God in the Quietness
Reflections on 1 Kings 19:1-18
On May 14, 1988, near Carrolton, Kentucky, a church youth group and their
sponsors were heading home from an outing. A drunken driver wandered onto the
wrong side of the interstate and struck the bus head-on. In seconds, a
ruptured fuel tank turned the church bus into a raging inferno. Twenty-four
children and three adults died. A survivor later thanked God for sparing her
life. I wondered exactly how God had spared her. And why hadn't he spared
A few years ago a well known religious figure thanked God for turning
aside a hurricane and saving his state. I wondered how the people felt who
lived farther up the coast where the hurricane eventually struck. Didn't God
care for them too?
I grew up in a farming area with diverse crops. Sometimes prayers were
interesting. The cotton and corn farmers needed rain to get the crop
started. The wheat and alfalfa farmers wanted sunshine to finish harvesting.
I wondered how God decided. Does God actually arrange when and where it
These are real life questions. Does God really work in our world? And how
does He? The Bible struggled with this issue as well. It lies at the heart
of the Elijah stories.
1. A very human hero (19:1-5)
1 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had
done, and how he had slain all the prophets with the sword. 2 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 as the life of one of them by this time
3 Then he was afraid, and he arose and
went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left
his servant there. 4 But he himself went a day's journey into the
wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree; and he asked that he
might die, saying, "It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am
no better than my fathers." 5 And he lay down and slept under a broom
tree; and behold, an angel touched him, and said to him, "Arise and eat."
As with most narratives in the Old Testament, the Elijah stories were
meant to be heard on two levels. We should not focus solely on the surface
of this story and hear only the personal inner turmoil of Elijah. If we
listen intently, on a deeper level, the story is about God and the working
out of His purposes in the history of His people.
We like heroes and heroines. We like people who do impossible things or
overcome great odds. The hero ideal views people in terms of fame,
influence, and accomplishments and calls us to follow them in success. In
one sense, we need heroes to inspire us. Yet, a hero model can lead to
superficial perceptions and unrealistic expectations of other people, and of
It is easy to view persons in the Bible as heroes and see them as somehow
removed from the normal problems of human existence. If we do, we risk
missing the message that addresses the real life questions all of us face
Elijah had just experienced a dramatic climax to his ministry in his
confrontation with the worshippers of Baal on Mount Carmel (ch.18).
That spectacular revelation of God in the fire on Mount Carmel would remain
the most sensational triumph of his career. In our view, he walked away from
Mount Carmel a hero.
But chapter nineteen is not very heroic. Jezebel would not give up so
easily. She vowed to kill this troublesome prophet of God. Elijah feared for
his life. So he ran. Here we see Elijah as a very ordinary human being. The
hero of Mount Carmel quickly became the despondent loner crying, "I've had
enough!" (v. 4). What happened to Elijah?
In many areas of life, great victories are often followed by times of
doubt, discouragement, and depression. Emotional stress, physical fatigue,
individual personalities, body chemistry, genetic makeup, and other factors
can sometimes combine to bring on the "blues" or even deeper depression.
Most often, these feelings are totally unrelated to our spiritual
commitment. They are simply the result of being human.
People committed to God are not immune to being human. Whether positive
or negative, emotions are part of that humanity. Our emotions are plugged
into the biological and chemical parts of our bodies and so are often
uncontrollable. That is why using our human emotions as a yardstick for our
spiritual condition is hazardous. Feeling good and being happy are not
always good measures of commitment to God. Likewise, feeling depressed,
discouraged, anxious, doubtful, feeling like "I've had enough," are not
necessarily signs of spiritual relapse.
2. God meets human need (19:6-8)
6 And he looked, and behold, there was
at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and
drank, and lay down again. 7 And the angel of the LORD came again a second
time, and touched him, and said, "Arise and eat, else the journey will be
too great for you." 8 And he arose, and ate and drank, and went in the
strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of
Elijah had given up. He left his country in the north and traveled south.
When he got to the border of Israel at Beersheba, he kept going and
abandoned God's land for the desert. The dismissal of his servant suggests
that he was giving up his prophetic vocation as well (vv.3-4). Finally,
Elijah went to sleep, often a symbol for impending death in ancient times.
The story tells us that Elijah's emotions have pushed him to the brink of
God does not give up on us nearly as easily as
we give up on Him! God came to Elijah in the desert in the midst
of his despair. While Elijah may have had enough of God, God had not yet had
enough of Elijah!
The word translated "angel" in the Hebrew simply means messenger
(v. 5). Often the bible uses messenger as a way to describe the
presence of God himself (Judges 2:1; Isaiah 63:9). Sometimes God's
messengers were human beings who served God's purposes (2 Chron 36:15).
The messenger here need not be the winged supernatural creature we
are used to seeing in medieval paintings. The messenger could just as easily
have been a faithful human servant of God whom He led to that forsaken place
to minister to Elijah. Miracles are not measured by how fantastic and
unexplainable and supernatural they are. Sometimes the miracle is
simply God meeting us at a moment of need. We don't know the exact method
God used. But clearly, in His own way, God ministered to the needs of His
despondent prophet. I have never encountered a winged angel. But more than
once, in times of discouragement and need, I have met a messenger of God who
The two feedings serve to underscore the depth of Elijah's depression.
Later God questioned him twice (vv. 9, 13) and Elijah responded with the
same negative answer both times (10, 14). In his state of emotional
distress, Elijah was not very responsive to God. But God was patient with
Elijah. God did what was necessary to bring him to a place where he could
God is not the kind of God who beats us into submission. He does not
coerce our response to him or force our loyalty. That is our decision. But
he will work to bring us to a position where we can respond to
him. Sometimes He may work in unusual or unexpected ways. Sometimes He may
work through very ordinary people in everyday circumstances. But He will
work, calling us to response.
As Elijah journeyed toward Horeb he still had not fully recovered from
his emotional valley. But he was moving. Sometimes that is enough. We cannot
always expect a "quick fix" to our discouragements. The healing may be slow.
Sometimes beginning the process is enough.
3. God's silent voice (19:9-18)
9 And there he came to a cave, and
lodged there; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to
him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" 10 He said, "I have been very
jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the people of Israel have
forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thy altars, and slain thy prophets with
the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it
11 And he said, "Go forth, and stand
upon the mount before the LORD." And behold, the LORD passed by, and a
great and strong wind rent 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; 12 and after the
earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a
still small voice.
13 And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped
his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, "What are you doing here,
Elijah?" 14 He said, "I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of
hosts; for the people of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down
thy altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am
left; and they seek my life, to take it away."
15 And the LORD said to him, "Go, return
on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, you shall
anoint Hazael to be king over Syria; 16 and Jehu the son of Nimshi you
shall anoint to be king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of
Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. 17 And him who
escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay; and him who escapes from
the sword of Jehu shall Eli'sha slay. 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."
Here is the heart of the story. In these verses, the story moves beyond
Elijah and his personal needs to that deeper level that addresses the
question of how God works in our world. God was still willing to work with
Elijah. God's persistent questions gently pushed Elijah toward a faithful
response. Before Elijah responded, though, he learned something crucial
Mount Horeb, where Elijah found himself after his long journey through
the desert, was the very mountain where Moses had encountered God in the
fire of a burning bush (Exodus 3:1f). It was at that mountain, also called
Mount Sinai, that God had given the law to Moses amid fire, smoke, and
thunder (Exodus 19:16f).
The very name Horeb or Sinai evoked images of a powerful and awesome God
who strode boldly into history overthrowing kingdoms and working fantastic
miracles before the people's eyes. Elijah was on that very mountain of God
where it all started. We would expect a new overwhelming revelation to
Elijah that would convince him of God's power. But he did not find God in
the wind, the earthquake, or the fire. Elijah did not even come out of his
cave to witness those things. It was an unseen, soft sound that drew Elijah
to a point where he could finally respond to God.
We are not told what the gentle sound was. It's not important. The
contrast is clear. God is not always in the loud and showy events of
history. God had brought fire from the sky on Mount Carmel. Yet, that is not
the only way God works in our world. Sometimes He is heard unexpectedly in
the soft and subtle sounds of life, as we are gently drawn to listen. We
must be willing to listen, intently.
Many today would have us hear God only in the fantastic and sensational
actions of God. They ask us to demand miracles from God daily, even hourly.
Their measure of God at work in the world is the number and magnitude of
God has acted, continues to act, and will act in marvelous ways in our
world. Sometimes He works in wonderful miracles of healing or deliverance.
But not always. Not even usually. Most of us will never see the fire fall
like it did on Mount Carmel. If we only look for God in those things, we may
miss Him in the quiet, ordinary, unseen, gentle sounds in our life. Maybe
that's why so many missed the birth of a carpenter's son in a cow stall.
God called Elijah back to involvement with the nitty-gritty things of
life. He was still God's prophet. He would anoint kings and stir up
rebellion against Ahab and Jezebel. God was at work in the world. Much of it
was done through the efforts of a restored Elijah and his apprentice Elisha.
God is at work in unseen ways in our world, not just in the spectacular.
Where we may see only one prophet who does spectacular feats, God has seven
thousand servants who quietly do his work in the world (v. 18). How does God
work in our world? This story does not have all the answers. It does have
one. God works through ordinary men and women who serve him in the
nitty-gritty areas of life. God often speaks silently through people who not
long before were ready to give up. There are more miracles wrought where our
humanity meets God's grace than this world dreams of!
One summer we moved with two small children to Kansas City to
attend seminary. We were excited about a new opportunity to serve God. But
it did not go well. Nothing seemed to work right. A whole series of events
totally beyond our control wrought havoc with our carefully made plans. What
little money we had saved quickly disappeared.
We tried everything we knew, but things got worse. Bills went unpaid and
food ran low. We prayed. And we became discouraged. The day finally came
when we had absolutely no food in the house, not a single scrap of anything.
It was Sunday. How do you come home from church and tell your kids there is
nothing to eat?
As Linda and I walked to the car after church, we discussed what we would
do when we got home. We didn't have to decide. The entire back seat of the
car was filled with groceries. We thanked God for his providential care.
Did God put those groceries in the back seat? No. Caring, loving people
from our Church did. Was it a miracle? Oh, yes! Not one of those
fireworks kind of miracles. Just God at work through ordinary people who had
responded to Him. Does God work in our world? As often as people care for
O Lord, thank you for understanding me, for
letting me be human, for not expecting me always to play the hero. Thank
you for not letting me wander too far into the desert of despair. I have
eaten your food in the desert. And I know that you are God!
Questions for Discussion
1. What is the danger in using a certain level of emotion as the
measure of a successful Christian life? of a successful church
2. What is a miracle? How do we recognize a miracle? How would the
cultural situation of the ancient world influence how the Bible describes
miracles? To what extent does our modern scientific world view influence
how we think about miracles?
3. Do true Christians ever become depressed? If they do, is it a sign
of unbelief or lack of faith? If they don't, is it a mark of
righteousness or spiritual maturity? Why or why not?
4. Why does God not always bring physical or emotional healing all at
once, if at all?
5. Could the skill of a surgeon used to save the life of an accident
victim be called a miracle?
6. How can we be messengers of God in our world?