T HERE was a great famine in all the land, the famine which God had sent to punish King Ahab and the people for their wickedness. Month after month went by, and not a drop of rain fell, not a cloud hid the burning sun by day, no dew softened the dry parched earth by night. The grass was burned up, there was not a green blade to be seen in all the fields, no growing plant anywhere.
Elijah the prophet stood by the side of the little brook Cherith, and saw that the bed of the stream was dry; not a trickle of water ran over the stones now. For three years he had lived there in hiding, after warning King Ahab that the famine was coming. He had been kept alive all that time by the little silver brook and the food which God had sent him by strange messengers. No white-robed angels came to feed him; but instead, every morning and every evening, he heard the flutter of wings, and there flew down to him great black ravens carrying in their beaks bread and meat for his morning and evening meals.
Elijah and the Ravens
But now the stream was dry and the ravens were dead. There was nothing left to eat or drink, and the rain would not come yet for many months. Still, Elijah was not greatly troubled. He was hungry, but he knew that God, whom he faithfully served, would feed him in some way. Standing there by the dried-up brook, he waited, and in the stillness God's message came to him, and bade him go to a certain town where there was some one ready to feed him and take care of him.
Through the desolate burnt-up country Elijah journeyed, and when he reached the city to which God had directed him, he found hunger and misery everywhere. Still he went on, until he saw a poor widow woman, who with weary, bent back was stooping to gather a handful of dried sticks outside her little house. She lifted her head in surprise as Elijah spoke to her.
"Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink," he said.
Surely he must know how precious every drop of water was now. How could the stranger calmly ask for a drink? Still, he looked very weary and travel worn, and she thought she might spare him a little water.
She turned to fetch the water, and again she heard his voice.
"Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand."
Why, he spoke as if she had only to stretch out her hand and take bread from her cupboard. "A morsel of bread"—when she was starving for want of food, she and her little son, waiting there indoors now for the last meal they expected to eat. There was but a handful of flour in the barrel, a few drops of oil in her cruse, and she had gathered the sticks to make a fire and bake a little cake. After that there was nothing to do but die of hunger.
"As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake," she said, gazing at the stranger. She saw now that he was a prophet. But how could she feed him? She could only explain that there was nothing in the house but the handful of meal and the few drops of oil.
"Fear not," came Elijah's answer; "go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son. For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth."
Elijah at Horeb
Was this man indeed a prophet? Did he truly bring a message from God? At any rate, she would do as he asked; and the woman hurried into the house, and with trembling hands she mixed and baked the little cake for the waiting stranger. Then she went again to look into the empty barrel. But there, at the bottom, was still a handful of meal, and in the cruse there was just as much oil as there had been before.
No fear of famine need haunt her now. There was always enough for her and her little son and the man of God who had come to lodge with her, and who slept in the loft under the roof. Every time she went to the barrel she found the meal there, and her heart was filled with thankfulness that she had not been greedy and selfish, but willing to share all she had with some one else who was also hungry. And it was not only food which she received as a reward from God, but later on also the life of her little son, in answer to His servant's prayer.
Not very long after this God sent once more the blessed rain to water the earth, and all the country rejoiced in peace and plenty. Only for Elijah there was no peace. The wicked people hated him, because he told them of their faults and of God's anger. They hunted him like a wild beast, and again he had to hide himself amongst the rocks and caves of the wilderness. Weary and disheartened, he lay there, and he almost began to lose his faith in God's care. He had been a failure, he thought; he did not want to live any longer. He forgot how God had fed him by those ravens; how he had been kept alive by the miracle of the widow's barrel of meal and cruse of oil. He was weary and hungry alone there in the wilderness, where he had crawled under the shelter of a juniper tree, and he only asked to die.
"O God, take away my life," he prayed, as he wearily closed his eyes and fell asleep.
Suddenly there was a light touch on his arm, and Elijah awoke. Was he dreaming, he wondered, or had his enemies tracked him out? He looked round, scarcely caring, and there at his side stood an angel.
"Arise and eat," said the shining messenger. He looked around bewildered, and there close by he saw a cake and a bottle of water. God had again sent to feed His hungry servant. He was too dazed to think; he could only stretch out his hand for the food, and, when he had eaten it, fall asleep once more.
Again came the touch, and again the angel pointed to another meal prepared for him, and afterwards in the silence God spoke to him, and put fresh courage into his heart.
So Elijah was strengthened once more to go on and finish the work God had set him to do, and when the end came it was no weary, disheartened man whom God called home. It was victory and not failure which wrapped him round as God's fiery chariot bore him upwards, never to know pain or hunger, sickness or sorrow again.