And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?” Job 26:14
Have you ever heard the whisper of God? You may have and did not realize it. Just as you may not hear a soft note in a symphony if you aren’t listening for it, the whisper of God can come when you least expect it and can only be heard clearly if you listen for it. Elijah heard God whisper to him in 1 Kings 19:8-14.
There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
Elijah evades the question. He puffs himself up saying he has been “very zealous” for God, then blames the Israelites for his troubles. Ever with a flair for the dramatic, he announces he is “the only one left” though later in the chapter we find out there are 7000 other believers. It is easy to blame others and overstate your own self-worth when you are burned out or depressed, but he came to the right place needing a “word of the Lord.”
The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord , for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Notice Elijah does not leave the cave as he is told to do. Perhaps he thinks the Lord will come to him. Maybe he doesn’t trust the Lord after what he had just been through running for his life and wandering in the desert for days. Maybe the wind frightened him and he felt safer in the cave.
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord , but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.
Aside from the natural expectation that an all-powerful God might be involved in powerful things like fire, wind, and earthquakes, there was a precedent for these things in the history of Israel.
All of the Israelites experienced God in the fire and an earthquake.
“On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently.” (Exodus 19:16-18)
Even before Moses, Job experienced God in the wind and storm. “Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm: “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” (Job 40:6-7)
3. and Fire
Indeed God had been in the fire when Moses first encountered God.
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” (Exodus 3:1-4)
The comparisons are striking. Moses and Elijah are at the same place in the wilderness in front of the same mountain (Horeb). They are alone and far removed from a mountaintop experience when Moses was essentially a prince in Egypt and Elijah had called fire down from heaven. The angel of the Lord appeared to Moses “in flames of fire within a bush” and “called to him from within the bush.” The Lord was in the fire for Moses, but not for Elijah.
Earthquake, wind, and fire. God was in them before. Elijah probably expected God in them again. Yet God was not. Why not? Could it be because he was expecting it? Elijah went to a familiar place to see a familiar God, yet when he got there, He found God in a completely different way and unexpected voice. Isn’t that what we do?
When I was a teenager, I got good at hearing God’s voice. I heard Him in songs, in the Bible as I read it, and as I prayed. Then one day, without really noticing it, God was not in those same songs, He was not in the Bible passages as I read them, He was not in my prayers. So I prayed harder, I read longer portions of Scripture, and listened to every song through which God had spoken to me in the past. But I heard nothing from God. I was tempted to believe it was never really God in the first place – that He had never been in those things – that it was all imagined. But something told me He had been there, but it was up to me to seek Him if I was to hear His voice again.
Through a long and lonely process, I found Him in other places and other ways that were not familiar or comfortable or expected. Where do you expect to find God? In church? In a devotional? On the corner of First and Amistad? When you have not heard from Him in a while, you might be looking in the wrong place. And be forewarned: God does not always sound like Charlton Heston.
Dramatic fire and earthquakes certainly would get our attention, but sometimes it is not very effective in getting the message across. If you wanted to tell someone you loved them, would it be better to use a megaphone right in front of their face or a soft whisper of sweet nothings in their ear? God once tried to speak to the Israelites in a loud, audible voice, but it only made them tremble. “When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” (Exodus 20:18-19) Sometimes loud messages are not heard any better than a whisper.
And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
There are many translations of the phrase here rendered “gentle whisper.” In Job 4:16 the same phrase is translated “hushed voice.” In my studies I found “gentle breeze,” “soft whisper,” “hardly a sound,” “gentle blowing, and “a gentle little breeze.” B.P. Robinson says the phrase is found only two other times
(Ps 107:29; Job 4:16), and the Versions take it in each case to denote ‘a low sound, or whisper’. The regular meaning of daagäh is ‘thin’. Thus the phrase is rendered …’whisper” [‘sound of gentle speech]’ (Peshitta) ‘still, small voice’ (AV: RSV)/ the sound of a gentle breeze’ JB) ‘a low murmuring sound’ (NEB)/ ‘a faint murmuring sound’ (REB)/ ‘a tiny whispering sound’ (NAB). Some scholars think that demamah can mean ‘silence’ and they offer translations such as “the sound of thin silence’ (e.g. NRSV ‘a sound of sheer silence’). “Elijah at Horeb, I Kings 19:1-18: A Coherent Narrative?” RB 98 (1991) P. 522
I give so many possibilities to show how vast the ways which God may choose to speak to us. It may sound like a murmur or a breeze or the sound of silence (which sounds similar to the sound of one hand clapping). For the sake of clarity, I will refer to all of these possibilities as simply “the whisper of God.”
Why does God choose to whisper sometimes?
A shout is heard by everyone; a whisper only meant for those near to Him.
When someone shouts, they are trying to communicate with someone a distance away from them – across the street, in a crowded restaurant, on top of a roof. He doesn’t care who hears it and nothing personal is being shared. When someone whispers, he means it only to be heard by those he is near. Craig Groeschel said it this way: He whispers because he is close. When it feels as if God is far away or you are far away from Him, if God whispers, you can be sure He is close by and wants to speak personally to you.
A whisper draws you in.
Nothing got Elijah out of the cave. God told him to leave. He didn’t obey. Wind came. Elijah didn’t budge. An earthquake came. Elijah stayed put. Fire came. Elijah remained unaffected. What finally got him out of the cave? The whisper. Elijah’s curiosity was piqued. When someone suddenly lowers their voice, we naturally lean forward to hear every word. A whisper will draw your interest. Is it a secret? Why is she whispering? A whisper holds your attention and forces you to pay closer attention to every word. It pulls you closer to the speaker.
We hear Him when we are still when He is still
God is not always on the move; sometimes He is still. When He is still, we can only hear Him when we are still. This certainly is not easy in our culture that is always on the go. But if we try everything and hear nothing from God, we may need to try “nothing” and hear God in the stillness.
I thought this would be a very easy matter and so I began to get still. But I had no sooner commenced than a pandemonium of voices reached my ears, a thousand clamoring notes from without and within, until I could hear nothing but there noise and din. Some of them were my own questions, some of them my own cares, and some were my very prayers. Others were the suggestions of the tempter and the voices from the world’s turmoil. Never before did there seem so many things to be done, to be said, to be thought. In every direction I was pushed and pulled and greeted with noisy acclamations and unspeakable unrest. It seemed necessary for me to listen to some of them and to answer; but God said, “Be still, and know that I am God.” A.B. Simpson “The Power of Stillness”
When I was in eighth grade, I found myself in band. I did not play an instrument, but I was in band. They put me in the percussion section, but no one ever taught me how to read music. It was in band that I learned the value of silence, though it was I who was silent when I should not have been.
During a band competition I took my usual place behind a large recepticle which housed many intriguing percussion instruments and also provided adequate shelter from the peering eyes of judges. One of said instruments was the triangle, which I always mistook for a dinner bell for cowboys. Apparently someone was supposed to strike the triangle twice during the performance. I was that someone. How was I to know that hidden in the music sheet full of whole rests on seemingly every line there was actually a mark signifying when said triangle should be struck?
I didn’t think anyone would miss it, but instruments fell silent and others became hushed so the glorious triangle could be heard. Those who understood music missed it greatly however. Instead of placing, we got an honorable mention, which did not get us a trophy in those days.
This is the same with God. Lost in the noises and music of life is the omnipresent note of God’s voice. It is not often the loudest note or instrument and you often only miss it when it is not there. If we listen for it, our lives can find direction and meaning. If we ignore it, we have a a hard time hearing it again.
And sometimes He is in the silence. A. B. Simpson adds:
It was “a still small voice” or the sound of a gentle stillness. Is there any note of music in all the chorus as mighty as the emphatic pause? Is there any word in all the Psalter more eloquent than the one word, Selah (Pause)? Is there anything more thrilling and awful than the hush that comes before the bursting of the tempest and the strange quiet that seems to fall upon all nature before some preternatural phenomenon or convulsion? Is there anything that can so touch our hearts as the power of stillness?
His voice does not always sound the same. Sometimes it is in the whirlwind. Sometimes it is in the fire. He plays different instruments. We must listen for Him rather than listening for one familiar note or instrument.
“For all practical purposes a whisper is enough. The truth of a whisper is as great as the truth of a shout. A whisper from God is enough to tell me that God is; it is enough to tell me that He cares for me, for He whispers to me.”
FW Boreham “Whisper of God”