Exploring the Scripture
Last week we explored how King Ahab coveted the vineyard of his neighbor Naboth. Queen Jezebel arranged Naboth’s murder, so Ahab could take the land. Elijah spoke truth to power and pronounced God’s penalty of death on Ahab, Jezebel, and all their supporters. What gave him the courage? This Sunday, we go back in time to examine an encounter Elijah had with the living God that helped him in a time of fear and commissioned him for future challenges.
Ahab and the prophet Elijah had long been enemies. Elijah had prophesied the drought, then fled from Ahab’s wrath. After three years, Elijah appeared before the king and demanded a contest between Baal, the god of rain, and YHWH, God of Israel. Which one would consume the sacrificial offering and end the drought? When the contest ended in YHWH’s victory, Elijah confidently ordered Baal’s 450 prophets to be executed. The rains came, and the drought ended.
Jezebel’s threats dissolved Elijah’s confidence. He fled in fear to Beer-sheba, and then into the wilderness. Despairing, he asked God to take his life; but God sent food and water.
Strengthened, Elijah traveled to Mount Horeb and hid in a cave. Mount Horeb (Sinai) was where Moses encountered God, was sent to Egypt, and returned to covenant with God and receive the commandments. It was a holy mountain.
“‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” God asked (v. 9). Elijah recounted all he had done: staying true to YHWH, killing the prophets of Baal, and fleeing for his life.
At this point, there is a pause. With verse 11, we go back to examine in more detail the setting in which the previous conversation took place. Elijah was alone in the cave, and the word of God came to him, saying, “‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’” In quick succession, a great wind, earthquake, and fire came. But God was not a storm god like Baal, present only in manifestations of power. God was “the sound of sheer silence” (v. 12).
“‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” We are back in the previous conversation, hearing the question, and Elijah’s answer once again.
Elijah’s response was filled with self-pity and resentment. “‘… I alone am left…’” (v. 14). He worked so hard for God. Where was God when Elijah needed YHWH’s protection? Having witnessed the power of God, it took courage to respond in such a way. But Elijah trusted God enough to lament.
God’s answer was calm, direct, and filled with purpose. There were no answers or assurances, only a new commission. Elijah must anoint new kings in Aram and Israel, who will eliminate Ahab and Jezebel. He must anoint Elisha as his prophetic successor.
God assured Elijah there were 7,000 others still faithful to YHWH. They, too, would be saved. There would be a future for Israel and a future of prophetic guidance.
Elijah left the cave and followed the instructions of the Lord. Was encountering the living God transforming? We must assume it was. Elijah not only fulfilled the new commission but also confronted Ahab unflinchingly with the murder of Naboth.
- Elijah’s confidence was shattered by Jezebel’s He wanted to give up.
- God’s presence disrupted nature but was more than just a show of cataclysmic power.
- God’s presence was in the silence, the quiet word of revelation and calling.
- The encounter with God strengthened Elijah for the work ahead and assured him God would provide a future for Israel.
Questions to Consider
- When have you lost your confidence and wanted to give up? What kept you going?
- When have you felt totally alone and thought you had to uphold your faith with no assistance from God or humans? What was your lament?
- What does this scripture passage teach us about the nature of revelation?
- When have you experienced God’s quiet voice or “sheer silence” and been transformed by the experience?