1 Kings 17:4
And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there.
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(4) The ravens.—Of the accuracy of this rendering, which is that of almost all the ancient versions and of Josephus, there can be little doubt. The singularly prosaic interpretations, substituted for this striking and significant record of miracle by some ancient and modern writers (adopting slight variations of the Hebrew vowel points)—such as “Arabs,” “merchants,” “inhabitants of a city Orbi or the rock Oreb”—seem to have arisen simply from a desire to get rid of what seemed a strange miracle, at the cost (be it observed) of substituting for it a gross improbability; for how can it be supposed that such regular sustenance by human hands of the persecuted prophet could have gone on in the face of the jealous vigilance of the king? But it is idle to seek to explain away one wonder in a life and an epoch teeming with miracles. It is notable, indeed, that the critical period of the great Baal apostasy, and of the struggle of Elijah and Elisha against it, is the second great epoch of recorded miracle in the Old Testament—the still more critical epoch of Moses and Joshua being the first. It is hardly less idle to determine that this or that miracle is so improbable, as to introduce any difficulty of acceptance which does not apply to miracles in general.

17:1-7 God wonderfully suits men to the work he designs them for. The times were fit for an Elijah; an Elijah was fit for them. The Spirit of the Lord knows how to fit men for the occasions. Elijah let Ahab know that God was displeased with the idolaters, and would chastise them by the want of rain, which it was not in the power of the gods they served to bestow. Elijah was commanded to hide himself. If Providence calls us to solitude and retirement, it becomes us to go: when we cannot be useful, we must be patient; and when we cannot work for God, we must sit still quietly for him. The ravens were appointed to bring him meat, and did so. Let those who have but from hand to mouth, learn to live upon Providence, and trust it for the bread of the day, in the day. God could have sent angels to minister to him; but he chose to show that he can serve his own purposes by the meanest creatures, as effectually as by the mightiest. Elijah seems to have continued thus above a year. The natural supply of water, which came by common providence, failed; but the miraculous supply of food, made sure to him by promise, failed not. If the heavens fail, the earth fails of course; such are all our creature-comforts: we lose them when we most need them, like brooks in summer. But there is a river which makes glad the city of God, that never runs dry, a well of water that springs up to eternal life. Lord, give us that living water!The ravens - This is the translation of most of the ancient versions; others, omitting the points, which are generally allowed to have no authority, read "Arabians;" others, retaining the present pointing, translate either "merchants" (compare the original of Ezekiel 27:9, Ezekiel 27:27), or "Orbites." Jerome took it in this last sense, and so does the Arabic Version. 2, 3. the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, &c.—At first the king may have spurned the prediction as the utterance of a vain enthusiast; but when he found the drought did last and increase in severity, he sought Elijah, who, as it was necessary that he should be far removed from either the violence or the importunities of the king, was divinely directed to repair to a place of retreat, perhaps a cave on "the brook Cherith, that is, before [east of] Jordan." Tradition points it out in a small winter torrent, a little below the ford at Beth-shan. i.e. I have decreed or appointed. Or, I shall command, i.e. effectually move them, by instincts and inclinations which I shall put into them, which shall be as forcible with them as a law or command is to men. God is said to command both brute creatures, as Amos 9:3 Jonah 2:10, and senseless things, as Job 38:11,12 Psa 78:23 Isaiah 5:6 45:12, when he causeth them to do the things which he intends to effect by them.

I have commanded the ravens; which he names, and chooseth for this work; partly to succour the prophet’s faith against human infirmity, by the credibility of the thing; there being many ravens in those parts, and those delighting to reside near brooks of water; and that sort of creatures being apt and accustomed to seek provisions, and to carry them away to the places of their abode; and partly to show his care and power in providing for the prophet by those creatures, which are noted for their greediness in monopolizing provision to themselves, and for their malignity and unnaturalness towards their own young; that by this strange and noble experiment he might be taught to trust God in those many and great difficulties to which he was likely to be exposed.

Object. The ravens were unclean, Leviticus 11:15.

Answ. They were unclean for meat, but not for the touch. But howsoever, that ceremonial law was overruled by necessity, and by the Lawgiver’s dispensation.

And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook,.... The water of that was to be his drink:

and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there; whereby he should be provided with food to eat; by whom are meant not angels in the form of ravens, as some; nor, as others, Arabians, for there were none of that people near him; nor, as others, merchants, the word being sometimes used of them, for this was not a likely method for privacy; nor, as others, the inhabitants of a place called Oreb, or Orbo; so the Arabic version calls them Orabimi; but we read of no such place near Jordan; the Jews (s) speak of a city of this name near Bethshean, from whence these Orebim came; and some of them (t) think they had their name from Oreb, in Judges 7:25 it seems better to interpret them of ravens, as we do, these creatures delighting to be in solitary places, in valleys, and by brooks; nor need it be any objection that they were unclean creatures by the law, since Elijah did not feed upon them, but was fed by them; and supposing any uncleanness by touch, the ceremonial law might be dispensed with in an extraordinary case, as it sometimes was; though it is very remarkable that such creatures should be employed in this way, which are birds of prey, seize on anything they can, live on carrion, and neglect their own young, and yet feed a prophet of the Lord; which shows the power and providence of God in it. Something like this Jerom (u) relates, of a raven bringing a whole loaf of bread, and laying it before the saints, Paulus and Antonius.

(s) Bereshit Rabba, sect. 33. fol. 29. 1.((t) T. Bab. Cholin. fol. 5. 1. Menasseh Ben Israel Conciliat. in Lev. quaest. 3.((u) In Vita Paul Erem. fol. 82. C.

And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the {c} ravens to feed thee there.

(c) To strengthen his faith against persecution, God promises to feed him miraculously.

4. thou shalt drink of the brook] The drought had not yet dried it up, but soon it would do so.

I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there] Just as in 1 Kings 13:28 the appetite of the lion which had slain the false prophet was supernaturally checked, so that he tare neither the corpse nor the ass, so here the greedy birds were to bring into the valley enough food to suffice for the prophet’s wants as well as for their own. Their nests would be in the caves among which Elijah would find his best hiding-place. Many attempts have been made to explain away this verse by putting different vowel points to the word ערבים to interpret it as (1) merchants. This some Jews favoured as the raven was an unclean bird. But it is answer sufficient to this, that Elijah was not told to eat the ravens. (2) Arabians, interpreting it of travelling caravans from whom the prophet obtained what he needed to live on. But caravans keep as far away as they can from wild torrent-beds.

Verse 4. - And it shall be that thou shalt drink of the brook [There was clearly nothing miraculous about the supply of water. No miracle was wrought even to continue the supply, ver. 7]; and I have commanded [cf. ver. 9; Isaiah 5:6; Amos 9:3, etc.] the ravens to feed thee there. [Despite the general agreement of scholars that by ערבים we must understand "ravens," I think probability favours the meaning Orbites, i.e., inhabitants of Orbo. In support of the received rendering is the very powerful consideration, that it is the interpretation of all the versions (except the Arabic) and of Josephus, who, beyond all question, represented the belief current in his own time (Ant. 8:13. 2). It is also certain that elsewhere in Scripture we find some of the inferior animals supernaturally constrained to effect God's purposes, both of mercy and of judgment (1 Kings 13:24; 2 Kings 2:24; Daniel 6:22; 2 Peter 2:16), though never it must be said, in so rational and methodical a way. Nor can it rightly be contended that the words "I have commanded," צִוִתִי, imply human agency, for elsewhere we find the Almighty commanding (same word) the serpent (Amos 9:3) and the clouds (Isaiah 5:6; Psalm 78:23). It is not, however, a sufficient account of this narrative to say that the prophet merely helped himself to the food which the ravens, whose habitat was in the Wady Cherith, brought, day by day, to their nests and their young. For, not to insist on the words, מְבִיאִים לו bringing to him (ver. 6), the expressions '" bread (or food, לֶחֶם) and flesh," and "morning and evening" certainly point to something more than such a fortuitous supply. Whether the Orebim were "ravens" or not, they certainly acted in an intelligent and rational way: they brought food, that is to say, to the prophet, and they brought it for months together with unfailing regularity. But against this view the following considerations may be urged.

1. It is hardly in accord with God's usual way of working, that he should employ birds of the air and those unclean (Leviticus 11:15; Deuteronomy 14:14) and ravenous birds, to feed and succour His saints, rather than men or angels. Of course, no one who does not altogether repudiate the supernatural will deny for a moment that the Almighty could, had it seemed good to Him, have sustained His prophet by the instrumentality of ravens, just as easily as by any other means. But it appears to be almost a fixed principle of His dealings with men, not to resort to miracles when ordinary means will suffice; or if He does employ miracles, they are never bizarre or fantastic; they are not such as to suggest the idea of fable or legend; they are invariably the simplest and directest means to the end. And it is submitted that this prolonged and methodical ministry of ravens is altogether unlike God's method of procedure on other occasions. It was an angel succoured Hagar and Ishmael in their need (Genesis 16:7). It was an angel fed Elijah himself, a few years later (1 Kings 19:5, 6). They were angels who ministered to our blessed Lord after His long fast (Matthew 4:11). But God's,' chief means," it is always to be remembered, "is man." And it is to be carefully observed that when, about this very time, not one, but one hundred prophets were threatened, just as Elijah was, with death, no miracle was wrought to save their lives or to supply their wants, but they were fed by human agency, with bread and water (1 Kings 18:13). But it is still more significant that elsewhere in this narrative, which is characterized by the profoundest sobriety and reticence, there is what we may almost call a studied absence of the miraculous element. No miracle is wrought to protect Elijah against Jezebel, but he must consult for his own safety by flight. He is sent to the brook Cherith, because there is water there; in other words, God chose that hiding place in order to obviate the necessity for a miracle. And when the water of the brook dries up, no miracle is wrought to prolong the supply, but the prophet, at the risk of detection, must go forth and seek it elsewhere. And at Zarephath he is fed, not by ravens, but by human agency - by a widow woman. It is true a miracle appears to have been wrought, but the narrative has so little idea of effect and gives so little prominence to the supernatural that even that is doubted. To put the interpretation of "ravens," consequently, on the word ערבים, provided it will yield any other meaning, appears to be to do violence to the spirit of the context, and to the tenour of Scripture generally.

2. It is somewhat difficult to believe that such a prodigy as this, so altogether unique and irregular, would not have been mentioned, had it really happened, elsewhere in Scripture. The absence of all reference thereto is remarkable, when we consider how constantly the ministry of Elijah and its lessons (Luke 4:25, 26; Luke 9:54; James 5:17; Revelation 11:5, 6) are referred to in the New Testament; but when we observe what an admirable and unequalled illustration of God's providential care this incident would have supplied to some of our Lord's discourses, and notably to that of Luke 12:22 sqq., this silence becomes almost suspicious.

3. Despite the practical unanimity of the versions, the interpretation "ravens" has been disputed from very early times. St. Jerome among Christians, Rabbi Judah Hakkodesh and Kimchi amongst Jews - these are but some of those who have repudiated this rendering.

4. A very slight change in the vowel points - עַרְבִּים instead of ערְבִים - yields the meaning "Arabians." That a fugitive would readily find, not only shelter but sustenance among the Bedouin, whose generous hospitality and loyalty to strangers is proverbial, is obvious, and we knew that about this time some Arab tribes had dealings with the Jews (2 Chronicles 17:11); but without any change at all, a sufficient meaning may be extracted from the word. For we find that somewhere in the Ciccar, or plain of the Jordan, off which the Wady Cherith lay, was a rock Oreb (עורֵב, Judges 7:25), apparently east of the Jordan (Judges 8:1), but in any case, at no great distance from Bethabara (John 1:28). Now Beth-abara has been identified, almost to a certainty (Conder, "Tent-work," pp. 229-232) with the modern Abarah (i.e., passage or ferry), "one of the main fords of the Jordan just above the place where the Jalud river flowing down the valley of Jezreel and by Beisan, debouches into Jordan." But we learn from an ancient and independent source, the Bereshith Rabba (see Dict. Bib. ii. 464), that in the neighbourhood of Beisan, i.e., Bethshean, there was anciently a town named Orbo, עַרְבו - a word, it is to be observed, which preserves the radicals of עורֵב transposed. We may safely assume that these two places, Orbo and Oreb, were identical; that the former was the representative at a later day of the latter, or was the shape which the name assumed when bestowed on the hamlet, as distinct from the rock. The inhabitants of this place would, of course, be called עֹרְבִים, just as the in. habitants of Ziph were known as Ziphim (1 Samuel 26:1), or the men of Zidon as Zidonim (1 Kings 5:6). We find, consequently, that this word, which means "ravens," also designates the inhabitants of a village near Bethshean, and probably east of the Jordan; that is to say, in or near Elijah's native country of Gilead. And with this agree the testimonies of Rabbi Judah and Jerome already referred to. The former held that the Orebim were not ravens at all, but inhabitants of Orbo or the rock Oreb, while the latter says, with equal positiveness, Orbim, accolae villae in fini-bus Arabum, Eliae dederunt alimenta. It only remains for us to notice the perfect naturalness and consistency of the narrative thus interpreted. Elijah is bidden to go eastward; to hide in the Wady Cherith, where he would be among tribesmen or friends. For water, there is the brook; for food, the Orbites, whose name would be familiar to him, and whom he may have known, are commanded to feed him. He goes; he is received with Arab hospitality; the Eastern law of Dakheel, by which any man at any time is entitled to throw himself upon the mercy and protection of another, ensures his safety. The Orebim minister assiduously to his wants. Every morning before the dawn, every evening after dark, they bring him bread and flesh.] 1 Kings 17:4After the announcement of this judgment, Elijah had to hide himself, by the command of God, until the period of punishment came to an end, not so much that he might be safe from the wrath and pursuit of Ahab and Jezebel, as to preclude all earnest entreaties to remove the punishment. "For inasmuch as the prophet had said that the rain would come at his word, how would they have urged him to order it to come!" (Seb. Schm.) He was to turn קדמה, eastward, i.e., from Samaria, where he had no doubt proclaimed the divine judgment to Ahab, to the Jordan, and to hide himself at the brook Cherith, which is in front of the Jordan. The brook Cherith was in any case a brook emptying itself into the Jordan; but whether upon the eastern or the western side of that river, the ambiguity of על־פּני, which means both "to the east of" (Genesis 25:18) and also "in the face of," i.e., before or towards (Genesis 16:12; Genesis 18:16), it is impossible to determine with certainty. That it must signify "to the east of the Jordan" here, does not follow from קדמה with anything like the certainty that Thenius supposes. An ancient tradition places the Cherith on this side of the Jordan, and identifies it with the spring Phasaelis, which takes its rise in the slope of the mountains into the Jordan valley above the city of Phasaelis, and empties itself into the Jordan (cf. Ges. thes. p. 719, and V. de Velde, Reise, ii. pp. 273-4); whereas Eusebius, in the Onom. s.v. Chorat (Chorra'), places it on the other side of the Jordan, and Thenius thinks of the apparently deep Wady Rajib or Ajlun. All that can be affirmed with certainty is, that neither the brook Kanah (Joshua 16:8; Joshua 17:9), which flows into the Mediterranean, nor the Wady Kelt near Jericho, which Robinson (Pal. ii. p. 288) suggests, can possibly come into consideration: the latter for the simple reason, that the locality in the neighbourhood of Jericho was unsuitable for a hiding-place. Elijah was to drink of this brook, and the ravens by divine command were to provide him with bread and meat, which they brought him, according to 1 Kings 17:6, both morning and evening. It is now generally admitted that הערבים does not mean either Arabs or Orebites (the inhabitants of an imaginary city named Oreb), but ravens. Through this miracle, which unbelievers reject, because they do not acknowledge a living God, by whom, as the Creator and Lord of all creatures, even the voracious ravens are made subservient to His plans of salvation, Elijah was not only cut off from intercourse with men, who might have betrayed his place of abode to the king, but was mightily strengthened himself, through the confidence inspired in the almighty assistance of his God, for his approaching contests with the worshippers of idols, and for the privations and sufferings which awaited him in the fulfilment of his vocation.
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