The story goes that there once was a pastor who lived in a small coastal town. It was hurricane season, and after a particularly large storm the ocean washed out the beaches and submerged the town, leaving the streets flooded and the buildings separated like islands. As the rain fell and the wind howled, the man climbed to the roof of the church and prayed to God: “God, please send your angels to save me from this storm.” After a short while, a man paddled by in a canoe and offered to take the pastor with him. “Don’t worry about me,” the man said. “God will send his angels to help me. Go save someone else!” Time passed, and the water rose even further. Soon, a woman passed by in a speed boat, and offered him a lift. Again, the man refused: “God will rescue me!” Finally, the Coast Guard arrived, and begged the man to come with them, but he refused. “I will not show a lack of faith,” he insisted. “God will save me.”
Before too long, however, the swirling waters rose too high, and the man was swept away and drowned. When he reached heaven, he met the Lord face-to-face. “Lord,” he said, “I have just one question: why did you not save me from drowning? I had such faith.”
The Lord just shook his head, and sighed. “I sent you three boats,” he said.
Though this story may seem silly, it illustrates an important lesson: God’s providence isn’t always easy to recognize. Sometimes, we expect him to provide for us in one way, and he chooses another way. Other times we may see God’s plan where it doesn’t necessarily exist.
In 1 Kings 17 we meet one of the most iconic figures in the Bible: the prophet Elijah. As Samuel predicted, Israel is currently under the rule of wicked monarchs: King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. To please his wife, Ahab introduces the worship of Baal into Israel, and does so many cruel and treacherous deeds that the author notes that he “did more to arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him” (16:33 NIV). In response, God calls Elijah to give a message to Ahab: there will be neither dew nor rain until the Lord decrees. This command isn’t just a punishment on Israel; it’s also a pointed insult to Baal, the god of rain and fertility.
Elijah then flees into the wilderness, to a ravine with a still-running brook where God directs him. Then the most extraordinary – and unusual – thing happens. God has ravens bring him bread and meat in their beaks every morning and every evening. If I were Elijah, I would have a lot of questions: Why not just send a person? Why ravens, which were considered unclean birds? And where was this meat coming from? Ravens, after all, are carrion birds.
Nonetheless, the Meals-on-Wings keep Elijah alive until the brook dries up, and then God sends him to stay with a widow in Zarepath – in a delicious bit of irony, the same region that Jezebel is from! Though the widow only has enough food left for one meal, she gives it to Elijah, and when she goes back to her jar of flour and jug of oil she discovers that they aren’t empty. Every day for the rest of the drought, God replenishes just enough supplies to keep her, Elijah, and her son alive.
Later on, Elijah will go on to perform miracles in the name of God – first raising the widow’s son from the dead after he gets sick, then winning a showdown with the priests of Baal – but it is God’s providence in this chapter that fascinates me. God provides for Elijah in strange, even comical ways – and Elijah remains ever-confident in his providence.
Elijah’s faith makes his actions two chapters later even stranger. He has just dramatically demonstrated the power of God on Mount Carmel, and yet when Jezebel vows to kill him for revenge, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life” (19:3 NIV). Again and again, God has come through for Elijah – and yet at the first sign of danger, he stops trusting in God’s plan for his future.
If Elijah can witness the signs and wonders he did and still lose faith in God’s providence, how are supposed to maintain faith? Has God provided for you in the past? Do you have trouble believing he will in the future?
Related texts or passages to consider: John 10:27-28; Psalms 22:26; Matthew 6:31;32
• God came through for Elijah again and again, yet Elijah continued to doubt. Are we guilty of doing this in our lives as well?
• Sometimes people argue that “God will provide” and don’t plan for the future. Does this show great faith, or presumptuousness?
• Is planning for retirement, investing, etc. evident of a lack of faith in God?
• Read Matthew 6:19-34. How might Jesus' teachings here line up with Elijah's experiences?