Text: I Kings 19:9-12
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Jun. 19, 2016
Have you heard the story about a man walking down the street in Naples when it started to rain? Someone ran up to him and said. “I just heard a weather report, that a massive rain storm is headed towards Naples and we have been ordered by the governor to evacuate immediately." The man thanked him and said, he planned to stay because the Lord had assured him that he would rescue him.
Soon it began to rain. The man headed for his house. Not long afterwards a fire truck pulled up to his house. A fireman knocked on his door and said, sir you need to come with us right away, we are going to have a flood and all of Naples needs to be evacuated. Again, the man thanked him, but said he had been assured directly by God that he would be rescued.
The rain continued throughout the day and night. By the next day the first floor of his house was flooded and he moved upstairs. He heard someone taping on his bedroom window and when he opened it he saw a man in a boat. The skipper said "jump in and I’ll take you to safety.” Again the man held firm. “No thank you, I’ll stay here, the Lord has promised to protect me.”
The rains continued. By the next day he had to abandon the second floor and crawled through the sky light in his attic to get to the roof. He watched in quiet confidence as the waters continued to rise, knowing God was testing his faith and that at the last minute he would be rescued. Sure enough just as the water was about to cover his head a helicopter appeared. The pilot threw down a rope ladder and said climb aboard. But the man called back, I’m supposed to stay here. The Lord has promised to protect me.
A few minutes later he drowned. When he got to the pearly gates he was angry. He shook his finger at St. Peter and said take me to the Father, He promised to protect me but He let me drown. St. Peter replied, “I was just discussing your situation with Jesus. We don’t understand you, we sent you a fire truck, a boat and a helicopter to save you, what else did you expect?”
I think this is what happened to Elijah in today’s Old Testament reading. We find Elijah is depressed. In fact, he is so depressed he asks God to let him die. At first this might seem astonishing. God has just vindicated him in a dramatic way. He boldly stood up to the king of Israel and the 450 prophets of Baal and denounced them for forsaking the God of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac & Jacob. Had I been in Elijah’s shoes, I would have been scared to death. But as we heard read three weeks ago – God sent fire from heaven to consume Elijah’s sacrifice. And then when he prayed, the rains came to end the three-year drought. One would think that after that kind of endorsement, Elijah would have been on an all-time high.
Instead, today we find him running for his life. Jezebel, the Phoenician Princess married to King Ahab is not about to accept God’s verdict. In a rage she sends soldiers to take Elijah’s life. So instead of being on a mountain-top we find Elijah in the wilderness, filled with self-pity, wanting to die.
I can imagine Elijah thinking that he deserved better than this. He should be a hero for what he had done. Instead he was a fugitive. Finally, he left the wilderness and fled to the mountain where God had provided for him during the three-year drought. Undoubtedly, he had regained some of his composure and probably thought, “God took care of me in this place before, maybe he will do so again.”
On the mountain three natural events took place. First there was a great windstorm that buffeted the mountain and tore loose rocks that went crashing down the mountainside. Both in the Hebrew Language and in the Greek language, the word for “wind” is also the word for “breath.” One needs the context to understand its meaning. But sometimes it is also insightful insert the opposite meaning. For example, to see God forming Adam out of the dust of the earth and then breathing into his nostrils and Adam became a living soul. I like to see this in the context of the larger creation story of the world being formless and empty and darkness was over the surface of the earth. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the deep. Out of the formlessness, comes the chaos of the wind of God that brings forth life. Or seeing the wind that separated the Red Sea so the Children of Israel could cross on dry land and being God’s breath, or finally, understanding the wind that swept through the house on the day of Pentecost to be the same as Jesus breathing on his disciples a few days earlier in the same room and saying “receive the Holy Spirit.”
But having said all that, sometime, wind is just wind. Though it was forceful and impressive, Elijah did not find in it God’s presence or his voice. It was only the wind. The external havoc he witnessed merely mirrored what he was feeling inside.
Next there was a gigantic earthquake. Once again we see in Scripture that God’s presence can be visible through such phenomena When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the ten commandments and spoke to the children of Israel the whole mountain trembled in an earthquake. When Jesus died on the cross, God showed his anger when an earthquake ripped the veil to the temple’s holy of holies in two – allowing all of us direct access to God the Father ever since. But sometimes a quake is just a quake. The devastation he saw about him matched the devastation he felt inside, but God was not there.
Then came a mighty roaring fire. Fire and smoke had covered Mt. Sinai when Moses gave his people the ten commandments. Tongues of fire appeared on the heads of the Apostles on the Day of Pentecost. Elijah had just witnessed God consuming the offering he had placed on the altar with a consuming fire from heaven. But this time God was not in the fire, all that Elijah saw was the barren mountainside the fire had left in its wake which matched the barrenness of his soul.
In despair he fell asleep. When he awakened, he heard a still small voice. The turmoil in his inner-self was calmed, and peace came to his troubled soul. In the quiet stillness, Elijah had heard the voice of God.
I know that many, if not all, of you can also point to critical turning points in your life and testify to the fact that God was at work in a dramatic transformative way. I am grateful for those times in my life. They are milestones. I call them to memory in the face of making critical decisions I have to make in the present. They give me confidence that God will guide me in the decision and as I seek His leading, He will not let me do something that is too stupid.
But I did not always have that confidence. I remember prior to going to Bible College, a series of dramatic events took place that convinced me that God had called me into ministry and that this was the place I was to go to train for it. (Many of my friends in the tradition I was in were convinced that I was making a huge mistake. They had been taught that if God was calling you into ministry, like the Apostle Paul, you should go into the wilderness for several years, and there on you own, read the scriptures, fast and pray, and God would give you the message you were to proclaim.)
So off to Bible College I went. I soon began to have second thoughts. I discovered that they did not use the King James Bible in the classes. The dorms had televisions in the lounges. One Saturday a bunch of guys literally carried me out to the car kicking and screaming. They were determined to take me to that sinful place, the bowling alley. (I have loved bowling ever since). Worst of all, however, the various dramatic events that had occurred on a regular basis that convinced me I was to go to Bible School came to a crashing halt.
I began to think my friends back home must be right. I had missed God’s will by going to school. Finally, I made an appointment to see the oldest professor in the school He was a former Presbyterian missionary to India for years before converting to Pentecost. Now 81 years old, he was a beloved and respected. I poured out my heart to him, unburdening my concerns. He listened patiently, and then spoke. “Bill, do you think it possible, that the reason you are not getting all these dramatic messages from God that brought you here, is that now that you are here, He is speaking to you through your professors and through your studies?” It was a whole new idea for me. Of course my friends back home have long ago given me us as a hopeless apostate.
I tell this story to say, I think this is what happened to Elijah. God had manifested Himself so dramatically in the past, he was expecting the same type of thing, now that he had incurred the wrath of Jezebel. But most of our lives are not lived out that way. So much is routine, so much is mundane. God’s will for conducting our lives is found in the study of scripture, in the teachings of the church and in the fellowship of His saints. Elijah had to learn that, I had to learn that. We thank God for the dramatic, but we also give thanks for loving guidance and care as we live out our lives day by day. In the quiet of day, when the turmoil of the day has ebbs, we hear Him speak in a still small voice.