"When the Brook Dries Up"
|1 Kings 17:1-16|
In I Kings 17 the prophet Elijah bursts onto the scene. Without any prelude or backstory, suddenly, he’s there. His name Elijah the Tishbite tells us he came from Tishbe in Gilead on the east side of the Jordan. Or . . . it means “the Stranger”. Elijah, the Stranger. Elijah appears and he hits the ground running. Right off, in verse 1, he’s confronting the king, announcing a drought.
The king was Ahab. We know two things about Ahab; one from archeology and one from the Bible. From archeology, we know that Ahad was one of the most powerful and successful kings of the Northern Kingdom. From the Bible we know that he was very wicked. “Ahab . . . did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him” (1 Kings 16:30). He married Jezebel, the daughter of a Phoenician king and they, Jezebel and Ahab instituted the worship of the god Ba’al in Israel. Ahab built a temple to Ba’al in Samaria, his capital city and also a shrine to the goddess Asherah and the Bible says again, he “did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him” (vs. 33).
The tenor of the times is summed up in the concluding verse of chapter 16:
In Ahab’s time, Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. He laid its foundations at the cost of his firstborn son Abiram, and he set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, in accordance with the word of the Lord spoken by Joshua son of Nun (vs. 34)
That means that when the walls of Jericho were built this man sacrificed his first-born son and ritually buried the body beneath the foundation. And when the gates were set up, he sacrifices his youngest son.
That was the moral and religious atmosphere in the days of Ahab.
Elijah appears out of nowhere, strides up to the king and says, “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” (17:1). And almost immediately God tells Elijah to “Get out of town.”
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 directed the ravens to supply you with food there.”
Let us note here that sometimes God’s plans for providing for us don’t make sense (vss. 1-6).
James tells us, “Elijah was a human being, even as we are” (5:17) so, I must wonder what he’s thinking here. I am supposing that Elijah had considered plans for surviving the drought—store up food, plant drought tolerant crops, beg in the streets—probably not “Go camp by a desert brook and have the ravens come and feed you.”
But, the text says, “he did what the Lord had told him.” Because when the Lord says, “This is the way I will take care of you” you do it. Even if it doesn’t make sense from a human standpoint. Since that is true, expect God’s leading of you leading of you not to make sense to a lot of people. Sometimes, I’ve gotten the comment form people, “If you want to make a living by talking, why not become a lawyer and make a lot of money?”
So, Elijah goes and lives in the Kerith Ravine, a desert canyon on the east side of the Jordan. He stays there for an undetermined period. And it’s good. While everyone else is suffering the effects of the drought, Elijah has his breakfast and dinner delivered each day by ravens and he drinks from the gurgling brook which runs through the middle of the ravine.
But, the text says, “Some time later the brook dried up” (vs. 7a). What? This was Elijah’s lifeline. This was God’s provision for his survival. Why did the brook dry up?
It’s a relevant question because, for all of us, there are things in our lives that we think of as proof of God’s blessing—a relationship, a job, money, success--whatever. But, sometimes those sometimes brooks dry up. What if God suddenly takes away the thing that you see as evidence of God’s blessing—a relationship ends, a loved one dies, a job is lost, you suffer a business reversal? How do we handle that?
Let’s ask the question, “Why did the brook dry up?”
First, it was not because God forgot Elijah.
It wasn’t a situation where God got busy in some distant part of the universe and suddenly remembered, “O, I forgot all about Elijah! I’ll bet that brook has dried up.”
No. God never forgets us. He knows us and provides for us always. Jesus said,
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! (Luke 12:6-7, 27-28)
He invites us to pray for the things we need; “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).
It was not because God had stopped loving Elijah.
Sometimes we think that because of something we’ve done, God can no longer love us. “How can he love someone like me?” Romans 5:8 tells us, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were still in a state of rebellion against him, God still loved us and sent his Son to die for us.
A great picture of this great, forgiving love of God is seen in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15). The young man had asked his father for his share of the inheritance and had gone off to a foreign county and wasted it all. Eventually, he came to his senses and returned to his father’s house. And what does the text say?
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him (Luke 5:20).
The only way the father saw him coming for “a long way off” was if he was watching for him to return. What a beautiful picture of our Father’s love for us. Even when we sin against him, he waits and watches for us to return. And when we return, he welcomes us with open arms.
The brook did not dry up because Elijah had sinned. Elijah had not sinned. He was right where God had told him to be. Sometimes, when we suffer a loss, it is because of sin in our lives. So, this isn’t a bad thing to consider. But, it doesn’t necessarily follow that because bad things happen that God is punishing you.
The biblical example here is Job. He was a righteous man and yet he lost everything. Even his friends were quick to say, “There must be some hidden sin in your life for this to be happening to you.” But, they were wrong. Job cries out to God and finally God answers him. God never explains why Job suffered—He just tells Job, “There are somethings I know that you don’t,” and that seems to satisfy Job.
Don’t automatically assume when someone suffers—or you suffer—that it’s because their out of God’s will. God’s purposes are far above our ability to understand. But I do know one thing: “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Ok, so why did the brook dry up?
First, the brook dried up because Elijah was suffering the consequences of the corrective judgment of God upon a rebellious nation (vs. 7b).
The text gives us one reason. In verse 7 “. . . because it had not rained in the land.” Well, duh. It makes sense, doesn’t it? No rain and eventually the brook dries up. The rain hadn’t fallen because the land was under the corrective discipline of God and Elijah was suffering the consequences.
When a nation falls under the judgment of God everyone suffers, believers and nonbelievers. No one is immune. For example, if because of the foolishness or greed of our leaders, the economy crashes Christians will be affected just as non-Christians are. That’s why it is so important for us to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
A biblical example would be that when it came time that God had to judge the southern kingdom of Judah, three great prophets suffered the consequences of the national judgment--Daniel, Ezekiel and Jeremiah. Daniel and Ezekiel were both exiled to Babylon, but Jeremiah was called to remain in Jerusalem and witness the destruction of the city. These men, and many others, suffered the consequences of the sin of the nation.
Secondly, the brook dried up because God had something else for Elijah to do (vss. 8-16).
“Go at once to Zarephath”. There was a widow and her son that God wanted to save. Again, we see God using an unlikely source to provide for his prophet. The widow was a Phoenician, the same nationality as the wicked queen, Jezebel. God would use this woman to save Elijah and God would use Elijah to save this woman and her family.
Sometimes, when a brook dries up, it’s God’s way of moving us on to the next place he wants us to be. There are other places he wants us to serve--other people he wants us to help, but we want to stay with what we’re used to, what we’re comfortable with. So, God removes that old security so we’ll move out.
When God lets a brook dry up in our life, it’s only because he has a much greater plan for us.
So . . .
Don’t ever blame God for a dry brook. He does not intend to hurt you, only to do you good.
When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone (James 1:13).
And, of course, Romans 8:28 again:
In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
God has only our good in mind. In all our dry brooks, he is working for our good. We may not see it now, but someday, maybe in heaven, we’re going to thank God for all he’s done and allowed in our lives.
And . . .
He can and will overcome any dry brook.
God provided for his prophet and the widow and her family. But, notice how he did it. He didn’t back up a semi-truck full of flour and oil and dump it on her. The “jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry.” What this means is that whenever she went to the pantry, there was always enough flour and oil for that day, and when she went back the next day, there was enough for that day. That’s how God takes care of his children.
Jesus instructed us to pray for our daily bread, not all the bread we would ever need for the rest of our life, so that we will learn to rely on God every day.
When the brook dries up we can respond by becoming fearful, angry, resentful; or we can trust God, believing that the One who provided for us in the past is able to provide in the future.