Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Gentle Whisper: 1 Kings 19.12

The passage in 1Kings 19.11-13 has always baffled me.  First there was a powerful wind, but God was not in the wind.  Then there was an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake.  Then came fire, but God was not in the fire.  Finally, there was a gentle whisper and Elijah covered his face and went out to meet God.  What does all of that mean?  I'm going to give some of my thoughts on this passage, but first we need to look at what drove Elijah to be there.

When Elijah called for Israel to assemble on Mt Carmel it hadn't rained in three years (1Kin. 18.1-20).  Elijah told the people that they had to decide once and for all who was God: Baal or the LORD.  The prophets of Baal would pray to Baal and Elijah would pray to the LORD and "the god who answers by fire - he is God" (1Kin. 18.24).  It is one of my favorite passages in the bible.  Elijah, standing alone, facing the 450 prophets of Baal.  They went first, and made their sacrifice, prayed all day, danced and cut themselves, "but there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention" (1Kin. 18.29).

Elijah, by himself, repaired the altar to the LORD, he prepared the sacrifice, and then had them pour 12 large jars of water on the offering.  He prayed to the LORD and God answered with fire that "burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and licked up the water in the trench" (1Kin.18.38).  The people declared "The LORD - he is God."  The Elijah prayed for the drought to end and ran in front of king Ahab's chariot all the way back to Jezreel (1Kin.18.41-46). 

It is a wonderful story.  I would use this story when I gave a lesson on the power of one person standing up for God. I always stopped at the end of chapter of 18, but the story doesn't stop at the end of chapter 18.  In chapter 19 Elijah wakes up to find out that nothing has changed.  Jezebel sent a note to him saying "May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that on one of them" (1Kin.19.2).  Elijah ran.  One of the greatest prophets ran for his life.  It must have been a crushing blow to find out that nothing had changed; what more could anyone do to prove that the LORD is God?

Elijah went to Beersheba in the country of Judah, about 95 miles away, and then went a day's journey into the desert.  He prayed to God "I have had enough, LORD....Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors,"  then he lay down to die (1Kin.19.4-5).  God sent an angel to feed him, and told him to go to Horeb, the mountain of God.  He spent 40 days traveling the 130 miles there.  When he got there he went into a cave and God asked him "What are you doing here, Elijah?"  Elijah explained how everything had failed and he was the last prophet left.  God told him to go outside because He was about to pass by.  Then we have that passage that has always baffled me.  God was not in the powerful wind, or the earthquake, or the fire, he was in the gentle whisper.  What is God trying to tell Elijah and us?

Elijah, and we today, think of God as the All Powerful God.  He is the All Powerful God, but that is not how He has chosen to reveal Himself.  Elijah thought that the power shown on Mt. Carmel would turn the nation around, and when it failed Elijah felt that there was nothing left do to but the die.  By showing that He is not revealed in powerful displays of wind and fire he corrected Elijah's ideas about God.  God reveals Himself through "the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe" (1Cor.1.21).  God reveals Himself through His word.  That was true in Elijah's day and it is still true today.  God's power is shown by His word, not by miracles.  "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead" (Luke 16.31).

It is fun to daydream about preforming some great miracle that will change the nation, like what Elijah did, but that is not how God reveals Himself.  We have His message, and that is what will reveal God to this country.


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