God’s Preparation Process in the wilderness
I was suddenly awoke very early on Christmas Eve a few years ago with the following scripture impressed strongly upon my mind.
“I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.”
I had at that time recently left a church and been told to go away and read “the church fathers”!
I was at that time still in a great deal of emotional pain as my husband, of many years, had walked out on me and my three sons about a year prior to this. (He subsequently divorced me). I was also not familiar at that time with the idea that a Christian could simply “not go to church” and so was feeling rather desperate, just at home, alone, churchless, not really knowing what to do next! All I knew is that I loved the Lord tremendously and He was (and still is) the ONLY one that I could really trust in this life.
I had obviously been praying greatly and deeply about all these things so I knew that the Lord was speaking to me when I “heard” the scripture upon waking. But what was the meaning that the Lord had for me? I didn’t even know where to find the scripture in my bible to check out what I had heard in its context. I kind of rummaged around in my bible to attempt to locate it (I had no electronic device or concordance to hand at that moment in time) but then I gave up and just thought, ah well, as it’s Christmas time I will just read about Jesus’ birth in the beginning of Luke. I was amazed to find that the scripture was right there in Luke 4:25-26 just as I had “heard” it! It was a scripture that Jesus Himself spoke after He had read the Isaiah prophecy in the synagogue and stated that it pertained to Himself, when the people were marveling at his words. The fuller passage is as follows:-
“He said to them, “You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country.’” Then He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff.” (Luke 4:23-29)
Jesus was using the examples of Elijah and Elisha to emphasize that a prophet is not accepted in his own country. The people’s response was wrath with murderous intentions! And we must remember that Jesus said how they treated Him would be how they treat us likewise. Now don’t get me wrong here, I am not saying I am a prophet, or anything close, but the Lord was maybe trying to say that it is a normal part of being His follower for the religious people (who are not necessarily His followers) to take umbrage at, and show animosity towards, and even to the point of hating the true, obedient disciples of the Lord.
Anyway I discovered that Elijah was mentioned by James.
“Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.” James 5:17-18
So as I commence looking at this bible character in a little more detail we must hold this thought in our minds that Elijah, though he is an exceedingly great man of God, and one of my Bible Heroes, he also was just human, with a nature like ours. However, he was a man who PRAYED. That is of vital importance. He spoke with and heard from God. This is how we also need to live our lives so that we likewise can be righteous with effective and fervent prayers.
Conditions in Israel when Elijah appears
At the start of 1 Kings 17 the conditions bear a certain similarity to those at the start of Gideon’s story. There is great apostasy in the land of Israel with Baal worship under the reign of a truly wicked King Ahab and his notorious wife Jezebel. Where the king ought to have pointed the people to the Lord God there was terrible idolatry in that place, worse than ever before it states in the Bible. So for anyone who loved the true God there was a spiritual famine in the land. This speaks to me of our present day somewhat. I have discovered that the Lord’s people are not fed and led in biblical, God-honouring ways but are being led into idolatry and false teachings and even another Jesus is taught in many places.
Elijah enters the story with a rather bold and alarming statement to this most wicked of kings
“And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.” 1 Kings 17:1.
So God’s chastisement on the nation for their disobedience, lack of faith in Him alone, and worshiping false gods was drought with the consequences of famine for a whole nation. This was always God’s promise in the Old Testament Law for such situations. So the rain stopped because of the sin of God’s people.
Now we can of course surmise that Elijah had obviously been having his own relationship with the Lord to have such boldness to speak to such a wicked king with such a massive pronouncement as this. And as the story unfolds I noticed that the bible repeatedly states, “Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying…” So Elijah was in close fellowship with God, hearing his voice and obeying His commands.
However, unlike Gideon’s first task of tearing down false idols, Elijah is commanded to go and hide from the wicked people as the drought commences! This is very different indeed and serves to show us that the only way to survive in difficult spiritual times is to stay close to the Lord to hear His instructions. We cannot simply select a Bible hero of our choosing and simply copy them as that may be the exact opposite of what the Lord would want us to do. The Bible says:
“Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Get away from here and turn eastward, and hide by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. And it will be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.”
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. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the brook.”
So I learnt that in times of spiritual apostasy, such as I believe we are currently living in, that the Lord will keep His believers alive via differing and unusual means that you might not expect, than in previous times. As in Jesus’ example, both Elijah and Elisha were sent outside of the land of Israel to work miracles for foreigners, as they were not accepted in their own country, due to the apostate nature of the leaders and people. They had to put God first and their homeland and their friends and families second. Likewise I find that true followers of the Lord Jesus Christ are frequently not accepted in most churches in our day and age.
At The Brook Cherith
I have noticed that it is often instructive to find out the meanings of names in the bible stories, so I have found that the place Cherith means to cut off.
“The Hebrew name of the brook Cherith or Kerith literally means “a cut”. It comes from the root word “kah-RAHTH” which means “to cut off”, “to cut down”, “to cut asunder”, implying “to destroy”.
So it seems appropriate as Elijah goes there and he is cut off from his own country and peoples. In fact he is probably all alone, cut off from every one. He is just perhaps “Alone with God”. That is rather how I felt that Christmas, and maybe you feel in a similar position yourself even now as you read this. But God was with him and will be with us too when we are all alone at His command. I think that I was rather afraid of just “being alone with God” as I had imbibed an exceedingly strong cultural “church-going” habit and mentality and I was unable to let that go, or be cut off from that, until some years down the line.
Also I noticed that although the Lord led him to water, the food came via non-kosher means. The ravens, who would normally eat dead meat, brought meat and bread twice a day for him. This was not a normal method of feeding, far from it, as Jews consider the raven an unclean bird. This was God feeding his follower in a totally different manner, one that his religious upbringing had not prepared him for!
So at Cherith we have Elijah:
- OBEYING the Lord’s instructions – to go there and stay there.
- CUT OFF from the people who ought to have been faithful to the Lord, but were not.
- FED by unusual, unorthodox, miraculous means.
- LEARNING FULL dependence upon the Lord’s guidance and provision.
From my Journal in 2010
I wrote: “I fully trust that God will also provide for me. The conventional churches that are meant to care for me have failed in this time of “spiritual famine” in my land. I am trusting God to keep feeding me Himself as I read the bible and pray to Him and wait to see what other people I meet in due course.”
Unfortunately, I kept on going to various churches, on and off for a few more years and was becoming more & more disillusioned until I finally gave up doing so altogether. I am only just learning to settle in Cherith, as it were, but am finally more at peace with this situation that I am in. I used to have an erroneous belief that as times deteriorated spiritually for true believers that I would meet people within the churches who would want to meet in a more informal fashion in our homes for true fellowship. I was wanting those connections first and was not understanding that Cherith had to come before Zarephath! I can now see the error of my thinking and the troubles that has caused me for many years.
If what I write here can just help one or two others to realise that it is OK to “let go of church-going”, it is OK to be “cut off” and it is OK to simply “be alone with God for a season”, then my work here will be worthwhile. Can you see that in the aloneness, being fed by the miracle of the Lord in a completely different way, that Elijah was actually being prepared for his future usefulness to the Lord in that great challenge with all those false prophets on Mount Carmel. First came the aloneness in the famine then secondly came human fellowship of a most unusual kind. So even if we “stop going to church” and stay all alone, just with the Lord and His Word, we can put our full trust that He will lead us to the fellowship of those who He wants but in His timing. We cannot force the hand of the Lord, nor can we force others but we can certainly sit by a brook and wait and pray just like Elijah did until we get the next instruction from the Lord ourselves.
Go to Zarephath!
As the drought took its natural consequences, the brook dried up and once more God speaks to Elijah.
“Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.” 1 Kings 17:8-9
We do not know exactly how long he spent by the brook alone or how long he was with the widow except that the total time was three and a half years before the rain came. However, we can know that Elijah may have been wondering what would happen next as he had no doubt noticed the brook drying up. So up he gets and off he goes in obedience to the Lord, not quite knowing how this would pan out for him.
“So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, indeed a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Please bring me a little water in a cup, that I may drink.”
And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, “Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.”
So she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” 1 Kings 17:10-12
So Elijah arrives both hungry and thirsty from a long journey (possibly 80 miles from the brook) and some may consider his request of this lady rather presumptuous in a time of famine, but we know that the Lord is in it all. What I have discovered is that this place, Zarephath, was also under the rule of a Baal-worshiping king, (who happened to be Ahab’s own father-in-law) and it was undoubtedly immersed in the heathen practices that God loathed too! So he was now hidden right under the noses of Ahab and Jezebel!
Now let’s just look at the word meaning of the place name Zarephath.
This means, “place of refinement” (from Strong’s Dictionary)
or “smelting place, place of purification with fire or trial“.
So we can see that Elijah is being prepared to be used by the Lord both by a cutting off from his countrymen and now a refining process. I think that all true believers will likewise have to go through similar things in their lives to become useful vessels for the Lord. Jesus told us that we could not love our spouse or relatives more than Him and be His disciples. We have to deny ourselves and go through His refining process to become more useful servants for tasks He may have ahead of us.
“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” Luke 14:26-27
Also consider Proverbs 17:3
“The refining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the Lord trieth the hearts.”
I will just add here a quote from Paul Benson’s blog as it sheds a little more light on this proverb beautifully. He says:
“The allegory used here is one of a silversmith or goldsmith taking the material he wants to use and ‘trying it’ by applying the fire of purification to it. As the metal melts and then simmers under intense heat, all of its impurities raise to the surface where the ‘smith’ can now remove them; thus he has purified the metal and made it fit for use.
So it is with the heavenly ‘Smith’ and His children with their ‘golden’ faith. The trying of our faith in life’s ‘fires of purification’ can be a horribly painful and lonely experience; even to the point you are sure you are going to perish before the trial is over. But when the ‘heat’ cools, and the experience passes, you are aware of a new-found purity in your faith and a ‘ready for service’ attitude that was not there before your trip to the ‘furnace’. It is truly a wonderful thing.”
We may all have to go through various times of trial, testing, persecution, famine and drought but God is always faithful to provide for us via His Word and His Holy Spirit whatever lies ahead of us.
Back to The Widow of Zarephath
Just as ravens were not considered clean birds, then foreign widow women were also in a similar category. If you can remember how the disciples reacted when Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well, it says that: “they marveled that He talked with a woman…” It seems to me that the Lord often uses those people and things that are despised by the world in order to display His glory. He takes a person from the lowest rung in society’s eyes, a person impoverished by famine also, a person truly at deaths door with only a handful of flour, and He works a wonderful miracle for those involved. A similar thing happened with a boy who had some bread and fish and the Lord Jesus fed 5,000 with it.
So just a reminder of how Elijah then answers this dear lady’s claim to have so very little to offer by way of hospitality to strangers. See how he tells her not to FEAR and that GOD will PROVIDE a miracle for her.
“And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.’”
So although she has so very little she amazingly believes him and does as he requests and feeds Elijah before herself and her son and finds that his word was true:-
“The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke by Elijah.” 1 Kings 17:13-16
I do not know why the Lord chose to save this lady’s life in this manner. But we do know, from what Jesus said, that there were a lot of widows in Israel at that time that went hungry and maybe died in the famine. We do know that it says that the Lord commanded her to provide for Elijah, so she may have had a heart that was seeking the true God. Maybe all the widow women in Israel were following idols, worshiping false gods, and unfaithful to the Lord.
We do know also that the story continues with dramatic twists and turns. We do know that she not only got food in a famine but she got the company of a most amazing, prayerful, Godly man of wonderful faith to learn from. So there was food, there was fellowship and there was faith. Such blessed provision for each of them which lasted until the rains fell and there was natural provision once more.
I just want to add, that I also discovered that the Lord had spoken in a similar fashion from the story of Elijah to the author, Helen Roseveare, as I read in her book, “Digging Ditches”. She wrote:
“Through all that time, Elijah was doubtless learning deep spiritual lessons from God, lessons of absolute dependence on God alone and not just on His blessings, but also about the importance of immediate, unquestioning obedience to the Word of God without demanding explanations, and about the ability of Almighty God to undertake and provide for and protect His servant, no matter what the situation….God showed me that He had prepared Elijah through chapter 17 before He could trust him with the fantastic victory of chapter 18.”
So I just want to encourage you once more not be afraid to “go to Cherith” nor afraid to “go to Zarephath”, as these processes of aloneness and refinement are in fact essential to the strengthening of your faith in the Lord. Those whose prayers are “powerful and effective” will have been purified by the Lord over a period of time. There will always be conflict ahead, if you have not already faced some already, so we need to be those people who are not bound up in traditions or institutions but are simply strengthened in the Lord, as Paul writes:
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. “
Just a poem to finish…
I wrote this poem just a few weeks prior to the Lord speaking to me about Elijah, and I add it here as I used the concept of feeling as alone as Elijah in the last verse.
A Seed In the Breeze
As I cling to the edge of the world
My life like a seed in the breeze,
As my fingertips slip in their grip
It’s then that I fall to my knees.
I cry out to my Lord and my God
I plead for His mercy and love.
As He sees my rejection and sorrow
His comfort descends from above.
He knows all the cruel, treacherous words
The shuns and the doors slammed on me.
He feels all my pains and my tears
There’s nothing that He doesn’t see.
When my husband, companions and others
Turned their backs so completely on me,
It’s then I remember that Christ
Took my sins on himself on that tree.
As companions who went to the church
Bitter judgements against me they say,
Yet I turn in my grief to my Lord
And His Word comforts me all the day.
I may feel all alone like Elijah,
Yet I know that my God will sustain,
He’s the same God today as back then
And His peace and His love still remain.
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