Elijah lived in a time of great apostacy. His history is more particularly related than that of most of the other prophets, and is very interesting. The most distinguishing event of his time was a sore famine. For three years and six months the heavens were shut up. Of this Ahab was previously warned; and to prove that it was a visitation from God for sin, he was assured by Elijah that, as the Lord God of Israel lived, there should be neither dew nor rain, but according to his word. Hitherto he preserves his character, not only as a man, but as a man of God. We admire his magnanimity also, when, towards the close of this afflictive period, he looked Ahab in the face and reproved him. Still more do we admire him when, singly by himself, he braved the host of Baal’s adherents, and confounded them before the people. But, alas, what is man! After all this, he is intimidated by the threatenings of Jezebel, and flees for his life. After going a day’s journey into the wilderness, he sits down under a juniper tree, and requests for himself that he may die. Hence he arose and went to Horeb, the mount of God. Entering into a cave, he was there interrogated by him whose cause he had seemed to desert, What dost thou here, Elijah? He attempts to excuse himself by accusing Israel. He had been very jealous for the Lord God of Israel; but they had digged down his altars and slain his prophets with the sword; he only was left, and they sought his life. Thus, according to his account, it seemed time for him to flee. But that which is worse than all, in excusing himself, he does not barely accuse Israel, but seems tacitly to reflect upon the Lord himself, as though he had done little or nothing to vindicate his own name, and what then could his poor servant do there alone?
Jehovah could no doubt have confounded the complaining prophet; but forbearing, like himself, when dealing with erring creatures, he makes him no answer, but calls him forth to appear on the top of the mount. Here he is made to witness a very extraordinary scene.—“The Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave.”
“The Lord was not in the wind;”—that is, he did not answer Elijah out of the whirlwind, as he did Job; nor out of the earthquake, nor out of the fire. These awful appearances were only harbingers which preceded the voice of Jehovah. On hearing the still small voice, like the seraphim on the appearance of the Divine glory, he wrapped his face in his mantle, and retired to his cave. The interrogation, “What dost thou here, Elijah?” is repeated, and Elijah repeats his answer. The Lord replies, by directing him to go on his way to the wilderness of Damascus; to anoint Hazael to be king over Syria, Jehu to be king over Israel, and Elisha to be a prophet in the place of himself. This was an answer to Elijah’s tacit reflection. It was saying, I have judgments enough in reserve, both temporal and spiritual, to vindicate my name, and Israel shall feel them in due time; for “it shall come to pass that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay, and him that escapeth the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay.” But is all Israel gone off from God? Is it as Elijah supposes, that he only is left; and is it all wrath and terror that is revealed against them? No; there is a heart-reviving exception at the end: “Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the names which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.”
These great events undoubtedly bear a near resemblance to the extraordinary appearances on the mount; and it seems probable, if not more than probable, that the one were designed to represent the other. If so, the wind, the earthquake, and the fire, would refer to those dire calamities with which God was about to punish Israel for their apostacy; and the still small voice to the mercy and peace which should follow. Particularly, first, by the great and strong wind that rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks, understand Hazael’s wars, by which “the strong holds of Israel were set on fire, their young men slain with the sword, their children dashed, and their women with child ripped up:” by these means God punished the common people. Secondly, by the earthquake understand the revolution of Jehu, who “smote the house of Ahab, and avenged the blood of the prophets, and of all the Lord’s servants, at the hand of Jezebel:” by this God punished the royal family. Thirdly, by the fire understand Elisha’s trying prophecies, and the judgments which accompanied them: by these it is probable the idolatrous priests and false prophets were confounded. Fourthly, by the still small voice understand the mercy and goodness which followed these dire calamities. It was doubtless soothing to Elijah’s mind to be told of seven thousand faithful men in reserve; and while they remained in the nation a reserve of mercy in its favour might be expected, notwithstanding all their transgressions. And this was actually experienced under the reigns of Jehoahaz the son and Joash the grandson of Jehu. The former “besought the Lord, and the Lord hearkened unto him; for he saw the oppression of Israel, because the king of Syria oppressed them.—Hazael king of Syria oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz; but the Lord was gracious unto them, and had compassion on them, and had respect unto them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, neither cast he them from his presence as yet; so Hazael king of Assyria died, and Benhadad his son reigned in his stead.”
As there appears to have been a resemblance in the wind, the earthquake, the fire, and the still small voice, to the events which succeeded, so there is something in the order of these things analogous to the general tenor of the Divine proceedings. It is common for the still small voice to succeed the wind, the earthquake, and the fire; or, in other words, for the blessings of mercy and peace to be preceded by terrible things in righteousness.
When God revealed his word unto Moses, and by him to Israel, the terrors of Mount Sinai were preparatory to other things of a different nature. Many of the appearances on that solemn occasion resembled those on the present; and indeed there appears a manifest allusion in the account of Elijah to that in the nineteenth chapter of Exodus. Nor does the still small voice which terminated the one less resemble the declarations of mercy which followed the other. Jehovah proclaimed himself, “the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth;” promising also “to raise up unto them a prophet from the midst of them, like unto Moses, to whom they should hearken.”
The dispensations of Providence have generally moved in a similar order. Many terrible judgments have fallen on the world; but they have been commonly followed with peace and mercy to the church. The plagues of Egypt, and the destruction of Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea, terminated in the joyful deliverance of the people of God. The same was true of the overthrow of Babylon by the Persians. Thus it was that by terrible things in righteousness God answered the prayers of his people. The great calamities with which the world was afflicted, by the successive struggles of the four great monarchies of Babylon, Persia, Macedon, and Rome, terminated in the peaceful empire of the Son of God. The diadem was overturned, overturned, and overturned again, till he came whose right it was, and to him it was given.
Similar observations might be made on the Lord’s proceedings in the dispensation of his grace. As the thunders of Sinai preceded the blessings of Zion, so the terrible is still seen in many instances to go before the peaceful. Deep conviction may produce fearful expectation of eternal ruin; but if it terminate in a well-grounded peace, we do not regret the pain of mind, because it renders the hope of the gospel more welcome.
Finally, Is there not reason to hope from these things that the present convulsions of the world will be followed with peace and prosperity to the church? The fall of ancient Babylon was followed by the liberation of the people of God; and it is intimated in prophecy that the fall of the New Testament Babylon shall be followed by the “marriage-supper of the Lamb.” The present may be the time of whirlwinds, earthquakes, and fires, and God as the God of grace may be in none of them; but they may be preparatory to the still small voice of truth and peace. In this God will be present, and will be heard. Then “the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it.” Should this be the issue of the present convulsed state of the nations, afflictive as it may be, it will be more than compensated, and serve as a foil to heighten the glory that shall follow.
Excerpt from: “The Appearance to Elijah,” written in 1799 in Various Passages.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 617–619). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.