And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken 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.”
11 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”
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. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 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?”
14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken 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.”
This was part of the topic that we discussed last night at Bible study. Even though I had read this passage before, something entirely new came to light as we were reading it. At the beginning of these verses, God asked Elijah what he was doing here. God wasn’t asking this because He didn’t know what Elijah was doing there. God is all knowing. God was testing Elijah to see where his heart and his motives were. God did the same thing with Adam and Eve back in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:7-9). God wasn’t looking for a literal answer.
In order to fully understand the implications of God’s question, it is important to understand what happened right before Elijah had this conversation with God. Elijah was a prophet for God, speaking the words of God to the Israelites. The Israelites had been messing up and not listening to God. God used Elijah to call them out on their actions. They didn’t like Elijah, obviously. Elijah knew that he was speaking the Truth, so he organized a challenge. The challenge went like this:
Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.”
Baal never answered. The Lord answered with fire from heaven; “when all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, ‘The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!’”
God just came through for Elijah in a huge way. Elijah was probably feeling on top of the world, until his life was threatened. When God questioned Elijah about why he was on the mountain, Elijah didn’t mention what God has just done—Elijah only saw the death threat from Jezebel. One circumstance completely changed his outlook so drastically that Elijah ends up whining and complaining to God. Instead of answering Elijah with words, the Lord simply tells Elijah to go outside because He, the Lord, is about to pass by. Instead of answering Elijah with words, God simply reminds Elijah of who He is. After He passes by, God, with the tenderness of a father again asks Elijah the same question. He asked again to see if Elijah’s heart had been changed. Elijah gave the same answer. God then responded with the words that address Elijah’s complaint—Elijah is not the only one in Israel who is living for God.
God allowed Elijah to end up in the wilderness in such a dire situation to test him. I was reminded of a sermon that my pastor gave last summer. Part of what he spoke about was why God allows us to end up in the “wilderness”—why we go through trials. Sometimes, we end up there by our own choice because we disobey God. Other times God takes us to the wilderness as part of a “time-out.” God also allows us to enter the wilderness after a major spiritual victory. This was the case for Elijah.
Hebrews 12:7, 11 tells us:
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Verse seven in this passage is especially crucial—the command to view hardship not as hardship but rather as discipline. In this context, “hardship” and “discipline” are interchangeable. The verse could then read as “…No hardship seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
As our discussion progressed, one of our questions was “How might God’s healing of a person who’s suffering affect those around us today?” My hand shot up instantly because I knew this answer in my heart. When God heals someone who is suffering, He is doing the same thing that He did when He passed before Elijah on the mountain. He is showing that He is still God. He is showing that He still cares. He is showing how He has a bigger plan in store, of how He is painting on a canvas bigger than we can ever see or imagine. The story of Ashley and Christa (Fruitcake and Ice Cream) was on my heart, so I briefly explained that story to the group, in addition to my personal story of my mom’s sickness all throughout college and how God used that to show me His faithfulness (among other things) and is continuing to work this situation for His glory. If that question had been asked me in my freshman year or even earlier this year, I would have had the same response as Elijah. The only reason that I can have a different answer is because God has awakened me to who He is and to His glory. God had to pass by a few times in order for my heart to change, but I can say that my heart is definitely changed because of God.