Chapter 13 – The Still, Small Voice

“And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; 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. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?” 1 Kings 19: 11-13.

This beautiful expression, “A still, small voice,” has almost come to be recognized as one of the names of the Holy Spirit. The whole scene is a fine illustration of the Spirit’s working not only in the ages and dispensations, but in the experience of every individual heart.

The scene is a most dramatic one. Elijah had just reached the climax of his marvelous ministry. In that magnificent scene on Carmel we behold him in the very zenith of his career. God has answered his faith and prayer by the descending fire. The whole nation has been swayed at his will, and the very king is helpless as a child at his bidding; while the prophets of Baal, unable to resist the storm of popular enthusiasm, have been swept away by a stroke of judgment. Even the very heavens that have been closed for years have opened the floodgates at the prophet’s command, and, like a commander-in-chief of the armies of earth and heaven, Elijah has led the victorious procession to the very gates of the capital. But now another scene occurs as dramatic as the first.

There is one other heart in Israel as thoroughly possessed of the devil as Elijah was possessed of the Holy Ghost. She hears the startling tidings without the quiver of a muscle or a nerve, and with a face of flint and a heart of steel, she speaks but one sentence, of fierce, defiant threatening, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” It was a well directed shot from the batteries of the pit. In a moment it had done its fearful work, and the prophet of fire was broken like a child. There is something almost ludicrous in the graphic description of his flight, “Elijah arose and went for his life”; nor did he stop till he had reached the utmost confines of the land, away down at Beersheba. Nor even there did he linger, but, leaving his servant, he hastened on across the desert, until, exhausted with hunger and fatigue, he sank on the sand, and lay down beneath a juniper tree with one gasp of hopeless despair, “Lord, take away my life; for I am no better than my fathers.”

God tenderly nursed and cherished His weary child, put him to sleep, then awoke him and fed him by angel hands, until he was strong enough for his farther journey. Then He sent him on to Horeb, the Mount of God.

There, on some mountain crag and at the entrance of a cave, he waited for the message of his Lord. His spirit was all agitated and chafed. He felt his life was a failure, and he longed for power to accomplish the things for which he felt unable. Perhaps he even thought that if he could rule the world for a little how different things would be. He was just in that mood where he wanted something to happen. Anything was better than this silence, and the very war of the elements would seem to such a spirit a luxury of rest.

It was not long before his thought was fulfilled, and God began to speak to him through the voice of nature. First came the mighty earthquake, heaving the solid ground, tearing the rocks asunder and making the desert’s bosom heave like the billows of the ocean, till it seemed that he himself must be torn from his resting place, or engulfed in the awful chasms that were opening round him on every side. But he looked upon the whole scene unmoved. There was nothing in it to touch his spirit; the earthquake came and went, and he felt hat “the Lord was not in the earthquake.”

Next came the wild tornado, filling the air with clouds of sand, sweeping through the mountains, and tearing the solid rocks from their base and hurling the forests into Hie abysses below, while the air reverberated with the crashing thunder, and quivered with the awful lightning. His ears were stunned with the tempest’s awful roar; but through all the wild confusion the prophet stood unmoved . Perhaps his fiery spirit was even rested by the elemental war. There was nothing in it that spoke to his deeper heart. The whirlwind passed; but “the Lord was not in the whirlwind.”

Then came the fire. Perhaps it was the thunderbolt of the sky; perhaps it was some flame caused by the lightning stroke, kindling the forests and sweeping over the mountains, with fiery blaze; or, perhaps, it was some supernatural and awful flame, falling from the skies, quivering before his gaze like the fire that came dawn on Sinai ages before, when Moses received the law. But even this did not blanch his cheek nor move his heart; he gazed upon it with his spirit still unbroken, and his heart chafing as before. And then, like the hush that comes before the storm, or like the emphatic pause in some musical strain, there came an awful stillness, and there fell upon his ear a strange and “still, small voice,” or as the New Version expresses it, “A sound of gentle stillness,”softer than evening bells, sweeter than a mother’s tones, gentler than music’s tenderest notes. Perhaps it spoke as much to the senses of his soul as to his outward ear; but there was something in it so deep, so tender, so penetrating that it thrilled his inmost being. It broke his whole spirit into tenderness and awe, and, gathering his mantle about him, he crept into the cave, and fell upon his face at the feet of God to listen to His message. The fiery heart at length is subdued, the mighty will is broken, the stern prophet is like a little child.

What is the meaning of all this wondrous drama?


In the first place, it has a meaning for Elijah himself. He needed to be quiet, he needed to find that the forces that he was longing for were not the highest forces at God’s command, and that even his own stern, strong nature needed to be subdued and taught the deepest power of gentleness and love.


Secondly, it had a yet higher meaning: it was a sort of picture of the two ministries of Elijah and Elisha. His was but a temporary dispensation; he came as the winter before the spring, as the plow before the sower, as the storm before the shower. His was the ministry of judgment and destruction. But the sunshine of spring is stronger than the storms of winter, and the little seed that drops into the soil is mightier than the plowshare that digs the furrow or the dynamite that blasts the rocks. So the gentle ministry of Elisha which was to follow was more mighty and more fruitful than all the destructive miracles of the great Elijah. He had his place; but the earthquake, the whirlwind and the fire of his awful judgments had to pass away, and “the still, small voice” of Elisha’s gentler teachings and miracles of grace had to come instead.


All this was prophetic of a yet higher era and a grander transaction. For Elijah and his ministry were typical of the law and the dispensation of Moses, while Elisha, was the type of the Lord Jesus Christ and the gospel of His grace. And so the scene on Horeb is a representation of the difference between Law and Grace, Judgment and Mercy, the Old Dispensation and the new.

God had already proved how much, or rather how little discipline can do to perfect human character and lead to lasting righteousness.

All that suffering and chastening can accomplish to purify a people was done for ancient Israel. What can ever surpass the pathetic story of Israel’s fall, Judah’s captivity, and Jerusalem’s doom? But alas! how transitory the effect upon the character of the nation! They wept, they suffered, they died, they left the awful record burned into the very heart of the nation; but the next generation went on repeating the sins and follies of their fathers, and God could only cry, “Why should ye be stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores.”

Thank God, there is a better way. The Gospel of His grace, the gentleness of His love, and the power of His Holy Spirit, have accomplished what law and terror never could while they wrought alone. “The still, small voice”of Jesus’ love is mightier than all the thunder of Mount Sinai’s law, or Assyrian or Chaldean armies. The law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did. “The earthquake, the whirlwind, and the fire” have gone, but “the still, small voice”of Calvary and Pentecost is speaking to the hearts of millions, and speaking them back to God and righteousness and heaven.


The scene at Horeb is often repeated in our individual life. We, too, have to pass through the earthquake, the whirlwind, and the fire in our vain search for God; and, at last, we find Him as the still, small voice in the depths of our soul. Perhaps the experience comes through great trial, outward or inward sufferings, tests that rend our very heart and crush our spirit. But the suffering has no saving power. The human heart can be torn to pieces, and yet every single piece be as full of pride and rebellion as the whole.

It needs the quiet divine influence of the Holy Spirit to change the heart and sanctify the soul. Suffering without the Holy Ghost is the saddest thing on earth. Trials unsanctified are like the lightning strokes that blight but cannot bless.

Sometimes it is not so much external suffering as a struggle within the secret soul itself to find God and peace. Oh, how we labor and long and try! But the best result of all our struggles is to show their own fruitlessness and to lay us helpless and silent before the feet of Christ; and then we awake in the arms of His love and power. And as we awake, we find that there is so little in the new experience that is tangible or strongly marked. In fact, the most frequent experience is to find that we really have come into nothingness. The stillness is so quiet that there is often the absence of all self-consciousness and feeling, and even the presence of God is “a still, small voice” so quiet that we have to hush every other sound before we can hear it.

Indeed, the first experience is often one of great emptiness, bareness, and nothingness, and one is apt to be disappointed, and to say, “Is this all that is meant by the rest of faith?” But we soon find that the nothingness of self is but the beginning of God’s all-sufficiency, and as we are willing to rest in our nothingness and the all-sufficiency, we soon begin to know the sweetness and the power of that voice.


The keynote of all this wondrous story is THE VOICE. The earthquake had a sound, but it had no voice. The tempest and whirlwind could make a mighty noise, but there was no voice. The fire could speak through the sense of vision, and fill the soul with awe, but it had no voice to speak to the heart. But “the still, small voice” had behind it an intelligent mind, a living personality, a loving heart, and it was mightier than all the lifeless forces which had gone before.

Oh, the power of a voice! How it lingers in our memory! How certain tones arrest our attention and wake up all the old chords of the past! How that voice speaks to us of the difference between nature and revelation, between the language of the earth and sky, and the language of God’s precious Word! God hath spoken once in the voice of creation, but it is only like the inarticulate language of the earthquake, the whirlwind, and the fire. God hath spoken a second time, in the voice of His Holy Word and His blessed Son, and this is the message that brings light and life and salvation to man.

A voice is more than a message, more than a printed page, more than even an inspired book. A voice means the presence of the person who speaks, and his personal and living words to us. And so God speaks to us, not only in the Bible, but by His own personal voice. His sheep know His voice, and “a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.”

There is more in the Bible and in the revelation of Christ than merely a message of truth. It is also a personal message of love. He has a special voice for every one of His children, and it is our privilege to know His voice.

Oh, how that voice can speak to us! It is not an audible voice; it does not reach our outward senses; it would not be possible to explain to a stranger how it makes itself understood in the heart; but, as we kneel in prayer and ask His counsel, as we come with our heavy-laden hearts and throw ourselves upon His bosom for comfort; as we bring our petitions and wait for the whispered answer, how it speaks to us, how it satisfies us, how it identifies itself to us, and makes us know “it is the Lord!” How it gives its approval to the plans that He commends! How it seals the promise that is suggested to the mind, and lets it fall upon the heart like balm upon the bleeding wound! How it brings home the words that fall from the speaker’s lips, and makes them God’s living messages to our hearts! How it emphasizes every word we read, and how its sweet and heavenly whisper fills all our inmost being with peace and joy and life, until our glad and grateful heart can only say, “I will hear what God the Lord will speak; for he will speak peace to his people and to his saints”!


The New Version translates this phrase, “The sound of a gentle stillness.” It speaks of God’s gentleness. Gentleness is always an attribute of the highest natures. The bravest soldier, the loftiest character, is always the most child-like, simple and tender. Jesus Christ was the incarnation of meekness, lowliness, and gentleness.

The apostle used this as his strongest plea when he besought His disciples “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” “I am meek and lowly in heart” was the Master’s own highest claim. And this was but the ancient prophetic picture. “He shall not strive nor cry, nor cause his voice to be heard in the streets; a bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench.”

Is there a more sublime spectacle, is there a more heart-moving sight in all history, than that patient Sufferer standing in the judgment hall or hanging upon the Cross and allowing His murderers to do their worst, answering not a word, “led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before the shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth”? The Holy Ghost, the Representative of Christ, also is gentleness itself. He came upon Jesus as the Dove, and He dwells in us as a Monitor so kind, a Comforter so tender, that we can only “grieve” and “vex” Him, but we cannot make Him angry. He appeals to our obedience by His sensitiveness to the hurt that we can give Him. Oh, let us be gentle as He; let us treat Him with the consideration that His sensitiveness should claim!

He will not force an entrance to our heart. He will not do violence to the freedom of our will. He will not compel us to do what we do not choose, nor to surrender what we want to keep. He appeals to the finest motives of our being, to the will that springs from our deepest heart, and to the obedience which we are only too glad to give.

Let us imitate His gentleness; let us ask Him to translate it into all our beings until we shall be simple, sensitive, considerate, yielded, lowly, meek and childlike, “even as He.” Our faces, our manners, our tones, and the whole complexion of our life shall be the blending of the spirit of the Lamb and the Dove.


It was “a still, small voice,” or “the sound of a gentle stillness.” Is there any note of music in all the chorus as mighty as the emphatic pause? Is there any word in all the Psalter more eloquent than that one word, “Selah, (Pause) “? Is there anything more thrilling and awful than the hush that comes before the bursting of the tempest or the strange quiet that seems to fall upon all nature before some preternatural phenomenon or convulsion? Is there anything that can so touch our hearts as the power of stillness?

The sweetest blessing that Christ brings us is the Sabbath rest of the soul, of which the Sabbath of creation was the type; the Land of Promise, God’s great object lesson. There is for the heart that will cease from itself “the peace of God that passeth all understanding”; “a quietness and confidence” which is the source of all strength; a sweet peace which “nothing can offend”; a deep rest which “the world can neither give nor take away.” There is, in the deepest center of the soul, a chamber of peace where God dwells, and where, if we will only enter in and hush every other sound, we can hear His still, small voice.

There is, in the swiftest wheel that revolves upon its axis, a place in the very center where there is no movement at all; and so in the busiest life there may be a place where we dwell alone with God in eternal stillness.

This is the only way to know God. “Be still, and know that I am God.” “God is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”

A score of years ago a friend placed in my hand a little book which became one of the turning points of my life. It was called “True Peace.” It was an old mediaeval message with but one thought, which was this, that God was waiting in the depths of my being to talk to me if I would only get still enough to hear His voice.

I thought this would be a very easy matter, and so I began to get still. But I had no sooner commenced than a perfect pandemonium of voices reached my ears, a thousand clamoring notes from without and within, until I could hear nothing but their noise and din. Some of them were my own voice, some of them were my own questions, some of them were my own cares, and some of them were my very prayers. Others were suggestions of the tempter and voices from the world’s turmoil. Never before did there seem so many things to be done, to be said, to be thought; and in every direction I was pushed, and pulled, and greeted with noisy acclamations and unspeakable unrest. It seemed necessary for me to listen to some of them, and to answer some of them, but God said, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Then came the conflict of thoughts for the morrow, and its duties and cares, but God said, “Be still.” And then there came the very prayers which my restless heart wanted to press upon Him, but God said, “Be still.” And as I listened and slowly learned to obey and shut my ears to every sound, I found after awhile that when the other voices ceased, or I ceased to hear them, there was a still, small voice in the depths of my being that began to speak with an inexpressible tenderness, power and comfort. As I listened it became to me the voice of prayer, and the voice of wisdom, and the voice of duty. I did not need to think so hard, or pray so hard, or trust so hard, but that “still, small voice” of the Holy Spirit in my heart was God’s prayer in my secret soul, was God’s answer to all my questions, was God’s life and strength for soul and body, and became the substance of all knowledge, and all prayer, and all blessing; for it was the living God Himself as my Life and my All.

Beloved, this is our spirit’s deepest need. It is thus that we learn to know God; it is thus that we receive spiritual refreshing and nutriment; it is thus that our heart is nourished and fed; it is thus that we receive the Living Bread; it is thus that our very bodies are healed, and our spirit drinks in the life of our risen Lord, and we go forth to life’s conflicts and duties like the flower that has drunk in, through the shades of night, the cool and crystal drops of dew. But as the dew never falls on a stormy night, so the dews of His grace never come to the restless soul.

We cannot go through life strong and fresh on express trains, with ten minutes for lunch. We must have quiet hours, secret places of the Most High, times of waiting upon the Lord, when we renew our strength and learn to mount up on wings as eagles, and then come back, to run and not be weary, and to walk and not faint.

The best thing about this stillness is that it gives God a chance to work. “He that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his”; and when we cease from our works, God works in us; and when we cease from our thoughts, God’s thoughts come into us; when we get still from our restless activity, God worketh in us both to will and do of His good pleasure, and we have but to work it out.

Beloved, let us take His stillness, let us dwell in “the secret place of the Most High,” let us enter into God and His eternal rest, let us silence the other sounds,and then we can hear “the still, small voice.”

There is another kind of stillness, the stillness that lets God work for us, and hold our peace; the stillness that ceases from its contriving, and its self-vindication, and its expedients of wisdom and forethought, and lets God provide, and answer the unkind word and the cruel blow in His own unfailing, faithful love. How often we lose God’s interposition by taking up our own cause and striking for our own defense.

Never shall I forget a little scene which happened not long ago. A quiet Christian girl was sitting at table among a party of friends, who were discussing a Christian work in which she was deeply interested. Someof the criticisms were very severe, and, as she thought, unjust and unfair. She said a few simple words to correct the statements; but then, as the criticism, more and more severe, went on, she simply held her peace. I saw the mantling brow and the tear just springing to her eyes, and I thought how easy it would have been for her to give the quick reply, and answer just as sharply as she might have done. But the grace of God had become ascendant in that young heart; the Holy Ghost was on the Throne. She sat in silence, and simply suffered and waited. After a few moments I saw she could stand the struggle no longer, and she gently and lovingly rose and left the table and went to her room to lay her burden upon the bosom for her Savior.

In a moment it all flashed upon the other person, who loved her very tenderly. He saw how he had wounded her; he knew how she would have answered months before. The sweetness and gentleness of her spirit cut him to the very heart, and taught him a lesson that he was manly and noble enough fully to acknowledge. Never again will his lips utter those hasty words, and never will he forget that spectacle of gentleness and silence.

It was her best vindication, and it made up for her, besides, a jewel of unfading lustre in the crown above.

There is no spectacle in all the Bible so sublime as the silent Savior answering not a word to the men that were maligning Him, and whom He could have laid prostrate at His feet by one look of divine power or one word of fiery rebuke. But He let them say and do their worst, and He stood in the power of stillness — God’s holy, silent Lamb.

God give to us this silent power, this mighty self-surrender, this conquered spirit which will make us “more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” Let our voice and our life speak like “the still, small voice”of Horeb and as “the sound of a gentle stillness.” And after the heat and strife of earth are over, men will remember us as we remember the morning dew, the gentle light and sunshine, the evening breeze, the Lamb of Calvary, and the gentle, Holy, Heavenly Dove.