I remember going to parades when I was a kid. For a farm kid, it was a great source of entertainment (and candy!). I would sit on the curb on Main Street, taking it all in – the bands, horses, floats, clowns, and, of course, the Shriners on their little go-carts. My dad, standing behind me, could see up the street. He would keep us interested by informing us of what was about to come – what was about to pass by. Oh, the anticipation!
When we left off with Elijah the Tishbite’s story, found in 1 Kings 17-19, he had boldly challenged King Ahab and the 450 prophets of the false god, Baal, to a “duel.” For a prophet, speaking and demonstrating boldly to kings on God’s behalf was part of the job description. And Elijah did it well.
Elijah won the duel and subsequently won the people over. When all the people saw how God demonstrated his power through Elijah, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” The challenge to Baal’s prophets accomplished its intent – it turned the people back to their God, Yahweh. As a final act on God’s behalf, Elijah enticed the people to seize and slaughter the prophets of Baal. Then it rained as God, through Elijah, had promised. Now, the rest of the story…
As the much-needed rain fell, Ahab told his wife, Jezebel, about Elijah’s demonstration, as well as the slaying of the prophets of Baal. Jezebel, who had great influence in Ahab’s kingdom, sent a message to Elijah…
May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them [Baal’s prophets]. (1 Kings 19:2)
In fear, Elijah ran for his life. Deep into the wilderness, he hid under a bush and suggested that God end his life. But God was not through with Elijah. You see, God never asked Elijah to slaughter the 450 prophets. In his zeal for righteousness, Elijah committed an unrighteous (think unjust) act. God needed to readjust Elijah’s thinking and perspective. The zealous Elijah found himself in a state of crisis and weakness and was ripe for reformation. Carlo Caretto speaks to this in The God Who Comes: “It is so difficult to explain things to someone who is always right, who always wins, who is absolutely sure of himself” (p. 35).
Instead of ending Elijah’s life, God sent him on a three-month (minimum) journey that reformed and transformed his worldview. An angel was sent to provide sustenance for a 40-day journey through the wilderness to Mount Horeb, “the mount of God.” Arriving at Horeb, Elijah found lodging in a cave on the mountain. While in the cave, God came to Elijah…
And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” (1 Kings 19:9-11)
This is where the story gets really interesting. Elijah’s powerful God was about to pass by! Oh, the anticipation – the one true God was about to pass by! So Elijah waited. Suddenly there was a strong wind, strong enough to shatter rocks! Surely this was Elijah’s God passing by – the God that brought fire down on the alter in his duel with the Baal prophets. But God was not in the wind.
The wind was followed by an earthquake. Surely the God that provided food for a widow and raised her little boy from the dead was passing by in the earthquake. But God was not in the earthquake. The earthquake was followed by a fire. But God was not in the fire, either. Then God passed by in the form of a still small voice.
God appeared in a still small voice.
Elijah, wrapping his face in his coat, stood at the mouth of the cave. As before, God asked him what he was doing. Elijah’s response was the same as previous: “I’ve been zealous for you, God. The people have forsaken your covenant, killing the prophets and I’m the only one left!” God then directed Elijah to go back to work, trekking 40 days across the wilderness, back to where he had come from.
This is what I suggest we consider: Imagine that someone had traveled with Elijah on his 40-day journey across the wilderness to Mount Horeb. Imagine the person asking Elijah to talk about his God and his experiences with God. As someone who was always right, who always won, who was sure of himself, I suspect he might have had a plethora of stories about his God. Maybe 40 days’ worth of stories. His was a God of power and victory!
Now imagine if someone traveled with Elijah on the journey back across the wilderness, asking the same question. I can imagine Elijah putting his finger to his lips and responding with, “Shhh…not right now. I just need to walk in silence. I’m not sure I understand God as I did a few days ago.” Reformation.
Sometimes, when we feel like we have a pretty good understanding of who God is and what he’s like, he allows crisis so he can shake things up a bit. And that’s a good thing. Just ask Elijah.