A God Who Hides Himself
(Elijah Part Six)

Our Scripture reading this morning is I Kings 19:1-13. 

Elijah had just magnificently defeated the 450 prophets of Baal. He had demonstrated beyond question that Yahweh is the true God and Baal was a false god. He had also told king Ahab that it would once again rain at his command after a three-year drought! And it did! Despite these exhibitions of power and vindication of his ministry, Jezebel threatened him with murder. He became fearful and depressed and traveled all the way to Mt Horeb, that is Mt Sinai, and sought the voice of God.

Elijah had grown accustomed to hearing the voice of God in a clear way.  In chapter 17, when we are first introduced to Elijah, the Lord speaks audibly to him and he says, “Depart from here,” meaning Samaria the capital, “and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan.” Elijah obeyed. He stayed there for a long while being fed by ravens.

Then the Lord spoke to him again and said, "Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there." He obeyed. He traveled to Sidon and lived with a widow and her son. There, all three were miraculously provided food while others were perishing. Elijah knew that there would be a provision because the Lord again spoke to him, saying, "The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty…"

Years later the Lord speaks to him again, saying, “Go show yourself to Ahab and I will send rain upon the earth.” He obeyed again. The Lord must have spoken to Elijah yet again in his confrontation with the prophets of Baal because his confidence was so great and his assurance of victory so certain.

Now when Jezebel threatens him he hears nothing. She had already had other true prophets of the Lord murdered, so he knew that this was no idle threat, but one that she intended to carry out. He is used to hearing the clear voice of God and he has seen, many times, God work in great ways. Elijah knew God as the God who manifests Himself. Yet, this is not God’s way. He did manifest himself to Elijah because Elijah had a peculiar calling upon his life. He was confronting evil at every turn and his life was in danger often. On top of this, he had a message to proclaim to God’s wayward and rebellious people.

Elijah knew God as the God who reveals Himself. He did not yet know him as the God who hides Himself. Yet, this is God’s way. Isaiah understood this. In Isaiah 45:15 we read:
    Truly, you are a God who hides himself,
        O God of Israel, the Savior.

Isaiah knew that God did countless things on behalf of Israel and he did so many things in their personal lives, yet he concealed Himself. He was ceaselessly working, yet he was always hidden.

Because Elijah did not know God as the God who hides Himself, God gave him a demonstration. First, there was “a great strong wind.” It was so powerful that it tore rocks off of the mountain where Elijah was. He likely thought, “The Lord is in this.” But the Lord was not in the wind. The wind was followed by an earthquake. Elijah thought, “The Lord is here!” But the Lord was not in the earthquake. Then came a fire. “He will be in this!” But the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire was a low whisper. Not just a whisper, which is hard enough to hear, but a low whisper. A whisper of a whisper! A literal rendering of the Hebrew is “a sound, a thin silence.” A sound that is almost a silence! That is where the Lord was!

God was teaching Elijah something. But he is also teaching us something.

[I.] There is a hidden nature to God’s working. Elijah thought that he was the only person left in Israel who was faithful to God. Unbeknownst to him, God had preserved seven thousand persons who did not bow the knee to Baal. So hidden was God’s preservation that Elijah did not know about it. 

God works in hidden ways and we may not see it until after the fact. 

On the front porch of his little country store in Illinois, a small businessman stood with his partner. Business was all gone, and the partner asked, "How much longer can we keep this going?"

The owner answered, "It looks as if our business has just about winked out." Then he continued, "You know, I wouldn’t mind so much if I could just do what I want to do. I want to study law. I wouldn’t mind so much if we could sell everything we’ve got and pay all our bills and have just enough left over to buy one book--Blackstone’s Commentary on English Law, but I guess I can’t."

At that moment a strange-looking wagon came up the road. The driver drove it up close to the store porch, then looked at the owner and said, "I’m trying to move my family out west, and I’m out of money. I’ve got a good barrel here that I could sell for fifty cents." 

The businessman’s eyes went along the wagon and came to the wife looking at him pleadingly, her face thin and emaciated. He slipped his hand into his pocket and took out, according to him, "the last fifty cents I had" and said, "I reckon I could use a good barrel." 

All day long the barrel sat on the porch of that store. The partner kept chiding the owner about it. Late in the evening the businessman walked out and looked down into the barrel. He saw something in the bottom of it, papers that he hadn’t noticed before. His long arms went down into the barrel and, as he fumbled around, he hit something solid. He pulled out a book and stood dumbfounded: it was Blackstone’s Commentary on English Law. 

That businessman was Abraham Lincoln. 

That book was hidden in the barrel, just as God’s working was hidden until Lincoln pulled it out. He could look back at those series of events and see God’s hand. But far more often, God is working and we never perceive it.

God would have worked to preserve Elijah’s life from Jezebel’s soldiers, but Elijah was too accustomed to God working in revelatory ways to trust him when he did not.

Do you find yourself in a dire situation right now? God is working right now for you in hidden ways. There is no need to run Mt. Horeb. If God is silent, then stay where you are and see the deliverance that is coming!

[II.] There is a hidden nature to God’s speaking. When I say, “God’s speaking.” I do not mean his audible voice. His audible voice is what Elijah was used to hearing. “Speaking” is not the best term to use. Most often when we use that word we understand it to mean vocal language. 

There is a hidden nature to the way God communicates to us. Some ways are more hidden than others. Think of a vision. I have only met one person who has had one. He described it to me in detail. Those are extremely rare. In a vision, there is little doubt that God is communicating. (Even those, though, should be tested by the most certain of God's revelations – the Bible.) Consider dreams. God communicates through dreams. In the Bible, many men of God received dreams, which were God's way of communicating to them.  We can think of Jacob, Joseph, Pharoah, and Nebuchadnezzar. We can also include St. Patrick. Some of us have had this experience ourselves. Sometimes we are not sure whether a dream we have had is simply from our own subconscious (that is where most originate) or whether it is from God. Dreams are a more hidden way that God speaks. But, he does speak through them. 

There is a famous songwriter who had a dream, which included a melody he had neither heard before nor ever thought of. When he awoke the melody was still in his head. For the next two weeks, he kept asking everyone he knew if they had heard the melody before, because at first, he thought he may have heard it somewhere and forgotten about it. No one had ever heard the melody before. So, he wrote the musical notes to the song, wrote the lyrics, and recorded the song with his band. It became the most "covered" modern song with over 3,000 covers, meaning that it has been played by over 3,000 other artists. This is the song. (Yesterday)

Did Paul McCartney dream this melody on his own or did God bless him with it so that he, in turn, could bless the world? We do not know. If you asked Paul himself I do not think he would be certain about it. God communicates in hidden ways.

Missouri’s own Mark Twain had a dream. Samuel (his real name) and his younger brother, Henry, were set to embark together on the riverboat Pennsylvania, Sam as apprentice pilot, Henry as a  lowly “mud clerk”, given food and sleeping space in return for helping out at places on the river where there were no proper landing sites. The night before they sailed, Sam dreamed  he saw Henry as a corpse, laid out in a metal casket, dressed in one of his older brother’s suits, with a huge bouquet of white roses on his chest and a single red rose at the center.
Sam woke grief-stricken, convinced this had actually happened and that Henry was laid out in the next room. He could not collect himself, or convince himself that the dream was not “real” until he had walked around outside. He had walked a whole block, he recalled, “before it suddenly flashed on me that there was nothing real about this – it was only a dream.”
Family members urged him to dismiss his terrible dream; after all, it was “only a dream”.  It couldn’t be right because they would not be able to afford a metal casket, the most expensive, only a wooden one if it should happen that Henry would pass. Though the force of his feelings told him something else, Sam agreed to try to put the dream out of his mind.
Unusual events began to unfold soon after the two young men boarded the Pennsylvania. The pilot of the Pennsylvania, William Brown, was an autocrat with a violent temper with whom Sam was soon scrapping. During the voyage downriver, Sam got into a full-blown fight with him. The captain sided with Sam and said they would find a new pilot when they got to New Orleans. But a new pilot could not be found and since Sam and Brown could not be in the same boat, Sam was transferred to another vessel, leaving Henry on the Pennsylvania, which started the upriver journey fist. 
The Pennsylvania’s boiler exploded in a hell of steam and fire. Badly burned, Henry survived for a few days, to die in Memphis, where the injured were carried. His handsome face was untouched, and the kindly lady volunteers were so moved by his beauty and innocence that they gave him the best casket, a metal box.
When Sam entered the “dead-room” of the Memphis Exchange on June 21, 1858, he was horrified to see the enactment of his dream: his dead brother laid out in a metal casket in a borrowed suit. Only one element was missing: the floral bouquet. As Sam watched and mourned, a lady came in with a bouquet of white roses with a single red one at the center and laid it on Henry’s chest. The scenery in the funeral parlor became exactly as it had been foreseen in Mark Twain’s dream in every minute detail.

It appears that the only two possibilities are either coincidence or the Lord was warning Mark Twain so that he could save his brother’s life. God communicates in hidden ways.

Alexander Campbell was a great man of God who lived in the 19th century. He founded the modern Church of Christ in the early 1800’s. Although many representations of that group are quite sectarian now, it wasn’t so through most of the 19th century. Alexander’s father, a minister, was ordered to leave his home in Scotland by his physician because of health issues and move to America, which he did. After he established and settled himself in western Pennsylvania, the entire Campbell household sailed to join him the following year. Early one day, prior to a storm arising, Alexander had been reading aloud to one of his sisters and soon fell into an uneasy slumber. Suddenly he started up in alarm, and declared to his mother and sisters that he was confident danger was impending, that he had just had a vivid dream, in which he dreamed the ship struck upon a rock and the water rushed in. During the evening, many hours later, the ship was wrecked in just the manner he had dreamt. Alexander led prayers for the frightened passengers “in an unperturbed and resolute fashion.” He hadn’t had any ideas that he would follow in the footsteps of his father but, because of the dream and the life-threatening shipwreck, he meditated upon the vanities of the world and upon the firm character and gentle spirit of his father, and decided that, if they survived, he too would dedicate his life to the service of his Lord. This he did. He would later debate the leading atheist in the world at that time, Robert Owen, who could not get others to debate him because of his eloquence and scholarship. Alexander Campbell debated him for seven days (!) in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1829. The entire debate was published in newspapers all over the nation. Alexander defeated him so soundly that the printed versions of the debate are still being sold almost 200 years later.

It seems evident that Alexander’s dream and the circumstances that followed which brought about his conversion were from the Lord. God communicates in hidden ways.

Think about a sense that we sometimes get of what we are supposed to do, a faint suggestion, what we might call a slight influence. So slight that we can barely distinguish it from our own impressions. If we are honest, sometimes we cannot distinguish it – just like a dream. Nevertheless, God communicates in this way. This is why we ought not to say, “God told me to do this or that.” Or, “God told me to say this or that.” Do not give a divine mandate to your own ideas or thoughts. 

If God is not hiding Himself then he will come right out and audibly talk to you. But, he is hiding Himself. So, there is always a degree of uncertainty involved in his communications. Nevertheless, he still communicates in “a thin silence.” When he does you just proceed in obedience to what you perceive to be His will. Time will reveal the authenticity of the experience.

There is a hidden nature to the way God communicates to us. 

[III.] There is a hidden nature to God Himself. If you look into the history of the universe, if you look into the history of the Old Testament and into the history of the New, and if you carefully examine the whole history of mankind, you will arrive at the same conclusion: God is a God who hides Himself. This universe was created by Him; the heavens and the earth are the works of His hand; yet for six millennia men have beheld all these things and not one man has ever seen God. The Scripture says of the Old Testament times that no man ever saw Him; but of the New Testament times, it says, "The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him" (John 1:18).

And yet, when this only begotten Son came for the very purpose of showing forth the Father, He hid Him in a human life—a human life whose "appearance was marred," a human life that had "no attracting form nor majesty" (Isa. 52:14; 53:2). And He came from Galilee, an insignificant province, and from the town of Nazareth, a small town of which it was said by the Jews that no prophet or person of repute ever came from there (John 1:46; 7:52). So, when He appeared, people not only found it hard to believe that God was present in Him—they found it hard even to believe that He was a prophet of God. Yet God was hidden within Jesus of Nazareth.

If you study the Scriptures carefully, you will see that God has the kind of temperament that dislikes ostentation. He likes to work secretly rather than openly. He created the universe and then hid Himself in it until we do not know where to find Him. He took up His abode in a man, but that man was almost unknowable. On first meeting Him, men just saw a man called Jesus, of Nazareth. For three years his disciples lived with him and hung on his every word. They perceived he was a prophet of God and even came to understand that he was the Messiah, the promised Savior. Who he fully was, was still hidden from them.

At the Mount of Transfiguration, there was an unveiling. He finally revealed himself as the Son of God in glory. But it would not be until after his resurrection that they understood him to be God in the flesh.

After his resurrection, he is still hidden, though. Mary beheld Jesus standing there, after his resurrection, but she does not recognize him! (John 20:14-17) Two disciples are on the road to Emmaus, after his resurrection, Jesus joins them on the road and they have a conversation with him, but they do not recognize him!

God is still a God who hides Himself! I tell you, He hides Himself enough so that those who do not want him can justify in their own minds that he either is not real or that he can just be an “extra thing” in their life, instead of their living hope, their purpose, their destiny, their love. He reveals Himself just enough so that those who desire Him perceive his reality, trust his working, and know his communication.

[IV. Conclusion] Elijah was used to hearing from God clearly. But the Lord taught him to wait patiently for the Lord's communication. It would not always be clear. It would sometimes be just a thin silence. This is the way God is. He speaks softly, almost indiscernibly, but He still desires that Elijah carries out his ministry.

You have a ministry! You must carry it out when it seems like the Lord is not speaking. You must live it out when it seems like the Lord is not there. But He is there and He is speaking. Heed your dreams. Tune your ears to the whispers. And, in both, test all things by Scripture. He is a God who hides Himself, but he is there and He is not completely silent.