Bible studies in the life of Elijah
The ‘cutting away’ at Cherith
By Fraser Gordon
Introduction and a quick recap
Let’s look at another character study on Elijah. This is the second message on Elijah and we are in 1 Kings chapter 17. Last time we looked at the state of Israel at the time Elijah came on the scene. After Solomon's death there was a split in the Kingdom; Jeroboam was the King in the northern kingdom of Israel and he set up alternate places of worship because he was afraid of his people going down to Jerusalem to worship. He feared that they would not return if they went down there, so he set up temples in which he placed idols and golden calves. This caused idolatry to come into the land because the people worshipped these and were led astray. Various kings reigned after Jeroboam but the Bible says that the worst king of the Northern tribes was Ahab. 1st Kings 16:30 tells us that he did more evil in the sight of the Lord than all that were before him. Now Ahab had married a Sidonian princess who influenced her husband greatly. She began with pluralism, which meant that it was alright to worship more than one God - both Yahweh and Baal... it didn’t seem to matter. Ahab went along with her in everything she proposed, even setting up an idol in the house of Baal in Samaria. Now Baal was the god of fertility, the god of rain, and the god of the increase of their crops. However, before long Jezebel tried to wipe out Yahweh’s name from the land. She did many evil things such as setting up high places for Baal and she also had the prophets of the Lord killed. So it was in this context that Elijah came to speak forth the word of judgement in the presence of Ahab.
Standing before the king
1 Kings 17:1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, "As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word."
Looking again at the 1st verse of this chapter, we noticed that it was a small thing for Elijah to stand before Ahab because he had stood before the King of Kings. So Elijah comes into his presence and brings this word of judgement to Ahab. Now we will see what God does through Elijah. His prophecy was that there would be no rain for 3 1/2 years, and there would not be any dew either - unless he said so. Elijah comes out of nowhere… he comes out of the mountains of Gilead with this word to Ahab.
Time to leave I think!
1 Kings 17:2-4 Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah: (3) Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. (4) You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there."
Instantly the word of the Lord came to him and he was told to flee to Cherith and hide there. The promise God gave him was that he would be provided for there. Cherith is a place of isolation. It is a place where you are completely cut off and are totally dependent upon God and His resources. You see, before Elijah was able to stand on Mount Carmel and challenge the 800 false prophets, he first had to learn certain principles. He had to learn what Cherith means. When you look through the Bible, most of God's saints have gone through a ‘Cherith’. Moses was forty years in the backside of the desert. It was a time of isolation when he had no resources of his own. Joseph was in prison, falsely accused and isolated. The story of Joseph is one of the most amazing stories – he went from prison to the right hand of the ruler of Egypt in one day, but God had His reasons for putting Joseph there. God had his reasons for isolating David and for isolating Moses and Joseph. Jesus was the same. He always drew aside. Do you remember the story of His disciples when they went out to preach and did all these wonderful miracles and came back to Him really glorying in all that had happened? Do you know what the first thing Jesus said to them was? “Let's draw aside to a quiet place”. He realised that there was actually too much of self in what they had just been doing. ‘Come aside to a quiet place,” He said. “Let's get down to where things are a bit quieter and your dependence on God is more real.” Paul, straight after he was saved, spent virtually eleven years in obscurity in the desert. What did he do down there? He did absolutely nothing that is recorded. Eleven years - that's a long time before God said ‘okay let's go - now you are ready to stand before kings and before gentiles’. But there were years and years of isolation in obscurity. That is what a ‘Cherith’ is. It’s a place where God actually removes you for a specific purpose and the word means “a cutting off”. Sometimes a Cherith experience is there to get the world out of us. If we have too much of the world in our lives we will be put into a position where we have to be cut off from things that control us.
What God teaches Elijah, and us, at Cherith
1 Kings 17:5-6 So he did what the LORD had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. (6) The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.
There are three things I gleaned from this passage that I believe God was teaching Elijah. The first one is in verse 5 - it is actually obedience to three simple words. Before he could stand on Mount Carmel he had to learn to sit at the brook Cherith. God had commanded and Elijah went and did what he was told. You don't see Elijah debating with God about the direction he should go. He just went and did what he was told. As I was thinking about this, I noticed the simplicity of it. Jesus said in John 15:14 ‘You are My friends if you do what I command.’ Again, just the simplicity of what obedience really is. When we feel God is saying something to us we should actually act on it. But it's not acting out of fear. We respond to God out of relationship. I was just thinking about how God speaks to me when I walk my dog. If dogs are treated properly they are man’s best friend. This is because they are so relational, and they are obedient... well most of the time anyway! If you treat a dog properly it will actually respond to you and it will want to please you. It will want to be where you are and will desire to be doing what you are doing. The dog I have at the moment, no matter which room I am in, will wait outside the door for me. If I am in the shower he is waiting for me. If I go anywhere on my property he’s right there with me. I really can’t go anywhere without him following me! He just watches me intently and I cannot get into the car without his beady eyes on me! As I was walking him the other day a lady said to me that she could tell that it was my dog because even when it was doing its own thing, it always had one eye on me. She said that my dog was really obedient as it was never too far away but was always watching what I was doing. When she said that I thought to myself that that is the way we need to be with God. We need to be watching what He is doing and attentive to what our Father is asking of us. Sometimes you see a dog that is really unruly (some people can't even let their dog off the leash without spending a couple of hours chasing it around the park before they can catch it!) They are afraid to let it off the leash because they know it won't listen to what they say.
Our relationship with God is not like the army where we are told what to do so we obey, otherwise we are going to be doing 40 press ups or running around a field forever. It's out of relationship that we do these things because our Master loves us and we love the Master. Oswald Chambers made this quote. “One step forward in obedience is worth years of study about it.” So the first thing that Elijah actually learned was to obey the words which the Lord had spoken to him – he went and did. There were no debates with God. He did not say ‘No, I don't really want to do this… can I go a different direction?’ Or ‘Why the brook Cherith?’ He went and did what he was told.
How does God’s provision come?
The second thing that Elijah had to learn here was His provision. God had commanded him to go and hide by the brook Cherith and had commanded the ravens to feed him there. So God's provision came in two ways to Elijah; there was the natural provision in that there was a brook from which he obtained the water he needed to survive. But God also commanded ravens to bring him his food. When you think about your life as a Christian, has God ever failed to meet your needs? I have been saved 21 years now and I can honestly say that I have lacked nothing that I actually needed. God has always given me what was needed. In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us not to worry about what you are going to eat or what you are going to drink. Jesus instructs us to consider the birds of the air and how they are provided for. And God loves you far more than these things! How much more will God provide for those that love Him. And it's true. God is committed to us to give us what we need. So Elijah here is put in a ‘Cherith’ situation and he has to be completely dependent on God – he has got water but he doesn't have anything to eat. But God has commanded the ravens to actually feed him. Have any of you ever been fed by birds?
This is a miracle because ravens eat meat so they actually bring Elijah something that they would normally partake of themselves! The other point is that ravens were an unclean bird. God can bring a blessing through an unclean vessel because the entire world is His. Sometimes in our lives God will use an unclean vessel to bring blessing to us in the same way that He did for Elijah. So be careful about pushing something or some person aside because we think they are ‘unclean’, we need to realise that God can use them in a situation to provide for us. So this is the second lesson. The first was learning obedience. The second lesson that Elijah is learning concerns His provision.
An example of provision from the life of a great saint
I read about George Mueller during the week and I thought this man is unbelievable. In his youth he was a rat-bag and even got put in jail. He then got converted and felt God’s leading to start orphanages in England during the 1800”s. He never shared the needs but just committed everything to prayer and believed that God would provide! And the stories that you read about him are outstanding. One of them was that he had 10,000 children, all of which he provided for all by faith and prayer. God provided for the whole lot. He had 300 children at one of his orphanages one morning and they didn't have one thing to eat. He told the people who worked there to get all the children to sit down and give thanks. They sat down and gave thanks (without there being any food!) when suddenly there was a knock on the door and a baker was there who said “God has kept me awake all night and I knew I had to bake an extra three batches of bread for you.” So he brought in the three batches of bread. Then the milkman came past and the wheel fell off his cart right outside the orphanage! So he came and knocked on the door and asked “do you need any milk because by the time it takes me to get my wheel fixed all the milk that I have is going to go off”. Occurrences like this happened for George Mueller who, through faith in God, provided for the children constantly, all through their life and they never failed to have what they needed. He was amazing because his God is amazing! Apparently when the children got to a certain age and it was time for them to go out to work, he would put a Bible in their left hand and a penny in the other and he would pray for them and tell them “If you take care of your left hand, God will take care of your right hand!” He just committed everything to God. He never sent out flyers presenting his needs. Everything was done on his knees to His Father whom he knew would provide because he was committed to providing. So with Elijah he had complete dependence upon God here to survive. He had water but he didn't have anything else... yet God provided.
When the streams of provision turn into trickles...
1 Kings 17:7 Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land.
The third thing that interests me here is that God led him to a brook that was drying up. He led him to a place of provision, but that provision wasn't going to last. When he went there, there was a nice stream of water with plenty to drink. But because of the drought in the land he was going to be affected as well. That stream turned into a trickle, which would have then turned into a puddle, which then turned into a handful and then into a small sip. So Elijah is at this place watching his provision dwindle. Why would God have led him to a place where the water would dry up? Elijah could have thought that perhaps he should try to find a better place but this would have been a case of him trying to help God out in his own wisdom. It's like that with us. Have you ever felt God lead you to something that doesn't last? My wife, Wendy, actually shared on this passage about a year ago. God opened up a job for her and she had the job virtually a year to the day and it was the greatest job she had ever had. Then the company got sold and restructured and the job was gone. Wendy couldn't understand why God would bring her provision in that way and then allow it to be gone. Now she can look back and say “I can see God's hand in that”. Because what she was doing there has led her to what she is doing now. The contacts that she made there in that year, have led her in a completely different direction which she enjoys far more. It is always when you look back on things that you see how God has been working to take you in the direction that He sees fit. So for Elijah this is a test of faith because it is one step at a time. Do you go running off to look for water? Well Elijah didn't – he stayed put. He stayed put right up until the brook dried up completely! You can only live a certain amount of time without water, but he stayed put. Normally we want a road map on life. We want to know where we are going and for how long. We think we need a GPS system which would tell us the quickest way to get where we want to be but God doesn't actually give that to us. He gives us one step at a time, just like He did with Elijah. He led him to something that wasn't going to last. Elijah demonstrated his complete dependence on God by waiting for Him to tell him what to do next. It is actually at the crisis point when there is nothing left that the Word of the Lord came to him. God always speaks when it is needed, not beforehand.
So what do we do if we see our brooks drying up? Now brooks can be mean many things. Our brook can be health or prosperity, or perhaps a relationship that is not going well. We need to wait on God as Elijah did and let Him tell us what we should do. God leads us all differently, but one thing we do need is to hear from God. In this instance, should Elijah have taken the bull by the horns and run off and found his own path? NO! God's provision and blessing was at Cherith. Had he gone somewhere else, it would not have been where God said. It was here that God had said that “I have commanded the ravens to feed him.” So we should not run off and we can only ask “am I in the place where God wants me to be” You can only say that for yourself before God. Elijah waited for God to act. He waited for God to speak to him.
What if we see the hard times coming in advance?
I see another principle here in scripture – sometimes God tells you ahead of time what is going to happen. Consider Joseph... God told Joseph in a dream that provision was going to dry up. So what did Joseph do? He was actually pro-active and he said okay, if there is going to be a famine, let's start storing our grain now to get us through. So you have that aspect in scripture - that if God shows us something we need to be pro-active and make provision, if we are able, for the future. But you also see this other principle here of a brook that is drying up and he doesn't move because it is part of what God is doing with his character. It is part of the lesson that has to be learned at Cherith.
Cherith, as mentioned earlier, means ‘a cutting away’. It is a cutting of all the things of the self-life so that Elijah (and you and I) can be used of God. It's all about dependence upon God. So what do you do personally when you see your brook drying up? Only you can answer that but you need to hear from God just as we saw that Elijah waited upon the Lord. God’s provision was with Elijah and though hard times came and the provision in that location started to dwindle, God still had other means available for His servant if he would simply wait and be obedient upon the word of God. It is the same for you though hard times will come. But God always has a way! And in the same way that God commanded ravens, He would also command a widow to provide for His servant Elijah in yet another remarkable way. We will continue with that next time and glean from the lessons that can be learnt there.