The history of Elijah begins somewhat abruptly. Usually, when a prophet enters, we have some account of his parentage, are told whose son he was and of what tribe; but Elijah drops (so to speak) out of the clouds, as if, like Melchisedek, he were without father, without mother, and without descent, which made some of the Jews fancy that he was an angel sent from heaven; but the apostle has assured us that he was a man subject to like passions as we are (Jas. 5:17), which perhaps intimates, not only that he was liable to the common infirmities of human nature, but that, by his natural temper, he was a man of strong passions, more hot and eager than most men, and therefore the more fit to deal with the daring sinners of the age he lived in: so wonderfully does God suit men to the work he designs them for. Rough spirits are called to rough services. The reformation needed such a man as Luther to break the ice. Observe, 1. The prophet’s name: Elijahu—“My God Jehovah is he” (so it signifies), “is he who sends me and will own me and bear me out, is he to whom I would bring Israel back and who alone can effect that great work.” 2. His country: He was of the inhabitants of Gilead, on the other side Jordan, either of the tribe of Gad or the half of Manasseh, for Gilead was divided between them; but whether a native of either of those tribes is uncertain. The obscurity of his parentage was no prejudice to his eminency afterwards. We need not enquire whence men are, but what they are: if it be a good thing, no matter though it come out of Nazareth. Israel was sorely wounded when God sent them this balm from Gilead and this physician thence. He is called a Tishbite from Thisbe, a town in that country. Two things we have an account of here in the beginning of his story:—
I. How he foretold a famine, a long and grievous famine, with which Israel should be punished for their sins. That fruitful land, for want of rain, should be turned into barrenness, for the iniquity of those that dwelt therein. He went and told Ahab this; did not whisper it to the people, to make them disaffected to the government, but proclaimed it to the king, in whose power it was to reform the land, and so to prevent the judgment. It is probable that he reproved Ahab for his idolatry and other wickedness, and told him that unless he repented and reformed this judgment would be brought upon his land. There should be neither dew nor rain for some years, none but according to my word, that is, “Expect none till you hear from me again.” The apostle teaches us to understand this, not only of the word of prophecy, but the word of prayer, which turned the key of the clouds, Jas. 5:17, 18. He prayed earnestly (in a holy indignation at Israel’s apostasy, and a holy zeal for the glory of God, whose judgments were defied) that it might not rain; and, according to his prayers, the heavens became as brass, till he prayed again that it might rain. In allusion to this story it is said of God’s witnesses (Rev. 11:6), These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy. Elijah lets Ahab know, 1. That the Lord Jehovah is the God of Israel, whom he had forsaken. 2. That he is a living God, and not like the gods he worshipped, which were dead dumb idols. 3. That he himself was God’s servant in office, and a messenger sent from him: “It is he before whom I stand, to minister to him,” or “whom I now represent, in whose stead I stand, and in whose name I speak, in defiance of the prophets of Baal and the groves.” 4. That, notwithstanding the present peace and prosperity of the kingdom of Israel, God was displeased with them for their idolatry and would chastise them for it by the want of rain (which, when he withheld it, it was not in the power of the gods they served to bestow; for are there any of the vanities of the heathen that can give rain? Jer. 14:22), which would effectually prove their impotency, and the folly of those who left the living God, to make their court to such as could do neither good nor evil; and this he confirms with a solemn oath—As the Lord God of Israel liveth, that Ahab might stand the more in awe of the threatening, the divine life being engaged for the accomplishment of it. 5. He lets Ahab know what interest he had in heaven: It shall be according to my word. With what dignity does he speak when he speaks in God’s name, as one who well understood that commission of a prophet (Jer. 1:10), I have set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms. See the power of prayer and the truth of God’s word; for he performeth the counsel of his messengers.
II. How he was himself taken care of in that famine. 1. How he was hidden. God bade him go and hide himself by the brook Cherith, 1 Kgs. 17:3. This was intended, not so much for his preservation, for it does not appear that Ahab immediately sought his life, but as a judgment to the people, to whom, if he had publicly appeared, he might have been a blessing both by his instructions and his intercession, and so have shortened the days of their calamity; but God had determined it should last three years and a half, and therefore, so long, appointed Elijah to abscond, that he might not be solicited to revoke the sentence, the execution of which he had said should be according to his word. When God speaks concerning a nation, to pluck up and destroy, he finds some way or other to remove those that would stand in the gap to turn away his wrath. It bodes ill to a people when good men and good ministers are ordered to hide themselves. When God intended to send rain upon the earth then he bade Elijah go and show himself to Ahab, 1 Kgs. 18:1. For the present, in obedience to the divine command, he went and dwelt all alone in some obscure unfrequented place, where he was not discovered, probably among the reeds of the brook. If Providence calls us to solitude and retirement, it becomes us to acquiesce; when we cannot be useful we must be patient, and when we cannot work for God we must sit still quietly for him. 2. How he was fed. Though he could not work there, having nothing to do but to meditate and pray (which would help to prepare him for his usefulness afterwards), yet he shall eat, for he is in the way of his duty, and verily he shall be fed, in the day of famine he shall be satisfied. When the woman, the church, is driven into the wilderness, care it taken that she be fed and nourished there, time, times, and half a time, that is, three years and a half, which was just the time of Elijah’s concealment. See Rev. 12:6, 14. Elijah must drink of the brook, and the ravens were appointed to bring him meat (1 Kgs. 17:4) and did so, 1 Kgs. 17:6. Here, (1.) The provision was plentiful, and good, and constant, bread and flesh twice a day, daily bread and food convenient. We may suppose that he fared not so sumptuously as the prophets of the groves, who did eat at Jezebel’s table (1 Kgs. 18:19), and yet better than the rest of the Lord’s prophets, whom Obadiah fed with bread and water, 1 Kgs. 18:4. It ill becomes God’s servants, especially his servants the prophets, to be nice and curious about their food and to affect dainties and varieties; if nature be sustained, no matter though the palate be not pleased; instead of envying those who have daintier fare, we should think how many there are, better than we, who live comfortably upon coarser fare and would be glad of our leavings. Elijah had but one meal brought him at a time, every morning and every evening, to teach him not to take thought for the morrow. Let those who have but from hand to mouth learn to live upon Providence, and trust it for the bread of the day in the day; thank God for bread this day, and let to-morrow bring bread with it. (2.) The caterers were very unlikely; the ravens brought it to him. Obadiah, and others in Israel that had not bowed the knee to Baal, would gladly have entertained Elijah; but he was a man by himself, and must be red in an extraordinary way. He was a figure of John the baptist, whose meat was locusts and wild honey. God could have sent angels to minister to him, as he did afterwards (1 Kgs. 19:5) and as he did to our Saviour (Matt. 4:11), but he chose to send by winged messengers of another nature, to show that when he pleases he can serve his own purposes by the meanest creatures as effectually as by the mightiest. If it be asked whence the ravens had this provision, how and where it was cooked, and whether they came honestly by it, we must answer, as Jacob did (Gen. 27:20), The Lord our God brought it to them, whose the earth is and the fulness thereof, the world and those that dwell therein. But why ravens? [1.] They are birds of prey, ravenous devouring creatures, more likely to have taken his meat from him, or to have picked out his eyes (Prov. 30:17); but thus Samson’s riddle is again unriddled, Out of the eater comes forth meat. [2.] They are unclean creatures.Every raven after his kind was, by the law, forbidden to be eaten (Lev. 11:15), yet Elijah did not think the meat they brought ever the worse for that, but ate and gave thanks, asking no question for conscience’ sake. Noah’s dove was to him a more faithful messenger than his raven; yet here the ravens are faithful and constant to Elijah. [3.] Ravens feed on insects and carrion themselves, yet they brought the prophet man’s meat and wholesome food. It is a pity that those who bring the bread of life to others should themselves take up with that which is not bread. [4.] Ravens could bring but a little, and broken meat, yet Elijah was content with such things as he had, and thankful that the was fed, though not feasted. [5.] Ravens neglect their own young ones, and do not feed them; yet when God pleases they shall feed his prophet. Young lions and young ravens may lack, and suffer hunger, but not those that fear the Lord, Ps. 34:10. [6.] Ravens are themselves fed by special providence (Job 38:41; Ps. 147:9), and now they fed the prophet. Have we experienced God’s special goodness to us and ours? Let us reckon ourselves obliged thereby to be kind to those that are his, for his sake. Let us learn hence, First, To acknowledge the sovereignty and power of God over all the creatures; he can make what use he pleases of them, either for judgment or mercy. Secondly, To encourage ourselves in God in the greatest straits, and never to distrust him. He that could furnish a table in the wilderness, and make ravens purveyors, cooks, and servitors to his prophet, is able to supply all our need according to his riches in glory.
Thus does Elijah, for a great while, eat his morsels alone, and his provision of water, which he has in an ordinary way from the brook, fails him before that which he has by miracle. The powers of nature are limited, but not the powers of the God of nature. Elijah’s brook dried up (1 Kgs. 17:7) because there was no rain. If the heavens fail, earth fails of course; such are all our creature-comforts; we lose them when we most need them, like the brooks in summer, Job 6:15. But there is a river which makes glad the city of God and which never runs dry (Ps. 46:4), a well of water that springs up to eternal life. Lord, give us that living water!