Elijah Fed by Ravens

(The Intention of the Will)

Living Courageously Week 1

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

I.       This is the first of a series of 7 sermons supporting the Living Courageously spiritual growth program. Each of the 7 weeks will begin with a sermon on some aspect of the Elijah story as found in the 1st and 2nd books of Kings.

A.   Elijah lived in the 9th Century BC, about 850 years before the Lord was born. He lived in the kingdom of Israel after it had separated from the kingdom of Judah at the death of Solomon.

B.   The temple in Jerusalem was in the kingdom of Judah and therefore inaccessible to the people in the kingdom of Israel.

C.   If the king of Israel wanted to keep his position, he had to make sure that his people didn’t drift back to Judah, he had to make sure that they had something even more exiting and interesting to worship in the northern capital of Samaria. So, after the division of the kingdom, we see each successive king of Israel borrowing idolatrous practices from the surrounding Canaanites and encouraging the people to follow them. This, of course, was exactly the opposite of what the Lord had in mind for them when He brought them out of slavery in Egypt, across the wilderness, and brought them into a land to call their own, a land of milk and honey.

D.   The king of Israel at the time of Elijah is Ahab, son of Omri. Ahab’s wife is Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Tyre.

E.    Ahab and Jezebel worshipped Baal. There are even indications that they were the main supporters of the priesthood of Baal.

1.     You may be surprised to learn that there are groups that still worship Baal, and that there is even a web site dedicated to worshipping Baal.[1]

F.    So, we can see that the sense of the letter is setting us up for a monumental battle between good and evil, between Elijah and Ahab, between Jehovah and Baal.

II.    (1 KI 16:29-33) In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab the son of Omri became king over Israel; and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. {30} Now Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him.

A.   He walked in the sins of Jeroboam, married Jezebel, and put a statue of Baal in the temple in Samaria. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord to anger than all the other kings who were before him.

B.   Ahab, by promoting the false worship of Baal was substituting falsity for truth. Since truth is represented by water, the way that the incredibly lack of truth in Ahab’s kingdom could be represented was for there to be a severe drought – a lack of water/truth.

1.     So, seeing the story from our perspective, seeing the big picture, we can say that the cause of the drought is the falsity of Baal worship introduced by Ahab and Jezebel.

2.     The Lord sent Elijah to announce the situation to Ahab. He said, “there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.[2]

C.   We also know that human nature being what it is, Ahab and Jezebel were unable to accept the blame themselves, and instead blamed the messenger – Elijah.

1.     So the Lord spoke to Elijah and sent him into the Wilderness where he would be safe until the danger passed.

III. This is one of the places in the Word where the lesson is both extremely important and non-intuitive.

A.   Our natural response to a perceived attack is to defend.

1.     We have lots of stories in the Word where people use the sword of truth to slay the dragon, or defeat the enemy. Our natural instinct is to believe that the Lord wants us to fight against evil, and that’s true – but the fighting valiantly and defeating the enemy part comes later.

2.     But listen to this:  he who does not search out any evil with himself and flee from it as a sin against God, which is done solely by repentance, after death becomes a demon[3]

a.     There are lots of other passages that say the same thing.

b.     Evil is a powerful, dangerous thing. If we try to stand up and face it alone, we put ourselves in grave spiritual danger.

c.      The Lord wants us to turn and run, to flee for our lives when we come face to face with evil.

d.     When Saul tried to kill David, he flees into the wilderness.

e.      When Absalom rebels against King David, David’s response was to flee into the wilderness.

f.       Here, Elijah flees into the wilderness during a drought.

B.   Why?

1.     In the Word, the “wilderness” state represents our feeling that we are alone (in a deserted place), that we don’t know what to do (lack of truth represented by a lack of water) and that we are feeling unloved – or unloving – (represented by little food).

2.     Our normal mode is to go about our daily business through habit our routine. We can often go days or weeks without really examining our motives because we are not be asked to make a difficult or unusual decision.

3.     Then, usually without warning, something happens to draw our attention to a problem that’s been sitting there all along and we’ve been ignoring.

4.     There are lots of other places in the Word where this happens, but in the Elijah series it’s shown as the way that idolatrous worship has been creeping into their way of life.

a.     First, they stop worshipping in Jerusalem

b.     Then they start worshipping Canaanite gods in the high places

c.      Then the king marries a Canaanite woman.

d.     It built up over time, but suddenly it is all too much, and Elijah is sent to bring a judgement.

5.     When we are suddenly awakened, as it were, to the true state that we have fallen into, it can be a very painful and embarrassing thing. We want to go somewhere and hide.

a.     If we were to fight at this moment, we would be striking out blindly and perhaps doing harm to people we love.

b.     And so Elijah flees into the wilderness where he can rest, gather his resources, and prepare for the coming battle.

IV.The wonderful thing about this story is that fleeing into the wilderness is not the end of the story.

A.   It’s not about the angry God sending us into the wilderness to punish us for being bad.

B.   It’s about the loving God sending us someplace safe, someplace away from our spiritual enemies, away from further damage where we can begin to heal. He tells us over and over in His Word that we are to flee from evil.

1.     1 KI 17 {5} So he went and did according to the word of the LORD, for he went and stayed by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. {6} The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the brook.

C.   We need to think about how Elijah is being cared for.

1.     Ravens are birds, so they can represent truth or doctrine, but they’re not nice birds. They’re big and black and don’t have a nice song.

2.     Ravens are carrion eaters and scavengers. What does that tell us about the quality of the bread and meat that they brought to Elijah?

3.     And the brook? It’s not a big refreshing spring that would represent the Word, rather it’s just seasonal run-off, and about to fail.

D.   This sounds pretty bad – but remember this is a step up from being murdered by Ahab.

1.     We can also imagine Elijah, in hiding, being thankful for the food at first, but eventually wanting something better.

E.    This is exactly the point.

1.     Each time we have a temptation, a spiritual combat, each time we are brought tumbling down and begin to see ourselves as others see us – as the Lord sees us – the Lord is gently leading us in small, appropriate steps, from the spiritual place where we are to the place where we ought to be.

a.     Mediate goods: things that are not in themselves good, but lead to good, are acceptable to the Lord.

b.     It’s not where you start from, but where you are headed; it’s the journey that’s important.

2.     He doesn’t condemn us for not being angels. He knows that we are dust[4] And so He leads us with those things that will be exactly suited to our spiritual states.

3.     Elijah, hiding in the wilderness, begins to look at the food being brought by the ravens.

a.     It’s food, but not very high quality.

b.     Just like our motives. We like to think that we act from good motives and probably on the balance our motives are pretty good.

c.      But what this story is telling us is that the Lord is asking us to look at the food we’re eating, to look critically at its source, and to see if we can make some better decisions and move to a better place.

d.     We’re not ready to take on Ahab and Jezebel yet, but we can at least get ourselves out of the wilderness with the Lord’s gentle care and leadership.

F.    More about that part of the journey next week. Amen.

First Lesson:

(This reading is previous to that of the Children’s Talk, and explains why the Lord caused a drought.)

(1 KI 16:29-33) In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab the son of Omri became king over Israel; and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. {30} Now Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him. {31} And it came to pass, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took as wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians; and he went and served Baal and worshiped him. {32} Then he set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. {33} And Ahab made a wooden image. Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him. Amen.

Second Lesson:

(Mark 10:35-37) Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.” {36} And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” {37} They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.”

(Mark 10:41-45) And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John. {42} But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. {43} “Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. {44} “And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. {45} “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Third Lesson:

AC 4145 [2] With everyone who is being regenerated good is at first intermediate good, for the purpose that it may serve in the introduction of genuine goods and truths. But once it has served that use it is separated; and that person is guided towards good which flows in along the direct line of descent. So a person who is being regenerated is perfected gradually.

For example: a person who is being regenerated believes at first that the good which he thinks and which he does begins in himself, and also that he earns some reward, for he does not yet know, or if he does know does not comprehend, that good is able to flow in from some other source. Neither does he know of or comprehend any other possibility than that he should be rewarded because he does it of himself. If he did not believe this at first he would never do anything good. But by this means he is introduced not only into the affection for doing good but also into cognitions concerning good and also concerning merit.

And once he has been guided in this way into the affection for doing good he starts to think differently and to believe differently. That is to say, he starts to think and to believe that good flows in from the Lord and that he merits nothing through good which he does from the proprium. And when at length true affection lies behind his willing and doing of what is good he rejects merit altogether and indeed loathes it, and he is moved by an affection for good for the sake of what is good. When this state is reached good is flowing in down a direct line.

[1]Www.baal.com – really!

[2]1 KI 17:1

[3]AR 458

[4]Psalm 103:14

The Loaves and Fishes


A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, Nov. 22, 2009

And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all. So they all ate and were filled. (MAR 6:41-42)

I.       Mark Chapter 5 is all about various miracles performed by the Lord.

A.   But Chapter 6, in contrast, starts out telling us that He was unable to do miracles in His own home regions because they thought of Him as Jesus, the carpenter’s son.

1.     This is important because it helps us to focus our attention on why the Lord did these miracles, and even more importantly, why it’s important for us to be reading about them today.

a.     If we don’t believe the Lord has the power to save us, we won’t ask for His help.

b.     And, He tells us that He will stand at the door and knock, but we have to invite Him to come in.

c.      The free will choice is ours alone – and the nature of our eternal spiritual life hangs on that decision.

B.   (7-13) He sends out the disciples two by two, and they are able to heal the sick.

1.     Here we see that the disciples are able to do miracles of healing.

a.     Why? Because people associate them with the Lord and believe that they administer His power.

C.   (14-29) At this point in the chapter, the ministry of John the Baptist comes to an abrupt end as he is executed by Herod.

1.     It was clear from the start that his ministry was only for the purpose of preparing the way for the Lord and that it would have to come to an end once the Lord got His ministry going.

a.     Signifies the strength of the power of evil in the world at that time and the imperative need for the Lord to be there.

2.     Herod, representing evil, shows his power over John the Baptist, and Jesus responds by showing His own power, and the extensive support that He had from the people.

II.    The miracle of the loaves and fishes (as we briefly mentioned in the children’s talk) starts in a deserted place with many people coming to hear Jesus or be healed. The disciples flee, without taking time to eat. 

A.   There seems to be an element of being surprised by the crowds and running away without a plan, without taking provisions for the journey.

1.     The disciples were surprised, but Jesus could not have been.

B.   They escape the crowds by getting in a boat and heading for a deserted place.

1.     And Jesus, of course, knew that the disciples were taking them right back to the crowd, but He allowed it.

C.   The crowds anticipated where they were going, ran ahead, and were waiting for them when they arrived.

a.     They were like sheep without a shepherd, so Jesus took pity on them and began to teach.

D.   At the end of the day, the disciples suggest that the teaching end, that the people be sent away so that they could find food for themselves in the villages in the surrounding country.

a.     It is specifically stated “for they have nothing to eat.” (MAR 6:36)

b.     Jesus tells the disciples, “You give them something to eat.

c.      The disciples, knowing that they left in a hurry without even bringing food for themselves ask Jesus if He means that they should take “200 denarii” and go into the village to buy the food.

i.       A denarius is a common coin, and in the New Testament it is used to represent a day’s wages for a labourer.

ii.     So, ask yourself how much a labourer ought to get for a full day’s work today, then multiply that by 200, and you’ll get a sense of what that question meant. It represented a lot of money, for a lot of food.

E.    Jesus then told them to find out how much food could be found in the group. Remember, the disciples did not bring any themselves. By asking the people, they were able to come up with 5 loaves of bread, and two fish.

1.     They were told to sit on the grass in groups of hundreds and fifties.

a.     In general 5 means few, and 10 means more in relation to truths, so this odd detail which seems to add nothing to the story tells us that among the group the Lord was serving there were people who had “more” truth, and those who had “less.” Put another way, this feeding or sharing of bread is for everyone, no matter what their state of truth is, so long as they want it and they believe the Lord can give it to them.

F.    He blessed and broke the loaves and gave to the disciples. The bread and fish were thus divided to the whole group.

1.     And lest you begin to think that they got little bites, they took up 12 baskets of fragments afterwards. After feeding 5,000 people there was more left over than they started with.

G.   Modern Bible critics have suggested that the real miracle here was that He was able to get the people to reveal and share food that they had hidden in their pockets.

1.     The point is that it was supposed to be a miracle, not a sharing group, to think of it this way takes all the power of it away!

2.     And the set-up for the story makes it quite clear that everyone was moving from place to place in a spontaneous way, this wasn’t a planned outing where people would be carrying a meal or two in a hidden pocket just in case.

a.     The people were going about their daily work when they heard that Jesus was near. They dropped what they were doing and ran to see Him, then when he left in a boat, ran to see Him at His new place.

3.     He created the world! He created bread from dew and fed a million people in the wilderness for 40 years! Why do we struggle with stretching a few loaves of bread?

H.   Immediately following this miracle, we hear that He walks on the water to join the disciples in the boat (no mention of Peter), and then landing in Gennesaret, crowds besiege Him, and as many as touched Him were made well.

1.     He responds to the death of John the Baptist with three powerful demonstrations of His power over disease, and His power over natural phenomena by creating food and walking on the water.

III. So, where do we go with all this?

A.   AE 617 [4] From this, too, it is evident that “to eat” signifies in the spiritual sense to receive in the will and to do, from which is conjunction; for the Lord by doing the Divine will conjoined the Divine that was in Him with His Human, and thus appropriated the Divine to His Human. To this may be referred:  The Lord’s feeding the five thousand men, besides women and children, with five loaves and two fishes, and when they had eaten and were filled they took up twelve baskets of fragments (Matt. 14:15-22; John 6:5, 13, 23). Also His feeding four thousand men from seven loaves and a few fishes (Matt. 15:32, et seq.).

1.     This miracle was done because previously the Lord had been teaching them, and they had received and appropriated to themselves His doctrine; this is what they ate spiritually; therefore natural eating followed, that is, flowed in out of heaven with them as the manna did with the sons of Israel, unknown to them; for when the Lord wills, spiritual food which also is real food but only for spirits and angels, is changed into natural food, just as it was turned into manna every morning.

B.   Miracles don’t convert unbelievers into believers.

1.     All you have to do is look at the adventures of the children of Israel as they were freed from Egypt and proceed into the wilderness and you can see ample evidence of that.

2.     But miracles can and do provide support and reassurance to those who do believe – or who want to believe.

3.     And perhaps, most important, they show that the Lord has the power to do amazing things. This gives each one of us the confidence – the faith – that if we approach the Lord for help and healing in our spiritual lives that He can in fact provide it. Amen.

Hear now the Word of the Lord as it is written in …

First Lesson:  EXO 16:11-31

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, {12} “I have heard the complaints of the children of Israel. Speak to them, saying, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. And you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’” {13} So it was that quails came up at evening and covered the camp, and in the morning the dew lay all around the camp. {14} And when the layer of dew lifted, there, on the surface of the wilderness, was a small round substance, as fine as frost on the ground. {15} So when the children of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat. {16} “This is the thing which the LORD has commanded: ‘Let every man gather it according to each one’s need, one omer for each person, according to the number of persons; let every man take for those who are in his tent.’” {17} Then the children of Israel did so and gathered, some more, some less. {18} So when they measured it by omers, he who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack. Every man had gathered according to each one’s need. … {31} And the house of Israel called its name Manna. And it was like white coriander seed, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. Amen.

Second Lesson:  Apocalypse Explained 430 [15]

He who does not know that “twelve” signifies all things cannot know the arcanum that is signified by:  The twelve baskets of fragments that remained from the five loaves and two fishes with which the Lord fed five thousand men besides women and children (Matt. 14:5-2; Mark 6:37-44; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:9-13). Each particular here, with the numbers themselves, is significative; “the five thousand men besides women and children,” signify all who are of the church that are in truths from good; the “men” signifying those who are in truths, and the “women and children” those who are in good; “loaves” the goods and “fishes” the truths of the natural man; “eating” spiritual nourishment from the Lord; the “twelve baskets of fragments” the knowledges of truth and good therefrom in all abundance and fullness. Amen.

Here end the lessons. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen.