Rethinking “A Still Small Voice”

There is a very well know passage of Scripture that many Christians use as a model for hearing God’s voice.  It tells of the story of the prophet Elijah just after he has a showdown with the false prophets of Baal.  In this showdown on Mount Carmel, our Great God demonstrates His supremacy of the idol Baal.  Immediately afterward, Elijah flees to a cave to escape the wrath of the wicked queen Jezebel.  We pick up the story here.

There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke 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. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9-11 ESV)

In this version, it says “sound of a low whisper.”  The King James Version famously says, “a still small voice.”  God was not speaking out of the wind or earthquake or fire but instead He was present in that low whisper, in a still small voice, and we have made that still small voice the normative and expected way in which God will always speak to us – in a whisper.  We like that imagery because it makes God less demanding and more “tame.”  It is easier to ignore a whisper than a fire storm. 

But there is a danger in taking one incident in Scripture and turning it into an absolute rule as it seems some have done with this passage.  Isn’t it interesting that when God first spoke to Moses it was out of a burning bush, i.e., fire (Exodus 3:2)?  When He spoke to the Israelites at Mount Sinai, He spoke out of fire, smoke and earthquake (Exodus 19:18).  When He took Elijah to heaven, He did it in a windstorm accompanied by a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11).  When He spoke to Job, he did it from a whirlwind (Job 38:1) When the Holy Spirit came to the disciples in the Upper Room, He showed up in wind and fire (Acts 2:1-3).

My point is simply that God has many ways in which He speaks to us and He uses whatever means are appropriate to us and the situation.  If we are only looking for God to speak in one way, we may miss Him completely.  Sometimes He may whisper.  At other times, He may shout.  But He is always speaking, always revealing Himself to us.  So, it may not be a burning bush anymore, but He could speak to us as we are reading the Bible, or are deep in worship, or seeking Him in prayer, or through the encouraging words a friend, through the teaching of a pastor, through a vision or prophetic word or a dream.

The point is not whether God speaks through the sound of a low whisper or some other way.  No, the point is that He is speaking.  Are we listening?  Will we recognize His voice?

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