Want God’s still small voice? Maybe not.
This Sunday at Emmaus we’ll wrap up our sermon series God Sightings as we consider Isaiah’s vision of God in the book of Isaiah chapter 6. Of course, there are many God appearances in the Old Testament that we were not able to cover. So I thought I’d take this blog post and write a few words about one of the most famous, and misunderstood, theophanies in the Old Testament: Elijah and the “still small voice” of God.
Elijah’s encounter with God comes in the book of 1 Kings chapter 19. You can read it here. Now, even if hearing a “still small voice” from God was a good thing for Elijah (I think it was an insult to him), the encounter is not all positive for the prophet.
I write this with some caution since Elijah is one of the greatest prophets of Israel (and since not all read the narrative quite this way), but in 1 Kings 19 Elijah is having a bit of a pity party. Elijah thinks that he is the only true follower of Yahweh left. He feels overwhelmed and under supported. He brashly proclaims that he is the only person who cares about serving the One True God of Israel. Twice he says to God, “I am the only one left!” He tells God, “I’ve had enough, Lord!” He even prays that he might die! Elijah has had enough of serving God as a prophet, and he wants out. Well, Elijah gets his wish, but not before some humble pie.
You may have noticed the important location at which this scene takes place. This is Mount Sinai, the very place where Moses had multiple encounters with Yahweh. It is where Moses saw the burning bush. It is where Moses received the Torah of God. This is the very place where God revealed himself to Moses, especially during times when the people of Israel had turned their backs on their God. If there is any place where God shows up in thunderstorms, earthquakes, firestorms, it is Mount Sinai! And yet, this is not how Elijah hears from God. Elijah gets a puny whisper.
Then there’s what the little voice says. It isn’t exactly encouraging. God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here?” In fact, God asks this question twice! I wonder, does this question press Elijah to consider the possibility that he didn’t belong there?
Furthermore, the Lord reveals to Elijah that, indeed, there are 7,000 people who have never bowed to a false god. It turns out that Elijah wasn’t the only Yahweh follower left. It turns out that Elijah’s self pity had no grounding.
But the real kicker in the story is when God says, “(Go!) and anoint Elisha… to replace you as my prophet.” I wonder, was Elijah serious when he asked to be done being the Lord’s prophet? Or was Elijah looking to be reaffirmed? It’s hard to say for sure. Either way, the result is that God tells Elijah that it’s time to retire. Careful what you wish for.
This Sunday, we will consider one of the most bizarre and incredible God sightings in the entire bible: Isaiah’s vision of the Seraphim and of Yahweh in the Temple. It is a chilling and inspiring scene.
I hope to see you at Emmaus on Sunday! Enjoy the day, and may you feel God’s presence.
Grace and peace,