Elijah Series: Lessons from Kerith Valley University (1 Kgs 17:1-7)
Lessons from Kerith Valley University
Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As certainly as the Lord God of Israel lives (whom I serve), there will be no dew or rain in the years ahead unless I give the command.” The Lord told him: “Leave here and travel eastward. Hide out in the Kerith Valley near the Jordan. Drink from the stream; I have already told the ravens to bring you food there.” So he did as the Lord told him; he went and lived in the Kerith Valley near the Jordan. The ravens would bring him bread and meat each morning and evening, and he would drink from the stream. After a while, the stream dried up because there had been no rain in the land.
1 Kings 17:1-7 (NET)
What is God’s process for developing a man or woman of God? How does God develop those he uses greatly for his kingdom?
In 1 Kings 17:1, Elijah confronts King Ahab, the worst king of Israel. Ahab and his wife Jezebel had turned Israel away from God to worship Baal. Elijah proclaims there will be no rain or dew except at his word. But the next thing that happens is surprising: God tells Elijah to “hide” in Kerith Valley, east of Jordan. This is surprising because you would think Elijah would be sent to proclaim the Word of God throughout Israel calling people to repentance. But the man shows up, speaks one sentence, and God immediately removes him from the scene and sends him to a valley.
What is Kerith Valley? We don’t know anything about this place other than the meaning of its name. The word “Kerith” means “a cutting.”[God essentially tells Elijah that he must hide in “Cutting Valley.” Names in Hebrew culture were not just terms one called somebody or something. They typically symbolized the object's character or nature. The Valley of Cutting was not only a place where Elijah hid from public ministry, but it was a place where God was going to do a work in his life. It was, no doubt, a place of cutting and molding the prophet for greater ministry. It is in “Cutting Valley” that God commonly prepares all men and women that he uses greatly for his kingdom.
Christ uses a similar phrase when talking about the nature of the vine, and thus the Christian life, in John 15:1-2. He says, “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He takes away every branch that does not bear fruit in me. He prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it will bear more fruit.” Here Christ says that when a branch bears fruit, when a person is faithful to God, God prunes the person—he cuts away so the person can become more fruitful. The nature of the vine is to become crowded with leaves, fungus, and other things that can be detrimental to growth. Therefore, a good gardener consistently trims a vine so it can bear much fruit. We can have no doubt that this was God’s plan for Elijah.
Elijah was faithful, as he stood against Ahab, but now, God will prune him so he can bear more fruit. In fact, right after leaving the valley, Elijah does a great miracle. He resurrects the son of a widow—the first resurrection, we see in Scripture. Soon after, he calls down fire from heaven and destroys the prophets of Baal. Elijah was brought to “Cutting Valley” so he could be prepared for greater works in God’s kingdom.
Have you been to the valley? Often pastors preaching on this passage have used whimsical titles, such as calling it Kerith Valley University. Have you been to KVU, Kerith Valley University, where God prepares men and women of God? As in any university, whatever classes you fail, you must retake, and when you pass them, you can take higher-level courses.
As we study this narrative in Elijah’s life, we will consider pivotal lessons that God teaches everybody in the valley—cutting seasons in their life—so they can bear more fruit.
The Lesson of Our Responsibility to God’s Word
The Lord told him: “Leave here and travel eastward. Hide out in the Kerith Valley near the Jordan.
1 Kings 17:2-3
The first lesson Elijah learns is a lesson about the Word of God, which he began to learn even before entering the valley. He learned this lesson in his receiving God’s Word after his obedience, and also in his being taken away from Israel because of their disobedience.
How do we see this? In verse 2, the word of the Lord came to Elijah only after he was obedient in challenging King Ahab and praying for it not to rain. It was only after Elijah finished what he was called to do that God gave him new revelation. We see this as a principle throughout Scripture. It was something that Christ taught often. In Mark 4:24-25, Jesus said,
… Take care about what you hear. The measure you use will be the measure you receive, and more will be added to you. For whoever has will be given more, but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”
Jesus taught that how a person responded to God’s Word, affected his continued hearing of it. The person that faithfully obeyed God’s Word would be given more but whoever was not faithful would experience a taking away.
It was because Elijah faithfully obeyed God’s Word that God spoke to him again—sending him to the valley—and because, Israel disobeyed God’s Word, Elijah and other prophets were being taken from them. When God hid Elijah in the valley, God was taken away the Word from Israel. They had been unfaithful hearers, and God was removing his prophet. Even what they had was being taken away. In fact, we learn in 1 Kings 18:4, that the other prophets had gone into hiding as well because Jezebel was killing the prophets. God was taking the Word from Israel.
We see this reality at other times in Scripture. Amos 8:11-12 says this:
Be certain of this, the time is coming,” says the sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine through the land—not a shortage of food or water but an end to divine revelation! People will stagger from sea to sea, and from the north around to the east. They will wander about looking for a revelation from the Lord, but they will not find any.
Because of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, as a judgment, removed his Word—there was a spiritual famine. Essentially, we see this again in the Gospels with Israel. Jesus said this to the disciples about his teaching of parables in Matthew 13:10-14:
Then the disciples came to him and said, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He replied, “You have been given the opportunity to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but they have not. For whoever has will be given more, and will have an abundance. But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. For this reason I speak to them in parables: Although they see they do not see, and although they hear they do not hear nor do they understand. And concerning them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: ‘You will listen carefully yet will never understand, you will look closely yet will never comprehend.
In the context, the disciples did not understand Christ’s sudden change in teaching philosophy. Previously, he taught clearly, but at this point in the Gospels, he began to speak in parables. The parables were not meant to enhance understanding but to hide the truth. Christ would take the disciples away and then explain the parables, but he didn’t do that with Israel. Because the disciples were obedient to God’s Word, they received understanding. But because Israel was constantly hearing but not obeying, their understanding was taken away, as their hearts were hardened towards the truth.
This is the first lesson Elijah learns, as he leaves for the Valley: “We are gravely responsible for the hearing of the Word of God. If we are faithful, the Word of the Lord comes to us again. But if we are not, God will remove his Word from us.” Therefore, we must ask ourselves, “What type of hearer are we?” No doubt, some are growing tremendously in the grace of our Lord Jesus. Their love and knowledge of God’s Word are increasing. They are studying it, memorizing it, and sharing it with others, as they cannot get enough of it. But others are becoming hard of hearing. When they read and listen to Scripture, they get nothing from it. They do not have a stomach for it, and like Israel, their ears and hearts are hardening.
We must understand this; It is a tremendous privilege to hear the Word of God, but with that privilege comes a grave responsibility. We must faithfully respond to it in order to receive God’s blessings, and if not, we receive God’s discipline. Our hearts are always either growing softer or harder. It has been said that the same sun that melts the ice, hardens the clay.
From a national standpoint, it is a scary thing when God removes his faithful preachers. It is a scary thing when all that can be found are those who preach politics, sports, their testimonies, or false teaching. However, this is what happens when a nation is disobedient. Likewise, in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 (ESV), Paul said this:
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
Paul said that the time will come when the church would not tolerate biblical preaching but would instead heap up teachers that simply “itch their ears”—making them feel good—but they wouldn’t preach God’s Word. The church would turn away from the truth to myths—fabricated or unfruitful stories. Though believers will, of their own volition, reject truth, even as Israel and its leaders rejected the prophets, their rejection was God’s judgment. As judgment, they experienced a famine of God’s Word.
Sadly, this is happening in many of our churches, ministries, and Christian institutions today. Like Israel receiving unexplained parables, in many (if not most) churches, the congregations primarily get stories instead of clear exposition of God’s Word. This essentially is a judgment happening throughout the world. The church is not responding to God, even as Israel didn’t, and God is taking away his revelation—not casting his pearls before swine (Matt 7:6). He’s giving them a famine of God’s Word—they get stories instead of clear teaching, even as Christ gave to Israel.
As we consider this, we must ask ourselves, “Have we learned this lesson in the valley? Have we learned about our responsibility to God’s Word?”
How can we know if we have learned this lesson?
1. If we have learned the lesson of our responsibility to God’s Word, we will always survey, guard, and cultivate our hearts.
Proverbs 4:23 (NIV) says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Are our hearts hard or soft to God’s Word? Are they becoming more calloused or more tender to God’s Word? Jesus warned us in Mark 4:24, “Take care about what you hear.”
If we have learned this lesson, we will be faithful gardeners of the soil of our hearts. We will constantly survey our hearts for dullness or resistance to God’s Word, repenting of any sin, so we can understand and accept Scripture.
2. If we have learned the lesson of our responsibility to God’s Word, we will be quick to obey God.
Elijah obeyed God when called to confront Ahab, even though it could have cost him his life, and he obeys when called to go to the Valley of Cutting.
Are we swift to obey God? Or are there areas in our lives where we are holding back full obedience?
When Abraham was a new believer, he wasn’t swift to obey. When God called him to leave his father’s house and land and go to Canaan, Acts 7:2-4 and Genesis 11:31-32 tell us that he first moved to Haran with his father and settled there for years. After his father died, he then completely obeyed God and moved to Canaan. For many years, he missed God’s best. This is common for young believers. They often delay or outright disobey—missing God’s best and hardening their hearts. But those who have been trained are swift to obey.
Are we swift to obey God, or are there areas of delayed obedience or disobedience in our lives?
1. In what ways do you see a famine of God’s Word and a hardening of the hearts happening in the contemporary church?
2. How have you experienced times of hardness or special sensitivity in your heart towards God’s Word? How would you describe the status of your heart now?
3. In what ways have you experienced seasons of delayed obedience or disobedience like Abraham in Haran (Acts 7:2-4, Gen 11:31-32)? How did you break free or how is God calling you to break free now?
4. How do you feel God is calling you to apply this lesson on our responsibility towards God’s Word?
The Lesson of Solitude
The Valley of Cutting is not only a place of pain, but it is also a place of solitude. Elijah would be alone for possibly six months to a year. This is assumed because eventually the small stream from which he drank and bathed eventually dried up. His only company would be some birds that appeared two times a day to bring him food.
God often places us in seasons of solitude in order to remove all distractions and to allow us to focus on him more. It is there that we learn that God is enough. We may not have the comfort of family, friends, or even work, but it is there we hear God’s voice and discern his movement around us.
In Psalm 46:10, the God commands his hearers, “Stop your striving and recognize that I am God!” It can also be translated, “Be still, and know that I am God” (NIV). It is in the place of solitude where we are often forced to stop all our activity and busyness that we start to know God more deeply and therefore know ourselves and shortcomings
Unfortunately, many of us do not get to experience God or truly know him more because we are too busy, too distracted. We need solitude that the Valley of Cutting provides so we can grow.
The Discipline of Solitude
Because solitude is so important for our spiritual growth, we must make it a daily pursuit. We must get away, alone with God for prayer, time in God’s Word, and worship. It is a spiritual discipline we all must practice.
We see this discipline very clearly in the life of Christ. In Mark 1:35-37, it says;
Then Jesus got up early in the morning when it was still very dark, departed, and went out to a deserted place, and there he spent time in prayer. Simon and his companions searched for him. When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
Starting in Mark 1:21, we actually see a busy day of Christ’s ministry. It started with him teaching in the synagogue and casting a demon out of a man. Then, in verse 29, he went to Simon’s house and healed his mother. Then, in verse 32, it says after sunset the whole town gathered at the door for him to minister to them. All night, he heals people and cast out demons. Then, in verse 35, it says early in the morning while everybody was asleep, he wakes up and goes to a solitary place to spend time with God. Later, in verse 36, the disciples and Peter look for him and when they find him, they essential say: “Everybody’s looking for you; the ministry is thriving. Why did you leave?” For Christ, being alone with God was more important than ministry, in part, because power for ministry came from being alone with God.
Going away to the secret place is counter-cultural. Being busy is one of the ways we tell people that we are important and significant. Being busy often makes us feel like we have a purpose and when we’re not busy, we often feel lazy or like something is wrong. However, if we are going to know God and have power in our life, we must, as a discipline, go to the quiet place to meet with God.
When we do this, people may actually get upset with us, questioning: “Why aren’t you focusing on your career! Why aren’t you pursuing more education! Why aren’t you seeking a spouse!” However, the place of solitude is where God forms men and women of God. It is when they stop their striving that they often see and know him in a greater way.
Are we getting away from the noise and busyness to be with God?
The solitude Elijah experienced in the Valley of Cutting reminds us of the spiritual disciplines that we should all practice. We should like Christ commonly pursue God early in the morning, in the middle of the day, and during the evening. We must find our quiet places to be with him and enjoy his presence. It is in the place of quietness that he often cuts away a lot of the noise distracting us from worship, reveals his love for us, challenges our sin and insecurities, and empowers us for ministry.
Unexpected Seasons of Solitude
Because we tend to neglect the discipline of solitude or simply to sanctify us and prepare us for greater ministry, God often leads us into unexpected seasons of solitude, as he did with Elijah. Consider how Psalm 23:1-2 (NIV) puts it: “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.” Our shepherd often has to “make” us lie down. This is because we are so prone to activity that we often neglect God, neglect concentrated focus on our faith, and sometimes even burn ourselves out. Again, he makes us lie down to strengthen us and restore our focus. Sometimes God “makes” us lie down through trial, sickness, loss of a job, difficulty with family, friends, or co-workers, or even a pandemic. Often this season is not a season of rest in circumstance but spiritual rest in the midst of our circumstances. It is a season that we lie down in God.
In fact, in considering the shepherding analogy, sometimes with a wandering sheep, the shepherd has to break his leg and carry the sheep in order to protect him. In that case, the sheep would have to lie down on the shepherd because he was not capable of going forward on his own. Sadly, not only are we prone to busyness but also prone to wander into sin. In those cases, God may have to stop us in our tracks through some trial, so we can come back to our senses and find rest and restoration in the Father’s arms.
Listen, God can make us lie down. He can bring events that make us stop our striving—trials that make us stop our busy activity. However, God won’t make us find rest in him. He won’t make us seek his face. We must choose to draw near him in the place of cutting—the place of solitude. While Elijah was at the valley, he could have wasted time: he could have done lots of swimming, counted rocks and stars, or spent a lot of time upset and angry at God or Israel. Or he could focus on the most important reason God brought him to the valley—to be still and know God more.
Sadly, many people when entering the place of cutting, instead of seeking God. They run around frantically trying to control their circumstances. Instead of having peace, they become prone to anxiety; some develop anxiety disorders. Others develop addictions. They develop addictions to alcohol, smoking, caffeine, or some other drug. Some become addicted to a person or people—in that they become their quiet place, their sanctuary, instead of God.
In the place of cutting—the place of solitude—we must run to God. We must choose him instead of other avenues and coping mechanisms. God hid Elijah so he could be with him. He stopped his ministry so Elijah could focus on the Master more and be equipped for greater service.
How do we know if we have learned the lesson of solitude?
1. When we have learned the lesson of solitude, we will zealously guard our times of solitude.
Solitude with God will become a non-negotiable in our lives, even if we’re naturally extroverted. We won’t miss it because we’ve learned that we can’t function properly without it.
Personally, in one season where God took me to the “cutting place” my personality changed. I battled with depression for a year or so while in college and the military. During that time, I took a personality test and for the first time in my life, I was showing as an introvert. I needed to be alone. I coveted and protected that time because I realized apart from significant time with God I struggled with great depression. Though I don’t have the same intensity of a battle with depression anymore, that need for solitude remains. It was a lesson I learned in that season of trial, which continues to bear fruit today.
Have we learned the lesson of solitude? If not, we will commonly neglect it for other pursuits. Busyness will crowd out our alone time with God.
2. When we have learned the lesson of solitude, we practice introspection—seeking to have a right heart before God.
In this season, God begins to show us things in our hearts that are not right with him. Lack of trust for God shows up, fear of people—what they say and think—, identity issues, worries, etc. God reveals these so we can work on them. In Psalm 139:23-24, David said this: “Examine me, and probe my thoughts! Test me, and know my concerns! See if there is any idolatrous tendency in me, and lead me in the reliable ancient path!”
What is God showing us in our times of solitude?
3. When we have learned the lesson of solitude, we will zealously guard against addictions and time-wasters.
This is how many Christians fill their time in order to avoid solitude with oneself and God. Addictions and time-wasters actually hinder spiritual growth and short-circuit God’s plan for us in the Valley of Cutting. As mentioned, Elijah could have spent his entire time swimming and counting stars, but if he did, he would have missed God’s purpose in the solitude. It’s the same for us. Too much time on the Internet, playing video games, hobbies, being on social media, and entertaining unfruitful relationships or activities can be harmful for us, especially when they replace our relationship with God.
Have we learned the lesson of solitude? If not, addictions and time-wasters often will crowd out our time with God and hinder our spiritual growth.
1. Why are spiritual disciplines so important (i.e. prayer, worship, time in the Word, fasting)? What is your spiritual discipline routine like? How can you grow in these disciplines?
2. How have you experienced seasons where God “made you lie down” (Ps 23:2)? If so, how, and what did you learn in those seasons?
3. What are your time wasters or potential addictions? How is God calling you to guard against them?
The Lesson of Depending on God for Daily and Future Needs
Drink from the stream; I have already told the ravens to bring you food there.” So he did as the Lord told him; he went and lived in the Kerith Valley near the Jordan. The ravens would bring him bread and meat each morning and evening, and he would drink from the stream.
1 Kings 17:4-6
The next lesson we learn in the Valley of Cutting is our need to trust and depend on God for daily and future needs. How do we see this? This is seen in the fact that God ordered the ravens to bring Elijah bread and meat every morning and evening. From this fact, it seems clear that Elijah was not able to store up his food for future days. God didn’t give him enough to store up for a week or even the next day. God miraculously provided his daily food. Elijah was learning to trust and depend on God, even for daily provisions.
One of the problems many of us have coming from developed countries is that we haven’t had to learn to depend upon God for our daily needs. This is because we typically have enough provisions for weeks and even months. Certainly, this is a blessing, and it is prudent and wise for us to live in such a way if we can. Working people, if possible, should try to save up for if they lose their job, get injured and can’t work, or eventually retire. This is a wise and prudent thing. However, our affluence makes it easier for us to lose focus on God as our daily provider.
This was specifically a lesson God not only taught Elijah but also tried to teach Israel while they were in the wilderness, as he miraculously provided them with daily manna. Exodus 16:15-20 says,
When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” because they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you for food. “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Each person is to gather from it what he can eat, an omer per person according to the number of your people; each one will pick it up for whoever lives in his tent.’” The Israelites did so, and they gathered—some more, some less. When they measured with an omer, the one who gathered much had nothing left over, and the one who gathered little lacked nothing; each one had gathered what he could eat. Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.” But they did not listen to Moses; some kept part of it until morning, and it was full of worms and began to stink, and Moses was angry with them.
Why did God not allow the bread to last more than a day? Normally, bread will last at least a few days and up to a week. It certainly won’t spoil within a day. But, with Israel, God said that they should only get what they needed and not take any more. If they did, it would spoil. Why? It was because he was teaching them to trust him for their daily provision. He was showing them that he would provide all their needs. Consider how Moses explained the lesson in Deuteronomy 8:3:
So he humbled you by making you hungry and then feeding you with unfamiliar manna. He did this to teach you that humankind cannot live by bread alone, but also by everything that comes from the Lord’s mouth.
God wanted them to learn that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Every day Israel had bread; it was their gracious gift from the mouth of God. Because the bread was miraculous, the presence of it taught them that it was a gift of God.
See, when we have more than enough, our job is stable, and our savings is adequate, we tend to find our security in those things instead of God. Therefore, it can be difficult to learn the lesson of dependency on God for daily provision. Again, we tend to put our trust in our job, our savings, or our family. This is why Paul said this to the rich in 1 Timothy 6:17: “Command those who are rich in this world’s goods not to be haughty or to set their hope on riches, which are uncertain, but on God who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment.” We should not put our hope in our job or savings account, which are uncertain, but on God.
Proof that we tend to put our hope in things other than God is seen in the fact that when we lose our job, scholarship, home, or retirement, we tend to get frantic. Those things represent security to us rather than our relationship with God. However, like the manna given to Israel daily, those things are simply provisions from the mouth of God. He spoke and gave us a job. He spoke and means became available to provide for our rent or tuition. Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Because we tend to put our hope in our provisions, God often has to put us in the Valley of Cutting by taking away or threatening those provisions, so we can freshly recognize that those gifts originally came from him. He uses the job, parents, or savings to meet our needs, but it ultimately came from him all along. He is the one who provides the mental capacity, physical strength, and open doors to work for provisions. It does not come from ourselves or others. At times, as with Israel and Elijah, he has to meet our needs miraculously to help us know and depend totally on him and not our job or savings. As Paul said in Philippians 4:19, “And my God will supply your every need according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”
God takes us to the Valley of Cutting to learn dependence. It could be the loss of a job, scholarship, or disabling sickness. And in that season, he meets our needs in a variety of ways—sometimes by friends and family, a new job, or some other surprising way. He humbles us by taking away our perceived security, and then teaches us to rely on him. As with Elijah, every day God meets our needs in such a way we know it came through him.
Going to the Valley of Cutting is important because many think they don’t need God, and this is not just true for unbelievers. Though many Christians have orthodox theology, in that they believe in God, they are functional atheists in that they live their lives without truly relying God. They believe their success is based solely on their own wisdom, educational background, work-ethic, and net-working, which is why the Valley of Cutting is necessary. It teaches us our weakness and therefore need for God, even for daily provisions.
Have you learned the lesson of dependence—trusting God for your daily provisions and your future? How do we know if we have learned this lesson?
1. When we’ve learned the lesson of dependence, we guard our hearts against idolizing our means of provisions.
Again, it’s easy to start to see a job, career, education, a spouse, or parents, as our providers or those who sustain us. We can tell that our hearts are idolatrous by how we respond at the possibility of our means been taking away. Often that will create anxiety or anger in the idolatrous heart.
How can we guard against idolatry?
· We guard against idolatry by always giving God thanks for his provisions and blessings, even when they are taken away. Giving him thanks for work, finances, education, family, and friends is a constant reminder that he is our ultimate provider. When Job lost his wealth, family, and status, he said, “… The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. May the name of the Lord be blessed!” (Job 1:21). Are we giving God thanks?
· We guard against idolatry by holding everything with an open hand. Job also said, “Even if he slays me, I will hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face!” (Job 13:15). Job’s focus wasn’t his life, family, or status, it was always God. He held everything with an open hand. Like Christ, we must be willing to say, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Yet not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42).
How else can we tell if we’ve learned the lesson of dependence?
2. When we’ve learned the lesson of dependence, we devote ourselves to prayer, especially in trials and waiting seasons.
First Peter 5:7 (NIV) says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” To cast means to throw all our weight on something else. We put our anxieties and worries on God. This helps us depend on God, especially in difficult seasons.
Have you learned the lesson of dependence on God for our daily and future provisions?
1. In what ways are you tempted to depend on job, career, education, and family instead of God?
2. In what ways have you experienced seasons where God was teaching you that he was your ultimate provider?
3. How is God calling you to depend on him more in this season?
The Lesson of Contentment
So he did as the Lord told him; he went and lived in the Kerith Valley near the Jordan. The ravens would bring him bread and meat each morning and evening, and he would drink from the stream.
1 Kings 17:5-6
The next lesson we learn from the valley is contentment. Where do we see this? We see this in the fact that ravens brought Elijah food in the morning and evening. Something interesting about ravens is that they are scavengers. They are large black birds who are about two-foot-tall (61 cm), with a wingspan of over four-feet (122 cm).
An Unclean Bird
In Israel, they were considered unclean and therefore Israelites were taught to despise them. To touch a raven would make one unclean—meaning that he or she would not be able to offer sacrifices at the temple. Leviticus 11:13-15 (NIV) says, “‘These are the birds you are to regard as unclean and not eat because they are unclean: the eagle, the vulture, the black vulture, the red kite, any kind of black kite, any kind of raven.” So for a Jew, this might be the worst way to receive food. It would be worse than eating off the floor. These were dirty animals that scavenged food even from corpses. For us, it might be emotionally equivalent to getting our food from rats, a type of scavenger we’re more accustomed to.
But not only would Elijah as a Jew have a problem with eating from a dirty animal’s claws, but he would probably also have a problem with the food itself. Imagine a raven bringing food, the food might come as a few crumbs here, a torn piece of flesh there. A raven is not a waiter at a restaurant who makes sure the food is heated and presented nicely. A raven tears food as it grabs it.
For many, if the food doesn’t look good, smell good, or have the right texture, they won’t eat it. When they go to a restaurant, they say, “Oh I don’t like this!” When someone asks, “Why?” they respond, “I just don’t like how it feels,” or “It smells weird.” Elijah had to eat food coming from a stinky, smelly bird that was probably torn in pieces.
Lack of Diversity
But, not only would there be a problem with the type of bird bringing him food and the manner the food came, but he would also probably have a problem with the lack of diversity of the food. He had the same meal every day. Most, especially from developed nations, prefer diversity in their meals.
It is very clear that one of the lessons Elijah was learning in the cutting place was contentment, and it is a lesson God teaches all those he will use greatly.
This same lesson was taught to Israel in the wilderness. While there, they did not get the variety or quality of food they had in Egypt. God provided manna for them every day, and quite naturally, the people started to complain and murmur against God. They said, “Where are the bananas and fruits we had in Egypt? Where is the meat?” And God judged them for complaining. What was he teaching them? He was teaching them contentment.
God taught Paul the same thing. Consider what he said in Philippians 4:11-13:
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content in any circumstance. I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.
He said, “I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing.”
We often think of contentment as only being necessary for meager or poor circumstances, but wealthy people also struggle with great discontentment, even leading some to suicide. And because of this, they are constantly seeking something new to satisfy them or bring them joy. Yet, Paul said he had learned contentment in both circumstances.
Paul said this was a “secret.” Something is only a secret when most don’t know it. Most have never learned this secret, but it is crucial if a person is going to be someone God can use greatly for his kingdom—someone who can stand up to the false prophets of Baal and Israel who followed them.
Missionaries / Disciples
We see this practically with missions. Many missionaries don’t last a year on the mission field because they have never learned the lesson of contentment at the cutting place. They go to a different country and experience food that doesn’t taste or smell good, and they really struggle with the culture and being away from family. They have never learned the lesson of contentment in all circumstances and therefore aren’t effective on the mission field.
No doubt being aware of the difficulties of missions, Christ said this to his disciples as they went off on missions in Luke 10:3-7. He said,
Go! I am sending you out like lambs surrounded by wolves. Do not carry a money bag, a traveler’s bag, or sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘May peace be on this house!’ And if a peace-loving person is there, your peace will remain on him, but if not, it will return to you. Stay in that same house, eating and drinking what they give you, for the worker deserves his pay. Do not move around from house to house.
Christ said when you go from village to village stop at a house, and if they receive you, stay there. Eat whatever they give you, don’t be picky, and even if the provisions are meager and you are uncomfortable, don’t go moving from house to house. Stay where God opens the door for you. Christ was teaching his disciples the same lesson—contentment. If they were going to be used greatly by God on the mission field, they had to learn it.
This is something the church has wholly lost; they have lost the secret to contentment. Consider what Paul taught his disciple Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:6-8:
Now godliness combined with contentment brings great profit. For we have brought nothing into this world and so we cannot take a single thing out either. But if we have food and shelter, we will be satisfied with that.
Paul says we should be content with food and shelter. The Greek word for shelter just means “covering” which possibly refers to housing and clothing. Paul essentially tells Timothy to learn contentment and to not chase the riches of this world.
In order to train us, God often places us in situations where we are uncomfortable; he allows us to have a difficult job, roommate, marriage, or church experience. Our natural desire is to quit, leave, and get out of the situation. However, we must be aware that there is a lesson to be learned.
What’s the lesson? It is contentment. Godliness with contentment is great gain.
God wants to train us like he did his disciples, so he can send us out. He needs people that he can send anywhere and to any place. Right after God trains Elijah with the unclean ravens that he was raised to detest, he sent him to Sidon to a Gentile widow’s house that he also would have disliked because of his Jewish upbringing. If he was going to serve God and do whatever God told him to do, he needed to learn contentment.
For one would-be disciple that wanted to follow Christ in Luke 9:58, Christ declared, “Foxes have dens and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He challenged him to consider the cost of following Christ—at times he might be homeless and sleep in the field. Christ needs people who have learned the lesson of contentment.
Are you in an uncomfortable situation? Do you just want to quit or run away? Most times, that is not God’s desire for you. James 1:4 says, “And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.” He has great things to teach you in that place.
Well, we must ask the question, “How do we learn the lesson of contentment in the valley?”
How do we learn the lesson of contentment?
1. To be content, we must learn to recognize God’s sovereignty over every situation—that he is using it for our good and his glory.
When we recognize God as in control and not ourselves, evil people, random circumstances, or even Satan, we will experience more grace to be content. Ephesians 1:11 says God “accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will.” Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
When Pharaoh would not let Israel go from slavery, Moses recognized it as God hardening his heart (Ex 9:12). When Satan attacked Job causing him to lose his wealth and children, Job said, “The Lord gives and he takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21 paraphrase). We’ll never be content if we don’t see God as in control of our circumstances. We’ll find ourselves constantly frustrated at people and circumstances.
2. To be content, we must be careful of complaining and arguing.
Philippians 2:14-15 says,
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world
Complaining only makes us more discontent and tends to spread that discontent to others. When Christians do everything without complaining, they become lights in a dark world and demonstrate to the world that they are children of God. Not complaining should mark God’s children.
3. To be content, we must practice giving thanks in everything situation.
First Thessalonians 5:18 says, “in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” When we give thanks in faith, even when things aren’t good, it increases our faith in God and our contentment. As we thank God and worship him, we begin to trust in his sovereignty, even over the inconveniences and difficulties of life.
4. To be content, we must draw near to God for strength to persevere.
In Philippians 4:13, Paul stated his secret to contentment, which was, “I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.”
We can be content in whatever circumstance because Christ will give us strength, as we rely on him. By ourselves, we can’t do it, but with God, we can. We can eat food we don’t like. We can persevere through a difficult work situation or relationship. If it is God’s will, he will give us strength, patience, and perseverance to overcome. He’ll teach us contentment.
Similarly, Hebrews 13:5 says, “Your conduct must be free from the love of money and you must be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you and I will never abandon you.’” The writer of Hebrews says, the reason we can be content is because God is with us. Therefore, in order to have contentment, we must realize that we have all things in Christ and, for that reason, continually draw near him. Like Paul said, “I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.”
Are you drawing near Christ? If not, you will be prone to complaining and arguing like the world. Contentment is a virtue, and God can only develop it by putting us in less than ideal situations. Like Elijah, he puts us in difficult places and situations to train us in contentment. Those who are content, God can use them greatly for his kingdom—he can send them anywhere, to do anything.
1. Why is contentment so important in serving God?
2. How can we develop contentment?
3. In what ways is God training you to be content in this season? What experiences did God use to train you in the past?
The Lesson of Submitting and Trusting Our Future to God
“Leave here and travel eastward. Hide out in the Kerith Valley near the Jordan. Drink from the stream; I have already told the ravens to bring you food there.”
1 Kings 17:3-4
Another major lesson we learn in the valley is to trust God with our future. Elijah who was serving God in Israel was told to go to the Valley of Cutting. He wasn’t told how long or when he could leave, but eventually, he was told to go to Sidon to be cared for by a widow.
Now as you can imagine, this was probably never part of Elijah’s plans for his life. The valley was not a luxury site where everybody visited. He could hide there because it was an isolated place that nobody wanted to go. Nevertheless, it was where God sent Elijah.
When God sends people to the place of cutting it usually is a time of discomfort. For many, it is the death of a dream or vision. It is not what they expected to happen in their lives. They didn’t plan to have this sickness; they didn’t plan to go into this career field; they didn’t plan to have to deal with this heartache; they didn’t plan to have to start taking care of aging parents or a sick child, but God did.
See, this is a lesson that every person God will use greatly must learn. They must learn how to let go of their future and trust it with God. It is what Christ said before going to the cross. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Yet not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). Father, if there is any other way, take this suffering from me, but nevertheless, your will be done. The valley is not a place that anybody wants to go, but Elijah went willingly. He didn’t argue or complain; he just submitted to God. The cross wasn’t something Christ wanted to go through, necessarily; it was something he willingly submitted to out of love for us and submission to the Father’s will.
In the valley, people often experience the sweet discomfort of submitting to God’s plans rather than their own. They often go through stages of not knowing what is next, as God obliterates their five-year and ten-year plan. There he teaches them to trust his wise and loving hand with their future.
For example, Abraham heard God’s call and left his homeland for the land of promise. But while there, he never owned the land. Later, God revealed that Abraham’s children’s children would gain the land but only after being enslaved for hundreds of years (Gen 15). Going to the valley means learning, “not my will but your will be done.” It means sometimes not knowing what’s next. It means being faithful where God has placed us, while waiting for his Word to come.
We also see this in the life of Joseph. When Joseph was sold into slavery, then placed in prison, he didn’t know how long it would last or what was next. He had to learn to trust God with his future.
As mentioned, many times the valley means a change of direction in life. It is there that God often changes our dreams, and because of that, for many, it is the hardest trial of their life. It can be especially devastating because many prepared to go a different direction for a large portion of their life, if not their whole life. However, at some point, God takes his holy pruning scissors and cuts away because he has better things in store. God at some point says, “No. I’ve got different plans. Do you trust me?”
For me, I had dreams of playing professional basketball. On a full scholarship during my sophomore year of college, I tore a piece of my achilles. Later, while playing basketball at another university, I started to develop stress fractures in both of my feet. By the time I was a junior in college, I was far from the player I used to be. God slowly cut away from my life, preparing me for something else.
How can we learn to patiently trust God with our future while in the valley, being pruned?
1. To grow in our trust for God, we must learn that God’s plans are perfect and good.
Isaiah 55:8-9 says,
Indeed, my plans are not like your plans, and my deeds are not like your deeds, for just as the sky is higher than the earth, so my deeds are superior to your deeds and my plans superior to your plans.
God essentially declares, “I can see better than you. I know what you will encounter in your future and I’m preparing you for that.” The cutting season is intentional. It is a necessary preparation for our future ministry. Romans 8:28 says he works everything for our good.
Do you trust that God’s plan for you is perfect?
2. To grow in our trust for God, we must learn to not lean on our own understanding.
Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding.” God puts us in the valley, in times of cutting, so we can learn to trust him, even when things are difficult and seemingly don’t make sense.
Are we willing to stop trusting our own wisdom and understanding?
3. To grow in our trust for God, we must learn to reject our anxieties and worries, as we rely on God.
Satan will try to use anxiety and worry to destroy us and remove our blessing while we’re waiting on God in the valley. We must learn to reject anxieties and worries, as we rely on God. Philippians 4:6-7 says,