This painting, by the American artist Washington Allston, depicts a scene from the life of Elijah. Recognized as a prophetic holyman by the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), Elijah was said to have lived around the 9th century BC, and was active during the reigns of Kings Ahab and Ahaziah of Israel. As the story goes, the Abrahamic God was extremely displeased with Ahab, one of the main reasons being that the king allowed a large wave of Baal worship to spread into Israel. Therefore, in the events preceding the scene in the painting above, Elijah was sent by God to tell Ahab that Israel would soon be punished with a long drought. According to the tale, no rain fell in the region for three years. Elijah, fortunately, did not experience the hardships that such a drought would bring, as God provided for all of the prophet’s needs during the three-year period. The painting above shows one of the ways that God reportedly sustained Elijah during that time of hardship. The tale is told in the biblical First Book of Kings:
“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.’ So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook” (1 Kings 17:2-6, NIV edition).
Such is the scene that Washington Allston depicted above. As the story goes, Elijah would stay at the Kerith Ravine, with the ravens bringing him food, until the dwindling brook of water eventually ran dry. God then sent Elijah to his next supply station—the home of a widow—which became the prophet’s headquarters for the remainder of the drought. Washington Allston’s painting of Elijah would eventually become the first artwork acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston after it was donated to the institution in 1870.
Written by C. Keith Hansley