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Perhaps I was just inattentive. Yes, that’s what I was, because I have thought for a very long time that the account of Elijah and His encounter with the Lord at the cave on Mount Horeb in 1 Kings 19 was about hearing God’s “still, small voice.”

I no longer think that the Holy Spirit inspired the author of this story to teach God’s people that His voice is not in the earthquake, wind, or fire. It’s about understanding that God sometimes works very powerfully in quiet, not spectacular, ways.

Please allow me to explain.

This is the chronology of events 1 Kings 19, after Elijah had run away from Jezebel and ended up on Horeb, the mount of God.

The Lord asked, “What are you doing here?”

Elijah responded, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” (vs. 10).1

The Lord told him, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.”

The Lord passed by, and a strong wind tore the mountains and broke the rocks. But the Lord “was not in the wind.”

Then there was an earthquake, but the Lord “was not in the earthquake.”

Then there was a fire, but the Lord “was not in the fire.”

Please note that we are not told anything about the Lord speaking in those events. These verses tell us that He was not “in” them.

Then, “And after the fire the sound of a low whisper” (vs. 12b).

Notice that it doesn’t say the Lord spoke to Elijah in a whisper. It simply says, “And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.”

This makes sense because of what happened next.

Elijah then went and stood at the entrance of the cave.

The Lord asks him the same question. “What are you doing here?”

If God had spoken earlier with a whisper, Elijah hadn’t gotten the message, because he responded with exactly the same words he had before. “He said, ‘I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away’” (vs. 14).

The Lord then told him to:

Anoint Hazael to be king over Syria.

Anoint Jehu king over Israel

Anoint Elisha to be prophet in your place (vs. 16).

Elijah went and anointed Elisha (vss. 19-21); however, he didn’t do the other two things. Elisha did.

In 2 Kings 8, Ben-Hadad sent Hazael to Elisha to find out if he, Ben-Hadad, would recover from his sickness. Elisha told Hazael that Ben-Hadad would recover, but then, weeping, informed Hazael that he would be king of Syria. (Elisha wept because Hazael would set on fire Israel’s fortresses, kill their young men with the sword, dash in pieces their little ones, and rip open their pregnant women (2 Kings 8:12)).

The history of Israel changed with two sentences from a prophet. No fire. No wind. No earthquake.

In 2 Kings 9, Elisha sent one of the sons of the prophets to anoint Jehu king over Israel, which he did. He prophesied over him as well. Then he fled, as he was instructed.

The history of Judah changed with four sentences from a messenger from Elisha and a bottle of oil. No fire. No wind. No earthquake.

The account of Elijah in the cave has nothing to do with God’s people learning how to hear His “still, small voice” as He gives us truth or direction. It has to do with what the Lord is “in.” This passage doesn’t tell us that God doesn’t speak or act in the wind, the earthquake, or fire, because the Bible clearly indicates that He does; but that He was not going to accomplish His will in strong, noticeable, spectacular ways in the events to come. Elijah may have thought the Lord would or should act in this way, because He had just done so. He had consumed the sacrifice, the water, and the rocks with fire when Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal. In addition, He had just ended the three-year drought quite suddenly: “And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain” (1 Kings 18:45). The Lord was notifying Elijah that He was going to perform His will in a way that was quite different from what He had just done. He was going to act quietly.

And that’s just what He did.

Sometimes the Lord accomplishes His will with fire.

Sometimes it is with a sentence and a bottle of anointing oil.

1All scriptures are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Photo courtesy Rogelio Bernal Andreo (DeepSkyColors.com)

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