Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Tiny Whispering Sound: Elijah’s Call

I Kings 19:11 (NAB)
Then the LORD said, "Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will be passing by." A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD--but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake--but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
12
After the earthquake there was fire--but the LORD was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.


I have been thinking about this particular scripture for two days, while waiting until I had ample time to turn on my computer and write about it. During that time, two people wrote to me about this same passage! That is one way in which God confirms a step we should take: if we don’t hear Him the first time, or are unsure how to interpret a sign, or delay, or even refuse, he repeats like a broken record (yes, I still remember those) until we get it.

I think people today are so tired of being constantly bombarded by information, bad news, personal calamities, acts of nature and acts of war, that the notion of hearing God in the silence is a real comforting one. My days can sometimes feel like a hurricane and I crave the silence of the evening, or naptime while the older kids are in school. The telephone and television often seem like intruders. Four children make enough noise without piling more on top of it. Try listening to three of them practice the piano every day!

Now these two verses alone speak volumes (no pun intended), but the context makes them even more fascinating. Here is the entire chapter from which they come, along with some of my thoughts on how one man’s call pertains to us women today.

1 Kings
Chapter 19 (NAB)
1
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done--that he had put all the prophets to the sword.
2
Jezebel then sent a messenger to Elijah and said, "May the gods do thus and so to me if by this time tomorrow I have not done with your life what was done to each of them."
3
Elijah was afraid and fled for his life, going to Beer-sheba of Judah. He left his servant there
4
and went a day's journey into the desert, until he came to a broom tree and sat beneath it. He prayed for death: "This is enough, O LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers."


Elijah had been doing some important work for the Lord and fled to the desert in fear for his life. But then his fear left him, and he began to feel depressed and worthless. How often do women feel so oppressed by their daily responsibilities, which do not go away when dealing with death, illness, and calamity? They may feel like running away. Where to? A desert would probably be attractive at such a time. In the desert you could truly get away from it all.

5
He lay down and fell asleep under the broom tree, but then an angel touched him and ordered him to get up and eat.
6
He looked and there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water. After he ate and drank, he lay down again,
7
but the angel of the LORD came back a second time, touched him, and ordered, "Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!"
8
He got up, ate and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.


He fell asleep and was wakened and ordered by an angel to eat for the strength he needed for his journey. He did not feel like eating. This happens to women all the time. Probably a full third of women fail to eat breakfast. They need this to sustain themselves for the work they will do that day. If they do not take the time to eat, they probably also do not take the time to pray or read the Word of God. How reasonable then that so many women should be feeling tired all the time – not taking the physical or spiritual food they need for their important work of nurturing others. Depression, too, hits the majority of women at least once during the course of their lives. When we feel like doing nothing but sleep, we are ordered to get up, eat, and take up our journey. Here again is another mention of forty days and nights, repeated throughout the Bible as a time for fasting and prayer.

9
There he came to a cave, where he took shelter. But the word of the LORD came to him, "Why are you here, Elijah?"
10
He answered: "I have been most zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts, but the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to the sword. I alone am left, and they seek to take my life."


We all feel alone against the world from time to time. We get so sick of fighting in a sinful world. We are fighting to keep our children pure and innocent in the culture that would corrupt them. The public schools have torn down God’s altars. The media puts up false gods for our children to emulate and idolize. Some of us just remove the television, radio, and internet entirely and replace them with good literature. But we cannot keep them away from the pop culture everywhere they go. If our families and friends do not support our effort we really feel that we have nowhere to turn. Then, when we really need it, if we look for God’s word to help us through it, it comes.

Here comes my favorite part…

11
Then the LORD said, "Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will be passing by." A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD--but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake--but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
12
After the earthquake there was fire--but the LORD was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.


This is a stunning display of contrasts. The funny thing is that all the acts of nature were actually created by God – so of course He was in them – but the voice Elijah was looking for was not. All of the storms in our lives are permitted by God, while we ask continually, “Why? Where are you?” But if all was calm, would we hear the particular whispering that is the Lord speaking to us? Would we even be listening for it?

13
When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave. A voice said to him, "Elijah, why are you here?"
14
He replied, "I have been most zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. But the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to the sword. I alone am left, and they seek to take my life."


Of course, the Lord knew why Elijah was there, but He needed him to voice his concerns aloud. Sometimes our concerns are so pressing that it seems superfluous to express them in prayer. But God needs us to ask so He can answer.

15
"Go, take the road back to the desert near Damascus," the LORD said to him. "When you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king of Aram.
16
Then you shall anoint Jehu, son of Nimshi, as king of Israel, and Elisha, son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah, as prophet to succeed you.
17
If anyone escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill him. If he escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill him.
18
Yet I will leave seven thousand men in Israel--all those who have not knelt to Baal or kissed him."
19
Elijah set out, and came upon Elisha, son of Shaphat, as he was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen; he was following the twelfth. Elijah went over to him and threw his cloak over him.
20
Elisha left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, "Please, let me kiss my father and mother good-bye, and I will follow you." "Go back!" Elijah answered. "Have I done anything to you?"
21
Elisha left him and, taking the yoke of oxen, slaughtered them; he used the plowing equipment for fuel to boil their flesh, and gave it to his people to eat. Then he left and followed Elijah as his attendant.


Here are multiple calls in one. God calls Elijah to annoint several people, including Elisha, for God’s calling . All had to say “yes” in order for the work to be done. Why was it necessary for Elisha to deliver these messages? Why could not God speak individually to each of them? Surely God was not lazy, or trying to save time. Maybe God was sending Elijah on this mission just to prove to him that he was not alone; there were holy men to help in serving the Lord. Whatever his reasons, we have to be aware that sometimes God is going to speak to us through other people.

In my next post I will list ways in which we can hear that still small voice amidst the constant noise of small children and our busy lives.

Painting by BOUTS, Dieric the Elder
”Prophet Elijah in the Desert”
1464-68

1 comment:

Loren Christie said...

Good food for thought, and thorough reflection on the scripture. I have something to say about this too and I'll work on it tomorrow... Thanks for the inspiration!