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I KINGS XVII. 6

And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening: and he drank of the brook.

A brother living in New Jersey has written to us asking that we write something on the above passage of Scripture. We shall try to do so, but feel that he himself could better have done so, inasmuch as his mind seems to have been exercised upon it. In the law of Moses there were certain things named which were to be considered by Israel as abominable things, things which should not be eaten. The abominable or unclean things among the fowls included the raven, the flesh of which was never to be eaten by Israel. It is said that the smell of death is so grateful to ravens that when, in passing over a sheep, they perceive a tainted smell they will cry and croak loudly. Also, in passing over a human habitation, if they detect a sickly or deathly odor they make it known by their cries. Thus the croaking of ravens has come to mean a sign of death. For three years and six months it rained not in Israel. During this time death was plentifully in evidence and the ravens were abundant. These birds fed on death. Dead things pleased them. Nevertheless, contrary to the raven’s nature, God made them carry bread and meat to his servant, the prophet Elijah. However, it was impossible for the servant to eat aught but what was clean. In having the ravens to carry this clean food of bread and meat to Elijah God showed his power, in causing the ravens to do that which their nature contradicted, in order to feed the prophet.

Through all the wonderful way in which the Lord provided for Elijah during that long drought we see confirmed the promise that God will never suffer the righteous to fail, nor allow his children to beg their bread. The Lord will provide. Not in our own time and way, but in his own good time and according to his pleasure, the Lord will feed the souls of his famished saints. Though Elijah was all alone, so far as human or spiritual companionship was concerned, yet the Lord caused unclean birds to feed him.

Now, to draw a spiritual lesson from this, let us first note that the doctrine of salvation as preached by worldly religionists is the doctrine of death. Salvation by works, based on the merit of man, is a corrupt doctrine. Unclean birds feed upon it. Ravens love it, doves hate it. All the works of fallen man are dead works. Any tower of Babel erected out of the brick and slime of man’s ingenuity in order to get into God’s favor by their own good works, is doomed to end in failure and a temple in ruins. We know that God has people scattered everywhere, they are in every nation under heaven. Among the ranks of the Arminians God has his people. These are in captivity to Babylon, but the root of the matter of a gracious experience is in their souls. We believe that true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are scattered among the various religious denominations of men; many perhaps have never heard the true gospel fall from the lips of men truly called to the ministry. These are alone, as Elijah was alone, in the midst of a spiritual drought. Yet they must be fed, and God sees that they are fed, even if he has to compel the ravens to carry them food. By the ravens we mean so called preachers, men not called and qualified by the Holy Ghost to preach, but men who are the product of the colleges and schools endowed by worldly wealth to turn out these duly certified preachers: preachers who preach their own righteousness and that of their fellow-men, but who are entire strangers to the righteousness of God by faith. Now, it so occurs at times that these “ravens,” who love “dead works” and dead doctrines, do unwittingly preach the truth. The reason of this is because God has some of his sheep ensnared in Babylon and he compels these “ravens” unconsciously to themselves to carry clean food to his isolated and lonely children in the midst of the drought spiritually prevailing in the world.

Several years ago, while living in the city of Philadelphia, a brother in the church and ourself took ourselves one night to a church service in one of the largest edifices in that city. The congregation thronged it to the doors. Seats were hardly to be had, and many stood. The minister arose to preach, and we expected to hear nothing but the usual exhortation to creature works in order to obtain the favor of God. He read for his text in the Lamentations of Jeremiah, first chapter, twelfth verse, what startled us as being a very strange text for an Arminian to select, and we asked ourself how he expected to preach salvation by works from such a Scripture: “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord bath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.” He started in, not preaching Jeremiah, but Christ, and kept on preaching Christ from first to last. Not once, that we remember, did he refer his text to Jeremiah, but throughout expounded the text as a prophetic portrayal of the sufferings of Christ that were to come. He showed how that Christ’s sufferings were not like any other suffering, that those sufferings of his were all for sins, not his own, but those of his people. He traced the path of the Savior from the manger to the cross, showing the burden becoming greater and the pain more terrible the nearer the end came. The day of God’s fierce anger was the day that Jesus hanged upon the cross, nailed there through hands and feet, paying the penalty of his people’s transgressions. The day of vengeance was in his heart, he was repaying to his Father all our debt. Nowhere through all the sermon did this preacher have anything to say about what sinners must do to be saved. He told simply and beautifully and with power the old yet ever new story of redeeming love. Yet, notwithstanding all this, we happen to know that this preacher was a fullfledged Arminian. He did not always preach as he did that night. He was telling the truth, but did not realize the full meaning of what he said. Had he done so, he could have never again preached any but that doctrine the rest of his life. Our explanation of this remarkable occurrence is that God had some of his sheep in that corner of Babylon and he was causing that raven to carry bread and meat to them that night. The preacher was declaring what his own nature, and what his own preaching at other times, contradicted. God will see to it that his people shall be fed, and, when necessary, will feed them by the ravens, as he did Elijah. On the other hand, if we consider the prophet Elijah as a type of Jesus in his humiliation while here below, then we shall conclude that though the world was a most unfriendly place to him, and while all the dominant powers of earth were against him, yet all things and All persons among whom he moved were being bent to his will and were serving his purpose, even though in their own natures they were opposed to him. Men and devils were made to minister to the accomplishment of his purpose in the work of salvation, though being unconscious of it themselves all the time. And as Elijah drank of the brook, so it is declared of Jesus that he drank of the brook in the way. (Psalms cx. 7.) As a brook is a stream of running or living water, so the river of water of life flows from the throne of God. By this river of God, this living water, the tree of life (Jesus) is established. Because it never goes dry his leaf never withers. He brings forth his fruit in his season. Then Jesus, though in the midst of a cold, unfriendly world, a world in which of itself there was no room for him, was fed continually by the supplies which omnipotence afforded: the living water of life from the throne of God, and the bowing to his will of all things in earth and under the earth, unclean as ravens though they might be.

H. H. Lefferts

Republished – Signs of the Times
Volume 150, No. 12
December 1982