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I Kings 17:2-4 (NIV) Reads:

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.”

What is the significance of the name "Kerith"? How does it relate to the narrative? Why is Elijah commanded to drink from it's waters (or at least, why is it important to mention that he will drink from its waters) rather than say, by the nearby, reliable waters of the Jordan?

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2 Answers 2

First, it seems that Wikipedia transliterates the name as Cherith. With that information in hand, I discovered an article [PDF] by James Tabor that mentions:

Directly across the Jordan River from the Aenon/Salim area is the rugged Wadi el-Yabis, which I take to be fairly securely identified with the famed “brook Cherith” associated with Elijah’s flight to escape death during the reign of King Ahab (1 Kings 17:1-8).

In "East of the Jordan" [PDF], Burton MacDonald sums up the research into the location:

The Hebrew word cherith means "cutting." This is not very helpful in locating Wadi Cherith since there are several deep-cut wadis flowing westward to the Wadi'Arabah-Dead Sea-Jordan Depression from both northern and southern Gilead.

...

The wadi in question is often tentatively identified with Wadi al-Yabis since Elijah was from Tishbe, which is frequently located in that region of Gilead (Abel 1967, 1: 484–85; Ottosson 1969: 230 [tentatively]; Towley 1970: 45; Briend 1990: 8; Younker 1992b: 899). Glueck identifies Wadi Cherith "with one of the easternmost branches of the Wadi el-Yabis in the highlands of North Gilead" (1951: 219), while Simons writes, "there are no data allowing us to identify the nahal in question, as long as no trace of its proper name has been found" (1959: 360). This is a sound conclusion.—"Gilead Territory and Sites", p. 205.


I found several pictures of the location or one like it:

Goats in Wadi Yabis Much greener in this shot. I don't know who painted this or what the subject is supposed to be.

As you can see, the water level is very low and this would certainly be a stream that would dry up early in a drought. But for that reason, it would also be a safe place to hide if you could get enough food and water. The ravens would have provided the miraculous source of food and we can suppose that God also allowed a small amount of water to flow at the head of the Kerith for Elijah to live on. Therefore, Elijah would have, by necessity, put his life completely in God's hands.

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Have you considered the possibility that the author of Kings might not be refering to a geographical location? How is the word "cherith" used in other places in this chapter? If Elijah is a prophet, why should he need to be placed at God's mercy? What is this supposed to teach him that he wouldn't already know? –  Eli Rosencruft Nov 12 '12 at 6:18
    
@Eli Rosencruft: Sounds like this would be a good question for you to self-answer! Honestly, I've been trying to track down answers to unanswered questions and just did a few Google searches. I've pretty much always assumed God sent Elijah there to ride out the drought in safety. –  Jon Ericson Nov 12 '12 at 19:18
    
Compare Obadiah's response to the crisis with that of Elijah's, higlighted by the meeting between the two men. What is I Kings trying to tell us about these two ways of dealing with the challenges? –  Eli Rosencruft Nov 12 '12 at 19:45

The Kerith Ravine is home to a river somewhere east of the Jordan, which marked the eastern border of the land given to Israel. On a purely physical level, it functions (unlike the Jordan) as a place far away and hidden from King Ahab who was seeking Elijah's life because of the drought. The name Kerith means a "cutting" or "separation." While having to do with the physical nature of the river itself - as seen in the photos Jon Ericson provided - it also points to the "cutting off" of Elijah the Tishbite from Ahab and the rest of Israel who at this time are going after idols.

The language of "cutting off" is continued in 18:4-5. While Jezebel is "cutting off" the prophets in the land, Ahab has Obadiah to try find pasture to save the animals from having to be "cut off." Symbolically, then, Elijah is killed, which is likely echoed in his being fed by ravens, who are known for eating carrion.

(Ravens were known to not even feed their own young (cf. Job 38:41, Psalm 147:9), so it is a serious indictment on Ahab and Jezebel that not only do they care more about the lives of animals than the lives of the prophets, but even the unclean ravens who neglect their own young care more for God's prophet. This indictment is then transposed in the second half of the chapter as now not unclean ravens, but unclean gentiles are the ones to care for Elijah.)

Elijah, however, does not remain "cut off." Just as after the widow's son is revived after Elijah stretches out on him three times, so after three years, Elijah returns from the ravine to confront Ahab and defeat Baal.

All of this is a mockery of Baal, who as the storm god was supposed to bring rain on the earth. Of course, the drought is a direct assault on the claims of Baal, but so is the death and resurrection theme. According to House (NAC), it was explained that the reason Baal did not always bring rain on the earth was because Mot, the god of death, would kill him every year and then his sister Anat would eventually take revenge on Mot and free Baal from death. Instead, it is shown that Yahweh is the one who has control over rain and life and death.


Beyond being a symbol of death, the ravine is also a symbol of the wilderness. The author of Kings draws a number of parallels throughout the book between Elijah and Moses who was before him. Both appear before a wicked ruler. Both flee for their life. Both fast for forty days and forty nights. Both experience wind, earthquake, and fire up on a mountain. Both prepare an altar consumed by God's fire from heaven. Etc...

Similarly here, the notion of drinking from the brook and being miraculously fed with bread and meat while in the land east of the Jordan reminds us of Moses and Israel in the wilderness being fed with bread and quail from heaven. This is why it is not the Jordan itself that Elijah drinks from; rather he is east of the Jordan, outside of the land, in order to show that Elijah is a new Moses and Ahab a new Pharaoh.

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In the parallels that Kings draws between Elijah and Moses that you mention, how does Elijah come out in comparison with Moses? What is the implication of God feeding Israel in the wilderness manna versus feeding Elijah by means of an unclean fowl in the revine of "cutting off"? How does Elijah compare with Obadiah in the continuation of the story? –  Eli Rosencruft Nov 12 '12 at 12:31
    
@EliRosencruft I'm not done with this answer, but I'm done for this night. I'll have to think some more about the implications of the Mosaic parallels, and then probably there is something to do with Noah as well (so the Talmud tells me). Not sure what you're getting at yet with the reference to Obadiah, though. Obviously Elijah is provided with food, while Obadiah provides food; but not sure what the implications of that would be. –  Soldarnal Nov 13 '12 at 5:35
    
Another question or hint - the story is a bit more complex that you have stated so far - Obadiah shows that not all Israel followed Baal, in fact, in Obadiah, Ahab chose a loyal servant of the LORD to run his palace, a person who secretly protected 100 prophets of the LORD in times of great danger, some of which was caused by Elijah's actions. What does that appointment say about Ahab? What is Kings saying about Elijah vs Obadiah and Elijah vs Moses? Is Kings making a comparson? –  Eli Rosencruft Nov 13 '12 at 17:25
    
@EliRosencruft Obadiah's character is interesting, and I'm having trouble figuring him out. On the one hand the text is emphatic that he is a devout worshiper of the LORD. On the other hand, he also has two masters (he calls Elijah his lord in 18:7 but Ahab is also his master in 18:10f) which is reflective of Ahab and the people who "waver between two opinions" (in contrast to Elijah and Jezebel). –  Soldarnal Dec 5 '12 at 18:25

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