The most grandiose theophany in the Old Testament is arguably the appearance of God on Mount Sinai in Exodus 19, just prior to the giving of the 10 Commandments. In this scene, God uses the forces of nature that were deeply associated with His presence, such as fire, smoke, earthquake, thundering, and billowing clouds. Each element is typically used alone, but Exodus 20 records all of these manifestations at once; even “trumpets [were] thrown in for good measure.”1
While some scholars argue that this event was solely an earthquake and volcanic eruption caused without a true divine presence, the biblical account is sure to let readers know that contextually, the two cannot be separated.2 In Revelation 4:5 “the identical things witnessed on Sinai” are present at God’s throne, thus verifying that God was truly present at Sinai.3
1 Kings 19 documents Elijah’s encounter with God also on His mountain (verse 8). There are notable similarities and differences between the theophanies of Moses and Elijah on Mount Sinai. The description in 1 Kings “speaks of three manifestations[:] the smoke on the whole mountain, the fire which is connected with the descent of Yahweh and the great quaking of the whole mountain.”4 Interestingly, although these same displays take place in Exodus, in Elijah’s account God disassociates His “divine presence from the wind, earthquake, and fire,” perhaps revealing to Elijah that He is more than mere wonders of nature in contrast to Baal who was only known for his association with nature.5 And further, Yahweh may be saying that He is able to communicate to His people in ways that are more personal by being in a “still small voice.”6
The expression “still small voice” comes from the Hebrew phrase qol demamah daqqah. Qol is used 505 times in the Old Testament and is translated as “voice” 383 times. It can also mean “sound,” “noise,” and “thunder,” depending on the context and the intensity of the sound the writer desires to convey (such as in Exodus 19 and 20 where it is translated as “thunder”). Daqqah is used 14 times in the Old Testament and means “small” in each occurrence. Demamah is only used three times and means various things in each context, giving depth to the word. In Job 4:16, this word is used to mean “silence,” while Psalm 107:29 translates it to be “calm.” Lastly, it means “still” in 1 Kings 19:12. In the Septuagint (LXX), demamah is translated twice as calm or calmness.
Gene Rice suggests that this expression in Hebrew has a fuller meaning which conveys a more tangible sense of silence that was still, calming Elijah’s anxious-filled heart.7 This “still small voice” (NKJV), “soft whisper” (CSB), “gentle breeze” (CEV), or calming silence was so powerful that the prophet in 1 Kings 19:13 wraps “his face in a mantle,” similar to Moses’ position when God passed by him in Exodus 33. One commentary notes that “Elijah’s reaction in wrapping his face” is very similar to the way Moses had to stand in order to veil his eyes from the face of God.8
Still, though the beginnings of both theophanies are similar, they end quite differently. Perhaps Moses’ encounter showcases God’s power and fearfulness; whereas God demonstrates to Elijah that He is not dependent on grand outward displays, but can speak “directly to the human heart.”9 Both theophanies were revolutionary events that revealed God’s untouchable power and His personal presence that reaches the deepest part of man’s heart.
Notes & References:
1. Jon Dybdahl, Exodus: God Creates A People (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1994), 176.
2. Martin Noth, Exodus, trans. J S Bowden (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1959), 159-160.
3. Arthur W. Pink, Gleanings in Exodus (Chicago: Moody Press, 1977), 155.
4. Noth, Exodus, 159.
5. Gene Rice, Nations under God: A Commentary on the Book of 1 Kings (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 162.
6. John Gray, I & II Kings: A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975), 410.
7. Rice, Nations under God, 160, 162.
8. Gwilym H. Jones, 1 and 2 Kings: Based on the Revised Standard Version (Grand Rapids London: Eerdmans Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1984), 333.
9. Rice, Nations under God, 162.
Chermilyn Pedernal is a third year Religious Studies Major at Burman University, Canada. She loves studying the Bible and plans to be actively involved in ministry in some capacity upon graduation.
We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.