Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab,
‘As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.’
The word of the Lord came to him, saying,
‘Go from here and turn eastwards, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.’
So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi. But after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land.
The sudden introduction of Elijah, proclaiming a drought, into the story of Israel’s kings comes as a surprise to everyone, not just King Ahab. He has just finished erecting an altar to Baal, the Canaanite god of rain and fertility, in honour of his new wife, Jezebel.
Elijah’s name, meaning ‘My God is Yahweh’, declares his exclusive worship of the God of Israel; and in the name of Israel’s covenant God he pronounces, on oath, the ineffectiveness of Baal. This uninvited prophet challenges the political alliances and religious syncretism of Ahab and all that his regime represents. Then, in obedience to God’s command, Elijah departs to hide away in the wild, being fed according to God’s promise, until the consequences of the drought come into effect across the whole land.
Elijah’s faithfulness to God brings him into direct confrontation with the leaders of his society; but then also requires him to step completely out of the limelight to wait until God calls again to set him on his mission.
Knowing when to speak out and when to take a back seat is never easy. Having the courage to challenge the ‘powers that be’ in any organisation or society is always daunting. Acting or speaking publicly in the name of Christ may be regarded as nothing more than delusion in a world where many put their trust in false gods of their own making. Living in accordance with what we proclaim as God’s truth is demanding; and like Elijah we may have to wait to see the fulfilment of our words.
Christian discipleship is a prophetic calling that may lead us into unexpected encounters and unknown territory; but we are never left reliant on our own resources if we put our trust, as did Elijah, in the one true, living, God.
Living God, may my trust in you fill me with the confidence to go wherever you send me. May my faith shine through all that I say or do in my daily living. May I have the patience to wait in quiet rest as your purposes unfold in the world around me. May my obedience bring glory to your holy name. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge