Now Elijah, who was from Tishbe in Gilead, told King Ahab, “As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives—the God I serve—there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!” Then the Lord said to Elijah, “Go to the east and hide by Kerith Brook, near where it enters the Jordan River. Drink from the brook and eat what the ravens bring you, for I have commanded them to bring you food.”
If you haven’t read the story of Ahab in 1 Kings 16, I can summarize it by telling you that he was the worst king Israel had ever seen, and did great evil in the eyes of God. Along with his wife Jezebel, he destroyed God’s temples and set up new ones in honor of other pagan gods, and he killed hundreds of God’s prophets who would try to speak out against him or deliver the Word of the Lord to him.
So one day, Elijah (one of the most powerful men of God who ever lived) walks up to the palace and declares to Ahab that God has commanded that there be no rain on the land for three years because of the all the evil that Ahab has done in God’s sight.
And then God instructs Elijah to go and hide.
Now, at first glance, it’s easy to assume that God asked Elijah to go and hide from Ahab. I definitely did the first time I read it – because Ahab was not the kind of King you wanted to shout threats at, then stick around to see what would happen next. But later on in chapter 17, we see from Elijah’s conversation with Obadiah that Elijah had no actual fear of Ahab. In fact, God sent Elijah to deliver a message to Ahab on several occasions, and each occasion Elijah left Ahab’s presence unscathed, even though he had killed several other devout men of God.
So why ask him to hide?
It isn’t just the fact that God asks Elijah to go and hide that is mysterious – it’s also WHERE he asks him to go hide. He asks him to go hide by a brook at the East of the Jordan, and He mentions the specific brook by name: Kerith. At this point, I have at least a half dozen questions: why a brook? Why not the Jordan? If there was going to be a drought for three years, I’d want to be by the largest body of water I could find, not some puny brook. And why Kerith? Why not some other brook? Why that one in particular?
I have learnt that no incident, or word, or choice of words is ever by chance with God, so I went ahead to look up the Hebrew word Kerith, and it turns out it means ‘cutting away’. I took a closer look at that word ‘hide’ and found out that it meant ‘to retreat, conceal yourself, absent yourself, to be out of sight’ and referred to a deliberate choice to be obedient. The noun form, seter, is used to describe the womb as a secret place, a place of shelter. The verb form is used in relation to God’s presence as the omniscient One who becomes a hiding place, a shelter for the believer.
So basically, in the midst of a drought, God asked Elijah way to go ‘retreat’ to a place of ‘cutting away’ where He would provide sustenance for Elijah.
Well, what I realized is that in the midst of a drought, God led Elijah to Kerith not to get him away from Ahab or from the danger in the world around him, but to a place of seclusion. He took him to a place of vulnerability out in the open with no one else around where his only company, companion and provider would be God. To a place where he could no longer rely on his own devices or accolades or strength or self-confidence, but would be totally dependent on God to sustain him mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally. In the midst of a drought, he asked Elijah to retreat from his home and his community, to cut away from the things that he was tied to – from the pulls of the world, from being this all-powerful and renowned prophet, from the opinions and suggestions of people around him, to being alone and in complete communion with and dependence on God.
God wasn’t asking Elijah to hide FROM Ahab, He was asking Elijah to hide IN Him!
There will be times in our lives – seasons of drought – where it seems as though God has hidden us away. Where it seems like all progress in our lives has stalled, and sometimes even retarded. In those times our natural instinct is to panic and begin to question God: “Am I in the right place? Is this what you’re really calling me to? It can’t possibly be because there are walls everywhere I turn and no opportunity in sight. You promised me a land flowing with milk and honey and now I’m stuck in this ravine and have no idea what’s next. Friends have left, family is gone, people are mocking and discouraging me, the resources are drying up and You seem so silent when it comes to instructions on what’s next.”
Those seasons of drought are the ones where, like Elijah, we must find ourselves hidden in Christ – in his Word – so we become fully dependent on him and not on what we see around us or on hearsay. When you are hidden in Christ, your perspective on every day circumstances drastically changes, and you develop a greater faith.
Imagine what it would be like to be Elijah today. What would our Kerith in the midst of a spiritual, emotional or physical drought look like? Probably it would be a season where we turned off our televisions, closed our laptops, put away our phones and tuned out the competing voices all around us and went into a time of seclusion with God, subsisting on His Word (the Bread of Heaven) and the Living Water that is Christ.
Sometimes the reason for seasons of drought – the reason for times when we feel hidden from God’s providence and goodness and grace, and feel exhaustion and burnout – is for the very reason that He wants us to come hide in Him and reorder our lives around His Word. Seasons of drought should drive us into a hidden place with Christ where we become solely dependent on him and his perspective. Everyone in the Bible who found themselves in some form of a drought and met alone with God – from Moses and Jacob to Jesus – came back stronger than ever before.
And as we’ll see in the rest of this series, a time of hiding often precedes a test of great faith.