For those of you who know your bible you likely assumed this is a post about Elijah’s cave experience: you are correct.
As we follow the story we learn that Elijah is a prophet who moves in dramatic power. He bursts on the scene in 1 Kings 17 declaring to the wicked king Ahab a drought that will last years and not end until Elijah says so, which happens. He raises a dead child back to life. In a public contest with the prophets of Baal he calls upon Yahweh to vindicate him and fire comes down from heaven that consumes the sacrifice and the altar. Elijah then slays the 450 prophets of Baal. Great and dramatic feats!
After all of these dramatic victories Elijah’s life is threatened by Jezebel and he flees (1 Kings 19:1-3). This seems unbelievable. After all of Elijah’s victories he is suddenly afraid for his life and flees when threatened by Jezebel. Clearly, though not from Yahweh, Jezebel had some spiritual power that intimidated Elijah.
Whatever is happening it puts Elijah into a spiritual funk. He is discouraged and irrational. After being strengthened and fed by an angel he travels forty days on that food, another supernatural experience. Yet, whatever he is thinking about over the forty days does not help as he ends up in a cave on a mountain, feeling emotionally and physically alone. While Elijah is in the cave Yahweh asks him a question and he gives an interesting answer.
9 And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 So he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” 1 Kings 19:9-10 (NKJV)
Is what Elijah says true? Partly. Elijah has been zealous for Yahweh and the children of Israel have for the most part forsaken the covenant. Yet, he is not the only one left. In 1 Kings 18:13 Obadiah explained to Elijah how he had hidden and fed 100 of Yahweh’s prophets; in fact he implies Elijah already knew this to be the case.
It has been well said that when an omniscient God asks a question He isn’t looking for information. Generally Yahweh asks us questions to reveal our hearts, to us – He already knows them. When we are depressed and under spiritual oppression we don’t think rationally. Yet in this state, like Elijah, we can still hear God’s voice. The issue is our response.
In verse 9 Elijah was in a cave alone. After the first question and response Yahweh directed Elijah to come out of the cave and stand on the mountain before Him. It appears that Yahweh was seeking to shift Elijah’s perspective. He wanted him to move from darkness and isolation out into the open. Yet look at what happens.
We don’t know how Elijah heard in the cave but when he stepped out he saw dramatic supernatural displays but he did not encounter Yahweh in them. It is easy to miss the spiritual looking for the supernatural. We can engage in loud emotional and dramatic events but He is not in them.
When Elijah encounters Yahweh it is in a still small voice. Yet look at Elijah’s response.
13 So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 And he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” 1 Kings 19:13-14 (NKJV)
Elijah heard Yahweh in a quiet voice but it didn’t bring him out of his funk, it didn’t shift his perspective. Elijah remained in a ‘woe is me’ mode. So how does Yahweh respond? He recommissions Elijah to perform significant prophetic acts, one of which is to call and train his successor. The mantle is to be passed.
I believe in this Elijah missed something. I think if he had been able to focus on intimacy over power his perspective would have shifted and his ministry may have remained fruitful for a longer period.
Not unlike Elijah, whose attention was drawn by the dramatic, we live in a busy noisy culture surrounded by marketing hype. One response to coping with seeming endless busyness and urgency is the growth of training opportunities in practices like ‘mindfulness’: learning to quiet our minds and refocus to shut out multiple competing distractions. It is sad that many in the world are turning to these ‘spiritual’ practices that while effective in reducing stress, do not bring spiritual reality. We as the church should be, among other things, a place of refuge where minds and hearts can be quieted and where we can hear His whisper.
At times we do need dramatic displays of power, but even more we need to learn to lean into His heart, to know His voice in intimacy. How are we doing?
Whisper by Jason Upton