Thursday, August 10, 2017

Lectionary notes for Sunday 8/13/2017, part I

Some really great passages are presents in the Sunday lectionary this week.

One of my favorite Old Testament passages has Elijah, having fled from Ahab, hiding out in a cave in a mountain. In a wonderfully vivid but minimalist story telling, Elijah is visited by wind, storm, earthquake, and fire...all the good primal elements. The catch line is "And God was not in the fire" or "God was not in the wind.

God is found in the what is sometimes translated as a 'small whispering sound.' The words in Hebrew are דַקָּֽה׃ דְּמָמָ֥ה ק֖וֹל, literally 'a still small voice.'  The term can mean silence, but a voice has to make some sort of sound, so translators are usually at a loss as to how exactly to translate the it correctly. Some translations do say "the sound of sheer silence" but the word voice/sound is clearly also used. It's intentionally ambiguous.

Regardless of whatever Elijah was hearing, the point is he heard God from this sound of sheer silence or small still voice. Whatever it was was NOT raucous storm thunderclaps or earthquakes or bolts of lightning from the sky, all the things we traditionally want God to appear from.

Some preachers will immediately pounce on this (I have heard it done more than once) and either lambaste people who claim to have had God speak to them in something like a bolt of lightning or other loud encounter or say that God only speaks to us in small, still voices or the sounds of silence.
I always chaff at this interpretation because it is not true to the text.  Elijah had just had such a raucous God coming down in fire and might experience at Mt Carmel in the famous showdown between himself and the prophets of the Baal.

Ahab was a ninth-century king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He married a Phoenician named Jezebel and joined her in worshiping Baal. Elijah appeared as the champion of the Lord (YHWH), announcing a drought. On a bet, the prophets offered sacrifices to Baal and prayers all day, and Baal had not appears. Elijah got up, soaked the sacrifice in water and asked God to intervene, and God did so in fire in one of the most dramatic scenes in the Old Testament. Elijah orchestrated the slaughter of the prophets of Baal. Jezebel was displeased and sent word to Elijah that she was going to have him killed. He oddly flees for his life after having just witnessed one of the most powerful displays by God since the Exodus, going into Judah, and so hopefully beyond Ahab and Jezebel’s reach. He travels forty days and nights through the wilderness until he reaches Mt. Horeb. There, Elijah has an encounter with God in the voice of sheer silence.

So, to say God never responds in sound, fury, or might is simply not true to the narrative because it had literally just happened to Elijah. However, sometimes sound, fury, or might does not always appease us in what we want from God. Even when God just show up very clearly and forcibly, we still run away or complain or think it is not enough.

Sometimes, for God to truly reach our hearts, he has to approach us in a muttering silence, like a trickle drip, continually dripping on our heads until we finally clue into the fact that God is speaking to us.

No comments: