All my life, I have heard the phrase “still small voice” tossed about in a hodgepodge of ways.
A preacher tells me, “Sit quietly. Close your eyes. Now listen for the still small voice of the Spirit in your heart.” A friend argues that a still small voice is telling him it’s time to cut ties with his girlfriend (this “voice,” strangely enough, usually speaks a week before Valentine’s Day). A nature-lover says to tune into the still small voice of the universe in dancing leaves and whispering winds.
Some of these are wrong, others are worse.
With some notable exceptions, many who talk about a “still small voice” do so (1) without consulting the original Hebrew; (2) without even referring to the part of the Bible where the phrase comes from; (3) without looking at the broader context of the narrative; and (4) without seeing how this “voice” is part of Big Story of Scripture, which is focused on Jesus.
So, let's fix that.
What I intend to show is that the “still small voice” in 1 Kings 19 is none other than the Word of the Father, the Messenger of God, the Voice of the Lord. In other words, the “still small voice” is another way of referring to Jesus the Messiah.
First, keep in mind that this voice is part of the longer story of Elijah, which begins in 1 Kings 17. Let me give you the CliffsNotes version. Israel has sunk soul-deep in idolatry, so Yahweh slaps them with a three-year drought. Near the end of this time, Elijah summons the good-for-nothing King Ahab, along with the citizenry, to Mt. Carmel for a theomachy, a God-fight.
On this mountain, it’s Yahweh & his one prophet vs. Baal & his 450 prophets.
The LORD proves he is the true God by incinerating an altar, the stones, the sacrifices, the whole kit-and-caboodle. “The fire of the LORD fell” and ate up everything (1 Kings 18:38). Baal is shown to be a satanic, pseudo-deity. His prophets are slaughtered by Elijah. All Israel takes up a hearty “Yahweh is God” chant, a feast ensues, and a rainstorm signals the end of the drought.
All’s well that ends well, but, alas, this does not. On the heels of Elijah’s victory, queen Jezebel swears to deep-six the prophet, so he hightails it out of the country. While he’s on the run, we meet the Central Character in this story: the Messenger and Word of Yahweh.
The Divine Messenger
Deep in the wilderness, exhausted and despairing, lies Elijah. But he’s not alone. The “messenger of Yahweh” visits him twice (1 Kings 19:5-7). English translations routinely scrape their fingernails on the biblical chalkboard by rendering this “the angel of the LORD.” The Hebrew word is מַלְאָךְ (malak), which means “messenger.” A malak can be a human messenger (such as the one Jezebel sends in 1 Kings 19:2), an angelic messenger, or Yahweh’s special messenger.
We meet this special malak repeatedly in the Old Testament. He speaks with full divine authority, calls himself God, is called God, and has the divine name in him (e.g., Exodus 3:1-6; 23:21). As many have argued, including myself in The Christ Key, this malak is the Son of God, sent by the Father.
The Son of God, therefore, visits, touches, feeds, and consoles Elijah in the wilderness. Then he sends him onward to Mt. Horeb (=Sinai), where our story takes us next.
At this mountain of God, the Son of God once more visits Elijah, only this time he is called “the word of Yahweh” (1 Kings 19:9). This, too, is not an unusual designation for the Son of God in the Old Testament.
This same Word ushers Abraham outside to count stars (Gen. 15). He appears to Samuel and stands before him (1 Sam. 3). Later still, he touches Jeremiah on the mouth (Jer. 1). Finally, in what C. S. Lewis calls "the central event in the history of the Earth," the Word becomes flesh in Mary’s womb (John 1:14).
He first appears to Elijah as the Messenger, next as the Word, and – as we shall soon see – as the Voice of God.
Not in the Wind, Earthquake, or Fire but in the Voice
Here’s how it goes down. Three phenomena blast by and shake Mt. Horeb: a great and strong wind, an earthquake, and a fire (1 Kings 19:11-12). Each time, however, we are told that “the LORD was not in [these].”
Well, then, what was he in? The Hebrew phrase is קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה (qol d’mamah daqqah). A qol is a sound or voice. The word d’mamah means calm or silent. And daqqah means thin or small. Thus, various translations render it as a “still small voice” (KJV), “a gentle whisper” (NIV), “the sound of a low whisper" (ESV), or “the sound of minute stillness” (R. Alter).
However we translate the phrase, don’t miss this key point: it’s a קוֹל (qol), a “voice” or “sound.” Why is this important? Let's see.
From Word to Voice
Before the wind, earthquake, and fire appear, the Word of Yahweh asks the prophet, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9). This Word is the Son of God. Elijah gives his reason. Then, immediately after the “still small voice,” what happens? The exact same exchange takes place! Same question, same response. Only this time we read, “There came a voice [קוֹל (qol)] to him and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” (1 Kings 19:13). To this question, Elijah repeats his earlier answer verbatim.
First time, the Word of Yahweh asks the question.
Second time, the Voice of Yahweh asks the same question.
To both the Word and Voice, Elijah gives the exact same answer.
This Voice (qol), I would urge, is none other than the qol d’mamah daqqah, the “still small voice [qol]” in which God had just located himself and by which he had presented himself to Elijah.
How to Hear the Still Small Voice
Therefore, the Son of God first visits Elijah as the Messenger, then as the Word, and finally as the Voice. And – this is crucial – this is the same Voice that followed the wind, earthquake, and fire.
On Mt. Carmel, the Lord did appear in fire, when he burned up the sacrifices and altar. But not so at Horeb, when he appears to his beleaguered, despondent, anxious and frustrated prophet. Here, to Elijah alone, the Lord appears in the Voice, the Word, who was precisely what Elijah needed to have and to hear.
At Horeb the Lord shows Elijah (and us!) that he is to be found in his Voice, his Word, his Son. To seek the “still small voice” is simply to seek Jesus, to hear him, to receive him, to know all of God in him.
Christ is the Messenger who touches and feeds us in our own wilderness sorrows. Christ is the Word who became flesh and tabernacled among us. Christ is the Voice who calls out to us, in meekness and love and passionate concern, to come to him.
Do you want to hear the still small voice of God?
Listen to Jesus.
Interested in learning more about Elijah, 1 Kings, the Word and Voice of the Lord, and all things Old Testament? Check out our podcast, "40 Minutes in the Old Testament." We are currently working our way through 1 Kings. Listen and subscribe on your favorite podcast app.