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Grown-Up Bible Stories

The View from the Cave

Caves are dark places. The darkness fit the lone man’s mood. It fit his sense of despair. It fit his need to hide. True, back at the cave’s entrance there was light, but the light missed this particular man on this particular day. He’d had his day in the sun. He’d performed gloriously, too, bringing a display of God’s power that would be remembered for thousands of years. But as he hid in the cold darkness of the earth, that day lay behind him. He’d been a spiritual hero last month. Today, he was a has-been.

The man’s name was Elijah. Now you remember Elijah as a powerful prophet of God. You remember him as the man who told evil King Ahab that God wasn’t going to allow it to rain until Elijah gave the word and then saw heaven and earth dry up. You remember Elijah as the man whom God hid, then sent wild birds to feed. You remember Elijah who produced an endless supply of food in a widow’s containers. You remember Elijah, a man who literally raised the dead.

And you remember Elijah who called down fire from Heaven. It had been a fabulous day on the Middle Eastern mountain called Carmel. Elijah came out of hiding to bring his drought to a close. First, he challenged God’s enemies to put up or shut up. He reminded the assembled nation that they needed to choose between the God of Abraham and the popular local deity called Baal. Then he challenged the four hundred fifty prophets of Baal to a spiritual contest. They claimed to serve a living god who could control nature. He claimed to serve the living God who controlled not only nature but everything else as well. His God had kept theirs from sending rain for three whole years, but that point went unnoticed. It was time for an immediate showdown. Elijah set the terms. They’d build an altar. So would he. They’d put an animal sacrifice on their altar, but they wouldn’t light the wood under it. Instead they’d ask their god to send fire.  Elijah would do the same. The God that sent fire won. The other one wouldn’t count anymore.

And Elijah had done his job with style. He let the four hundred fifty preachers of a phony god lead the way. They spent the day in wild religious fervor, begging Baal to light the fire under his sacrifice. Their worship became so intense that they leaped onto the altar. They cut themselves with knives. They did everything they could to stir up their god. They did it all, and nothing happened. The only answer they got was the mocking voice of Elijah, telling them that maybe their god was asleep.

Then, at the end of the day, Elijah had called the crowd close. He built a traditional Hebrew altar, laid his wood on it, and cut up his sacrifice. Then, he went for the kill. He demanded water, water by the barrelful. He doused his sacrifice, not with a few drops of blood, but with enough water to make it fireproof. The water ran down the sides of the altar and filled a ditch at its base. If the God of his fathers answered his prayer with fire, He’d have to work at it, because the sacrifice was soaked, the wood was wet, the altar itself smelled of wet stone, and the whole thing stood in a small pool. Then, without dance, without incantation, without frenzy, gesture, or ceremony, Elijah had offered a simple prayer.

Fire literally dropped from the sky and consumed his sacrifice. Unlike natural fire, it burned so intensely that it destroyed the altar stones and vaporized the pool. There was nothing left except the prophet--and a crowd screaming, “The LORD, he is the God” (from 1 Kings 18:39).

The prophets of Baal had duped these people into worshiping a god that wasn’t. They’d duped them into turning their backs on the living God and thereby inviting His everlasting wrath. They were evil men, and they’d been exposed as such. Under the God-given national law, they were also guilty of a capital offense. There was a death penalty for those who led people away from God in old Israel. It may sound harsh to us today, but God Himself had established that law in the days of Moses. We may be tempted to not like it, but God does retain the right to kill those who deserve it, and then to throw their souls into Hell. Elijah saw to it that the divine sentence was carried out on the false prophets. Then, it rained.

But the next day, the display of spiritual power crashed. You’ve heard the name Jezebel. She was an actual queen. A pagan whom the king of Israel had married, she was the power behind the Baal cult. The prophets who’d gotten what they’d had coming had been her pets. The hand and power of God were obvious, but Jezebel had a long history of ignoring Him. Instead, she decided to kill the messenger. Not so poor at dramatics herself, she’d sent word to Elijah, swearing that the gods could do worse to her if she didn’t kill him within 24 hours. Considering the recent track record of her favorite deity, she was safe.

Elijah wasn’t safe, and he knew it. He ran. He ran for his life.

We’re inclined to blame Elijah for cowardice. Such blame may not be fair. After all, this man knew the power of God like few others in world history. He knew that power, and all of a sudden, he wasn’t sensing that power. The man who’d stood down the whole government in the power of God, now faced one woman, but God’s power eluded him. The man of God found himself just the man. He ran. So would have you.

Elijah left his servant, I suppose you’d think of him as a valet or butler, in one city and kept going. He traveled by foot, of course, but even then, his forty-one-day journey was a thorough escape. Yes, God sent an angel to give him food. But the two simple meals the angel prepared gave him power to travel for over a month, another case of the spiritual triumphing, but that was essentially lost on Elijah. He’d been God’s champion yesterday. Today, he was nobody, and he knew it.

And that’s how we come to find one of history’s all-time heroes a fugitive hiding in a cave. The cave, by the way, was in Mount Sinai, the place where God had given his law to the great prophet Moses many years earlier. Elijah had returned to the place of his spiritual roots, but not even this hallowed spot seemed to help. Yes, Elijah’s life was as dark as the inside of his cave. He’d seemed to have so much going for him, but when all was said and done, he’d fallen short of the heights to which he’d prayed his way. He was no better than his very human ancestors. We’d probably say he was depressed. That could well have been true, but it was the depression of a man who’d, as it were, touched the face of God only to plunge back to earth. It had been glorious while it lasted, but now it seemed all over.

But even in the cave, God’s man hadn’t escaped from God. God came to him. The One that had given him words for the likes of Ahab spoke again. God asked him what he was doing there.

And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” (1 Kings 19:10)

God ordered the prophet to stand on the mountain before Him.

What followed was another display of God’s power. The Bible tells us that the LORD passed by. With His passing, came the wind. It was a killer wind, the kind of thing, they write books about when a populated area gets hit. So fierce was this storm that even the rocks broke under its pressure. It was the kind of thing to remind the atheist that there truly is a Greater Power in the universe.

Only, the prophet’s spiritually attuned senses recognized something. God wasn’t in the wind.

The wind subsided and an earthquake shook the mountain. It was as if the very footsteps of God were making their impact on the earth. Dangerous? Potentially deadly. Showing the earth to be anything but solid in the presence of its Creator? Without a doubt.

But again, a sobering reality caught Elijah’s attention. For all the power on display, the presence of God was missing. God wasn’t in the earthquake.

Then came fire. In the days of Moses, the whole top of mount Sinai had burned in the divine presence, and Israel had cried for mercy. It had only been weeks since Elijah had asked the same God for fire on another mountain, and again, the nation had found the display of God’s presence overwhelming.

Yet, this time, something was wrong. God wasn’t in the fire.

After the fire, Elijah heard a voice. It lacked the unsettling roar of the wind, the overwhelming roar of the earthquake, or the devouring roar the fire. It was only a voice, what the Bible calls "a still small voice.”

At the voice, something stirred in the prophet. Here was the presence of God. Overawed, Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle (a cloak-like garment that seems to have become sort of a trademark). Fire and earthquake he could handle, but there was something terrible in this quiet voice. Shielding himself from the very God he’d been speaking to, Elijah came out of the darkness and stood in the mouth of the cave.

And a voice—probably the same still small voice; although, the Biblical record doesn’t specify that it was—spoke to Elijah.

Again, God asked the question, “What doest thou here, Elijah?”

Elijah answered almost word for word as before. “And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” (1 Kings 19:14) Nothing had changed. He was still a wanted man. He was still a defeated recent spokesman for God. He was still hiding in the wilderness.

Yet, everything had changed. God was back on the scene. The fire and the spectacular might have been over, but the God of the still small voice was speaking, and He wasn’t through with His servant. He assigned Elijah to leave the mountain. He ordered him to Syria, where he was to anoint a guy named Hazael to be that enemy nation’s next king. (Anointing was a smearing of the head with oil to signify divine appointment to office.) God also directed him to anoint a young soldier named Jehu to replace King Ahab’s dynasty. Finally, he must find a young farmer named Elisha and anoint him to become his own successor when that time should come. And God told the prophet the future. The judgment Elijah had begun at the base of what had been his altar would continue. Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha would be God’s avenging hands, destroying those who weren’t loyal.

Then, God added a few more words of encouragement. Elijah wasn’t alone. There were still seven thousand people in Israel who hadn’t worshiped the bogus god named Baal. What Elijah in his humanity couldn’t see, God in his infinity could. There were still plenty left. He wasn’t alone. He only felt that way.

Elijah, of course, left his hideout, and went back into Israel. Did Jezebel still want to kill him? Yes. Did the 7,000 faithful children of God come out of hiding to stand with him? No. He was still a lone prophet in a largely hostile land. Nothing had changed.

Nothing had changed, but he was back on the job. Why? Because God had spoken. Nothing had changed, yet everything was different. The God Who’d waited silently while a nation rebelled was still in control. The God who had answered by fire, then fell silent had spoken again. His voice was quiet. Elijah would do more miracles, but there’d never be another Mt. Carmel. He’d crossed the peak of his life and ministry. But God was still there. The voice of God had sounded in his ears again. It was quiet, but it was persistent.

Elijah set out and began the work of God again. He was a prophet, not because he could call down fire from Heaven, but because he could hear that still small voice.


Do you as a Christian feel like God has forgotten you? Do you long for some spectacular display of His power? Do the great works of God seem like things from the biographies of famous Christians? Does life seem rather earthly and God far away and uninvolved?

Don’t give up. He is still here. And he still speaks today, not always by prophets, rarely by earthquakes or windstorms. Many of us will never see a miracle, at least not a spectacular one. We won’t hear the audible voice of God as did Elijah, at least not before Christ’s return. But God is still here, and he still speaks to the hearts of His children. Don’t worry about the spectacular, but seek His presence. Pray to Him. Be faithful, and obey His Word. Sooner or later, the still small voice of His Spirit will speak to your soul.

Nothing will have changed, yet everything will be different. When God speaks, nothing can remain the same.

Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. (Psalm 139:7-12)

For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. (2 Corinthians 4:6-11)

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. (Galatians 6:9)

To read about events preceding this story, click here: The Secret Agent.

To read this story directly from the Bible, click here: God Chooses Elisha (1 Kings 19:9-21)

This work is in the pubic domain and may be copied and distributed freely.


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