I’ve been reading Joyce Meyer’s “Battlefield of the Mind” devotional with a church group. On day 39, Joyce talks about a “still, small voice” and references 1 Kings 19:11-12.
The prophet Elijah had just stood victoriously against 450 prophets of Baal. Elijah had been told by God to go to Ahab to end the severe three year drought. They meet on Mount Carmel, where Ahab has called together his prophets in the name of Baal. Ahab and his wife Jezebel have been trying to eradicate the name and influence of God in the land, killing the prophets of the Lord and replacing them with their pagan prophets. And now Ahab is face-to-face with one of God’s men. Israel isn’t sure who to stand with, since the king and his wife are known to be vicious killers. How can Elijah break through their fear and give pause to the king’s influence? He challenges his 450 prophets and their god against his God. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah challenges that two bulls be offered as a sacrifice – one to Baal and one to God – on a pyre without fire. The more powerful God would be the one who called down fire from heaven upon the offering (1 Kings 18:24).
The prophets of Baal waited, danced, called loudly, and even cut themselves, all to no avail. There was no answer, and there was no fire. Their offering stayed untouched.
Elijah steps up to his altar. He begins by repairing it and then honoring his heritage by laying out twelve stones. He then has Israel pour water on and around the altar three times. Yes, he had them drench the altar and the offering in water, thus making it virtually inflammable. I would call this radical faith, an extreme and unwavering confidence that God was going to show Himself mighty.
And what happens? He prays, asking God to show Himself “that this people may know that You are the Lord God” (1 Kings 18:37). And God shows up. Big time. According to 1 Kings 18:38, “Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench.”
Israel immediately repents for their failed loyalty and the prophets of Baal immediately try to flee, without success. And then just as God had promised, the rains come upon the land and end the drought.
Great story, right? Amazing truths, right? You would think these would sustain Elijah and embolden him with absolute confidence in God.
But just a couple of verses later, Elijah is fleeing in terror. When Queen Jezebel tells him she will kill him in 1 Kings 19:2, he runs. He doesn’t stop and pray. He doesn’t consider the great miracle God has just done. He was seized by fear, so “he arose and ran for his life” (1 Kings 19:3) into the wilderness and winds up in a cave on Mount Horeb. Alone and scared, this man who reinvigorated Israel’s faith has nothing left of his own and prays to die. After being cared for by an angel, he is sent to the mountain of God, Horeb, and stays in a cave.
Then God shows up and asks him why he’s hanging out in the cave. Elijah’s responds by complaining – “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life” (1 Kings 19:10).
He quickly forgets several truths.
- He had met and talked with Obadiah, a servant of King Ahab, who had hidden 100 prophets from Jezebel’s wrath (1 Kings 18:4,13). So he isn’t alone in standing for God. But the wilderness and the cave have effected his perspective so he feels alone.
- He has also just seen the nation of Israel repent for their heathen ways (1 Kings 18:39). They may have turned from God and been swayed by Queen Jezebel, but Elijah had showed them that God was the one true God. And Israel was no longer the nation that would continue to reject God.
- He has also just seen God move mightily on Israel’s behalf because of Elijah’s faith. He believed God was mighty enough to protect him from 450 prophets of Baal and a murderous king, but apparently God wasn’t big enough to protect him from Queen Jezebel. He lost confidence in God because of one woman, who caused his faith to turn quickly into fear (1 Kings 19:3). God had not changed, and God would protect him from Jezebel – but Elijah lost confidence in both himself and his God.
So God has to set him straight. God draws him out of the cave – and away from his isolation, his self-pity, his condemnation, his ungodly focus – and calls him to “stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord” (1 Kings 19:11). And just as God had done a mighty and spectacular work before the prophets of Baal, I believe Elijah was expecting God to produce a great and grand gesture here. Maybe another round of fire.
So God gives him wind, an earthquake, and fire. But God wasn’t in any of these grand displays. This wasn’t the time for pompousness and showiness. This wasn’t the moment for fireworks and grand gestures.
Instead, God drew Elijah close to Him with “a still small voice [a gentle whisper]” (1 Kings 19:12). And in that quiet whisper, I believe Elijah realized some hard truths that caused him to repent. It was that still small voice set him back on the righteous path.
So what can we learn from Elijah? God won’t always show up in the big and dramatic way you expect. If you are expecting a lot of noise and fanfare, you will probably miss God. The weary prophet Elijah expected God to be just as dramatic in the cave as He had been with the prophets of Baal. But God made a point that all the noise and show of the winds, earthquake, and fire were just that – noise and show. There was no substance there, and there was nothing of sustaining growth or eternal value in them. They were temporary disturbances that bring pain, chaos, fear, and trials with them.
There is no redeeming value in the noise and show, and God knows that. Noise and show were not what Elijah needed, and that wasn’t how God was going to get through to Him to put him back on the right path.
Elijah needed reassurance, comfort, healing, strength, and courage. And God wanted to give it to him, but not in the flashy way he wanted and expected. God came to down to Elijah’s deepest and darkest places and spoke to Him in an intimate “still small voice” to meet Elijah where he needed Him most. To bring faith back to his fearful and self-indulgent heart. To speak life back into the prophet’s heart. But first God had to stop his raging thoughts and adjust his grand expectations.
And Elijah recognizes God in the still small voice and wraps himself in the gentle whisper. He is ready to listen to God and continue to work for Him as a prophet. And when tells him to go back and anoint both the next king of Israel and his successor prophet, Elijah goes. He doesn’t hesitate. He doesn’t question. He doesn’t fear. He goes – with the reassurance that God knows him, God loves him, God forgives him, and God has a plan for him. And he has the knowledge that there are 7000 believers standing strong in Israel (1 Kings 19:18) to defend their heritage of faith and the faithfulness of their God.
God is doing the same thing with us. God is waiting for us to stop and be quiet enough to hear Him. “God likes to speak in the still, small voice – the voice that not everyone will hear – the voice that only the committed will listen for” (“Battlefield” 135). He’s calling out to you, asking you “What are you doing here, [insert your name here]?” (1 Kings 9b,13b) when you find yourself lost, confused, hopeless, desperate, fearful, downtrodden, forgotten, abandoned, lonely, and careless. His call is with the soft, non-demanding voice of hope and faith that asks you to pull back/stop, be quiet, listen, pray, and wait.
He’s asking you to look for Him in whatever your circumstance may be. To hope in His goodness, to remember His faithfulness, and to trust in His great purpose for your life. And He won’t come to you with a roar and a great cavalcade to ask you. He’ll come to you just as He came to Elijah – with a gentle whisper – and ask you to trust Him completely.
Will you stop and listen to Him?
Marie Fremin, 10/15 and 10/17/15