Ravens and the ProphetBy the Brook Cherith - Chapter Three
So Elijah did what the Lord had told him.
He went to the Kerith ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there.
(1 Kings 17:5)
By the Brook Cherith
To the functionally minded, Elijah’s prolonged stay by the brook Cherith looks like a waste of a promising life. Here was the nation’s foremost prophet, eeking out an existence in an isolated nowhere. What chance had he now of addressing king and court, or of leading a spiritual revival? But God’s ways truly are not ours. The time had not yet come to send him back to lock tusks again with Ahab and Jezebel.
By leading His servant away from the familiar mountains of Gilead, and from the challenge of exercising a prophetic ministry in a hostile setting, God was offering Elijah not only an extended period of rest from his labours, but a precious opportunity to deepen his closeness to Himself. The stresses Elijah faced here would be of a totally different kind.
Most of us depend far more than we realise for our spiritual well-being on our relationships with each other. Yet here Elijah was, a leader with nobody to lead, and a preacher with nobody to preach to. That alone would be enough to give most ministers an outsize crisis of identity!
It is infinitely harder than it sounds to continue to seek God when we have no obvious goal in sight. To be able to abide for considerable periods of time in His presence, without allowing fears to drag us down, or passing excitements to turn our head, is a great achievement.
At Cherith, God slowed Elijah’s life down to walking pace. The months God’s chosen prophet spent, whiling away long hot days by a remote wadi, stand in sharp contrast not only to the superficial frenzy of the court he had left behind, but also to the way most of us lead our lives. It begs an important question for us adrenalin addicts of the twentieth century: how can Elijah’s sojourn by the brook inspire us to change the speed at which we lead our own lives?
Is there any way we can avoid living at so furious a pace that we cause ourselves indigestion and insomnia? Are we at risk of becoming a time-bomb on legs? Are not at least some of our stress-points self-induced? We would do well to examine these things, and to make room for the things we really need in life – time, companionship, recreational activities, compassion and so. They may be nearer to us than we had imagined.
Bringing our souls into balance requires serious choices.
A German Proverb warns, ‘Wer hat Wahl hat Qual.’
(Whoever has choice has pain).
Our starting point is clear enough:
we are concerned to follow our Lord’s example and do only what we see our Heavenly Father doing.(1)
Working this principle out in practice, however, will stretch us to the utmost.
Elijah’s options may have been more restricted than our own, but he too would have experienced strong temptations to disobey God by going somewhere else. It is greatly to his credit that Elijah stayed where he was. After all, would we be able to seek God peacefully if we were faced by the daily possibility of being attacked by wild animals?
Almost anything is bearable, provided we know how long it is going to last. Yet Elijah had no way of knowing how long God intended to keep him by the brook. In the meantime he would have the decidedly dubious privilege of being provided for by ravens – an unlikely means of support, but well chosen in that they would be far less likely to betray Elijah’s whereabouts than a fellow human being.
It is an almost universal law that when earthly doors are barred to us, the gates of heaven will swing open. So far from allowing Elijah to perish in this remote no-man’s land, the Lord sent ravens to bring him food, just as He had met the Israelites in the desert, and supplied them with manna from heaven.
We can imagine that, as month succeeded uneventful month, Elijah became more practised at seeking the Lord.
Although nothing happened outwardly, God was far from inactive.
Though he had no way of knowing it,
Elijah’s most fruitful period of ministry still lay ahead of him.
Meanwhile, there was no point sending his blood pressure soaring by worrying whether the ravens would remember to come on the morrow – or whether tomorrow might be the day the Lord released him from his enforced withdrawal. God was preparing him to carry still greater burdens by teaching him to live from one day to the next.
Soaked in the Word
Dietrich Bonhoeffer passed a telling comment on the way society works when he wrote,
‘We have no proper understanding of the need for scriptural proof. We hear arguments “from life” and “from experience” put forward as the basis for the most crucial decisions, but the argument of Scripture is missing. And this authority would, perhaps, point in exactly the opposite direction.‘(2)
The word of the Lord was so powerful in Elijah’s life because its truth lived in his heart. In the days before the printed word, man used his memory to better effect than he does today. We can be sure Elijah would have taken the trouble to memorise those portions of the Word of God which were then in existence, and that he spent a great deal of his time by the brook Cherith in prayerful meditation.
Much though we will benefit by reading large chunks of Scripture (and it is important for us to understand the whole counsel of God) many of us will derive at least as much profit from taking just a short passage, or even a single sentence, and savouring it to the point where its truth begins to live in our heart.
The Psalmist tells us it is the entrance of God’s Word which gives light and imparts understanding.(3)
Like Mary we can ponder its significance, and wait for the Lord to make the interpretation and its application plain to us. Thus we learn not just about God, but of God Himself directly, through the help of His Holy Spirit.
Take a passage from the Bible, and read the text through several times, preferably out loud, to let its truth penetrate our heart. Try to imagine the scene, first from the perspective of the speaker, then from that of the hearer, the bystanders and so on. We will soon find ourselves identifying with the joys and sorrows of earlier pilgrims, and discovering fresh perspectives and implications as we do so.
The word of God assumes a new depth once it is stored in the heart. Many great musicians and actors feel that they can only really bring a piece of music or drama to life when they have committed it to memory. This is not the way most of us operate – but perhaps we ought to. A Chinese believer, imprisoned for twenty three years, and deprived of access to the Bible, testified on his release how greatly the many passages of Scripture he had committed to memory as a young man had sustained him during those long years.
How much Scripture would we be able to recall if put to such a test? Most of us do not have bad memories: we simply have undeveloped ones!
We can enjoy so much that Elijah was deprived of. We have access to Christian literature that distils for us the wisdom of the centuries, as well as every possible aid to Bible study. A little imagination, combined with a few good reference books, can lead us into all manner of fruitful lines of study. The possibilities are endless. Whatever form of reading plan we adopt, however, should cause us to read God’s word until we receive His marching orders for the day. For the Bible is not so much a book to be studied, and a set of doctrines to be learnt by rote, as food for our mind and manna for our soul.
A Cherith Week
Western spirituality has long tended to focus on positive action: ‘What God has done for me and what I must do for God.’ The result has been that we live our lives at breakneck speed, constantly acting and reacting to stressful situations. I have increasingly come to the conclusion that most well-established Christians are less in need of the additional teaching their mind has taught them to expect, than a deeper awareness of the Lord Himself. Times apart can greatly strengthen this.
Many of us will experience great blessing if we can manage to set aside a week alone, with nothing to do except to seek the Lord. Whether we spend it in a retreat centre, or in our own house, the important thing is to set ourselves entirely free from our day-to-day responsibilities. We are not retreating from the world: we are advancing towards our Father.
Such an immersion in the Lord’s presence can have a revolutionary effect on our relationship with God. In the stillness and the silence we will learn to seek the Lord, face ourselves, and, in the process, overcome many strongholds of darkness. In retrospect, we will realise that such weeks may have permanently altered many of our perspectives and priorities.
I believe that God was showing us a spiritual pattern when He took Elijah away from civilisation. Cherith was a trysting place as well as a hide-out: an appointed rendezvous where lovers meet. As such, like Elijah’s later pilgrimage to Horeb, it challenges us to consider the benefits of setting aside our own ‘Cherith’ weeks.
What steps are you taking to allow yourself extended ‘time out’ with God?
Practical measures will need to be taken even for a single day away, let alone a whole week, but the effort involved will repay itself many times over.
Lord, help me to make the effort to spend more time in Your presence.
Quiet the worries of my mind, and enable me to receive Your Word.
Develop my memory, and fill it with the truths of Your Word.
Protect me from all distractions and deceptions as I seek to go deeper in Your presence.
Help me love, embrace and cherish silence, until I find You in the still place of my heart.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
1 John 5:19
2 Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer S.C.M. p. 39 Sadly, this same criticism could also be applied to large parts of the Church.
3 Psalm 119:130 (KJV)
Ravens and the Prophet
Chapter One – The Courts of the Lord
Chapter Two – The Hidden Life
Chapter Three – By the Brook Cherith
Chapter Four – The Shrinking Brook
Chapter Five – Strange Guidance
Chapter Six – The Provision of the Lord
Chapter Seven – In the Power of the Spirit
Chapter Eight – The Stature of Waiting
Chapter Nine – Interfacing with the World
Chapter Ten – Fire on Mount Carmel
Chapter Eleven – The Ministry of Heaven
Chapter Twelve – The Importance of Rest
Chapter Thirteen – Strategic Retreat or Headlong Flight
Chapter Fourteen – Shock and Shame
Chapter Fifteen – The Temptation to Despair
Chapter Sixteen – Angelic Restoration
Chapter Seventeen – Confronted with God’s Challenge
Chapter Eighteen – Symbols of His Power
Chapter Nineteen – The Dark Speech of God
Chapter Twenty – The Judgements of God
Chapter Twenty One – When My People are one
Chapter Twenty Two – A Heart of Mourning
Chapter Twenty Three –
The Prophetic Ministry
Part One – May our Hearts be free from idols
Part Two – The Prophetic Calling
Part Three – Prophets and Pastors
Chapter Twenty Four – The Challenging Counterfeit
Chapter Twenty Five –
The Schools of the Prophets
Chapter Twenty Six – Translated to Eternity