1 Kings 17:2-7

Sermon preached on May 6, 2007 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2007. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.newlifeop.org/.

My favorite skit from the Ed Sullivan show was of a comedian who was imitating Ed Sullivan. As he was pretending to be Ed Sullivan, he was going to introduce an act just an the end of his show. I think he was just going to introduce the Zambini (?) twins, who were something of an acrobatic act. But just then he was told that they didn't have time left, it was like the Zambini twins act took 2 minutes and they only had a minute left. So the fake Ed made the decision that he would allow only one of the twins out on stage for the performance. He said, "Here's one half of the Zambini twins." Then the guy pretended to be one of the Zambini twins coming out on the stage looking absolutely perplexed because his brother wasn't with him. He said,

"It's just not the same without my brother."

Then he proceeded to pick up some of those pins like bowling pins and he tossed them across the stage, but instead of his brother being there to catch them and throw them back, they just bounced along the other side of the stage. He said,

"It's just not the same without my brother."

He then went to one end of a spring board contraption and jumped on it. The brother was supposed to be on the other end and be propelled up on his shoulders or something like that. Again he muttered,

"It's just not the same without my brother."

It was hilarious.

Some things just go together. You really can't have one without the other. We see something like that in our text. Two things were meant to go together—blessing and the Word of the Lord. Life in the land of Israel was meant to be lived in obedience to the Word of the Lord and thereby it would be a land flowing with milk and honey for God's people.

But what we see here is there was great sin and apostasy in the land. The Israelites turned away from the Lord and from His commands and so God sent a curse upon the land. Elijah told King Ahab that there would not be rain in the land except at his word. Then a remarkable things happens. God told Elijah to leave the people. He said,

"Leave here, turn eastward
and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan.
You will drink from the brook,
and I have ordered the ravens
to feed you there."

In effect, what we have here is

God directing the removal of His Word from the land.

Prophets were God's spokesmen. Elijah's name literally means, "My God is Yahweh". Next to Moses as the representative of the law, Elijah stands as the representative of prophecy in the Old Testament. When God ordered him to leave the land and the people it was like the prophetic function in Israel had ceased. Prophecy had ceased and a curse was over the land.

Elijah had appeared like a flash of lightning. He suddenly appeared and pronounced the curse of no rain against the wickedness of King Ahab and the northern kingdom. Then God commanded him to depart and hide east of the Jordan in the Kerith Ravine. The situation was something like the psalmist described in
Psalm 74:9,

"We are given no miraculous signs;
no prophets are left,
and none of us knows how long this will be."

The only difference being that the people of Elijah's time knew that the famine would not be measured in terms of weeks or months, but it terms of years.

It's also interesting that Elijah is sent, 'east'. God said to Elijah,

"Leave here, turn eastward
and hide in the Kerith Ravine,
east of the Jordan."

The direction 'east' is sometimes used in connection with God's great judgment against people. We first see this Genesis 3:24 after Adam sinned and God put him and Eve out of the Garden of Eden. We read,

"After he drove the man out,
he placed on the east side
of the Garden of Eden
cherubim and a flaming sword
flashing back and forth
to guard the way to the tree of life."

The direction 'east' is used in connection with judgment, with people being excluded from God's blessing.

We also see 'east' being in connection with God's judgment in the book of Ezekiel. In
Ezekiel 10:18-19 we read that the prophet saw the glory of the Lord depart from the doomed temple by the east gate. We read,

"Then the glory of the LORD departed
from over the threshold of the temple
and stopped above the cherubim.
While I watched,
the cherubim spread their wings
and rose from the ground,
and as they went,
the wheels went with them.
They stopped at the entrance
to the east gate of the LORD'S house,
and the glory of the God of Israel
was above them."

So the fact that Elijah is send east may be significant. It may depict the greatness or the horror of the judgment on God's people. Elijah, the great representative of prophecy in the Old Testament, is ordered by God to leave God's people. Prophecy is removed. The great prophet goes east. God is removing His Word, His blessing, His presence from the people of Israel. They are left under a curse.

What a disaster for the people of Israel. They had sinned against the Lord. They had neglected the teaching of the law and ignored the warnings of God's prophets. So God sent a curse upon the land.

There is much for us to learn here.

The first lesson is

how greatly you should value and appreciate the Word of the Lord because it's through obedience to the Word that blessing comes.

The Word of the Lord departed from Israel and there was famine. Blessing only comes from the presence of the Word of God.

Christians, love the Word. Incorporate it into your lives. It is our life. Obedience to it is the source of blessing. Be like David. In Psalm 119:72 David said,

"The law from your mouth
is more precious to me
than thousands of pieces of silver and gold."

Then in Psalm 119:103 he wrote,

"How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!"

Psalm 119:70 he said,

"but I delight in your law."

Then in Psalm 119:41-48 he wrote,

"May your unfailing love come to me,
O LORD, your salvation
according to your promise;
then I will answer the one who taunts me,
for I trust in your word.
Do not snatch the word of truth from my mouth,
for I have put my hope in your laws.
I will always obey your law,
for ever and ever.
I will walk about in freedom,
for I have sought out your precepts.
I will speak of your statutes before kings
and will not be put to shame,
for I delight in your commands because I love them.
I lift up my hands to your commands,
which I love,
and I meditate on your decrees."

As far as Christians are concerned, the situation in our text brings to mind the apostle Paul's words in Ephesians 4:30,

"And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,
with whom you were sealed
for the day of redemption."

He is the 'holy' Spirit. He dwells in us. Any sin or unholiness in our lives is an affront to him. He is grieved and offended whenever we sin. Charles Hodge writes, (Ephesians p. 275)

"To grieve Him… is to wound him on whom our salvation depends. Though he will not finally withdraw from those in whom he dwells, yet when grieved he withholds the manifestations of his presence."

The second great principle we see from our text is that

Christians often share in the consequences that are a result of other people's sins.

Christians often suffer because of the disobedience of others.

We see it in Elijah here. He suffered because of the sin of the people.

Elijah suffered when he was in the Kerith Ravine. He was alone. He was not among the people of Israel—God's chosen. Rather than dwelling among them, and being a blessing to them—by God's direction he appeared like a flash of lightning, uttered the curse of no rain, and then disappeared. God ordered him to go to the east, east of the Jordan and to live in a ravine there, away from human society.

This must have been very trying for the prophet. One of the great desires of those who serve the Lord is to be helpful to others—to be instruments of blessing, not instruments of curse. They don't like to see God's people punished.

We see that in
Moses in Exodus 32. When the people sinned by making the golden calf while Moses was up the mountain getting the law, Moses interceded for them. He said to God, (verses 31-32)

"Oh, what a great sin
these people have committed!
They have made themselves gods of gold.
But now, please forgive their sin
—but if not,
then blot me out of the book you have written."

We see it also in the apostle Paul in Romans 9:1f where he said that he loved his people the Israelites so much that if it were possible he could wish that he would be cut off from Christ so that they could be saved.

Paul loved people being faithful to God. We get an indication of this in
1 Thessalonians 2:19-20. Paul said to the Thessalonian Christians,

"For what is our hope,
our joy, or the crown
in which we will glory
in the presence of our Lord Jesus
when he comes?
Is it not you?
Indeed, you are our glory and joy."

Paul loved serving God in such a way that his converts were faithful and obeyed God—that filled Paul with great joy.

But Elijah didn't have such a ministry at this period in his calling. He uttered a curse and then God ordered him away from the people. We're not sure how long he was in the Kerith Ravine, but we do know that he was away from his people for a total of three and a half years. Elijah was alone. He could not help the people, except by his prayers, yet he was not able to pray for rain until the Lord commanded him to do so.

So the sin of the people of Israel caused the prophet much anguish in a spiritual sense. What a blessing he could have been to the people of Israel. But he's alone. He's not able to perform the normal prophetic mission. He does not speak to anyone. His only company are the ravens who feed him.

But Elijah suffered in lesser ways as well.
Consider how he was deprived of a shelter over his head. He had to live in the wilderness and be fed by ravens.

You can look at this from different perspectives. On the one hand you could say that this was a wonderful provision from God—for the ravens to bring him bread and meat twice a day. And it was. But it also makes me a little squeamish when I think about it. I really like food being sanitary. When I used to go on multi-day hikes in the high peaks I remember than on the first or second day I would never drink from someone else's water bottle after he had used it. But after that, if I ran out and someone offered me a drink from their water bottle, I wouldn't take it at first, but after awhile I would become so thirsty and dehydrated that I would take it. But I found it kind of yucky.

I don't know how you'd feel about being fed by ravens, but I'd be a bit squeamish about it.
Ravens are big crows. They feed mostly on the decaying flesh of dead animals. I don't know how hungry I'd be before I ate anything one of them had in his mouth—but I'd have to be really hungry.

But the point is that Elijah being put in a position where he had to be fed by crows shows that he, too, suffering because of the famine.

But Elijah wasn't the only righteous one who suffered.

Although Elijah thought that he was the only one who was faithful to the Lord, the Lord later told him that there were 7000 who were faithful to the Lord. In 1 Kings 19:18, God said to him,

"Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—
all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal
and all whose mouths have not kissed him."

Among those 7000 were Obadiah and the 100 prophets that he hid in two caves to save them from Jezebel.

The 7000 faithful ones suffered greatly. Not only did they suffer in the famine, but they were deprived of Elijah's presence, of his blessing. The other prophets were also hidden away from them. What great hardship they endured.

Jesus spoke about the hardship in the land at that time in
Luke 4:25-27. He said,

"I assure you that there were
many widows in Israel in Elijah's time,
when the sky was shut for three and a half years
and there was a severe famine
throughout the land.
Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them,
but to a widow in Zarephath
in the region of Sidon. "

There was severe famine. The point is that they people who were faithful to the Lord also suffered in this famine. The faithful in Israel also had no rain. They had no prophets. They suffered. Their crops suffered. They, too, experienced the famine.

Indeed, many of them died. In chapter 18 we read that Jezebel undertook a campaign to kill the prophets of the Lord. It could be that she was furious with Elijah for the famine, so she killed his allies, other faithful prophets of the Lord.

There are three lessons for Christians from this.

First, this means for you is that

when you suffer even when you're being faithful to the Lord, don't be discouraged.

Don't think that it's something that has only happened to you. Elijah knew all about it. Many, many Christians throughout the ages have known it. Jesus knew all about it. Jesus experienced such suffering in this world—not because He was sinful, for He was not. He was perfect. He suffered because of the sins of others—because of our sins. So when you suffer because of the sins of others—recognize that you're in good company—in fact the best company. Suffer patiently, gladly, knowing that the Lord will sustain and deliver you.

Secondly, Christians, this means that

you should willing embrace, God's will even when it is difficult.

I'm sure it was against every fiber of Elijah's being to leave the people of Israel and be alone in the wilderness with the crows. But he obeyed. One of his greatest joys was to be a blessing to the people. To be told to leave and know that his time away would be measured in years—was very difficult. But he obeyed.

I'm sure it was against every fiber of
Abraham's being when God told him to take his son Isaac and offer him as a sacrifice. But he obeyed. What an example Abraham is to us. In Genesis 22:3 we read,

"Early the next morning Abraham got up
and saddled his donkey.
He took with him two of his servants
and his son Isaac.
When he had cut enough wood
for the burnt offering,
he set out for the place
God had told him about."

How hard it must have been for Jesus to drink the cup the Father had for Him. You'll remember His anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane? His sweat became like great drops of blood. He told His disciples that His soul was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. He asked the Father that if it was possible that the cup be removed from Him. When they came to arrest Him and Peter started fighting to prevent His arrest, Jesus said to him, (John 18:11)

"Put your sword away!
Shall I not drink the cup
the Father has given me?"

Does God's Word ever move you in a direction that is very, very difficult? Does it tell you not to marry a non-Christian when every fiber of your heart tells you that you should do it? Obey God even when it's difficult. Does God's Word tell you to praise God even when you're suffering, to give thanks in all circumstances, even when God takes away that which is most precious to you—yet in you're heart you're so disappointed, so devastated, that it echoes the words of Job's wife, (Job 2:9)

"Curse God and die!"

Obey God even when it's difficult.

Does God's Word ever tell you to tell the truth, even when you know you'll get it trouble for it? Obey God even when it's difficult.

Does God's Word ever tell you not to have an abortion, even though you know there'll be embarrassment and hardship because of it? Obey God even when it's difficult.

The last principle I want to draw your attention to in our text is the fact that we see from Elijah's departure that

Elijah was helpless to help the people while he was gone.

Elijah's departure shows the impotence of the prophet.

Elijah had to leave. He wanted to be such a blessing to the people of Israel—but he had to utter a curse and leave and be alone for many months. He was in a sense, helpless to help them.

It was the same with
Moses. I've already mention that when the people sinned by making a golden calf while he was up on the mountain, he wanted God to forgive the people. But he couldn't offer his life in place of the people. All he could say was,

"But now, please forgive their sin
—but if not,
then blot me out
of the book you have written."

In this both Moses and Elijah point us to the fact that One greater than them had to come. They point us to Jesus.

Jesus came with great love for sinners and, unlike Moses and Elijah, He was able to save them. He was not impotent. Unlike Moses, Jesus did not say to God, if you don't forgive their sin, blot me out of the book you have written. Unlike Elijah, He did not go outside the gate to suffer in vain. No, Jesus suffered and died in place of sinners. He took the curse for their sin on Himself and satisfied it. He rose from the dead and has gone to heaven to prepare a place for them.

Christians, how you should rejoice in Jesus.

He has saved you from your sins. He has removed them as far from you as far as the east is from the west. He has brought you into God's family. He has purchased you with His blood. You are not under a curse—but a blessing. Rejoice in your great Savior.

Those of you who are not Christians, this shows that you need Jesus.

Only He can save you. Moses could not save the Israelites of his time. Elijah could not save the Israelites of his day. Neither of them could die in the place of sinners because they themselves were sinners. If they died, they would have had to die for their own sins. Nor can you save yourself. The curse for sin is death. What is it going to be? Are you going to die and suffer eternally for your sins—or are you going to go to Jesus and ask Him to save you? It's a no brainer. Go to Jesus now. Ask Him to save you and trust in Him.