“Then the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ … Then He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the Lord’s presence.’ At that moment, the Lord passed by…but the Lord was not in the wind…the Lord was not in the earthquake…the Lord was not in the fire… And after the fire there was a voice, a soft whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Suddenly, a voice came to him and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ ‘ … Then the Lord said to him, ‘Go and return by the way you came to the Wilderness of Damascus.'” (1 Kings 19:9-15, HCSB).
I have unpacked the verses in this passage to illustrate a lesson that God was trying to teach the prophet Elijah. But first a little background information is needed.
Elijah had just confronted the 450 prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. He had challenged them to build an altar and sacrifice a bull and call on their god to consume the sacrifice with fire.
And Elijah did the same. But Elijah asked God, Yahweh, to consume the sacrifice he had made.
Despite their raving–their loud shouts, wild dancing, and cutting themselves–nothing happened to the sacrifice of the prophets of Baal. But God sent fire to consume the sacrifice Elijah had made plus all the water that Elijah had poured over the sacrifice.
Elijah ordered the Israelites that witnessed the showdown to seize the prophets of Baal and they were all put to death.
Then Elijah prayed and a great rainstorm came to end the drought that had plagued Israel for three years. When the downpour started, Elijah sent King Ahab down the mountain in his chariot and Elijah ran down on foot. The power of God was on Elijah so much that he overtook and ran ahead of Ahab’s horse-driven chariot!
King Ahab told his wife, Jezebel, about everything that Elijah had done. She sent a messenger to Elijah threatening his life. But, Elijah was overcome with fear and fled to Beer-sheba in southern Judah about 100 miles away.
From Beer-sheba he went a day’s journey into the wilderness to find refuge. While in the wilderness an angel from God touched him and prepared a meal for him. On the energy from that meal and the angel’s touch, Elijah walked 40 days and 40 nights to Mt. Horeb (Sinai).
Now we find Elijah alone and hiding from Jezebel in a cave on Mt. Horeb and trying to make sense of everything that has happened when God finally speaks to him.
It’s clear from his conversation with God that Elijah thinks God has abandoned him in spite of his zeal for accomplishing God’s purposes and all the miracles he has performed by the power of God.
What seems so unusual about Elijah’s behavior is that he called fire and rain down from heaven, and yet, he was intimidated by Jezebel’s threats!
But Elijah’s response to God’s question, “What are you doing here?” indicates that Elijah’s overreaction to Jezebel’s threats is really steeped in an overwhelming disappointment that all his efforts on Mt. Carmel didn’t produce revival among the Israelites.
Nothing changed with the Israelites despite all Elijah’s God-given efforts!
So, it seems that God wanted to teach Elijah an important lesson, one that all of us who endeavor to serve, to pray, to minister in God’s name would do well to remember: God Whispers…
When Elijah sought refuge in the cave on Mt. Horeb, the word of God came to him and asked what he was doing there. It’s a reasonable question since God had been powerfully at work through Elijah hundreds of miles to the north in the middle of Israel.
Elijah replied by recounting all his accomplishments for God and concluding that he was the only person in all Israel who was faithful and obedient to God.
Then God passed by Elijah (or the cave Elijah was in). While God was passing by the elements of the earth were shaken and there was a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire. Then there was a voice like a soft whisper. But, God Almighty was not in the wind, earthquake, or fire but in the whisper!
Fortunately, Elijah recognized the voice of God and came out to the entrance of the cave. And God again asked Elijah the same question again, “What are you doing here?”
Elijah responded by repeating the same excuse for hiding in a cave hundreds of miles away from where God was work.
So God told Elijah to return to Israel and anoint another man, Elisha, as the prophet who would be his replacement.
And, oh, by the way, God told Elijah He was about to rain down His judgment and purge Israel of its idolatrous ways by eliminating its evil leaders. When God was finished, there would still be seven thousand people left in Israel who had been faithful to God!
So much for being God’s only faithful follower!
The mighty miracles and demonstration of God’s power were not the end result. The miracles were not the revival. The display of God’s power did not restore Israel to faithfulness. In fact, these were all signs of God’s impending judgment on Israel.
But we want God to come thundering in and make people change!
Yet, God isn’t in the tornado or earthquake or fire. God is calling with a still, small voice gently entreating people to come to Him.
Sure, it may take a demonstration of God’s power to get people’s attention. But no matter what we think God should do or how He should do it, the miracle God wants to perform is to redeem, restore, transform the human heart and bring people into fellowship with Him.
“The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8, HCSB).