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.
– 1 Kings 19:12-13
Let’s set the scene for today’s passage. We’ve just read Elijah stand up against the prophets of Ba’al at Mount Carmel. Two altars for a sacrifice – only one of them burned. Elijah’s altar. God’s altar. Despite all the dancing around and spilling of blood, extreme acts of religious fervor from the Ba’al prophets, and the water-soaked wood on Elijah’s altar, the altar to Ba’al was unchanged while a fierce fire from heaven consumed, not just the wood and the sacrifice, but the stones and the soil and all the water surrounding the altar to the Lord. God showed up in a big way at Mount Carmel. And, Elijah appeared as a hero in the scene.
But now, Jezebel, the wicked queen is after him for revenge. Elijah has fled into the wilderness where, worried he might be caught or starve, he cries out for God to kill him rather than live in such misery. This is a drastic turn of events for Elijah. How could things go from so great to so bad so quickly?
Eventually Elijah arrives on Mount Horeb, the mountain of the Lord, and enters a cave to rest. In the morning, the word of the Lord speaks to Elijah, asking “What are you doing here?”
Enter Elijah’s state of mind. He was the hero of the showdown at Mount Carmel. He single-handedly proved that God was more powerful than all the prophets of Ba’al. He should have been receiving honors, not hiding in a cave in the wilderness. He shouldn’t have been alone, wishing he could die. So Elijah complains to God. “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn 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.” Elijah says, I did everything right. Those people are all awful! Why is everyone picking on me? I’m all alone in this.
We aren’t unfamiliar with Elijah’s mindset, are we? When we’re trying so hard to do the right thing; when we feel like we’ve finally accomplished something, only to have it thrown in our face. Maybe we have a tendency, like Elijah, to complain about or to blame others. Maybe we, like Elijah, adopt a false perception of reality, thinking, “I’m all alone in this.” In short, maybe we get stuck in thinking, “It’s all about me.”
At Mount Carmel, God showed up in a blazing fire of glory. And as Elijah waits on the mountain, a powerful wind blows through, followed by a mighty earthquake and then another blazing fire. But Scripture tells us that God was not in these great acts. No, God shows up to Elijah in the sound of a gentle whisper. God provides all these flashy signs, but in this moment, God works and moves in the stillness – in something as soft and unnoticeable as a whisper.
God’s word to Elijah on the mountain isn’t too flashy either. The Lord says, “Go back the way you came.” Anoint Hazeal, and Jehu, and Elisha. Then the Lord reminds Elijah of something he seems to have forgotten. “I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Ba’al and whose mouths have not kissed him.” In the midst of Elijah’s fear and worry and complaining God says, go back. Go back and find the people that I’ve chosen to help you. Get back to it. You are not alone.
Elijah needed to learn that following God isn’t always about the big, bold acts of service. It’s not always about standing alone on Mount Carmel facing off against the enemy. Sometimes following God just means going back and doing what God has called you to do. And sometimes following God means recognizing that we aren’t in this alone.