21 May 2020 – Listening for the still small voice (1)

The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the 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 came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 14 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.

I Kings 19:11-14

Elijah’s perspective on the situation had been too narrow. He had turned to look within himself. However, for a moment let us take a step back and revisit I Kings 19:3 using the alternative translation for the first part of that verse: When Elijah saw [that Jezebel was totally unmoved by the divine intervention on Mount Carmel in I Kings 18] that reaction he ran for his life…. Dale Ralph Davies in his commentary on this passage [The Wisdom and the Folly –I Kings, pp.261-262] urges that this alternative translation is more helpful and that it is found in the oldest Hebrew texts.

What difference does this make in practice? After all Elijah is still exhausted and leaves the country at the earliest opportunity! Davies urges us to consider a new perspective on the situation. The prophet had been expecting that Jezebel would ‘throw in the towel’ and concede spiritual defeat in the battle over who was God in Israel. Yet this was far from how things had turned out.

Can you imagine the scene at the palace the previous evening? Jezebel welcomes her husband home and enquires about his day. She notices that he had set out with four hundred and fifty of her eight hundred and fifty pagan clergymen, but returned without any of them. She is livid, ‘stripping the paint off the walls’ with anger that her clergymen are all dead, that the King of Israel allowed it to happen –who’s in charge in this country, a solitary prophet of Yahweh or the chosen ruler of the nation? His protests that the contest was fair and the result indisputable –what else could I have done? -went unheeded as the hard-headed Jezebel moved on to consider ‘Plan B’ for the elimination of the worship of Yahweh in Israel.

Then and now there is a fallacy that if people are more educated that they will make better choices. Unfortunately this is not always the case. People can have all the information in the world, but refuse to act upon it.

Elijah quickly grasped that although a battle had been won, the war was far from over. Jezebel had almost certainly been ordering the assassination of leaders of God’s people in previous years and as he was the only one still ministering in public it was not difficult to guess who was top of her current list!

He was not required by God to make it easy for her hit-man to find him and as he had been directed by God before to go into hiding it was not out of the question that a similar period of time out of the public view might be in order. He is exhausted and very disappointed that the conflict is not over, but his flight into Judah and then the Sinai desert actually had a purpose in God’s bigger picture. His time out of ministry and our lock down time may turn out to be an important time in our lives.

Don’t assume that ‘the real action’ only begins when it is over. It might be that now is the time for which God has prepared us to live for Him. That previous life experience and your gifting might fit you so well for such a time as this!

We will never know all the details of this story. God has given us enough information to show us that with His help no situation is completely hopeless as Elijah had demonstrated against the odds on Mount Carmel.

However, this story also reminds us in this chapter that success in God’s work is hard won and often takes a longer time than we would wish. We need to:

(i) Look Back to stop every so often and reflect on how far we have come in our faith journeys. Take time today to thank God for past successes in your life in hard times. What did you learn about God in those times? What did you learn about yourself?

(ii) Take Stock We know where we started from and we know what we trust will be our ultimate destination beyond this life, but we also need sometimes to pause in the present and ask: What is it that I should be doing at this particular time? God opens and closes doors of opportunity for a reason, even if it is beyond our comprehension.

Instead of lamenting what we cannot do, can we focus instead on looking at what we individually and collectively might do differently at this particular time? There will be some things that will stop when life returns to ‘normal’.

There are initiatives that only run for a very short time because they have fulfilled their purpose. There will be other ways of working that will continue because we have learned new skills and seized fresh opportunities.

However, it is too early to make definitive judgements about our choices. In the heat of the moment we ask God for guidance and seek to do our best, but living by faith can be disturbing because at the time we make choices we are often not certain how things will work out. What issue do you need to bring to God in prayer today? Have you heard His gentle whisper?

Our song for reflection today is: ‘Ten Thousand reasons’

Brian Talbot