Elijah's mouth went dry from excitement and his back muscles twitched slightly as he thought of that great appointment with destiny. For one thing, this would be the high point of his whole ministerial career! It would either make him or break him as a spiritual powerhouse in Israel. Indeed, this confrontation would bring to a head the controversy that had been raging for decades: Whom would Israel recognize as God, Jehovah or the Phoenician deities?
Already the stage had been set and the first act played when he had brought the message of the drought to Ahab. Elijah was eager to move directly from this good beginning to the greater things that lay ahead.
Then a message came. Its origin was unmistakable. "And the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith" (1 Kings 17:2,3).
Elijah was stunned! The knot in his stomach tightened even more. The confrontation was off, at least temporarily. Three long years would elapse before it would finally take place.
"Hide myself? Oh no! What will Jezebel and her gang of mercenaries think? Me, Elijah, chickened out? God, please!"
"And Cherith? Of all places for a sabbatical! The place is for the birds! Ravens will fly my bread in? What if they crash along the way? Cherith? It isn't even listed in the Samaria Travel Association brochure. Nothing ever happens there!"
Indeed, what would a man of Elijah's temperament do in the corner of God's earth called Cherith?
Elijah was a man of action. In fact, he would never fit into a nine-to-five job in some office. He could never be an armchair executive directing God's work from behind some polished desk. Cherith would probably drive him up the wall.
Elijah was a man of conviction—not the type who would meekly sit in a committee room and coast along for fear that his job would be in jeopardy if he rocked the boat. He would not hesitate to champion unpopular causes as long as they were legitimate and based on principles of truth, justice, and righteousness. What cause could he champion in Cherith?
And Elijah was a courageous man. He belonged to that very special breed of men like Daniel, John the Baptist, Paul, and Martin Luther—men who would gladly descend into a den of lions, who would not hesitate to place their heads on the executioner's block, to endure floggings and lonely imprisonment, to risk being denounced, defrocked, or disfellowshiped for the sake of truth and right.
But Elijah's ticket was stamped "Cherith," and so to Cherith he went. "He did according to the word of the Lord; for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith" (verse 5). You see, Elijah was not only a man of action, conviction, and courage, he was also a good soldier. When his Commander in Chief charged him to go, he went without further questions. He did not obey blindly, but he knew "the word of the Lord." He believed that God knows the scheme of everything and that a providential purpose governs all His ways, even the mysterious ones.
In dreary and desolate Cherith, Elijah learned some precious lessons that would enrich his ministry in the future. First, he learned that "they also serve who only stand and wait." In the solitariness of the Cherith situation Elijah learned to distinguish fully between "recognition" and "service." The Lord's disciples couldn't serve effectively at the beginning of their ministry because they were obsessed with determining who was the greatest.
In Christ's own estimation John the Baptist was the greatest of his time (Matt. 11:11). Christ regarded him so because John the Baptist was never interested in greatness. He was content to be just a "voice," not a "face," a "force," or a "personality." When he had dutifully delivered his last sermon, John submitted to Herod's dungeon.
Second, Elijah learned that in places of hard rocks and hard knocks God's great Presence and good provisions are guaranteed to His beloved servants. Elijah received his sustenance without fail. At the proper time the Lord talked to him again and gave him a ticket to a better place; a place where, under God, he was able.to perform miracles.
Third, Elijah learned the value of the "hidden life."Mrs. C. E. Cowman, who with her husband spent many years of mission service in China and Japan, wrote after .her husband's untimely death, "We must not be surprised if sometimes our Father says: There, child, thou hast-had enough of this hurry, and publicity and excitement; get thee hence, and hide thyself."
The earthly life of our Lord Jesus Christ -epitomized the value of the hidden-life. The first thirty years of His life are known as the "silent years" or the "hidden years." But they were fruitful years, years that fully prepared Him for a greater mission and ministry than any other has ever been called upon to carry: the salvation of the whole world.
The true measure of the value of a life is not how long and how famously it has been lived but how well. We know that too much exposure to the sun can burn the skin and bring other complications. Life's shadows have their own soothing effects.
Fourth, Elijah learned that divine delays are not denials. God uses delays to deliver His servants from unnecessary difficulties that derive from undue haste. What look like delays are actually opportunities for preparation. God is merely giving His workers the time to slow down and get their proper bearings, to ready themselves for a more effective push toward victory.
Fifth, Elijah learned that the "joy of service" is based not on position but on disposition. The apostle Paul said, "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content" (Phil. 4:11). That is not to say that one should have no desire to excel. Mediocrity has no place in the ministry. Contentment means that God's servants should not feel bitter nor discouraged by delays or temporary defeats.
Someone has said that "it is your attitude and not your altitude (position or level of progress) that brings about the certitude of your success." True contentment is being thankful for what you have while you are waiting to achieve more.
Finally, Elijah also learned that God does not necessarily measure success in terms of the tangible results of one's effort. Figures and statistics only project rates of progress; they do not necessarily spell success. For example, a church may boast of doubling or even tripling its membership, but its constituency may not necessarily be Christian in the proper sense of the word.
True success in God's service will not be revealed except on that glorious day of the Master's return when He shall award the "rewards" and pronounce the "well done" (Rev. 22:12; Matt. 25:23). On that great day success will be acknowledged on two counts: (1) faithfulness "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" (Matt. 25:21); and (2) service devoid of deliberate and conscious effort for recognition or honor (verses 34-40).
God desires His servants to do their task faithfully and well and to let Him take care of the results and the rewards. It is enough that they work on regardless of the dimension or nature of their assigned responsibility. At Cherith the true character of God's worker is tested. Will God's servant exert the same degree of effort and zeal if he is withdrawn from the limelight?
In out-of-the-way Cherith, Elijah's God prepared him for the test that would come on Mount Carmel. When that classic confrontation finally came, Elijah sought only the vindication of God's name and honor.
A friend of mine once confided that most of his life as a worker for God he had to content himself with pastorates in churches so small and so remote that "the devil himself had a hard time locating them." In verity, only a few among God's workers will be afforded a modern taste of a Carmel, Sinai, Trans figuration Mount, or Olivet. The majority will have to settle for a Cherith—away from the flashbulbs and the. press; away from the crowds that throng the great halls; away from the cameras and the autograph-seekers; away from the testimonial dinners and the award nights.
Humanly speaking, we do not tend to cherish Cheriths if we are given a choice. Ministers also have egos, and these have a way of asserting themselves. We may much more easily enjoin our congregations to sing "Brighten the Corner Where You Are" than move to some corner ourselves.
Cherith serves its purpose in God's program. The discipline it affords has a way of refining the dross from the lives of God's servants. Toughened by its hard ships, God's soldiers are prepared to face the foe without flinching. Within its shadows the gospel worker may discover the secrets of the Most High and find fresh inspiration to pass on to others. In Cherith Elijah discovered to his joy that under the forbidding rocks God hides His spring of living waters, His cooling fountain.