On Mount Carmel, the prophets of Baal begged and bled for their god to answer them. Leaning against a rock with his arms crossed, Elijah watched and waited. It was hard to tell if he was amused or furious with what he saw. Every so often he’d call out suggestions on how to get their god to answer them. “Maybe you should cry a little louder. Could it be your god can’t hear you because he’s relieving himself, asleep, or away on a journey?” Elijah’s mockery heightened the volume and intensity of their cries. But still, their god didn’t hear and didn’t answer.
Hours later, Elijah had enough. The Baal worshippers droned on as he set to work rebuilding the altar. He placed twelve stones for the base to remind Israel of her foundation. Then he dug a trench, laid wood on top, cut a bull into pieces, and doused it with water until the trench overflowed. The shadow on the sundial indicated it was time for the evening sacrifice and time for the fireworks to begin.
Mountains and valleys
Elijah prayed aloud, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant, and I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have turned their hearts back.”1 Kings 20:36-37
What happened next is the stuff of legends and myths, action-packed movies, and suspenseful thrillers. But where those veer into unbelievable fantasy, the events that unfolded next were all true.
After Elijah’s prayer, God answered with fire falling from the sky. Everything around the altar, and every last drop of water, was consumed. There was no question about who was God! The false deity was powerless and deaf, but the God of heaven and earth had spoken! Elijah commanded Israel to “Seize the prophets of Baal!” and they executed all 450 of them at the brook Kishon.
It was a spectacular mountaintop experience. God, and his servant, Elijah, were vindicated, and Baal and his prophets were humiliated and defeated. With the false prophets dead, and Israel acknowledging Jehovah as God, Elijah expected Ahab, and Jezebel, to repent or be ousted. But not only did that not happen, but Jezebel sought even more vehemently to kill him.
In a reversal of the spectacular events on Carmel, now Elijah was the one running for his life. Suffering from exhaustion, hunger, fear, and despair, his mountain top high was followed by a valley of low.
God in a box
Maybe Elijah’s experience is more like our own than we thought.
You too have had high spiritual highs and low spiritual lows. You’ve shown up and spoken the truth for God and then suffered the consequences. Secretly, you thought God owed you something for your faith. Deep down you might’ve felt disappointed with him and how things have turned out, and maybe even depressed.
At first, in your zeal for the Lord, you were overly optimistic, expecting big and awesome things from God. But now, after some disappointing blows, your outlook is far more pessimistic. Like Elijah, you’ve felt alone and like no one else is quite as dedicated as you.
Is it possible that somewhere along the way you confused your plans with God’s will? Did you think that if you did certain things, God was obligated to do what you wanted him to do?
Elijah saw God do things we can only imagine, but he also put the God who rains fire down from heaven into a box. He mistakenly thought one spectacular turn deserved another. But when God allowed things to go in a different direction, Elijah’s response was despondency.
Still small voice
Elijah needed a fresh perspective. After a good nap, some literal angel food, and a heavenly vision, God showed him that Mount Carmel was the exception, not the rule.
God showed Elijah that people’s hearts don’t change because of the spectacular, they change because they encounter God’s voice.
On the same mountain, and perhaps in the same cleft of the rock as he used with Moses, God let his glory, and his command over nature, pass by Elijah.
“Behold the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks 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. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a still small voice.”1 Kings 19:11-12
The thundering whispering God
If we want to know God, we need to recognize his voice. It’s rarely in the majestic, and more often in the mundane, that God speaks to us. The sound of his voice as we meet with him through his Word, ministers to our heartbreaks, disappointments, and unfulfilled plans. It’s in his Word that we learn that while he can put on a firework show, to expect him to do so, automatically limits him. He’s far too wise, too powerful, and too good to be boxed in by what we think he should do, and isn’t that glorious?
Earth, wind, and fire are great, and sometimes God uses them, but it’s the still small voice that changes our hearts and renews our perspectives. So the next time you want to see signs and wonders, open up God’s Word and meet with him there. The God who thunders over creation also whispers in your ear.
Could anything be more mysterious, personal, and majestic than that?
Listening with you,
P.S. If you want to practice listening to the still small voice, more time in the Word is required. Did you know that I have several devotional series to help usher in those times of holy leisure into your day? Subscribe to receive them daily in your inbox.