Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the historic one-year lectionary.
Our Old Testament passage for this week, from 1 Kings 19:11-21, has been used for so many very inadequate or misleading sermons, I admit I hardly know where to begin. Elijah has been hiding out in a cave. He is fearful and tired. God calls him out of the cave and shows him his power in wind, earthquake, and fire. The Scripture says “the Lord was not in” any of those.
Careless interpreters then see that God speaks to Elijah gently, so they say that God is in the small whisper, that we need to find the whisper of God, that we need to look within to perceive rightly. Sadly, that’s where the sermons go off the tracks and cause a train wreck, which makes a very big noise, lots of wind, an earthquake, and possibly catches on fire.
Picture, if you will, God saying that he is on his way. He makes a big show of it so Elijah knows that he is showing up. If we stay with the train metaphor, he lays on the horn a mile from the station, he brakes and you hear the squealing and rattling. He blows a huge cloud of steam and smoke. Everything is hissing. He pulls up, then, not a train at all, but the engineer, he walks into the station and sits down for a cup of tea with Elijah. This is still God talking, but now rather than making a show of his great power, he sits down with his prophet. It’s a quiet chat. The noise is gone. Elijah doesn’t look within himself, and we don’t see God supernaturally present in the quiet. He’s just stopped to have a talk with Elijah.
What does he tell his prophet? He first asks him what’s wrong. Elijah is distressed because people have been deserting God. They seem hostile to God and his prophet. God’s response to Elijah is that he has a job to do. He is to anoint a terrible individual as king of Syria. He will oppress God’s people and kill many of the unbelievers. Elijah is also to anoint a terrible individual as king of Israel. He will oppress the rest of God’s people and kill many more unbelievers. This doesn’t sound too encouraging so far. Elijah will further anoint another prophet, Elisha, to come after him. Elisha will kill more of the people who have bowed to Baal. In the end, though it seems there wouldn’t be many people left, God says he is reserving thousands for his name who have not bowed down to the false idols.
We don’t know how God departed. We are spared any news about smoke, fire, earthquakes, or hurricanes. But the instructions are done and Elijah gets about his business. He knows that God has a plan and that the plan will work.
God’s plan and process of preserving a remnant for his name shows up again and again in the Bible. We could even say that the history of Israel is a history of God’s preservation of a remnant, the line from which the Messiah will come. In these last days, since the resurrection of Christ, we realize that the Lord will always preserve a people for his name, and that he has lovingly invited us to be among those people. Whether we were there for the big show of the train arriving, we realize that our Lord has sat down with us and told us about the future and his care for his people. There’s no need to fear.
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