18 Sep

I’ve been pondering over a particular Bible verse for a couple days now. From the book of Psalm, it reads:

When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent. (Psalm 4:4, NRSV)

I find this a little peculiar. Why are we instructed to be silent when we are disturbed or (in other translations) angry? What is the significance behind this? As I’ve been mulling over this, I’ve realized something. Remember the story in 1 Kings when Elijah fled to the wilderness in fear for his life? He reaches the cave on Mount Horeb and God asks what he's doing there when he answers:

“I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” (1 Kings 19:10, NRSV)

His answer certainly sounds like he’s more than just a tad distraught. Fearful to his very core. Possibly angry, even. Disturbed, in any case. But it is in this moment, when Elijah is feeling this disturbance deep in his soul that God says to him:

“Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces 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 sound of sheer silence. (1 Kings 19:11-12, NRSV)

As we know, the Lord appeared in a still small voice in that moment (1 Kings 19:13). The silence made way not only for the Lord’s presence to be known to him, but for him to be able to truly hear and heed God’s instruction. Mighty things – even scary things – were happening all around Elijah in that cave with the winds and earthquakes and fire, but it wasn’t until there was utter silence that Elijah could hear God speak. This time, God asks Elijah the same question as before – why are you here? –but then follows it up with guidance on what Elijah should do next during this disturbing time in his life. Thinking of this story made me realize that the simple instruction in Psalm 4:4 of being silent when disturbance arises is so that we will be able to hear God speaking to us. It is in the silence that His still small voice is made known. And it is in this silence where we are able to fully focus on God’s guidance in trying times.