There’s a whirlwind in my mind most days now. Images and ideas appear and disappear, things that can’t quite be seen or put into words. I never know quite when or if or what will settle. It’s a restless space of both knowing and not knowing, being filled up and wanting to be filled again.
I’ve been sitting with the ravens for some time now. Yesterday, I posted a picture of ravens feeding that troubler of Israel Elijah as he hid by the brook Cherith (1 Kings 17:1-7). I wanted the raven to stick with me, to follow me around. And so it has. Pictures have a way of embedding thoughts into the brain’s deeper level processing.
The story of Elijah and the ravens pulls on multiple threads from God’s story. Along with the owl, the pelican and the ostrich, the raven marks the desolation of Edom (Isa 34:11). It craves the wandering eye (Prov 30:17; Matt 18:9). Ravens are a sign of wildness and lost dominion. As such, ravens were forbidden as food for the Israelites (Lev. 11:15, Deut. 14:14).
The location of Elijah’s refuge with ravens is also familiar. The brook of Cherith is east of the Jordan, a place that Lot had discovered is “well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord” (Gen 13:10). Lot cannot resist it and settles there, as do some of the tribes of Israel, the children of Gad and the children of Reuben (Num. 32).
This land east of the Jordan may seem enticing, then. But it is an unsettling place, a land of incompleteness. After Lot, Moses leads the Israelites to this place but is not allowed to cross over the Jordan (Deut. 3) as punishment for striking the rock. In this same place, then, even though the ravens provide Elijah with bread and meat, this true prophet of God cannot stay there. The waters soon dry up, and the LORD tells him to move on.
As it happens, God has told parts of this story before, and the raven plays a part there as well. At the end of Genesis 7, Noah and his family are in the ark, they alone with the animals saved through God’s watery judgement of the whole world. And at this point, something curious happens, a kind of mirroring of heaven and earth.
The text says that God remembered Noah and his family and all the animals. And just as the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the waters at the creation of the world (Gen. 1:2), God causes a wind to pass over the flooded earth, and the waters subside (Genesis 8:1). The ark comes to rest upon the mountains of Ararat.
Noah responds to this supernatural act of God by sending out the raven. And like the wind of God, like the ravens that fed Elijah, Noah’s raven “flew here and there until the water was dried up from the earth” (Gen. 8:6-7).
As the raven wanders, before the flood waters dry up, Noah releases another bird, a dove. Though she too finds no resting place, the dove returns. And Noah sends her out again and again until she brings the olive leaf of peace and flies away to her rest (Ps. 55:6), awaiting her descent to Jesus Christ at His baptism (Matt. 3:16).
In the raven and the dove, we encounter restlessness and rest, earth and heaven, here and there. And though we are fixed anxiously between the two, in Jesus Christ the dove and raven meet in perfect peace. In Him, we encounter rest for our restless hearts.
My beloved is dazzling and ruddy,
Outstanding among ten thousand.
His head is like gold, pure gold;
His locks are like clusters of dates
And black as a raven.
His eyes are like doves
Beside streams of water,
Bathed in milk,
And reposed in their setting.
Songs of Songs 5:10-12