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. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 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?’ He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken 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!’ The Lord said to him, ‘Go back the way you came. . .’
Okay, now. There are a few things that stand out to me as I read this.
I don’t really know for sure, but I have a few ideas. (Remember that I am no Bible scholar, though.) Horeb (Sinai) was a sacred place to meet God. It’s where Moses met with God. Elijah was running to a place where God’s presence was known to be. Holy ground. While I’m sure God could have given His message anywhere along the way, I think that God knew what He was doing by letting Elijah despair and run in fear and exhaust himself.
I think He wants us to want Him that much, and He knows it’s best for us . . . to realize that He is the only thing we want, that He is the only thing we can truly rely on, and that we want nothing more than to be close to Him, to remain in Him, and to do what He asks us to do.
But the Lord wasn’t in any of that. Sure, He caused them to happen, but He wasn’t talking through them. His presence wasn’t in those events. But after all that wild stuff, His presence passed by … in a whisper.
4. And what did God end up saying to Elijah after he experienced God’s presence, after he heard His whisper? I find this interesting.
But after the wind, earthquake, and fire - after sensing God’s presence and hearing His whisper, and being humbled enough to cover his face - Elijah had a chance to answer this same question again.
My guess is that the second time he answered, he answered with a firm faith in God and a deep trust that made him willing to hear the instructions that God would give him.
And only now could he handle hearing “Go back the way you came.” To hear that before - when he was despairing and exhausted - probably would have killed him. And so God didn’t reveal His plans for Elijah before he was ready to hear them. God had mercy on him and only revealed what He knew he could handle.
5. Earth-shaking events don’t always happen and aren’t always the means that God speaks to us. That’s not how God usually does His work and His leading. But God is always whispering. And if we don’t hear, it’s because we aren’t listening or we haven’t sought the Lord or we are looking for Him in the wrong places and wrong ways or we haven’t learned how insufficient and not-in-control we really are.