If you read the Elijah cycle carefully, and without prior assumptions of who Elijah is, you will notice a consistent pattern of untoward incidents and behavior. In this particular example:
- God send Elijah to the Cherit gulch. In Hebrew, "cherit" means "cutting off", "excommunicated" or "divorced". The fact that no such geographical place exists hints that there is a subliminal, pejorative message in the verse regarding Elijah. He is told to drink the water of excommunication.
- The raven is an unclean bird that eats carrion, other unclean things, and the refuse of humanity. The verse hints heavily that Elijah is eating questionable food, probably refuse, but without actually saying it.
- Immediately afterwards, in 1 Kings 17:7-16 God commands Elijah to go to Sidon, the source of the Baal cult, and to live out of wedlock with an impoverished non-Israelite widow, from whom at the start he shamefully begs for food (it should have been the other way around), before performing a miracle with the cruse of oil while the drought drags on. That is Elijah can perform cheap tricks in a private setting with the oil and flour but he does nothing to stop the drought.
The author of I Kings includes the Elijah cycle of stories because of the popular following that Elijah had, but consistently undercuts and diminishes the prophet with unsavory and snide situations, but without explicit derogation.
This text is witness to an ongoing tension in Israelite, and later Jewish culture (e.g. Honi the Circle Drawer), between charismatic miracle workers with huge popular following and more educated religious leaders who saw these charismatics as a serious threat. This text is a prime example of the many hidden polemics in the Bible.