Elijah’s runs afoul of Jezebel and flees. His flight becomes the occasion for listening for God and reassessing his leadership.
1 Kings 19:1-18 – Retelling the Story
In response to Elijah’s fierce loyalty to the covenant God of the Israelites, Jezebel let it be known that she considered it her personal responsibility to do away with him. Fierce loyalty or not, Elijah decided to take it on the lam. Off he went to Beersheba. Upon arrival, he found a tree; sat down in its shade; and wished he were dead. Exhausted, he fell asleep. When he awoke he had a nagging feeling that he needed to do something. He had a brief snack of cake and water and, still exhausted, fell back asleep. Waking, he knew that he needed to travel further. He ate and drank enough to prepare himself for a long journey. And a long journey it was… all the way to Horeb. There he found a cave and spent the night. It was a troubling night, lots of tossing and turning and thoughts about his current state if affairs. Here he was, on the run away from Jezebel; likewise, all Israel seemed on the run away from God.
When he arose he expected that he might have a “word” from God so he went out into the entrance of the cave awaiting a dramatic event. The strong wind blew causing Elijah to be pelted with all kinds of debris; the wind was not God’s messenger. The earth seemed to shake under Elijah’s feet; still no word from the Lord. The sun beat upon him like a blast furnace and Elijah was still left wordless and God-less. Then Elijah began to take stock internally.
It was as if an unheard inner voice were calling in the name of God and Elijah knew immediately what he was to do — namely, anoint Hazael king over Aran and Jehu king over Israel. He also was aware that his leadership as a prophet would not last forever. Elisha had promised and would become his apprentice. It was going to be a tough time ahead in the conflict between the followers of Baal and the followers of the covenant God of Israel. These three men would help meet the challenges.
Reflecting on the Story
Our tradition, our upbringing, has conditioned most of us to expect God in the powerful and dramatic. After all, don’t the biblical stories repeatedly tell us of God’s intervention in history, rescuing His [sic] people. Our preachers continuously tell us to expect God’s action in our lives. After all, not anticipating God to be powerful is like expecting God not to be God. If you don’t expect great things from God, can you really call yourself a believer?
There is another tradition, however, another cycle of stories in scripture. This tradition is not so much concerned with God “out there.” Instead, God is more to be identified with silence, with a pause in the conversation, with a quiet inner voice that invites, lures, calls, insists. Elijah wanted to hear God in the powerful and dramatic — in the whirlwind, the shaking of the earth, the warmth of the sun. But that was not the medium for his communication with the divine mystery. Instead, it was not until everything quieted down that Elijah was able to pay attention to what was happening inside himself. Then he realized that it was time to consolidate leadership for Israel (even though this could mean his own transitioning out of leadership).
The same is often true for us. We get involved in a whirlwind of activity. The clamorous sound of the shaking of our foundations deafens us. The brightness and glitter of modern society blinds us to what is real. When we step back, take a moment or two to reflect, build a little bit of quiet into our lives, then we are able to hear that quiet voice within that beckons us to respond with creativity and integrity. When we listen, we are hearing the whispers of a call that comes in the name of God. When we respond with compassion, peace, and justice, we become the agents of God’s action in the world.