14 August 2006

A word on words

by Frank "Cessationist Centuri0n" Turk

Quoth the King James:
1Kin 19:9And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah?
10And 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.
11And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake:
12And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
13And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?
I’m sort of on hiatus at church from teaching – I’m sitting in on a small group with my wife which is lead by a friend of the family who is, frankly, a very straightforward bible teacher. He doesn’t really teach verse-by-verse, but he does teach passage by passage, and the passage he was on this weekend was the above section if 1Kings.

Now, as we were reading this passage, I realized something: nobody in the class was using the KJV. That’s not a crime, but in the NIV verse 12 reads thus:
After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
Not much of a difference, is it? Yeah, probably not. But in the NASB it reads thus:
After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing.
And the ESV renders it thus:
And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.
And the accompanying note says the low whisper could be “Or a sound, a thin silence”.
Now, if that’s not enough (and for most normal people, that’s plenty), the “Baptists” who produced the Holman Christian Standard Bible render the passage in this way:
And after the fire there was a voice, a soft whisper.
So it drives a blogger to wonder: what’s up with that?

Let’s be honest: the Hebrew word that’s getting interpreted here is, by a longshot, most often used to connote “voice” – Like in Genesis 3:8, or Exodus 4:1, or Psalm 81:11. But there’s an interesting use of the word which is also common, like you find in Psalm 77:18 – “The voice of thy thunder [was] in the heaven; the lightnings lightened the world; the earth trembled and shook.” Or Psalm 93:3-4 (which you can view in the pop-up window). That is, it’s the use of “voice” to mean “sound” or “murmuring” – as the ESV points out.

And as astute readers of TeamPyro, I am sure you are asking by this point, “yeah, so what? Point?”

My point is this: beware of the still, small voice translation. I’m going to go out on a limb here as say that many of you think of this verse in the KJV rendering, and when you think of where Elijah knew the Lord was present, you think of him hearing a “still, small voice” which all decent Baptists grow up thinking is the voice of conscience, or an internal voice of reason.

That interpretation of this passage is complete fiddle-faddle.

Look: we have to read what the Bible actually says and not what we’d like it to say. And in 1 Kings 19, Elijah is on the mountain of God, and God speaks to him, asking him, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” Not “what doth thou here” but “What doo-est thou here, Elijah?” What are you doing here?

See: Elijah is fleeing from Jezebel who has threatened his life – running away from this woman whose prophets he has slain and whose god Elijah has made into a mockery. But she has threatened to kill him for being so bold for God’s sake, and Elijah turned tail and ran.

Let’s be fair: he ran to God on God’s mountain and didn’t do what Jonah did, but he ran in the face of danger. And God wants to know what the prophet – who has seen the fire come down out of heaven, and has seen the rain come after 3 years, and has just run faster than a chariot – is doing hiding in the mountain. Or rather, what he thinks he is doing here.

And Elijah’s a little snippy, if you ask me. He says, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”(ESV) That is, “I did what you told me to do, and not only did it amount to nothing, but now the people you were trying to save are trying to kill me.” The implicit subtext is, “thanks a lot, Yahweh Lord of Hosts.”But to show Elijah what’s going on, God says, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” Personally, I wouldn’t have done it because after snarking God Almighty, I’d be afraid that he’d snuff me out like a bug because I deserved it, then he’d find a new prophet with a little more bone than butter for a spine. But Elijah goes out and he sees a series of natural disasters coming before the LORD: there’s a wind like a tornado, and an earthquake, and then a fire – but God wasn’t in any of them.

Let me repeat: God wasn’t in any of the IMAX-like catastrophes Elijah witnessed. God was in what came next – which the KJV and many of these other translations render as a “still, small voice”.

Before I explain why the “voice” translation here is bad on its face, let’s consider something: should we think about the writers of Scripture as literary hacks or as fellas who were at least moderately-literate writers? I’m sure that anyone reading this might say, just to be ornery, “I have no idea, cent: God can use anybody to write His word since it’s His word they’re writing.”

Well, OK, if you want to play that way, do you then think that God Himself is a hack writer, or is God at least aware of the basics of how language works? Yeah, I thought so: in reading the Bible, we ought to assume that the author is at least a moderately literate person.

Why is that important? Because, unlike me, a moderately-literate person doesn’t mix up his metaphors. Here’s what I mean: in what God is showing Elijah here, God has constructed a metaphor for the problem(s) Elijah perceives in the way things are turning out.

Elijah is able to see the gale-force wind of Jezebel’s threats, right? They’re very scary – she’s a lot like Yzma in the Emperor’s New Groove except she’s a little more efficient, and when she intends to have someone (Elijah) killed, she’s not going to send Kronk out to do it. And Elijah is able to see the cataclysm in the destruction of the holy places by Israel – that this kind of turning away from God is an earth-shattering development for the sons of Jacob. And the fire of infidelity to the covenant of God – Elijah sees that. But where is God?Isn’t that man’s question all the time: “Where are you, God? This stuff that I see: it’s scary and it stinks, and I feel like you are abandoning me even though I’m your guy.” And we think to ourselves: “What have you done for me lately, God, if in fact that is your name?”

But God comes in this thing the KJV renders “a still small voice” – which I suggest to you is better rendered (due to the literary consideration that God is here dealing in natural events and not a puppet show) – “a still small sound”. Not a thunderclap; not the roar of an earthquake; not the crackling of a great fire: a still, small sound.

That is: the work of God is not always rendered in Panavision by Cecil B. DeMille – the work of God is what it is, and can be manifest in the smallest things, and we must be faithful to “get it” when it finally comes to full fruit.

Because look at the rest of 1 Kings 12 - God hasn’t forsaken Israel. The prophet has to go and anoint a new king for Syria, and a new king for Israel, and a new prophet to replace himself – all to pronounce judgment on the wickedness Elijah has witnessed.
What Elijah witnesses from the cave is not a prophetic voice in the still, small sound: he has witnessed that God does not have to be rendered in 72pt caps to still be in control of things.

The point of this passage in not “God is with us in our consciences”: the point of this passage is “God is in control all the time, even when he doesn’t do what we would have done.” You like the rendering “voice” better? You might – it has a certain flavor. But then you have to read the rest of the chapter and explain to the rest of us why God would express this object lesson to Elijah as if he didn’t know how to say what he intended to say.


Chris Tenbrook said...

It's not certain Elijah was running in fear from Jezabel. Elijah was not known for being a coward, afterall. Especially in the face of worldly powers. And the appearance(s) of the Angel of the Lord, and his destination of Mount Horeb itself suggests Elijah was not running away willy-nilly in fear of a queen. He was specifically going somewhere, or being led somewhere for a specific reason.

Elijah was not aware of God's remnant of 7000. He thought he was alone.

As for conscience: it is called the voice of God in us. (Not our 'reason.') Conscience is something that was effected in the fall. We recover it with regeneration, and by degree after that in the process of sanctification. It can be said to have been damaged as a result of the fall, or it can be said to have been buried as a result of the fall. In some people it is more unburied than in others.

Go with the King James rendering.

Unknown said...

Good post Cent.

Unknown said...

P.S. Karen, You gotta admit that Elijah was at least being melodramatic . He was completly enthralled with the wickedness, the threats, and the fact that he was alone. And, like Cent pointed out, God chose to display to Elijah that, "I got it covered. It may not be how you would do things, but I am God, and I am here at all times, and always in contron. My plan is what I will accomplish. Trust me and dont despair."

Jim Crigler said...

Frank, your point about KJV is well taken in the modern context. But I wonder whether "still small voice" was the best translation in 1611. Anybody have a notion?

David said...

So why the quotes around "Baptists" as far as rendering the Holman version? Hath not mighty Nashville spoken?

FX Turk said...

Baptists. Pheh.

Chris Tenbrook said...

P.S. Karen, You gotta admit that Elijah was at least being melodramatic . He was completly enthralled with the wickedness, the threats, and the fact that he was alone.

Melodramatic denotes silly. I don't see silly in Elijah. Nor enthralled with wickedness or threats, etc. Look what he had just engaged in in the previous chapter. If anything Elijah just needed that 40 days in the wilderness and the presence of God on Horeb to rejuvenate his work God had him to do.

The law/gospel aspect to the Horeb imagery and manifestations (wind, earthquake, fire) harkening back to the giving of the law to Moses is interesting. Gill mostly notes this. This would lend support for the KJV rendering of still small voice and conscience, i.e. what is written on the heart vs. the storm and thunder of the law on Sinai.

In classical covenant theology that is Jesus giving the law to Moses, and it is Jesus that sends the Spirit into the heart. Turning an evil conscience into a pure conscience.

FX Turk said...


You're right only if iKings 12 doesn't open up with this:

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow." Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.

Since those are the first 3 verses of the chapter, you must be wrong: Elijah was afraid -- that's why he ran away to Mt. Horeb.

FX Turk said...

Just to be sure, the KJV says, "and he went (ran) for his life", not "and he was afraid". However, I can;'t think of any other situations in which someone was described as "running for his life" and it didn't mean "he was afraid to die".

Sharad Yadav said...

Also, Bob Chisholm has convincingly shown how much of 1 Kings is an anti-Baal polemic, and the fire and storm were commonly thought (by pagans) to be the realm of Baal's control. The point of God appearing in an unceremonious way was to distinguish him from the grandiose pomp of Baal rhetoric and to show that He is the only true God.

Chris Tenbrook said...

Yes, that is a disputed text there. I go with the KJV. (Interestingly the ASV has the same rendering as the KJV.) And, 'went for his life' can have reference to him not knowing there were 7000 thousand in Israel who hadn't bowed their knee to Baal. God's remnant. Elijah was to learn of them from God Himself. Elijah truly thought he was alone. If you want to introduce the idea of him being 'afraid' he could just as well been afraid that, since he was alone (he thought) he was afraid God's work would be thwarted if he was to die. He needed to talk with God.

Everything in Elijah's life suggests this was not somebody who would be melodramatic (as another commentor said) or run in fear of a Jezabel.

Solameanie said...

Good post, Frank. A good way to begin the week!

BTW, are you intentionally waving a red cape in front of KJV-only advocates? I know it's county fair season, but bullfights are more appropo for Mallorca, Spain. You sure love stirring the hornet's nest. One of your most endearing qualities (along with Phil, Dan and the other contributors here).

If we were in Cotton Mather's era, you might have been setting yourself up for a trip to the ducking stool or the stocks. Thankfully in our era, the worst you might get is an hour's worth detention in Ruckman's office.

Sharad Yadav said...

Look what he had just engaged in in the previous chapter. If anything Elijah just needed that 40 days in the wilderness and the presence of God on Horeb to rejuvenate his work God had him to do.

That's part of the reason why Elijah's response is so pronounced by the author - after his greatest success, Ahab and Jezebel are completely undaunted, and after a long series of miraculous victories, the ultimate showdown is an ultimate wash-out. Elijah is clearly despairing, and the author wants us to see that.

19:4 is plainly a sign of the deepest discouragement, and God's response to Elijah's flight in verse 9 (and the repetition in verse 13) is an even stronger indicator that he wasn't where he was supposed to be. The complaint repeated in verse 14 shows that Elijah was disappointed at the results of his mission and at the end of the episode, God gives him the prospect of a mission accomplished in the annointing of Jehu and Elisha.

Chris Tenbrook said...

Yes, but the role of the Angel of the Lord in it all, and the 40 days, suggests this was something Elijah needed and God knew he needed, otherwise the Angel of the Lord would have rebuked him and sent him back onto the field of battle at their first meeting. (That Angel of the Lord is not just 'any' angel, you know.)

FX Turk said...


Can you list anywhere in any context where the phrase "went for his life" means "he was bravely retreating" and not "he was running because he didn't want to die and he believed that 'they' could certainly kill him if he stayed where he was"?

Here's what your view has to account for, Karen, which doesn't make any sense of Elijah was in valiant retreat rather than running in fear for his life: upon having "went for his life", the KJV says this about the turn of events --

But [Elijah] himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.

What? That doesn't sound like valiant retreat to me -- sounds more like he's given up (actually, a lot like Jonah).

I can't believe that I'm on the same side as the Blue Raja on this, but I guess once in a while even Tavernistas have to admit that the Bible says what it says.

FX Turk said...


I never bait KJVO's intentionally. However, sometimes you can't avoid it.

I have nothing against the KJV -- as I demonstrated that many of the modern translations choose its translation here. The problem I have here is accepting the translation when it makes less sense than another translation which is demonstrated in other comparable usages. And when that traditional translation leads people to draw daffy conclusions like, "my conscience is a still small voice which I ought to trust like Elijah trusted his."

Sharad Yadav said...


I know how terrifying it can be to find out that you're not the only one who believes the Bible. Support groups are available. I'm here to help.

DJP said...

Karen -- Go with the King James rendering.

What's your background in Hebrew language studies, Karen?

4given said...

(very small insignificant voice whispers... "be nice"...)

DJP said...

Hey! I'm always nice! I'm the Nice Pyro!

(Wait... were you talking to me?)

4given said...

I think we too often rely on loud, noisy exciting things. The "persuasion" of the terrors of events or storms or the man divised outward pomp, or the oratory eloquence of a preacher with his out-to-impress sensationalized methods to compel people to seek rest in God. But then, what is far more mighty? What is the real display of power?

"Not by might, nor by power, but by MY SPIRIT says the Lord."

Perhaps the Lord uses the loud things, the mighty things, the powerful things as a preliminary to the quiet work done by His Spirit, but truly the greatest display of God's power is when God does not coerce the will of man in the pomp, but renews the will of man in the quiet of his heart.

4given said...

Maybe I was talking to myself, DJP... who knows. I'm blonde.

DJP said...

Frank, fwiw to you, I think you make several excellent points. The modern understanding of the KJV's rendering has done a truckload of damage. It's birthed a mythology enshrined in Christian consciousness at a level that requires industrial-strength explosives to dislodge.

I can't tell you how many times a discussion on what Christian living bogs down while we have to deconstruct the firmly-entrenched but never-mentioned-in-the-Bible notion of an internal "still small voice" as having canonical status.

Steve said...

Looking at the immediate context, not only did Elijah ask God to take his life (one clue favoring that he ran away in fear), but he also said, "I am not better than my fathers." Such a statement makes sense only if Elijah viewed himself as a failure.

When you pair that with his comment that "I alone am left" (which he stated not once, but twice--verses 10 and 14), this weighs quite heavily in the direction that Elijah had a "woe is me" attitude here.

If Elijah had NOT been rattled, then it wouldn't make sense for him to ask God to take his life or to say "I am not better than my fathers."

4given said...

I was thinking of the monergistic work of regeneration when I wrote, "truly the greatest display of God's power is when God does not coerce the will of man in the pomp, but renews the will of man in the quiet of his heart."

Hope I didn't go totally off the mark here. Not the first time.

When Elijah responds to God, I would think he was disheartened and weary. He was a faithful and zealous servant of God. Likely ashamed at having fled for his life in fear. I think you are wrong on the "snippy" part. But then, dead-on when you wrote, the work of God is not always rendered in Panavision by Cecil B. DeMille – the work of God is what it is, and can be manifest in the smallest things...

Solameanie said...

Actually, Frank..I am glad to see such care for God's Word exhibited here. I know my posts can be tongue-in-cheek from time to time, but I am dead serious at the moment.

As we have seen in recent years, some have generated considerable controversy in evangelical circles because they use whatever version of Scripture best makes the point THEY want to make, rather than the actual context of the passage or meaning of the Greek, Hebrew etc. I believe Rick Warren has been rapped for this lately. Again, kudos to you for this post.

As to the Elijah matter, I find that I am a bit taken aback by the exchange with Karen. If anything was a case for the clear sense of Scripture, this ought to be.

Karen, if I can ask, just where did you get this reading? I have never heard any Bible teacher take the spin on this passage that you are taking. I suppose people can dispute anything (as our postmodern friends show us on a daily basis), but this text is not as fuzzy as you're making it out to be.

Aside from the languages issue, "when the plain sense of Scripture makes perfect sense, seek no other sense."

I don't think the Hebrew here will lead you in circles either.

R.S. Ladwig said...

"What Elijah witnesses from the cave is not a prophetic voice in the still, small sound: he has witnessed that God does not have to be rendered in 72pt caps to still be in control of things.

The point of this passage in not “God is with us in our consciences”: the point of this passage is “God is in control all the time, even when he doesn’t do what we would have done.”

I'm just wondering, then what it was that happened on the mountain with Elijah. So small voice isn't accurate, so what did he hear if anything? Maybe I missed that in your post.

FX Turk said...

Meanie: Matthew Henry provides a similar reading to Karen's. Let's see here ...

This method of God’s manifesting himself here at Mount Horeb seems to refer to the discoveries God formerly made of himself at this place to Moses. [1.] Then there was a tempest, an earthquake, and fire (Heb. 12:18); but, when God would show Moses his glory, he proclaimed his goodness; and so here: He was, the Word was, in the still small voice. [2.] Then the law was thus given to Israel, with the appearances of terror first and then with a voice of words; and Elijah being now called to revive that law, especially the first two commandments of it, is here taught how to manage it; he must not only awaken and terrify the people with amazing signs, like the earthquake and fire, but he must endeavour, with a still small voice, to convince and persuade them, and not forsake them when he should be addressing them. Faith comes by hearing the word of God; miracles do but make way for it.

Now, Henry doesn't say that Elijah bravely retreated {in fact, he says the opposite -- look it up}, but he does say that the voice was the Lord's. Phil agrees with this, btw -- and in fairness, let's remember that both Phil and M. Henry are talking about an audible voice, not an internal voice.

But that said, how was God speaking to Elijah in the cave? See -- I think reading this passage as if there was a whisper at the end of the conflagrations leaves thereader with two problems:

(1) It makes the event rather disjointed. God spoke to Elijah prior to the cataclysms, and then afterwards -- but if afterwards it was a still, small voice, what was it before? Why is this different than before?

(2) It fails to see the picture God has painted for Elijah -- which I have said is a metaphor for what is to happen (as are many prophetic object lessons), but is best seen as God saying one thing in creation and then the same thing in sovereign declaration. It's "best" by the way, because it is the most rich and communicates most fully God's message that He does not come only in tidal waves and lightning bolts.

And let's be honest: I'm completely ignorant about Hebrew. I don't know if there is any reason to look at the syntax in Hebrew and say, "no, it must be 'voice'." I'm saying that if this were Victor Hugo, or John Milton, or Shakespeare, we'd see that there's a literate thing happening in the text which we should abide and consider rather than doggedly take the most wooden translation of the words possible and try to make it work out.

FX Turk said...


I'm saying it wasn't a voice -- it was a tiny sound, like a small breeze. It's a contrast to the cymbals of creation which God has just crashed together but in which he did not present himself.

Yankeerev said...

I think that the "still small voice" is running rampant in our churches... It's kind of hard to argue with God's "still small voice", especially when it is the icing on the cake for knowing God's will -- sadly, even when it violates scripture.

I do, however, need the reminder that God is the God of the mundane...for everything I do is mundane in the eyes of man... but to God my mundane is the vehicle through which He is working...

donsands said...

Nice study. One could spend a lot of time in this passage.

Good thoughts. Thanks.

I thought of Peter as I read this. Peter was quite brave when he sliced off the fellows ear in the garden. Then a little while later he was fearful.

I have this tendency as well. Sometimes I can be bold for the Lord, and other times i can be timid. I wish I could have constant courage.

étrangère said...

Frank, you can read Hugo? I'm impressed - there was I thinking not many Americans knew French ;-)

Seriously though, thanks for the post, you make some great points.

I've been unsure for a while what's going on here, not with whether it's 'still, small [internal] voice' or 'still, small [externally articulate] voice' or 'sound of a low whisper' - I was never taught the idea that it's the voice of conscience and don't see how that would fit at all. I just chime in with a 'it's not so black & white note' not on the voice but on the scared/purposed/right/wrong flight to Sinai thing. I've seen hints of this in what Karen's been saying but since she inexplicably tied it to still small voice-ism IMO it's been confused.

It's unavoidable that he IS scared and fleeing, exhausted after the showdown. Yet the Angel of the Lord's "Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you" seems to have more positive purpose than refreshing him: it seems to give approval to his plan to go to Mt.Horeb. There does seem to be not just a scared flight but a [scared] purposeful giving up on Israel and wanting a new Sinai ["For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant"] thing going on which God doesn't seem to completely disapprove of. There's more to it than a scared flight.

I'm not sure whether you don't think that anyway and of course, God's treatment of Elijah is gracious so it's not clear how much he disapproved of his actions - that's probably where our disagreement here comes from! I guess the inspired writer didn't think that was the point.

Anyway, I don't have a clue how any of that would lead one to conclude it had to be a 'still, small voice', but there we go. It's an interesting and challenging passage.

Taliesin said...

I've never heard the conscience interpretation. The interpretation I'm familar with (and support) is the audible voice of God. The kind of voice that requires us to "be still."

As for the literary imagery, maybe it is that God does not speak to us (His adopted children) in these "big" displays, but with a human voice, like that of an simple Carpenter. After hearing and responding to the small voice, the voice (God's direction) becomes clearer, as when Elijah exits the cave.

FYI: One member of the North American Mission Board (part of the Southern Baptist Convention) the HCSB is the Hard-Core Southern Baptist version. I think it must be true because I don't know anyone other than staunch SBC'ers who use it.

R.S. Ladwig said...

Cessationists. Pheh.
I have no problem with your interpretation of the text. Although I wonder if the aversion to the "small voice" interpretation is more out of not wanting to give ground to bizarre charismatic use of this passage.

Sharad Yadav said...

It doesn't matter whether this is a voice (which seems more likely) or not, does it? It's making a very specific point about who YHWH was against the backdrop of his mission to destroy Baal worship in Israel - it isn't some sort of promise that people will have similar experiences.

FX Turk said...


Why does a "voice" seem more likely to you? I'm curious because I see a lot of people assuming that's the right translation, but it seems to me when this word is used in reference to natural phenomena it behaves more like "murmur".

Like I said: I got no Hebrew. If there's a reason in the Hebrew to read this as "voice" and not "sound" or "murmur", I'm all ears.

As for the destruction of Baal worship, Baal's not mentioned -- not since Elijah makes mincemeat out of the priests of Baal. See: there is it obvious to me that God is making Baal into nothing by being the only way for the fire to come. Here, he's commanding all the elements (more or less).


FX Turk said...

Bob --

yeah, I think I said that.

Phil Johnson said...

Good post. You made me think, and (even though I still think this describes an audible whisper) I agree with your main points of application you draw from the text: God does not have to be rendered in 72pt caps to still be in control of things; and "God is in control all the time, even when he doesn’t do what we would have done."

A sermon I preached on this passage 2 years ago is online as an mp3 audio file. You'll see I agree with the Raja here. Since that happens so rarely, I might as well make mention of it.

Chris Tenbrook said...

Thanks, Etrangere, for pointing out what I did say. Elijah is human, but words like "Elijah turned tail and ran" and "melodramatic" stated by another commentor (which as I said denotes silly) are what I was defending Elijah from. Fear, yes, afraid of dying, yes, but the motives too are there in the text, with him not being aware that he really isn't alone and that God has a remnant of 7000 in Israel along with Elijah, which Elijah had yet to know about.

As for the imagery and the voice on Horeb/Sinai, I think we have to admit when we learn something new. This is really Witsius vs. Baptists who have lost touch with their LBCF covenant theology, to be frank. Gill was hip to it, as I mentioned above. The parallel is rather compelling.

The parallel also embraces 'written on the tables of the law' (in storm and thunder) and 'written on the heart' in that quiet, convicting way of conscience). That still, small voice is both God's Word and how it manifests in a believer whose conscience, once evil from the fall, is made pure.

Sharad Yadav said...

Hi Cent,

I think it's a "voice" because:

1) the next verse when Elijah attends to this "murmur" reveals that it is the "voice" of God (the word qol is used there, which pretty clearly means "voice")

2) The dammmah is only used three times in the OT, which doesn't provide much help for parallels - but I think of the other two Job 4:16 is the closest, and it speaks of the sound of a divine voice. It's also used around 20 times in the Qumran documents, and refers to the gentle murmuring of a divine voice in several passages there too.

But, to be fair, there are several passages both in Qumran and in Philo (where he uses the Grek word which translates the word in question, aura) where a breeze is clearly meant.

As for the context of a Baal polemic, you can't take this passage atomistically apart from its larger setting. This story is part of a larger narrative which stretches back to chapter 17, whose very name means "YHWH is God". He's a walking argument against Baal worship in a time where Israel was knee deep in idolatry. Chapter 18 is the climax of his God-given crusade against false worship, where Elijah has his showdown with Ahab (18:17-19) which culminates in the public defeat of Baal and Ahab and the victory of YHWH and Elijah (20-46). But instead of turning the tide in Israel, it led to his persecution and the despair we read about in ch. 19 - to which God graciously replies in much the same way he did to Jonah (remember how God asked Jonah the same question twice in ch. 4, though Jonah's answer was obstinate? Check out 9-10 and 13-14). The encouragement that God provided only makes sense in this larger context of Elijah's mission - God will preserve many who haven't bowed to Baal, and he will annoint a new king and a successor to Elijah for the spiritual health of Israel.

Sharad Yadav said...

Phil agrees? Maybe God accepts me after all!!!


Phil Johnson said...

Raja: "Phil agrees? Maybe God accepts me after all!!!"

Wow. Your view of justification is a whole lot more messed up than I ever suspected.

Someone get this man a copy of that Piper sermon, quick.

Suziannr said...

Thanks for the thoughts, Frank, and this brings out a question I've wondered about. We know that at regeneration we respond to the Gospel with belief (wow I hope I got that right :) )My question: what are we responding to?? How are we hearing that message in a different manner? Is it an "impression" that here is Truth? Is it a voice? I was 8 years old when I was saved. I remember it clearly but all I know was I knew I was changed, I knew I was different and I had to tell someone. Then I went to the front of the church when the pastor called all those who raised their hands. I know I responded to something, what was it? This is probably very simple and I'm the only one who doesnt know the answer.

Suziannr said...

As usual I didnt make it clear that I am referring to your "still, small voice" and the "small breeze" however as I read over the comments I see at one point you make a difference in audible and internal voice so perhaps I'm way off here.

DJP said...

Rajah may hustle the Hebrew a bit. Here's what's missing:

The word qol (voice or sound) occurred five times in the preceding chapter. In vv. 26-28, it clearly denotes a human voice; in v. 29, the sense could be "sound" or "voice." But note the last occurrence: "And Elijah said to Ahab, "Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain" (v. 41). Last use of it before our verse; definitely not referring to a voice.

Raja's correct that qol occurs in the next v. of Yahweh's voice. But if it's the same as the qol in v. 12, why does the author write "And look! a voice [came] to him, and he/it said...." This is introduced as if a new element. Wordplay, perhaps; but not identity.

Moreover, Raja does allow that demamah occurs three times, but only provides his conclusion that Job 4:16 is the closer parallel. Why? I think the other verse, which he neglects to mention, is closer: "He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed" (Psalm 107:29).

In 1 Kings, it describes what follows loud explosions of nature; in Psalm 107, it describes what follows loud explosions of nature. Hm... sounds parallel to me.

DJP said...

Whatever one does with the Hebrew, this passage has nothing to do with any idea of internal notions being granted divine or canonical status.

In other words, nothing to do with the way "still, small voice" is most commonly used today.

Better to listen to the loud and clear voice of God in Scripture (Hebrews 3:7ff.).

Chris Tenbrook said...

In 1 Kings, it describes what follows loud explosions of nature; in Psalm 107, it describes what follows loud explosions of nature. Hm... sounds parallel to me.

The Horeb/Sinai connection and context - and God's very presence - would seem to be more compelling for seeing a parallel regarding the manifestations of wind, earthquake, and fire.

Don't let the tv preachers (or whatever you're doing battle against) make you adopt absolute or awkward readings for fear of sounding like 'them'.

Chris Tenbrook said...

The word qol (voice or sound) occurred five times in the preceding chapter. In vv. 26-28, it clearly denotes a human voice; in v. 29, the sense could be "sound" or "voice." But note the last occurrence: "And Elijah said to Ahab, "Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain" (v. 41). Last use of it before our verse; definitely not referring to a voice.

Hm. Compelling. Is that called the "last use before our verse in question" Hebrew rule? What year in seminary do you learn that? :)

Sharad Yadav said...


As I said, "It doesn't matter whether this is a voice (which seems more likely) or not, does it? It's making a very specific point about who YHWH was against the backdrop of his mission to destroy Baal worship in Israel - it isn't some sort of promise that people will have similar experiences.

I also said that the word qol pretty clearly means voice in the very next verse, which leads me to believe that the murmuring heard in the previous verse was . . . behold! the voice of the Lord. I thought Job 4:16 the closer parallel because it spoke of a "silence" before God spoke - which is what is happening here. But, as you'll remember, I said that the parallel's don't help all that much since there are only two of them. I also pointed out that it could easily go the other way - so "hustling" might be a bit surly. I'm sure there's pretty of other places you could find to strongly disagree with me - no need to push this one!

Solameanie said...

Thanks, Frank..for the Henry quote.

If I had to really focus on what took me "aback" the most, it was the whole idea of Elijah not being fearful in his circumstances, as Karen expressed in her first comment. But that is really a side issue to your main point..what does the actual text say? So, recognizing that I am not schooled in Hebrew, I looked in my Hebrew/English Tanach published by JPS. In regards to the "voice," it is rendered "a soft murmuring sound" with a note acknowledging that others read "a still, small voice."

The text of the Tanach also makes it clear that Elijah was afraid in connection with Jezebel's threats.

So with that, I am off to bed..praying that I will not dream of modern-day Jezebels out for blood. By God's grace, I might even catch 40 winks without dreaming of Emergents holding me hostage in a cage of lava lamps. The last time I had that dream, the floor was made up of Milton Bradley's "Twister" game, and Melanie's "Brand New Key" was playing backwards on an old Victrola that had been hand-painted by Peter Max.

See what happens when I stay up too long?

chamblee54 said...

Yesterday, I posted a feature on my blog titled "Final Assembly".
The first paragraph reads:
Warning: The following text is long and self indulgent. If you would prefer to download pornography, read between the lines of the bible, or whine about the government.... morally equivalent choices...then go elsewhere. You should have no trouble finding satisfaction.

Carrie said...

Whatever one does with the Hebrew, this passage has nothing to do with any idea of internal notions being granted divine or canonical status.

Can you expand on this, Dan?

I have always agreed with your hard stance on the closed canon, but don't understand where the personal relationship with God comes in. Do you believe that the Spirit nudges you in certain areas (in line with scripture) or that God reveals his will sometimes in your life through various circumstances coming together?

I'm not arguing one way or another, just curious what your viewpoint is.

DJP said...

That is another topic, Carrie, and a good one. My point is simply that, if one's going to find it somewhere in the Bible, it isn't here. Yet because the expression "still, small voice" is Biblical (KJV), it is brought into the discussion to lend canonical authority to the notion of lending feelings canonical authority.

Whatever this passage is saying, it isn't saying "Every believer in every age should listen to that inner, inarticulate urging inside of him, for it is the Voice of God."

That's my point.

Learning Grace said...

I know asking for practical advice is like for asking for spare change... but I'm gonna do it anyway.

John MacArthur has done a lot to convince me that the conscious is an internal Right/Wrong gauge that God gave us. I understand that its not tuned correctly when we first use it, but by the quickening of the Holy Spirit and instruction by the Word of God it becomes a very precise and useful instrument.

I guess that is what I always thought that those "still, small voice"-ers were talking about. Certainly God never contradicts himself, so any internal urgings to, say... cheat on your taxes, is our flesh or worse, but I still thought that we were to listen for the Holy Spirit's urgings.

So if that's not a still, small voice... what are supposed to be listening for?

(I know a lot of vitriol and fake piety gets posted here posing as genuine seekers... so let me state that the above question is an honest one that I'm struggling with.)

Carrie said...

That is another topic, Carrie, and a good one.

Perhaps another post?

Maybe if I can get Adrian to argue against your position you will be willing to do the post. ;)

Chris Tenbrook said...

Yet because the expression "still, small voice" is Biblical (KJV),

Well, in this case, also the American Standard Version, and numerous other modern versions such as the ESV if you accept 'whisper' as a synonym for 'small voice.'

I hope you're not suggesting that when the Scriptures say 'voice' in regards to hearing God, His Word, or conscience it has to be an actual audible, talking voice of God or...it's not in the Bible.

To be convicted by one's conscience, as those were who were calling for the stoning of the adultress, involves the 'hearing' of something, the 'weighing' of something, the being attentive to something that is speaking to them within their heart. Let's not get crazy and say "if it's not an actual voice of God audibly talking to them then it's not the Holy Spirit or anything to do with God."

Suziannr said...

The last two commenters have touched again on my question to Frank ( or actually to any of the pyros) and I appreciate your answer, Dan. Benjamin said 'I guess that is what I always thought that those "still, small voice"-ers were talking about. Certainly God never contradicts himself, so any internal urgings to, say... cheat on your taxes, is our flesh or worse, but I still thought that we were to listen for the Holy Spirit's urgings.' This question is common, I believe, among those of us who were caught up in the 'charismatic' and/or WOF stuff. We had enough of it and came out yet its difficult to deny the Apostles were 'led' by the Holy Spirit in many instances and impossible to deny those promptings in our lives. I think it would be most helpful to hear the Pyros take on that.

Learning Grace said...

The problem is, I didn't even know that was the Charismatic position on the subject. I suppose I should have considering the feeling aspect and all, but it amazes me how much confusion that movement has spun.

Oh well, perhaps some one with with the clear light of scripture can lead the way.

Suziannr said...

Frank, your original post was very good, and thought-provoking, yet right out of the gate it went off in all these different directions. grrrrrrrr that's aggravating when that happens, sorry I was one of the rabbit trails.

Chris Tenbrook said...

1. If the only problem here is the case of Marlene saying: "I really feel God is telling me He wants me to buy that dress..." we needn't re-render Scripture any more than we would if somebody thinks Jesus is a rock because the Bible says the Lord is a rock.

2. Reading more than a few commentaries it's obvious some people read 1 Kings 19:3 and see Elijah running in "turned tail" fear, and others don't, anymore than they see turn-tailed fear in Exodus 2:15: "Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well."

2a. Disputed text or not (at 1 Kings 19:3) - go with the KJV - I tend to see Elijah saying - like he was at an interval - Ok, what's going on here, I'd stay and die, but would it have meaning? I seem to be all alone here anyway, are these people worth dying for, what is happening now? I think it's time to go talk to God (and he being Elijah he goes to the top of Mount Sinai to talk to God). Anyway, he would have had to run in turned-tail fear from a messenger, and not evil, scary Jezabel herself and her forces. I read the KJV, and that passage never made me get the impression: "Elijah's scared! He's runnin' away!" If you read it with the other manuscript reading I guess you have no choice but to see Elijah running in abject, three stooges fear.

Even So... said...

Many baptists also speak of this, perhaps not the still small voice, but that the "Lord spoke to my heart" ala Charles Stanley, etc...

I feel a Dan-o post with mega comments coming on...word of knowledege, or wisdom, or prophecy, or, well, you know....

donsands said...

Surely the Holy Spirit, who fills the temple of God, which is the body of Christ, helps us remember the truth that has found a home in our minds and hearts.

When I wake up in the morning, and I think, whatever, it is my mind/brain working as God has made it to work.
The Holy Spirit is omniprescent, and so He is there with me, and in me.
Hopefully I have been hearing the Word of God: Reading, studying, and meditating upon the Word, so that the Word fills my heart and mind.

Then I will recognize that Jesus really does love me. Jesus really did die for those sins i committed last night.
I don't need to feel guilty this morning.
I may need to go to my wife and say I'm sorry.
Is that a prompting of the Holy Spirit, through a still small sound?
I don't know for sure, but I love posts like these that help us learn about these things.
I tend to believe what Frank has taught, and what Dan has said.

I appreciate all the comments. They help as well.
Iron sharpens iron.

Even So... said...

I meant to say that I had a word of knowledge, etc..., not that the post would be about those type of words, but I guess I could have left that vague and up to the reader, so as to cover my bases and look oh so prophetic...

The Lord spoke to my heart and told me to clarify that for everyone...

That type of statement is what I am "feeling" Dan will write about...

Chris Tenbrook said...

Effectual calling itself is an 'internal call' as opposed to merely being the external call solely. So if one is inclined to do a Bible study on this general subject do one on conscience but also on effectual calling.

Suziannr said...

:) Just to clarify.....

The Lord spoke to my heart and told me to clarify that for everyone...

that is NOT what I'm talking about. But I think from Dan's post that's not what he's talking about either.

FX Turk said...

What? "your original post was very good, and thought-provoking, yet right out of the gate it went off in all these different directions."

What different directions? I thought about this in sunday school, and mentioned that.

Maybe shorter posts, or just bullet points, would be more readable. Pheh.

Even So... said...


Yeah, I know, I am talking about the way this leads to another, related topic.

Dan was using Frank's post to tell us that listening for a still small voice was not biblical, ebven thought this language in the KJV makes it seem so.

By way of extension, this leads to a post about the idea that people so often talk of things the Lord laid on their heart, or spoke to their heart, or impressed them with. Many, in my experience and reading, etc., believe this to be God "speaking" to them in their hearts, etc. And many use this passage and speak of God as having a still small voice which we are to listen for.

The MO of using this passage goes like this: Tune off all those loud noises and distractions in life, and tune in to God, listen for His still small voice. Of course this leads right into the contemplative prayer camp, among other things...

Cent, I believe what was meant was that the comments went off in different directions.

suziannr, perhaps we are misunderstanding one another as well...

Now doesn't everybody see why authorial intent is so important?

Suziannr said...

YIKEs, I did it again. Frank, as Even so pointed out, I surely meant the COMMENTS went off in different directions. OK, I'll stop but I hope to see a post by the Pyros about these things. Thanks for the blog, its always helpful.

DJP said...

Bingo, Even So.

Carrie said...

I'm hoping Dan's still, small voice is telling him to write a post on this.

Rebekah said...

Karen: Please don't use "denote" when you mean "connote." The first means dictionary definition, and the second equals impressions. M-W says "melodramatic" means "appealing to the emotions" or "relating to melodrama," neither of which are synonyms for "silly."

Cent: Good, thought-provoking post. Thanks.

FX Turk said...

Who knew Dan was the real star of TeamPyro?

Even So... said...

I did...word of wisdom...

4given said...

ummmm.... all the homeschool moms, Cent.

I found a Spurgeon sermon on this... called The Still Small Voice.

Even So... said...

Just read that, Lisa, and now I must say, if others will also read that, then we will really get "rockin' and rollin'" on this idea or issue...

DJP said...

ummmm.... all the homeschool moms, Cent.

Boy, Lisa, you are trying to get me in trouble.

4given said...


Just don't take that wrong, DJP. It is said out of respect. I figured you could take the grief you'll likely get since you are a pyro guy.

Oh yes... about rockin' and rollin'... not intentional. (well, maybe just a smidgen)

FX Turk said...

The best part of the SPurgeon sermon is this:

“Oh, but we must have a first-rate organization! We must work the Church up by revival services.” Yes, do it, and do it again, if you choose, and the result may be good if you can do the work humbly. But if you trust one iota upon the means employed, away will depart the Spirit and you will see nothing but your own folly! That still small voice will be hushed and silent while the boasts of your wisdom resounds like a howling wind or a thunder unaccompanied by rain! We must know this—that God will work by what means He pleases and, next, that all means are useless apart from Him! All wind, all fire, all earthquake, all power and grandeur fail unless the still small voice is there and God is in it. The Church has had this dinned into her ears and doctrinally she believes it, but, alas, she practically goes forth and behaves as if the opposite theory were true! She looks for Divine results to human causes and is, therefore, full often deceived. Too much is her dependence fixed upon an arm of flesh and while this is so, we cannot expect to see the bare arm of the Eternal displayed in the midst of our camps.


donsands said...

"Who knew Dan was the real star"?

I thought he was the "Nice Pyro".

That was a good sermon. He really brought forth the truth of God's love for His children, and so much more as well.
Thanks for sharing that Lisa.

"But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us,
Even when we were dead in sins" Eph. 2:4-5

Learning Grace said...


We all know that you're gonna post all about this and your thoughts on the subject on your blog, we're just trying to get Dan to post on it so we don't have to update our agregators, or for that matter click a whole lot.

FX Turk said...

I've said all I'm going to say about this subject. It came up over the weekend, and it's not something I an obsessed about.

If Dan wants to take the ball and run ... well, at least he didn;t bump me on the first day.

DJP said...

Frank -- ... well, at least [Dan] didn;t bump me on the first day.

Oh, good heavens! That's like Bill Clinton complaining about "all those lies people tell about me"!

4given said...

Actually Cent, the part of the Spurgeon sermon that you highlighted stood out to me as well. Are you sure you aren't turning blonde?

FX Turk said...

Dan, do I have to go and count the number of posts we have each made here at TeamPyro in order to disabuse you of your persecution complex?

Of can we dispense with the accountants and let the jokes ride? :)

DJP said...

Well, it might be interesting to check posts and posting times....


Chris Tenbrook said...

Karen: Please don't use "denote" when you mean "connote." The first means dictionary definition, and the second equals impressions. M-W says "melodramatic" means "appealing to the emotions" or "relating to melodrama," neither of which are synonyms for "silly."

Right, Rebekah Mary Bennet. Don't hurt your wrists carrying that dictionary around.

And, sorry, melodramatic does 'connote' silly.

And, you defined connote (correctly implying that was the word I meant) then forgot all about its definition in your next sentence. "To suggest or imply in addition to literal meaning." Not synonym.

Chris Tenbrook said...

That Spurgeon sermon was both good (as is usual), but it was also convicting. I'm on the same page with Spurgeon on that verse, but convicting in other ways.

PaulM said...

Very cool blog and post. Hey Phil, remember me from the Apologia list, years ago!? Anyway, I've been thinking about this passage and here is a bit of a different take on it:

1. Elijah just witnessed the amazing pyrotechnic displays of God when the priests of Baal are defeated. He then waits for the rain to come, putting an end to the drought.

2. Next, Elijah runs to Jezreel. Ahab in turn goes and talks to Jezebel. She's 'royaly miffed' and sends out a messanger to Elijah threatening his life.

3. As a result, it is pretty clear in the text that Elijah was afraid to die since "he was afraid" and he "ran for his life".

4. He ran from Jezreel (lattitude wise, near the Sea of Galilee) to Beersheba (around the same lattitude as the southern part of the dead sea). Over 100 miles as the crow files.

5. He ran from the kingdom of Israel to the kingdom of Judah in order to escape Ahab's/Jezebel's reach. In other words, to be safe.

6. Once in Beersheba he goes off into the wilderness. I don't think the trip into the desert was a continuation of the fleeing. I'm conjecturing that he was safe in Beersheba (well inside the kingdom of Judah's borders). Since he was more or less safely out of the reach of Ahab's and Jezebel's reach the indiciation is that his purpose in the wilderness was not part of the 'fleeing' from Israel. Moreover, the Angel of the Lord provided him with nourishment in order to succeed in his "journey". This seems to indicate that once Elijah was away from the immediate threat, he decided to go on a journey to Mount Horeb.

7. It is my understanding that Mount Horeb's precise location is unknown. It is believed to be about 11 days' journey from Kadesh Barnea (Deut. 1:2). K.B appears to be about 60 miles (as the crow flies) from Beersheeba. Assuming that Mount Horeb is located further south in the Sinai... 40 days of travel would be more than enough to get him there. One commentary suggests 1/2 that time would have been sufficient. This indicates to me that Elijah 'wandered' in the wilderness, perhaps analogous to the 40 days/nights of the wandering of Israel in the desert. Giving Elijah plenty of time to ponder and think. I'm not sure exactly of what the significance of this is, perhaps it is analogous to Israel's wandering in the sense that Elijah was being 'reprimanded' for running away... anyway, that is pure speculation and can, for the sake of this position, be ignored.

8. Once he gets there, God speaks to him and asks "What are you doing here?"

9. Elijah's response is that he feels alone (that he is the last prophet) and now they are after him. To me this says he is either afraid of losing his life, or afraid of being the last prophet, or both. I think it was a mixture of both.

10. God then puts on a 'demonstration' for Elijah. First he sends the storm/wind - which must have been something like a tornado in order to tear at the mountains and break rocks into pieces. Then he sends an earthquake. Finally he sends a fire. In each of these things the Bible says that 'The Lord was not in it'. Now what does that mean?

Is this a causal kind of 'in it'? Did it mean that the Lord did not cause it? I don't think so. I think He did cause each of those events, but I think he was saying something more akin to: at this time, in this demonstration, I'm not identifying myself with the storm, earthquake or fire. So I think what God was saying to Elijah in the demonstration is that God didn't need to be identified with those 'earth shattering' displays all the time. That God also worked in other ways.

11. Now, even though there is no direct statement that God was 'in' something else, I suggest that after all those negative "not in" statement he ends up with a positive: the ESV says after all those earth shattering events that there was a "whisper" (and in the notes it says "or a sound, a thin silence"). I think that God is saying, "I'm in the quiet breeze". I think this is correct because when the whisper/breeze occurs Elijah covers his face with his cloak (like the seraphim in God's presence) and goes to the entrance to talk with God.

I don't think it means quiet voice, because all the events that are listed are physical phenomenon, the last of the four being the quiet breeze.

12. I think that God's demonstration is basically saying that not only does He work in the great storms, and mighty earth shattering events (which Elijah witnessed at the altar demonstration and with the rain coming), but that He also works with the 'quieter' things. In other words, the way God works is not limited to pyrotechnics.

13. I think that maybe Elijah believed that God would continue working in the way he had at the altar demonstration (#1) and when he discovered that Ahab and Jezebel were still rebellious and that the grand demonstration didn't work on them, he panicked.

So God is not limited to working with pyrotechnics, but neither is God limited to working in how others expect Him to work (perhaps Elijah was expecting another miraculous event to make Jezebel see the light, and when she didn't he was taken by surprise).

Regardless, God reminded Elijah that He was still in control, even in the breeze.

14. Further support for #13 seems to be God's instructions to Elijah after hearing Elijah's complaint after God asked him a second time "What are you doing here?"

To allay Elijah's fears, God doesn't say He will send burning sulfur from the sky to destroy Ahab and Jezebel, instead he commissions Elijah to anoint two replacement kings and a replacement prophet. Then he ensures Elijah that he isn't the last prophet. Further showing that God works in His time, and in His way, progressively through history.

Paul Mikulecky

donsands said...


Some good thoughts there.

Kelly said...

Man, I need to start reading my bible more...