1 Kings 19:1-18
In order to understand the power of 1 Kings 19, we need to remind ourselves briefly of chapter 18. In it, we get what might be the pinnacle of Elijah’s prophetic career. He openly challenges the prophets of Baal before the eyes of the nation of Israel to a “battle of the gods” and they are defeated in an astounding and shocking fashion—God rains fire down from heaven before them all.
Then, within only a few hours, Queen Jezebel threatened Elijah’s life and, as the text notes, “Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life.” (vs. 3) In the resulting flight, Elijah disappears into the wilderness and asks God to let him die. God’s reaction to his prophet’s severe anxiety and depression is a window into God’s marvelous care for his children. Not only does God not let Elijah die, he takes care of him, body and soul, and by the end of chapter 19 Elijah is back in action.
The first thing God does is feed Elijah and let him sleep.
“And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Arise and eat.’…And he ate and drank and lay down again.” (vs. 5, 6)
Taking care of ourselves physically when we are in a season of depression is necessary to our recovery. We are not just minds and souls, but an elaborate combination of soul and body.
Then God begins to work on Elijah spiritually as well. God sends him on a journey to Mount Horeb, otherwise known as Sinai. This is the place where God first established the covenant with Moses, and it is here where Elijah despairs of it all and declares that all Israel has forsaken the covenant and he is the only remaining prophet. Then God does something interesting. He tells Elijah to look for him on the mountain.
Then, famously, a great wind, an earthquake, and fire come and go, but the Lord was not in any of them. Absolutely crucial to what God is doing to Elijah is the fact that he has been in those manifestations before. When God talked with Job and his friends, he appeared in a whirlwind. When God cleansed the Israelite camp of wickedness, he cracked the ground open and swallowed evil. And just a few days earlier, God spoke to the nation of Israel through fire before Elijah’s very eyes. But this time, the Lord was not in any of them. Instead, he shows up in “a low whisper.” (vs. 12)
Who hears a whisper? Only one—the one for whom it is intended.
This is a story about God speaking to Elijah. When God wants to get the attention of dozens, thousands, or an entire nation, the wind blows, the earth shakes, and fire rains down from heaven. But right now, God’s prophet sits alone in a cave, broken and hopeless. In my mind’s eye I picture Elijah sitting in the cave, his shoulders hunched and his head hung. The wind comes and the cave walls shake, but he doesn’t move. The earth buckles around him but he remains still. Fire consumes the mouth of the cave, and he does not stir. Then silence, and God walks into the cave, sits down beside his prophet, leans over and whispers, “Elijah!” Then Elijah stands up and wraps his face in his cloak because he knows God is talking to him.
Elijah knows God speaks to the multitudes; now he knows God speaks to him. Now he knows God cares for him.