Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (I Kings 19) transports me to one of the strangest quick change artist transformations of characters in biblical history. It’s like seeing someone morph from Buford Pusser to Barney Fife before your eyes. In the previous chapter, Elijah has been walking tall, carrying his big stick into the confrontation with Baal prophets at Mount Carmel, ending in his wholesale slaughter of these 850 prophets. He talks big as well, fearlessly jawing with King Ahab and giving him marching orders. Then, Ahab gets back to the castle and tells Queen Jezebel what has happened. She sends back a threat to Elijah, and this is when he lays down his big stick, puts his bullet in his pocket, turns tail and runs for his life, teeth chattering and legs shaking.
What is God to do with this Man of God turned Mr. Chicken of God? Here is Elijah, filled with fear, shame, and depression for his cowardice. Like Old Lodge Skins at the end of Little Big Man, Elijah believes it is all over; it is the end of his time on earth, it is his day to die, so he lays down under a broom tree and falls asleep, sure that he will not wake up. Instead of the death angel visiting him, a guardian angel comes to his aid, providing him with miracle bread and the water of life, giving him sustenance for a forty day journey. He makes it to the mountain of God and goes spelunking, spending the night in the cave. Elijah hears a voice saying that God is about to pass by, so he goes out to watch and listen. A mighty wind passes by, and then a violent earthquake, and then a consuming fire, but God is in none of these phenomena. God’s presence arrives in the form of a still, small voice, a gentle whisper. Tracy Chapman’s voice comes to mind, Don’t you know, talking ’bout a revolution, it sounds like a whisper.
Elijah thought that his world was coming to an end when all his fellow prophets were killed by the edge of the sword, leaving him as the sole survivor in the thus saith the Lord club. Perhaps God was showing Elijah that the world where he needed to carry a big billy club in order to carry the power of God with him was indeed ending. He didn’t need to turn the sacred space into slaughterhouse five in order to prove God is the true God. It was the end of one world and the beginning of another, with God is conspicuously absent in the violence and destruction of earthquake, fire, and cyclone. The hope of this new world finds God’s peaceful presence in the revolutionary whisper. Hope, with a gentle persuasion, whispers its comforting word. Whispering hope, O how welcome Thy voice!
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.