I Have Commanded the Ravens to Feed Thee

Not only does God feed the birds of the field, He also used them to feed His servants. Elijah was sent on a dangerous mission to Israel that would result in a three-and-a-half-year famine upon the land, yet Elijah would be preserved while all Israel were in dire straits (1 Kings 17:1-4,6).

This wasn’t necessarily a gourmet meal, but it was sustenance necessary to keep Elijah alive. It wasn’t exactly a kosher existence either, as the food was being carried by unclean birds, an abomination among fowls (Lev 11:13-15).

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Whilst Elijah was not eating the ravens, this uncleanness was linked to the means by which the food was brought and he had to learn to accept what God had given him. Eventually, the famine was so bad, even the brook dried up (1 Kings 17:7).

Being prepared by God to eat by means of the unclean ravens, Elijah would now be ready to be sustained by an unclean Gentile from Jezebel’s own country. The same language used by God, “I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there” (v4), now occurs again: “Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee” (v9).

Our Lord comments on this: “But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow” (Luke 4:25-26).

Elijah was sustained by the unclean ravens and a Gentile widow. As he was a faithful servant, God provided sustenance for him when things looked impossible. If we are faithful to God, He will likewise provide for us.

During the life of Elisha, we also see miracles of sustenance. One was the widow of one of the sons of the prophets who was in dire straits: “Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisha, saying, Thy servant my husband is dead; and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord: and the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen” (2 Kings 4:1).

God had promised to look after widows (Psa 146:9) and so Elisha answered her with the miracle of the oil in the vessels. The lesson is clear: if we have oil (the Word) in our vessels, then God will provide for our daily needs. Remember the words of our Lord to Martha: “One thing is needful,” he said (Luke 10:42). The result was the widow was sustained during her calamity: “Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt, and live thou and thy children of the rest” (2 Kings 4:7).

Elisha himself was provided for by God as well. In the very next incident that was recorded we read of the Shunamite woman who constrained Elisha to eat bread with them. She even provided a furnished upper room to accommodate him (2 Kings 4:8-11).

Elisha had left his father and mother and his occupation when he had joined Elijah in the ministry of the prophets (1 Kings 19:19-21). As he travelled in the work of Yahweh, he was sustained by this “great woman” (2 Kings 4:8).

The Lord Jesus Christ was in a similar predicament: “And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Luke 9:58).

Like Elisha, there would be those who would look after his physical needs: “Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house” (Luke 10:38).

Martha was one of the women who catered to the Lord’s practical needs during his ministry: “And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance” (Luke 8:2-3).

These women catered to some of the Lord’s needs as he travelled throughout the land teaching and healing. They were like the ravens and the widow of Zarephath; not necessarily the ones the world would choose, but those whom God provided to minister. When the Lord talked about taking no thought for the cares of this life because the Father would provide, he was talking from first-hand experience.

The Lord exhorted his disciples to adopt a similar method of operating when he sent them out: “These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat” (Matt 10:5-10).

What is most interesting about this commission is that they were not to concern themselves with the financial or practical arrangements; something we would think irresponsible today; yet it was not irresponsible, it was faithful. They were not to ensure any level of financial security before setting out: gold, silver or brass. It didn’t matter what financial state they were in; they were to enthusiastically engage in the same work he was involved in. They were also not to provide a scrip. The Greek word means ‘a wallet or a shepherd’s pouch for carrying provisions.’ In other words, they weren’t to take money, or food or worry about extra raiment. They had to rely on God for their food and raiment and provisions. Sound familiar? His promise stood: if they sought Him first, all these things would be added unto them.

The Apostle Paul similarly was provided for in his ministry. In Romans 16, he gives a list of those who had assisted him, of whom Phebe tops the list: “I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the ecclesia which is at Cenchrea: That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also” (v1-2).

Sister Phebe had been a “succourer” of many, including Paul. The Greek word means ‘a patroness, caring for the affairs of others and aiding them with her resources.’ There are many others in this list who performed similar services, such as Mary who bestowed much labour on Paul (v6).

Our minds also go back to Abigail’s ministry to David when he was a fugitive. We need to change our thinking from how we can obtain more wealth, to how we can utilize the resources our heavenly Father has put at our disposal in His service, no matter how limited we may feel they are. We need to employ our resources for the help of the ecclesia, whether we be ravens, or desolate widows, or those of great substance. We need to use whatever God has given us to assist in the work of the Truth; to be like “the house of Stephanus” who had “addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints” (1 Cor 16:15).