19. To Elijah

“God turned up” Meditations: 19 :  To Elijah

1 Kings 19:11-13 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. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. 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.

We are not told when the Lord first ‘turned up’ for Elijah. The first we read of Elijah is, Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word. (1 Kings 17:1) These are the words of a confident prophet, a man who knows God and who knows his calling. He’s a pretty powerful character!

After that we read, “Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah: “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan.” (v.2,3).  He clearly hears God’s directions – and follows them.  But it continues, “Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the LORD came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there.” (v.7-9)  So he does that.  The story continues: “After a long time, in the third year, the word of the LORD came to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.” So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab.” (1 Kings 18:1,2)  What followed was the amazing incident on Mount Carmel (see rest of chapter 18) where the Lord sent fire to burn up his sacrifice and shame the false prophets who were subsequently killed.  This was a most incredible encounter and conflict.

Now the upset this caused is quite obvious: “Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” (1 Kings 19:1,2) Now that’s an odd thing because surely it would have been easier for Jezebel to just send some soldiers and kill Elijah.  No, perhaps she is scared of him and this is just scare tactics to get rid of him.  It works: Elijah was afraid and ran for his life” (v.3)  Eventually he ends up in a cave at Mount Horeb.

There the Lord confronts him: “And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (v.9) Elijah explains and the Lord instructs him, “The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” (v.11) The Lord is about to turn up in a big way. “Stand…. in the presence of the Lord” simply means the Lord is going to come there in a very obvious way. The Lord confirms that by “for the Lord is about to pass by. i.e. I’m not staying but just turning up for a specific reason – you need help and encouragement (implied).

Now I think if we were Elijah we might not like the sound of that. The Lord has spoken to us and guided us and empowered us a number of times, but if He is using this sort of language He is saying I am about to ‘turn up’ in a significant way. For what reason we are not sure, but when He talks about making His presence known, He obviously intends to create a stir and impact on Elijah. Elijah, brace yourself, this is going to be something!

Then, “a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD. Wow! This is awesome. The power of God is here, but hold on, “but the LORD was not in the wind.” So what was that about? The Lord just demonstrating His might? Next, “After the wind there was an earthquake.” Awesome!  The whole earth shakes. This is mighty power, “but the LORD was not in the earthquake.” What? Where is the Lord then? Why the earthquake?  Just showing a bit more of what He can do! Then, “After the earthquake came a fire.” Whoops, this is getting close and personal. The earthquake was shaking but the fire could burn me up! But where is the Lord? I’m seeing all these demonstrations of power but the Lord still isn’t making His presence known here. He’s still holding off. Then, “And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” He’s here! To be able to hear a whisper means that the person is close. Then comes the conversation between them.

Yet as we read on there is no manifestation of the Lord; Elijah simply hears a voice. Now I don’t know about you but I find this both awesome and encouraging.  I mean, if I suddenly heard this audible whisper coming from behind me as I am typing these words, it would scare the life out of me because I know there is no one else in the room beside me – or at least there hadn’t been until that moment, but someone is now there – and close! Scary! Awesome!

But then if this is the Lord turning up, especially after He’s given warning that He’s coming, it must mean that He is trying to convey something particular to me. To me it seems like He is trying to convey intimacy. He’s actually not here in a mind-blowing vision that would probably knock me over; He’s here quietly communicating His presence to me in a way that is not overwhelming. Suddenly I realise that this is how He does mostly turn up. So often when He’s spoken to me it’s been in a quiet whisper, so quiet I could have almost missed it. This is Almighty God who loves us and understands us and so often comes so quietly and gently we might almost miss Him. How amazing. He comes intimately and close and He’s there for us. Wonderful!

5. Who moved the Stone?

Mt 28:2   There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. I have been reading the Bible for over forty years and I am amazed that forty years on I still see things that I have never ‘seen’ before. For that reason I no longer get stressed when those looking to pull the Bible to pieces come out with silly comments which show that they have either never read the Bible or at least large parts of it, or that they have read it but only in a surface way and have not taken in the truth of what they have read.  The reason I say this about my own reading is that it has only been recently that I have noticed something about the earthquake and the women. What is it?
   
Simply that the earthquake did not coincide with the arrival of the women! It happened before they arrived. If you read this part of Matthew on a few verses you will see, “The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.” (v.4) In other words so far there is no mention of the women. It was only the guards who saw the angel and the stone being rolled away. It must have been they who told about the ‘earthquake’. This was an encounter that scared the life out of these men. According to how Matthew wrote it, the sense of an earthquake was because of the arrival of the messenger from heaven who came with such power that the very earth shook.
   
But note that it wasn’t the earthquake that rolled back the stone, it was the angel who went over to the stone and effortlessly rolled it away and then sat on it as if on guard or at least laying claim to it!  Put it like that, it seems as if God saw the women coming to the tomb, and saw them talking: “they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mk 16:3). To save them the trouble He sends an angel to roll it back for them to see that Jesus has risen. Now later on we will find that it seems like Jesus had the ability to be ‘solid’ but also to pass through solid materials with his resurrected body. It would seem therefore, that the risen Jesus didn’t need the stone rolling away; he could pass through the rock. The removal of the stone was for the benefit of those coming to examine the tomb!
   
It was only once he had rolled it away that the women arrived. When they turn up they encounter the angel who seems to have put off some of his glory, presumably not to frighten them. He is now a simple messenger for the people of God. Mark tells us that he is now inside the tomb waiting for them and he is there to point out to them that this was where Jesus had been, but he’s now gone. Matthew’s account is much briefer; he simply tells of the angel speaking to them but doesn’t say where. Matthew we suggested was possibly used to using his own shorthand notes which by their very nature were brief. He tends sometimes to be very brief in his reporting, even though he may be using the same source sometimes as Mark. We clearly don’t have the exact words spoken here and one or  other of them must have put it in his own words. Matthew records the angel as saying, “Do not be afraid.” Mark has him saying, “Don’t be alarmed.” Different word, same meaning. In Mark the angel continues, “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here.”(Mk 16:6). Matthew is briefer omitting the words, the Nazarene, and reverses order of the last two sentences.
   
Now some may be wondering why we bother to dissect these passages like this and the answer is for the sake of those who do have questions about this. Surely say the intelligent critics, this can’t be inspired by God, these accounts are different, maybe not in substance but certainly in order of what actually happened. For those who like to think of God dictating to the Gospel writers what they should write, this becomes a major problem. The answer has got to be that when we speak about Scripture being inspired, we must mean that God motivated or energized these men to write, using (a) the resources that they had open to them, and (b) with the wisdom to decide what should be included and what should be omitted, and (c) within the cultural norms of the day. As we have already commented the culture of the day was concerned with truth but not so much with specific detail.When we look at the words of the angel as we have seen, the intent is identical but the words used to convey it are different. Now some of that may be down to the translators for of course it was not written in English, but it is actually that it was simply the different writers applying their own style to it. What also arises in this and many cases in the Synoptic Gospels is that either one copied the meaning from the other or they both used a common source, but what is significant in either case is that they come up with slightly different words. Why? For the reasons we’ve just given. As they copied it down, they put it into the form that flowed most naturally with them as an individual.
    
Let’s put this in a more formal way. Theologians refer to the inerrancy of Scripture which is usually taken to mean that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact, i.e. the Bible always tells the truth about everything it talks about. About the nature of the verses we are considering, such a definition requires us to note that in the original Greek writing, quotation marks were never used and as far as the writers were concerned an accurate citation of another person or being needed to only include a correct representation of the content of what the person said and did not expect to cite each word exactly. We call this a ‘free quotation’ which, although it runs counter to our modern tendency to require exact wording, was very common at that time of writing.
   
So what have we seen?  A group of the women who had followed Jesus, now go out in the early morning to go to the tomb. Before they arrive the guards are shaken and almost scared out of their lives when an angel appears accompanied by what appears as an earthquake, a complete shaking of the earth. The angel goes over and rolls back the stone and simply sits on it as if on guard or taking possession, at which point the guards flee! When they have gone, the angel steps down and into the cave and awaits the arrival of the women. When they come and see the open cave, some of them at least step down into it and encounter the angel who seeks to put them at ease and shows them where Jesus had in fact laid, and points out that he has now gone. He is risen!
   
We have here, as so often in the Bible, a combination of very ordinary events – women coming to do what they hearts tell them to do – and supernatural events – an angel turning up. When we encounter God, that is exactly how life is, a blend of the very ordinary and the supernatural. In the way we have sought to consider this passage in this particular meditation we have sought to show that that is also how the Scriptures comes to be written.  Be confident in them, and be confident in what you believe.