Josh and his friends were having their last drinks of the night when they heard three loud bangs and thought it was something wrong with the sound system. Josh thought it was fireworks or firecrackers and ran outside, someone playing a joke. Then he heard more gunshots and saw staff members running.
When he realized what was happening, he and his friends jumped a fence and ran into a parking lot. Not knowing where he gunman was, Josh hid under an SUV. When he heard the shots were in the distance, he decided to find a police line.
It was then that he heard a man mumbling and panting. Covered in blood. The man repeated, “I think I got shot.” Josh could see bullet wounds in each arm. Josh took off his shirt to wrap up Rodney’s wounds. While doing that and telling Rodney that everything was going to be alright, Josh saw that Rodney was shot in the back. He applied pressure to the man’s back.
Josh guided Rodney through the parking lot to a police officer. Josh kept pressure on Rodney’s wounds while the officer drove them to the emergency room.
Then Joshua McGill posted what happened on his Facebook account: “There was a very tragic thing that happened tonight. Thoughts and prayers for everyone at Pulse or that know anyone that was at pulse. It was very crazy and a traumatic experience. I’m very thankful I got away safe and a lot of other people I know and care about did as well. I hid under a car and found one of the victims that was shot. I tied my shirt and his shirt over his wounds to stop the bleeding and got him secretly to the nearest officer who then transported us to the ER. Words cannot and will not describe the feeling of that. Being covered in blood. Trying to save a guy’s life that I don’t even know regardless that I’m fine…just traumatized. The things I had to say to the guy and make promises I didn’t know I would be able to keep or not to keep him conscious while holding him as tight as I could and blood everywhere on me. Saying a prayer for him and letting him know I will be here waiting for him. It sucks because all I got was his name and I can’t even see if he’s okay because I’m not related. If anyone knows of a guy named Rodney that was shot and injured tonight. Please let me know he is okay. I felt God put me at the club and made me stay behind to help a complete stranger. For whatever reason that may be. I don’t know, but I do know it was hopefully to save his life. Maybe (sic) God be with us all in this time of need.”
One of Rodney’s friends reached out to Josh to tell him that Rodney will be okay.
Josh wanted to run and did a short distance. Josh believes that God wanted him to stay and help a stranger who was bleeding out. Josh wasn’t the only hero that night.
We all have that fight or flight instinct. It is a reptilian instinct that helps keep us alive. There are times when other factors cancel out that instinct. That happened also to Elijah.
Elijah defeated Queen Jezebel’s prophets of Baal and they were killed on Mt. Carmel. When King Ahab told Jezebel what happened, she was more than a little upset. So Jezebel sends a messenger to Elijah to tell Elijah that he is a dead man.
Elijah flees to Beersheba. Beersheba still exits to this day in the Negev desert. In Elijah’s day, Beersheba was in the Kingdom of Judah, south of Ahab’s kingdom of Israel. It is the southernmost part of the world of people who worship the God of Moses. Elijah leaves his servant there. After all, Jezebel is after Elijah and the servant has a good chance to be safe. Israel and Judah had a love-hate relationship and Elijah’s safety in another country depended on what stage of the relationship was in, in these two successor’s to Solomon’s and David’s kingdom.
Elijah did not feel he was safe. He flees further south into the desert. It was probably best not to tell his servant where he was going, but it seems from the story that Elijah did not have a clear idea of his destination. Elijah begs God to let him die in the desert.
Elijah finds a broom tree: for shade and if there is a tree, there must be water. An angel provides food to get Elijah’s strength up for the journey ahead.
Strengthened, Elijah walks 40 days and 40 nights to Mt. Horeb, another name for Mt. Sinai. It was a 300 mile journey. In the Bible, 40 days and 40 nights is a euphemism for a long time. From Mt. Carmel to Mt. Sinai, Elijah found a cave and rested. Centuries later, Christian mystics will travel to Sinai to be with God. People will come to them for spiritual advice and counsel.
Of course, Sinai is a holy mountain. It is the place that Moses received the law. In Moses’ day, only Moses could go up the mountain. It is now Elijah’s turn. The mountain is holy, because there is a sense in the Bible that God lives on the mountain. We know from the Transfiguration story that Jesus talked to Moses and Elijah, on a mountain. The first represents the law and the latter the prophets. The two greats of the Old Testament are first linked to Sinai.
God is aware that Elijah ended up at God’s home. Uninvited, or maybe invited, God wants to know why Elijah is there. It is a reasonable question we might ask if we were to discover a friend showing up in our home.
Elijah recounts what God likely already knows. Jezebel killed all of God’s prophets save Elijah. The Israelites have ignored the law God gave Moses. All the places where the Israelites worshipped God were destroyed. Elijah stood alone, prevailed, and now is running for his life.
God orders Elijah out of the cave to encounter God’s presence. A similar event happened on Sinai many centuries earlier. God places Moses in a crack in the mountain while God passes by. Moses is not allowed to see God’s face. Now it is Elijah’s turn.
I want you to picture what happens. Elijah is standing somewhere on the mountain. Elijah is anticipating seeing the unseen God. Elijah is attentive. Then a wind so strong that that it shook the mountain and split open rocks came, a hurricane. Moses split a rock to give the people of Israel water. Elijah did not find God in the wind.
Next came an earthquake. When God talked to Moses on Sinai, the mountain shook. God was not in the earthquake, either. Then there was a fire. God talked to Moses through a burning bush. Only God was not in this fire.
God is cagey. Elijah was likely fearful by now. If God was not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire, then in what form will God become known? It must be incredibly fierce and powerful. Maybe Elijah was thinking that he is on the run from Jezebel only to be consumed by God on Sinai.
But after the fire there was silence. I like the translation that reads, “there was a still small voice.” A literal translation might be, “a sound of gentile stillness.” There is a sound. Elijah hears it, a sound so soft that it is greater than an earthquake. Because that is what God is putting in motion, something bigger than a mighty wind, an earthquake, or fire.
During the commotion, Elijah returned to the cave for safety. After Elijah hears the silent sound, he goes out the cave entrance. The voice asks again what Elijah is doing there. Elijah cannot do God’s work holed up in a cave. Elijah gives the same reply as earlier. After the displays of nature rent asunder, Elijah’s situation remains the same.
God tells Elijah to return and do three earthshattering things: 1) go to Damascus and anoint the gentile Hazael king of Aram, 2) anoint Jehu king of Israel (Ahab wouldn’t like that too much), and 3) anoint Elisha as Elijah’s successor.
Christians would recognize the silent sound as the Holy Spirit. That is how God talks to us. This passage was a big deal in seminary, because everyone could relate to it. It was because we heard the silent sound and heeded it that we were there at seminary.
Hearing and heeding the silent sound or the Holy Spirit is not limited to those seeking ordination. The Holy Spirit is with us all. Sometimes when we hear the Holy Spirit our lives can make dramatic turns.
The heart of discerning the Holy Spirit is prayer. We might say we hear God in prayer. We might say we hear Jesus in prayer. We might say we hear the Holy Spirit in prayer. It doesn’t matter. The messenger is one and the same. We might get meaning. We might get comfort. We might get insight.
And we might get marching orders. We are always free to say no. But my experience is that God is persistent. We don’t know how long Elijah stayed on Sinai before he got the nerve to go into harm’s way. But he did go. His life was still on the line. God was with Elijah and those three things God had him do changed history. God was with Josh and a bleeding Rodney. God speaks to us in the midst of fear, despair, isolation, and failure.
With God on our side we can change history. When we cook for the homeless, we change lives. When we say “thank you” for service, we change lives. When we pick up our own trash and maybe someone else’s trash, we change lives. Providing a garden for the hungry significantly changes lives, those that receive and those that give. That’s how the silent sound of God works.
Text: 1 Kings 19:1–16