Have you ever wondered why God puts certain details in the Bible? God doesn’t waste ink. God’s Word has incredible riches sometimes laying out in the open, and then there are times when He has us dig a little. Today I want to ask you to roll up your sleeves and dig a little with me as we answer the question, “Why Ravens?”
In I Kings 17:1-6, Elijah has his debut and is introduced as a prophet of God. God commands the new prophet to go and deliver a message to the wicked king Ahab who has chosen to reject the God of the Bible and institute Baal worship. After Elijah tells the king that there will be a drought and Jehovah God is in control of the rain, he is told to run and hide. (Good idea after telling a king that he is a wicked pagan, and that his economy is going to tank.) Then we see in verse 4 that God in his faithfulness is going to provide for all of Elijah’s needs and that God will send his servants to feed Elijah in the wilderness.
Elijah trusted God. He trusted when it made sense vs. 2-3. He trusted God when it didn’t make sense vs. 4. Imagine the prophet of God, “What’s the Word?” “Talk to the king, run hide.” “So like you got robin Hood hiding out in Jordan forest? How am I going to eat?” “I am going to have my servants bring you the food.” “Wow, room service. I can do this prophesying thing.” “I will send Ravens.” “What they are unclean, I can’t eat that.” “You won’t have to, they are the chiefs.” “What?” “Go.”
After God tells Elijah His plan, he obeys and Elijah gets to see God fulfill His promises (6). The Word of the Lord came to pass (6). The moment God spoke the words into existence it happened. God never forgets His promise. As extraordinary as this plan sounds, God promised it in verse 4, and we see it coming to pass in verse 6 and 7. There was no rain, and there were always birds. They came twice a day. God ensured that for hundreds and hundreds of flights, his servant was fed. God promised, and delivered.
Because of Elijah’s trust, God provides a lesson. First of all, God provided protection. The first specific mention of Ravens is in Genesis 8:7, “And he (Noah) sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth.” God protected the Raven species through impossible odds. Think of it. There are only two ravens alive on the ark, one bird leaves without coming back. Assuming there was not a nest of baby crows in the rafters, somehow the raven mate finds the other raven after the most catastrophic disaster in history, build a nest, and survive long enough to have baby ravens in order to provide for God’s prophet close to 2,000 years in the future. God protected His servants in order to provide for His prophet. (We can all be thankful that God didn’t choose the Dodo bird as his messengers.)
God also protected through uncommon means. Leviticus 11:13-15 states that ravens were unclean animals and could not be eaten by the Jewish people. Sometimes God’s laws don’t seem to make sense, but He has a plan. Just work with me here. If the Raven could be eaten what do you suppose would have happened during a famine? They would have eaten God’s messengers. I am sure some of the Israelites disobeyed God and were eating ravens, but for hundreds of years the Israeli “DNR” had posted no hunting signs, in order to keep Elijah fed. Even with God’s amazing provision, Elijah learned that he had to trust God daily.
God delights in putting his people in positions that do not make sense, so that they will trust Him more.
In this very short story, God showed that He was in control. A seemingly insignificant prophet stands up and obeys God. Who knows how many child sacrifices were stopped or souls are in heaven because of that one act of obedience. The ravens obeyed and allowed for God to be glorified and provided for the next phase of Elijah’s spectacular ministry.
If we stopped there, we would be able to gather many nuggets of truth and be comforted that a faithful God provided for faithful servants. Even though that is true, if we dig a little deeper, the immensity of God’s power resounds through the story like a thunderbolt.
Why a drought? Why didn’t God answer quickly like He does in the next chapter with a ball of fire? Why ravens? God could certainly have used the 7,000 servants who had not bowed down to Baal for food and shelter. If we step back to I Kings 16:30-32, we would see that this story about the ravens is predicated by the official establishment of the Canaanite worship of Baal.
In the pantheon of gods, Baal was the chief deity. His name actually means lord or master. Many ancient religions held to the idea that differing deities were in charge of various aspects of life. We see this idea in I Kings 20:23 when the Syrians attempt to conquer Israel in the plains because they believed Jehovah was only the god of the hills. Baal’s area of power centered on three specific areas. He was in charge of rain (he is often pictured with a thunderbolt), grain, and fertility especially the first born.(1)
So when God sends Elijah to make a proclamation of drought to the king, he is claiming ownership over Baal’s territory. This story is not simply about the faithfulness of a beginning prophet, or the fate of a nation. This is a territorial battle of the gods, because Jehovah struck directly at the center of Baal worship. If it rained, Baal was God, if it didn’t Jehovah deserved worship. Even in God’s judgment He is merciful. He gave the nation of Israel 3 ½ years to observe that He ruleth in the affairs of men.
Because the rains didn’t come, the grain failed. Once again God is “allowing” Baal to answer on his home turf. Every morning as the men of Israel woke up from hunger pains and watched the dust blow across the plains, they had to admit that Jehovah had defeated Baal. To make the story even more intriguing, Canaanite worship revered ravens as the messengers of the gods.
After the brook dried up, Elijah then is commanded to go to Phoenicia the center of Baal worship. (2) While there he finds a starving widow, provides an endless amount of grain for her, and then through the power of God, raises a boy to life. All in Baal’s home court. It’s as if God stood up in the heavens stuffed Baal and proclaimed, “Not in my house!”
How have you seen God working in miraculous ways? I would love to read about the way God has used “ravens” in your life.
1). As Baal was worshiped and adopted by many pagan religions his name, and responsibilities did vary, but the three major areas were that of rain, grain, and life
2). F.C. Fensham, “A Few Observations on the Polarization between Yahweh and Baal in I Kings 17—19,” Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 92:2 (1980):234
3). Also see Constable’s electronic notes on I Kings 17 soniclight.org