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1 Kings 19:8-21 by Robert Dean
Series:Kings (2007)
Duration:1 hr 4 mins 38 secs

God is Incomprehensible, But Righteous. 1 Kings 19:8-21


We often make the same mistake that Elijah makes in this chapter. We think that if we do things the way God says we ought to do them that somehow that will guarantee a certain result in life, and sometimes unconsciously or in a non-sophisticated way of thinking we don't really focus on how we are formulating the goals, the objectives that form our own expectations. Then suddenly we get a speed bump and it sends us for a loop because we didn't expected it was going to happen. After all, we had been faithful in our attendance at Bible class, faithful in studying God's Word, faithful in prayer, in dependence upon Him, claiming promises, trying to walk by the Spirit, and so we ask, shouldn't have that guaranteed a certain result? Yet now what I am facing is crisis, adversity difficulty and heartache. What happened? What is wrong? And if we do not understand the dynamics of God's plan and purposes in life and if we don't understand the principle and reality of His incomprehensibility when it comes to His plans and purposes, then we often make these subtle mistakes of taking His plan for granted. In other words, we substitute our plans for His plans.


What Elijah did, to give us an example, is in a way he had formulated in his own mind what the purpose of his ministry was, and that that purpose was to bring about revival in the northern kingdom of Israel. And that by challenging the people with the discipline of God from the Mosaic law and announcing the drought, and seeing the drought for three and a half years, that that would prepare them, and then the demonstration of God's power on Mount Carmel would again bring evidence of God's reality into their lives, and the people would turn from their worship of the idols of Baal to the worship of Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and that the nation would turn away from its paganism and idolatry and God would once again bring blessing into the nation. He is settled that that would be the result of his ministry. But that didn't happen and he comes face to face with the reality of that in Jezebel's hardened heart, her implacability where she threatens to take his life. As he realizes what is going on he just …


Example: Parents often face a crisis with children. They grow up, enter adolescence, go off to college, and try as they will to have instilled biblical values into their children, somehow in their twenties or thirties they just no longer seem to be concerned about spiritual things. The parents then question the care of God and the plan of God. Can I really trust God? Why is it that this has happened to me? Look at these other parents who have raised godly children and it didn't happen to me, so it must be God's fault. We end up blaming God just as Elijah is doing implicitly.


What happens it that we wrongly formulate the goal in our thinking. One way to formulate that objective is to say my goal in life as a parent is to raise obedient Christian kids who will love the Lord and obey Him. What is wrong with that? We can't control it. Those kids have volition. So what we have done there is defined our life work as a parent in ways that are not under your control. Those kids can exercise their own volition and turn away from the Lord, and then we can have kids who are disobedient and rebellious. The right way to formulate our thinking is to say, My goal is to be a godly consistent parent, teaching my children about the Lord as faithfully as I can. We can control that. We can control what we do as a parent and how we model doctrine, the application of doctrine, in our life, and then the results are up to the volition of our children and the plan of God.


Another way in which people often get a tremendous road block of disappointment is in their career. This has particular resonance today in the light of the economy. People work had, they are committed believers, they are trying to apply everything that they have learned from the Word, making their spiritual life a priority, and they set a goal to be successful in their career, to glorify God, to be able to provide all of the material things that they can for their family. Then after years of faithful service for a company all of a sudden they don't have a job and wondering what in the world happened and, has God deserted them? Again we do the same thing; we incorrectly formulate our goals in our head. The wrong way to say it is, my goal is to have a successful career, to provide for my family all the wonderful things that I can. We can't control that, there are too many variables that come into play. The right way to formulate the goal is to say that my goal is to be faithful, industrious, respectful of those in authority over me, and to be a doctrine-applying believer so that God is glorified in my career. We can control that; we can make the right decisions based on the circumstances that we are facing, but we recognize that beyond a certain point the circumstances we face and the results of our decisions are completely outside of our hands, they are in the hands of the Lord and other humans who make decisions that impact us.


A wrong way of stating a goal in a more general way is to say my goal in life is to be happy and secure as I see it. That is how we often think. But we can't control any of these things; it is beyond our ability. What we can control is what we do, the decisions we make in life in the circumstances that we are in. We can say, My goal is to mature and grow spiritually and do everything in my life to the glory of God. That states it in ways that we can control.


There are various promises that relate to this. Proverbs 16:9 NASB "The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps." We make our plans but we have to recognize that ultimately it is up to the Lord as to how things work out, and in some cases up to the volition of other people. People will make decisions because of free will and that is allowed by God under His permissive will, and so sometimes people say, Well that must be God's will because that happened. Well it is His permissive will; He allowed it to happen, but that doesn't necessarily make it good or correct.


Proverbs 20:24 NASB "Man's steps are {ordained} by the LORD, How then can man understand his way?" This brings into focus the fact that beyond a certain point we do not know God's plans and purposes. We don't understand how we fit within the broader scope of God's plan, what he is doing through us as an individual, through our family, through our local church; this just fits within a larger panorama and we don't understand anything more than what we can do, what we can control in terms of our own experience. We have to face those decisions day by day and leave the rest in the Lord's hands. The trouble is that most of us are too busy trying to jerk it back from the Lord's hands and take that control back, rather than just relaxing and trusting Him. When we do that and we hit these major events like Elijah has faced then we are not any different from Elijah. As soon as we hit that brick wall of unrealistic expectations and unrealized expectations we do the same thing. We are despondent, we become discouraged, depressed, and it is very difficult for us to move forward in the Christian life.

Proverbs 21:1, 2 NASB "The king's heart is {like} channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes. Every man's way is right in his own eyes, But the LORD weighs the hearts." In Elijah's circumstance the king's heart, i.e. Ahab's, is in the hand of the Lord—the circumstances, what is going on in the northern kingdom. Elijah had thought that this was up to him, that he could bring about the results that he desired through his own obedience and through the tremendous manifestations of God which He presented on Mount Carmel. What happens is that when we formulate these goals in our minds—sometimes it is very subtle, we haven't really taken it out and put it under the spotlight of conscious examination—we don't realize that we have really sort of sidetracked our own thinking by formulating our life's goals, our desires in ways that we ultimately cannot control. Then when we hit these road blocks and realize that these goals are unreachable, these desires will never realize, we become angry, discouraged, despondent and depressed. But the reality is that when we face life biblically and we are recognize that God is the one who is ultimately in control we can have our hopes and desires but we don't blow them up to too great of an emphasis. Then when God leads or directs in ways that are not what we expected, while we may have a measure of disappointment, our mental attitude focus on God is what stabilizes us and we are able to go through those life-changing disappointments without letting it knock us off the rails of our forward momentum in the spiritual life.

God is going to teach Elijah a very important lesson. He is going to have His own personal Bible class to emphasize the doctrine that underlies all of this, and that is the incomprehensibility of God. There are things that we know about God for sure, that we can know true things about God with certainty, but there are many things that we do not know about God and His plan is ultimately beyond our knowledge, therefore we have to learn to walk by faith and not by sight.

1 Kings 19:3 NASB "And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there." NKJV "And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there." There is a textual problem here. It is an unusual form in the Hebrew that could have one or two roots. In the Massoretic where they put vowels in (the vowels were not there in the original) by changing a vowel you have a different word. The word to see and the verb for fear are very closely related and are identical in this particular form. In the Massorestic text it reads "he saw," and that is what is translated in the NKJV. But in the LXX, in the Vulgate, in the Syriac, and some other Hebrew writings it has the verb to be afraid. The bottom line is the same as he reacts to Jezebel. The question of the text saying he was afraid is doubtful. Elijah was not caving into fear but into disappointment and a perception of failure because what he sees here—the word raah for seeing is often used as a verb for perception—is that he realizes profoundly at that point that he is not going to see a revival in the northern kingdom. As a result of that realization he just falls apart into disappointment and despair.

1 Kings 19:4 NASB "But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, "It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers." The reason he thinks he is a failure is because he misunderstood his objective. His goal was not to bring about revival. That would be a legitimate desire but that was not his purpose. He had let his desires slip into being a part of the primary goal or objective and he realized that was not realizable and therefore he just falls apart into despair and despondency. In the midst of this the Lord shows His grace to him. One of the great lessons here is that the way we are to handle problems is through the problem-solving techniques that God has revealed to us in His Word.

For us in the church age it means that whenever we have hard times the first thing we need to do is make sure that we are in fellowship, that we are walking by means of the Spirit so that whatever takes place in the midst of the trial, tribulation, adversity, we can handle it in a way that has spiritual value for our own spiritual growth. Then the next development is the faith-rest drill, putting into application the principles and promises that God has given us. The faith-rest drill is really fundamental to everything in the Christian life. We just really need to trust Him, not just in a vacuum, not just believing in God because we have faith in faith; we have faith in the promises, in the person of God, in specific content that God has given us, and when we are living on the basis of those truths then we are solving the problem and can be relaxed even in the midst of tremendous opposition, difficulty and resentment. The next thing is we have to be oriented to God's grace. That means no only that we are not trying to somehow stimulate God's blessing by the things that we do, we realize that everything that God gives us is based on who he is and what Christ did on the cross, but we also have to let that impact the way we deal with circumstances and other people. When things don't go the way we do we don't cave into anger, resentment, striking out at other people verbally. What we do is learn to relax, treat others in grace just as we expect God to treat us in grace, and to be aligned with that.

Here is Elijah and he is out of fellowship. He is not trusting God but God shows us that He always meets us where we are, even when we are out of fellowship. God is always working in our life to get us back to reorient to doctrine, to confess our sins and to refocus. This is a tremendous example of that where the Lord sends an angel to provide nourishment for him. God is emphasizing that there are physical needs that have to be met.  

1 Kings 19:7, 8 NASB "The angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, 'Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you.' So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God." It takes him forty days and night to arrive at the cave. It doesn't take him that long to travel that distance. He is taking a lot of time and there is a reason for that. This makes a connection between Elijah and Moses. Moses spent forty days and nights on Mount Sinai when God was giving him the law. When God appeared to Moses on Mount Sinai there were earthquakes, flashes of lightening and thunder, and all of these physical manifestations that Elijah is about to witness were there for Moses. So we have the place that Moses was when he received the law, we have the physical manifestations of the appearance of God (Theophany), and then this same time period of forty days and forty nights. We can't escape the fact that the writer of 1 Kings wants us to make this connection between Moses and Elijah and with what God is going to be teaching Elijah here at Mount Horeb.     

1 Kings 19:9 NASB "Then he came there to a cave and lodged there; and behold, the word of the LORD {came} to him, and He said to him, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?'" Twice this question is going to be asked and the emphasis in both places is on a verbal revelation to Elijah. The reason for emphasizing that is that this is the passage that many people will go to and say, well I just need to get off by myself where I can listen to that still small voice of God. That is very mystical, that somehow we can just get away from everything and God will speak to us. God only speaks to us through His Word. He doesn't speak to us apart from His Word anymore. God's speaking to us in any way, shape or form is revelation. Not all revelation was inscripturated or canonized but any time God communicates it is revelation. We have non-verbal revelation that goes on in the heavens—The heavens declare the glory of God…God's invisible attributes are clearly seen in the works of His creation—but this is a non-verbal, non-directive type of revelation; it is called general revelation by theologians because it doesn't give specific content about God but it is clear that it gives enough information about the existence of God and about His attributes that all human beings know that God exists and are held accountable for that; they are without excuse—Romans 1. But there is also verbal communication from God or verbal revelation which is called by theologians special revelation. Not all special revelation is included in Scripture. There were times when God told prophets to seal up the revelation and so they were not intended to be written down. Whenever God speaks to His creatures that is revelation. We believe that revelation ceased with the closing of the canon of Scripture because God had given a sufficient revelation to the human race, and so in the church age the issue is not seeking more revelation but to unpack and understand the complete revelation God has given us so that we live in light of what He has said.   

If we look at this passage and understand the Hebrew the "still small voice" is not any kind of revelation. The revelation comes in these two questions that frame the event: "Elijah, what are you doing here?" He is getting Elijah to stop and reflect upon the decisions he has made in getting to this point in his life when he just thinks he is a failure, want to give up, and wants God to take his life. God asks the same thing as us as we go through circumstances when we know all of a sudden that this isn't the way things ought to be. We need to stop and ask what we are doing here. It is a time for self-reflection and analysis in light of God's Word, and this is the beginning point of change where we are turning from our own self-centered carnality to walking in dependence upon God.

1 Kings 19:10 NASB "He said, 'I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts [armies]; 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.'" Notice Elijah is still self-absorbed, still thinking in terms of his own failure. So God is going to give him a little lesson. He thought he had God planned out; he thought that God was going to use him to bring about this national revival and when it didn't happen the way he thought it would it just shook him to the very foundation of his thinking. So God has got to teach him to think a little more correctly about who God is.

1 Kings 19:11 NASB "So He said, 'Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD.' And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; {but} the LORD {was} not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, {but} the LORD {was} not in the earthquake." A wind that would break the rocks would be something that would frighten us if we were there. [12] "After the earthquake a fire, {but} the LORD {was} not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing." So we have these three events: wind, earthquake and fire. These are associated with the effects of God's, they are not God; they are simply manifestations of God and of His judgment upon man. God is showing Elijah that just because he had these great manifestations of God's power in his life—the provision at the brook Cherith, the provision of the oil and the meal with the widow in Zarephath, and God's answer to prayer in restoring to life the widow's son, and the tremendous manifestation of God's power on Mount Carmel—which tells us of God's ability, they don't tell us about the core of God's person and His plan. So what Elijah has done is what we do when we get the focus away from the person of God to the effects of God in our life, and we lose focus on who He is and His plan and purpose. What happens in this process is that we forget that just because we know some things about God we don't know everything about God; He is not under our control.

Translations: KJV and NKJV, "a still small voice". That gave people the idea that it was a verbal revelation from God—once you get past all the fireworks you just have to get down to where God has to speak to you very privately. The word that is translated "voice" is the Hebrew word qol and it can mean voice but it also primarily just means a sound. Its root meaning is a sound or a noise. The NASB, "a sound of gentle blowing." The NET Bible, "there was a soft whispering." The NIV, "the sound of a gentle whisper." However, the Hebrew doesn't have the word for "whisper" at all. Literally is says. "there was a sound of a small (or thin, something that is almost imperceptible) … and then the next word is translated as a "calm or a vibrant silence." It is the sound of silence. God is not communicating anything here. This is not God speaking at this time, it is that in all of the noise of the wind and the earthquake and the fire, suddenly it all stops and there is just this incredibly profound silence. What God is doing is getting Elijah to think about who God really is. He is beyond anything that Elijah could ever think of and God is going to come right back to the question here in verse 13.                

1 Kings 19:13 NASB "When Elijah heard {it,} he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice {came} to him and said, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?'" The only statements that are made in this episode are these two questions by God: What are you doing here? The silence causes Elijah to think a little more deeply about who God is.

In the parallel to this in the life of Moses when Moses was on Mount Sinai and God passed before him, God said: "The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave {the guilty} unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations." Elijah knows the Pentateuch and what happened when Moses was on Sinai. So there is a parallel drawn here by the overall context that God is reminding Elijah of His grace and His control in the history of Israel. Because what happened is that the kings in the northern kingdom are in disobedience to God and under divine discipline. Elijah is thinking God is going to solve the problem and do everything right now, and what God is going to demonstrate to Elijah is that He is going to bring about His plans and His purpose and is going to deal with all of this but it is going to take a longer period of time. God is reminding Elijah that He is merciful and gracious, and even though the northern kingdom is in disobedience, just as Elijah has been out of fellowship, God is dealing with Elijah in grace and He is going to continue to deal with the northern kingdom in grace. He is by no means going to forget the guilt of the Omri dynasty of Ahab and Jezebel and He will indeed bring about punishment upon them in His time and not necessarily in Elijah's time. So the silence is a time for Elijah to reflect upon the doctrine in his own soul, to be reminded of these things, and God in His turn again asks, What are you doing here Elijah?

The focus of all of this is to make Elijah reflect upon the incomprehensibility of God. He thought he knew what God was doing. Often we think we know what God is doing in our own lives with our careers, our children our families, our marriage, or whatever; that if we do everything right then God is going to bring about the results that we want. We think that is going to happen; we have God under control, but the fact is that God is incomprehensible. But what governs His incomprehensibility is His righteousness. That is what comes out of His statement to Moses. He is going to bring about the righteous judgment of evil, so we can trust Him. But He is incomprehensible, so we cannot control Him. Job 11:7, 8 NASB "Can you discover the depths of God? Can you discover the limits of the Almighty? {They are} high as the heavens, what can you do? Deeper than Sheol, what can you know? Isaiah 40:17, 18 NASB "All the nations are as nothing before Him, They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless. To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him?"

1 Kings 19:14 NASB "Then he said, '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.'" He is restating the same thing he said in verse 10. He's a little slow on the uptake, just like we are. We still say we have done everything right and ask why isn't coming out the way it ought to come out. God is going to correct him now and He points him forward. His life is not over with, God is not through with him yet, he still has a profound ministry before him.

1 Kings 19:15 NASB "The LORD said to him, 'Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you have arrived, you shall anoint Hazael king over Aram; [16] and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. [17] It shall come about, the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death. [18] Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him." You are not alone, you just think you are—self-absorption.

The thing that we need to emphasize here is that God is incomprehensible. We can know what we know truly and accurately, and we need to know it; we need to know the Word because God has revealed it to us and it is ours and it is accurate and dependable. But we need not make the mistake that we know a certain amount of doctrine we therefore have a handle on God and what God is doing in history, in our nation, and in our own lives. We don't know those thing, he has not revealed them to us. All we can do is look at those circumstances and decided whether we are going to respond and react to the circumstances in a way that glorifies God by applying His Word, or are we going to let the circumstances and situations of our lives be the cause of our disappointment and despair and cause us to lose the joy that we should have as believers. That joy should never be dependent upon circumstances, it should only be dependent upon the infallible, never-changing Word of God and the person of God.