OPEN: Years ago I read the story of a man by the name of Wally who owned a farm in Connecticut. He had a remarkable talent he had with birds. Chickadees specifically.
It seems that every morning these little birds would flutter down and land on his hands. And it wasn’t just for food; He’d talk to them and they seemed to enjoy his companionship.
One woman who visited was so enthralled by what she asked for permission to try and get the birds to do that for her. She practiced for weeks, but never got one bird to land on her hand.
Then one day, she tried something different. She put Wally’s fedora on her head and wrapped herself in his mackinaw. Seconds later, she was covered with birds.
They came to her, because they trusted Wally so much that they even trusted his scent on his clothes. (Readers Digest, December 1973)
It’s a valuable commodity.
People rarely GIVE trust… usually it’s something that’s earned.
But without having trust in someone - or something – it’s hard to do anything in this life
• We trust that our cars will start. Have you ever gotten in your car, put the key in the ignition… and then not have it start? How did it make you feel? It should have started! It had started hundreds of times before… but now it didn’t. You TRUSTED it to be able to start when you needed it.
• We trust that our grocery stores will have food. They may not have the specific brand of cereal or coffee you want, but you TRUST they will have milk, and meat, and bread.
• When we have trouble around the house, we trust that the police and firemen will be available to protect us.
• And we trust that our friends will BE THERE for us. That our church family will lift us up in prayer and be there in our moments of joy and sadness.
Trust is woven into the very fabric of our lives.
Without trust, we can hardly function.
So, the question is: what do you trust… and why?
The story we’re looking at today is a story about trust… and the lack of it.
And it begins a few verses before the ones we read in chapter 17
I Kings 16:29-33 tells us:
“In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel twenty-two years.
Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him.
He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria.
Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him.” I Kings 16:30-33
Ahab was a wicked king.
But he NOT JUST a wicked king… he was a wicked man
1Kings 21:25 says “There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, urged on by Jezebel his wife.”
So Ahab was a wicked King and a wicked man.
But what made him so wicked?
Well, he TRUSTED in the wrong things.
First – he trusted in the wrong religion.
We’re told that he built a temple to the pagan god Baal in Samaria. And that he erected Asherah poles for the worship of that goddess (who apparently was worshipped as both Baal’s mother AND his wife).
God repeatedly stressed how foolish the worship of these (and other gods) was. In Isaiah 46 God declared:
"To whom will you compare me or count me equal?
To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?
Some pour out gold from their bags and weigh out silver on the scales; they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god, and they bow down and worship it. They lift it to their shoulders and carry it; they set it up in its place, and there it stands. From that spot it cannot move. Though one cries out to it, it does not answer; it cannot save him from his troubles.” Isaiah 46:5-7
But these were not just false gods… they were evil gods in whom Ahab put his trust.
Part of the worship of Baal was the sacrifice of your children to please him. And the religious activity of male and female prostitution were part of both their worships.
So Ahab trusted these false and evil gods.
But the reason he trusted these gods was because he trusted the wrong person
He married Jezebel
Have you ever heard the name of Jezebel?
How many of you would name your daughter “Jezebel?”
This woman was so despised in Scripture that to this day her name is still a symbol of treachery and wickedness.
Ahab trusted the wrong things… and he trusted the wrong people
And most tragically of all - he didn’t trust God.
So God decided it was time to teach Ahab a lesson in trust.
ILLUS: Trust is based upon a track record.
If I tell you I’m going to something and then I don’t do it - and I do that again and again and again – are you going to trust me? Of course not.
But if I tell you that I’m going to do something and then that’s exactly what you do - and I do that often enough – you’ll be likely to trust that I’ll do what I say… even if you don’t like what I tell you I’m going to do.
God wants Ahab to trust him.
So He sends Elijah with this basic message:
“Trust me on this I’m going to make life VERY uncomfortable for you.
Until Elijah comes to you again, there will be no rain nor dew on the land.”
ILLUS: Every year, our Indiana farmers watch anxiously to see how much rain will fall on crops.
If there’s too much, the crops drown.
If there’s too little, some of those crops dry up and die.
BUT if there’s no rain at all… ALL the crops will die.
The book of James tells us that “Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.” James 5:17
Three and a half years without rain is a looooong time.
Three ½ years of drought is enough to turn a paradise into a wasteland.
And three ½ years of dryness can make men and kings desperate enough to do anything to change the weather… even kill a prophet.
So, God sent Elijah on an extended vacation.
And that (of course) is where we meet the ravens of this story.
God has Elijah hide near the brook Kerith down by the Jordan River and that’s where he lives for the next couple of years.
And while he was hiding there:
“The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.” 1 Kings 17:6
Now this is odd for several reasons:
1st Ravens don’t generally like being around humans… they avoid us if at all possible.
2ndly Ravens were unclean birds. God’s people were not allowed to eat them, nor offer them in sacrifice.
3rd The food of ravens has usually been dead for a while. They eat road kill. They were scavengers. They’re kind of like vultures. Who would want to share their food?
4th Even if we wanted to share their food, Ravens would never share. They don’t even share their food with their babies.
ILLUS: Once a young raven is able to fly – it’s kicked out of the nest and left to fend for itself. No matter how much the young raven cries its parents will not bring it food, it is on its own. Apparently that’s an uncommonly cruel trait not shared by many other birds.
So here God has Elijah being fed by unclean, disgusting, anti-social, and notoriously cruel birds.
Why would God use Ravens to supply Elijah with food when there are so many other simple and satisfying ways of getting the job done?
ILLUS: That has led at least one commentator to question the role of Ravens in this story. His name is Adam Clarke. He’s been a highly respected conservative Bible scholar… and usually very thorough. In other words… he’s a scholar that I usually trust.
When commenting on this passage, Clarke wrote:
“(God) could not have employed this means without working a variety of miracles at the same time, in order to accomplish one simple end; and this is never God’s method: his plan is ever to accomplish the greatest purposes by the simplest means.” Adam Clarke
Like I said, I’ve always respected Clarke’s work, but in this simple statement Clarke showed that he didn’t trust God.
When Clarke examined this story about the ravens he didn’t ask: “Why did God do this?”
He simply said: “God would never do it this way”
“THIS IS NEVER GOD’S METHOD” he writes.
Why did Clarke write that?
He wrote it because - the God he worshipped would never do it that way.
But, the Bible tells us that God did do it that way.
The reason Adam Clarke didn’t want to accept that was because that didn’t fit HIS view of what God would or would not do.
Now Adam Clarke was a very smart man, but no man is smart enough to tell me God didn’t do what the Bible says He did do. When a scholar tries to tell me that I know (at least in that point) they don’t trust God.
There are several reasons why people end up not trusting God or His word.
1. Sometimes, people refuse to trust God’s Word, because they want a God they can understand. If they can’t understand something about Him it can’t be true. They want their God to be able to fit into their small box. They put walls around Him and tell Him – you can’t exist outside of this.
ILLUS: Tony Campolo was once confronted by an atheist who was one of his students.
The young man told Campolo: “For me to believe in God, I have to have a God that I can understand."
And Campolo replied "God refuses to be that small!"
So, sometimes people refuse to trust God (and His Word) because doesn’t fit inside their small box.
2. Other times people refuse to trust God and His Word because (like King Ahab) they’ve listened to the wrong people. They’ve spent time with skeptics and scoffers who have made them ashamed of their faith and doubt their God.
3. Other times people refuse to trust God’s Word because they’ve been hurt. God didn’t help them like they wanted Him to when they needed it, and because of that incident(s) they turn their back on God.
4. Still other people refuse to trust God’s Word because they’re into sin. They’ve done things they shouldn’t do and because God’s Word condemns their particular behavior or lifestyle they try to disarm God. They try to blunt his right to judge them. because IF God’s Word is wrong on something they can ignore it as being unreliable in all things.
The problem with these approaches to God’s Word is that it puts us in danger.
If you can’t trust God… you gotta trust something.
SOMETHING has to step in where God has been thrown out.
That’s what happened to King Ahab.
He didn’t trust the God of Israel.
So he turned in trust to other gods… and suffered for it.
ILLUS: G.K. Chesterton once said
“It is often supposed that when people stop believing in God, they believe in nothing.
Alas, it is worse than that.
When they stop believing in God, they believe in anything.”
Without God the only standard of TRUST - of right and wrong - is what appeals to you. And that’s a shifting standard. It all depends on what I want, what I like, what I accept, what pleases me.
But scripture says: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”
My standards are all warped.
My morality is riddled with impurity.
And if I base what I TRUST on that warpedness/ impurity, then I’m going to embrace whatever gods allow me to do what I want to do.
When I stop trusting in the God of Scripture… I’ll believe in anything
And eventually that will lead me to destruction.
But now, by contrast, if I trust in the God of Scripture I’m no longer led by MY righteousness and holiness. Instead I’m trusting a God who is so holy and so righteous that my tendency will be to build my life around Him (rather than Him around me).
I’ll use His standards of right and wrong – not mine.
I’ll build on His morality in my life – not mine.
I’ll build on His expectations for me… not mine.
AND I know if I trust in Him in these matters… I will be blest.
But first I have to decide whether I trust Him or not.
And that leads me to my final point
That point has to do with a question that plagued me most of the week.
Why would God use ravens to minister to Elijah?
He could have done it more pleasantly and much easier some other way.
Why use the ravens?
Now Adam Clarke wrote that believing ravens had fed Elijah would require “a variety of miracles at the same time, in order to accomplish ONE SIMPLE END.”
Clarke believed God’s sole purpose in supplying Elijah’s needs was to make sure he had food. That’s the “simple end” he refers to.
But, that’s simply not true.
And the proof of that is – that when the brook dried up – God had Elijah move on.
God asked him to go approach a poor widow in Zarephath to house and feed him. But the widow had no food to share. What little food she had – she was preparing for a final meal for her son and herself… and then they were going to die.
And Elijah had to ask her to share the final meal with him.
Why didn’t God send Elijah to somebody who at least had some food???
For the same reason God sent the ravens to feed him in the desert: To show Elijah His power.
Elijah said to her, "Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.’"
She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family.” 1 Kings 17:13-15
Now, you can’t convince me that God’s sole purpose in having the widow feed Elijah was simply so that he could have something to eat!
So, what other reason could God have?
God wanted to strengthen Elijah’s trust in Him.
2 Chronicles 16:9 says “… the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him…"
God got Elijah into situations where he had no choice but to trust Him.
Because when this drought was over, God was sending Elijah back to confront Ahab.
And when Elijah went back, he had to be able to know that he could trust God.
This whole time in exile was designed by God so He could train Elijah in trust.
He showed Elijah that He could order the very ravens to feed him
He showed Elijah that He was able to enable a destitute widow to meet his needs.
Over and over again, God trained Elijah in trust.
God knows that trust is something that’s earned.
And He knows the power of trust in our lives.
That’s why He lays such an emphasis on our counting our blessings. Repeatedly throughout Scripture God tells us be thankful, to rejoice to focus on what He has done in our lives. This is more than just a “religious activity” – it’s a training ground in trust.
If Elijah had not been trained in trust, he wouldn’t have been ready when the time of testing came. In the same way – if we don’t train ourselves in trusting God, we will not have the strength to stand in the time of testing.
CLOSE: The question for you this morning is this: Who do you trust?
One man made this observation:
“Trust in yourself and you are doomed to disappointment
Trust in money and you may have it taken from you;
But trust in God, and you are never to be confounded in time or eternity.” D.L. Moody
Hebrews tells us
“Without faith it is impossible to please God…”
That kind of faith is more than just “believing God exists?”
It’s a faith that has learned to trust God because of what He’s done for us.
“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists AND that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6