Elijah is frustrated, frightened, overwhelmed, disappointed, and depressed. At Mount Carmel he had taken a risk and entered into a contest with the prophets of Baal to see whose God was most powerful. The prophets of Baal pray and pray and pray, but to no avail. Nothing happens and their carefully prepared sacrifice is untouched by their god. Then it’s Elijah’s turn. He prays and God answers in the most dramatic of ways. His water drenched sacrifice is consumed by fire from heaven.
Elijah expected this to be a turning point for Israel. Maybe now they would reject the evil King Ahab and his queen, Jezebel?
Maybe now they would return to God. Yet, nothing changes. The prophet now finds his life threatened by the queen. So he runs away.
By the time we get the the mid part of 1 Kings 19, over 40 days have passed, and Elijah is alone on Mount Horeb. He feels God has abandoned him, and is perhaps indifferent to him and his plight.
In the weeks leading up to this moment God has sent an angel twice to bring comfort and direction to Elijah. Despite this, Elijah still feels abandoned until God meets him on the holy mountain of Horeb, or as it is also known, Sinai. It is here that God speaks. There is a strong wind, an earthquake and then fire.
1 Kings 19: 11b-12
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.
God is not speaking through any of these. He could have. They all speak to His power, but God knows that this is not what Elijah needs to be reminded of in this moment.
God speaks through a gentle whisper. It’s a very deliberate choice. This man who is feeling utterly alone and in despair, needed to know the immanence, intimacy, and closeness of God.
That is the nature of a gentle whisper is it not? We can observe and feel the impact of a powerful wind, an earthquake and even a fire from a distance, but not a whisper. A person needs to be near for you to feel the impact of that.
To a man who feels abandoned, alone, and disappointed God comes near. In his book, The Power of a Whisper, Bill Hybels writes, “On Mount Horeb that day, Creator convened with creation, and one man’s life was forever changed. Regardless of what else Elijah might have later told his friends about this encounter – and about God himself – undoubtedly he had been a witness to two attributes at the very core of who God is: he’s relational and he is near.”
This story teaches us a number of things about prayer. First of all, prayer is not a monologue, it’s a conversation. When we pray, it is not a religious action, it is not ritual, rather it is a conversation with God. A God, who is relational and near. Who is with us in the peaks, and as Elijah discovered, in the valleys as well.
When God responds to Elijah he tenderly replies to him. First with an angel who brings comfort, strength and direction, and then He speaks
himself. He speaks in a way which shows empathy for where Elijah is at, and reminds him of who God is and reveals to the plans which God already has in place to address the concerns of Elijah.