The breath of God

Elijah is one of my favorite prophets.

This prophet who ended up killing 450 prophets might seem an unlikely favorite of a pacifist.

But Elijah is a prophet who dared to stand up to rulers and false prophets. Elijah shows God’s preference for the poor when he condemns Ahab’s avarice that had led the king to take Naboth’s vineyard by means of false witnesses and the death of Naboth, engineered by the queen Jezebel.

Elijah, fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:6)

Elijah, fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:6)

But Elijah is also a prophet who trusted in God. After he had proclaimed the drought on the land, he went and lived by the stream Cherith, where he was fed daily by a raven.

When the stream dried up, he went to Zarephath where he elicited the help of a poor widow. When her son died, he brought him back to life by what sounds like artificial respiration, so that the breath returned to the child.

Elijah also was a man who had his moments of desperation. He fled from Queen Jezebel into the desert and laid down to die. But God called him to walk to Mount Horeb. When God asks him what’s up, Elijah responds with a whiny response: “No one is left but me…”

But God reveals God’s very self to Elijah on the mountain.

This passage, 1 Kings 19: 9-13, which is the first reading today, is one of my favorite passages in scripture.

Mount Horeb is Mount Sinai where God was revealed to Moses and the people of Israel in fire, earthquakes, lightning – a grand display equal to Cecil DeMille’s epic movie.

Elijah also had his experience with fire, when he called down God’s fire on the offering on Mount Carmel. The story reveals a bit of Elijah’s brazen arrogance and sarcastic wit when, after insulting the prophets of Baal asking them if their god was taking a nap or out visiting,  he drenches his sacrifice with twelve jars of water.

God was, for Elijah, often the God of power and might, of rock-breaking winds, lightning, and powerful movements of the earth – a vindictive god.

But Elijah is called to experience God in another way – in a gentle breeze, a soft murmuring, a breath.

God often comes to us in ways he do not expect – or do not want.

Elijah probably wanted a god who would vindicate him before the king. He was used to a God who did things in big ways – whether on Mount Sinai or Mount Carmel.

But God came to Elijah in a breath, something small and assuming, something which could easily be missed.

God often calls us in those small quiet ways.

But God prepares us for these encounters, as God prepared Elijah.

Recall that though Elijah is often associated with the death of prophets, he also brought the son of the widow back to life, appealing to God to “let the child’s breath return to him.”

Let us listen to the breath of God today and also nourish the breath of God in the children of widows and the poor.


2 responses to “The breath of God

  1. Blessings and obliged.

  2. Glad you expounded upon this verse from 1 Kings, John. I found it late in life during our parish Scripture study program. It totally changed my perception of what God must be like. Prior to that, as a child, I had thought of God as a stern taskmaster and judge who had a clipboard and wrote down every bad thing that I had ever done. Just imagine….a bare whisper, caressing my soul with His love and understanding.

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