August 5, 2018
Title: When the Brook Dries Up
Scripture: 1 Kings 17:1-16
It is a crucial time in the history of Israel. The country divides in 930 BC. The northern Kingdom is Israel (with ten tribes) and the Southern Kingdom is Judah (two tribes: Judah and Benjamin). Both kingdoms are corrupt and idolatrous. The only clear voice calling the nation to return to God is from Elijah.
Elijah the prophet, meaning Yahweh is my God, first appears without any fanfare in chapter 17 of 1 Kings. His ministry begins in 875 BC. He is God’s spiritual force in Israel during these dark times of King Ahab. King Ahab’s apostasy is that he follows the god of his wife Jezebel, Baal. Ahab builds temples and alters to this god of rain and harvest.
We read just how bad things became. In 16:33, “Ahab also made an asherah pole and did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him” An Asherah pole is a sacred tree or pole that stands near Canaanite religious locations to honor the pagan goddess Asherah.
So we can imagine the scene as Elijah confronts the Baal worshipping King Ahab telling him that God is shutting up the heavens. “There will be no more dew or rain in the next few years except at my word.” (17:1)
God sends Elijah to the east where he is to hide from Ahab in the Kerith (to cut up, to cut away, or to cut off) Ravine. God tells Elijah to drink from the brook and that ravens (unclean birds) will bring him meat and bread morning and evening. Sometime later the brook dries up because there is no rain. Now God tells Elijah to “go at once to Zarephath of Sidon. There you will find a widow who I have commanded to bring you food.”
Elijah arrives at the town gate and finds this widow gathering sticks. He calls to her and asks her to bring him a little water in a jar, and also by the way how about a piece of bread?
The widow replies to Elijah, “As sure as the Lord lives I only have a handful of flour and a little oil. I was going to go home and make a meal for myself and my son. I was going to eat it, and then die.
“Don’t be afraid,” says Elijah. Make a small cake for me first and then go back to your home and make something for you and your son. The Lord has said that your jar of flour will not be used up and the oil will not run dry until the day that the Lord returns rain to the land.”
She went away and did as she was asked by Elijah. Indeed, there was food for her family and Elijah in keeping with what the Lord had spoken through Elijah.
Sometime later the widow’s son became ill and grew worse and worse until he died. “What do you have against me man of God? But Elijah took the boy in his arms and carried him to the upper room, and laid him on his bed. He prayed to the Lord to let the boy’s life return to him. The Lord heard Elijah’s cry and the boy’s life returned to him. Elijah returned the boy to his widowed mother and she said that now she knew that he was a man of God and that the word of the Lord was true.”
My message this morning is for those of us whose brook has run dry. If you’ve ever experienced lasting defeat; if you’ve ever had all that you’ve come to depend on taken away for a season; if you’ve ever had to endure a seemingly endless famine in your life—this message is for you. My goal is to bring you some hope. And I am especially preaching to you, if you are going through a significant period of drought in your spiritual life, when the Lord seems far from you, and His presence seems to be strangely absent. You’ve worshipped on the mountaintop before, but now you’ve been in the desert for weeks or months. If it’s easier to squeeze water out of a rock, than to find the words to pray-- I’m here to deliver a message of refreshment for you this morning.
Spiritual deserts are absolutely the most mysterious and difficult times of the Christian life, but they are essential for growth in the faith. Droughts and famines happen in every area of life. In baseball, it’s called a “slump.” And even the hall-of-famers have them.
Droughts happen in every area of life, but the spiritual droughts are the worst. When our brook runs dry in our soul, the easiest thing to do is to wrap ourselves in the cocoon of despair and quit. But despairing and quitting are never the godly options. What’s the key to survival when our life source evaporates?
I remember when I was learning to ride a bike—remember that? Some wise person invented this strange set of extra wheels that you’d attach to your back wheel when you were learning. Training wheels! That’s Elijah at the brook of Kerith! He’s got the wadi holding up one side of his bike and the ravens holding the other side. He learns to ride like that for a while, but soon God says, “Alright Elijah, if you’re ready to really ride, let’s get those training wheels off!” And so the brook dries up. And then there’s this moment when you’re learning to ride-- when your training wheels are off, and your father is running alongside of you, holding you up with his hands…There has to be a point of release where your father takes off one hand and then the other-- and for that split second you realize you’re doing it! You’re riding!
And the faith learning curve has to be that way! There’s no other way! There has to be a point where God takes His hands off of us, because only then, can we demonstrate that our faith is real. Only then can we prove that we are authentically on the path of Christ-likeness. Listen: It’s not “faith” if God is standing in front of our eyes our whole life!
But I promise you this: When God appears to take His hand off of us to let us live by faith, He will absolutely, unquestionably, take us back into His arms soon.
Remember: seasons of drought and doubt are just that-- SEASONS. They are temporary. They may be long, but they ALWAYS END. If God kept His hands off of Elijah too long, he would have surely died. But look what happens next. God speaks to him again in verse 8, “Now (I still got my eyes on you Elijah!) go to Zarephath (100 miles away), and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” God has another divine plan for enduring the famine years.
There’s always another advanced degree. If the brook of Kerith was a bachelor’s in faith, than Zarephath is a master’s in humility. Elijah must submit to rely on a poor, starving widow. I don’t have to remind you that in this ancient culture, the widows were often the lowest on the social order: the neglected, and the downtrodden. And so this proud strong prophet who has faced off with a king is now forced to plead for food like a common beggar.
And yet again God jumps in and says, “I’m going to bring these three despairing people together to demonstrate my divine compassion!” And so by the widow’s blind obedience combined with the prophet’s faith, God uses one handful of flour and one jug of oil to miraculously support these three for months. As the Bible says “the jar of meal was not used up neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the Word of the Lord that he spoke to Elijah”.
Think back to our situation/s now. What is the famine in your land? Maybe it is a financial drought. God has allowed a brook that you used to drink from every day to evaporate. Maybe your famine is in a relationship. You didn’t believe that it could ever run dry, but now that it has, your losing hope. Maybe it’s time for you to go to Zarephath and learn Elijah’s lesson of humility. Maybe you are the one who needs to break down and be the beggar. Use that handful of faith! Use that jar of trust! They can’t be exhausted! Maybe our famine is wandering in a spiritual desert. When we have strived to love the Lord Jesus with all of our hearts, nothing hurts more than when He must step back for a while. Please know this—we are not alone in this struggle. It’s the necessary cycle of growth. The disciples spent three of the longest days in history in emotional and spiritual defeat after Jesus’ death. They had no idea a resurrection was coming.
Let us understand the amazing part about wilderness times: We have no certainty of how or when God is going to craft our rescue! It’s like digging a tunnel through a mountain. You have no idea when the end will come until your pick strikes a beam of light! He’s the God of unending abundance. He is the God of surprise endings. Trust Him. Rely on Him. Use up whatever faith you have and see if the jar, small as it may be, isn’t full again tomorrow!
God promises us the rain will come again! Neither Elijah nor you and I could have launched our spiritual victories if we had not learned to survive the famine first!
It doesn’t matter how small our jar, how desperate our situation, how deep our forest. It doesn’t matter how dry our land, how dark our night, how cold our relationship, or how lonely our soul. It’s the cycle of faith. It’s the cycle of hope. After the drought, God always brings the rain!
So, when the brook dries up. Let us follow God in faith even when we don’t understand, and even when we don’t see the end. The Kerith Ravine will cut away the chaff and refine our faith for that great and glorious day. Amen.