Some individual verses in the Bible have been used by preachers to present wonderful sermons that may or may not interpret the given verse correctly on the way to impressing upon the hearers some effort at persuasion.
I want to look at one such with you today, and our effort will be to understand accurately, if possible. I am referring to 1 Kings 19:11. The Webster Bible’s accurate translation from the Hebrew puts it this way: “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.” All the Bible versions are similar.
For a good understanding of the context, one should read 1 Kings 18-19. In Chapter 18 Elijah had just accomplished that great challenge against the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of the Asherah. After that outstanding victory Elijah fell into a funk. Probably anyone could have, because Queen Jezebel made him a target, and she was not joking. The prophets he had killed had served her well in their service against the true God.
So now God and Elijah had a meeting. God put on a demonstration. The first action to notice is that the LORD passed by. We might wonder what that meant especially when we see the other details. We are told that impressive phenomena played out in Elijah’s presence; our verse mentions a violent wind and an earthquake, and the next verse adds a fire. The same evaluation was given for each, and that is that the LORD was not in it, that is, not in the violent wind, the earthquake, and the fire. But after that there was a still small voice, or, as one version puts it ‘the sound of a gentle blowing,’ and the LORD was in that. (The Hebrew word for ‘voice’ also carries the meaning of ‘sound.’ And in this case the ‘sound’ either was a ‘voice’ or was accompanied by a ‘voice,’ as becomes clear later in the text.)
My question is this: What does it mean that the LORD was not in those various ‘natural phenomena?’ It says He was passing by, but it also says that He was not in them. So the LORD was there in some sense, but in some sense those phenomena did not represent Him.
We should compare those three phenomena with the still small voice. The three all showed great strength and were to some degree dangerous. You could react to them with fear, but they were not especially helpful.
On the other hand, the still small voice spoke to Elijah. First it gave him three assignments. Having something to do is good therapy when in a funk, and these assignments would help to solve current societal problems. And second it gave Elijah understanding that he was not alone as he had thought he was: he was not the only representative of God in the land--there were 7000 who stood firm for God just as he did. 7000 was not a huge number, considering the population of the nation, but it was a significant number compared to only one.
Many of the messages that have been preached try to make something of the little voice inside a person that may or may not be directing you to God’s will. There is nothing in the text to suggest that this voice was inside Elijah and heard only in his head. It probably was another phenomenon external to Elijah just as the first three were, and it did cause him to move to the mouth of the cave in which he was.
But the voice did what the other phenomena could not: it communicated within relationship. God was not in the other three in the sense that there was no relationship, but in connection with communication there can be relationship. The God/Elijah relation was that of authority and love. God told him what to do and strengthened him with encouraging information.
We do not have to wait until we have experienced three terrifying phenomena and then a still small voice. God has already spoken, and we have the record in the Bible.
It has God’s authority in that it tells us what to do, and it also tells us of His love for us.
Elijah responded. So should we.