Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Prophet’s Chamber (II Kings 4:10)

What did the Shunammite woman do for Elisha? She built him a room (II Kings 4:10)

On his travels, the prophet Elisha forges a lasting friendship with an unnamed Shunammite woman (II Kings 4:8-37; 8:1-6). Their relationship begins when the “prominent” woman provides the prophet with a meal (II Kings 4:8 NASB). This starts a tradition as not only does the prophet repeatedly return to the Shunammite’s home, throughout the centuries grateful clergy have been fed by parishioners.

Russell H. Dilday (b. 1930) relays:

II Kings 4:8 says that the woman “persuaded” (KJV: “constrained”) Elisha to eat the food that she had prepared. What preacher has not had an identical experience—a talented cook in the church family who delights in frustrating every good intention of pastoral weight control by “constraining” him to eat a second helping...? No wonder Elisha “as often as he passed by...would turn in there to eat some food.” (Dilday, 1 & 2 Kings (Mastering the Old Testament), 294)
The two grow closer and eventually the Shunammite woman asks her husband to build an addition on to their home to host the prophet (II Kings 4:10)!
Please, let us make a little walled upper chamber and let us set a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lampstand; and it shall be, when he comes to us, that he can turn in there.” (II Kings 4:10 NASB)
August H. Konkel (b. 1948) speculates that the prophet’s holiness led to the addition of the extra room:
Elisha has occasion to pass the location regularly on his journeys from Carmel (II Kings 4:9); like Samuel (I Samuel 7:15-17), he probably follows a circuit in the administration of his duties. Elisha is regarded as a holy man, distinguished from the other prophets who continue to have regular vocations. This status may have been the reason for providing a separate room for him; separate quarters protect the family from having inappropriate intimacy with this man of God. The woman’s reverence is also expressed in the vocabulary used to describe her hospitality (II Kings 4:13); Elisha says she “trembled” (hāradt) with “fear” (berādâ) for him, expressing the care she has taken not to infringe on his sanctity as a man of God. (Konkel, 1 & 2 Kings (The NIV Application Commentary), 413-14)
This dwelling is ideal for the prophet as he travels to and through the Jezreel Valley. Marvin A. Sweeney (b. 1953) details:
Joshua 19:18 locates Shunem in the territory Issachar. It is identified with the modern site of Sulam at the foot of Mount Moreh in the northern portion of the Jezreel Valley opposite Mount Gilboa and the site of Jezreel to the south. The site is strategically located as it guards the eastern approaches to the Jezreel Valley and the western approaches into the northern regions of the Jordan Valley around Beth Shean. It thereby aids in controlling the trade routes through the Jezreel that connect the Transjordan to the Mediterranean coast. Elisha’s relationship with the Shunammite woman portends the growth of a base of support for the prophet, who will be instrumental in the recovery of her own property (II Kings 8:1-6) and in Jehu’s revolt (II Kings 9-10). (Sweeney, First and Second Kings: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 289)
Volkmar Fritz (1938-2007) adds:
Shunem, which is also mentioned in Joshua 19:18 and I Samuel 28:4, is to be found at Sōlem on the eastern border of the Jezreel plain. (Shunem is also the place of origin of Abishag, who cared for David toward the end of his life; see I Kings 1:1-4.) The geographical position requires that Elisha would occasionally leave his sphere of influence in the south of Israel, although the destination of his wanderings is not mentioned. (Fritz, 1 & 2 Kings: A Continental Commentary, 250)
The Shunammites expand their home upward as the prophet’s quarters were located atop the roof. J. Robinson (b. 1927) details:
Why not build...a little roof-chamber: the N.E.B. has paraphrased because the Hebrew is not entirely clear. The houses had flat roots which were often used to provide extra accommodation. Tents could be pitched on the roofs or temporary wooden rooms built. The suggestion here is that a permanent rather than a temporary room should be provided. The wall of the house would be higher than the roof to provide a parapet. The N.E.B. makes the woman suggest that a part of the wall should be raised and a permanent room built against it. She may have suggested building a walled chamber anywhere on the roof (cp. the Revised Standard Version). The justification for his expense and for the luxurious conditions provided – travellers usually sat, ate and slept on the floor – was her acknowledgement of Elisha as ‘a holy man of God’. (Robinson, The Second Book of Kings (Cambridge Bible Commentaries on the Old Testament), 43)
The room was large enough to walk around in (II Kings 4:35) and was apparently spacious enough to also host Gehazi, Elisha’s servant (II Kings 4:13). The prophet’s apartment was furnished modestly with predominantly indispensable items. One of the items was a “lamp”, pottery containing oil and shaped to hold a wick.

Philip J. King (b. 1925) and Lawrence E. Stager (b. 1943) note the anomaly:

The only reference [in the Bible] to a household lampstand (měnôrâ) is included in a list of furnishings in Elisha’s quarters (II Kings 4:10). Ordinarily lampstands were used in cultic rather than domestic contexts. (King and Stager, Life in Biblical Israel (Library of Ancient Israel), 30)
It was not the opulence of the room that was noteworthy, but its availability. Such edifices have been built for traveling holy people many times since and are commonly referred to as the “Prophet’s Chamber”.

Christine D. Pohl (b. 1950) chronicles:

The possibility of welcoming Jesus into one’s home shaped ancient church teachings on home-based hospitality. John Chrystostom [347-407] instructed his parishioners: “Make for yourself a guest-chamber in your house: set up a bed there, set up a table there and a candlestick. [cp. II Kings 4:10]...Have a room to which Christ may come; say, ‘This is Christ’s cell; this building is set apart for Him.’” Christ’s room, Chrystostom wrote, would be for the “maimed, the beggars, and the homeless.” Even if it were inadequate, “Christ disdains it not.” (Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality As a Christian Tradition, 154)
Have you ever had a room in someone else’s home? Why does the Shunammite make the offer to host the prophet? Have you ever demonstrated hospitality when it was inconvenient? Do you have a guest room? Who is welcome there? What do you do to show gratitude to the holy people in your life? What does your pastor need that you can provide? (Definitely the most self serving question in the blog’s history.)

Despite not being identified by name, the woman is described by the Hebrew word gadowl (II Kings 4:8). This word has produced a wide array of translations: “great” (ASV, KJV), “leading” (MSG), “notable” (NKJV), “prominent” (HCSB, NASB), “rich” (CEV), “wealthy” (ESV, NLT, NRSV, RSV), “well-to-do” (NIV).

Despite these many interpretations, the word is quite simple - the woman is great. Jesse C. Long, Jr. (b. 1953) comments:

The Shunammite is literally named “a great woman” (...’iŝŝāh g’dōlāh), with the nuance of a person of wealth. By the end of the story, however, there will be reason to believe that the narrator intends more in this designation than financial means. (Long, 1 & 2 Kings (College Press NIV Commentary), 311)
Robert L. Cohn (b. 1947) praises:
Although she is unnamed, she is called a “great woman,” and by the end...we know why...Not only does she urge Elisha to stay and eat on this first occasion but she provides for him each time he comes to Shunem. Moreover, she declares to her husband her intention to furnish a guest room for he “holy man of God” for his use whenever he is in town. The initiative is all hers; Elisha asks for nothing and her husband does not encourage her. Indeed, everywhere in the story he is defined in relationship to her: “her husband.” Her “greatness” is also reflected in her recognition of the holiness of this man of God before he offers any demonstration of it. (Cohn, 2 Kings (Berit Olam: Studies In Hebrew Narrative And Poetry), 28)
The woman demonstrates great initiative as she, not her husband, is the catalyst for the action in the story. (Though in my experience, the woman being the one to suggest a house addition is as cliché as being the cook in the family.)

Warren W. Wiersbe (b. 1929) admits, “We get the impression that her husband lacked his wife’s spiritual insight, but at least he didn’t oppose her hospitality to the itinerant preacher (Wiersbe, Be Distinct: 2 Kings & 2 Chronicles), 42).”

Tikva Frymer-Kensky (1943-2006) admires the Shunammite’s remarkable independence:

She is not identified as her father’s daughter or her husband’s wife, for these relationships do not define her destiny or her role in the story. She is identified by the name of her village because her attachment to a particular location will turn out to be important in her life and in her story...The Shunammite is strikingly free in her dealings with the prophet...She acts on her own, without asking her husband’s permission, as she provides food and hospitality to him in his journeys. Her wealth may contribute to her boldness, for wealthy women have greater freedom of action than poor women, and sometimes even more than poor men. But poor women could also be close to the prophets. The prophet Elijah lodged with a poor widow without worrying about gossip, and no one would react badly to the Shunammite’s entertaining Elisha. A wife can dispense food without her husband’s supervision: another woman of means, Abigail, brought great amounts of food to David without her husband’s knowledge. The Shunammite brings her husband into the picture only when she wishes to add an addition to her house. (Frymer-Kensky, Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of Their Stories, 65)
Claudia V. Camp (b. 1951) exalts:
The portrayal of this unnamed woman is one of the most remarkable in the Bible. Both independent and maternal, powerful and pious, she brings to mind a number of other female characters, yet surpasses them all. She is observant in both practical and spiritual ways: she notices not only Elisha’s regular passing through Shunem but also the aura that marks him as a “man of God.”...The Shunamite takes the initiative that might have been her husband’s. She has an upper room built and furnished for Elisha’s use (compare Elijah’s lodging with the Sidonian woman). (Carol Ann Newsom [b. 1950] and Sharon H. Ringe [b. 1946], The Women’s Bible Commentary: Expanded Edition, 113)
His connection to the great Shunammite woman will add to the prophet’s own greatness. The account of her house addition is only the background exposition to the story which follows (II Kings 4:11-37). Alice L. Laffey (b. 1944) notes:
Elisha acts...on behalf of the powerless...Though married and wealthy, she is nevertheless dependent upon her husband in the society’s social structure. Elisha rewards this woman who provided lavishly for him and for his servant by promising her that she will bear son. (Laffey, First and Second Kings (New Collegeville Bible Commentary), 98)
The Shunammite’s hospitality pleased the prophet so much that he looked for a way to bless her (II Kings 4:11-14). She had yet to bear children and the prophet promises her a child (II Kings 4:15-17). He eventually will raise that child from the dead, a feat which rivaled his predecessor (II Kings 4:28-37).

Paul R. House (b. 1958) compares:

Despite all he has done, Elisha has not yet matched Elijah’s greatest feat, for he has not been used to raise the dead. Even this difference is removed when a...woman and her family enter Elisha’s life. (House, 1, 2 Kings (New American Commentary), 267)
In making room for the prophet in her home, the Shunammite also makes room for a miracle in her life.

There are many explanations drawn from many lenses as to why the Shunammite woman was “great”. Most simply, Elizabeth George (b. 1944) appraises:

So what did the Shunammite do that was so great? So heroic? She did what you and I could do and should do—She looked out and saw a need, she reached out and extended a helping hand, and she gave out of a heart of love for another person. (George, Young Woman After God’s Own Heart, 183)
What makes this woman great? What makes any person great? Does Christian hospitality always bring reciprocal blessing (Luke 6:38)? What needs do you see in your community? How can you personally meet them?

“We don’t need more strength or ability or opportunity. What we need is to use what we have.” - Basil S. Walsh

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Satisfaction Guaranteed! (Matthew 5:6)

Complete: “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness ________________________.” For they shall be filled (Matthew 5:6)

The gospel of Matthew is structured around five discourses made by Jesus (5-7, 10, 13, 18, 24-25). The first, the Sermon on the Mount, is the most famous (Matthew 5:1-7:29). This discourse begins with nine paradoxical sayings known as the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-11). The term Beatitude is derived from the Latin beatus which corresponds to the first word in each declaration. This word is typically translated “blessed”.

The fourth Beatitude reads:

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6 NASB)
In referencing hunger and thirst, Jesus appeals to universal and basic needs. The combination of the two conditions presents a holistic longing. Whereas extensive physical hunger is generally unhealthy, Jesus depicts a healthy hunger.

In relating the imagery of starvation to spirituality, Jesus draws upon the Old Testament tradition. Charles Quarles (b. 1965) comments:

The Old Testament used hunger and thirst not only to portray one’s longing for the satisfaction of one’s physical needs but also for one’s deepest spiritual needs. The psalmist, for example, thirsted for God like a weary deer panted for streams of water (Psalm 42:1-2). Jesus applied the imagery in a similar fashion...The true disciple hungers and thirsts for righteousness. He longs to live a godly life as much as a starving man longs for his next piece of bread or a parched tongue yearns for a drop of water. (Quarles, Sermon On The Mount: Restoring Christ’s Message to the Modern Church (NAC Studies in Bible & Theology), 59)
The analogy also relates back to Jesus’ personal experience of being tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). R.T. France (1938-2012) explains:
The metaphor of hunger and thirst here recalls Matthew 4:4, the idea of living not on physical food but on every word that comes from God. It is a matter of priorities. Such hunger and thirst will be fully satisfied: chortazomai, a graphic word used also for fattening animals, implies being well filled, as in Matthew 14:20, colloquially being “stuffed.” (France, The Gospel of Matthew (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 168)

While for most of us (who have access to a blog) hunger is a periodic condition, Jesus speaks of habitual hunger. Carl G. Vaught (b. 1939) explains:

It has often been suggested that hungering and thirsting are the most fundamental human cravings and that Jesus speaks to something embedded deeply in our consciousness when he speaks in these terms. However, it is also important to notice that the reference to hungering and thirsting is expressed in the text in present active participles, which in Greek denotes activities that occur continuously. In English the present tense usually refers to a particular moment; but in the Greek text, the participles suggest continuous action, not only occurring now, but also stretching out into the future. Thus, Matthew 5:6 should be rendered, “Blessed are those who keep on hungering and thirsting for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. (Vaught, The Sermon on the Mount: A Theological Investigation, 23-24)
To properly develop, the disciple of Jesus is to be in a perpetual state of hunger. J. Dwight Pentecost (b. 1915) deduces:
In Matthew 5:6 we find the secret of spiritual gianthood...Our Lord...stated that the secret to spiritual growth is spiritual appetite. Those who eat little will grow little: those who eat much will grow much. Those with a voracious appetite for the Word of God and the Person of Jesus Christ, and who satisfy that appetite by feeding on the Word and by communing with the Lord, will grow to spiritual maturity...A doctor can tell much about the progress of his patients by seeing how much they eat. Physical development is related to physical appetite. It is no less true that in the spiritual realm. Spiritual growth, spiritual development, and spiritual health are inseparably united to spiritual appetite. (Pentecost, Design for Living: Lessons on Holiness from the Sermon on the Mount, 40-41).
R.T. Kendall (b. 1935) concurs:
What Jesus is talking about in this beatitude is that you are blessed if you have such an appetite that you can’t live without what you are hungry for. The Greek word for thirst refers to what you can’t live without. You’ve got to have it, or you can’t live. He is not merely talking about being “peckish,” as the Brits would say when they want a bite to eat. He is talking about desperation for food! (Kendall, Sermon on the Mount, The: A Verse-by-Verse Look at the Greatest Teachings of Jesus)
Though this level of physical hunger is not typically desired, Jesus assures that those who desperately seek righteousness will be satisfied. Charles H. Talbert (b. 1934) explains:
What is meant by shall be satisfied? Psalm 107:9...and Isaiah 61:11...together with Testament if Levi 13:5 and Proverbs 21:21 show that the hunger is satisfied by that for which one is hungry. Those who long for God’s saving activity will find their hunger and thirst satisfied by that very saving activity. (Talbert, Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character Formation and Decision Making in Matthew 5-7, 52)
What is the hungriest you have ever been? What is currently the object of your greatest hunger? How badly do you want righteousness? Where does being a righteous person rank among the priorities of the typical citizen? Is prayer for righteousness a petition that is always granted? If you are perpetually hungry, how can you be satisfied? At what point, if any, can one become satisfied with their own righteousness? What is righteousness?

Jesus’ implicit directive to pursue righteousness is counter-cultural (Matthew 5:6). D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) instructs:

We are not meant to hunger and thirst after experiences; we are not meant to hunger and thirst after blessedness. If we want to be truly happy and blessed we must hunger and thirst after righteousness. We must not put blessedness or happiness or experience in the first place. No, that is something that God gives to those who seek righteousness. (Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 64)
“Righteousness” (Greek: dikaiosune) is one of the critical terms in the Sermon on the Mount (e.g. Matthew 6:33). There has been much debate as to what type of righteousness Matthew addresses.

R. Kent Hughes (b. 1942) surveys:

Because Christ declares that hunger for righteousness is essential to spiritual health and satisfaction, we must carefully consider what it means. Some have supposed that it is the objective righteoussness described in Romans that God reckons to the believer’s account, sometimes called imputed righteousness — “the righteousness from God” (Romans 1:17, 3:21, 22; cf. Philippians 3:9). However, while the gift of such righteousness is foundational to every believer’s salvation, that is not what is meant here...Others have confined the meaning to social righteousness, the righteous treatment of the poor and oppressed...However, the root meaning here is determined by the seven occurrences of “righteousness” in the Sermon on the Mount that indicate it means a subjective righteousness, an inner righteousness that works itself out in one’s living in conformity to God’s will —righteous living. Thus, those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” long to live righteously, and for righteousness to prevail in the world. (Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom (Preaching the Word), 40)
Emmet Fox (1886-1951) concurs:
Righteousness means, in the Bible, not merely right conduct, but right thinking on all subjects, in every department of life. As we study the Sermon on the Mount, we shall find every clause in it reiterating the great truth that outside things are but the expression (ex-pressed or pressed out) or out-picturing of our inner thoughts and belief; that we have dominion or power over our thoughts to think as we will; and thus, indirectly, we make or mar our lives by the way in which we think. Jesus will constantly tell us in these discourses that we have no direct power over outer things, because these outer things are but consequences, or if you like, resultant pictures of what goes on in the Secret Place. If it were possible for us to affect externals directly without changing our thought, it would mean that we could think one thing and produce another; and this would be contrary to the Law of the Universe. Indeed, it is just this very notion which is the basic fallacy that lies at the root of all human trouble—all sickness and sin, all strife and poverty, and even death itself. (Fox, The Sermon on the Mount: The Key to Success in Life, 31)
There are many scholars who argue that social justice is a large component of the righteousness to which Jesus speaks. Charles H. Talbert (b. 1934) delineates:
The term righteousness has been taken by scholars in two different ways. On the one hand, some have understood righteousness in all Matthean passages as the conduct expected by God: as e.g., in Proverbs 21:21...and Testament of Levi 13:5 (“Do righteousness on earth, in order that you might find it in heaven”). On the other hand, others have taken righteousness, at least in some passages, as the activity of God that establishes justice: as e.g., in Isaiah 51:6...and Isaiah 51:5...Scholarly opinion is divided in its use in Matthew. It seems entirely possible, however, that Matthew 5:6 may echo the second connotation. The hunger and thirst is for the future kingdom and God’s vindication of the right. (Talbert, Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character Formation and Decision Making in Matthew 5-7, 52)
David Yount (b. 1969) argues:
The usual translation of the fourth Beatitude favors the word “righteousness” rather than “true goodness,” obscuring Jesus’ demand for both integrity and the pursuit of social justice...The disciple must be good within and without. Those who would imitate Christ cannot be satisfied with their own righteousness as their ticket to salvation. Rather, they must hunger and thirst for God’s justice for others. (Yount, What Are We to Do?: Living the Sermon on the Mount, 13-14)
David Buttrick (b. 1927) agrees:
The word “righteousness” appears often in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, and righteousness certainly includes concern for social justice. Have we Protestants, with our emphasis on justifying grace, often overlooked the word? The phrase “hunger and thirst for righteousness” is not to be understood as a personal virtue. No, those who hunger and thirst are a community of faith hankering for the coming of God’s kingdom. Hebrew thought did not reduce righteousness to a list of do and don’t commandments. The Israelites believed in a way of righteousness; a whole faith-filled life of righteousness, including prayer, ritual worship, fasting, charity. And a profound desire for the justice God demands. Righteousness is a much bigger word than doing good works. Righteousness is the substance of the Torah. (Buttrick, Speaking Jesus: Homiletic Theology and the Sermon on the Mount, 69)
David L. Turner (b. 1949) sees the term as holistic, incorporating both personal spirituality and social justice:
The righteousness here must not be reduced either to personal piety or to social justice. In Matthew, righteousness language speaks of right behavior before God. Protestant Christians who are used to reading Paul may think that Matthew is speaking of the imputed righteousness of Christ (cf., e.g. Romans 5:1-2), but this forensic sense is not a Matthean nuance. Here the emphasis is on the practical side, the upright lifestyle (see also Matthew 1:19, 3:15, 5:10, 20, 45, 6:1, 33). Those who realize their lack in attaining right behavior before God, rather than those who boast of their righteous accomplishments, will receive what they long for. Those who repent in view of the nearness of the kingdom long not only for personal righteousness but also for righteous living to permeate society as a whole (cf. Isaiah 51:1-5). Only when God’s will is done on earth as it is done in heaven (Matthew 6:10) will social justice be fully achieved. (Turner, Matthew (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 151)
Ronald J. Allen (b. 1949) agrees, presenting two “screens” by which a person can test themselves to determine if they are truly hungering and thirsting for righteousness:
First screen: Those hungering and thirsting for righteousness are people who are “Serious Believers.” You know who I mean? Folk who can’t get to church enough for Bible Study. Far be it from a preacher to pour cold water on getting to church, but second screen: In the world of Matthew, righteousness is a word that describes the quality of life in the realm–when all relationships are right–that is, the way God wants them to be. You are blessed when you hunger and thirst for right relationships. (Dave Fleer [b. 1953] and Dave Bland [b. 1953], “The Surprising Blessing of the Beatitudes ”, Preaching the Sermon on the Mount: The World It Imagines, 89)
How would you define righteousness? What is the relationship between righteousness and justice? Is there a hunger and thirst for righteousness in you? Is it being satisfied?

“No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” - Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), “I Have a Dream”, August 28, 1963

Monday, May 7, 2012

Elijah & The Ravens (I Kings 17)

Who was fed by ravens? Elijah

Elijah bursts onto the Biblical scene seemingly from out of nowhere. (I Kings 17:1). The prophet makes an explosive entrance with what amounts to a hit and run prophecy as immediately after declaring a three-year drought in Israel, God sends Elijah east to the brook Cherith (I Kings 17:1-3). Some have interpreted the immediate voyage to the brook as evidence of an instantaneous stoppage of rain.

Under the direction of King Ahab, Israel had been engaging in idolatry (I Kings 16:31-32) and the drought asserts that Yahweh, not the pagan deity Ba’al, controls the weather.

Amid the drought, God promises to sustain the prophet through the brook’s water and food fed to him by ravens (I Kings 17:4). Elijah follows instructions and God fulfills his promises as twice daily ravens dutifully come with provisions (I Kings 17:5-6).

The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he would drink from the brook. (I Kings 17:6 NASB)
Peter J. Leithart (b. 1959) summarizes, “During a drought, Elijah drinks from a wadi (a seasonal stream) for days and eats the food brought by ravens. Yahweh makes a ‘garden’ in the midst of the wilderness, as he had done for Israel centuries before (Leithart, 1 & 2 Kings (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), 127).”

Elijah is sent on a mission that few would envy; a reminder that God’s call does not always lead to places the servant would have otherwise chosen. Iain W. Provan (b. 1957) acknowledges:

Elijah leaves Ahab’s presence to hide in an inhospitable atmosphere east of the Jordan where, we deduce, there is no normal food supply. God has saved him from Ahab and Jezebel, it is implied (I Kings 17:3; cf. I Kings 18:4, 19:1-2), but under normal circumstances he will now die of hunger. God is, however, able to provide for him. (Provan, 1 and 2 Kings (New International Biblical Commentary), 132-133)
Terence E. Fretheim (b. 1936) adds:
This seems almost as risky as staying near Ahab; he is to drink from a wadi and be fed with food provided by ravens...Elijah obeys...and God provides—in an extravagant way for the culture (meat twice a day!)—through unlikely sources. (Fretheim, First and Second Kings (Westminster Bible Companion), 97)
Elijah demonstrates faith worthy of a prophet. Gary Inrig (b. 1943) commends:
This demanded faith because the brook that ran through the Kidron was a wadi, a stream that flowed only during the rainy season—hardly a long-term source of water when a drought was on the way. And ravens were untamed scavengers, not providers. How could they serve as a food source?...Nevertheless, Elijah followed God’s instructions. He made his way to the wadi Kerith, where he spent a period of time. It was a place of total dependence upon God, and the Lord demonstrated his sufficiency. (Inrig, 1 & 2 Kings (Holman Old Testament Commentary), 134)
God provides abundantly for the prophet through both natural and supernatural means. Volkmar Fritz (1938-2007) dissects:
While the provision with water happens in a natural way, the provision of food by ravens points to a miracle. Ravens, which are normally regarded as scavengers and as aggressive birds, serve as carriers of food. The daily meat included in the provision moves beyond the average diet since meat was normally eaten only on feast days. Because of the miraculous supply, Elijah is free from concerns; as a man of God he does not need any help and the drought does not concern him. Elijah is already portrayed as an obedient prophet, led by the word of Yahweh because he does not act on his own initiative but follows the orders of Yahweh. It is not his own power but the help of Yahweh that secures his survival in time of need triggered by a drought. (Fritz, 1 & 2 Kings: A Continental Commentary, 183)
There is a stark contrast between the prophet’s circumstances and the nation’s. While Israel dries up, Elijah drinks cool water. While Israel starves, Elijah enjoys a veritable feast. While the constituents of Ba’al suffer, the prophet of Yahweh prospers.

Like God had done during the wilderness wandering, food was available to God’s people even amidst a barren environment (Exodus 16:8, 12). Richard Nelson (b. 1945) notes:

The story of Elijah and the ravens (I Kings 17:2-6) reflects the common folktale motif of the hero being fed by beasts and reminds the reader of the canonical traditions of wilderness feeding. (The LXX caught this implication and makes specific reference to Exodus 16:8, 12.)...The narrator emphasizes that the word of God is the prime mover in the story; Elijah is passively obedient (I Kings 17:2-5a). (Nelson, First and Second Kings (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching), 109)
Paul R. House (b. 1958) affirms:
Regardless of harsh physical circumstances, the Lord provides for the prophet. The drought has begun, but Elijah has resources because his God controls all natural resources. God directs him to a brook that has water and where ravens will feed him. Also God has protected Elijah by taking him out of Ahab’s reach (cf. I Kings 18:10). Nothing he needs has been withheld. (House, 1, 2Kings (New American Commentary), 213)
Bruce Wilkinson (b. 1947) applies:
How does God’s sending ravens to feed Elijah during a drought (I Kings 17:6) apply to us today? Obviously this does not mean God desires to feed Christians by means of birds. Instead the principle is that God sometimes meets human needs by unusual means. The application of this principle is that believers can trust the Lord to supply all their needs. (Wilkinson, Almost Every Answer For Practically Any Teacher, 171)
If you could be fed by any animal what would it be? If God is sustaining the prophet, why does he go into exile? When have you experienced a personal drought? How did God provide? Is being fed by a raven sanitary? What do you associate with ravens? Why were ravens enlisted for this task?

Ravens, unclean animals (Leviticus 11:13-15; Deuteronomy 14:12-14), are agents of God. A raven was utilized by Noah to confirm that the flood had not subsided (Genesis 8:6-7). In contrast, it is implied that ravens devour the sons of evil kings who die in the field (I Kings 14:11, 16:4)

In this passage, ravens acts against their nature. Working against type, they share food with Elijah. Frederick Buechner (b. 1926) envisions:

When the ravens came and fed Elijah bread and meat by the brook Cherith (I Kings 17:6), we’re told they did it because the Lord commanded them to. However, I suspect that since, in spite of Edgar Allan Poe [1809-1949], ravens are largely nonverbal, the Lord caused the sight of the old man to be itself the command the way the smell of breakfast is a command to the hungry or the sound of your best friend on the stair a command to rejoice...If the ravens could have talked, they would probably have tried to talk either the Lord or themselves out of doing anything about it. As it was, there was simply nothing for it but to bring him two squares a day till he moved on somewhere else. The sleek, black birds and the bony intractable prophet—since all life is one life, to save another is to save yourself, and with their wings, and beaks, and throbbing birds’ hearts all working at once, the ravens set about doing it. (Buechner, Whistling in the Dark: An ABC Theologized, 7-8)

Being fed by ravens is highly unusual and not surprisingly attempts have been made to naturalize the text. Russell H. Dilday (b. 1930) surveys:

Interpreters with antisupernatural presuppositions are uncomfortable with the miraculous element in passages like this. Some have gone to extremes to provide natural explanations for the ravens. For example, some suggest that the Hebrew word for “ravens,” oˉrbîm. could be changed a little to stand for “Arabs” or “Orebites,” natives of an imaginary city called “Oreb.” Others say the word means “steppe-dwellers,” suggesting Elijah was fed by friendly bedouins or itinerant traders. But the supernatural miracles belong in the passage and are acceptable to persons of faith, who see them as consistent with the omnipotent power of the Lord who made the universe. (Dilday, 1 & 2 Kings (Mastering the Old Testament)), 204
In this case, eliminating the supernatural from the narrative defeats the text’s purpose. God is presented as the Beastmaster as the obedient ravens are further proof that Yahweh, not Ba’al is in control.

Marvin A. Sweeney (b. 1953) comments:

YHWH’s statements that the prophet will drink the water of the Wadi Cherith and eat the food brought to him by the ravens highlight the contention that YHWH controls nature to support the prophet. The reference to ravens presupposes their ability to scavenge for food (cf. Proverbs 30:17), to live in inhospitable environments (cf. Isaiah 34:11), and to find their way generally (cf. Noah’s use of ravens in Genesis 8:7). Job 38:41 indicates that YHWH cares for the ravens, which is analogous to the use of the raven to care for Elijah in the present context. This motif suggests associations with the wilderness tradition of the Pentateuch in which YHWH sustained the people by providing water, manna, and quails (Exodus 16:1-17:7; Numbers 11:1-35, 20:1-13; cf. Jeremiah 35:1-19, which refers to the Rechabites, who live in the desert in keeping with the traditions of their ancestors). (Sweeney, First and Second Kings: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 212)
In the midst of drought, God, unlike Ba’al provides. Terence E. Fretheim (b. 1936) concludes:
Communication between God and the nonhuman is not an uncommon Old Testament theme (even for ravens, Psalm 147:9). But the not miracle or micromanagement. Rather, it stakes a claim that Israel’s God, not Baal, is the Creator, who provides water and who works through nonhuman creatures that are not usually among the animals who provide food in order to sustain the faithful. (Fretheim, First and Second Kings (Westminster Bible Companion), 99)
The prophet’s food source (ravens) like the prophet’s proclamation (drought) reminds that Yahweh is superior to Ba’al. And the contest is not close.

How can we, like the ravens, act against our own selfish impulses to benefit God’s cause? What is the most surprising way in which God has provided for you? Have you ever been fed by an animal? Where have you seen animals assisting humans? What is the nicest thing an animal has ever done for you?

“Animals are not humans with reduced capacities. They have their own capacities, their own spectrum of aptitudes and behaviors.” - Jean Kazez, Animalkind: What We Owe to Animals, p. 95