The word of the Lord comes to Elijah, “Get away from here and turn eastward, and hide by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan” (1 Kings 17:3). Then God makes a promise, v.4, “And it will be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” This must have seemed like a strange command to Elijah and an even stranger promise. “Go hide myself, now while the nation needs me most? You want me to go hang out in a ravine and just stay there hiding for who knows how long? And what will I eat? Ravens are going to feed me there! And how long do I have stay there?” God doesn’t say. You just stay there until I tell you otherwise. It’s a strange command but Elijah obeyed and God did as he had promised.
Here we see that God sometimes leads his servants into circumstances of solitude they may have never chosen for themselves; circumstances, perhaps, in which it seems we aren’t able to do very much for the Lord or circumstances in which we have very little close fellowship with other believers. We find ourselves very much alone or laid aside from a more active life. I imagine this course of action was the exact opposite of what a man like Elijah would have chosen for himself; hiding himself by the brook Cherith, days and weeks and months of solitude, at such a time as this! Elijah was a man of great zeal and action. If he followed his instincts, indeed, if he did what he thought was most glorifying to God, I don’t think he would go hide somewhere. I think he would have embarked upon a wide preaching tour throughout the towns and villages of the nation. He would have spent his energy seeking to awaken the consciences of his fellow countryman, exposing the evil of the idolatry of the land and calling men to repentance. There is a kind of personality that thrives on action and thrills at danger. I think Elijah had that kind of personality. He was eager for the fight; ready for the God-wars to begin. William Taylor speaks of reading about, “a distinguished general who said that he was never so cool, composed, and self-possessed anywhere as he was upon the battlefield; and that, apart from the horrors that were inseparably connected with such a scene of strife, there was something in its stimulus and excitement which he felt to be intensely exhilarating”
I think Elijah was like that as he faced this great moral and spiritual conflict with the forces of evil in the land. Like the war horse described in Job, “He scented the battle afar off, he mocked at fear and was not affrighted, neither turned he back from the sword”. This was Elijah’s element, the conflict, the exertion of energy, throwing himself into the battle for righteousness and truth. But this is not the way God led him. This must have been a great trial for Elijah. However, this was the will of God for Elijah’s life at this time and Elijah was submissive to God’s will.
We need to learn from this. God doesn’t come to us and speak to us directly by special revelation, as he did to Elijah. We don’t look for a voice that says, “Go here and do this”, or, “go there and do that”. But that’s not to say God no longer guides his servants. He guides us by the commands and directives of His word, by the general principles of His word and He also guides us by His providence, just as surely as He guided Elijah. It may be providential events that hedge us up and keep us from going somewhere we hoped to go or intended to go or providences that may hinder us from what we would really like to be doing for Christ or that might keep us away from being as active as we would like to be. It may be circumstances that put us in lonely places or in lonely situations with very little fellowship or close friendships, the solitude of the sickbed, the solitude of unusual circumstances that hedge us up to some kind of obscure situation or place or, perhaps, the pressure of unusual responsibilities or necessary duties that tie us up or tie us down. Or, perhaps, there’s the solitude experienced when we take a stand for truth and right and it leads to separation from former friends or when obedience sets us against the popular tide and we find ourselves standing alone with very little support or sympathy. These are things that can try our faith and try our patience. But learn from Elijah to be submissive to God’s will when such providences come. Realize that we may serve God and know His smile in solitude, just as we may serve Him in public and that when God has you hedged up in this way it is because He has a good purpose in it both for your good and for his glory.
Jesus was advancing our salvation and pleasing the Father just as much when driven out in the wilderness alone to be tempted for forty days, as He was when He preached to the multitudes upon the Galilean hillsides. It was necessary for John the Baptist to dwell in the wilderness for a time eating locust and wild honey. Paul is found in a lonely prison but from there, under the inspiration of the Spirit, so many mighty epistles were written. Moses had his forty years on the backside of the desert and David those years of living in caves. What a great blessing to the church of Christ are the many years John Bunyan spent in a Bedford jail.
God would sometimes shut us up to a time of relative inactivity or to a time of solitude or even loneliness. There are brothers and sisters who are shut up by God’s providence like this for most of their lives. But the lesson is that when God in His providence leads us into such a time, we must embrace it. And we must not sin or act foolishly, but be patient. Times like this can be good for us. Elijah was alone, but he was never really alone. God was with him while he was confined to that little ravine, hiding in the thickets, lying around in caves, unable to go anywhere or to do anything. God was there and, no doubt, he enjoyed unusually sweet and precious communion with God in the solitude of the Brook Cherith. I imagine after it was over he would not have traded those days for anything. And through this trial God was preparing him and strengthening him for the work that lay before him in the future.
There is a danger of living off of our activities, even Christian activity, even activity done in service to the Lord. We can be so busy serving the Lord and so busy doing things for the Lord, while at the same time we’re neglecting our souls and our own personal relationship to the Lord. Then when the activity stops, or providence makes us unable, we may discover that we have very little relationship to the Lord at all. We’ve been living off of our busyness and when that’s gone the quality of our relationship to Christ is exposed. This, I believe, is the concern behind our Lord’s words to His disciples in Lk. 10:20. He had sent out seventy to preach the kingdom of God. When they returned they were absolutely elated and they said, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name”. It’s wonderful Lord the great things we’ve been enabled to do! Jesus acknowledged this but then He said, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”. That’s the most important thing. Don’t become so charged up by your service that you forget your Savior. Don’t become so impressed with all you’re doing that your work becomes greatest joy and not your relationship to Me. It’s not what you do and accomplish that is most important, it’s what you are and who you know.
Have you ever read the autobiography of John Paton? You should if you can get it. He was a missionary to the cannibals of the South Sea Islands in the last half of the 1800’s. He lost his wife four months after he landed on the island of Tanna. Two weeks later his newborn son died. He buried them alone with his own hands. He stayed on this particular island for four years packed full of terrifying dangers. He was all alone, except for the cannibals who lived there. Finally things got really, really bad. An uprising was mounting against him. Seeking help from the one native he thought he could, perhaps, trust, a man named Nowar, he was told to flee the village and to hide in a particular chestnut tree. Nowar told him his son would lead him there and to remain there till the moon rises. Listen to Paton’s account of this. He says…
“Being entirely at the mercy of such doubtful and vacillating friends, I, though perplexed, felt it best to obey. I climbed into the tree, and was left there alone in the bush. (listen) The hours I spent there live all before me as if it were but yesterday. I heard the frequent discharging of muskets, and the yells of the Savages. Yet I sat there among the branches, as safe in the arms of Jesus. Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly in my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among these chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify my God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior’s spiritual presence, to enjoy His consoling fellowship.”
Then he asks the reader a question, he asks you and me a very searching question, “If thus thrown back upon your own soul, alone, all alone, in the midnight, in the bush, in the very embrace of death itself, have you a Friend that will not fail you then”