Now Elijah the Tishbite 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." And the word of the Lord came to him: "Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the brook, 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 brook Cherith that is east of the Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. And after a while the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land.
Then the word of the Lord came to him, "Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you." So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, "Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink." And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, "Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand." And she said, "As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die." And Elijah said to her, "Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son.
For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, 'The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.'" And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.
After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. And she said to Elijah, "What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!" And he said to her, "Give me your son." And he took him from her arms and carried him up into the upper chamber where he lodged, and laid him on his own bed. And he cried to the Lord, "O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?" Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, "O Lord my God, let this child's life come into him again." 22And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother. And Elijah said, "See, your son lives." And the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth."
1 Kings 17:1-24
Perhaps it was hypothermic hallucination or merely the fitful dreams of a frightened little boy. But maybe, just maybe, he's remembering exactly what really did happen. His parents had realized he was missing, lost in the woods. Panic-stricken, they notified the authorities, and friends had quickly joined the search. The agonizing hours of night yielded nothing. Rain turned to ice as fruitless day two wore on. The second night came. The little lad was still lost, and hope was freezing into grief.
Then on the second morning, tangled in thick brambles, just a few paces from the road, his whimpers alerted the search party. He was found and he was alive and he was well.
"What happened," they sobbed. "How did you stay out so long in this bitter cold?" And with the straightforward pluck common to 3-year-old boys, he explained that, "The bear kept me warm in the nights." He carefully explained to the joyful searchers that a large brown bear had cuddled him and kept him safe. A fantasy tale? Or a merciful gift of answered prayers for a lost, scared little boy.
The prophet Elijah was told by God to flee to enemy territory and hide out in the wilderness. He was also told that his provisions had already been taken care of. God had commanded the ravens to feed him. What? Why is that in the account? Why that detail?
The same thing happened again when God told Elijah it was time to get on into town. The famine had come, and there was Prophet work to do there. God had already arranged the details, down to a widow's cupboard. Elijah would dwell in the land of Sidon, with a starving widow and her sickly son. And in that small place, a place least expected, God would do a mighty work never before seen in human history. He would demonstrate His power and manifest His mercy in and through His servant Elijah. God was there, caring for the tiny household and managing the universe to bring glory to His name among the Sidonians. Elijah heard and obeyed the word of The Lord, as God demonstrated His heart for the lowly.
Centuries later, Peter would tell Jesus that some folks thought Jesus was Elijah, back from the dead. But Jesus confirmed the He was the Prophet that Elijah had pointed to, the Messiah that Elijah had foreshadowed.
That little fellow with the bear may have learned the song in Sunday School, the one about the short man and the Sycamore tree. But the song leaves out the pith of the account, the point of the story. God's mercy shines especially brightly in His care for the low, for the poor in spirit.
And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:8-10)
Whether with ravens, or endless oil, or a brown bear, or a word from a friend orchestrated before the foundation of the world, through the finished work of Christ, God is managing His universe to gather a people who will glorify His name.