Sermon: Whisper on a Scream (1 Kings 19)
Order of Service: Brief Service of the Word
#771, “Be Still, My Soul, before the Lord”
#688, “’Come, Follow Me,’ the Savior Spake”
#805, “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow”
Location: Immanuel/St. Paul, Blue Earth
Watch the full service at
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 19:12-13)
Blues artist Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s song “Blue on Black” parallels the imagery in our text this morning. The chorus goes like this:
Blue on black,
tears on a river
Push on a shove,
it don’t mean much
Joker on jack,
Match on a fire
Cold on ice
As a dead man’s touch
Whisper on a scream,
doesn’t change a thing
Doesn’t bring you back
Blue on black.
The only problem is the phrase “doesn’t change a thing”. When he heard the low whisper at the tail end of the great and forceful winds, Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle.11 Kings 19:13 Something definitely changed for Elijah, but what was it? God gently rebuked His prophet. He also rebukes us in ways that we don’t expect.
Why did Elijah need to be rebuked? Elijah was a prophet of God who spoke the Word of God. He raised a young man from the dead.21 Kings 17:17-24 He caused an eighteen-month drought.31 Kings 17:1-7; 18:41-46 If he’s done all these things, the Lord must be with him.
Why does God ask him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”41 Kings 19:9 Don’t you just love when God comes onto the scene and asks a question? He is all-knowing. He’s asking a question He should know the answer to. Of course He knows the answer! He wants His people to verbalize their thoughts and feelings to Him. He taught us to pray for what we need in this life. He wants us to bring our petitions to Him. We would take these blessings for granted if they were just handed to us without our asking. We see that all around us in our world today. People wanting everything handed to them. It doesn’t make a good foundation for a society.
Back to the question. “What are you doing here, Elijah?”51 Kings 19:10 Where was “here”? If we’d look back to the preceding verses, we’d see the answer. Our text begins in the middle of a verse. The verse begins, “There [Elijah] came to a cave and lodged in it.” What’s Elijah doing in a cave? As I said before, Elijah has caused a drought throughout the land. He’d also just slaughtered the entire priesthood of Baal and Ashtoreth.61 Kings 18:20-40 Jezebel became enraged and placed a bounty on Elijah’s head. Elijah fled until he reached Mount Horeb. There he found a cave and lodged there71 Kings 19:9a
God’s question is a rebuke, but it is also an invitation. Elijah takes advantage of the invitation. He places his complaint before God: “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts”81 Kings 19:10 He says, “I have done all these great things in the name of the LORD and now I’m stuck in this cave. What have I done to deserve this?” Elijah pointed to his own works—to how great he was and that he didn’t deserve to be on the run like a fugitive. He’s asking God, “What am I doing here? Why ain’t I out calling down fire from heaven or raising the dead or making it rain or keep it from raining? Why am I here?” God answers, “Go outside.”
When Elijah steps out of the cave, he’s greeted by a display of God’s raw, awesome power. Put yourself in Elijah’s shoes for a moment. You’re standing on top of a large mountain and this wind comes through. This wind isn’t one of our nice blustery Minnesota winds that power the windmill farms. This wind is violent. This wind sheers the sides off the nearby mountains. This wind splits rocks you would never consider trying to move. Then, if that wasn’t enough, this earthquake rumbles the ground you’re standing on. Then a blazing fire comes through. It doesn’t touch you, but you can feel your skin bristling from the immense heat. When it passes, there’s a barely audible whisper. If it weren’t for the sheer solitude of the place, you’d never hear it. But that whisper cuts right to your soul.
Elijah’s soul is laid bare. He thought he had done all these great deeds, but he had nothing when faced with the awesome power behind his deeds. He could only hide his face and run back into the cave in shame. What was his shame? His pride. His arrogance. His forgetting where the power and authority of his great deeds had come. God could have blown Elijah away with the wind. God could have swallowed him up with the earthquake.9cf. Numbers 16 God could have put him through great torment by burning his flesh with the fire.10cf. Daniel 3
God did none of these things. God’s rebuke did not come in these great manipulations of nature. God’s rebuke came in the low whisper that cut Elijah to the core of his being. God’s rebuke of His prophet was showing mercy. The same rebuke Jesus gave to James and John—the sons of Zebedee, the “sons of thunder” as Jesus would nickname them—who He called to be His disciples in our Gospel reading. In their ministry with Him, they wanted to call down fire from heaven because a Samaritan village refused their message. Jesus had mercy on the village.11Luke 9:52-56 God had mercy on Elijah.
God was showing his mercy and long-suffering to Israel. After all the raging display of God’s wrath, He reminds them that He is a merciful God. You received the same reminder when you were baptized. One minute you’re a sinner deserving nothing but eternal wrath and punishment with no hope. The next, you’re still a sinner deserving nothing but eternal wrath and punishment, but you have hope. God showed you His mercy as He washed away the guilt of your sins with the water and Word in Baptism. It’s that simple little thing that you might normally just pass by, but it changed everything. It shows God’s mercy, but it also takes care of your despair.
Further in our text, we see the true heart of Elijah’s complaint: “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”121 Kings 19:10, 14 Israel, under the leadership of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel (as well as the kings before them), had fallen away from God’s Word. Elijah was alone. He was the only prophet of the Lord left in the land. Oh yeah, and there was the bounty set on his head by Queen Jezebel. Needless to say, things weren’t going very well for the people of God as far as Elijah was concerned. Israel had gone to serving Baal and Ashtoreth and the golden calves of Dan and Bethel. They tore down the altars set aside for the one true God so they could use the stone to build altars to gods that don’t exist.
Elijah was alone. He felt the weight of the world crushing him as if the roof of the cave was caving in on him. He was suffocating thinking that he has to do all of God’s work by himself. What an enormous task for one man to do! Then the gentle, merciful rebuke comes once again. God provides for Elijah’s despair. God orders Elijah to do a few things, primarily call Elisha to be a prophet after him. Elijah would have some help. That was some relief. You could probably almost see God’s fatherly smile as he adds the last statement on Elijah: “I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed down to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him”131 Kings 19:18 Elijah was probably grateful that there would be two to carry out the Lord’s work in Israel, but he was surely ecstatic that there would be SEVEN THOUSAND helpers! All was not lost. God had kept a remnant as he promises to do throughout all the prophets of the Old Testament. Elijah only saw what was right in front of him as he fled for his life. God knew the whole story. He knew what the score was between His followers and the followers of Baal. God gives Elijah the reassurance that he is not the only one who is on God’s side.
How many times have you felt like you were the only one who was doing the Lord’s work? How many times have you felt alone thinking that no one understands what you are going through in life? How many times have you thought that the Christian Church was on its last legs because everyone was against her? That’s Elijah’s despair, but God shows him that there is no need to despair. As there were seven thousand who had not bowed the knee or kissed Baal in Israel, there are still many faithful brothers and sisters in Christ continuing the Gospel mission of delivering God’s Word to those who have not heard it. They might not all be Lutheran, but that’s something we have to deal with in our fallen world. The visible divisions between Christians may make things a bit more difficult, but the message of Jesus Christ crucified for our sins is what unites us together as the one holy Christian and Apostolic Church we confess in our creeds. That message of God’s mercy and grace is what makes us Christian. And God’s message of mercy and grace—that low whisper—drives us to do His work throughout the world. Amen.