I Kings – Chapter 19

The Thin, Still Voice

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Ahab told Jezebel about what Elijah did on Mt. Carmel and she was not impressed. Just the opposite, she swore to kill Elijah for what he had done, so Elijah got out of town. (One cannot rely on a miracle to protect oneself from danger.) Elijah ran into the desert and took refuge under a lone tree. There he said that it would be better if G-d took his life than Jezebel. Then he fell asleep.

He awoke to find an angel offering him food. He ate and drank and went back to sleep.

When he got up, the angel was back with more food. The angel told Elijah to fill up because he was going on a long trip. That meal gave him the strength to walk forty days and nights, to Mt. Sinai. He spent the night in the cave where Moses stood to see G-d’s glory pass by (see Exodus 33:22). Then G-d opened the conversation by asking Elijah why he had come. (Of course G-d knew, but He often starts conversations with a question, such as “Where’s your brother?” to Cain or “What’s that in your hand?” to Moses.) Elijah replied, “I have acted very zealously on Your behalf. I alone among the prophets am still doing Your business and Jezebel is trying to kill me.”

G-d told Elijah to leave the cave and stand on the mountain, which he did. There, Elijah had a vision. First he saw a great wind smashing rocks, but he said “G-d is not in the wind.” Then he saw an earthquake, but he said “G-d is not in the earthquake.” Next, he saw a fire, but he said “G-d is not in the fire.” Finally, he heard a tiny, quiet voice. Elijah knew that G-d was in the voice. (Long before Shakespeare, Elijah knew that things full of sound and fury often signify nothing.)

Elijah humbly covered his face and the quiet voice repeated the question, “Why are you here?” Elijah repeated his answer about how he acted zealously for G-d’s sake and now his life was in danger. G-d told Elijah to go to Damascus and anoint Chazael as king of Aram, to anoint Yehu, grandson of Nimshi, as king of Israel and to appoint Elisha ben Shafat as his own successor. Among them, Chazael, Yehu and Elisha would wipe out the wicked people. G-d told Elijah not to worry: though there were only 7,000 righteous people who never worshipped Baal left in the kingdom, they would all be spared.

Elijah left and went to Elisha ben Shafat, who was driving twelve pair of oxen before him. Elijah allowed his mantle to pass over Elisha as he walked by, signifying that Elisha should follow him. Elisha asked permission to say goodbye to his parents first. Elijah gave his approval. Then Elisha slaughtered a pair of oxen and made a feast to celebrate being chosen Elijah’s disciple. After the feast, Elisha followed Elijah and served him.

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