5.65 1 Kings -- A Different Theophany
A dialogue occurred in this cave:
And the word of the Lord came to him: "What are you doing here, Elijah?" (1 Kings 19:9)
Elijah was prepared for this, he had a well-scripted defense:
"I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too" (1 Kings 19:10).
Elijah was helping God out, telling Him things He didn’t know, and reminding Him that He was down to His last faithful servant. God didn’t respond to any of this. Instead, He told Elijah to go out of the cave and stand on the mountain. This revelation to Elijah had two parts: the tactile and the auditory. First, "the Lord passed by" Elijah (1 Kings 19:11), just as He did Moses 600 years before:
Then the Lord said, "There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen" (Ex 33:21-23).
Compare this with:
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:11-12).
And then again, God asked him why he was there. But Elijah, perhaps believing that God had grown hard of hearing, repeated his earlier statement. He was expecting, what, sympathy? commiseration? "Gee, Elijah, I know it's been tough, but I have prepared for you a safe haven in Egypt." No. When God "answered" Him, it was not by responding to his prepared statement, but by giving him new instructions.
When God gives such a revelation of Himself, it is unique and personal. So what Elijah experienced was not a duplicate of what Moses saw. Elijah had just seen the power of God displayed in fire and rain. But God didn’t duplicate that either. He didn’t want Elijah to get distracted by the externals, focusing on mighty deeds as "proof" of God’s presence. So God sent wind, earthquake and fire, but He wasn’t in them. They proceeded from Him, but they did not bear a message from Him or accomplish His purpose. But then came "a gentle whisper," or as the KJV puts it more poetically, "a still small voice." God was training Elijah to focus on the voice, not on the manifestations. And it was this voice that brought Elijah out of the cave.
This is the second part of the theophany, the Word of the Lord. God did not respond to Elijah’s news report of the disastrous condition of Israel. He told him to go back to Israel and anoint new kings of Syria and of Israel, and also to anoint Elisha as his successor. And he told Elijah that there yet remained 7000 Israelites who had not worshipped Baal. This is a very small remnant of the entire populace, and shows the extent of paganism’s hold on the people.
The appointing of Elisha as Elijah’s successor might be considered a rebuke to Elijah, a punishment for his running away, as if Elijah had committed dereliction of duty. But this is not so. God spoke no word against him, and in fact the revelation of His Presence "passing by" was a high honor bestowed on him. The outcome was that Elijah was re-connected to his calling, and empowered to return to Israel.