The LORD said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” 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. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper, (19:11-12 NIV).
I’m not sure I will ever fully understand what happened to Elijah. After his great victory, facing off against 450 false prophets of Baal, calling down fire from God, annihilating the 450; and now he tucks tail and runs after the threat from one woman. Granted this woman was evil, but she was only one.
Perhaps it was the fact that she did not seem to be affected one iota by the supernatural power displayed by the LORD that rocked Elijah. Perhaps she was in fact demonically possessed and now moved and breathed the demon’s very breath. Scripture does not elaborate. But Elijah is running scared and to make matters worse he has sunk into the worst place a human can sink, into his pity party where he is both the guest of honor and guest, as he alone is left.
Then he came there to a cave and lodged there; 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 zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away,” (19:10-11).
But was he really the only one left? Earlier we had read of Obadiah, who had bravely hidden the 100 prophets, from Jezebel no less! (1 Kings 18:4, 13); and here the LORD reveals there are 7,000 who have not bowed their knee to Baal (19:18).
And into his depth of despair, despondency and self-deception, the LORD shows up. His question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” is perhaps a reminder to Elijah that the place he now found himself was not by God’s leading.
Rather than chastising Elijah, He provides nourishment and sustenance for his physical needs. Sometimes physical weakness can be a real detriment to spiritual strength. And He is faithful to provide our needs (Philippians 4:19). And thus, the LORD prepares His weak and pitiful servant to, “Go out, and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by,” (19:11 NIV).
I wonder what Elijah was expecting. The prophet had just proclaimed so confidently, so boldly to a nation in rebellion, that the LORD is the God Who Answers by Fire. Was Elijah awaiting some magnanimous and dreadful appearing of the LORD? Perhaps Elijah was expecting that it would be him this time, who would be consumed by fire. After all, he had asked to die, now convinced he was not the right man for the job. “It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers,” (19:4).
So, why didn’t the LORD come in a great wind to blast away the doubt, despondency and despair? Or why didn’t the LORD shake the ground beneath him to loosen the grip of fear. And who would be surprised if the LORD sent His purifying fire to burn away the dross that now seemed to fill his soul?
It seems Elijah felt like a failure, for the one who sat on the throne of Israel had not bowed her knee in surrender to the LORD as the rightful King. Yet, it was into this place, this place of fear and despair, this place of hopelessness and self-pity that the LORD shows up.
Perhaps He first sent a blasting wind, earthquake and fire as way of reminder of His justice and wrath (see Haggai 2:17; Isaiah 29:6; Isaiah 66:16). But He was not in those in His appearing to Elijah. To His worn-out servant He came tenderly, quietly, with His Gentle Whisper.
Consider His Gentle Whisper
The LORD had indeed revealed Himself to the northern kingdom of Israel with a great sign as He answered His prophet by fire.
Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. 39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!” (1 Kings 18:38-39).
But to His own, to His faithful, yet now beleaguered servant, He disclosed Himself altogether differently.
but the LORD was not in the wind… but the LORD was not in the earthquake… but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper, (19:11-12 NIV).
This phrase a gentle whisper (NIV) is translated into English from the Hebrew language in several ways:
the sound of a low whisper (ESV)
a voice, a soft whisper (HCSB)
a sound of a gentle blowing (NASB)
a still small voice (NKJV)
With this many possibilities, all conveying the same thought, yet each one a bit different, I felt a need to visit Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. This phrase is translated from three words in Hebrew:
“6963. קוֹל qôl: A masculine noun meaning a voice, a sound, a noise, a cry. This is an all-encompassing word that is used of any kind of sound.”
“1851. דַּק daq: An adjective meaning gaunt, fine, thin; dwarfish; low. It indicates that something is weak, undernourished, fine, small… Once it is used to describe a soft whisper (1 Kgs. 19:12).
“1827. דְּמָמָה demāmāh: A feminine noun indicating hushed, a whisper. It indicates a soft gentle blowing or whisper in contrast to the roar of an earthquake, fire, or a storm at sea (1 Kgs. 19:12; Ps. 107:29).”
- His Gentle Whisper, sometimes only a sound that may seem unclear.
- His Gentle Whisper, sometimes so low it may be missed.
- His Gentle Whisper, sometimes refocusing our attention is needed in order to be heard.
- His Gentle Whisper, gentle yet sovereignly commanding our response.
How do we respond to His Gentle Whisper?
When Elijah heard it, it moved him. And although Elijah was still rehearsing his misery, His Gentle Whisper beckoned him towards a bit of bravery cloaked in humility, as he got up from his hiding place, covered his face and stood in the unobstructed opening.
When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 Then he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away,” (19:13-14).
And from there, Elijah is in the place to again receive his marching orders from the LORD. The Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way… (19:15).
A very dear friend sent me a meme while I was studying this chapter. It was a picture of a roaring lion with the following caption placed on top of the stately image:
The devil whispered in my ear, “You’re not strong enough to withstand the storm.”
Today I whispered in the devil’s ear. “I am a child of God. A warrior of Christ. I am the storm.”
And there it was. His power demonstrated in His Gentle Whisper. And perhaps that is what He wanted Elijah to understand. That in His Gentle Whisper He has more power and strength than any storm, any blasting wind, any tumultuous earthquake or any raging fire. And while He may choose to make Himself known through signs and wonders and with great displays of supernatural power over His creation, I am reminded of what Jesus said.
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” 39 But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; 40 for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth,” (Matthew 12:38-40).
When we are born again, because we have trusted in the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as payment for our sins, we have all the verification we need. It doesn’t mean He won’t show up in some great and marvelous miraculous wonder. It just means we don’t seek after that. We seek Him. We lean into Him in His Word, enabled by His Holy Spirit, that we too might hear His Gentle Whisper.
And He continues to reveal Himself by His Gentle Whisper, to bring us out of hiding and despondency, to a place of unobstructed opening that we would be trained and thereby grow in His righteousness.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV).
This word translated in the NIV as God-breathed is also translated as “inspired.” But a look at the word in the original Greek language correlates beautifully to what we have seen translated from Hebrew as Gentle Whisper.
“2315. θεόπνευστος theópneustos; gen. theopneústou, masc.–fem., neut. theópneuston, adj. from Theós (2316), God, and pnéō (4154), to breathe or blow. Prompted by God, divinely inspired, occurs only in 2 Tim. 3:16 in the NT,” Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance.
Both languages speak of a blowing, in other words, the breath of God. And that should absolutely take our breath away! The fact is, the truth is, that He still comes with His Gentle Whisper. Perhaps today we would feel His call to seek Him as those who belong to Him; not like those who don’t yet know Him, still ensnared in adulterous sin.
- When His Gentle Whisper seems only a sound that is unclear, let us ask.
- “Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know,” (Jeremiah 33:31).
- When His Gentle Whisper seems so low it may be missed, let us lean in.
- “Give ear and hear my voice,
Listen and hear my words,” (Isaiah 28:23).
- “Give ear and hear my voice,
- When His Gentle Whisper needs to refocus our attention in order to be heard, let us be resolved in making our ears attentive.
- Make your ear attentive to wisdom,
Incline your heart to understanding;
3 For if you cry for discernment,
Lift your voice for understanding;
4 If you seek her as silver
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
5 Then you will discern the fear of the Lord
And discover the knowledge of God, (Proverbs 2:2-5).
- Make your ear attentive to wisdom,
- When His Gentle Whisper sovereignly commands our response, let us obey.
- “…blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it,” (Luke 11:28).
Today, and every day, may we rest in the greatest miracle ever displayed, our salvation. Let us humbly come out of our caves of despair, despondency and self-pity to seek Him in the unobstructed place of His Word, in full expectancy that we too may hear and obey His Gentle Whisper.