I hope this day finds you and your family well. I invite you to take a few moments with me to read and reflect upon today’s scripture selection — and to carry these thoughts with you into your day.
Today’s Scripture:1 Kings 19:9-12
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.
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
Our scripture reading comes after a challenging time for Elijah, the prophet. You can read that part of the story in the preceding verses, but suffice it to say that it was a time of intense and productive activity, relational conflict, physical exhaustion, a major success, and a crushing disappointment.
Earlier we read that Elijah “got up and fled for his life.” Some commentators believe the meaning of the Hebrew is more accurately “he got up and went for his soul.” Yes, he was fleeing for his life, but he was also going for his soul. 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 cave walls. Imagine the quiet there—so silent he could hear his own heartbeat.
Have you had the experience of touring a cave before? Did they turn off the lights when you were down there? It’s an eerie experience. Down in the depths of the cave, they turn the lights off to show you what dark really is. And, of course, there is no source of light. You can’t see your hand in front of your face. It’s dark! But I’ve noticed when they do that everything becomes quiet. And it’s not just that there’s no darkness like that darkness; there is no silence like that silence.
Elijah was in the cave, very much needing hope, encouragement, the presence of God, guidance for his life, and to know that he wasn’t alone. Elijah needed to be found. There suddenly came a mighty 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 repeatedly 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, as strong as it is! It’s breaking the rocks into pieces! But God was not in the wind.
After the wind, a low rumbling came from deep in the earth. Soon he felt the rumbling and the shaking and rocks were falling all around. It’s an earthquake! After all, it’s an earthquake-prone region, and everyone knows 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 came, and no doubt Elijah remembered how God met Moses in a burning bush. He recalled that when God gave the law to the people, Moses was on the mountain with God, and 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. Take a look at how different translations describe his experience of God after the fire:
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 see 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.
But, do we expect such an experience? 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 we can’t experience God today.
Have we relegated the experience of God to something that happens only in a Cecil B. DeMille movie or in the ancient stories of the Old Testament? Our tendency is to get busy, to make a things-to-do list, to fix our own problems. Or, our tendency is to drown them out with noise: TV’s, radios, and headphones keep silence away. Perhaps what we need more than anything else, however, is to get up and go for our souls. Perhaps what we need more than anything else has become a rare and valuable commodity: silence.
- S. Lewis said, “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.
In the 46th Psalm the Psalmist — speaking for God in the first person — says, “Be still and know that I am God.”
There have been times when I have felt lost, not knowing which way to go. Sometimes I have panicked and have run to and fro, having to wind down to exhaustion before finding my way.
At other times, I have followed the time-tested advice for what to do when lost:
It is in those times that the way has become clearer. It is in those times — after all the noise of wind, earthquake, and fire settle down — that I can begin to know that I am not alone and to have a sense of direction.
I invite you to pray “The Listener’s Prayer” by Sir Paul Reeves, prayed at the World Council of Churches Seventh Assembly in Canberra, Australia:
God, Grant me to be silent before you — that I may hear you;
At rest in you — that you may work in me;
Open to you — that you may enter;
Empty before you — that you may fill me.
Let me be still
And know you are my God.
Thank you for sharing this moment of your day with me, with God, and with these reflections on a portion of scripture. I hope you will carry these with you throughout your day and night.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster