Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Shhh ... I'm listening for the still, small voice ... (1 of 3)
“And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake 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: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.” - 1Kings 19:11-13 (KJV)
This has been a very difficult passage for me to understand. I've read commentary after commentary and still feel there is something within this passage I've yet to fully enjoy!
More often than not, commentaries interpret this passage as one of rebuke. They focus upon the frail humanity of Elijah rather than the forbearing provision and love of God. They hear the thunder of condemnation rather than a voice of calming
You see, Elijah had been in this situation numerous times. This story actually begins in chapter 17 of 1 Kings. It is interesting to me the way the chapter begins:
“Elijah the Tishbite, of the temporary residents of Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the Lord, God of Israel lives, before Whom I stand, there shall not be dew or rain these years, but according to my word.’ And the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘Go from here and turn east, and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, that is east of the Jordan.’” - 1 Kings 17:1-3
Let’s be honest. If the passage had left out the fact that it was the word of the Lord that told Elijah to go and hide, how many of us would have condemned Elijah for hiding? Elijah, a committed instrument of God, humbled himself to God’s will, and God provided.
“You shall drink of the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” - 1 Kings 17:4
We would have misjudged Elijah completely. We would have missed his faithfulness to God. Although he was about to travel, unprepared, to a place he did not know, he believed God would sustain him.
But the story is only beginning. As we read on we see that the brook dries up! Oops! Didn’t God know the brook would dry up? Well, of course He did; and so did Elijah. Why? Because he had just prophesied that there would not be dew or rain for years to come.
And then the word of the Lord came to Elijah again telling him to go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, because God had commanded a widow there to take care of him.
“Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.” - 1 Kings 17:9
Now, wait a minute? What tremendous ministry did Elijah have back at the brook Cherith? How many souls were saved? What armies were defeated? What miracles did Elijah perform? How many churches did he start? We have no record of anything being accomplished at the brook Cherith; nothing! From our vantage point, it was a miserable waste of valuable time. Here a man, chosen by God Himself, relaxes by a brook and eats whatever flesh is being brought to him by a flock of birds.
What was that all about? Why didn’t God tell Elijah to go directly to Zarephath?
BUT, the story doesn’t end there. Elijah doesn’t meet and marry the widow, raise her son, and live off of the widow’s fortune like a hollywood movie. As a matter of fact, this widow had nothing to offer:
“So he arose and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her, ‘Bring me a little water in a vessel that I may drink’. And she said, ‘As the Lord your God lives, I have not a loaf baked but only a handful of meal in the jar and a little oil in the bottle. See, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and bake it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.’” - 1 Kings 17:10-12
Thanks God; thanks a bundle... I thought God COMMANDED the widow to take care of Elijah....
But Elijah never falters. Elijah takes it all in stride. Why? Because Elijah has put his faith in God and not in the circumstances surrounding him. Elijah told the widow to bake him bread. Elijah told her that doing so would result in her household being filled until the rain returns. Perhaps this poor widow mustered the faith to follow his request. Perhaps she reasoned that it made little difference; she was already preparing to die.
Nevertheless, we read the widow baked. She continued to bake. She could open a bakery of her own with the amount of bread she was able to bake! The jar of meal never emptied and the bottle of oil never ran dry!
Things were going along just perfectly until the widow’s son became sick and died.
Time for introspection. What would we have thought? Oops! Must have been something the kid ate! We knew it was too good to be true. It had to catch up with old Elijah sooner or later. If it had been us, would we have been fraught with pain, or faithful to God’s promise? Would circumstance outweigh our faith in the quiet work and will of God?
To make a long story short, Elijah calls upon God, God hears his call and revives the boy to full health. (I know you are wondering how this preview has anything to do with 1 Kings 19:11-13. I’m getting there....)
And so we arrive at chapter 18.
God begins this chapter with a direct and simple command; but He does not give Elijah the whole picture of coming events. God simply says:
“Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth.” - 1 Kings 18:1
Isn’t this the same Ahab, son of Omri, that we read about in chapter 16?
“So Omri slept with his fathers, and was buried in Sameria. Ahab his son reigned in his stead. In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab son of Omri began his reign over Israel in Samaria. And Ahab son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord above all before him.” - 1 Kings 16:28-30
It is important here to see what Ahab did during his first years of office. We see that he took a wife, Jezebel, who served and worshiped the non-existent god, Baal. He even erected an altar for the non-existent god, Baal, in in a temple he erected for the non-existent god, Baal.
Here’s the non-existent god, Baal’s, background ...
Baal also bore the name, Hadad, which means “thunderer”. Baal was the weather-god and was given credit for controlling thunder, lightening, wind and rain. We mustn’t take him lightly. He was thought to come from a powerful line of non-existent gods. His non-existent father, El, meaning “strong one” was married to Baal’s non-existent mother, Asherah, the non-existent fertility goddess. Baal’s siblings were his non-existent sister Anath, meaning “surface of the earth” who was also his wife who bore veggies because of her non-existent brother/husband’s power over the weather. He had a non-existent brother, Yamm, who was god of the seas. As is the case with any family, real or non-existent, these two brothers did not get along. Yamm would get stirred up and cast waves up toward Baal who would return the brotherly quarrel with thunder, lightening and rain after which their little spat would dissipate and all would be calm.
The non-existent family of gods went about a rather normal life of spats, winds, seas and veggies until, having matured and having left home, Baal decided to throw a banquet for his non-existent father El.
Baal did not invite his non-existent brother, Yamm.
Well, Yamm did not take this lightly so killed his brother Baal. I just hate it when god’s act like that ...
Sister Anath was none too happy because she would not be able to bear veggies without rain; so she killed her brother Yamm and went to the non-existent god of death, Mot, to have Baal resurrected to rule the air once again.
Although you might be hearing this mythical story for the first time, the people living in Elijah’s time knew the story very well. It was a part of their daily life and they were reminded of it with every change in the weather. Therefore, the people worshiped these non-existent gods to win daily favor.
Anyway, Elijah went to show himself to Ahab.
While this was going on, we are given a glimpse what was happening with Ahab. Ahab called Obadiah who was Ahab’s governor of personal affairs. Unbeknownst to Ahab, Obadiah was also secretly a follower of God. We know this because when Jezebel went about killing all of the prophets who refused to bow to Baal, Obadiah hid fifty of them in a cave and fed them bread and water. Interesting, isn’t it? Hid them in a cave; fed them bread and water? Interesting ...
Ahab was desperate! The lack of rain caused a terrible famine throughout the land. Ahab’s only option was to look elsewhere for moisture and fresh grass so that the horses and mules could be saved. Ahab divided up the land ordering Obadiah to search in one direction while he searched in the other direction. And it “just happened” that along the way, Elijah met Obadiah!
END PART ONE OF TWO PARTS
POINTS TO PONDER:
1. Why did God command Elijah to hide by the brook of Cherith?
2. How could God have COMMANDED a widow to care for Elijah yet the widow was ill- prepared for Elijah’s arrival?
3.God has spoken to Elijah numerous times. Why do we not find reference to Elijah being in awe by His voice?
God’s will for us is not always readily apparent. Others might mock the direction we take. Others might mock that we appear to take no direction at all. Sometimes, however, God tucks us away in His care to more affectively prepare us to trust Him even more! God’s personal instruction does not teach us to adapt to life’s circumstances but to adhere to His promise.
Where are you along the way? What has God already prepared for YOU this day? Are you ready to claim His promise, against all odds, and steadfastly depend upon His sustenance?
PART TWO of this wonderful passage will bring us full circle. The complexities of life and the completeness of God’s will plan provide a wonderful comfort to all who read!