This text starts out immediately, “Now Elijah the Tishbite….” we learn where he is from and he says what the Lord has told him to say. The writer is so intentional with place names that I have to think it meant as a signal to listeners/readers that he means this story as headline news, as what really happened. Imagine this first as a oral story, the man leaning in a little from his seated position; the listeners leaning in a bit eager to hear. “So remember when Ahab was King? He was the worst, remember? He even started to worship Baal! And the Lord put a stop to that, didn’t he? He sent Elijah, the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead…” He grounded Elijah in a place — that means nothing to us today. But I wonder if the first people to listen, gave a nod — one of those Tishbe folks, now they are stubborn. Or perhaps, they thought really? A Tishbe? He doesn’t know the ways of Jerusalem, he doesn’t know civilized behavior. Or maybe even, wow, a Tishbite — they are so tall! So strong! They are rare around these parts. They stick to home.
We have no idea (I think) what this introduction would have signaled to people who heard the story a few years after it happened, much less a hundred years after. Now more than 2000 years, here I am starting this story and it feels awkward and difficult.
Yet another reason that place is so important to the start of the story is that after Elijah announces the drought that the Lord is sending (to prove that the Lord sends rain and growth not Baal), the Lord immediately sends Elijah wisely out of town. He’s angered the King, the drought is going to cause suffering. So we have Elijah from somewhere else, in Jerusalem (I think), and then leaving there but not to go home.
He’s not going home — the repeat of “Wadi Cherith, east of the Jordon (river)” makes that clear. Elijah must be scared, yes? He’s angered the King! A bad King! He’s on the run. He’s away from home. He’s alone.
But God — the Lord — is with him. God provides him water and ravens bring him food. Ravens?! Thank goodness for Debbie Blue’s book, Bird by Bird: “Ravens are big … and they are black… It doesn’t sign, it croaks.” Ravens mean death. Ravens often symbolize tricks and lies. Yet they are smart. They work in teams. They are devoted parents and mate for life (Blue, p. 197). They fly like nobody’s business and apparently like music.
And God feeds even the Raven and uses the Ravens to bring Elijah food. God isn’t so hung up on cute and little and sweet and beautiful. God isn’t just able to use quail or shower manna down. God provides, to ravens and to Elijah.
And that is rather Elijah’s whole point to Ahab, yes? God provides.