ELIJAH: The Testing By The Brook - Part 2
The churches of Christ Greet You (Romans )
Text: 1 Kings 17:1-7
When you think of
what comes to your mind? Probably the Prophet standing on
Before Elijah could
Because we live in a world of sin the trials of life will come. The Apostle Peter wrote: “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:6-7). Similarly James 1:2-4 says: "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."
What's the problem we face in suffering? We are often more interested in our comfort and pleasure than with genuine, spiritual growth and maturity. We want a carefree life rather than a life with character. We may think we are okay and mature enough just as we are, but the Lord knows better. We want maturity without the pain, but real growth requires pain.
Illustration: For instance, we may need to lose weight, but we want to do so without the pain of hunger, without the burning of tired muscles caused by exercise, and without the discomfort of changing our lifestyle or eating habits. As a result, people are often suckers for those advertisements that offer painless weight loss, like pills that burn away the fat while we sit on the sofa eating a bag of potato chips.
In this lesson, we turn to three more tests Elijah experienced by the brook. The test of God's promise and supply, the test of obedience, and the test of the dried up brook.
The Test of God's Promise and Supply (17:4)
In verse 4 God promised to supply Elijah's needs while by the brook. How gracious of the Lord! It is a wonderful truth to know He never sends us anywhere to do anything without His presence and provision. The promise of Scripture is always "my God shall supply all your need . . ." (Phil. ), but especially note Hebrews 13:5-6. "Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, 'I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,' so that we confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What shall man do to me?'"
As we think about God's provision, it is helpful to note that the supply God gives may be simple as here in Elijah's life, or lavish as experienced by Solomon. There may also be in that provision a test of one's faith - a test of devotion to the Lord and of confidence in who He is and in what He is doing. Is God the object of our devotion or is it in what He supplies? If simple, will we be content or will we complain or be envious of others? If lavish, will we remain loyal, or will we become devoted to the gifts rather than the Giver? Will we keep our values and priorities in line with loving the Lord and putting Him first?
Two elements to the promise to Elijah:
"You shall drink of the brook . . . " God chose to supply Elijah's needs through a brook, not a river, or a lake, or an artesian well. It was a brook that would dry up very soon and Elijah knew that. Why is God's provision sometimes just barely enough? And why does God's supply sometimes dry up? The Lord sent Elijah to a brook He knew would dry up, just as He sometimes allows our resources to dry up. God does this to remind us of a number of spiritual lessons like: True joy, meaning and significance in life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions (cf. Luke 12:15); "better is the little of the righteous than the abundance of many wicked" (Ps. 37:16); "better is a dish of vegetables where love is, than a fattened ox and hatred with it" (Prov. 15:17); "better is a little with righteousness than great income with injustice (Prov. 16:8); and "godliness with contentment is great (i.e., the greatest) gain" (1 Tim. 6:6). History is filled with stories that illustrate this.
Whatever our lot, God wants us to learn to be content in whatever state we are in by first learning to rest in Him by faith. Why? That we might experience God's sufficiency and learn that our greatest need is God (Phil. -13). We think it is interesting that in the above verses this "better is" concept is declared around a variety of the details of life people think they need for their happiness. Not only does Scripture warn against seeking our happiness, security, and significance in things like position, praise, applause, prestige, possessions, or pleasure, but God works providentially as here with Elijah to teach us that He alone is our security and true source of joy and peace (John 14:27). We are reminded of the words of the Psalmist: "as the deer pants (deeply longs) for the water brooks, so my soul pants for Thee, O God" (Ps. 42:1). He recognized that his greatest need was not things, not a changed environment, and not people. It was God (Ps. 42:11).
"…and I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there." First, again we see the principle of Philippians 4:19, "My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in Glory by Christ Jesus." Since God has already done the most for us when we were enemies and alienated from Him, how much more will He not do for us now that we are His children and have become the special objects of His love and grace (Rom. 5:6-9; 8:32).
Second, notice the two ways the Lord supplied Elijah's need. He provided through natural means, the brook, and supernatural means, the ravens. While the Lord does not work through the supernatural today (even in Old Testament times it was the exception), there is an important lesson here. He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think to meet our needs. He has promised to supply according to His riches in glory - that's an infinite supply (Eph. ).
Third, the ravens would bring bread and meat to Elijah. Bread is the Hebrew lechem that can refer to food in general and may well have included berries, fruits, nuts, and even eggs. Isn't this interesting? God could have rained bread from heaven or brought up quails as He did for the Israelites in the wilderness. Instead, He chose to feed Elijah through the ravens. Why ravens? What did this mean to Elijah? Elijah was a Jew and according to the Law the raven was an unclean bird, one of the species the Jew was not allowed to eat. Though he is not told to eat the ravens, still, God chose an unclean bird to feed Elijah. Why? Perhaps to remind him (and us of course) the Lord is sovereign and supreme and we need to learn to submit to the tools He chooses to use to mold us and to the methods He uses to supply our needs. Here God was nourishing Elijah's faith, building his confidence, and reminding him of who was in charge.
Principle: There are no limits to what the Lord can do and His tools are limitless.
Application: Are we willing to trust God's promises and provision no matter how contrary to our ideas His provision seems? He uses all kinds of instruments, all kinds of people, and all kinds of situations. Think about your problems - people, finances, health, family, job conditions, whatever. These are tools, agents of the Lord, like ravens sent to supply certain needs in our lives. So what is our need? Of course, our need is to trust the Lord, but how is that trust to manifest itself? Our need is to follow Solomon's council in Ecclesiastes.
In Ecclesiastes 7:11-12 we have an emphasis on the value of biblical wisdom and how God works. Then, in verses 13 and 14 Solomon gives us insight into how God works as the synchronizer and orchestrator of our lives.
The Command: We are told to "consider the work of God." Does the phrase "work of God" ring a bell? It refers to the concept of Ephesians and Romans 8:28-29, and we are told to "Consider" it. "Consider" is the Hebrew verb ra`ah that means "to see, look at, inspect, observe," and then, based on what is seen, "to think on, consider with the mind, understand." Knowing and believing that God is involved in the affairs of our lives, we are to observe, inspect and consider these affairs, and then to respond in faith and seek to understand what God is teaching us.
The Question: The question is then asked, "For who is able to straighten what He has bent." Note the connective "for." This links the question to the command to consider and points to the reason or cause. It shows us what God can do and does. He bends the path of our lives. First, this means the path of life, like a mountainous road, is sometimes bent; it has curves, ups and downs, rough places and smooth places. It isn't always an interstate highway and along the way it has its brooks that dry up. Second, this means God has not deserted us in those ups and downs or turns in the road. He is involved in our lives. Life is not just a matter of blind chance, or the flip of a coin. Third, this text also teaches us what we cannot do! We cannot straighten what God has bent. When God puts a curve in our road, He is calling us to follow the curve. If, in the providence of God, He allows you to fall and break your arm, you cannot reverse the film and cut out that part of the film. You must live with the fall and the broken bone. Isn't this an intriguing way to teach us how God is intimately and lovingly involved in our circumstances? He bends the paths of our lives, but Scripture shows He does so out of love and wisdom.
The Instruction: This is followed by instruction that tells us how we are to act and respond to the varied circumstances of life (vs. 14). (a) When things are going well, when the road is straight, be happy, rejoice, and enjoy the life God gives - though other Scripture warns us to never seek our security in such conditions. (b) In the day of adversity, when God puts a bend in the road, "consider," observe, inspect your circumstances, stop, think and learn. Think about what is God telling you? Apply the truth of the fact that a sovereign, all wise, all knowing, and all powerful God is involved; our circumstances are not chance happenings. When things don't go well, when the car breaks down, when you have a sinus headache, when the package is late, when you hear about the criticism, whatever it is, how do we respond? Do we blow up or stay calm? Do we trust the Lord or become depressed? What do we do? Well, our instructions are to think (cf. James 1:2-5). This means we are to think in terms of the principles and promises of the Word. We are to remember that God is at work. He makes both the day of prosperity and the day of adversity. He synchronizes both into our lives - often the same day - but He is working it all together for good, the ultimate good of making us like His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Test of Obedience (17:5-6)
"So he went and did according to the word of the Lord, for he went and lived . . ." "He went and did." How absolutely beautiful! Elijah went and did NOT according to how he felt or what he thought, or what others might think or want, but according to the directions of the Lord. Immediate obedience - no arguments, no questions. Once he knew for sure what God wanted, in simple trust, he simply obeyed.
How and Why? Was this simply pharisaic obedience? No! Elijah obeyed because he knew and trusted in his God - omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, loving, faithful, merciful, true, and good. He believed that the Lord's will is always perfect and designed for the highest good with ramifications extending into eternity. He knew the Lord was building his faith, his character, and preparing him for things to come. His obedience was a work of faith.
Application: What would you or I have been doing? Would
been conducting a little argument with the Lord out of our great data
information? It might go something like this. "Now wait just a minute
Lord. Across the
Once when a woman said to Christ, "Blessed is the womb that bore you," the Lord responded with these words, "On the contrary (contrary to our arguments, our ideas of security and blessing, contrary to what we think), blessed are those who hear the word of God, and observe it" (Luke 11:27-28). Not legalistic obedience as with the Pharisees, but the obedience of faith that acts on the principles and promises of God.
Not only does God speak to us in the Word, there is a certain sense in which He also speaks to us in the circumstances of life and this is the point of Ecclesiastes 7:13.
Are you perplexed about certain things in your life? Then ask, “What is the Lord seeking to teach me?” Ask, "How is the Lord wanting to use this in my life or in some else's life?" Ask, "Is God trying to change some of my values and priorities, or reveal some of my false sources of trust?" Pray and think!
The Testing of the Dried Up Brook (17:7)
Let's look at each of the clauses here, because each is significant.
The Happenings In Life - "And it happened after a while." This translation could give you the impression that Elijah was simply the victim of some unfortunate circumstance that just happened. But literally the text says, "and it came to pass," or "it came to be." The verb is the Hebrew hayah that means "to come to pass, become, or be." This was not a matter of unfortunate chance, but as seen previously, it was the sovereign will and plan of God at work.
Principle: Things do not just happen to us. They are the outworking of a sovereign God who works all things according to the council of His own will. Again, this means God works and orchestrates all things in accordance with His deliberations and decisions based on His wisdom, power and purposes.
1. Remember how the Lord Jesus showed us God's involvement, control, and concern for every detail of our lives? He taught us that God numbers even the hairs of our head, and that not a single sparrow falls to the ground without His knowledge and control (Matt. -31; Luke. 12:7).
2. Another time, to show God's involvement and care for us, He called attention to God's care for the birds of the air and then said, "are you not worth more than they?" He then turned to the glorious beauty of the lilies of the field that neither toil nor spin, and then added, "will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith?" (Matt. 6:26-30).
To further impress upon our hearts the reality of God's involvement in the happenings of life, let's remember these words of the Psalmist: "The Lord has established His throne in the heavens; and His sovereignty rules over all" (Ps. 103:19). What does the word "sovereignty" mean? It's the Hebrew word malkuth that means sovereign power and authority. It comes from malak "to reign, rule, or be king." It emphatically speaks of God's authority and control as King over every sphere of life. The Psalmist declares that God is in control regardless of how it may appear to us. In the context of this passage, the Psalmist is calling us to trust the Lord because He is also just (vss. 6-7), gracious (vss. 8-12), like a loving father (vs. 13), and our creator/architect who knows us completely (vs. 14).
"But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases" (Ps. 115:3). That God sits in the heavens stresses that God is above all and in charge. That He does whatever He pleases stresses not only is He in control, but He is actively involved in the affairs of mankind according to His all-wise purposes. Note the context and reason for the statement of this verse. Three things: First, this statement is made against the attitude of the nations who are blind to the presence and activity of God, at least as He is revealed in Scripture (vs. 2). How easy it is for us to fall in with the dominate viewpoint of the world and question the presence and concern of the Lord and fail to see the hand of God at work in the happenings of life through various personalities, events, and needs.
Second, this statement about God's sovereignty is made to contrast the sovereign God of the Bible with the impotent idols of the world (vss. 4-8). Idolatry can take many forms; some of which are material, like money or possessions, and some are ideological, like our ideas or the strategies we use to try to meet our needs. The Apostle Paul defined a covetous person as an idolater in Ephesians 5:5, and greed as idolatry in Colossians 3:5. God has given us all things to enjoy, but anytime we depend on something other than God for our security, significance, or happiness, we have made that something into an idol. We are worshipping it as God and giving it the power to do what only God can do.
Third, this statement of God's sovereign control and activity is made as an incentive for God's people to trust the Lord as their help and shield, as their source of life, security, significance and joy (vss. 9-11).
Again, we need to remember the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 7:13-14. It is God who bends the path and when He does so, we need to reflect on what He is doing. Though much of the difficulty of life and all of the evil are caused by man's sinfulness, his foolishness, and Satan's activity, still God is in control, is aware of every detail, and allows and uses it all for His own wise purposes.
So, we have a principle: Based on these statements and promises of Scripture, we can know that even the apparently normal happenings of life, like the drying of the brook, are not without God's control and concern. Regardless of how it may look or seem to us, God is at work, concerned for us, and in control.
The Passing Days In Life - "After a while" is literally "at the end of days." The NIV has "some time later." But the literal Hebrew brings out an important point that our English translations miss. God deals with us not simply "after a while," or "sometime later," but at the end of specific days, in His time which is the best time. Here we see God's involvement is a day-by-day involvement.
Let's note several things:
1. God's timing is usually not our timing (cf. Isa. 55:8-9). This is one of the reasons we are told numerous times in Scripture to wait on the Lord. Rather than turn to our own devices and run ahead of the Lord, we are to take it to Him and wait by faith on His timing and directions.
2. God had a specific plan that included divine provision by the brook for a specific number of days. This plan was unknown to Elijah (and unknown to us), but it was known to God from all eternity and calculated by Him to be a test, a learning place, and a blessing for Elijah.
3. This also emphasizes the temporary nature and shortness of this life and our experiences in it. It reinforces the principle that we should be prepared for sudden changes in life. Concerning our days and particularly our days in testing, we have found it helpful to remember a number of vital concepts: (a) This world is temporary. It is passing away and a new and glorious day is coming (1 Cor. 7:31; 1 John 2:17; 2 Cor. 4:16-18). (b) We have no abiding city or place in this world. Our citizenship and our lasting treasures are in heaven and we are to think of life in this way. This is what distinguishes children of God (or should) from the unbelieving world which Scripture calls "earth dwellers" (Heb. ; Phil. 3:20-21; Rev. 3:10; ; ; 13:6: Isa. 24:17). (c) We are, therefore, to live as sojourners who have a light hold on the details of this life and who are willing to pull up stakes for the Lord (1 Pet. 1:17; 2:11). (d) Life is full of sudden changes, some of them very painful, but we should never be surprised (1 Pet. ). This is an evil day, a day of darkness, and we should not expect from this life what it cannot give. (e) Therefore, we are to redeem the time God gives us and wisely use our days, even our days of pain and suffering or trial (Ps. 90:12; Eph. ). Don't waste your sorrows!
4. The Lord has promised to supply our needs according to His riches in glory. There can never be an end of His supply for our needs (Phil. ; Matt. ). This means our real needs, not our greed, i.e., nor our needs according to our false beliefs about what we think we need.
5. The Lord is never confined to any one method in supplying our needs, but uses a variety of ways, people, things, places, and conditions to supply them. When the brook dried up, God could have caused water to come out of a rock as with Moses, or from a hollow place, as with Samson (Judges -19). Instead, He moved Elijah to another place, a very unlikely place we might add, because He had other things in mind for Elijah. He always chooses a way or a tool that is most beneficial to His purposes for us and those around us.
6. We should never get caught up with the method, or means He uses, or the things He supplies. Our need is to ever keep our eyes on the Supplier who is in control and working all things together for His own purposes. Our only real need is to know and trust Him. We are reminded of Martha's words to the Lord in Luke 10:40. She said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me." It seems we always want to help the Lord out and tell Him how He should meet the problem. We always have this data bank of wisdom we are ready to share with the Lord to instruct Him on how He might take care of our needs - i.e., changing our conditions the way we want them. We need to remember that in Him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
The Dry Places In Life - Our text tells us that “the brook dried up.” What brook? The very one God promised as a source of water. Remember the saying, "Cheer up, things could be worse. So I cheered up, and sure enough, things got worse." This situation with Elijah reminds us of a radio program from the late1950s. In the series, the main character was always getting himself into a jam, and one of his lines in such circumstances was, "What a revolting development this turned out to be." Today, we would say what happened to Elijah was according to Murphy's law! This is the natural way to respond, but as those who know the Lord we need to see beyond the natural to the reality of our God.
Note also that the
"dried up" refers to a process. Elijah did not just wake up one
morning and suddenly find everything gone. Day after day he saw the
brook dwindling in its water supply and he knew what was coming. What
have thought? What do you suppose he did? Was he measuring the depth of
brook each day? "Oh no, it's down another inch." Did he have his eyes
on the problem? Was he remembering the way things used to be when he
Our tendency is to carry a ruler by which we constantly measure what God is doing as though we can't really trust Him. We measure others. We compare how God is supplying other's needs. Then we measure our own blessings - our gifts, talents, opportunities, and on the list goes. In John 21:19-21 the Lord told Peter by what kind of death he would glorify God and then gave Peter that all-important command, "follow Me!" But Peter, seeing one of the other disciples, probably John, said, "Lord, and what about this man?" How quickly we are prone to focus on others to measure what God is doing in and with us. We are so quick to seek our comfort and well being in such measurements, rather than in the Who and what of the Lord.
Well, what would you have done as the brook dried up? Sit there quietly claiming promises like "the battle is the Lord's," or "stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, for the Lord this day will fight for you," or "they that wait upon the Lord . . ."? Howard Hendricks humorously writes, "I have the highest respect for Elijah. I wouldn't have been able to sit there and watch the brook diminish. I would have gotten out my road map and been looking for every water hole in the area. My motto would be: ‘Don't sit there. Do something'" (Elijah, Confrontation, Conflict & Crisis, Howard G. Hendricks, Moody Press, p. 26). Isn't this the tendency for all of us?
Do you remember the reason for the dried up brook. It was because "there was no rain in the land." But why was there no rain in the land? Because Elijah had prayed for no rain. God was simply answering Elijah's prayer, a prayer, however, designed to bring the people to their knees so they would turn back to the Lord.
When we pray for revival in our nation or for the restoration of others, it means God may have to bring about suffering to get their attention to turn them away from their independence, rebellion, and self-sufficiency. This also means we may have to suffer in the process. Are we willing? Are our values and our concern for the glory of God, for justice in society, and for the salvation of people such that we are willing to suffer in the aftermath of God's dealings with the nation or others to see them turn to the Lord? This really challenges our faith and the level of our commitment.
Finally, note 1 Kings 17:8. "Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying." God was not unconcerned about Elijah. He had a plan. He came to Elijah's rescue. Granted, sometimes He cut's it a little close in our thinking, but He is always there. The Lord sits in the heavens, He does that which He pleases. And He pleases to test us in order to build our character and transform us into the character of the Savior.
Likewise, God left
prophet by the brook until it was dry as a bone. Then, having worked in
heart of the prophet, He came to him in his need and sent him to his
of provision. Again, it was a place for growth, but also ministry.
God is developing our faith in Him that He might use us in the lives of
and them in our lives as well.