God’s Preparation Process
I was suddenly awoken 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 recently left off going to a certain church at that time, (having been rather cooly told to go away and read the “church fathers”!) and had attended most churches in my locality over the course of the last decade or so. As such, I felt at a complete loss, not knowing what to do next, as there appeared to be no further possible “sound-doctrine-type-of-churches” left! All avenues of that nature had been tried and found wanting. I was not familiar with the idea that a Christian could simply “not go to church.” So I was feeling rather desperate, just at home alone, a confused, churchless Christian! All I knew is that I loved the Lord tremendously and He was the ONLY one that I could really trust in this matter.
I had of course, been praying greatly and deeply, 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 felt rather perplexed. 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 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 chapter four, 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. He started by stating (Luke 4:24-26):
“Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.”
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 at that time, was exceedingly wrathful! 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 religious people (who are not necessarily His followers) to take umbrage at, and show animosity towards, the true, obedient disciples of the Lord.
Anyway I discovered that Elijah was also mentioned by James.
“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, heard from God and then obeyed.
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 evil 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 already a spiritual famine in the land.
An Aside: This speaks to me of our present day somewhat. I have discovered that the Lord’s people are frequently not fed and led in biblical, God-honouring ways but are being led into false teachings, and even another Jesus is taught in many places. Hence, my perplexed state regarding my churchlessness. (See my Church post here) & (See my Sheep Hear My Voice post here)
Elijah enters the story with a rather bold, most dramatic and alarming statement to this most wicked of kings:
“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
Thus, 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 promised consequence in the Old Testament Law for such situations. So the rain stopped because of the sin of God’s people.
Now we’ve already noted (from the letter of James), that Elijah had been having his own close, prayerful relationship with the Lord And as the story unfolds I noticed that the Bible repeatedly states, “Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying…” This just emphasises this point – that Elijah was in close fellowship with God; hearing his voice and obeying His commands. This is an absolute MUST for all Christian followers of the Lord.
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 that the Lord will keep His people alive via differing and unusual means that you might not expect. As Jesus said, both Elijah and Elisha were sent outside of the land of Israel to work miracles for foreigners, due to not being accepted in their own country, due to the apostacy. They had to put God first and their homeland, their friends and their families second. They were willing to go where the Lord sent them.
There may come a time in each believer’s life when each will need to decide if they are going to cling to people, things or institutions rather than heeding and following the Lord.
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.
I think that I was at that time, rather afraid of just “being alone with God,” as I had imbibed such an exceedingly strong cultural “church-going” habit and mentality that I was unable to let that go, or be cut off from, until some years down the line.
Food for Thought
Although the Lord led Elijah 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.
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.
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 a belief that as times deteriorated spiritually, 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 (that came before Mount Carmel).
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. And none of us know what is ahead that the Lord would be preparing each believer for. Let us therefore not attack one another, and put a stumbling block in front of another, when we are each responsible to the Lord. (Romans 14:13)
First came the aloneness in the famine, then secondly came human fellowship of a most unusual kind. So even if we do “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 only 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 another Baal-worshiping king, (who happened to be Ahab’s own father-in-law, ie Jezabel’s dad!) and so it too was immersed in the wicked practices that God hated! So he was now hidden right under the noses of Ahab and Jezebel!
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 cannot love ANYTHING of this world more than Him. We have to deny ourselves, and go through His refining process, to become more useful servants for tasks He may have ahead of us. Luke 14:26-27
Consider now 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 that I found on another 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.” (By Paul Benson)
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.
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.
Elijah answers this dear lady’s claim to have so very little to offer by way of hospitality to strangers, by telling 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 who maybe even 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. We do know that later in the story, after some dramatic twists and turns, when after her son died and was raised back to life she is recorded as saying to Elijah:
“Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth.”” 1 Kings 17:24
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 to be afraid to “go to Cherith,” nor afraid to “go to Zarephath,” as these processes of cut-off-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. Mount Carmel for Elijah was no walk in the park!
There will always be conflict ahead for obedient believers, so we need to be those people who are not silenced or bound up in traditions of men or institutions; but people who are simply strengthened by the Lord, ready to stand firm, to fight the battles that He prepares for us. We need to be flexible and “faith-full” enough to know that God can provide all the nourishment (physical and spiritual) that is necessary for each stage of our walk of faith with Him. We need to be ready to OBEY our Saviour and heavenly Father, due to our love for Him. Listen for His voice and obey His commands. Be led and fed by Him always, even if it means swimming against the tide, being different, alone, despised or rejected. The battles are immense but the rewards are eternal!
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. “
Some other sites that I have found helpful:-
“The Church Outside The Camp” by Tricia Tillin at Banner.org.uk here This is a very helpful 2-part article on the subject of believers living outside of the institutional church setting and is by far one of the most thorough and helpful articles I have found. And also her article The Biblical Church is very good.
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