1 Kings 19:9-18

Dr. Robert J. Anderson

August 10, 2014


The story of the Elijah and the prophets of Baal is one of the best in the Old Testament.  It is found in 1 Kings 18.  It’s almost an Indiana Jones type story.  I can almost hear the Jones Theme song.


Queen Jezebel brought false prophets into Israel and led the people astray.  And, God was not happy!  Elijah told King Ahab that he had brought trouble to the house of Israel by abandoning the Lord’s commandments and following the Baals.  Elijah tells the king to summon people from all over Israel to gather on Mt. Carmel and tell 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at the table of Jezebel to come too.  When everyone was assembled, Elijah challenged the people with how long they will vacillate between following God and the false gods--if the Lord is God, follow him; if Baal is God, follow him.  But, the people said nothing.  Next, Elijah challenges the false prophets to a duel.  Let the prophets of Baal and Asherah build and altar and prepare a sacrificial bull.  Then call upon Baal to rain down fire and consume the sacrifice, and I will do the same and call upon God.  The challenge is taken up!  The prophets of the false gods whoop and holler from morning to noon imploring their god to consume the sacrifice no avail.  At noon, Elijah taunts them: shout louder; maybe he is in deep thought, a sleep, or traveling.  They shout louder but nothing happens.  Elijah calls everyone over to his altar where he digs a trench around it and dumps enough water (three times) on it to soak the wood and run off and fill the trench.  Elijah calls upon God who sends down fire and consumes the sacrifice, wood, rocks, and soil and all of the water.  Next Elijah calls upon the people to seize and kill the 850 false prophets!


Jezebel was not happy that her prophets were killed and Elijah fled for his life.  It is amazing isn’t it that we can experience a great victory in our spiritual journey or enjoy great blessings but let something threaten us and we run like nothing good ever happened to us!  Elijah took off and he didn’t stop running for 40 days and 40 nights to a cave in the wilderness where we pick up the story in today’s passage.  He is depressed and talks of suicide.


Look at how many ways that God was not to be found in these verses from 1st Kings.  Typically God’s appearances in the Old Testament accompany powerful natural phenomena--rain, earthquake, and fire.


God finds Elijah in the cave and asks him what are you doing here?  Elijah is over zealous in feeling his oats, perhaps.  He says, “The Israelites broke your covenant, tore down your altars, and killed your prophets, and I am the only one left!  Most of what he says is not true but hyperbole to show his zealousness.  And, in his depression, he’s feeling sorry for himself--I am the only faithful one left!  God tells him to go to the entrance to the cave, for God is about to walk by.


A lot happened outside that cave.  There was a great wind that split mountains and rocks.  Then there was an earthquake.  Then there was fire.  God was not in the fire or the earthquake or the destructive winds.  God was in none of those places.  God was in the gentle whisper. God was in the moment of quiet.  The “sound of silence” as the NRSV puts it.  We talk about things like winds, fire and earthquake being an “act of God”, but God does not act this way.


The Biblical and Christian view of God is often at odds with what is held in common currency in modern society about God.  Once a clergyperson had to deal with this misrepresentation of God in a very clever way.  This clergyperson was confronted by a rather opinionated academic who was used to having his view of everything applauded.  The clergyperson quietly listened to all the things that were wrong with God and why God did not deserve our worship or even any belief. “And that,” the academic declared, “is why I don’t believe in God!!”  After a few minutes of this diatribe the clergyperson quietly said: “You’re right. I don’t believe in the God you don’t believe in either.”  He then quietly walked away.


Look at all of the places in the Elijah story that God was not found--wind, earthquake, and fire.  In the stillness, in the sound of silence, Elijah hears something--he encounters the Lord.


God asks Elijah the question again, “Why are you here?” and Elijah gives the same answer.  Apparently, the presence of God in the silence did not get the point across.  God speaks a third time and tells Elijah to get off his duff and get going.  There are kings to anoint and a prophet to pass the mantle onto.  Here also is the sound of silence.


Elisha is anointed the next prophet who will anoint the kings.  The conclusion to Elijah’s fight with Jezebel will not be in the spectacular Mt. Carmel duel; it will not happen in wind, earthquake, or fire, but it will happen years later following the anointing of kings and Jezebel is killed as well as the followers of Baal.  The seemingly mundane ordination of Elisha begins a succession of events that lead to the conclusion.  Elijah is not alone--for there are 7,000 who have not bowed their knee to false gods.  The unfolding events--almost imperceptible--are the sound of silence.  That’s how the Lord may appear--in the sound of silence--after the wind, fire, and earthquake.


God is not locked into one mode of revealing himself.  God is not tied down by our expectations.  There are some spectacular Old Testament stories--the deliverance of the Israelites from the hand of the Egyptian pharaoh, the three men in the fiery furnace, and this contest on Mt. Carmel in today’s passage.  But, God’s power is also there in the unfolding events of history—the sound of silence of God’s presence.  Elijah didn’t know it at the time but when he got off his duff and moved on at God’s direction, that it would lead to other events in the fulfillment of God’s will in history—the sound of silence of God’s presence.  God’s voice is in the unspectacular events of ordinary people—the sound of silence of God’s presence.  God’s voice may be present amid God’s silence in the birth of a child to an unwed mother under scandalous circumstances.  God’s voice may be present in the death of an innocent man on the cross.


Look at all the places God’s voice is not found--wind, earthquake, fire, the hate mongers in the name of Christian faith, the voices of prejudice and discrimination in all of its ugly forms, in the words and acts that rob a child of innocence and scar for life, in the words that discourage and rob people of their dreams, in the words that challenge another’s faith when their opinion is different from ours.


Then look at the places God’s voice is found--Come to me all you who labor and are overburdened and I will give you rest, you are invited into the family of God because of grace, not because you earned it or are better than someone else, God is love, and we love God because he first loved us, behold, I stand at the door and knock.  It anyone opens the door and invites me in, I will come in and sit and eat with him, God loved the world so much that he sent his son into the world that whoever believes in him should not die but live forever.


The next time you pray and God doesn’t seem to answer, or the next time you do something that no one seems to notice, remember God’s presence in the sound of silence.  Like Elijah ordaining Elisha began a chain of events of God’s work in the world…  Like a baby’s cry in a stable in Bethlehem ushered in God’s salvation…  Like the put down on a cross of a rebel in 1st Century Israel opened the gates of heaven…  Your prayers and your acts of faith and kindness are part of the history of God acting in the world to accomplish his work.


Sometimes God’s speaks the loudest when you can’t hear anything--the sound of silence.