When I was quite young, my parents decided to move us from Tamil Nadu to a small town in a rural part of North India. We were never really wealthy before we made the move, but as the only daughter of a veterinary doctor, I didn't really want for much. Life was good. However, all this changed when we moved to the north; which was quickly followed by my sister being born. A rural town meant a change in our lifestyle and a new sister meant I had to learn to share almost everything. I suddenly found myself with many wants that were no longer being met - I was not super thrilled by this. I tried the usual yelling, tantrum throwing, crying tactics but all to no avail. It was around this time that my grandmother first told me the story of Elijah and the ravens.
Elijah was living in Israel during the time of King Ahab; the Israelites had been disobeying God again, so Elijah conveyed the message to them that God is leading them into a time of drought. After he delivered this word to the Israelites, God spoke to Elijah and asked him to go to a place near a brook in the wilderness outside the town. God then commanded the ravens in that area to bring him bread and meat. Elijah stayed there and waited on the Lord to provide his sustenance twice a day, every day till the brook eventually dried up. When that happened, God spoke to Elijah again and asked him to go back to the city and find this widow who would host and feed him. The story continues from this point with more miracles that happened in Elijah's times.
I remember our family talking about this story often when I was growing up. However, as an adult I didn't really give much thought to Elijah or the ravens. But it is just as relevant in my life today as it was in childhood; maybe even more so. Lately, I've been confronted with the reality of my faith (or lack thereof) and if I were to be completely honest with myself, it's because I've forgotten about those ravens. As a child I was only interested in the way that God miraculously provided home-delivery of bread and meats by ravens for Elijah. On closer inspection, there's much more to this story.
Here are a few lessons that have stood out to me the most:
The first lesson, (also known as the lesson that I struggle with the most) is Elijah's obedience, especially when God tells him to do something that was completely contrary to what seemed reasonable. Right after God tells Elijah to tell the Israelites about the drought He also tells Elijah to go to a place away from town - what?! Go away from town when you know there's going to be a drought? Yes, Elijah was a prophet but surely this gave him some pause. Yet he obeyed anyway. The lesson here: even when God's instructions appear illogical, the only way to fully benefit from God's care is to obey.
The second lesson (bit of a mystery to me still) is the use of ravens. Ravens are larger than your average crows and are birds of prey. I watched the opening credits to the movie Birds when I was quite young and it has left me traumatised. I still can't see birds without a tinge of fear. Even the sight of pigeons on my balcony has me shaking in my boots. I often wonder why God didn't use bunny rabbits or doves (that is if he had to use birds; personally, I'm Team Bunny). The lesson here: God can bring what you need through the most unlikeliest channels.
Third lesson is that God only provided food twice a day. For Elijah (and for us) this is also a major throwback to when the Israelites were wandering around the desert. God provided them with manna in the morning and meat in the evening. Now I know many people follow different fitness/diet regime that swear by the benefits of the '5-meal' day or the '3-meal' day, or the '3 meal + 2 snack time' day but I think we can all agree that two meals a day is not the norm for most of us.
So why did God do it? Surely if God was powerful enough to provide food twice a day, He could extend that miraculous power for a third meal? This isn't an oversight on God's part, but another example of how God wants Elijah to completely rely on Him. Imagine it's you or me in this situation and picture this: You wake up in the morning and you find ravens there with food, you proceed to eat said food and get on with your day. Then the morning turns to afternoon and you start to feel hungry; but you're out in the wilderness with no other options.
Maybe your faith starts to waiver a bit as the noon-day sun starts to beat down on you. And just when the panic starts to rise, there are those ravens with your evening meal and your faith is renewed. Disclaimer: This isn't a constant state of life - there are days of plenty and days of need, and I definitely don't believe this is God endorsing the two-meal-a-day diet. Just that God wants us to focus on Him and not on the meals that are being provided. Lesson here: God provides just enough for our needs to keep us coming back to Him for more.
The fourth lesson (and my last point on this matter, but I hope you explore this passage more and come up with your own list) is that after the whole raven feeding thing, God allows the brook to dry up and asks Elijah to get up and go back towards civilisation. If it were me, I would be complaining to God asking Him to make up His mind already! I don't know about you but I sure do struggle with understanding God when I'm faced with change.
So does that mean that Elijah got it wrong the first time? Was he supposed to have gone to the widow in the first place? No. Because if Elijah had first gone to the widow he would have missed the ravens! Lesson here: if there is constant change in your life and things don't seem to work out after a while, it doesn't mean that God is not present and in control of the situation. It's quite likely (in fact highly probable) that that is how he intended our lives to go; a changing story to keep us always listening to God's voice through our circumstances.
This entire story is quite amazing in retrospect but incredibly scary as you're going through it. Yet the more I contemplate this topic, I feel this is how life should be lived - full of incredibly scary moments where you can't do anything but wait on the Lord in faith, interspersed with moments of utmost awe and wonder when God comes through for you more abundantly than you can possibly imagine.
My grandmother (who went to be with the Lord in 2015), was quite wise to tell me this story to my young impressionable mind. Lessons learned from this story have stayed with me over the years since she first told the story. It has helped me prepare for this wild, incredibly blessed life that God has given me.