Saturday, 21 November 2009


Our first meeting with the great prophet Elias has always fascinated me and as the rooks and jackdaws swarm around the nearby fields in their thousands, I am reminded again of this tale.

And Elias the Thesbite of the inhabitants of Galaad said to Achab: As the Lord liveth the God of Israel, in whose sight I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to the words of my mouth. And the word of the Lord came to him, saying:Get thee hence, and go towards the east and hide thyself by the torrent of Carith, which is over against the Jordan, 4 And there thou shalt drink of the torrent: and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there. 5 So he went, and did according to the word of the Lord: and going, he dwelt by the torrent Carith, which is over against the Jordan.

6 And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening, and he drank of the torrent.
3 Kings 17

It is the ravens* in the tale that gnaw away at my thoughts.

The prophet had given the wicked king Achab (Ahab) a terrifying prophecy and no doubt the prophet’s life was in danger. God tells the prophet where to hide. The place had a welcome supply of fresh water but was obviously in a barren bit of country. The absence of food is relieved by God commanding the ravens to feed him there.

Was ever a bird more vilified? He is a nasty brute, he waits for lambs to emerge from their mother and will peck their eyes out so that they die a horrible, slow death. The destroyed newborn is then the raven’s food.

The raven, being a lover of carrion, would have been about as unclean as an animal can get to a God fearing prophet. Did Elias secretly say to himself, Oh Lord, why couldn’t you have chosen some other creature to provide me with sustenance?

But God never does anything without a firm purpose. The raven is absolutely necessary to the tale, methinks.

God needed his prophet and loved his prophet dearly. In order to do the miracles he performs in the future like raising the widow’s son to life and smacking down the prophets of Baal, Elias needed to be totally humble and submissive to the will of God. Receiving food from ravens would be a test of total humility. Any speck of righteous indignation that may have been driving Elias to counter the plans of queen Jezebel in the past would be erased in this one penitential act.

Is it not the case that sometimes we must acknowledge we are sustained by creatures we may find repugnant? Is it time to ditch our indignation? Could this in some way be a necessary part of our growing calling towards the Lord? Remembering our own need for humility and remembering too that it is ultimately it is God who is the source of our daily bread.

Do you have ravens?

* I have read that the Hebrew word for Arab is very similar to the word for raven. The story works just as well with Arabs however.

1 comment:

mum6kids said...

I have ravens.
The raven image has a profound effect on me for this reason. I have an icon of Elijah being fed what looks so much like Holy Communion by his raven.
I also have the story of St Benedict and his raven.
They are not well thought of-but they have always been messengers even in pagan mythology and they are there to clean up the mess left by others whether through war or other carnage. Without them carrion would rot and leave a stink.
I think there's something to learn there.