Ravens and the Prophet

The Hidden Life - Chapter Two

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Leave here, turn eastwards and hide in the ravine of Kerith, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there.” So Elijah did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there.

(1 Kings 17:2-5)

The Hidden Life

Elijah was under no illusions. He knew full well that his words would make him the target of Ahab’s wrath, and the scapegoat for the tens of thousands who would suffer as a result of the drought. Elijah had no fall-back plan to make good his escape – but he appears never to have doubted that help would be given him when it was most needed.

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Leave here, turn eastwards and hide in the ravine of Kerith, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there.” So Elijah did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. (1 Kings 17:2-5)

In the nick of time, God did indeed speak to His servant – but what a strange word it was! Withdraw to the back of beyond and be fed by ravens beside a stream?? It can hardly be termed a glamorous start to a preaching career – let alone a fitting reward for a mission faithfully accomplished. In the service of the Kingdom, however, obedience precedes understanding.

True, we are wise to check and double-check every leading we believe to be of God, but to hold back when God has told us clearly to do something implies that we do not trust Him. An irresolute mind opens the way for all manner of doubts and misgivings. The powers of darkness find it much harder to torment a steadfast and resolute mind.(1)

What the Lord shows us will often fight against our natural understanding. Since Cherith means a ‘drought,’ then surely this, of all brooks, must be prone to dry up when the rains failed? How tempting it must have been to move on and preach God’s word in other towns and villages. Yet Elijah dared not disobey. If he ignored this call to go into hiding, he would become just one more victim of Ahab’s vicious campaign against the followers of Yahweh.

Quite apart from the sheer necessity of hiding His hunted servant, the Hebrew text provides us with a clue as to God’s deeper purposes in telling Elijah to ‘hide’ by the brook Cherith. The word means to ‘absent oneself’ rather than just to seek concealment. To preach and pray for others is to bring the peace and beauty of the Lord into broken and disordered lives. To do so repeatedly is exceedingly demanding work, and the Lord needed to fill His servant afresh with His power.

Men may think that the limelight is the place to do our most important work, but prophets have a responsibility not only to the affairs of this world, but to matters beyond this world.

Scripture makes it plain that the Lord accomplishes much of his best and most lasting work in unseen places, through hidden faithfulness. There was much the Lord could do in Elijah’s life only because He had him on his own.

The Wisdom of God’s Foolishness

God’s wisdom is so incomparably higher than our own that it often appears to be mere foolishness.(2) Just as the Lord chose David ahead of his more apparently suited brothers, so He continues to choose the most unlikely people today to further His Kingdom, and to use those are most aware of their weakness. Who but God would have thought of sending a young oboe player to the walled city of Hong Kong to minister to some of the world’s most needy drug addicts?

Who else, for that matter, could have kept Jackie To (Pullinger) faithful to her calling through the long ‘hidden’ years during which she saw no fruit from her ministry? Yet who today has not heard of the amazing work God has done through her?

Instinctively, men fear weakness, and take out all manner of insurance policies to protect themselves from trouble. Scripture reveals a remarkably different emphasis in which the obscure are exalted, and times of trouble become the means by which the Lord fulfils His purposes.(3)

The Welsh miner, Rees Howells, is a striking example of one who yielded to this call to the hidden life. After some years of fruitful ministry, God asked him to leave his job as a miner and to withdraw from his popular preaching ministry in order to spend more time alone with Himself. It was a costly decision in every way. Many failed to perceive the leading of the Spirit and came to the utterly mistaken conclusion that he had backslidden.

Concerning this period in his life, his biographer wrote,

At first the world affected him,
but in the end
it was he who affected the world.’(4)

When the Lord released him again to minister in public, thousands came to faith through the missions he conducted in Africa. All could then enjoy the fruit of his obedience. In the light of the world-wide ministry the Lord entrusted to these people, how grateful we can be that they did not lose sight of their original calling, and give up during the years of apparent fruitlessness. Beyond the seeming waste and foolishness lay the Master’s hidden purposes.

I believe that many of us have not progressed into a deeper maturity in the faith because we have not sufficiently yielded ourselves to the Lord. We are still at the stage of making bargains with God: ‘If You will do this, then I will do that . . .’ Wisdom lies in letting Him have His way, for He knows exactly what He is planning to do.

If the thought of making such a complete surrender appears daunting, then consider the alternative. Could anything be more foolish than to hold back on the Lord who has our very best interests at heart? The Lord never takes anything from our lives without putting something infinitely richer back in its place. May we be stripped of our inclination to doubt whenever God calls ‘time’ on something that has meant a lot to us.


‘Hear and pay attention, do not be arrogant,
for the Lord has spoken.
Give glory to the Lord your God before He brings the darkness,
before your feet stumble on the darkening hills . . .

But if you do not listen,
I will weep in secret because of your pride;
my eyes will weep bitterly,
overflowing with tears.‘(11)


Either from the Bible, or from firsthand acquaintance, make a list of men and women who have been called aside by God in order that He could fulfil greater purposes through them at a later date. What does this have to say about God’s priorities?


I long to be more in Your company.

Take me beyond the realm
of needing to be needed,
and into a place of greater intimacy
with Yourself.

Still the restlessness of my soul,
and lead me into a deeper intimacy
with You
in the hidden places.

In Jesus’ name, Amen

Previous Chapter – The Courts of the Lord
Next Chapter – By the Brook Cherith


1 See James 1:6-8
2 1 Samuel 16:11-13, cf 1 Corinthians 1:18-29
3 Cf 1 Corinthians 2:2-3, 4:9-10; 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, 6:4, 11:30, 12:9-10
4 Rees Howells, Intercessor, Lutterworth Press
5 2 Chronicles 16:9, Jeremiah 30:21. Concerning this call to deepen our devotional life, Richard Foster’s book ‘Prayer – Finding the Heart’s True Homeland’ is an outstanding introduction to the contemplative life. (Hodder). So too is ‘The Imitation of Christ’, by Thomas A Kempis, the best-selling Christian book of all time after the Bible. (Highland Books have produced a modern translation).

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