April 2, 2023

When God Whispers to the Faithful (1 Kings 19:9-13)

Preacher: Bryce Morgan Series: Our Bible Reading Plan (2022-2023) Topic: One Lord: No One Like You Scripture: 1 Kings 19:9–13

message video button copy

Children's Lesson (click here)

I. Anyone Can Be Afraid

Anyone and everyone can and does struggle with fear. Here's one reason I know that's true: think about the ministry of the prophet Elijah.

When we first meet Elijah, he speaks authoritatively to Ahab, the king (!) over Israel; he speaks boldly to him about God's word that there would no rain in the land, except by heaven's decree. But in the face of that troubling prophecy, Elijah himself is miraculously fed by ravens as he hides from Ahab by the brook Cherith on the east side of the Jordan River (17:6).

When God finally directs him to a new place of refuge, with a widow in the town of Zarephath, he is confronted by more scarcity. As she expresses it in 1 Kings 17:12, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” But again, God miraculously provides. As Elijah explains the the divine decree for their provision in 1 Kings 17:14, “The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’”

Even more stunning, when the widow's son dies, God restores life to the boy after Elijah's prayer in 17:20-21. Yes. He raises the boy from the dead (the Bible's very first resurrection!).

In chapter 18 we are presented with the incredible story of Elijah and the prophets of the Canaanite god Baal on Mount Carmel. Not only does Elijah confront King Ahab once again, but this time, he challenges these 450 false prophets to a test of divine legitimacy. Baal versus Yahweh. And not surprisingly (since Baal is a fictional character), Yahweh wins when he unleashes spectacular fire from heaven that not only consumes the wood, water, and meat of the sacrificial offering, but also the very stones on which the altar is built.

So think about this: when Elijah found himself in dangerous and difficult situations, he was... fed by ravens, given unlimited baking supplies, used to restore life to the dead, and witness to an unrivaled display of heavenly fire. But... surprisingly... this is what we read in the opening verses of chapter 19...

Ahab told Jezebel [that's his foreign, idolatrous wife] all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. [2] Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” [3] Then he [Elijah] was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life...

Anyone and everyone can and does struggle with fear... even a prophet of God; even one who has witnessed the power of God at work for his good... over and over again. Can you relate to that? To struggling with fear? To being a witness of God's power? Let's look together at how the story continues in 1 Kings 19:9-13.


II. The Passage: “The Sound of a Low Whisper” (19:9-13)

I'll explain the in-between events in just a moment, but when we get to verse 9 of chapter 19, Elijah finds himself something like 350 miles south of Jezreel at Mount Horeb, maybe better known as Mount Sinai. This is what God's word tells us, beginning in verse 9...

There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” [10] He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” [11] And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. [12] And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. [13] And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Let's think through this passage by focusing on two aspects of this story: first, let's look at how fear manifested itself here in Elijah's life, and second, let's look at how God manifested himself in this account. So look at...


1. How Fear Manifested Itself

We saw the first manifestation of Elijah's fear in verse 3 of this chapter. Remember that? When he heard that Jezebel was going to kill him, the text tells us “he was afraid, and he arose...”, and did what? He “ran for his life”. If someone in a position of power was out to get us, many of us would do the very same thing, right?

I see a second manifestation of fear in the very next verse, verse 4. After fleeing to the southern-most city in Israel, we read... “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness [that's south, out of Israel, into the Negev desert] and [he] came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, 'It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.'” Elijah's fear fuels the kind of despair, the kind of hopelessness we hear in Elijah's words in verse 4. Strangely, the fear the caused him to run in order to save his life is the same fear that now fuels his desire to die. This kind of fear is not to be taken lightly.

The third manifestation is the prophet's fear can be heard in our passage, in Elijah's answer to God's question. Look again at verse 10. In general, Elijah's not wrong about the points he raises here. But his fear has distorted the picture here. For example, in the previous chapter, in 18:13, Elijah learned from a man named Obadiah that, yes, Jezebel killed many of Yahweh's prophets, but that Obadiah had secretly rescued a hundred of them and hidden them in a cave. So no, Elijah is not the only one left. But here's the key: he feels like he is. Why? Fear.

So fear leading to flight. Fear leading to despair. Fear leading to a distorted take on reality. Can you relate to what Elijah is going through here? Maybe you're afraid and running this morning, whether you want to admit it or not. Maybe you feel hopeless because you've felt afraid for far too long. Maybe your take on reality is being distorted by fear, so that you feel things are far, far worse than they really are. If that's you in some way, then think with me about...


2. How God Manifested Himself

Now, let me point out that there are a number of places where we have to speculate in this chapter. For example, did God (through the angel in v. 7) instruct Elijah to travel to Mount Horeb, or was it Elijah's idea? God does ask him (twice!), “What are you doing here, Elijah?” But one thing we know about the God of Israel is that there is no question to which he doesn't know the answer. So most likely, he's asking this question for Elijah's sake. Another aspect of the story that's unclear is whether Elijah actually comes out of the cave when God instructs him to do so in verse 11. We have to ask that because if you look down at verse 13, Elijah is still in the cave. Or did he go back into the cave after the supernatural events of verses 11 and 12? It's not clear.

What is clear is that God is doing something intentional here in terms of revealing himself to Elijah. If we approach verses 11 and 12 with a 'which of these things is not like the other' mind-set, it's clear there is a loud and a quiet, or a violent and a gentle contrast happening here. First, God's presence as he 'passes by' triggers an incredibly powerful wind, one strong enough to do damage to the mountain itself. Second, his passing presence results in an earthquake. Finally, there is some kind of manifestation of fire. Now, when it comes to Mount Horeb/Sinai, none of this is surprising, for we read in Exodus 19:18...

Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly.

These are manifestations of what theologians call a theophany, an appearance of God. In light of what we read here, I think God did send Elijah to Horeb (v. 7, “journey”) because he knew these powerful manifestations were exactly what Elijah needed to be reminded of in his season of fear; this season of running, despair, and distorted vision. When God says in verse 11, “Go out and stand on the mount before Yahweh”, Elijah needed to re-learn that the God whom he served was and remained the God of Sinai. The God of Moses. The God of signs and wonders. The God who brought Egypt to its knees. The God who powerfully sets his people free. A covenant making God. A holy God. An awesome God. A God who makes all things... tremble.

Now, did you notice how the writer went to great lengths here to stress that God “was not in” the wind or earthquake or fire? Why this clarification? So we would look for his presence, or listen for his presence, somewhere else; specifically, in (v. 12) “the sound of a low whisper”. You see, like Moses, who (Exodus 33:11) spoke with God “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend”, God is now communicating with his prophet through the “low whisper” of verse 12 (literally in the Hebrew, something “small” and “quiet”). As the God of the ravens, as the God of the oil and flour, as the God of resurrection and fire, he could have chided Elijah for his lack of faith. But he is gracious. He is gentle. When his servants are afraid, wonderfully, he whispers.

And with a whisper, he repeats his earlier question. Verse 13, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” How should the prophet have answered? Maybe something like, “I'm here at the mountain of revelation, Yahweh God, because you brought me here. Because I forgot. I forgot who you are and what you've done. I forgot that you have plans, that you have a purpose, that you've made promises that no one and nothing can sabotage. I'm here to be reminded and humbled and renewed.” But that's not how Elijah responded. He simply repeats in verse 14 what he stated in verse 10. But notice what we learn about him in the opening words of verse 13. As God whispers, he slowly emerges from the cave, with his face covered by his cloak. He's still... fearful. Maybe now in the right way? At least to some extent? Though he seems stuck in and by his fears, God remains gracious as he reveals, in vs. 15-18, that he is still in control.


III. Great and Gracious

There is so much more we could talk about in terms of what leads up to this encounter in Horeb, and what follows it. But let's stay right here and meditate for a moment on what's been revealed; on what God has revealed about himself. The open word is our mount of revelation this morning. Why do we especially need to hear these words and learn this lesson? Because anyone and everyone can and does struggle with fear. I've shared with you one reason I know that's true by sharing with you this morning about Elijah and his ministry. Another reason I know this is true is because I have... I do... and I will continue to struggle with fear. If you can admit that as well, then there's a powerful, reassuring lesson for us here. Let me sum it up like this...

To the one full of fears, God reveals he is both great and gracious; specifically, that His greatness is greater than our greatest fears, and his grace abundant when we lose sight of that reassuring truth.

Think about this: we should be grateful for both of these things, especially as those who struggle with fear. If God was gracious but not great, we may feel comforted at first; but we would ultimately succumb to fear if God was powerless to rescue us. Similarly, if God was great but not gracious, our struggle with fear may itself lead to fear of God's judgment.

But God is both great and gracious, isn't he? Brother, sister, when situations outside and feeling inside seem so overwhelming, think of the wind; think of the earthquake; think of the fire. God is powerful, and powerful to save. But even when you know and embrace, to the best of your understanding, that biblical truth about God's greatness and power, you may still grapple with fear. You may run. You may despair. You may feel things are worse than they actually are. Even Elijah struggled like that. But even then, listen for his whisper.

Wasn't the “Word” of God who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:18) like that “low whisper”? Didn't he come into the world as 'something small and quiet'? But He too was (and is) both great and gracious. The Apostle John experienced this greatness and grace in Revelation chapter 1, when he beheld Jesus in fire and glory and power. Listen to John's response, then the response of Jesus... 

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, [18] and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive for-evermore...” (Revelation 1:17–18)

Brothers and sisters, friends, as we heard last week, Moses promised a future prophet who would be like him; that is, One who would both speak and lead in light of God's redeeming power. Unlike fearful Elijah, Jesus Christ was and is the perfect Prophet. What a wonderful week to remember that the cross and empty tomb of Jesus secures for us the special relationship we heard about all throughout 1 Kings 17-19; a relationship of provision and power; of guidance and grace. You see, though we deserve the fate of Ahab and Jezebel and the prophets of Baal, God whispers to us like Elijah. As Jesus himself 'whispered' to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Do you hear that voice this morning? Acknowledge your fears even now. Remember his revelation. He is both great and gracious, and we can know the fullness of both of those through faith in Jesus. Let's go to God now in quietness and honesty, listening for that “low whisper”.


other sermons in this series