My high school mascot is a raven. A raven? I know, I know, fans of Baltimore’s football team have been parading around in purple and black-themed gear since 1996 when Art Modell fled Cleveland. But we played against serious teams like Vikings and Mustangs, Ravens seemed so… lame. They’re carrion birds who eat whatever they can find, and they show up in Gothic literature thanks to Edgar Allen Poe and others. Why would a Catholic boarding school choose a raven as its mascot? That makes no sense.
But my biologist father points out that ravens are resourceful. That they are highly intelligent with the ability to solve problems and communicate in conversation.
From reading I Kings 17, it seems that Elijah survived thanks to the characteristics my dad highlighted in ravens. A mysterious man blows into town and tells the king, “God told me to tell you that it is not going to rain unless I tell it to.” Imagine the king’s reaction. Imagine the people’s reaction! We need to remember that prophets were the main form by which people understood that God was speaking to them in these days, and this prophet is NOT showing up with good news. Instead, he’s basically condemning the country to struggle and suffering.
Ahab the king had sold out to worshipping his wife’s idols. He knew what was right and what God expected of him, but he went out and did quite the opposite. He encouraged his people not to worship God but to sacrifice to these evil powers. And the drought was God’s way of getting Ahab (and the people’s attention).
Suddenly, this prophet no one knows is on everyone’s radar, and he’s in trouble. He’s delivered bad news, he hasn’t provided any way out of it, and he’s the only one as far as anyone knows who can reverse it. Naturally, God tells him to skedaddle. But instead of sending him to another country or somewhere comfy, like a country club kind of prison, God tells him to go hide out in a hollowed out river bed.
God says he’ll have enough to drink from the brook and ravens will supply him food. So Elijah goes (this isn’t a dialogue!) and presumably waits. And while he is there, he eats bread and meat in the morning, and bread in the evening. It wasn’t big on the company, but the provisions were actually bountiful compared to what he would’ve eaten in the city where meat was a delicacy.
So, quick recap:
God speaks to Elijah and gives him a message.
The message God gives Elijah isn’t “good news” for the people who will receive it.
As a result of giving the message, Elijah will be forced to go on the run.
God’s care for Elijah involves sleeping in a ditch and eating food that ravens bring.
This is not your “gospel of wealth” scenario where if you do everything you’re supposed to then God will give you everything you’ve ever wanted drivel. This is real deal sacrificial faith and obedience.
Elijah’s main mission is to do what he’s told. He shows up and delivers the message, and then puts himself in a place where God will take care of him. But it’s not like he’s living a life of luxury. So why is it that when the first hint of trouble comes, people have an inclination to say “woe is me”? From this example, it looks like we should be prepared for more Spartan living if we’re following God (and no, I don’t mean of the 300 variety).
Elijah’s obedience is amazing. [Note that it says nothing about how he responded or really felt about God’s decision-making, primarily because it didn’t matter.] If God showed up and told you, “hey, you’re going to go and deliver this bad news, and I’m going to hide you in a rock gully,” wouldn’t your inclination be to pull a Jonah and run the other way?
Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly needy, it does my heart good to explore the Old Testament adventures of the brave men and women who were used by God in uncomfortable situations. If that’s what it means to be a Christian, then I think my attitude needs a chiropractic adjustment.
Instead of looking for the most comfortable root, I want to look for the right route. I think if I’m going to live the life God wants from me I’m going to have to subject myself to being raised by ravens, like Mogwli was raised by wolves, a panther, and a bear in The Jungle Book. Mogwli was still a human boy, but he had the skills of those animals: the cunning, the survival skills, the ability to camouflage himself. He needed to be like those animals to survive the jungle.
These incredibly intelligent birds who find the food they need wherever they can, who communicate with each other, who could be used by God to feed Elijah.
In Luke 12:23-25, Jesus said, “For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” Funny how Jesus told his disciples to look to the ravens for an example of God’s graciousness and care. Think maybe he was thinking of obedient Elijah who only survived by the Meals on Wheels delivery of some ravens?
So what’s the stripped down look you need for the journey? Is stuff getting in the way of you being the disciple God wants you to be? Is it the way you prioritize your time? Is it where you go when your time is your own or the kind of job you work (or how you do that job)? It seems to me that Elijah went out on a limb for God, and jumped up and down a few times, and the limb never broke.
But how can I say that? Elijah is one of just a handful of people who never died. He NEVER DIED. He was so sacred to God that his life was spared! God took him straight to heaven.
Elijah’s obedience, the life he lived, led to the reward that he bypassed death.
Not a car. Not a 401k. Not a life of power and security. But an eternal relationship with God that superseded death. “Get out of a jail free, go straight to heaven.”
I think there’s something to this whole “raised by wolves” thing. Or maybe it’s ravens. Either way, obedience IS rewarded, just not the way we expect it. God’s grace will find you, even if it takes you into the wilderness first, and stands you before kings with terrifying news.
A raven is not such a bad mascot after all.