I always enjoy the task of preaching, and, to some extent, the preparation leading up to it. This week I've not got a clear sense of what I'm going to say just yet though. And, that's a bit scary. I'm trusting it will come as I continue reading, thinking, and praying. BUT, in the meantime, I wanted to share something with you that I read yesterday.
I'm preaching the lectionary passage from I Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 so I've been reading some commentaries on I Kings 19. Most of you know this text as the cite of the famous "still small voice." You've likely heard that God doesn't use big blasts and booms to speak to us. Rather, we must be still and wait to hear that "still small voice." Well, friends, after what I read yesterday, I'm not quite sure that works anymore. Tell me what you think about this...
"The unwary reader tends to assume that, in contrast to the first three theophanic manifestations, God is really meant to be present in the enigmatic small voice. This is a completely unwarranted assumption, however. Nothing at all is said about God's presence in regard to this fourth event. The fact is that while God is associated with the first three events (though not 'in' them), nothing relates the fourth event to God one way or the other. The actual contrast is between the fireworks of God's theophany and the quiet calm that followed, not between God's presence and absence.Interesting, huh? Apparently the storm, earthquake, and fire used here are used in other places of the OT to depict the coming of the Lord. They are "the traditional language of theophany." Thus, while God wasn't "in" them, God "is not completely absent in regard to these manifestations either." Who knew?
...The key to understanding these verses is the recognition that they fail to make any difference in Elijah's situation. Elijah is in exactly the same place after the theophany as before, complaining in exactly the same words (vv. 10, 14). Seen in this way, the impressive wind, earthquake, and fire are simply failed attempts by God to get Elijah out of his cave (v. 11a) and out of his depression. The Lord passes by in theophanic grandeur, not 'in' the wind, earthquake, and fire but certainly associated with them. But it is only when the thunderous noise has died down, to be replaced by a contrastingly quiet murmur, that Elijah is drawn out of his hiding place, still feeling just as sorry for himself as ever. His expected recommitment to the prophetic office fails to materialize at this point. The puzzling and overly famous 'still small voice' is thus nothing more than a signal that the theophanic excitement is over and that Elijah can emerge so that God can try something else."
- Richard D. Nelson, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (First and Second Kings)
So, for Nelson, at least, "this vivid scene has an important function in the plot of the story but carries no deep 'theological message.'" Of course, not all theologians agree, but this is a position I had not read/heard before. What do you think?