Elijah Fed by Ravens

(The Intention of the Will)

Living Courageously Week 1

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

I.       This is the first of a series of 7 sermons supporting the Living Courageously spiritual growth program. Each of the 7 weeks will begin with a sermon on some aspect of the Elijah story as found in the 1st and 2nd books of Kings.

A.   Elijah lived in the 9th Century BC, about 850 years before the Lord was born. He lived in the kingdom of Israel after it had separated from the kingdom of Judah at the death of Solomon.

B.   The temple in Jerusalem was in the kingdom of Judah and therefore inaccessible to the people in the kingdom of Israel.

C.   If the king of Israel wanted to keep his position, he had to make sure that his people didn’t drift back to Judah, he had to make sure that they had something even more exiting and interesting to worship in the northern capital of Samaria. So, after the division of the kingdom, we see each successive king of Israel borrowing idolatrous practices from the surrounding Canaanites and encouraging the people to follow them. This, of course, was exactly the opposite of what the Lord had in mind for them when He brought them out of slavery in Egypt, across the wilderness, and brought them into a land to call their own, a land of milk and honey.

D.   The king of Israel at the time of Elijah is Ahab, son of Omri. Ahab’s wife is Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Tyre.

E.    Ahab and Jezebel worshipped Baal. There are even indications that they were the main supporters of the priesthood of Baal.

1.     You may be surprised to learn that there are groups that still worship Baal, and that there is even a web site dedicated to worshipping Baal.[1]

F.    So, we can see that the sense of the letter is setting us up for a monumental battle between good and evil, between Elijah and Ahab, between Jehovah and Baal.

II.    (1 KI 16:29-33) In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab the son of Omri became king over Israel; and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. {30} Now Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him.

A.   He walked in the sins of Jeroboam, married Jezebel, and put a statue of Baal in the temple in Samaria. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord to anger than all the other kings who were before him.

B.   Ahab, by promoting the false worship of Baal was substituting falsity for truth. Since truth is represented by water, the way that the incredibly lack of truth in Ahab’s kingdom could be represented was for there to be a severe drought – a lack of water/truth.

1.     So, seeing the story from our perspective, seeing the big picture, we can say that the cause of the drought is the falsity of Baal worship introduced by Ahab and Jezebel.

2.     The Lord sent Elijah to announce the situation to Ahab. He said, “there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.[2]

C.   We also know that human nature being what it is, Ahab and Jezebel were unable to accept the blame themselves, and instead blamed the messenger – Elijah.

1.     So the Lord spoke to Elijah and sent him into the Wilderness where he would be safe until the danger passed.

III. This is one of the places in the Word where the lesson is both extremely important and non-intuitive.

A.   Our natural response to a perceived attack is to defend.

1.     We have lots of stories in the Word where people use the sword of truth to slay the dragon, or defeat the enemy. Our natural instinct is to believe that the Lord wants us to fight against evil, and that’s true – but the fighting valiantly and defeating the enemy part comes later.

2.     But listen to this:  he who does not search out any evil with himself and flee from it as a sin against God, which is done solely by repentance, after death becomes a demon[3]

a.     There are lots of other passages that say the same thing. 

b.     Evil is a powerful, dangerous thing. If we try to stand up and face it alone, we put ourselves in grave spiritual danger. 

c.      The Lord wants us to turn and run, to flee for our lives when we come face to face with evil.

d.     When Saul tried to kill David, he flees into the wilderness.

e.      When Absalom rebels against King David, David’s response was to flee into the wilderness.

f.       Here, Elijah flees into the wilderness during a drought.

B.   Why?

1.     In the Word, the “wilderness” state represents our feeling that we are alone (in a deserted place), that we don’t know what to do (lack of truth represented by a lack of water) and that we are feeling unloved – or unloving – (represented by little food).

2.     Our normal mode is to go about our daily business through habit our routine. We can often go days or weeks without really examining our motives because we are not be asked to make a difficult or unusual decision.

3.     Then, usually without warning, something happens to draw our attention to a problem that’s been sitting there all along and we’ve been ignoring.

4.     There are lots of other places in the Word where this happens, but in the Elijah series it’s shown as the way that idolatrous worship has been creeping into their way of life.

a.     First, they stop worshipping in Jerusalem

b.     Then they start worshipping Canaanite gods in the high places

c.      Then the king marries a Canaanite woman.

d.     It built up over time, but suddenly it is all too much, and Elijah is sent to bring a judgement.

5.     When we are suddenly awakened, as it were, to the true state that we have fallen into, it can be a very painful and embarrassing thing. We want to go somewhere and hide.

a.     If we were to fight at this moment, we would be striking out blindly and perhaps doing harm to people we love.

b.     And so Elijah flees into the wilderness where he can rest, gather his resources, and prepare for the coming battle.

IV.The wonderful thing about this story is that fleeing into the wilderness is not the end of the story.

A.   It’s not about the angry God sending us into the wilderness to punish us for being bad.

B.   It’s about the loving God sending us someplace safe, someplace away from our spiritual enemies, away from further damage where we can begin to heal. He tells us over and over in His Word that we are to flee from evil.

1.     1 KI 17 {5} So he went and did according to the word of the LORD, for he went and stayed by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. {6} The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the brook.

C.   We need to think about how Elijah is being cared for.

1.     Ravens are birds, so they can represent truth or doctrine, but they’re not nice birds. They’re big and black and don’t have a nice song.

2.     Ravens are carrion eaters and scavengers. What does that tell us about the quality of the bread and meat that they brought to Elijah?

3.     And the brook? It’s not a big refreshing spring that would represent the Word, rather it’s just seasonal run-off, and about to fail.

D.   This sounds pretty bad – but remember this is a step up from being murdered by Ahab.

1.     We can also imagine Elijah, in hiding, being thankful for the food at first, but eventually wanting something better.

E.    This is exactly the point.

1.     Each time we have a temptation, a spiritual combat, each time we are brought tumbling down and begin to see ourselves as others see us – as the Lord sees us – the Lord is gently leading us in small, appropriate steps, from the spiritual place where we are to the place where we ought to be.

a.     Mediate goods: things that are not in themselves good, but lead to good, are acceptable to the Lord. 

b.     It’s not where you start from, but where you are headed; it’s the journey that’s important.

2.     He doesn’t condemn us for not being angels. He knows that we are dust[4] And so He leads us with those things that will be exactly suited to our spiritual states. 

3.     Elijah, hiding in the wilderness, begins to look at the food being brought by the ravens.

a.     It’s food, but not very high quality.

b.     Just like our motives. We like to think that we act from good motives and probably on the balance our motives are pretty good.

c.      But what this story is telling us is that the Lord is asking us to look at the food we’re eating, to look critically at its source, and to see if we can make some better decisions and move to a better place.

d.     We’re not ready to take on Ahab and Jezebel yet, but we can at least get ourselves out of the wilderness with the Lord’s gentle care and leadership.

F.    More about that part of the journey next week. Amen.

First Lesson:

(This reading is previous to that of the Children’s Talk, and explains why the Lord caused a drought.)

(1 KI 16:29-33) In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab the son of Omri became king over Israel; and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. {30} Now Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him. {31} And it came to pass, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took as wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians; and he went and served Baal and worshiped him. {32} Then he set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. {33} And Ahab made a wooden image. Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him. Amen.

Second Lesson:

(Mark 10:35-37) Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.” {36} And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” {37} They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.”

(Mark 10:41-45) And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John. {42} But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. {43} “Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. {44} “And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. {45} “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Third Lesson:

AC 4145 [2] With everyone who is being regenerated good is at first intermediate good, for the purpose that it may serve in the introduction of genuine goods and truths. But once it has served that use it is separated; and that person is guided towards good which flows in along the direct line of descent. So a person who is being regenerated is perfected gradually.

For example: a person who is being regenerated believes at first that the good which he thinks and which he does begins in himself, and also that he earns some reward, for he does not yet know, or if he does know does not comprehend, that good is able to flow in from some other source. Neither does he know of or comprehend any other possibility than that he should be rewarded because he does it of himself. If he did not believe this at first he would never do anything good. But by this means he is introduced not only into the affection for doing good but also into cognitions concerning good and also concerning merit.

And once he has been guided in this way into the affection for doing good he starts to think differently and to believe differently. That is to say, he starts to think and to believe that good flows in from the Lord and that he merits nothing through good which he does from the proprium. And when at length true affection lies behind his willing and doing of what is good he rejects merit altogether and indeed loathes it, and he is moved by an affection for good for the sake of what is good. When this state is reached good is flowing in down a direct line.

[1]Www.baal.com - really!

[2]1 KI 17:1

[3]AR 458

[4]Psalm 103:14