Don’t you sometimes wish you could do something dramatic to convince the world about God? When you see the immorality and atheism in the world, for instance, and could shake the world up? How much better would our preaching efforts go if we could perform miracles like they did in the first century? But faith doesn’t work like that. What we see with our eyes, however amazing it might be, can’t generate faith. That was the experience of the children of Israel who wandered through the wilderness. Look at the emphasis on “seeing” in the opening verses of our reading from Deuteronomy 29 – “You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders.” (v.2-3). You’d think, having seen all the plagues, crossing the Red Sea and all the other miracles, that they would be a people who were immensely faithful. But the very next verse says, “But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.” Despite all they saw with their natural eyes, they hadn’t comprehended God.
Elijah learned this lesson when he experienced his own personal exodus. He thought he had converted the nation of Israel back to Yahweh when fire came down from heaven on Mount Carmel. When the people saw it, they even cried, “Yahweh, he is God!” But in 1 Kings 19 the prophet soon realized the conversion was only superficial. In verses 5-8 he goes on his own exodus that includes angelic ministration (v.5), the provision of food and water (v.6) and a journey to Mount Sinai (v.8). It was there that God confronted him regarding his state of mind – full of anger at what had happened. One of the reasons Elijah gave for being so angry was “the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant” (v.10) and here the prophet quotes from verse 25 of Deuteronomy 29 – “It is because they abandoned the covenant of the Lord”, a response to the question in verse 24 “What caused the heat of this great anger?” Elijah’s mind must have been here because of what it says in the next verse, how the people “went and served other gods and worshiped them”, which was exactly what was happening in his day. Elijah must have felt justified in his anger because “the anger of the LORD was kindled against this land, bringing upon it all the curses written in this book” (v.27).
We can understand why Elijah is so focused on what happened in Deuteronomy. The aptness of Deuteronomy 29 is seen in the fact that Elijah is living it out in 1 Kings 19. The food and water given to him was what he ate before his forty days journey to Sinai. We’re told “he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.” (v.8). So, he fasted during his enacted exodus and Deuteronomy 29:6 says the children of Israel fasted in the wilderness too, being sustained only by the manna – “You have not eaten bread, and you have not drunk wine or strong drink”. Plus this is just the sort of chapter which fits with Elijah’s personality because it goes on to talk about the judgments that would come upon those who fell into idolatry – “The Lord will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the Lord and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven.” (v.20) and “the whole land burned out with brimstone and salt” (v.23). Earthquake, wind and fire was what the people needed to jolt them out of their idolatrous way!
Deuteronomy 31 continues with these same ideas when addressing Moses – “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them.” (v.16). God’s reaction is the same – “Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. And many evils and troubles will come upon them” (v.17). You can imagine Elijah thinking about these passages, angry at the people, and wanting judgments to be poured out.
But on Mount Sinai Elijah learned the humbling lesson that God was not in the earthquake, wind or fire, but “the sound of a low whisper” (1 Kings 19:12). His task was not to bring judgment, but to be the voice of God, speaking God’s message to the people.
The lesson for us is simple. No matter how we feel, how much we want to shake things up, somehow bring about winds of change or fiery judgments upon a wicked world, it’s not our place to do so. Our role is to be God’s voice speaking calmly, telling the world around us about him and his purpose. Whether they listen or don’t listen isn’t our responsibility. God will judge the hearts of men and send his Son soon to judge the world in righteousness. We might feel frustrated, angry, overly zealous about the iniquity and lack of appreciation for God around us, but we can’t let it get the better of us. Be the still, small voice of calm and God will work his purpose through that.
Simi Hills, CA