Good morning! I hope this day finds you and your family well, and I want you to know that you are in my prayers daily during this difficult time.
I invite you to take a few moments with me to reflect on today’s Upper Room Devotional below — as well as on the theology woven into “It is well with my soul.”
1 Kings 19:9-14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
9 At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
Elijah Meets God at Horeb
11 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces 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 a sound of sheer silence. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
In our scripture for today the prophet Elijah is looking for God. Elijah’s nickname is “the stormy prophet” and it is an appropriate nickname! As we meet Elijah today, he has just been through a long series of very traumatic and difficult events. Elijah appeared suddenly on the scene and confronted Ahab and Jezebel, the king and the queen, with their unfaithfulness. That led to another violent confrontation with the prophets of the pagan god Baal and a demonstration of the power of God, but not everyone was convinced to turn and follow the Lord. In fact, Jezebel vowed, if it was the last thing she did, she would kill him and so Elijah fled for his life. He found himself in the wilderness, alone; frustrated; disappointed; exhausted; depressed; feeling as if no one was on his side; wanting just to curl up and escape in sleep. In fact, he even wanted to die. He said, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” He was in the wilderness.
Eventually, he made the long journey to Mount Horeb—another name for Mount Sinai, the mountain of God. When he arrived, he went into a cave to stay. Have you been there? When you just want to crawl into a cave and hide? Elijah was discouraged. He was exhausted. He had hoped everything would be fixed, would be behind him. But, of course, there are seldom permanent victories. Most of the time, other problems arise that must be overcome—just to maintain what was gained in previous success. To put it another way, you might say that Elijah was “burned out.”
Elijah’s experience is part of our common human condition. Sometimes we feel lost. That feeling for Elijah came after
- a time of intense and productive activity
- relational conflict
- physical exhaustion
- a major success
- and a huge disappointment.
Elijah stayed at Mount Horeb waiting for God. I can imagine him sitting alone in that dark cave, maybe the eerie light from a small fire built near the entrance casting strange shadows on the walls of the cave. Imagine the quiet there—so quiet, he could hear his own heartbeat.
Elijah was in the cave, very much needing hope, encouragement, the presence of God, guidance for his life, to know that he wasn’t alone. Elijah needed to be found. There came suddenly a very strong wind. Now that must be God because everyone knows that God inhabits the wind. Everyone knows that when God appears, the wind blows. It’s recorded time and again in scripture, the wind of God, the spirit of God—it’s the same word in Hebrew, ruach, the wind of God. God surely must be in the wind. This is a strong wind; it’s breaking the rocks into pieces. But God was not in the wind.
And then after the wind, there was a low rumbling that came from deep in the earth and pretty soon he felt the rumbling and the shaking and the rocks were falling all around. It’s an earthquake! It’s an earthquake-prone region, after all, and he remembered that when God appeared on that same Holy Mountain, the ground shook. It must be God! But no, God was not in the earthquake.
And then a roaring, raging fire and no doubt Elijah remembered how God met Moses—that God was in a burning bush. He remembered that when God gave the law to the people and Moses was on the mountain with God, there was smoke on the mountain. God must be in the fire! But God was not in the fire.
And after the fire, there was a profound, thick silence that Elijah could almost hear. The translators struggle to communicate Elijah’s experience. Just look at some of the ways his experience of God after the fire is described in different translations:
After the fire,
There came a still, small voice.
There was a sound. Thin. Quiet.
A sound of sheer silence.
Came a gentle whisper.
A sound of gentle stillness.
A quiet, subdued voice.
There was a gentle breeze,
A soft whisper
Hardly a sound
There was the soft whisper of a voice
A gentle and quiet whisper.
A sound of a gentle blowing
There was a quiet, gentle sound.
There was nothing but the sound of a calm breeze.
And in that silence he knew the presence of God and he heard the question he’d been asking himself as he sat in the cave, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And he prayed, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the people of Israel have broken down thy altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life to take it away.” He poured out his soul and his heart to God. He felt he was the only faithful one left. It wasn’t true, of course; Elijah wasn’t the only one left. But we know what that’s like, don’t we? We sometimes feel like we’re alone. We’re the only ones, we’re the only ones who care, we’re the only ones who seem to be hurting, we’re the only ones experiencing discouragement, even losing hope. “I’m the only one,” he says. Elijah felt utterly alone.
Then, in the silence he heard the word reminding him that there were others in Israel faithful to God, that he was not alone and the word calling him to go back and attend to the needs of the people of Israel. Then he returned, as God had instructed him.
Do you hear the Good News in that story? Even Elijah—good, faithful, successful Elijah—had his wilderness experiences, just like we do. He felt lost, just as we do sometimes. Elijah needed to experience God, just like we do.
Do We Expect to Experience God? But, do we expect such an experience, really? Do we really expect to experience God today? Maybe we’ve become so accustomed to the ideas about God appearing with clouds, thunder, lightning, trumpet fanfares, fire, smoke, etc. that we’ve just decided the presence of God cannot be experienced by us—maybe by people like Moses, Elijah or Paul—but not us.
Perhaps we would do well to take to heart the words of C. S. Lewis: “The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists in shoving it all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.”
One of the very important spiritual disciplines—possibly now more than at any other time in history—is the discipline of silence.
Psalm 46. In the 46th Psalm the Psalmist—speaking for God in the first person—says, “Be still and know that I am God.”
Feeling lost, at our wits’ end, even despondent, if you think about it, is more like a tunnel than a cave. It is something we go through. What helps us go through discouragement is the same thing that helped Elijah move through it.
- Let God confront you. Meet God in the silence and listen.
- Know that God is with you and giving you what you need—just as God gave Elijah what he needed.
- Get involved with people again and focus beyond yourself—on others and their needs.
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the words and music that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
I am so grateful for you, for our church, and for the Love that will see us all through this very difficult time. Please stay safe and well and we’ll be together again in spirit tomorrow morning!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster