The sun was bright over the Jezreel Valley as our tour group reached the top of Mount Carmel. It was 2010, and I was spending three weeks touring the biblical and historical sites of Israel. As we settled ourselves on the rocky hillside of Mount Carmel, we pulled out our Bibles and began to read the story of the prophet Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18.
The land of Israel was aching for a drink of rain. At Yahweh’s decree, the land hadn’t seen rain for the past three years. But now, Yahweh told Elijah to present himself to Ahab, the king of Israel, and then rain would come. So Elijah went to Ahab and challenged the prophets of Baal to a showdown atop Mount Carmel.
After a good measure of theatrics from Elijah (you gotta love his taunts—“Shout louder! Maybe Baal’s sleeping”), fire from Yahweh fell from heaven and burned up Elijah’s waterlogged offering. The people fell on their faces and worshiped God, while Elijah went to the top of the mountain, got down on his knees, and prayed for rain. Soon, the sky was “black with clouds” as a mighty storm raced across the plains of Israel.
Then we turned the page to 1 Kings 19 and found Ahab’s queen, Jezebel, threatening Elijah’s life. You would think the man who just single-handedly faced down 450 false prophets and witnessed such a miraculous display of God’s power could also face the threats of a single woman (no matter how powerful and bloodthirsty she might be). But in a somewhat puzzling turn of events, we read that “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.”
Elijah . . . a man known for his passion and bravery, the man who had just seen fire fall from heaven, who had seen a torrential downpour come as a direct result to his prayer . . . was afraid and ran.
That day in 2010, our leaders provided us with an intriguing thought. Baal—the false god Elijah had just stood up against—was known as the god of the storm. Yet on Mount Carmel, Elijah saw Yahweh work through fire and work through storm. Was it possible that in watching Yahweh’s amazing displays of power Elijah became confused as to who his God really was? Did he question Yahweh’s true nature?
The other night, I went for a run just before a storm hit. The air was warm and heavy with unfallen rain. Lightning sparked on the horizon, and the thunder was just beginning to rumble. There was something delicious and daring about being outside at that point—there was a hint of risk, but I knew I was safe. Later that night, however, when the wind began to blow the rain in hard sheets against my window, I was glad to be inside.
Storms can be thrilling . . . as long as you’re not caught up in one. When you’re caught in a storm, everything becomes more frightening. The road becomes slippery, and it becomes hard to see anything clearly.
The same is true when I’m caught in a storm in life. Whether that storm is at home, at work, in a difficult relationship, or in a worry about the future, once it arrives, it becomes all-encompassing. My vision, which had seemed so clear only days before, becomes blurred, and I can’t see my way forward. I can feel myself slipping and am not sure how to catch myself. Worst of all, I can begin to question the only One who can offer me truly solid ground in the face of the storm’s gale.
I can’t fault Elijah for his fear—I know the same fear all too well. When my God begins to work through an unfamiliar storm, something entirely different from anything I’ve seen Him do before, He feels suddenly unfamiliar too, and trust becomes difficult.
Thankfully, He extends grace even in my doubts.
For Elijah, the first touch of grace came when Yahweh sent an angel to feed him after he fell asleep under a broom bush, exhausted from all his running. The second touch came forty days later on Horeb, the mountain of God. When Elijah reached his mountain cave refuge, Yahweh came to him and told him to come out and stand on the mountain—“for the LORD is about to pass by.”
First came a powerful wind that threatened to tear the mountain apart. But Yahweh was not in the wind. Next came an earthquake that shook the mountain’s very foundations. But Yahweh was not in the earthquake. Then came a fire that swept the mountain with orange fury. As Elijah felt the heat on his face, I wonder if he remembered Carmel with a shudder.
But Yahweh was not in the fire.
And then came a gentle whisper.
After a wind, an earthquake, and a fire, I fear my hearing would have been too damaged to hear a whisper. But as soon as Elijah heard it, he drew his cloak over his face, left his cave, and went outside to listen to Yahweh—his Yahweh—speak.
After that, Yahweh spoke in softer, more familiar ways to Elijah, though interestingly Elijah was taken by a whirlwind to heaven in a chariot of fire. I don’t think Elijah ever forgot Yahweh’s fire or His storms. But I don’t think he ever forgot His gentle whisper either—because in that whisper, he heard the voice of the One he knew and believed.
Sometimes, in the midst of a storm, a gentle whisper is just what I need to remind me that my God is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do. And thanks to Elijah, I know He is faithful to deliver just that. So I’ll pull my cloak over my head and sit at the mouth of my cave, listening beyond the fire, beyond the thunder, for that still small voice I know and believe.