In 1 Kings, which is a book in the Old Testament, just after 1 and 2 Samuel, we find the story of a prophet, a messenger from God, named Elijah. Elijah is this guy who was called by God to do amazing things.
One day, he challenged false prophets to a showdown on Mount Carmel. You may have heard this story: the false prophets sacrificed a bull and tried to get their God Baal to light the altar on fire, but nothing happened. Elijah rebuilt the altar, sacrificed a bull, and poured water all over it. It was soaked. And when Elijah called on God, fire fell from heaven, consuming everything on and around the altar. And then Elijah had all 850 false prophets killed.
Word got back to someone who followed one of the false gods, and she sent Elijah a death threat. So Elijah ran for his life. He ran for 40 days until he reached Horeb, which was known as the mountain of God, where God dwells.
There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Like God doesn’t know what Elijah was doing there…? I think it’s cool that when we approach God in prayer, he doesn’t stop us from sharing what’s on our heart since he knows already. He welcomes us to pour out our hearts to him, and he loves it when we invite him in to our lives that way.
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.”
Did you catch what Elijah is saying here? I have been zealous (or passionate, devoted) to you, God. But look at the rest of Israel… yeah, they rejected your covenant, they messed up, and I’m the only one left who loves you. In fact, everyone is trying to kill me. What am I supposed to do?!
Elijah had been a hard working prophet, dedicated to God and God’s people. But now Elijah has had enough. It seems as though everyone now hates him and wants to kill him. And he comes to God for help, not knowing what to do. He wants to hear God’s voice and receive guidance.
And check out how God responds…
The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” [STOP!]
Ok, weird sentence. God says, go stand on the mountain in the presence of God, because God is going to pass by…?
Whether or not it made sense to him, Elijah went.
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.
Elijah walks up the mountain, and there’s natural disasters left and right. But Elijah didn’t find God in any of those powerful forces of nature. Elijah notices God’s presence in a gentle whisper, or a light breeze, the kind that you feel coming off the lake on a hot day and all you can say is, “ah…”
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.”
It’s interesting that God wasn’t in the strong wind, earthquake or fire. He wasn’t in the things that Elijah probably expected God to be in.
Elijah had just poured his heart out to God — and he wanted God to take action! To defeat Israel and all of her wickedness with the force of a strong wind, the devastation of a powerful earthquake or fire. But God’s presence was actually in the gentle, refreshing, life-giving breeze.
I wonder if God was trying to tell Elijah something — that he was not interested in destroying Israel, but of being gentle with grace and compassion. Elijah obviously doesn’t get it, because he says the EXACT same thing as before: I’ve been good, they’ve been bad, what are you going to do?!
The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel–all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.”
It’s only after Elijah spends time in the presence of God that God gives him an answer.
I wonder if God was trying to say to Elijah — “Before we talk, get to know me. Know my character. Know my heart. Spend time in my presence.”
I’m in the middle of a book called Hearing God by Dallas Willard. He was a professor of philosophy at USC, and he wrote a lot about God and how we relate to God. In this book, he wrote “Only our communion with God (only our relationship with God) provides the appropriate context for communications between us and him.”
Elijah needed to experience God’s presence and spend time getting to know his character before God was willing to give Elijah an answer.
We have to develop a conversational relationship with God, where we can talk to God and know how God is talking to us. And this begins with spending time with God, getting to know his character, and understanding his presence in our lives.
THINK ABOUT IT
- Why do you think it’s important to develop a conversational relationship with God?
- What does a conversational relationship with God look like in our daily lives?
- How are we going to spend time getting to know God this week?
- All things considered, do you want to hear God’s voice? Why or why not?
Bold text is taken from 1 Kings 19:9-18 (NIV).