A Still Small Voice

1 Kings 19  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 7
In chapter 17 we have abundant proofs of the Lord's tender care and consideration for Elijah. Many, doubtless, were the trials which put His servant's faith to the test, but it is a divine principle that “if need be, ye are now for a season in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, may be found unto praise and honor, and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” Whether Elijah understood or not, he is sure to have the benefit of it “at that day.” “He was surrounded with violence and impiety—violence from the king, impiety on all hands, and this he must denounce unsparingly. Consequently, he felt that his message would be unwelcome and his life in jeopardy; but he is at once assured that the Lord will shield him against all opposition. According to his word, “There shall not be dew nor rain these three years.” Terrible famine would necessarily result, but all through it the prophet would be cared for. He would find water by the brook Cherith, and there be supplied with meat by the ravens. And when that supply was exhausted another would be provided. He would be sent to Zarephath to live and bring life out of a widow's penury “until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth.”
Our Lord draws the gospel out of this last incident or event. In the synagogue of Nazareth, He reads the passage of Isa. 61:1, 21The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; 2To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; (Isaiah 61:1‑2), short of the last clause. “The acceptable year of the Lord” was then running; “the day of vengeance of our God” was postponed. Thus read, the passage was pure gospel, and according to the divine order it was “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” So the Lord warns His hearers of what would befall them if they refused it. “Many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout the land; but unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow.” It was as good as saying, 'I offer grace unto you with all its blessings, but if you refuse it, it will run to others.' And on their obstinate refusal it has run to others. Nationally the Jews have been rejected, and the Gentiles at large have inherited the benefits of the gospel. “It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you; but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” Thus turned Elijah from the same stubborn people to the widow of Zarephath, a Gentile.
In the third year of the famine the prophet is again sent to Ahab to let him know that rain would fall from heaven whence Ahab never looked for it, since he sought for water only unto all the fountains and unto all the brooks (chap. 18:5). But ere the rain fell the source of iniquity must be dried up, the prophets of Baal must be exterminated. They were the misleaders who had contributed mostly to corrupt king and people. They were the servants of Jezebel. To this end Elijah receives power both to confound and to slay them. This was strictly a ministry of righteousness, in the accomplishment of which he proves himself faithful, cost what may, as he had been faithful three years before in announcing the drought and famine. Surely he had cause to trust the Lord after having thus experienced His protective grace and power. Yet it is just at this point that we are brought to see a most painful crisis in his faith. Let us not be too severe with him on this account. Grieved we may and should be, but we have no right to be hard. If placed in similar circumstances who can say that any of us would be more firm? It is far from meritorious to detect flaws in others under trial when things go easy with one's self. Scripture gives us more than one instance where the faith of the greatest men of God sank under the trial.
Take John the Baptist. He was another Elijah, declared to be such by the Lord Himself. He was a bold and indomitable messenger. He warned the Pharisees and Sadducees in particular, and the people in general, in vehement language (Matt. 3:7-107But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: 9And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 10And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. (Matthew 3:7‑10)). He testified of the coming, yea, of the presence of the Deliverer. He discerned in Him, so bright was his faith, the Son of God, the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. Taking away the sin of the world involved the cross, the sufferings before the glories. When he thus testified of Christ, he was much in advance of His own immediate disciples, who looked for the glories without the sufferings. Yet, when his message had been fully delivered and he was put into prison, where he had time to review his testimony, and to think of all that he had admired in the person of Him who had been the subject of it, what do we hear him say? “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” Oh, how painful the question; how great the depression of spirit it tells of! The dark walls of the prison cell had told disastrously upon his soul. At this time, far from being the burning and shining lamp of former days, he was but a smoking flax. However, such smoking flax the Lord does not quench. He sends word through his envoys by which, so to say, John might identify Him, and before the multitude He vindicates and honors His servant and the ministry of earlier days. He would not that the present should obliterate the past, but rather the reverse. He knew well how the state of things was calculated to perplex the most faithful man—a prison for the herald and reproach for the Master! This did not look like what a godly Jew had been expecting, and that was a sufficient reason for the Lord not to upbraid.
In Elijah's case, too, the circumstances were such as to put faith to a very severe test, and the prophet ill stood it. Evil of the worst character had full sway in Israel, and God did not interpose to sweep it away. It was as though Elijah's burning words and mighty deeds had been all in vain, and he resented this rather too keenly. True he did not, like Jonah, refuse to deliver his message and fulfill his service, but nevertheless there was something of the spirit of Jonah in him at this time. The juniper tree and the gourd witness the same discontent in both prophets, and the discontent is expressed almost in the same words, and therefore to both the probing question is relevant, “Doest thou well to be angry?” But the Lord forbears with Elijah. He knows there is much around him to discourage, and He sends an angel to strengthen him. How gracious! And yet he is not satisfied with this token of God's care and tender regard. He can go forty days in the strength of God's beneficent goodness; and, without fainting, reach Horeb, the mount of God. But when there, what does he do? God meant him to stand on the mount, as intimated in ver. 11, but he hides himself in a cave, apparently little disposed to carry out the divine intention.
Well, God will meet him where he is, and put the scrutinizing question, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” His answer shows that he was not at all in touch with the mind of God; and when God repeats the question, he repeats the same answer, “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” Downcast he is, to be sure. To say that he, and he only, had been left, was more than he knew, and in fact was a grievous mistake. How is it that he did not know a single one out of the seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which had not bowed before
Baal, and every mouth that had not kissed him? When he says, “I, I only, am left,” he seems to think that only prophets were worthy to be taken into account. God thinks differently. “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world and things which are despised hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are, that no flesh should glory in his presence.” Evidently at this hour the prophet was disheartened.
By way of contrast, let us approach the apostle Paul. He too has known, even to a greater extent, persecution and violence on the part of both Jews and Gentiles, as summed up in 2 Cor. 4:8-108We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; 10Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. (2 Corinthians 4:8‑10), and 2 Cor. 11:23-2823Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. 24Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. 25Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. 28Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23‑28); but he never gave way under the pressure. “None of these things move me,” he says. His life!—did not count it dear unto himself, so that he might finish his course and the ministry which he had received of the Lord Jesus. And when his course was finished and he looked back upon the field where he had achieved his most brilliant victories, his heart might have completely failed him as he had to say, “All they which are in Asia have turned away from me.” For he loved these saints intensely, and suffered intensely too by their defection and desertion. But there was One above them all that he could fully confide in under any and every emergency. So he says, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” His own soul, his work, the saints who had been converted through his instrumentality, he could leave peacefully in the Lord's keeping. He knew Him, had drunk deeply into His love which passeth knowledge, and he could not question for a single moment His sufficiency. Steadfast and unmoveable, with a work abundantly fruitful behind him, he knew that his labor was not in vain in the Lord.
Our prophet was not so strong in the Lord and in the power of His might as was the apostle; nevertheless, the Lord is mindful of his integrity and of his devotedness, and He does not wait until His servant has ascended the mount to come near him: He passes by, but not without leaving impressive signs of His presence. We, in our hard-heartedness, would have said, I can have nothing to do with you as long as you lodge in that cave. The Lord, on the contrary, does something, the effect of which is to draw Elijah out. The first three signs—the great and strong wind, the earthquake, and the fire—were such as Elijah would have expected to find the Lord in, but He was in none of them. Not that He will never deal in judgment, but He has fixed a day for that, and alas, we are prone to take that work out of His hands and do it prematurely, whereby we spoil it all. Besides, before the ay of judgment there was to be a day of Pace; and grace it is that speaks in the fourth and last sign.
“And after the fire a still small voice.” In it was the Lord. Elijah was conscious of it. This was the voice that drew him out of the cave, and made him stand at the entrance, his face wrapped in his mantle. He was both subdued and attracted, but not yet in the secret of the Lord, for he repeats his complaint, “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts,” etc. It takes a long time to bring us to understand the forbearance of God, and yet are we not all the time ourselves the subjects of it?
Happily, God will not be turned from His purpose by reason of our not understanding Him. He would speak with the still small voice, and with it He has spoken most distinctly for now nearly two thousand years. It came from heaven with Him who could say, “The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to the weary one; he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth my ear to hear as the learned.” And thus He spoke to the weary and heavy laden in Matt. 11:28-3028Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28‑30). Thus He speaks to His sheep from the moment they follow Him, the Good Shepherd; and though, alas, they may be dull of hearing, yet will He say in His untiring grace, “They follow him: for they know his voice.” It is not usual that a shepherd speaks to his flock. This tells of intimacy, “and he calleth them by name.” How sweet the still small voice that says to one who stood, bereaved and broken-hearted, by His empty grave, “Mary!” and how quickly she heard and how well she knew the voice that thus called her by her name. Such is the manner of His love. His voice gladdens the heart that knows that love. And it is now as it was then. The sorrowing soul that seeks His companionship He will minister to in the words of the “still small voice.”
“O patient, spotless One,
Our hearts in meekness train,
To bear Thy yoke and learn of Thee,
That we may rest obtain.
O Lord, Thou art enough
The mind and heart to fill;
Thy life to calm the troubled soul;
Thy love—its fear dispel.
- P.C.