But let me tell you how I REALLY feel.
Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces 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; 12 and after the earthquake a fire,but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice” 1 Kings 19: 11-12. NKJV
If you grew up in any mainline protestant evangelical Church, it’s likely that you’ve been quoted that verse your whole life when being told and taught about prayer and hearing from God. That’s THE BIG ONE that people look to and reference as they tell you that when you pray you need to wait to hear that voice. Or they’ll say that if you ever want to communicate with God in any meaningful way, that you just need to calm your heart, and quiet your soul, and enter into a time of meditation by waiting upon the Lord. And if you do that, and if you truly listen, then God will begin speak to you in a still small voice.
Here’s the thing though: no honest reading of 1 Kings 19 will ever let you reach that conclusion.
We are never told or led to believe that God speaking to Elijah in this unique way is normative for all Christian believers today. Nothing in the passage indicates that having God speak to one specific man, for a very specific reasons, at a very specific time in his life, at a very specific time in history, translates to that being how we should all expect to hear from God all the time. This is especially true considering that it seems to be the only time that it ever happened to the prophet.
We see some of the holes develop when the people who tell you that God wants to speak to you in still small voice ignore the scriptures where God doesn’t speak that way. In the context of that very verse, both before and after, how is God communicating to Elijah? First off we see
All of a sudden an angelic messenger touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” v.5
The Lord’s angelic messenger came back again, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, for otherwise you won’t be able to make the journey.” v.7
If we were making prescriptive what God has called descriptive, we would have to argue that just as God sent down angels from heaven to speak to Elijah in an audible voice, so to does God want to send angels to us. That the way he communicates to us is by sending angelic hosts to mingle with us and nourish and minister to us and we can expect this. So why not add talking with angels and being ministered by them as a normative and daily spiritual practice along with hearing from God via the still small voice?
Or how about the entire rest of the chapter where we see God himself is DIRECTLY speaking to Elijah in a very loud, audible voice?
He went into a cave there and spent the night. All of a sudden the Lord spoke to him, “Why are you here, Elijah?”v.9
The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord. Look, the Lord is ready to pass by.” v.11
All of a sudden a voice asked him, “Why are you here, Elijah?” v.13
The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came and then head for the Desert of Damascus. Go and anoint Hazael king over Syria. You must anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to take your place as prophet. Jehu will kill anyone who escapes Hazael’s sword, and Elisha will kill anyone who escapes Jehu’s sword. I still have left in Israel seven thousand followers who have not bowed their knees to Baal or kissed the images of him.” v.15-18
At this point in the chapter you should be asking yourself “Is this REALLY a conversation that I am part of”?
All throughout this chapter God is speaking to Elijah as a man would speak a friend- in a direct, audible way. And yet there’s no one [well, relatively few] saying that that is how God speaks to us today- that we should wait and be silent so we can hear a voice out of nowhere start talking to us. No, rather they ignore all the verses which are directly before and directly after with God speaking to the guy out loud, and focus in on the still small voice which is the most subjective, most vague, most “fleshly” and most apt to be confused and missapropriated.
The passage states that there was a wind, an earthquake and a fire, but the Lord was in neither of them. Finally there was a still small voice, and the implication is that God was “in it” because the passage didn’t say “He wasn’t” . This doesn’t follow. Furthermore, as a note, only the KJV and NKJV translate it as “still small voice” the NIV translates it as “gentle whisper” the NASB “sound of a gentle blowing”, the NSRV “the sound of sheer silence.” The NET Bible “soft whisper” and the ESV “the sound of a low whisper”.
And so it doesn’t even say that it was God talking to him in that gentle sound or in that silence. This is backed up by the fact that the VERY NEXT VERSE, the one that is always left out says
“When Elijah heard it, [the sound of silence/whisper/blowing] he covered his face with his robe and went out and stood at the entrance to the cave. All of a sudden a voice asked him, “Why are you here, Elijah?”
More audible voices. Right.
Listen- if God was already speaking to Elijah audibly and through angels, the still small voice does not then become an indication of how God speaks to us. That’s crazy. People try to make it sound that Elijah just had to be silent and still and wait upon the Lord for the opportunity to hear that whisper. I’ve been in Church meetings where the pastor spent three days teaching us how recognize the voice of God in the whisper.
But Elijah already knew the voice of God! He heard it and recognized it way before this happened. And so trying to push that usage is just bizarre. If you’re trying to peg some spiritual act as normative, why go for the obscure line in an obscure passage that was spoken to a single unique man thousands of years ago? If you want to hijack an idea or principle or whatever from this chapter, why on earth isn’t the takeaway that God speaks to us out loud? Do the math. 4 instances of God speaking out loud, 2 instances of angels speaking. 1 instance of a sound which may or may not have been God communicating in it. And why use the “still small voice” as the main way God speaks to us when throughout this chapter and the next God is speaking to the guy clearly and directly in an audible voice, which leaves no room for error or confusion?
This doesn’t make any sense in the context of the verse, and I think it would be wise to stop telling people that that’s how they can expect they’re going to hear from God, and instead point them to Scriptur. That’s where His voice is, words on paper, and not in some quiet space of silence somewhere in your head or heart.
[Contributed by Dustin Germain]
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