1 Kings 19:9-18
Common English Bible (CEB)
9 There he went into a cave and spent the night.
The Lord’s word came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah?”
10 Elijah replied, “I’ve been very passionate for the Lord God of heavenly forces because the Israelites have abandoned your covenant. They have torn down your altars, and they have murdered your prophets with the sword. I’m the only one left, and now they want to take my life too!”
11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand at the mountain before the Lord. The Lord is passing by.” A very strong wind tore through the mountains and broke apart the stones before the Lord. But the Lord wasn’t in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake. But the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake, there was a fire. But the Lord wasn’t in the fire. After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet.13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his coat. He went out and stood at the cave’s entrance. A voice came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah?”
14 He said, “I’ve been very passionate for the Lord God of heavenly forces because the Israelites have abandoned your covenant. They have torn down your altars, and they have murdered your prophets with the sword. I’m the only one left, and now they want to take my life too.”
15 The Lord said to him, “Go back through the desert to Damascus and anoint Hazael as king of Aram. 16 Also anoint Jehu, Nimshi’s son, as king of Israel; and anoint Elisha from Abel-meholah, Shaphat’s son, to succeed you as prophet. 17 Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill. Whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill.18 But I have preserved those who remain in Israel, totaling seven thousand—all those whose knees haven’t bowed down to Baal and whose mouths haven’t kissed him.”
Being quiet doesn’t really mesh well with being a prophet.
Prophets are not necessarily people that can “predict the future” as we are want to describe them; rather, are defined by their ability to speak on behalf of God, and with that comes the inability to be quiet when it might behoove them to do so. It’s the prophet’s job to speak truth to power, to be fearless in the face adversity, and to do whatever it takes to let people know the words God has for them. The problem with that is more often than not, what God has to say to us is rarely what we want to hear, and sometimes that goes for prophets as well.
Elijah was a prophet with a big mouth—which means he was a really good prophet. It also means that he was a powder keg with a short fuse. Before this passage he straight up challenged the worshippers of Baal. Fairly straight up behavior, but with a twist. See, Baal worship was the religion of the queen of Israel, Jezebel, wife of King Ahab. In challenging the worshippers of Baal, Elijah was also challenging her, and her right to rule Israel. The challenge was simply this: I have a pile of wood. You have a pile of wood. You pray to your little Baal god, I’ll pray to Yahweh. Whoever’s fire lights, wins. READY GO.
Well, for those who don’t know, I encourage you to read the whole story. It’s actually really funny, when you read it. However, it ends up as you expect: the Baal worshippers lose, and Elijah wins. Hooray Yahweh! However, right after that, Elijah took that as license to…well, enact justice, as he saw it. Long story short, he killed them all. And I mean that. He. Killed. Them. All. All of the prophets of Baal, killed by Elijah. Needless to say, that didn’t sit well with the queen, considering he systematically murdered all of the heads of her religion. So she ordered him to be captured and executed, naturally. All of this winds up with Elijah on the run, sitting in a cave, and then the scripture I just read happens—all because Elijah was doing his job as a prophet of Yahweh.
When you think of a prophet, rarely do you think about the bloodier aspects of it. Prophets are supposed to be holy! They’re the chosen speakers for God in a world that has forgotten how to listen to God, so they need to be loud. And yet, there are consequences to being loud and speaking for God, which is why this passage is a necessary reminder of why noise, while sometimes needed, is not always where God dwells. I’m fairly certain that Elijah was reminded of this in this story. Sometimes, we just need to listen to the quiet, instead of the noise. Elijah’s life had been one of noise—what he needed was to find God in the quiet.
Elijah, in the cave, is confronted by God. God takes an active role in the story of Elijah. Up until now, it’s mostly been Elijah’s action, but now the focus turns to God taking action in Elijah’s life. God then asks Elijah, “Why are you here?” It’s a fairly existential question isn’t it? I get the feeling that God asks that because he wants Elijah to ask that of himself. However, Elijah doesn’t get it and proceeds to answer by saying “I believe in you, nobody else does, and now they all want to kill me!” Note again: Elijah is focusing not on the mission of God, but on his own life, his own choices, his own skin. Me, me, me. Probably somewhat disappointed, God tells him to wait on the mountain, because he’s going to come by.
From there we have this Michael Bay-esque disaster sequence of earthquakes, wildfires, and tornadoes. All is chaos, noise, and mayhem, and then… the quiet. You ever hear that kind of quiet that makes a sound? Like it’s so incredibly quiet that it almost feels physical, like you could touch it? That’s what happens here. And in the quiet, Elijah knew God was there.
When we look for God, where is it that we are naturally drawn to? Usually someplace in nature, right? A beautiful forest, a slowly winding river, a grand and infinite ocean, a majestic mountain landscape? Someplace brimming with life and vigor, correct? Additionally, it’s usually someplace else, too. It’s rarely in our TV room, or our breakfast table, that we actively search for God. When people go on a pilgrimage, they go elsewhere. They find someplace “out there,” because God doesn’t seem to be very present in the “right here.”
I know, I’ve done the same. When I used to live in Seabrook, down on the south end of Houston, any time I wanted to go out and do something and felt the need to connect with God, I would take the short drive down to Galveston, and walk the beach. It would take long, but it was meaningful to me. I’d feel the wind on my face, hear the roar of the ocean (and the cars whooshing by, because it’s Galveston and cars are everywhere), and I’d just… be quiet. I could have just been quiet at home too, but there was something in my head that made me feel like I was closer to God somehow when at home I just wasn’t. Somehow I couldn’t attain the quiet I needed at home.
There is a bit of a problem with that. We believe that God is in everything, that God is everywhere, and there is nothing and no place in this earth that we can’t find God. Yet at home, we have the hardest time remembering that. God is EVERYWHERE…but that usually doesn’t include here. So how do we find that quiet? How do we silence everything and hunt for God when God seems so very distant from our lives?
There are actually a lot of things we can do, believe it or not; they just aren’t all that easy to do, because it takes changing habits. The first thing I suggest you do is build a little sanctuary in your home. It doesn’t take much. Just make a space in your house, be it in your bedroom, living room, study, garage, attic, broom closet—it doesn’t matter. Make this space comfortable. Put a comfy chair there; just not too comfy, or you’ll fall asleep. It might take some thinking when it comes to placement, but I promise, it makes a difference. It may be as easy as lighting a candle in your living room too. But make a dedicated space, a sanctuary, where you can actively hunt for God.
Second, make it a habit to pray, do devotional, read the bible, or simply just sit there once a day for 10 minutes. 10 minutes is all I ask. If you can’t find 10 minutes in your day to be quiet, make the time. If you have kids or grandkids running around, it makes it more difficult, I know, but what you might do is invite them into the process. Praying with your family can be an amazing experience, and if you don’t have a lot of practice doing that, take baby steps. It will grow, if you let it. But take the time. 10 minutes of quiet in your sanctuary every day will help you to find God in the everyday and the mundane.
Third, take time every few months or every year for a retreat of some kind. Get someone to care for your kids and go. Emmaus walks are really good for this kind of thing, but there are plenty of other kinds of retreats out there to do too, if you look for them. You can even go on a self-made retreat. One of my good friends who I went to seminary with was an associate pastor, had a wife and kids, and a crazy busy schedule, but what he did was months in advance, he blocked out a week on his calendar, and made reservations to go camping by himself so that he could be alone with God, write, pray, hike, and seek God in his own way. Sometimes it just takes going somewhere else to be refueled, and I get that. In fact, I recommend it. But you have to make the time.
Don’t be like Elijah who only sought God when his life was on the line. Actively look for God everywhere. I’m not saying you can’t find God in the noise either; God can be in the music you listen to, the conversation you have with a good friend, whatever. But seek God. Don’t ignore it, because the more you ignore it, the more your soul will grow further from God. God is who we get our life from, our purpose. In the quiet, God speaks to us. Thanks be to God. Amen.