Elijah the Prophet: The Still Small Voice ‎

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			Of the entire cast of colorful characters that fill the pages of the Bible, none can match the ‎sheer vitality and passion of Elijah the Prophet. What is probably the most dramatic incident ‎of his dramatic career follows a victorious challenge to the king Ahab and a large crowd of ‎idolatrous prophets whom Elijah made look like fools. He then had to flee for his life. He ‎makes it to some place a day out of Beer Sheba where he begs for his own death, ‎incongruously considering himself to be a failure. An angel appears and touches him and tells ‎him to arise and eat. He sees food and water and he eats, drinks, and proceeds to lie down ‎again. The angel wakes him again and tells him that he must eat again to prepare for a great ‎journey. He eats again and begins a remarkable journey of 40 days and 40 nights until he ‎comes to Horev, or Sinai, the mountain of God. He lodges in a cave until he hears the word ‎of Hashem asking him ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ In response to this puzzling ‎question he answers, ‘I have been exceedingly zealous for Hashem, God of Hosts, for the ‎Israelites have abandoned Your covenant and destroyed Your altars and killed Your prophets ‎by the sword, and I alone remain and they want to take my soul’ (Kings I 19:9-10). ‎
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In response to this dispirited answer, the word of Hashem says to him, ‘“Go and stand on the ‎mountain before Hashem”, and Hashem passed and a great wind ripped the mountains and ‎broke the rocks before Hashem, but Hashem was not in the wind; and after the wind a great ‎noise, but Hashem was not in the noise. And after the noise a fire, but Hashem was not in the ‎fire; and after the fire a still, small voice. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his ‎cloak and went out and stood at the opening of the cave and the voice came to him and said, ‎‎“What are you doing here Elijah?” And he answered, “I was exceedingly zealous for Hashem, ‎God of Hosts, for the Israelites have abandoned Your covenant and destroyed Your altars ‎and killed Your prophets by the sword, and I alone remain and they want to take my soul.”’ ‎
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This incredible dialogue seems to end rather abruptly right at this point, when Hashem simply ‎tells him to go to Damascus and anoint someone to be king of the neighboring nation of ‎Aram. He is also to anoint a man named Elisha as his successor. But he never really left. ‎
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Analysis ‎
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Jewish tradition has it that he never died. Jewish tradition has him appearing to Talmudic ‎rabbis all over the place. He continues appearing to rabbinic and mystical figures up until ‎modern times. He comes into the lives of very ordinary, non-rabbinic people also – helping ‎them out just when they need it, giving them a message and then vanishing into the haze. He ‎pops in at every circumcision – there is even a chair reserved for him at each one. He shows ‎for after-dinner wine at every Passover Seder every year. What did he do to earn such an ‎incredible reputation? ‎
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The story mentioned above may shed some light. It is a fascinating little story, of that there is ‎no doubt. But we still have our questions. Why did Hashem ask Elijah what he was doing at ‎that cave, if Hashem’s angel had already told him he was to go on a great journey? Why did ‎Elijah answer the way that he did? What is this metaphor of God not being in the wind, the ‎noise, or the fire? What’s with that ‘still, small, voice’? Was God in that voice? Finally, after ‎this spectacular demonstration, when Hashem asks him the exact same question, he gives the ‎exact same answer. Did he not learn anything from the demonstration? ‎
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Elijah, by this point in his prophetic career, is an old pro at miracles. He performs these ‎miracles so routinely that it almost seems like a sideline to his main business of hassling Ahab ‎and his b-word of a wife Jezebel for pushing idolatry and all kinds of other rotten things. By ‎the time he’d finished with those false prophets he was fed up with the backsliding on-again ‎off-again faith of the Israelites and wanted nothing more to do with them. ‎
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God did not agree. The angel wouldn’t let Elijah throw in the towel. He told him that it was ‎time for a long journey. The angel never said where Elijah was to go; just that he would need ‎enough food in him to take a long trek. Elijah’s 40 day and 40 night hike was obviously ‎reminiscent of Moshe’s stays on Mt. Sinai communing with Hashem. It is also clear that it ‎was not simply a coincidence that he ended up at Mt. Sinai. Nor was it an accident that he ‎found his way to a cave where he heard the voice of God. He was clearly reliving Moshe’s ‎experiences there. It was time for a recharge. ‎
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But when he finally starts the session, the first question Hashem asks him is why he came. ‎This probably should have thrown him off guard a little. This was supposed to be a spiritual ‎pilgrimage of sorts, so why is God acting like a psychologist. Perhaps this tells us something ‎about spiritual pilgrimages. The first thing one should expect to hear from God is a question – ‎‎‘what are you doing here?’ Because that really is what a spiritual pilgrimage is all about. It is ‎not necessarily about epiphanies and other spiritual highs, though those certainly are nice. It is ‎about finding yourself spiritually. This applies to everyone, whether you are a spiritual novice ‎or you are Elijah the Prophet. ‎
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Elijah’s answer is a little disconcerting. He replied that he came because he was fed up with ‎the Israelites’ backsliding. Hashem’s response to this is as confusing as it is dramatic. What is ‎the meaning of the wind, the noise, and the fire? Perhaps it is Hashem’s way of telling him ‎that he’s getting a little too overworked about problems that he cannot solve. The wind can ‎split mountains and shatter rocks, but Hashem is not in it. Such a wind is all about power and ‎control. It’s about breaking things down instead of building them up. This is not where Elijah ‎should look for God. The same goes for the noise and the fire. They are incredible displays of ‎might and energy, almost divine in their appearance. But not quite. At the end of the day, a ‎great sound and a fire, like the wind, are natural forces. God doesn’t need to shout in order to ‎make His voice heard. He doesn’t not to shatter rocks or wills or personalities. God may not ‎desire to be found in those things. ‎
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Where is God found? In a still, small voice – no razzle-dazzle, no sound and light show, no ‎splitting mountains or seas. What is this image? What is this image? ‎
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God is found in strange places. God may be found in thunder or in fire. God may be found in ‎the splitting of the sea or in a burning bush. But God is not only found in those places. ‎Sometimes, God is found in the small and quiet things. Sometimes God’s voice comes out ‎clearer when the volume is turned down and there is nothing except silence. Sometimes those ‎moments of stillness have more power than the most powerful blast. Sometimes they have ‎more energy than the wind or a fire. God is not always found in the heat and the power - for ‎these things tend to drown out the voice of God more than they reveal it. The still, small ‎voice may not be the voice of God, but it is the ambiance for hearing the voice of God. ‎
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Following this revelation, Elijah wraps himself in his cloak. He is ready to go out again and ‎hear the voice. The voice comes again, and asks him the exact same question, ‘What are you ‎doing here, Elijah?’ One would expect that Elijah would not give the same answer that he ‎gave before. That answer was filled with wind, and trembling, and hot air. It wasn’t the ‎sound of silence. He gave the exact same answer, word for word, as he gave the first time. He ‎didn’t get the message. Tough as this is to believe, it’s explicit in the text. Elijah just didn’t ‎get it. Elijah was not ready to hear the message of the still, small voice. He was still Elijah the ‎Prophet, but he never seems to have learned this crucial idea. ‎
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But why does he show up all over the place, popping into people’s lives when they are least ‎expecting it and somehow giving them the message that they need at the time that they need ‎it? Is this also a way for him to make up a fault he never corrected during his natural lifetime? ‎Perhaps it is an opportunity for Elijah to finally and eternally put his experience at Mt. Sinai ‎to practice. Perhaps Elijah would become the perpetual ‘still, small voice’ – the voice that ‎silently visits people when they aren’t really paying much attention and slips them some subtle ‎message of whatever it is that they really need to hear. He may speak so silently and still that ‎we usually do not sense that he is there. But sometimes we might catch a shadow of a ‎shadow of his presence and what it was. Those are the moments of the still, small, voice. ‎Those are the moments that Elijah comes and makes up for lost time. ‎
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Perceiving the Image ‎
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We may not be prophets like Elijah, and we likely aren’t zealous firebrands like him. But, like ‎him, we do need to take a spiritual journey every once in a while. We need to remind ‎ourselves that God is difficult to find in the loud noises and the explosions of power. ‎High energy environments may be great for excitement and thrills, but they usually don’t do ‎much for one who is looking for God. To get somewhere in the spiritual world may require ‎occasionally journeying to stillness in the physical world. It won’t be easy to leave the lights ‎and the fire and the ruckus. We tend to pay attention to the excitement and pretty much ‎disregard the quietude. We get too tied up into the subjects of our own zeal and ignore to the ‎silent voice that asks us questions like, ‘What are you doing here?’ It may ask this question ‎repeatedly, until we finally catch on that the question is important and we cannot overlook it ‎any longer. ‎
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The still, small voice may not be God. But it is a spiritual power that roams the world looking ‎for people who are willing to pay attention to it. It is another of God’s messengers. It is an ‎image that works not with power but with silence and stillness. It behooves us all to try to ‎hear this voice, even if it means leaving the hustle and bustle of the world and the incessant ‎chatter on the web. Sometime what we need is not action but inaction. Sometimes we need to ‎listen to the sound of our own breathing, or to the soft patter of thoughts as they float ‎through the mind. Sometimes we need to feel the pulse of nature in its purest and subtlest ‎rhythms, like the growth of a tree or the tinkle of ripples on a pond. The senses all crave ‎subtlety, but we usually feed them a steady diet of thrills. The next time you feel like you’ve ‎just got to get away from it all and rediscover who you are, you might consider the path that ‎Elijah journeyed for but couldn’t fully accept when he found it - the still, small voice. ‎
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Reflections ‎
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Most of us feel uncomfortable in silence and stillness. Perhaps we sense our own vulnerability ‎to the image of God that lies within that stillness. Like Elijah, we don’t want to hear what ‎silence can tell us. Are you ready for silence? ‎



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