I wrote that God confronted Elijah at the end of his flight, but the confrontation was so gentle as to almost be comical, given the circumstances. Elijah ran 41 days from Beersheba, 41 days far away from every human being. Forty-one days into the wilderness, to the “Mountain of God,” known as Mount Horeb. But we also know it as Mount Sinai, the mountain where Moses received the 10 Commandments. It looks as though Elijah wants to confront God.
Elijah, on the 42nd day from Beersheba — remember that number — awakes to this question from God: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
What a mild question! One can almost see an anxious modern Elijah sitting in a therapist’s office, and the professional counselor asking, “So what brings you here?”
Elijah replies, just as an overwrought client might say to his counselor, with a short list of grievances and sense of danger resulting from all that:
I have been very zealous
_____for the Lord,
_________the God of hosts;
for the sons of Israel have
___________forsaken Your covenant,
___________torn down Your altars
___________and killed Your prophets
________________with the sword.
And I alone am left;
________and they seek my life,
______________to take it away.”
God gives an enigmatic reply:
____________on the mountain
________________before the Lord.”
And behold, the text tells us, the Lord was passing by.
As is common in the Bible, Elijah is reenacting — with significant variations — what Moses had done some 500 years before. Moses had gone up to the Mountain of God to receive the law. And he had spent 40 days there, after which he asked to be able to see God. And God hid him in a cleft of the rock and “passed before him.” But there the similarities end. With Moses, God had declared his character in a loud voice, highlighting his mercy and lovingkindness. He has something quite different in store for Elijah.
Elijah is reenacting what Moses had done some 500 years before.
First comes the wind so strong that it splits the rocks! But, we are told, God is not in the wind! Next, the earth itself begins to heave, the mountains to move and dance. But once again, God is not in the earthquake. This is followed by a raging fire, but still, God is not in the fire.
Then, as The Message renders it, Elijah hears a gentle and quiet whisper, which repeats God’s question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
I don’t know about you, but I find this somewhat bewildering. All of this spectacular demonstration, and all God does is repeat his question at a much lower volume? What’s going on here? Why did all this trouble, simply to repeat the same question? We will take that up next time.