The Sound of Silence


or Sinai Unspoken

On Mount Carmel, Elijah had built an altar of 12 rough-hewn stones. They substituted for the tribes of Israel. They were built and then consumed. The priests of Baal were slain and “washed” in the brook as atonement. The Land was clean. But we know Jezebel trampled this sacrifice underfoot. [1]

Elijah headed for the wilderness. He was a man with a mission. He went to the same cave in which Moses stood, a cleft in the rock. Once again, the Lord “passed over.” He was making a new Covenant, a new Creation, a new Heavens and a new Land.

1 Kings 19 follows the heptamerous Feasts pattern. Jezebel’s threat is the false “word,” a black Sabbath that sets things going. The Passover/Exodus is Elijah’s journey and sleep under the tree. The Firstfruits “ascension” is the command to eat. It is Day 3. In the Tabernacle it corresponds to the Bronze Altar, so the bread has been baked on “coals of fire.” It is the wilderness, so there is water instead of wine. This is also the step where dreams usually occur in pairs (as two witnesses), so the angel comes to Elijah twice with the message.

Pentecost: Elijah’s “Numbers” follows, forty days and nights. The Lord speaks to him in the cave (read, symbolically, grave). Following the pattern of Sinai (and Revelation) the Lord opens the seven seals of the Covenant document. In the Tabernacle, this is the seven lights of the Lampstand. It is a new government: sun, moon and five moving stars (the planets visible to the naked eye). But here, the stars are falling.

Day 1 – Light/Word/Sabbath Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD.”

Day 2 – Firmament/Holy Space/Passover: And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind;

Day 3 – Land/Mediatorial Head/Firstfruits: and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake;

Day 4 – Lights/Holy Fire/Pentecost: and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire;

The Creation pattern often appears also as “de-Creation.” We see this in the de-construction of the visionary Temple in the early chapters of Ezekiel. Here, the Lord was de-Creating the old Covenant. Day 5 is about resurrection, clouds of smoke, multitudes flying and swimming in the spaces created. It about a triumphant rise from the grave to witness as Trumpets. What do we have instead?

No Day 5 – and after the fire the sound of silence. [3]

What does this mean? Michael Comins writes:

Qol dmamah daqah, the “still, small voice.” To my mind, this translation from the King James Bible is still among the better, English versions. Modern translations, however, render qol as a physical sound rather than a metaphorical voice, such as “a tiny whispering sound,” “the sound of a light whisper”  or the JPS’ profoundly unpoetic “a soft murmuring sound.” Simon and Garfunkel notwithstanding, critical scholarship does not entertain the “sound of silence.”

Nevertheless, I prefer to follow Rashi and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s literal rendering of qol dmamah, “a voice of silence.” Precedent for such a reading can be found in the book of Genesis, where God says to Cain, “the voice of your brother’s blood calls out to me” (Gen. 4:10). Here qol is a silent voice rather than an audible sound. And that, I believe, is precisely what Elijah hears: a voice without sound. [2]

Based on the structure of events, I want to challenge the common interpretation. It was not the voice of the Spirit, speaking to the prophet in some poetic Victorian hush. It was the silence of the grave. The decayed Covenant had been un-spoken. This was un-Sinai. Standing in the gap between the Lord and Ahab, Elijah was both Moses and un-Moses. [3]

Israel’s hypocrisy silenced her witness. Hers were the words of a silent witness, a corpse. The Spirit fire consumed the Adam-flesh/house instead of filling it with Eve-lights. Liturgically, Ahab’s kingdom was already no more.

The larger pattern resumes with an actual voice questioning Elijah. The witness of step 5 is Elijah’s testimony as martyr, wrapped in the robe of office, a new firmament, rising from the cave/grave. The multitudes are those who seek his life. It is an ironic and substitutionary Trumpets. [4]

“So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave.”

He pictures Moses returning from Sinai, the High Priest returning from the Most Holy, and of course Christ rising from the grave as the head of a New Covenant, ready to seal, gather and avenge the saints. Atonement. The ascension goat is the 7000 who have not bowed to Baal. [5] The rest would be exiled to Azal.

Booths: God gives Elijah instructions that will bring about the Day of the Lord, speaking these de-Creating words into history as prophet. It would not be rivers of Eden flowing from this mountain but rivers of blood. The judgment proceeds from here in the desolate “Garden”, to the Land and then to the Gentile World. And then this final point, as usual, concerns Covenant succession. The Lord directs Elijah to appoint his successor, Elisha. [6]

God is surprisingly predictable. And predictably surprising.

[1] See No More Sacrifice for Sins.
[2] Michael Comins, Elijah and the “Still Small Voice,” A Desert Reading.
[3] According to Jordan, God was disowning the kings and making a kind of interim Covenant with the prophets, which is why we see Elijah parting waters and establishing a school for prophets. The kings were still “covered” but indirectly through the prophets.
[4] Note that in Adam’s testing, this is exactly the point at which he failed to witness to Eve “Deuteronomically,” repeating the Law he had heard “from the mountain.” It is also the point at which Abel’s blood speaks in Genesis 4. In Ezekiel’s big stucture, this is the step where God promises to reassemble both Israel and Judah as one new body from dry bones. See Haman Hamstrung.
[5] See Seven Thousand Who Have Not Bowed to Baal 1, 2 and 3. Note that I have above modified the chart in 1 slightly.
[6] Note that the sword of Jehu corresponds to the sword of the cherubim at the garden gate. In the big picture of the Restoration, the swords wouldn’t be sheathed until they were basically beaten into plowshares in Zechariah. See comments on Zechariah in Fragrance of Christ.

[1] See No More Sacrifice for Sins.

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