There is a certain irony that we aren’t really sure how to translate four of the most recognizable words of the Hebrew Scriptures. Centuries of English Bible readers know them as “a still small voice” even though it doesn’t really mean that.
The Hebrew word is damamah, but it doesn’t mean “voice.” It doesn’t mean “whisper” and it doesn’t mean “blowing.” It doesn’t really mean any of the words we typically use to translate it – but then again, it’s hard to find any word that really conveys the essence. It means something like “the sound of silence,” and according to I Kings 19:12 it’s what the exhausted prophet Elijah experienced on Mount Horeb.
When our family lived in the great state of Oklahoma, more than once we would get up in the summer nights to listen to the storms roar across the skies. The thunder would boom so loud that it would rattle the windows. Lightning bolts would flash across the horizon from east to west. The wind would howl without mercy, bending great trees and snapping thick limbs. Eventually, however, the storm would pass by and off into the distance. We would listen as the booms grew softer and softer, until finally they were all gone. Finally there was nothing left to hear but a gentle mist of rain left behind.
One would turn to another and say “Do you hear that?”
And they would reply, “I don’t hear anything.”
“That’s right.” the first would answer: “Nothing but the sound of silence.”
Now all by itself, this tiny silence might not even be considered a sound at all. But when it follows right behind the deafening storm, unbroken silence can be breathtaking.
It was in the midst of this breathtaking silence where Elijah encountered the profound presence of God when he was at his point of most utter exhaustion.
The greatest of the prophets knew something about the loud and dramatic. After all, only weeks before he had stood before the entire nation and called down the fire and prayed down the rain. Elijah knew how to work a miracle. Elijah knew how to preach the dramatic. Elijah knew how to fearlessly face down the idols of his age.
But even the greatest man of God reaches the end of his own strength, when he just wants to crawl in a cave and die. …When he is tempted to just throw in the towel and quit. …When about all he feels motivated to do is sleep.
And so, in I Kings 19, to the prophet who had brought the Word of the Lord so many times, the Lord of the Word now comes to him. And it says that a great and powerful wind battered the mountains and shattered the rocks, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.
In other times, God has spoken through all of these, but on this particular day, to the exhausted prophet, this is not how He reveals Himself. His servant Elijah is desperately tired and he needs the breathtaking Word that can only be heard when finally, finally…it falls completely silent.
“And after the fire, there came the tiny sound of silence.” (I Kings 19:12)
And in that breathtaking silence the exhausted servant hears a Word of the Lord – not for the people and not for the King. This Word is just for him.
My encouragement today is specifically to a certain Servant of the Lord. And as you read these words, perhaps today you are tired. Perhaps today you are discouraged. Maybe you’ve even thought about running, and looking for somewhere to hide.
As a Servant of the Lord you know what the Word of the Lord sounds like when it’s dramatic and loud. In fact, many times you have been the one to speak these words. You’ve been there when the fire fell. You’ve been there when the wind roared. You’ve witnessed it all and know that it’s true.
But if a dramatic Word was going to pull you out of your cave, it would have already happened. However this day is not about the Lord of the wind. It’s not about the Lord who shakes the mountains or reigns down fire. There is a breathtaking Word on this day, and it is just for you, but it will come when all these have passed by.
The Almighty has something profound to speak into your life – and you will hear it in the sound of silence.