Why was Elijah sitting in a cave on Horeb, the mountain of God? It was all because of Jezebel, the pagan queen of Israel and her prophets of Baal.
Elijah had challenged 450 prophets of Baal to a sacrificial duel at Mt. Carmel. Both he and they were to place on wood a young bull prepared for sacrifice but light no fire. Instead both were to call upon their god. Whichever god answered with fire would be declared the winner and worthy of worship. The prophets of Baal spent hours calling him and received no answer. Elijah mocked them and their god/ saying perhaps he’s asleep or meditating or on a journey or retired. They continued calling. “But there was not a sound; no one answered, and no one was listening.” Now it was Elijah’s turn. He built a stone altar, dug a trench around it, put the pieces of the young bull on the wood, and ordered four jars of water to be poured over the holocaust not once, not twice, but three times to ensure it was soaked. What chutzpah! He called upon the Lord and the Lord answered with fire which consumed the sacrifice, the wood, the stones of the altar, the dust, and even the water in the trench! I think he probably thought “Thank you, God.” He then killed all the prophets of Baal. Now this did not sit well with Jezebel who swore to have Elijah killed in the same manner. Of course Elijah escaped to the desert and prayed for death at the hands of the Lord. But an angel of the Lord strengthened him with food and water and he made his way to Horeb, walking 40 days and 40 nights. And that’s why he was in that cave when he heard the command to go outside and stand before the Lord.
Now in the past when the Lord made his presence known to Moses on Mt. Sinai (aka Horeb). There were clouds, wind, earthquakes, and fire so that the Israelites were awestruck and fearful. But for Elijah, none of these revealed the Lord but only a tiny whispering sound. No more would God answer the prophets with mighty deeds as the Lord did at Mt. Carmel. From now on they were to go to their roots in the Covenant into which the Lord and the people entered at Mt. Sinai and seek the Lord’s will and words in the sounds of silence in their souls.
Elijah was called out of the cave, his safe place, to return and continue his ministry of proclaiming the true and only God. Peter, too, was called from his safe place, a boat, to answer a call to walk on water toward Jesus. After a few steps he faltered because of the wind and the rough seas. But at least he tried! And, Jesus was there to save him.
What are the safe places in our lives that the Lord is calling us out of, even for a moment or two, to more trust and to a greater faith in the Lord our God?
The only way to find out is to be still, putting away looking for dramatic manifestations of God’s presence, and listening to the tiny whisper within us.
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, A17