Elijah and the Still Small Voice (Elijah Part 3)

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about Elijah. Elijah is a prophet of God, who God has sent to deal with the king of Israel who is named Ahab. You’ll remember that Ahab is a very bad king and he has led the people of Israel astray and into the worship of a Canaanite god called “Baal.”

God through Elijah brought drought to the land, hoping to bring the people back to him. This drought wasn’t just because God felt like punishing the people of Israel for being bad—but mainly to show his dominion over the false god Baal. For Baal was a god of weather, and if he was real and listening to his followers cries, surely Baal would be able to do something about the drought! By keeping the land in drought, God was proving to the Israelites that he is more powerful than Baal, because he is the one true God who is worthy of worship!

But the drought didn’t seem to be working—it didn’t seem to be turning people’s hearts back to God. So Elijah instead arranged a showdown between himself and the prophets of Baal. In this showdown, Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to build an altar and put a sacrifice on it and then ask Baal to light the altar on fire. Then Elijah would do the same with his God.

Inevitably, Baal did not respond and the altar of the prophets of Baal did not light on fire. We know this is because Baal isn’t real but the people back then would probably have been legitimately surprised by this outcome. Then when it was Elijah’s turn, Elijah didn’t just build an altar, he also soaked it in water so it would be even harder to light. But that didn’t stop God! When Elijah prayed to God, God basically incinerated the entire altar, burning it up instantly vaporizing everything. Proving before all the people of Israel that God is God and not Baal.

So for a moment the people of Israel turned back to God, for a moment they rejoiced and said that God was their God, and because of that Elijah brought back the rain.

But remember that Ahab was married and his queen’s name was Jezebel, and Baal was her god. So she’s going to be unhappy about what happened and really unhappy when she hears that as punishment for leading Israel astray, Elijah had all the prophets of Baal killed.

So let’s pick up where we left of. Please grab your Bibles and turn to 1 Kings 19:1-3.

19 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.

When Ahab gets back from the mountain showdown with the altars he immediately goes to tell Jezebel what happened. And Jezebel is not happy. Remember she is not an Israelite. She comes from another land, and Baal would have been the god she would’ve grown up worshiping. So to her this is probably all super ridiculous. Now I’m not saying she’s not bad—because she did have most of the prophets of God killed, as we studied last week. People back then were very intolerant when it came to religion. They didn’t believe in living and letting live. They basically tried to convert each other with death threats—which rarely works well. So Jezebel tried to convert all of Israel to her gods by basically getting rid of all of God’s prophets. And then Elijah turned around and had all her prophets killed.

So she’s furious, and in retribution for having her guys killed she wants to have Elijah killed off.

Since the queen wants his head, Elijah is scared for his life, so he flees, and it says he flees all the way to Beer-sheba which belongs to Judah. Remember at this time all of Israel is split into two kingdoms, the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern kingdom of Judah. So basically Elijah has fled the country, trying to escape Jezebel.

Alright let’s see what happens next. Please read 1 Kings 19:4-8.

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.

Elijah doesn’t stay in Beer-sheba, instead he goes into the wilderness. He walks through the wilderness for a day until he reaches a single tree—not an oasis, just a tree. He sits down at it and is like, “Yeah, this is probably a good time and place to die. I’ve done enough, and I’m no better than anyone before me, so yep, God, I’m ready to die now.”

But God has different plans for Elijah, it’s not his time to die yet, so he sends an angel who brings him a little cake—which if you’ll remember is going to be more like a pancake then a birthday cake—and the angel brings him some water. Elijah eats and drinks but then he gets a little stubborn. He lays back down again as if to say “Newp, I’m not ready to do anything more God. I just want to sit here and chill and die please.” But that’s still not God’s plan. So an angel provides for him a second time and then is basically like “Dude, you have to go now. God’s got plans for you! Get up!”

So in the end Elijah does get up, and those two meals provided to him by the angel is enough to let him travel for forty days and forty nights to get a mountain called Horeb.

“Forty days and forty nights” should be a familiar Biblical phrase to you guys. It’s used in the Bible a lot. When the world was flooded in the days of Noah it was for “forty days and forty nights.” When Moses went up to Mount Sinai to get the law from God he was up there for 40 days and 40 nights. When Jesus is tempted in the New testament its for 40 days and 40 nights. That’s not the only appearance of the number 40 in scripture, because there are a lot of stories where 40 years pass. What’s significant about 40? Were all these events exactly 100% 40 days and God arranged it that way because he likes the number 40? I don’t know. But I think we can say that 40 days is a long time—over a month. In the Bible it seems the number 40 is often used to show something is long and also used in cases where there is a judgement or a preparation. As if the writer is saying “It took a long time for this person to get out of the wilderness” or “this person prepared for this other event for a long time.”

Was Mount Horeb actually 40 days away from Elijah? I don’t know. But it seems like God felt it necessary for Elijah to take a long time to get there, so when Elijah finally arrived at this mountain he would be prepared for whatever is about to happen. Just like the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years. They needed a long time to wander, for an entire generation to die off and also for the new generation to be prepared for entering the promised land.

Okay someone please read 1 Kings 19:9-12.

At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

11 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

Elijah wanders for 40 days trying to get to Mount Horeb and he gets there and he finds a cave, so he’s like “This looks like a nice place to sleep.”

But once again, God is like “Rest? Psh, Elijah. I have plans for you! No time for lollygagging!” So God basically says to him, “Dude, what are you doing right now?”

And Elijah is like “Umm, I don’t know if you’ve noticed God, but I’ve been working very hard, doing everything you ask to bring the people back to you, but it’s all for nothing. Everyone is dead, people aren’t worshiping you, they want to kill me, and you know I’m just tired. Please. Can I take a nap?”

But God is like “Nope. Elijah. Go stands before the mountain because I’m about to pass by.”

Does anyone recall what other prophet had a similar experience? Where God passed by him? [Let them answer.]

Moses! Someone flip back to Exodus for me and read Exodus 33:18-23.

18 Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’;[a] and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” 21 And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; 23 then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

When we looked at this story in Exodus, we talked about how no one can see God’s face—because it’s too great and too magnificent that seeing it would basically kill you. So Moses could only see God’s back. In Exodus 34:29 it says “Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.”

God is so magnificent, so amazing, so incredible—even just talking to him made Moses face glow as if in reflection of God’s magnificence.

With Elijah we’re getting a call back to that text. Remember we’ve talked about that Moses and Elijah are considered two of the greatest prophets ever—and this section with Elijah is directly calling back to that section of Moses. Basically both of these men have direct and real encounters with God. God passed by in front of Moses and now he’s going to pass by in front of Elijah.

In the Moses text, it doesn’t give us a description of what happened when God passed by—just that God said it would happen and it did. Here we get a description.

The text says a great wind blows by and tears into the mountain and it’s so strong it breaks up rocks—but that wind? It’s not God. Then after the wind there is a great earthquake shifting the earth—but that earthquake? It’s not God. Then comes a fire! But that fire, it’s not God.

If these things aren’t God what are they? Well I think the best analogy is that they are the shockwave that comes before God! Just like how a sonic boom proceeds an airplane that has broken past the speed of sound, this is the shockwave of God coming down to the earth and coming before Elijah!

Wind! Earthquake! Fire! And then…silence. [pause for effect.]

The King James version translates it a little more poetically, “And, behold, the Lord pass by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and break in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.”

The sound of sheer silence. A still small voice. Such different translations and that’s because the Hebrew words here are a little confusing because silence is the absence of sound, yet this was a silence so profound it could be heard.

God wasn’t in the wind, he wasn’t in the earthquake, he wasn’t in the fire, but he is in the sound of silence.

I brought up the King James version because this phrase to describe God is used a lot in Christian circles, “a still small voice.” And we often use it as a call to slow down. We Americans are always so busy. We rush from event to event, never slowing down, never taking time. We fill our lives with things to keep us busy, and do we ever take time to just sit in the silence? To listen in the quiet for that still small voice that is God?

We often don’t. And maybe because of that sometimes we miss what God is trying to tell us. Which isn’t to say we can shout over God! If God wants to be heard, he will be heard—he can speak in burning bushes and in brilliant appearances just as much as he can speak in the still small voice. But it behooves us to slow down and try to meet God in the silence, to take a moment to breathe and see what he might be saying to us there.

Just like Elijah here.

Someone please read 1 Kings 19:13-18.

13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. 17 Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. 18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

When Elijah hears the silence he wraps his mantle, which is basically a cloak, around his face, because he doesn’t want to look upon the face of God, because he knows doing so will kill him. And then with his face safely wrapped up he goes to the mouth of the cave. And God talks to him. Once again God is like, “What are you doing Elijah?”

And Elijah gives the same answer he gave before. That he’s worked very hard for God—that no one else cares—and that he’s all alone and they’re trying to kill him. Basically Elijah has given up, he’s throwing in the towel.

God on the other hand, has not given up, but he does it seems recognize that maybe Elijah needs some help. So he tells him to anoint a guy named Hazael to king of the land of Aram and then anoint Jehu to be king over Israel—which if you’ll remember is the land Ahab is currently king of. So God is basically revoking Ahab’s kingship and telling Elijah that this new guy Jehu is going to be king. But most importantly from Elijah’s perspective, God has chosen a replacement for Elijah and his name happens to be Elisha—which is really confusing. Elijah and Elisha. But Elisha is be prophet after Elijah. And between the prophets and new kings, God says they will bring Israel back to God.

Someone read 1 Kings 19:19-21

19 So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. 20 He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah[a] said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” 21 He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.

Elijah is reinvigorated by this prospect of not being alone, so he immediately goes out to find this Elisha guy. And find him he does. Turns out Elisha is a wealthy farmer. How do we know that? Well when we find him he’s plowing his fields and it says he has 12 oxen, which is a large amount and very expensive. Why is this important? Well to follow Elijah and become a prophet, Elisha will have to choose to leave his life of ease and wealth behind.

So Elijah sees him and basically walks past him, but throws his cloak after him as he walks past. This is a very strange way to recruit someone and not done anywhere else in the Bible but it seems Elisha knows what it means because he immediately runs after Elijah. 

Basically he tells Elijah, “Hey give me a minute to tell my parents goodbye and then I’ll come with you.”

And Elijah basically responds with, “Umm, who are you? Why do you think I want you to follow me?” This is basically Elijah testing Elisha, giving the man a chance to back out or deny that he is being called to be a prophet of the Lord. But Elisha doesn’t take the bait.

Instead Elisha goes home, and slaughters his oxen and basically makes them into oxen steaks and gives out the food to all of his people—basically giving up his wealth and giving it out to everyone. And then he follows after Elijah.

And that where we’re going to stop for now but we’re not done, because Ahab and Jezebel are still out there, and they still want Elijah dead!