Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Dried-Up Brook

“After a while the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land.”

There is a video out there circulating in which a Joe Biden supporter (lawn sign and all) has an unexpected and unpleasant interaction with some of those “mostly peaceful” protesters we are always hearing about. Let’s just say it doesn’t go well for him. He is absolutely flabbergasted to discover that the color of his skin and his gender are of more significance to an angry mob than his professed political affiliation. They do not want his support, and they are quite happy to tear up his property and threaten his person as enthusiastically as they would any Republican’s.

Secularists and leftists make such errors in judgment because they do not know who they are, and do not understand the times in which they are living. Christians should not make the same mistake.

Knowing Who We Are

After all, we are called to suffer in this life because of our affiliation with Christ. “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” writes the apostle, who had encountered plenty of what he was writing about. “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household,” said the Lord Jesus. The default expectation of the Christian is that he generates hostility simply by being who he is.

Both the Lord and the apostles warned us about the reaction our faith would produce in the world, and if they hadn’t mentioned it, we could probably have sussed it out for ourselves with a quick read about how Israel responded to the prophets God sent them, or how the Sodomites reacted to being politely corrected by Lot. The last few generations of evangelicals have experienced unusual freedom from the perpetual bristling hostility of the world around us, and I do not necessarily put all of that down to either the special favor of God or, alternatively, the carnality of the church and the failure of its testimony in the world. We have also been the undeserving beneficiaries of the spiritual labors of others. If our great-grandparents in Christ managed to make the name “Christian” something other than a curse word for even a few brief years in certain parts of the globe, well, good on them.

I would strongly suggest we can start forgetting about all that. Things are about to get back to normal for Christians in the West.

Knowing the Times in Which We Live

But it’s not just the hostility of the world that the godly have normally had to deal with throughout history. Sometimes believers encounter tough times that have nothing to do with our relationship to God, and everything to do with the judgment of God on the sins of others.

For example, when Israel turned to the worship of Baal, God afflicted the nation with a horrific drought that lasted three and a half years. Even Elijah, God’s prophet, was deeply affected by it. The brook from which he drank every day — the means by which he stayed alive, frankly — dried up.

The brook didn’t dry up because Elijah sinned, or because he had fallen out of favor with his God — far from it. It didn’t dry up to test his character or his faith, though God was surely working on those things all the time. No, the brook dried up because there was no rain in the land. The conditions brought about by the sins of others affected a man who was probably the most consistently faithful individual in the entire land of Israel.

This is what happens when large groups of people sin. When God judges nations, everyone feels it, including those who are walking with God, pleasing him and fulfilling his purposes. So Baruch and Jeremiah suffered along with the unrepentant men and women of Judah, David’s wives were taken captive by Amalekite raiders just like the wives and children of so many other less-godly Israelite men in those days, and the godly remnant of Israel will run for their lives in the coming tribulation just like their idolatrous Jewish brethren who are called a synagogue of Satan.

Elijah’s brook dried up because there was no rain in the land, and there was no rain in the land because Israel was an apostate nation.

Corporate Apostasy

Now, the nations in which we live today are not especially chosen and called out to the service of God as Israel once was. In fact, we might argue that in the West we no longer live in “nations” in the biblical sense at all, but in multinational states and empires. Nevertheless, from time to time God still calls people to account in this life corporately, just as he judged Sodom and Gomorrah, or Egypt or Babylon in times past.

It should also be no breaking news that Christians who have lived cosily and comfortably in the West for the last fifty years or so have watched something like 61 million babies sacrificed on the altar of convenience during our lifetimes. We didn’t vote for it. We didn’t promote it. We didn’t even all stand idly by and watch it happen. Some of us picket it, organize resistance to it and write about it, while others just quietly loathe it and pray about it. But if any initiative a nation might endorse and turn into policy could call upon itself the direct and urgent judgment of God in this life, I suspect promoting and funding the murder of children pretty much tops the list. Why not just paint a target on your forehead instead and carry a sign that says, “Judgment here please”? God has a special place in his heart for the innocent, and he does not fail to hear their cries.

So the brook dries up. If it hasn’t yet for the nations of the West, it most definitely will.

When the Brook Dries Up

In the story in 1 Kings, when the brook dries up, the Israelite idolaters living upstream and downstream from Elijah have nothing to drink because they have sinned against their God. But neither does God’s own prophet.

There is, however, a huge difference between being a servant of God and being a generic Israelite worshiper of Baal in Elijah’s day (or, for that matter, a worshiper of Molech today). The difference is that God has a plan for both Elijah’s next meal and his next bit of ministry. The dried-up brook is no hindrance to that. So the word of the Lord comes to the prophet: “Arise, go to Zarephath ... I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” His servant might live among a people under judgment and suffer many of the same privations they do, but God never ceases to care for the servant or fails to meet his physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

Now, the conditions in Zarephath are not always the fanciest around. I don’t know if you would find it a humbling experience to depend on the charity of an impoverished widow. I certainly would. It might be nicer to farm a little plot of land in Shechem or Hebron. It might be a little more dignified and self-supporting to be able to keep a job in one of those bigger Israelite cities. But when brooks are drying up all over the land under the judgment of God, such things may no longer be on offer for the faithful believer.

It might be a little early for such a parable, but the bottom line is this: when brooks are drying up all over, it is better to be a thirsty servant of God on the run than to hold the highest of high positions in a nation under judgment.

For the Israelite, the brook dries up to tell you to repent. For the servant of God, the brook dries up so that we can share a meal and the love of God with a Gentile widow. And after the widow, there will surely be something else again.

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