God’s powerful voice – 1 Kings 19

God’s powerful voice comes to us more than we realise, often clearer than we’d like to hear.

So imagine God spoke to you and you then had a choice of what to do. You can imagine it would be an important choice!

But here’s the thing: God has spoken to you. What did you do?

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube. You can find more in the series in our Sermon Index.

Sorrow but not surprise

Last time we looked at Elijah, God’s prophet, on Mt Carmel. Mt Carmel was the mountain of the god Baal. He was there with all the prophets of Baal. God had sent Elijah to tell the king that there would be no rain because the king had led the people to Baal worship. There would be no rain because that was part of the covenant God had with Israel – blessing (rain) if they worshipped and enjoyed the LORD; drought and famine if they rejected him and worshipped other gods.

The prophets of Baal were humiliated and then killed. The LORD was shown to be the only true God. But there was more: Fire from heaven consumed the burnt offering. God was calling the people back to himself, reminding them of the means of worship he’d given – the Temple in Jerusalem with its sacrifices and priests.

Surely anybody seeing that or hearing about it would drop Baal like a ton of bricks and turn to the living God, wouldn’t they? Read 1 Kings 19:1-2.

It turns out that people can stare at facts all day long and still not believe them. Elijah could see that nothing was going to change. King Ahab and his wife Jezebel would still hunt down any prophets they could find; Baal worship would still go on.

Spiritual sight and sorrow

This is no surprise. Spiritual things are hidden to those who are perishing. You need the Spirit of God to open your eyes. But it’s still terribly sad. And Elijah was broken with sorrow.

  • He travelled 100 miles south, and left his servant at Beersheba in safety.
  • Then went out to the wilderness and prayed his heart out.
  • Read 1 Kings 19:3-4.
  • If he’d really wanted to die he could have stayed where Jezebel could have killed him. What we’re seeing here is the prophet’s broken heart – despite the LORD’s great work at Mt Carmel, the nation were still lost.
  • If our prayer meetings experienced more of that prayer who knows how the Lord’s heart would be moved?

What happens next is a surprise. Read 1 Kings 19:5-7.

God clearly isn’t angry with Elijah – he’s tender, caring, loving. The Lord knows Elijah’s pain because he feels the pain of the rejection himself. And the Lord provides food for Elijah because he wants him to travel a further 200 miles into the wilderness.

Read 1 Kings 19:8-9. (You might need to recall that Horeb is another name for Sinai.)

  • The Lord had cursed Israel under the covenant terms.
  • He had called them back to blessing and true worship, but they rejected him and chose to go back to Jezebel’s Baal.
  • And now God calls his prophet to Mt Sinai, the mountain of God. Something very important is going on. But what?

How did we get into this mess?

Before we get to grips with what’s going on, it’s helpful to step back a bit in 1 & 2 Kings.

A couple of weeks ago, I made the point that Elijah is introduced really abruptly – without introduction or preamble. It makes you think about how odd the book (1 & 2 kings together) is. There’s quite a bit about Elijah and Elisha in the middle, but otherwise it’s all kings, kings, kings.

We might well ask: Who wrote the book? When? Why?

It’s not clear who wrote it, though it was certainly based on careful records and has been written down as historical fact. The book finishes with southern Judah going into exile in Babylon. So it goes from the wonders of king David to slavery and exile in Babylon.

If you were an Israelite slave in Babylon, you might well wonder, “How did we get into this mess?” Or even, “Has God failed to protect his people?”

1 & 2 Kings is emphatic. Rejecting God leads to trouble, but in his grace he gives loads of opportunities to you before the end. If you get a Bible overview book out, you’ll find lists of kings in Israel (north) and Judah (south). Elijah worked in the north.

A clear pattern

So if you look at the list of kings in the north you see quite a pattern:

  • 7 kings, starting with Jeroboam
  • Then the days of Elijah and Elisha
  • 7 more kings, starting with another Jeroboam
  • Ending with Hoshea. And a complete end – the Assyrian empire came and exiled the people, never to return. Northern Israel was finished from that point on.

So, if you were someone at the end of that history timeline reading the book of Kings, and if you ask “How did we get into this mess (exile, slavery, poverty)?”… 

  • The shape of the book matters. It slows down to key moments when things could have gone differently.
  • Just as there are key moments in your life when you could have done things differently – and still can.
  • And the moments that have to do directly with God are the most critical for us all.

Through Ahab, Israel were rejecting God in favour of Baal. Through Elijah, at Mt Carmel, God called the people to come back to him. True worship and blessing from the only true God!

But they rejected him – again. Once too often, as it turns out:

The Lord’s courtroom

Why highlight the importance of the shape of the book? Because it shows that something massively important happened in the ministry of Elijah and Elisha – something that would affect the nation forever.

God had made a covenant with Israel. A formal commitment. He gave it through Moses at Mt Sinai. The Tabernacle was first built at Sinai. All of Leviticus happened at Mt Sinai. But Israel had rejected God, rejected his covenant, and so would now forfeit his blessing (as per Leviticus 26).

God had called Elijah to Sinai. It was 300 miles or so south from Mt Carmel to Mt Sinai. Elijah wasn’t aimlessly wandering around the desert, moping around in misery waiting for God to rebuke him and send him back. No, God had cared for Elijah and fed him on the journey. 

Elijah had been brought to the place the covenant was made to report on how it had been broken.

Verses 9-15 have clear repetition about them.

  • He’s in a cave. The Lord asks, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” – not a rebuke; the Lord brought him here.
  • Elijah replies. It’s the courtroom charges against Israel.
  • Read 1 Kings 19:10.
  • It’s his report. The Lord doesn’t rebuke or disagree.
  • The Lord speaks, and then the shape repeats.
  • Cave – question – report – the Lord speaks again.

Certainty of God’s ruling

The doubling reminds me of Joseph’s words to Pharaoh: “Since the dream was given twice to Pharaoh, it means that the matter has been determined by God, and he will carry it out soon.” (Genesis 41:32). What God says here is a certainty; the courtroom judge has spoken. The covenant was sealed with heaven and earth as witnesses, and now the court has found the covenant broken by Israel.

Read 1 Kings 19:11-12.

Would God send wind, fire, or earthquake on Israel? No. His word – even his quiet whisper – is more powerful, more effective, more terrifyingly unstoppable than any natural phenomenon. And what was his word? Judgment and grace.

Read 1 Kings 19:15-18.

  • He would deal completely and utterly with all who reject him, reject his gracious blessings, and worship false gods that can neither love nor bless, or speak or hear.
  • God had called the people back at Mt Carmel and they’d rejected him there.
  • So now God would reject them – here at Mt Sinai of all places.

And yet! Even so, God would have remnant. 7,000 seems too symbolic to be taken literally. God would preserve a perfect, large number of people for himself. He will preserve them.

Even today, when we might ask how our society has got into such a mess as it’s in, still God has his remnant. We’re few, but he preserves us! And so there’s always grace and hope.

Are you listening?

Mt Carmel, Mt Sinai. Elijah and Moses.

It brings to mind another time when (oddly) Moses and Elijah would stand on yet another mountain. The mountain we know as the Mount of Transfiguration. A day when these two Old Testament giants stood and deferred to one who was greater still.

Jesus stood there, shining with his own glory, revealed to just 3 of his disciples in a moment of particular splendour. There, they heard the voice of God the Father say, “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him” (Mark 9:2-8).

The Son who now rules over us all, raised to glory and worshipped there by Moses, Elijah and countless millions of people and angels and heavenly beings.

On Sinai, God gave his people a covenant. At Carmel and back again at Sinai, it was clear that the people had rejected God and his covenant, and would suffer judgment. On the Mount of Transfiguration, the glorious Jesus was revealed as one who would bring in the promised New Covenant. He would lead a new Exodus of God’s people to the promised land, and life, and peace, and hope, and joy in the presence of God forevermore.

In Jesus, God would give a new message of judgment and grace, but now centred on Jesus himself. Everyone who comes to Jesus has life; but everyone who does not know Jesus does not have life. It’s either/or; binary.

So are you listening? Israel ended up in slavery in Babylon asking, “How did we get into this? What went wrong?” The answer is that they rejected God’s amazing grace.

Could you end up in hell, in a few years, asking that question? If you do, it will be because you have rejected God’s amazing grace revealed to you in Jesus Christ.

What are you waiting for?

What are you waiting for before you’ll believe? A wind to take the roof off? Fire from heaven? An earthquake?

  • The Lord wasn’t in those on Sinai. He was in his own voice, the voice of a gentle whisper, a still small voice.
  • A “silent voice” if we might put it that way.
  • A feeling, a conviction, that God wants you to respond to him, to turn to him, to call out to him – to return to him?

Ahab and Jezebel could see the truth that God is real and is truly calling them to himself – but they chose to deny it. Will you do the same? Or will you hear that voice of God calling you – even right now this moment – and turn to him?

You turn to Jesus, because he is the sacrifice given in your place. He takes the punishment from God you deserve. That’s why unbelief or belief centres on him – your only hope of coming to God is for him to forgive you, and he sent Jesus so that you can be forgiven.

So: Don’t be an unbelieving Jezebel. Hear God’s voice speaking to you, and turn to him. And join Elijah, crying out to God for the majority of society still rejecting the one true God and his given Saviour Son, Jesus.