1 Kings 19:11-12
“And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke 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 the sound of a low whisper.”
Remember the situation. Elijah flees to the wilderness of the south to escape the wrath of Jezebel. Elijah is despondent, so he curls up under a tree and asks the Lord to take his life. Instead, the angel of the Lord feeds him, and Elijah continues his journey into the wilderness until he reaches Mt Horeb (Sinai).
Once there, Elijah enters a cave and continues his self-centered pity party.
We now come to the Defining Moment in Elijah’s journey. This is where the Lord powerfully gets Elijah’s attention. The story draws many parallels between the experience of Moses at Sinai and the experience of Elijah at Sinai. The cave. The Lord “passing by.” The spectacular displays of power.
For Elijah it was wind, earthquake, and fire. But there is a very big difference between Moses’ experience and Elijah’s: this time the Lord is not in the wind, earthquake, and fire.
When God passed before Moses, He proclaimed his Name to him, and Moses bowed down and worshiped (Exodus 34:6-8). And God spoke. But when the Lord passes before Elijah, He says nothing.
The text makes it clear: Wind, earthquake, fire … then silence. It is unfortunate that verse 12 is translated “a low whisper.” The traditional translation is “a still, small voice.” But a better translation is “a sound of sheer silence.” This is how the Jewish historian Josephus translated it.
I don’t think God spoke to Elijah in “a still small voice.” Following the wind, the earthquake, and the fire there was a deep and deafening quiet, and it is the sound of silence that got Elijah’s attention.
This verse is not describing some secret, tender, quiet communication between God and Elijah. It’s describing the calm after the storm; the intense silence that came after the dramatic display of God’s glorious power. It was not God whispering to Elijah; it was a dramatic stillness that captured Elijah’s attention and caused him to come out of the cave.
Put yourself in Elijah’s place. An enemy is seeking to kill you, and you are caught in the grip of fear and discouragement. You are despondent and exhausted. You are hiding in a cave on Mt Sinai (probably the very cave that Moses had been in), and the Lord sends a tempest of wind, earthquake, and fire. You huddle in the cave, trembling, waiting, confused.
And then … quiet. An intense stillness. At that point, you would ask, “What is happening out there? What is God doing?”
Again, it was the sound of silence that drew Elijah out of the cave. Verse 13 says: “And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.”
It was only then that the Lord speaks. This was not a whisper from God; this was not a still, small voice. This was the voice of the Lord speaking clearly and directly and asking, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
More tomorrow …