Elijah’s Quarantine

What an ancient prophet could teach us about a modern pandemic

About six months have passed since the Coronavirus made its way center stage. No cure is presently available, and billions of people have experienced some form of government-mandated or self-imposed quarantine. The social distancing has caused all types of problems like mental trauma and financial ruin. And the craziness hasn’t stopped. The effects of this pandemic will likely last for years. For many, life feels grim.

One upside to all this isn’t even related to the virus. It has to do with history. This isn’t the first time that individuals have experienced isolation. Christ’s disciple, John, was banished to the Isle of Patmos. Jeremiah was put into a dungeon. In more modern times, John McCain was kept as a POW at the Hanoi Hilton for 5 1/2 years. Many other examples exist of individuals that lived in quarantined conditions, sometimes for long periods of time.

Enter Elijah

The prophet Elijah lived during the reign of King Ahab, who ruled over the Northern Kingdom of Israel (modern-day Samaria) circa 874–853 BCE. This was a troubling time for the kingdom because Ahab openly endorsed idol worship, which provoked God’s anger. In fact, things got so out of hand that God sent Elijah to Ahab to tell him that a drought was coming because of Ahab’s poor decisions.1 Droughts are dreaded experiences because they lead to famine. The Old Testament teaches that death by famine is worse than death by violence.2 Hard days were ahead.

Canyon Prison

It would have been nice if Ahab had listened to Elijah and stopped worshipping false gods. But that’s not what happened. Once Elijah gave the bad news, he was in trouble. He went into hiding.

God told Elijah to go to the brook Cherith.3 Scholars agree that this place would have been located somewhere in an area called the Wadi Qelt, an unfriendly, dry region east of Israel known for its canyons and caves.4 It may have been in one of these caves that Elijah hid. One glimpse at this place and you’ll quickly rule it out for your next BBQ. It’s quite desolate.

And what did Elijah do during his COVID-like quarantine? The Bible doesn’t say. Most days were probably long and miserable in the barren, forsaken hideout. He couldn’t wander off too far for fear of being sighted. I bet he wondered if he would meet the same fate as too many of God’s servants—martyrdom. He must have thought about the people who were suffering from the drought. And how long did his quarantine last? The exact time isn’t known, but if we look at what the apostle James says5 coupled with 1 Kings chapter 18, it’s estimated that it was somewhere between six months to one year. Despite the gloom, he probably tried to make his bleak situation feel hopeful. He likely spent most of his time in prayer and self-reflection.

The Raven Express

Survival would be the first concern for any person hiding out in such a bleak location. Elijah could avoid dehydration for a period of time by drinking from the brook’s water. But what about food? How would he adequately feed himself in such a desolate place? The answer was a miracle. God commanded the ravens to bring Elijah food in the morning and the evening. 6 This must have been mind-blowing for a man even as good as Elijah. Doubtless, he’d heard of Moses parting the Red Sea or Jericho’s walls collapsing, but to have something of the same magnitude happen to him would feel surreal.

Miracles still exist. God will care for His children even if He needs to command members of the animal kingdom to feed them. Sometimes miracles may come in an unexpected way. And they may come in a way that meet our needs rather than meeting our wants. Taking Elijah’s example, I doubt collecting the flesh and bread that the ravens dropped when they came to his hideout would have been the most convenient—or tasty—way to survive, but it was enough to sustain him during this deeply challenging time. He must have smiled whenever he heard the ravens coming.

Footnotes

  1. 1 Kgs: 17:1
  2. Lam: 4:9
  3. 1 Kgs: 17:3
  4. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, A Commentary: Critical, Experimental, and Practical on the Old and New Testaments. Vol. 2, Elijah fed by ravens at Cherith. London and Glasgow: WILLIAM COLLINS, SONS, & COMPANY, 1871.
  5. Jm. 5:17
  6. 1 Kgs: 17:6