In recent weeks I have had more interaction than ever before with people who believe that if they can just listen in the right way, they will be able to hear God speaking to them directly through a still, small, voice in their heads. They are under the illusion that God regularly whispers private directions to believers—either by giving them a strong impulse, speaking in a barely-audible voice, giving them dreams and visions, or whatever.
So this morning I want to look at the only place in Scripture where that language is used: the still, small voice of God. First Kings 19, and here, God speaks to Elijah in a whisper—not because that is how God guides every Christian, but because God had a very specific series of lessons for Elijah. And this morning, we are going o take a careful look at what those lessons are and how they apply to us.
First Kings 19, and while you are turning there, here's a brief synopsis of Elijah's life up to this point:
Elijah first comes on the scene out of nowhere in 1 Kings 17, walks into the court of king Ahab, and announces that there's going to be a drought. It's not going to rain until he gives the word.
That is followed by three years of severe drought and hardship for the nation of Israel. Elijah spends those years in hiding, first near the brook Cherith, where he is fed by ravens. Then he goes outside Israel, into the pagan territory of Zarephath, where he finds a hiding place in the attic of a widow, who feeds him with the last remnant of a barrel of meal and a cruse of oil, and miraculously, those scant provisions never run out, all the time Elijah stays there.
All this time, Ahab and his evil, pagan, painted-faced wife Jezebel are seeking Elijah's life. And here's an amazing fact of biblical trivia: Zarephath was the region Jezebel came from, so Elijah was practically hiding in her hometown—in his Gentile region—while Jezebel is scouring all Israel to find him so that she can kill him.
Then finally, God tells Elijah it's time to come out of hiding and end the drought, and Elijah sets up this public showdown on Mt. Carmel—Elijah alone against the prophets of Baal. All the religious leaders in the entire land of Israel against one true prophet, Elijah. And Elijah proposes a contest: "You set up an altar with your sacrifice; I'll set up an altar with my sacrifice, and whichever God answers with fire—that is, whichever sacrifice immolates itself, we'll recognize that deity as the true God."
So the Baal-prophets built an altar, and they began to pray to their deity. And when nothing happened, they got more and more agitated. Finally they started cutting themselves with knives and lancets—which made their whole ritual a bloody, horrific, frightening spectacle.
And Elijah's response—I love this—his response was to mock and taunt them: "You need to yell louder. Your God has gone on a journey. Maybe he's in the men's room. He can't hear you. Do more!" And he goads them and berates them in this frenzy of pagan ritual, until they are utterly spent with fatigue, and it's clear that no answer is coming. They finally give up in despair and exhaustion.
So Elijah digs a trench around his offering and douses his altar with barrel after barrel of seawater—just to prove he is using no trickery. When he is done, that trench is full of seawater. Then after a simple one-sentence prayer, fire comes down from heaven and burns up not only the offering but according to 1 Kings 18:38, "[W]hen the fire of the LORD fell [it] consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench."
So Elijah literally slaughters all these exhausted Baal-prophets. Their public blasphemy against Jehovah—leading the nation into apostasy and gross, idolatrous worship of these devilish false gods—that was a capital crime for which the law of Moses prescribed death. So Elijah carries out the penalty; he oversees the end of the drought, and then after all that, he ran from the top of Mt. Carmel to Jezreel, a distance of more than 20 miles, faster than Ahab's chariot could go in the torrential rain and mud.
That was the most triumphant day of Elijah's life. It was the greatest public victory of his entire life and the culmination and vindication of his prophetic ministry up to that point. Ahab had set himself against god, so Elijah had set himself against Ahab. And Ahab was clearly the loser in that match-up.
Ahab had tried to depose Jehovah from being God in Israel. Because of Elijah's ministry, Ahab had utterly failed. Elijah was bold to stand alone. And we admire him for standing alone. But even on the heels of a great triumph such as he saw on Mt. Carmel, the loneliness of standing alone can easily get to someone like Elijah.
Elijah clearly felt alone. As far as he knew, he was the only person in all of Israel who had remained steadfastly faithful to Jehovah—and it's understandable that he felt that way.
And after that one day of his greatest triumph, he basically crashed. Exhausted, he learned that Jezebel had issued a new decree against him. She was more determined than ever to kill him—and she sent one of her personal messengers to find him and tell him that. First Kings 19:1: "Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, 'So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.' Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life."
So Elijah goes from the spiritual high point of his life, immediately to the spiritual low point. You are in 1 Kings 19. We'll pick up at verse 9 this morning.
This is now the spiritual low point of his career. He is confused—and understandably so. He undoubtedly hoped his great victory on Mt. Carmel would be the end of Jezebel and Baal-worship in Israel forever, but when he arrived in Jezreel the next morning, he found she is undaunted. She has simply redoubled her efforts to kill Elijah and impose mandatory idolatry on the nation of Israel. That seems to have caught Elijah completely off guard, and he fled for his life.
How unexpected Elijah's personal spiritual failure is! He fails precisely at the point we would have expected him to stand. This bold prophet who just one day before had stood alone against hundreds of false prophets was suddenly running for his life from the threats of one woman.
Most of the problem was sheer exhaustion. Elijah was weary in every sense that it's possible to be weary. He was physically fatigued, having run those twenty miles from Mt. Carmel to Jezreel in a blinding rainstorm—and that after a grueling day that would have been fatiguing enough without the marathon foot-race Elijah ran at the end of it. He was also spiritually and emotionally exhausted after the big showdown. But He had overthrown the false prophets in a decisive way, and even Ahab seemed to be acting the part of someone who had been beaten.
Elijah no doubt expected that he was seeing the dawning of a new age of faith in Israel. The fact that he went to Jezreel shows that he felt his life was no longer in danger from Ahab and Jezebel. Perhaps he was now even hoping he might have spiritual influence among the people—so that he could lead Israel back to worship of the true God, and have a positive influence that would undo the negative work Jezebel's Baal-priests had done.
But when morning came, the first thing Elijah heard was that Jezebel was seeking his life. And obviously no one in Jezreel wanted to offer him help or asylum.
So he ran. And his flight took him almost as far south as he could go without going to Egypt. He fled right past the land of Judah, where he probably would have been quite safe among true worshipers of Jehovah. Judah in that time was ruled by Jehoshaphat, one of the best kings that ever sat on David's throne. But Elijah ran to the southern border of Judah, and then another full day's journey into the wilderness of the Negev desert. It was there that the angel of the Lord ministered to him, bringing him water and fresh-baked bread to renew his strength for the journey. But that's all the food he had in about 40 days' time.
Now this is interesting, because it is a journey Elijah should not have even taken. He was wrong to run out of craven fear, and he was doubly wrong to keep running into the wilderness like that. He was a prophet, and his ministry was to the people of Israel, whether or not they were receptive to his message. He shouldn't have run. He should have stayed in Israel where he could do his job.
But Elijah kept running, and as we shall see this morning, he journeyed for forty more days without any food other than that which the angel had brought him. He was headed, according to 1 Kings 19:8, to Horeb, the mount of God.
Now, Horeb is just another name for Sinai. We first read about Horeb in Exodus 3, when Moses was tending sheep for Jethro, his father-in-law in the Sinai region, and it was there that God appeared to Moses in the burning bush. Perhaps you did not realize that the location where God first appeared to Moses in the burning bush was the same place where God gave the law after the Israelites left Egypt. But it was.
So this mountain was naturally associated with special appearances of God. This was "the mount of God"—that's what it's called in verse 8. And it's worth noting that although Elijah was derelict in his duty at this point, he was not running from God, but precisely the opposite. He was headed for a place where God was known to manifest Himself.
There may be an important clue in this about what was going on in Elijah's heart during this long journey to Horeb. I think He was longing to see God manifest Himself in some dramatic way that would settle the question once and for all about who should be God in Israel. In a way, that's what happened on Carmel, but it turned out not to be enough.
Elijah had had a taste of the miraculous on Mt. Carmel, but it obviously wasn't enough. He had called down fire from heaven in the sight of thousands of witnesses. He had overseen the execution of hundreds of wicked false priests, an act of divine judgment against those men for their gross acts of idolatry.
That had been followed by a sudden rainstorm that no one could deny was from the hand of God. It broke the drought and ended Elijah's curse, precisely on cue from the prophet. These were dramatic signs and wonders, and they had happened before all of Israel.
But it wasn't enough. Jezebel was still on the throne. Baal-worship was still being practiced in Israel. The people of Israel were fickle and unbelieving—even after everything that had happened on Mt. Carmel. And Elijah was understandably baffled and frustrated by all this. He was undoubtedly thinking that Jehovah had not done enough. If only God would do miracles that were more spectacular, and judgments that were more widespread and more vivid, surely more people would repent and return to Jehovah.
Elijah was about to learn an important lesson that all of us need to keep reminding ourselves continually (Isaiah 55:8-9): "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." God doesn't always do things the way we might expect, or even the way we prefer. But His ways are always better than our ways, just as His thoughts are higher than ours. He doesn't owe us explanations. In fact, we owe Him our trust, even when we do not understand why He does what He does.
Elijah had come to the point of needing to be reminded of these things. His frustration and his fear and his fatigue had built up to the point where he was having a total spiritual breakdown. And in order to restore him to usefulness, God uses a vivid series of object lessons to teach Elijah that God's ways are often mysterious; rarely what we expect; but always, always superior to the ways of men.
Now, let me read the text, verses 9 through 18, and then we'll look at some of the specifics of what happened here:
There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
10 He said, "I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away."
11 And he said, "Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD." And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks 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 the sound of a low whisper.
13 And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
14 He said, "I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away."
15 And the LORD said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria.
16 And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place.
17 And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death.
18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him."
The sum of this whole passage seems to boil down to this: This was a reminder to Elijah that God's work in this world is usually not spectacular or miraculous, but ordinarily God works through means that are unseen, unappreciated, and inscrutable to human observation. And the heart of the lesson is this: that God is at work invisibly accomplishing His purposes according to a perfect plan, even during those seasons when we wonder if He really knows what he is doing—even when we wonder if he is really there at all. In the normal course of events, God works in ways that are invisible to us. We see the effects of His work; and we know from His Word that He is providentially in control of all things. We know by faith that His will is being accomplished in this world, even when things appear utterly bleak to our senses. And the very essence of faith is trusting as if we could see that which is invisible. Great faith isn't usually manifested in the ability to call down great signs and wonders; great faith is the quiet confidence that God is in control, even when we can't see what He is doing.
I hope you have enough faith and enough knowledge of the doctrine of divine providence to understand that God is always at work in everything that happens. It's not just those times when something spectacular or miraculous happens—some remarkable providence presents itself—that's not the only time God is working. God is at work in all things—and He is working all things together for our good. And that is a comforting truth. It's one Elijah needed to lay hold of.
And I want to break this passage down into three specific truths that Elijah encountered on Mount Horeb. Here is what the object lessons mean. And you'll have to listen this morning because I'm going to give you the outline just one point at a time. Lesson number one:
1. God's Word is effectual even when it comes in a whisper
This is the lesson of the still, small voice.
Now there are some striking allusions in this passage to Moses' experience on this same mountain. First, Elijah lodged in a cave (v. 9). This is the very site where God hid Moses in the cleft of the rock (which was a cave). You remember in Exodus 33:18, when Moses begged God to show him his glory, and the Lord hid him in a cave, covered him with his hand, and passed by, so that Moses could see only his back.
This very may well have been the exact same cave where Elijah sought refuge.
There's more. You may also remember that while Moses was on the mountain receiving the law, the mountain quaked and smoked, so that the people would be afraid to go near it. Listen to the biblical description of it from Exodus 19:16-18:
On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled.
17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain.
18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly.
So there was fire, and there was an earthquake. And Hebrews 12:18 indicates that along with the thundering and lightning described in Exodus, there was a great tempest as well. So the wind, and the earthquake, and the fire were all associated with God's presence on this mountain.
And it is no coincidence that these are the very phenomena that were shown to Elijah (vv. 11-12): A tempestuous wind, a massive earthquake, and then a fire.
Some commentators suggest that these parallels are there to highlight the resemblance between Moses, the lawgiver, and Elijah, the first great prophet. I'm inclined to disagree. In fact, I think the truth is precisely the opposite. These phenomena were displayed for Elijah to remind him that God's methods are usually not as dramatic and spectacular as they were on Sinai when the law was handed down. Yes, there was a repeat of the wind, and the earthquake, and the fire. But remember: God was not in those things.
Look at verses 11-12 again:
the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks 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:
Have you ever thought about what that means when it says, "the LORD was not in the wind"? That expression is used three times in these two verses—v. 11, "the LORD was not in the earthquake," and v. 12, "the LORD was not in the fire."
It certainly doesn't mean that God had nothing to do with bringing about the wind, the earthquake, and the fire. These were quite obviously miraculous, not natural, phenomena. There was no question that God caused them.
But God was not in them in the same sense he was in the still, small voice. In other words, there was no self-revelation of God to Elijah in the physical, geological, and meteorological phenomena. They were spectacular, miraculous phenomena, precisely the kind of cosmic display Elijah had been hoping God would show to all of Israel. They came and they went, and they left Elijah breathless. But God was not in them.
When God was ready to speak to Elijah, He did it in the most unspectacular way possible. He did it in a whisper. And the lesson to Elijah is that God's Word is more effectual than all the spectacular physical displays of divine power you can imagine—even when it comes in a whisper.
God was reminding Elijah that what changes hearts is the Word of God, not sensational phenomena and cosmic miracles. God could send down fire from heaven as often as He wanted to, but let's face it, folks, that is not God's chosen means for reaching a hostile world. Sometimes such miracles have their place, like on Mt. Carmel. But Elijah was not to start thinking that this was the main way God would turn the hearts of the Israelites back to Himself. He shouldn't imagine that God needed to put on a perpetual heavenly light show in order to vindicate Elijah's work as a prophet. That's not the way God works.
There are a lot of lessons in this account that are germane to our culture today. We have a lot of people in the church today who think God must be constantly doing marvelous signs and wonders, and they claim that if we do not believe God always works in such ways, we are not worshiping the God of Scripture. In fact, there are many who believe it is not enough for us to proclaim the Word of God to the world; unless we display the power of God the way Elijah did, they say we are not giving the world the kind of testimony we're supposed to give.
But the problem is that they cannot do the kind of miracles Elijah did, so they settle for highly questionable, third-rate phenomena. They slay one another in the Spirit, or they claim healings that are medically unverifiable, or they fall on the floor laughing, and insist that these are great signs and wonders, and that these things are essential to the work of God in the world today. The word of God alone is not sufficient, they say.
In the past two decades we have seen a relentless parade of phony miraculous phenomena, and literally millions of Christians have jumped on this bandwagon, running from one charismatic fad to another, desperately trying to get in on the latest display of divine power.
There are Christians today who say that the gospel alone isn't sufficient to reach people. If we want to do true New Testament evangelism, they claim, we must look for great signs and wonders.
One fad less than ten years ago was the so-called Kansas City Prophets, a group of self-appointed prophets from a Kansas City church. They professed to be able to make spectacular prophecies. They could supposedly see into people's hearts and tell the future, and they could basically do everything you see in those ads for the psychic friends network. The only problem was that they were wrong as often as they were right. One of them had to be disciplined by his church for repeated incidents of inappropriate conduct with women whom he was supposedly counseling. And then it came to light that the most prominent one of these prophets was a homosexual and an alcoholic.
The next big thing was the Toronto Blessing, where the Holy Spirit supposedly manifested Himself by making people incoherent with laughter. People would get "drunk with the Spirit," so that they lost control of their faculties completely and lapsed into a state that looked for all the world like drunkenness. And that was supposed to be a manifestation of the power of God.
Then there was a phenomenon making the rounds where gold dust supposedly materializes in church meetings, people claim to have had their teeth filled with gold, or their silver fillings change to gold. Now here's something that should be easily verifiable, right? If someone's cavities are miraculously filled with gold, this should be provable through dental records. But the people who made such claims could not and would not allow their claims to be verified. It was just another attempt to manufacture signs and wonders, because of the false assumption that this would be the best way for God to manifest himself to a hostile and unbelieving world.
Then you had Todd Bentley a couple of years ago,
And all of this has torn evangelicalism away from any biblical mooring. The state of evangelicalism worldwide is utterly confused. Biblical discernment is rare, and where you find it at all, it is under attack from those who think it is uncharitable and unloving to let Scripture rather than the phenomena themselves determine what we believe and teach.
I have watched several of the churches that pursue such fads so zealously, starting with the Toronto Blessing finally. And churches that follow these trends are no longer places where the Word of God is taught and loved. In fact, many of these churches are actually hostile to the very idea of Bible teaching or biblical preaching. They speak of Scripture as the "dead letter," compared to their modern prophecies, which they believe are "fresh and living words" from God. So they have effectively subjugated Scripture to questionable phenomena. They despise the still small voice, and they want their miracles instead.
You see, a hunger for constant signs and wonders is unhealthy. The quest for miraculous phenomena actually moves people away from the Word of God. And here's proof: in most of the churches that have followed these fads, the Word of God is rarely preached. Their worship services ultimately become nothing more than frenzied searches for the next more spectacular phenomenon.
But if the Lord was not in the wind, earthquake, and fire on Horeb (which He did summon), then He certainly is not in any of the so-called signs and wonders of today (which I am convinced He has not sent at all).
Now: before we move on, I want to clear up one other common misconception about the still, small, voice. You'll frequently hear mystical sermons about this passage, suggesting that if we just sit still and listen, we can hear God speaking to us today in a still, small voice. I don't think that's the point of this. There's no warrant in this passage for you and me to listen for special revelation or secret messages from God, any more than we ought to try to call down fire from heaven like Elijah did on Mt. Carmel.
God has spoken, and what he has to say to us is there in the Scriptures. And unless you're claiming to be a patriarch, or an apostle, or a prophet on the order of Elijah, you don't need to listen for a direct message from God. He speaks to us today as the Holy Spirit applies the Word to our hearts.
What Elijah heard was not a vague, subjective voice in his head, but a real, audible whisper. And the point of this passage is not that God speaks to all of us in a whisper like that. The point God was making with Elijah is that his Word is more effectual than all the spectacular miraculous displays in the world—even when it comes in a whisper.
We have to move on. Here's a second point:
2. God's righteousness is perfect even when His judgments are delayed
Elijah's state of mind is obvious from his reply to the Lord. Notice in verses 10 and 14 that Elijah makes exactly the same speech twice. This was evidently something he had rehearsed. He didn't think God had dealt fairly with him.
Now let's try to see this from Elijah's perspective. And it shouldn't be too hard, because most of us have felt this way from time to time.
Elijah had stepped out of God's will for him by coming to Horeb. Notice that when Elijah ran from Jezebel, it is the first time in the biblical account of his ministry that we see Elijah moving ahead without specific instructions from the Lord.
If you study the life of Elijah, you will discover that as a pattern, he walked each step by faith. He obeyed God, even when he did not know what the next step would be. Back in Chapter 17, verse 1, where Scripture first introduces Elijah to us, he confronted Ahab, invoked the drought, and then the Word of the Lord came to him, telling him to hide by the brook Cherith. Cherith dried up, and (v. 8) then the Word of the Lord came, telling him to go to Zarephath. At each crisis point in his life, he had waited on the word of the Lord before he made his move.
But not this time. As soon as he heard about Jezebel's threat, he went on the run. He knew he was being disobedient and self-willed. He knew he was wrong.
And yet he had done so much for the Lord! He had been faithful for so many years! He was the one man in Israel who was most faithful. So why was god rebuking him for coming to Sinai? Why not judge Jezebel and Ahab, who were certainly more worthy of judgment than Elijah.
But the Lord pursues Elijah all the way to Horeb and confronts him (v. 9): "What are you doing here, Elijah?" This was a rebuke. Elijah had no business there, and he knew it.
Elijah's reply is typical of all of us, isn't it? The full truth is that he was there because he got scared of Jezebel and he ran. But Elijah had rehearsed his speech, and he put a whole different spin on things. Verse 10 and verse 14 are almost exactly identical: "I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away."
He reminds God of his faithfulness. And this was true enough, except for the current lapse of his courage. And he reminds God of the wrongs done by the idolatrous Israelites. As a nation, the people had turned against God, destroyed the vestiges of Jehovah worship, and only Elijah had stood against them. Now Jezebel wanted to do away with him, too.
So, Elijah must have been thinking, why does God pursue me to Horeb and rebuke me? There were certainly enough others in Israel whose sins were greater and whose judgment needed to be more severe! How could God tolerate Jezebel while pursuing Elijah like this? It didn't seem fair!
Now, as fallen sinners, we can see a kind of logic in Elijah's complaint. It didn't seem fair for God to ignore the sins of Ahab, Jezebel, and the idolatrous Israelites while going after Elijah.
But here's what Elijah did not realize: God had already worked out the means by which he would judge Ahab and Jezebel and the whole nation. Verse 15:
And the LORD said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria.
16 And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place.
These three anointings were crucial. Hazael, who would become king of Syria, would be the instrument of God's judgment against the people of Israel. In the end it was Elisha who carried out this command to anoint him, and when he was anointing him, Elisha broke into tears. And according to 2 Kings 8:12, "And Hazael said, "Why does my lord weep?" He answered, "Because I know the evil that you will do to the people of Israel. You will set on fire their fortresses, and you will kill their young men with the sword and dash in pieces their little ones and rip open their pregnant women." And that is precisely what happened.
The second anointing was Jehu, as king over Israel. Now the fact that Jehu was to be king over Israel was proof that God intended to destroy Ahab's dynasty. And that is precisely what happened. Jehu himself made bloody work of Ahab and Jezebel and their household.
And the third anointing was for Elisha, to carry on the work of Elijah. His work was not over, as he feared, but his legacy would continue. In fact, Elijah's work would outlast Ahab, whose offspring would never sit on the throne of Israel. But Elijah, who had no physical offspring, would be remembered as the father of all the prophets.
Let me quickly wrap up the third point. Point 1 was that God's Word is effectual even when it comes in a whisper. Point two is that God's righteousness is perfect even when His judgments are delayed. Here's point 3:
3. God's redemptive plan is on track even when His people are merely a remnant
Elijah thought he alone was left faithful to the Lord. But again, the Lord was working behind the scenes, secretly, to accomplish His purposes. And he tells Elijah (v. 18), "Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him."
Elijah must have been astonished to hear this! And we might well ask, where were those 7,000 people on Mt. Carmel? Where were they all those years Elijah was hiding at Cherith and then Zarephath?
Well, we know where some of them were. They were prophets, hidden in a cave by Obadiah, and kept alive on what meager food and water he could supply them. Remember that these were very difficult days in Israel, and if it became known that you were a worshiper of Jehovah, you would pay for it with your life. So all those believers went underground. They hid. But God kept them faithful to him. He quietly accomplishes his redemptive purposes, even when his work is hid from human eyes. In fact, sometimes, God's work flourishes most in the most hostile conditions.
It's very much what we have seen in our own time, isn't it? Take Europe, for example. In free Europe, Western Europe, where the church has been free to preach and evangelize without government opposition for centuries, the church long ago grew cold and liberal, and its testimony died out. Now France and Germany and Spain are among the most needy mission fields in the world.
Meanwhile, in Eastern Europe, where communism ruled for most of the 20th century and Christian worship was outlawed, evangelism was forbidden, and openly preaching the Word of God could cost you your life—there the church has flourished and grown, and it's one of the most vibrant places spiritually in the world today.
All of this is proof of the sovereignty of God. He is at work in men's hearts, drawing people to Himself, giving them grace to remain faithful, strengthening feeble knees so that they do not bow to Baal, even in the worst of times.
So Elijah needed to learn that he could trust the work of God even when it was not spectacular or immediately visible. God would save the lost; He would judge the wicked; but He would accomplish those things in His own way and in His own time, even if it meant His Word was spread in a still, small voice, rather than shouted from the housetops the way Elijah would have preferred. God's plan was not derailed by the appearance of opposition, and Elijah needed to learn not to lose heart in the midst of such difficulties.
It's a lesson I believe you and I need to keep in mind constantly. There are many times when we think God's work might be better accomplished with some dramatic display of cosmic miracle power. We tend to lose heart, if we're not careful, and think God's Word isn't enough. The world needs to see something more, something that will arrest everyone's attention.
But remember the lessons of this passage: God's Word is powerful and life-changing, even when it comes in a whisper. God's justice will have its way, even when it seems the wicked are about to triumph. And God will redeem His chosen ones, even in the midst the world's worst hostility and opposition.