Ravens and the Prophet

The Provision of the Lord - Chapter Six

“I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.” (1 Kings 17:9)

The Provision of the Lord

In a way, it must have been hard for Elijah to say goodbye to the familiar wadi of Cherith. It hurts when we have to leave places which have meant a lot to us, and where we have met the Lord – but when the Lord shows us that the time has come to move on, we must never hold back. We are a pilgrim people. Nevertheless, we can imagine all sorts of conflicting thoughts racing through Elijah’s mind as he trudged across the wilderness. ‘A widow woman. How on earth will I recognise her? How can she provide for me?’

Tired and thirsty, it would have been understandable if he had allowed his mind to daydream as he drew near to Zarephath. Perhaps God had some well-to-do widow living in a palatial inheritance waiting to take care of him!

The reality was far different. As he reached the entrance to the town he met a widow in the last throes of starvation, forlornly preparing what she fully expected to be her last meal on earth.

We can easily picture this scene. I saw a strikingly similar episode recently on television. An aged Albanian widow had gathered a few pathetic twigs together in a last desperate attempt to keep warm. She too had no food left to eat, and was gathering together the little she had before settling down to die.

That is the reality of famine, now as then.

Few issues test our relationship with God more sharply than material hardships. By making His servant dependent for his lodging on a widow, the Lord was insisting once again that Elijah did not look to any earthly source to meet his needs. I sometimes think that the Lord specialises in providing for us through means we would not have chosen for ourselves.

Let’s face it. Many of us only really begin to realise how wonderfully the Lord has provided for us when He appears to withhold His supplies of blessing. Human nature being what it is, we take miracles that are endlessly repeated for granted. It was not long before the Israelites forgot the heavenly origin of their daily manna, and started to complain that their diet was monotonous.

When something that means a great deal to us is taken away, there are strong temptations to think resentful thoughts towards God. We may even begin to wonder if what we had formerly considered to have been the Lord’s miraculous provision was not, in reality, merely something we had contrived by our own efforts.

What happens to us may not be according to our wishes, but that is not to say that it is contrary to His will. The Lord’s deliverance comes neither too quickly nor too late. His timing is as exquisite as the means of accomplishing His purposes are unforeseeable. His provision, if not always abundant, will at least always be sufficient. Moreover, it comes from one day to the next, as and when it is needed. We cannot receive grace today to meet tomorrow’s needs.

 

Buoyed up by the recollection of how God had sent him ‘meals on ravens’ for as long as he had needed them, and heartened that the Lord had fulfilled the first part of His word by leading him to a widow, Elijah’s faith rose to the challenge. He trusted that the Lord must be able to provide for them both. After all, God promises to make a way forward in every test and difficulty that we face.(1)

Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up, and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.’”(2)

What courage it takes to speak with faith and authority in the face of such a desperate situation! Had the Lord not confirmed the word Elijah had spoken so boldly, this would have been their first and last meal together on earth.

Before God performed a miracle of provision, however, He first accomplished a near miracle in human relationships. Just as Elijah had obeyed an improbable word in coming to Zarephath, so the Lord now turned the heart of this woman to obey His servant. Like the widow who put her all into the Temple Treasury, here was a woman who was willing to share all she had to live on with a complete stranger. She too would have her reward. Because she did as Elijah had told her, there was food every day for Elijah, and for the woman and her family too. ‘For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.’(2)

The Generosity of God

In these days, when financial pressures are assailing so many, it is good to ponder the implications of this miracle. Though we cannot always see how it is possible, God will continue to take care of all our needs, material as well as spiritual. All the Accuser’s ‘prophecies’ of impending doom will be shown to be ill-founded as we meet both need and challenge with faith in the Living God, as Elijah did.

How generous the Lord is to those whose hearts are generous!(3) When the angel appeared to Cornelius, his first words to him revealed that his almsgiving, as well as his prayers, had ascended as a memorial before God.(4) Nothing we do passes unseen in the courts of Heaven. He takes note not only of what we give, but also of the spirit in which we give it.

The Lord of Hosts provides for His people! A modern day ‘jug of oil’ story comes from God’s miraculous provision during the horrors of the Second World War. Imprisoned for protecting Jews, Corrie Ten Boom relates how a bottle of essential vitamins renewed itself for weeks of end, for the benefit of the inmates of Ravensbruck concentration camp.

Corrie herself was continually amazed at the kindness and hospitality she received after her miraculous release from Ravensbruck. She asked the Lord one day why people were always so kind to her. He replied that it was because her mother had kept an open kitchen during the years of the Depression. Corrie ‘inherited’ the blessings her mother had sown.

As Matthew Henry so aptly put it, ‘He who ordains the voyage, victuals the ship accordingly.’ The miracle of the flour and the oil that were continually renewed, like the loaves and the fishes, is a reminder that God takes the little we offer Him, and gives it power to expand beyond what is humanly possible. Once we have taken all the steps we can in a situation, it is our Lord’s joy, as well as His responsibility, to provide for His people.(5)

A Heart to Give

The love of God is nothing if not practical. As we have been provided for, so we can seek to provide for others. Blessing comes ultimately, not to those who hoard, but to those who are willing to give of what they have received – their time and talents as well as their material wealth.(6)

As the days get darker, it will be increasingly important for Christians to be on the alert to look after one another.(7) Some may be too proud, and some too shy, to ask for help, but we must stay alert to people’s needs and take appropriate action.

Given the sheer number of needs we encounter, we will benefit by treating the subject of our giving both prayerfully and imaginatively. I was much impressed by the example of David Wilkerson, who used to pray with his wife at the start of each month as to where the Lord would have them send money from a special ‘burden’ fund they set up in addition to their regular giving.

How true Jesus’ words are, that where our treasure is, there too our heart will be. Like the Macedonian churches, we must give to the point where we are giving of the substance as well as the overflow of our lives. If our giving is costing us something, we will be far less likely to develop a superior or a condescending attitude.

The Elijah heart stands at complete variance with the modern tendency to want to have it all. Donald Olsen summed up the absurdity of this spirit thus: ‘Mr average North American is the instalment buyer who is busy buying things he does not want, with money he does not have, to impress people he does not like!’ Remembering Jesus’ warning that we cannot serve both God and Mammon, it is good to remind ourselves that it is better to love people and to use things, than to love things and to use people.

Whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Let us be eager, therefore, to provide for ourselves treasure in heaven. This does not mean that we are never to indulge ourselves in the occasional treat; it is simply an invitation to godly and responsible stewardship in our whole approach to handling worldly wealth.

For myself, I would rather support causes which non-Christians would not readily subscribe to: labourers in the vineyard, rather than the fabric of old buildings. To do this effectively, we should strive to live somewhat below the level of our income, so that the Lord can use the surplus to support others. Life being what it is, this may well prove impossible, but it is, at least, a worthy aim. After all, is it fair to pray for Christian work to be supported, if we ourselves are not prepared to do much about it?

Reflections

The God of Elijah is still at work to this day to provide for the needs of His people. Look back and recall some of the ways in which God has provided for you over the years. Record occasions when you have been as fearfully unbelieving as the Israelites, only to be surprised by joy as the Lord has opened up some new (and usually unexpected) means of provision at just the right time.

Dare to thank and praise the Lord that He will continue to supply your daily bread, along with everything else that you truly need. Then ask Him to show you if there is anything you are spending money on that is not in line with His wishes. Ask Him, too, whether there is any person, cause or organisation that He would have you give to, or contribute more to.

Over and above all this that I have provided, I have given silver and gold from my personal property because of my love for God’s Temple. Now who else is willing to give a generous offering to the Lord?(8)

Selah

Thank You, Lord, for the way You draw people to share in Your work of provision. You saw the spirit in which the widow shared her livelihood with Elijah, just as You watched another widow put her all into the Temple Treasury.

Thank You that the gifts and resources of Your people can help Your Kingdom to spread. I ask that I may play my part in this holy work. May the motivation of my heart, and the gift of my hand alike be pleasing in Your sight. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Previous Chapter – Strange Guidance
Next Chapter – In the Power of the Spirit

References

1 1 Corinthians 10:13
2 1 Kings 17:13-16, cf Isaiah 46:3-4
3 Proverbs 22:9
4 Acts 10:4
5 Some biblical references to God providing for His people in time of famine include: Deuteronomy 2:7, 1 Kings 17:6, 16; 2 Kings 3:20, 4:6;7:8; Matthew 14:20. The following texts will help us to enter more fully into this subject of seeing God as our Provider: 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, Psalm 65:9, 104:27-29, 132:15f; Isaiah 55:10; Romans 8:32; Psalm 84:11
6 Matthew Henry wrote, ‘When we can cheerfully provide for others, out of our own necessary provision, as the widow of Zarephath did for Elijah, and Christ for His five thousand guests, and trust God to provide for us by some other way, this is thank-worthy.’ (cf 2 Corinthians 8)
7 Cf Leviticus 25:35: ‘If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so that he can continue to live among you.’
8 1 Chronicles 29:3,5,9,12-14, see also Psalm 128:2; Luke 12:33; Matthew 6:24; Job 31:24-28; Nehemiah 9:20-21

Chapter Index

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 - Three pdfs

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
Part One
Part Two
Chapter Twenty Six - Translated to Eternity