Elijah fed by ravens (God’s Determined Grace) – 1 Kings 16-17

“Elijah fed by ravens” is one of those events in our Bibles that are mostly only ever known quite vaguely. It’s a weird event, when you think about it. There are a few oddities about this passage.

Wisdom often comes from asking the right questions, so we’re going to ask a few about these verses. And it must be quite important to Christians, because Jesus himself refers to Elijah and the widow in Luke 4.

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube and you can find more in the series in our Sermon Index.

God won’t be mocked

Let’s start with a quick recap of where we are in 1 Kings.

  • 1 & 2 Kings are one big book. We’re looking at it one third at a time – so here we are in the middle third, looking at Elijah and Elisha.
  • 1 & 2 Kings are the history of Israel from the first king over Israel (David) to the ultimate failure and exile of the nation.
  • We looked at David’s handover to Solomon.
  • We read about Solomon’s great wisdom and wealth, and the amazing temple he made in Jerusalem.
  • But even he failed and ended up worshipping other gods.
  • His son was a bit of a disaster and ended up causing the kingdom to split in two: Israel (10 tribes, north) and Judah.
  • Jeroboam son of Nebat became king in the north.
  • To stop people travelling south to Jerusalem’s temple he made golden calves at Bethel and Dan, and told people to worship the LORD there.
  • But God had given a way to approach him – a system of sacrifice and a priesthood. God blessed the Temple with his presence in the Most Holy Place.
  • What Jeroboam did was a benchmark for wickedness for all the kings who followed him. He set the entire nation of northern Israel on a course to exile.

Every king after, we read, continued in the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat – you read it over and over.

Wickedness 2.0

Until you reach 1 Kings 16, and King Ahab. Read 1 Kings 16:30-31.

  • This is Wickedness 2.0. He’s upgrading on evil.
  • He’s gone from false worship of the true God and stepped further to worshipping a different god altogether.
  • His new father-in-law is King “Ethbaal” – and his new bride Jezebel will impose Baal worship wherever she goes.
  • No tolerance, no ecumenism, no discussion. 
  • She’ll work hard to quash anything other than Baal worship.

Ahab’s marriage to Jezebel would have been a slick political move. Her dad, as king of the Sidonians, ruled on the coast. That means lucrative trade routes and good business. But the verdict in the Bible is not good: Ahab was cursed.

We might pause a moment and think about our own country.

  • There was a time when much of our population would have gone to church.
  • “Abide with me” is still sung at some football matches and there would have been a time when most people in the crowd would know all the words.
  • But many people just put on a show of religion. Others even go to church but it’s just for the community – they’re not interested in God himself.
  • These days, there’s a new religion on the block. There’s a weird movement that rejects the intolerance of religious people while remaining aggressively intolerant of anyone who disagree with them.
    • Mostly this is seen in matters of sexual ethics and personal identity.

Whatever guise it takes – whether false worship of the true God or abandoning him altogether – the outcome is the same.

You need to reflect on your own life, your own thoughts about God. Have you rejected him? Is he in any way important to you?

Does God care about wickedness, really?

But then: Does God even care if people aren’t bothered about him? Is it a problem? Did Ahab carry on untouched, uncaring?

Read 1 Kings 17:1.

Ignore the chapter division. This is in the same breath. Elijah is thrown at us without introduction or preamble. You’ve heard of him, but as you read 1 Kings Elijah just seems to come at you out of the blue.

His name means “My God is the LORD/Yahweh”. As opposed to Baal, obviously. There’s a statement here.

Why does he appear so suddenly? (You’re meant to ask.) It’s because you suddenly realise that although wickedness has been growing and growing, God has been at work all the time. God cares very much about the wickedness of Ahab.

Elijah jumps out to us, but not to God. He’d been years in the making. Because God won’t be mocked. He sees the wickedness in the world and acts in the world to act on sin.

God can’t be stopped

The word was given to Ahab through Elijah: “There will be no dew or rain”. We looked at Leviticus 26 recently. We recognise that what God is doing here is invoking the curse of the covenant – the absence of blessing.

Elijah then is told to go into hiding. Why does he need to hide?

  • Is it just to escape Jezebel and Ahab?
    • That’s probably unlikely, simply because God can protect his people from anyone.
  • But if you see it from Ahab’s side, it becomes clearer.
    • He has heard a word from the LORD, through Elijah
    • Without Elijah around, Ahab can’t hear from the LORD
    • Elijah’s hiding becomes the LORD’s silence to Ahab

There will be no rain, no blessing, no word from God – Ahab will learn what it’s like to be cut off from God. And because Baal is supposed to be a rain-giving fertility god, Baal is going to be shown up for the junk god he is.

But there’s something brilliant and hopeful here too. God could have allowed Ahab to kill Elijah! That would have cut Ahab off from God’s word for good! But Elijah was preserved. God will speak again. In a sense, Elijah’s life represents the word of God in Israel: Hidden for a spell, waiting for the right time.

Why ravens? Why the non-Israelite widow?

So why was Elijah fed by ravens, and why was he sent to a widow?

  • The widow is the more important.
  • She lived in Sidon (v9), where Jezebel was from. She’d have been a Baal-worshipper.
  • As a widow, she’d have been as poor as poor can be.
  • In a rainless famine, she’d have been utterly without hope.
  • Elijah’s time being fed by ravens in the middle of nowhere would have been time of increasing desperation for the widow. The famine bit deeper every day.

She expects to die. But God sent Elijah to her.

Elijah wasn’t sent to anyone in Israel, but to a Baal-worshipping widow.

  • Israel had rejected God. So now he was rejecting them and going to a Gentile woman.
  • Read 1 Kings 17:13-16.
  • Every day she’d dip into the pots, and there would be new grace from the Lord every morning. New every morning.

When it comes to stubborn, wilful rejection of God, he will not be mocked. He knows you and will ultimately reject you. And yet he longs to be gracious, and plans to bring blessing to the world. In this, he can’t be stopped.

Elijah himself was preserved not for his own benefit but because the Lord had work for him to do. God will bless the nations. And this is good news for you:

Jesus came to save you

Let’s fast forward 900 years or so. Jesus of Nazareth has been doing some amazing things. And very early on in his ministry he was in Nazareth itself: Read Luke 4:16-21.

Imagine hearing that, that first time! This Jesus, the carpenter boy, reading about the Messiah from the prophet Isaiah. You can hear them saying, “He’s always honest, does cracking joinery, always wise beyond his years, but could he be the Messiah?”

They thought they knew who he was, and couldn’t believe he could be the Messiah. Read Luke 4:22-30.

That escalated quickly! But look what he’s saying: In Elijah’s day, the very people who were best placed to know about God and be his people rejected him – so he rejected them and went and blessed a Gentile woman. Jesus’ hearers understood that – because what Jesus said was condemning them.

And Jesus still does condemn anyone who rejects him. He is God who came into the world to save you. No wonder that if you reject him you have no hope with God.

This whole episode in 1 Kings (and Luke 4) is a huge warning to anyone with any kind of church family or background.

  • You who’ve had a Christian upbringing, or from a Christian background, culture, family or school.
  • When you reject all that Christian privilege you reject him, and you just might find yourself rejected by Jesus.
  • He came into the world to bring forgiveness for your sin, to bring you into blissful relationship with himself.
  • And if you turn away – “Nah, no thanks” – you will be rejected, and his blessing will go to others.

Another trip to the coast, to save

That widow was from the area near Sidon (45 minute drive south of Beirut). Jesus would also go to that region (e.g. Mark 7). There he met another Gentile woman who had faith in him, when so many people in Judea rejected him. He came into the world to save, and offers you life today.

God raised Elijah up at just the right time. There was a warning to Ahab – a demonstration that all who put their faith in other gods will be brought to ruin. God hid Elijah to keep silence on Ahab and be ready for another day. Elijah came to the widow at just he point of greatest need – all hope was gone. And, as she took a step of faith, he found that God would bless her morning by morning, day by day.

God sent his Son, born of a woman, at just the right time. Now, those who reject the Son will themselves be rejected. But all who come to him will find life. Jesus came into the world to save. Why not you?