Guidance Through Divine Whispering


Part 12 of series:
How Does God Guide Us?

The Old Testament book of 1 Kings contains one of the most dramatic stories in all of Scripture (1 Kgs 18-19). Israel was languishing under the corrupt leadership of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. The royal couple had led the nation into the worship of the pagan gods, Baal and Asherah. The king and queen had killed the prophets of God, replacing them with hundreds of pagan psychics. Only Elijah remained faithful and alive as a spokesman of the true God.

Empowered by the Lord, Elijah confronted King Ahab and his multitude of prophets, challenging them to a “my God is bigger than your god” kind of duel. Both sides would build altars on Mt. Carmel and prepare sacrifices on the altars. But they would not set fire to the sacrifices in the usual manner. Instead, they would wait for fire from heaven. Whichever deity consumed the sacrifice would be the winner. That god would be recognized as the true God.

The prophets of Baal went first, preparing a bull, placing it on their altar and calling out to their god. When Baal failed to answer, they began dancing wildly around the altar, crying out for a miracle. As Elijah taunted them, they even engaged in ritual self-mutilation in an attempt to motivate Baal’s response. But the fire didn’t fall. Baal was still and silent.

Then Elijah repaired the altar of the Lord that had been torn down by the pagans. He prepared his sacrifice and then, just to make things a lot more difficult for God, Elijah drenched everything with buckets of water until the ditch around the altar was filled to the brim. When all the preparations were completed, Elijah prayed a simple prayer, asking the Lord to demonstrate his sovereignty. God’s response was stunning:

Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the ditch! And when the people saw it, they fell on their faces and cried out, “The Lord is God! The Lord is God!” (1 Kgs 18:38-39).

Ferdinand Olivier, Elijah in the Wilderness, 1831

In the wake of victory, Elijah zealously killed the vanquished prophets of Baal. But when Queen Jezebel heard what had happened, she sought Elijah’s life, forcing him to flee to wilderness.

Several weeks later, he found himself cowering in a cave in the desert, crying out to God for help. Then God instructed Elijah to stand outside of the cave and watch.

And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a “gentle whisper” (1 Kgs 19:11-12).

The God who had done such wonders on Mt. Carmel, the same God who controls the awesome power of wind, earthquake and fire, chose to speak to Elijah through the “sound of a gentle whisper,” what the King James Version of the Bible calls “a still, small voice.” The contrast between God’s mighty power and his quiet voice couldn’t be more stark. Though we might expect or even prefer dramatic demonstrations of divine guidance that knock us off our feet, the Holy Spirit sometimes speaks in a gentle whisper that brushes our hearts like a soft spring breeze.

The thought of the Spirit whispering to us sounds wonderful, but it isn’t without complications. I’ll address a couple of these in my next post.

  • J.L. Schafer

    Mark, thanks again for this series. Based on passages such as Acts 2:38-39 and Romans 8:9, I believe that anyone who has received Christ has also been given the Holy Spirit. I believe the Holy Spirit is continually speaking and seeking to interact with every Christian in a great variety of ways, as you have been explaining in these posts. But many of us (myself included) have difficulty discerning the Spirit’s guidance and distinguishing his voice from our own impulses. The solution to this is twofold. First, we need to know God better. Second, we need to know ourselves better. Theology that urges us to focus exclusively on God while denying, ignoring, and overriding our own thoughts and emotions tends to produce disciples who have a hard time relating to God and to other people. It tends to produce Christians who define their faith in terms of doctrines, propositional truths, etc. which, while important, are a very incomplete picture of what it means to have a vital, personal relationship with Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. Do you agree?

  • Anonymous

    Needing to know God and ourselves better is a good way to put it. Thanks!

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