the Psalmist prayed, "Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy Law" (Ps. 119:18). Seeking God's guidance is not only a test of our basic orientation in life, but it tests our faith in other ways.


The Mystery of God's Guidance!


What God told Elijah to do was no mystery. God's directions to Elijah were clear, just as the basic principles of God's moral will in Scripture are for us. But what God is doing in our lives from the standpoint of why certain things are happening is generally very mysterious.


God's guidance usually comes to us one step at a time, which goes contrary to human nature. We want AAA service with an itinerary complete with a marked road map and confirmed reservations at the beginning. We want to know where, when, how long, and why. "God, give me all the details, NOW!" But to follow the Lord we must learn to simply rest the details of the present and the future to Him. For the most part, God's plan is one day at a time, i.e., "give us this day our daily bread." But someone may ask, "shouldn't we make plans and set goals?" Yes, but it is helpful to remember two important passages in Proverbs as we do. (1) "The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue (their execution) is from the Lord" (Prov. 16:1). (2) "The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs (The Hebrew word kun, "establishes, orders aright, provides for, furnishes [cf. vs. 12]) his steps” (Prov. 16:9).  “Steps” is figurative of the course of one's life. This means the Lord not only has the last word, but He always has the wisest word or plan. It also means He is working to enable, build, transform, and furnish what is needed to fulfill his purposes in and through us (cf. Jer. 10:23 and Ps. 119:133 which also use the Hebrew word, kun).


Proverbs 16:3‑4 and 3:5‑6 give us further instruction. We are to trust, commit, rest in God's perfect wisdom, loving care, sovereign activity and power, purposes, and plan for each of us regardless of the mysteries of God's will or how things look to us. Of course, crucial to this is knowing the Scripture that reveals the basics of God's will. But even then there will be much that will be mysterious. Along this line, and closely connected, comes the third test that we face in God's guidance.


The Perplexity of God's Plan!


Sometimes, God's plan simply doesn't seem to make sense to us. Think about this in terms of God's command to Elijah. Elijah was a prophet with the Word, living in times of national decay when people desperately needed to hear the Word. As today, there was so much to be done and so few to do the work. But God did not tell him to go and preach. He told him to go hide by an insignificant brook located east of the Jordan, outside the land of promise, the place of blessing for Israelites. And, as if that were not enough, God would later send Elijah to a poor Gentile widow to provide for his needs.


When God's will is perplexing, the test comes in how we respond. Will we respond in a childlike trust and obedience that rests in what the Lord is doing, or will we become demanding and question the Lord's goodness? (Prov. 3:5‑6). While God does not speak to us as He did with Elijah, who as a prophet received direct revelation from the Lord, He does speak to us through the Scripture and, in a certain sense, through the events and circumstances of life. Knowing that, we need to remember that nothing happens in our lives apart from His sovereign and providential activity that always include the promise of His presence, supply, and purpose.


Illustration: The following story is told of the unusual circumstances under which William Cowper wrote the hymn, "God Moves in a Mysterious Way." Cowper was a believer, but he had sunk to the depths of despair. One foggy night he called for a carriage and asked to be taken to the London Bridge on the Thames River. He was so overcome by depression that he intended to commit suicide. But after two hours of driving through the mist, Cowper's coachman reluctantly confessed that he was lost. Disgusted by the delay, Cowper left the carriage and decided to find the London Bridge on foot. After walking only a short distance, though, he discovered that he was at his own doorstep! The carriage had been going in circles. Immediately he recognized the restraining hand of God in it all. Convicted by the Spirit, he realized that the way out of his troubles was to look to God, not to jump into the river. As he cast his burden on the Savior, his heart was comforted. With gratitude he sat down and penned these reassuring words: "God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform, He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm. O fearful saints, fresh courage take, the clouds you so much dread are big with mercy, and shall break in blessings on your head."


Difficult, trying, or unusual circumstances are a part of God's will, incorporated and orchestrated into the plan of God to accomplish His work in us, with us, or through us even when it is a product of our own rebellion and foolishness. There are a couple of key Scriptures that stress God's work in the affairs of our lives. This is part and parcel of God's leading and includes the tests of God's will.


Ephesians 1:11 ". . . also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will." Who works? God does. What does He work? All things. How does He work? After the counsel of His own will. "Working" stresses the fact of God's activity in the world; it points to His immanence. "Counsel" stresses God's omniscience and wisdom; it points to the deliberations and decisions of God based on His wisdom and understanding. "Will" stresses God's sovereign disposition and purpose; it points to His desire and sovereign choice based on His holy purposes and perfect knowledge and wisdom. "All things" points us to the extent of God's involvement and sovereign control. He is involved in everything, in every detail!


Principle: God is not in a state of indifference concerning our affairs. Rather, He is intimately involved and actively at work. Oh how we need to place this truth alongside all our affairs and learn to recognize them as tools and instruments of God in His gracious work in leading, pruning, and training us. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren” (NASB, Rom. 8:28-29).


He works together "all things." Again God's Word drives home the extent of His activity, even in our suffering. God is totally involved with the good and the bad, with what hurts and with what is pleasing, with what we understand and with what is often perplexing. What does God work? "He works all things together." The events of our lives, all of them, do not just happen at random; they are synchronized and utilized by God for a good purpose. None of the events of our lives are isolated from God's plan, they are orchestrated and integrated. They have a purpose, a divine design. Then, to what goal does God work? He works things together for good. Some of the individual events may not in themselves be good, but in the end, to the Christian who loves God and is sensitive to God's working, a good purpose is achieved, or can be if we will respond biblically - in faith (James 1:2‑4).


Illustration: Was it good that Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers? No, of course not, but let's not forget the words of Joseph in Genesis 50:19‑21. "But Joseph said to them, 'Do not be afraid, for am I in God's place? And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive."' (NASB)


For whom is God at work? Romans 8:28 adds "to those who love God." This does not mean that God only works things together in the life of a Christian who loves God. God is at work regardless of our spiritual condition. Rather, loving God is our subjective response that, knowing and believing that God is at work, enables us to respond to God's purpose in our affairs in childlike trust. What is God's final Goal? "According to His purpose" refers to God's overall goal or plan in conforming us to the image of His Son - Christlikeness (vs. 29). Remember Joseph's words in Genesis 50:19‑21? This is the perspective of devotion and trust.


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