Ravens and the Prophet

Angelic Restoration - Chapter Sixteen

 

 ‘Then (Elijah) lay down under the tree and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said,
“Get up and eat.”
He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals,
and a jar of water.
He ate and drank and then lay down again.’

(1 Kings 19:5-6)

Elijah was in sore need of some special demonstration of God’s love to re-equip him for the work ahead. The way in which the Lord restored His bruised and battered servant is one of the most beautiful illustrations in all Scripture of just how close the Shepherd is to us during our trials. What seemed to Elijah at the time to be the end of everything, would prove to be only the beginning of a new and glorious phase of service.

In retrospect, what the Lord did not say to Elijah is also striking. There was no ‘last-chance’ warning that he would be dismissed from the prophetic office unless he pulled his socks up; no point by point analysis of where he had gone wrong. What a powerful reminder that at the heart of the universe lies the God who ‘gives liberally to all, without reproach!’ (1)

At a time when they were in great need of encouragement, Jesus prepared breakfast for His disciples on the shores of Lake Galilee, cooking the meal over a charcoal fire.(2) This was a highly symbolic moment for one disciple in particular. It had been beside another charcoal fire that Peter had denied His Master. Now the Lord was re-commissioning him for the work ahead.

For Elijah, the Lord began the healing process by giving him a deep sleep. What could be more precious? We can bear almost anything if we have had a good night’s rest.

Our understanding of God’s love must never become so super-spiritual that we lose sight of practical realities.

Then came food. An angel woke Elijah from his sleep, and there was a cake of bread cooking on a bed of hot coals, together with a jug of cool fresh water. This was better fare than the ravens had provided – was the food of heaven!

The role angels play

In a day when the work and activities of Satan and his demons (fallen angels) are so much in the news, it is all the more important to understand the role God’s angels play. After all, their work is alluded to in over 350 verses in Scripture – more than is accorded to the powers of darkness. May the Lord open our eyes to the realities of the spiritual world, and to the ministry of His unseen servants, even as He did for Elisha’s servant.

From the moment of the Annunciation until His Resurrection, angels were the constant companions of the Lord Jesus. Had they not been with Him in the wilderness, He could not possibly have endured so gruelling an ordeal.(3) Neither would Elijah have survived now without their timely help.

As the climax of the ages draws near, we will see more clearly both the work of the evil one and of God’s resilient warriors, His angels. As the devil recognises how short is his remaining time, we will have increasing reason to be grateful for the constant watchfulness of the angels of God.

As part of God’s invisible creation, angels do not draw attention to themselves. This poses a problem for our rational materialistic generation – until, that is, we pause to remind ourselves of the limits of our sight and senses.

Thinking people do not deny the existence of electricity or radio waves simply on the grounds that they have never seen them with the naked eye. Why, then, are we so full of arrogant assumptions when it comes to angels?

Because we usually neither see nor hear anything that looks like an angel, this does not mean that ‘God’s secret agents’ are not hard at work on our behalf. The ministry of angels is far more extensive than most of us have understood. Occasionally, they take human form to accomplish some mission. It was not every day that Peter was allowed to see angels, yet one appeared to him in prison, struck the shackles off his wrists, and led him out from the innermost cell into freedom.(4)

Where neither cafes nor hospitals exist, angels serve the children of God. Countless Christians can share Elijah’s testimony concerning the help angels bring at times when they need it most. They aid us on our specific missions, and help us enjoy a greater intimacy with the Lord Himself.

It is unfortunate that many still associate angels with the winged creatures of fine art paintings – or with cherubic children taking part in kindergarten nativity plays. There is nothing childish about the ministry of God’s messengers. Their power is so great that just one angel alone could slay the host of Sennacherib’s army.(5)

We see angels throughout Scripture on missions of both mercy and judgement. It was, for example, an angel who executed divine retribution on Herod for setting himself up as a god.(6) It is not that we should seek to devise a spiritual formula on ‘how-to-escape-from-prisons-in-the-power-of-the-Spirit’ – and neither should we develop the expectation that every jumped-up politician will meet so grisly an end! Building a doctrine out of an experience is never wise, but it is reassuring to remind ourselves of the power of these ‘ministering spirits,’ who are sent to serve those who are honouring the Lord.(7)

Over the years I have come across many delightful stories of ‘angels in disguise,’ who turn up with some essential piece of advice or equipment just in the nick of time – before, quite literally, disappearing from sight. God uses angels to facilitate issues that would otherwise have remained unresolved, and to release people into God-anointed spheres of service.(8)

Angels are well-known for the part they play in miracles of supply and support. What is needed will be provided and what is damaged can be repaired. It would be the same in Elisha’s ministry as it had been for Elijah – and God has not changed to this day.(9) Angels still reassure of God’s love, meet people’s needs, warn of God’s impending judgement, and the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ, and then return whence they had come.

Lessons from Exodus

In the wilderness God sent His angel to prepare the way for His people. Since the appearance in Scripture of an angel is often tantamount to the Presence of the Lord Himself, their words need to be taken seriously.(10)

‘See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.

Pay attention to him and listen to what he says.

Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since My Name is in him.

If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you.

My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites.’ (11)

We can learn much about the ministry of angels from this passage. First of all we discover something every child used to know, that these mighty beings are sent to guard the people of God. Just as an angel kept the Israelites safe from the pursuing Egyptian army before the crossing of the Red Sea, so they keep constant watch over us.(12)

There are many accounts of hostile men being unable to attack a group of believers because of a shining presence of angelic beings around them. Interestingly, it has often transpired later on that Christians far away had felt an urgent call to pray for these people at the exact moment the angels appeared. This is a pointer to the important role that angels play in the whole realm of intercession. As we pray in agreement with each other, and at the leading of the Holy Spirit, angels are sent to assist the people and situations for which we are praying, often battling through intense opposition to bring their much needed help.(13)

Secondly, we can see that angels are involved in bringing us to the place God has prepared for us. It was an angel who told Philip to leave his revival campaign in Samaria and to go instead to the desert road that leads to Gaza.(14) It was there he met and converted a man who many believe to be the founder of the Church in Ethiopia.

We find something similar in the account of Cornelius, the Roman centurion.(15) The angel who appeared to him did not preach the gospel to him – God has entrusted that responsibility to men – but he did tell him how to get in touch with those who would. This angelic intervention proved to be God’s way of leading not just one isolated centurion to salvation, but of enabling Gentiles everywhere to be incorporated into what had hitherto been exclusively Jewish congregations.

Thirdly, the Israelites were instructed to listen carefully to what the angel told them. When I first read this passage, I had some fairly hefty scruples to overcome. I thought that only God should be allowed to speak to us, and that to listen to angels might be downright dangerous. True, the prophet Zechariah seemed to enjoy conversations with them on something approaching a regular basis, but I was only too well aware of the devil’s ability to disguise himself as an angel of light – and we are not Zechariah!(16)

The Scriptures are clear, of course, that the Lord bestows His authority on angels to pass on His messages. The word ‘angelos,’ in Greek, means a ‘messenger’. When the angel revealed himself to another Zechariah (the father of John the Baptist) we can see this principle in operation. ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.’(17)

Sometimes when a deep stillness comes on us, unseen angels are helping us to worship God in spirit and in truth.

A visiting speaker brought this word of prophecy at our very first prayer Conference:

‘I am setting My people free in these days, and when you are one,
I will do amazing things in your midst.’

On the recording we made, angels can be heard in the distance during the silence which followed the sharing of this word, their beautiful worship wonderfully confirming this powerful message.

Angels in History

Rather than focusing exclusively on God’s mighty acts of deliverance in history, let me start by sharing from a family holiday a simple example of the practical help angels send. (You will probably be able to think of incidents in your own life along similar lines). Walking through a wood one day, I discovered that I had lost the key to the cottage we were staying in. As we retraced our footsteps along the path, I could see no sign of it. Rather than rummaging around in the undergrowth we had been walking through, I stopped and prayed with my daughter (then aged five) for an angel to show us where it was. As we made our way back, there was the key in the middle of the path! I am convinced it had not been there when we had looked the first time.

If we look more closely at (or rather behind) the pages of human history we will find plenty of evidence concerning the involvement of angels. Daniel 10-11:1 affords us an example of the activity of angels in the wider affairs of mankind. In recent times, there is well-documented evidence concerning the appearance of a battalion of shining white figures who put a German army to flight at Mons, towards the end of the First World War.(18)

It has often been noted how the Nazi High Command stopped sending their planes by day to bomb British airfields at the very moment when our last fighter reserves were in the air. What is even more remarkable is the role angels were seen to play in this combat. Air Chief Marshall Dowding is reputed to have commented that angels were seen on a number of occasions flying the planes after the pilots had been shot dead, continuing the battle that ultimately saved Britain from the Nazi tyranny.

The work of angels has been particularly noted in connection with the state of modern-day Israel. An angel was seen at the United Nations, guiding the hand of the Russian delegate who finally authorised Israel to become again its own nation. That Israel survived the initial wars at all against the surrounding Arab nations, despite being heavily outnumbered and outgunned, can only be considered, by any standards, an extraordinary miracle.

Equally as remarkable is what happened in 1973, when the combined onslaught of the Egyptian and Syrian armies caught the Israeli defences completely unprepared. (They were largely absent from their posts because they were commemorating Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement). A Syrian tank captain, poised to sweep over the virtually unmanned Israeli lines of defence, saw a hand stretched out from heaven. He found himself completely unable to advance. The Egyptian attack likewise ran inexplicably out of steam. Many believe that nothing short of the direct intervention of heaven prevented the nation of Israel from being overrun at that time.

More than ever we need to know that we have a prayer-answering God. He still has the unlimited power of the host of heaven at His disposal, as the world plunges into the tumultuous events of the last days.

Reflections

When difficulties loom and human resources appear inadequate for the tasks and challenges that face us, it is an enormous comfort that we, like Elijah, are able to count on the unseen support of the heavenly host. It is good to remind ourselves that, ‘The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him.’ (25) Pause for a while to thank God for angelic deliverances, both in our own lives, and throughout human history. Write some of these down.

Why do angels help?

Angels are sent to help and protect not the proud and self-sufficient, but those who have a heart to honour the Lord.(19) The Israelites were warned, therefore, not to rebel against the angel, for Scripture reveals that angels are used as God’s instruments of judgement.(20) It was an angel who destroyed the first-born of every family throughout Egypt on the night of the Passover, and an angel who declared the judgement of the Lord on a rebellious and unbelieving people at Bokim.(21) Again, at the end of the age, the reapers will be the angels.(22)

We do well to remember that God is, as the prophet Zechariah constantly refers to Him, ‘The Lord of Hosts.’ He alone is in charge of human history – and the degree to which the host of heaven oversees the fine details of our lives is nothing short of amazing.

To commit ourselves to God is to prepare for adventure, and to be guided in ways we could never have foreseen. We must be open to all the workings of the Holy Spirit and not be afraid of unusual forms of help and guidance. But neither should we over-emphasize dreams, visions and angelic communications, lest we become like those who ‘take their stand on visions, puffed up without reason by their sensuous minds.’(23)

Perhaps in the light of all this, Elijah’s reaction to the appearance of the angel is a shade disappointing. Elijah appears to look on the miraculous provision of the water and the food almost as if it was his by right. When we are under pressure it is easy to take all the Lord does for us for granted!

The angel came to Elijah twice. It is often only the second time the Lord sends us something that we really begin to appreciate its value. This special demonstration of God’s care restored Elijah’s faith, as well as his stomach. God may not have been promising to strike down Jezebel (which Elijah had doubtless been hoping for) but what He was doing was to initiate the process of setting His overwrought servant back on his feet.

There is a final delightful point to ponder as we consider the role of angels. Jesus told the Sadducees that we will one day be like the angels in heaven.(24) If this is to be our ultimate state in eternity, should we not begin to live like them now in the purity of our lifestyle? Angels are usually to be found either in an attitude of worship before the throne of God, or out on specific missions at the bidding of the Lord. May our lives reflect this balance, now drawing close to the Lord, and then going out on service for Him!

Selah (6)

Lord,
help me to stand
before Your presence
in heavenly worship,
and then to go out
on specific missions for You.

Guard
and guide me
with the protection
of Your angels
as I go about this work.

In Jesus’ name,
Amen.

References

1 James 1:5
2 John 21:4-14
3 Mark 1:13
4 Acts 12:3-11, see also Acts 5:19, 27:23
5 Isaiah 37:36
6 Acts 12:23
7 Hebrews 1:14, 13:2; 2 Kings 19:35; cf Daniel 6:2; Genesis 19:15-16
8 Genesis 24:7, 40, cf Judges 6:11-23, cf 13:3f
9 Eg 2 Kings 4:42-44
10 Eg Exodus 3:2-4, Joshua 5:13-6:5, cf Revelation 19:10
11 Exodus 23:20-23
12 Exodus 14:19-20, cf Matthew 18:10. The vicar of my previous church once stepped inadvertently off the pavement into the path of a double-decker bus. He loves to relate how he was literally picked up by the chest and placed back into safety!
13 Daniel 10:12
14 Acts 8:26
15 Acts 10:3-8
16 2 Corinthians 11:14
17 Luke 1:19f. Sadly, Zechariah did not believe the word spoken by the angel, and he was struck dumb until the joyous event came to pass. (Luke 1: 18-20, 61-64). The following texts also refer to the work of angels as messengers: Luke 1:26-38; 2:9-14; John 20:12; Matthew 28:5-7; cf Genesis 16:7ff, 31:11-13; Matthew 1:20, 24; 2:13,19
18 This episode is quoted in a book called ‘Angels’ by Hope Price. Hope is a vicar’s wife who has gathered dozens of such stories from around the world. It blessed me that this book was published by Pan, who are not a specifically Christian publisher. These testimonies will therefore find their way into the hands of many who would not normally read Christian books.
19 Daniel 3:28, 6:22, Isaiah 37:36
20 Exodus 23:21-22
21 See Judges 2:1-5
22 Matthew 13:39, 16:27, 24:31, 25:31. It will be they who release great judgements on mankind. (Revelation 8:7 onward)
23 Colossians 2:18
24 Matthew 12:25
25 Psalm 34:7

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