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Hearing God on the Mountaintop

Updated: Sep 25, 2022

“The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ 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.”

--1 Kings 19:11-12

After the “power encounter” I described in my last devotional reflection, everything seemed to be going the prophet Elijah’s way. The spiritual opponents he faced on Mount Carmel, the Baal prophets, had been defeated and decimated. The Lord’s victory on the mountain opened the heavens and the long-awaited rain showered a parched Israel. The wicked King of Israel, Ahab, was appropriately humbled and his countrymen appeared, superficially anyway, to renew their allegiance to the Lord. Buoyed by his triumph, Elijah, in a truly Forrest Gump-like, epic effort, outran Ahab’s chariot cross-country back to Jezreel—a 14-mile jaunt. (1 Kings 18:41-46) Elijah was on top of the world! At least one would think.

However, storms were gathering in other places besides the sky. Queen Jezebel, the patron of the slain Baal prophets, threatened Elijah with the same fate. Had she really wanted him dead, she could have nabbed him in Jezreel and done the deed without warning. More likely, Jezebel hoped to frighten Elijah, discrediting him and His God in the eyes of new converts if the prophet ran for his life. Elijah complied with a cowardly retreat 80 miles south to Beersheba. For his part, perhaps the prophet hoped that the royal family would repent and return to the Lord as well. The Mount Carmel victory did not produce a national spiritual revival and Elijah was profoundly disappointed. Once in Beersheba, Elijah journeyed further out into the wilderness. Exhausted, terrified and alone, Elijah entertained thoughts of suicide and prayed to die. (1 Kings 19:1-4)

What a turnaround from the bold, trash-talking prophet on Mount Carmel! I love the Bible because it offers honest accounts of real, fragile people (just like us!)—and this story is a perfect illustration. Did the Lord chastise Elijah for his defeated attitude or lack of faith? No. He fed him, twice, and let him sleep—the perfect antidote to launch the rejuvenation of a defeated, depressed person. (1 Kings 19:5-7) I can’t tell you the number of times a little of this medicine would have helped me in my battle against negative thoughts. Refreshed and rested, God sent Elijah on a 40-day, 200 mile trek to another mountain, Mount Horeb, where the Lord would speak to Elijah, correcting his perspective and providing new marching orders. The trip to Horeb should have only taken 10 days, but God wanted Elijah, like the Israelites before in the wilderness after their exodus from Egypt, to have plenty of time to contemplate what the Lord might be up to. (1 Kings 19:8)

If you are a regular reader of these devotional reflections, you might remember that Horeb was the mountain where God had an honest talk with Moses before sending him back to Egypt to rescue His people from their bondage. I guess God liked to confront people with uncomfortable dialogue at this particular location (although my experience has been that He is perfectly capable of doing it just about anywhere)—now it was Elijah’s turn. As Jesus often did during His earthly ministry, the Lord began with a question, asking, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Thankfully, Elijah resisted the obvious, impudent response that the Lord had sent him there in the first place. Instead, a pouting Elijah, feeling very sorry for himself, complained that he alone had been faithful to God and, by implication, that same God had not done enough to protect him from the scheming Queen Jezebel. (1 Kings 19:9-10)

Again, true to form, the Lord did not reply to Elijah’s protest directly. Anyone reading this reflection has had a similar experience with God. Rather, the Lord commanded Elijah to walk to the mouth of the cave on the mountainside in which he and God were conversing—and to wait there for a manifestation and a revelation of the Lord’s presence. What happened next is the heart of this story. The Lord sent a strong wind, an earthquake and fire down upon that mountain—but in each case, the Lord did not speak to Elijah. (1 Kings 19:11-13) It’s not that he Lord couldn’t use those means to communicate. A strong wind and fire later signaled a visitation of the Holy Spirit in a Jerusalem room where the disciples of Jesus were huddled and hiding following Jesus’ ascension. (Acts 2:2-3) Of course, Elijah had recently witnessed fire descending from heaven to burn up his sacrifice on Mount Carmel. As for earthquakes, just ask Paul, Silas, their cellmates and a Roman jailor whether God showed up that night when the ground shook in Philippi. (Acts 16:25-28) But the Lord chose to speak to Elijah, in this case, in a gentle whisper.

That’s a problem for people like us who are drowning in a sea of noise. How many times a day do we sit in stillness and solitude, asking the Lord to speak to us? For most of us, if we are truly honest, the only time we go without sound (or our screens) is when our head hits the pillow at night. Maybe we bathe in babble so that we don’t have to be alone with our thoughts? Whatever the reason, may I suggest we take a little time each day to quiet the noise around us and resist the persistent clamor of our own thoughts long enough for the Lord to get a word in edgewise, at least? It could become a life transformative moment for us.

In Elijah’s case, God repeated his original question and Elijah responded with the original answer. He clearly didn’t learn anything from the Lord’s demonstration of power. But the Lord sometimes overlooks our stubbornness to get to the point. The remedy for Elijah’s self-pity was a mission in the service of the Lord. Elijah’s assignment was to anoint two kings and his successor. Our mission will no doubt be different. But the best way of getting our eyes off of ourselves is to get them on the Lord—and obeying His will for our lives. And when we look to the Lord, we realize, like Elijah was told, that we are not alone. We are surrounded by a family of Jesus people bought by His blood and propelled by His purposes. (1 Kings 19:14-18)

Heavenly Father, we want to hear You. Slow us down, still our minds and open our hearts to Your Word. Remind us continually that we are engaged in a spiritual war against the powers of darkness. Sometimes apparent victories are followed by what we perceive to be defeats—but the truth is that You are always in control and nothing can thwart Your will. Fill us with faith to remain steadfast in the midst of the battle. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

P.S. The picture above was taken by my son Alex Williams last week in Oregon. It is not Mount Horeb but Mount Jefferson, viewed from the side of Mount Hood. Still, it looks like a place where the Lord would be speaking in all His glory and grandeur. "Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the Lord comforts His people and will have compassion on His afflicted ones. (Isaiah 49:13)

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