Ravens and the Prophet

Symbols of His Power - Chapter Eighteen

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.
After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.
And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face
and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He replied,
‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty.
The Israelites have rejected Your covenant,
broken down Your altars, and put Your prophets to death with the sword.
I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.
(1 Kings 19:11b-14)

I love the way God handles His servant. Elijah pours out his anger and his frustration, and God goes out of His way to reassure him that He is still with him.

There is no hint of reproach, just a necessary reminder that His ways are higher than ours. As He dealt with Jacob, David and Jeremiah at times when their faith faltered, so He gently set Elijah free from the delusion that everything depended on him. What a God!

The Lord had promised to pass close by, and Elijah prepared himself for the wonderful moment when he would again feel God’s familiar presence with him. First, however, he would be treated to an impressive display of the power of God. From the entrance of his cave, Elijah watched the awesome violence of a storm rushing through the deep granite gorges.

What could be a more fitting way for God to reveal Himself? Had He not spoken to Job out of a whirlwind, and would He not appear to Ezekiel in a great windstorm?(1) Jeremiah compared God’s judgement to a whirling storm that sweeps everything before it, while Nahum proclaimed that His way is in the whirlwind and storm.(2)

It must have been a terrifying spectacle. Huge chunks of granite were tossed into the air as they crashed down the mountainside. There is an irresistible strength in the wind of God, which neither the work of men nor creation itself can withstand. We can imagine Elijah in those days before storm-proof anoraks, huddled in his cave, wishing he had a fire to shelter by.

It is no coincidence that the work of the Spirit is likened to a wind.(3) What is the move of the Spirit that is blowing through so many parts of the Church except the breath of God? In our own day we have witnessed an awesome wind of holiness sweeping through both Church and nation, exposing sin and shaking complacency. The hurricane that swept through the south of England in 1987, and the shaking that occurred on the Stock Exchange at the same time, were crucial reminders of heaven’s right, and power, to overthrow all the pride of man’s hopes and achievements.

Unlike most of us, however, Elijah was already familiar with the God of the whirlwind. Powerful though this wind was, the Lord had nothing new to teach his storm-tossed warrior through it. Suddenly, there came something still more frightening: an earthquake. It is a terrifying sensation when the earth, the symbol of our stability, ceases to support us. Whole cities can be laid waste within minutes of such shaking.

An earthquake is caused by huge tectonic plates grinding against each other. The Bible adds to this natural understanding the supernatural interpretation that it may also be a sign of the heavenly powers impacting the Earth.

Consider, for example, the earthquakes that accompanied the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, or the tremor that marked the Israelites defeat of the Philistines.

The earthquake which swallowed Korah and his friends when they rebelled against Moses, and the still larger one in Amos’s day are other prime examples of God’s judgement on a rebellious people.(4)

With such powerful precedents, we are hardly surprised to read that a mighty earthquake accompanied the death of the Lord Jesus on the Cross. Later, the building the disciples were meeting in would be shaken in answer to their intense prayers. Yet another earthquake set Paul and Silas free from their unjust imprisonment, and led to the conversion of their jailer.(5) More recent quakes in Romania and Armenia have likewise paved the way for great spiritual harvests in their aftermath.

When London was struck by two such quakes in the late eighteenth century, they were taken by the Church as a serious warning and as a call to repentance. It is a sad reflection that we in the West no longer heed the Power behind earthquakes. But Scripture predicts that there are still many mighty earthquakes ahead.(6)

Considering all the upheavals he had already been through, however, Elijah felt as though God was saying nothing new to him through the earthquake. Then came a terrible fire. Again, we need to remember the setting: sun-scorched scrubland, where huge fires can be started by a single flash of lightning.

God is revealed throughout Scripture as the One who answers out of fire. Since fire is also considered the sign that a sacrifice has been accepted, Elijah must have expected to see God revealed in it. The crash of the thunder overhead, the howling of the wind, the quaking of the earth and the crackling of the flames must have overwhelmed the prophet’s senses, even as they sharpened his anticipation.

With each fresh manifestation of Nature’s might, Elijah must have looked to see the power and vengeance of God unleashed against the apostate nation.

Hurricanes, earthquakes and firestorms seemed entirely appropriate symbols to indicate the judgement of God.(7)
Much though the flames may have reminded him of the great triumph on Mount Carmel, however, God had nothing fresh to show him through them.

Elijah had already endured more than one baptism of fire, as the Lord burnt up the dross in his life.

The Still Small Voice

The Lord came to Elijah, not by works of violence, but in a new and deeper way. One translator renders this delightfully as being ‘with the sound of silence’. It is a phrase pregnant with awe and mystery. After all the elemental cacophony, stillness reigned again at last.

Elijah pulled his cloak over his face and rushed to the edge of the cave to meet with his God. Here at last was the presence he had grown to know and love so well during those prolonged days by the brook Cherith, before the mighty winds and storms had swept through his life.

Perhaps his joy was mixed with awe and self-abasement, for there is nothing that makes us so aware of the holiness of God as when His presence draws near to us. We are humbled when He speaks, and chastened by the memory of our own unfaithfulness.

It was as though God were saying, ‘You thought that because things did not turn out the way you expected, I had not been working. You are completely mistaken. I am simply working in a different way. I know the things that Jezebel has done, but I want you to know that I am still in control.’

Elijah was amazed and overwhelmed, but he was still unable to grasp the meaning of all that he had seen and heard. In a retort of self-justification, he could only repeat the refrain he had programmed himself to believe.(8)

Slowly the still small voice breathed peace into the tumult of his soul. The German word for breast feeding (stillen) beautifully evokes the mother quieting the child by her presence and her breast milk. It is a picture of how the Lord meets our deepest needs.

Love is Stronger than Force

The work God had begun in Elijah so many years ago was now complete. God was restoring him to a calling he had at times wanted to run away from – and what prophet or pastor has not felt tempted to do the same at one time or another?

God was about to re-commission Elijah for active service, and to entrust him with some of the most important undertakings of his life. Now he would have to retrace his steps, resume his work and embrace new challenges.

These, in turn, would prepare the way for a major dynastic change in the Middle East, and for a yet greater work of the Spirit in Israel.

What had Elijah learnt by fleeing to the desert? That it was not for him to remove himself from the ministry to which God had entrusted him! Perhaps, too, that God’s gentler ways are often His best. Love is stronger than force, and the gentleness of God’s mercy can accomplish more than the wind of His power.

So often, His coming is not dramatic at all, but so gentle that it is easily missed. He comes like the dew to refresh us, and His Spirit as a dove.

To live for God’s glory does not mean that we have to scale the heights of spectacular contests on Mount Carmel, or do extraordinary things, before we become acceptable to Him. As someone put it, ‘He has not saved us to be a sensation, but to be a servant.’ God esteems faithfulness and devotion. The steady influence of a quiet consistent life bears far more fruit than we generally realize.

Reflections

In what ways can you trace the work of the wind of holiness in our Church and society?

Ponder the ‘earthquakes’ that have shaken your own life and disturbed your complacency.
What has been their outcome?

Consider the baptism of fire that John promised the Lord Jesus would send.
How has this affected your life?

In what ways have you experienced the Still Small Voice?

Selah

Thank You Lord that You are in the winds that blow,
the fires that burn up the dross,
and even in the earthquakes that so unsettle us.

Most of all we thank You that You want us to abide in You,
and to discern the quieter accents of Your love.

Continue to develop this ability in each one of us,
that we may be both intimate with You,
and effective for You.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Previous chapter – Confronted with God’s Challenge
Next Chapter – The Dark Speech of God

References

1 Job 38:1, 40:6 Ezekiel 1:4
2 Jeremiah 23:9, 25:32, 30:23; Nahum 1:3
3 John 3:8
4 Exodus 19:18; 1 Samuel 14:15; Numbers 16:31-33; Amos 1:1
5 Matthew 27:51-54, Acts 4:31, Acts 16:25f
6 Eg Revelation 11:13; 16:15-21, cf Isaiah 29:6,f Joel 2:10, Zechariah 14:4-5
7 Cf Isaiah 13:13; 29:6; 24:19-20, Luke 3:16-17
8 See 1 Kings 19:13-14

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