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
The reason why Elijah went on to Horeb
Take a step back and consider why this whole situation began. Elijah was familiar with the covenant of God with Israel that was set out so clearly, with its conditions in the book of Deuteronomy, with its blessings for obedience and cursing for disobedience.
On the basis of the covenant he prayed that it might not rain so that the King and the country repented of their sin and turned back to the Lord. For three and a half extraordinary years’ drought conditions prevailed. God honoured His servant and showed that the covenant was still in force.
What was significant of Mount Horeb, the key peak in the Sinai mountains? It was the place where God gave the covenant to Moses many centuries earlier. Exodus 32-33 records the events that unfolded when Israel broke the covenant and Moses was interceding for the nation.
It would lead to the renewal of the covenant and the giving of the Ten Commandments by God to Moses for a second time. The covenant included the following warning against ungodly alliances with the Canaanite inhabitants of the Promised Land.
Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you.13 Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles. 14 Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous GodExodus 34: 12-14
Moses had to go back to the place where the covenant was first instigated by God for that renewal to take place. It is, therefore, most probable that Elijah was doing exactly the same thing in his day as Moses had done centuries earlier.
The flight to Beersheba could rightly be interpreted as getting away from Jezebel, and that southern Judean city was a safe place of refuge. The journey to Horeb from Beersheba, twice as far as he had already come, I believe, was motivated more by a desire to spend time with God at the very place where the covenant was given. Elijah wanted a fresh affirmation of the calling of God to his ministry and a desire for a renewal of the covenant between God and His people. He wanted to hear from God and would not be disappointed.
The encounter with God at Horeb
(Exodus 19:16-19) God told His servant to stand at the entrance to the cave and observe God’s activity. What happened was very similar to Exodus 19 when God first gave the law to Moses. Exodus 19: 16-19 records the following phenomena:
On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled.17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, 19 and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.Exodus 19: 16-19
What phenomena was in evidence in Elijah’s day? First of all a violent storm that gusted causing damage even to some of the rocky cliffs near where the prophet was located; then there was an earthquake and after that a fire, but the Lord was not in …the wind…the earthquake…the fire…
These signs were not of judgement for Elijah. After all he had been very faithful to God and had stood firm in his witness. All three of these signs had been used in judgement on the people of God in the Old Testament. Fire had been used on Mount Carmel only days earlier (I kings 18); an earthquake was used, in Numbers 16:16-34, to kill a group of people who opposed Moses and God’s plans for the Israelite nation; one of best examples of a storm to judge a sinful Israelite was on Jonah, recorded in the book of that name, as he fled to Tarshish (Spain) rather than go to Ninevah (Iraq) to proclaim God’s Word.
Here the key is that: the Lord was not in …the wind…the earthquake…the fire… How does God deal with His servant here? after the fire came a gentle whisper The Baals claimed to be nature gods who controlled the weather. Yahweh is Lord of all, who has control over all of creation, but is not a part of it.
The glory of God is such that Elijah covers his face when he listens to His voice. Moses had also been informed that the glory of God was too awesome to look upon (Exodus 33:21-23), so he did not attempt to look at the revelation of God’s glory.
Only when you grasp what was going on here can you understand the sense of wonder John had when he wrote John 1:14 with reference to Jesus: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Our song for reflection is: ‘Mine eyes have seen the glory’