Jezebel vs. the Whisper

Why We Shouldn’t Expect Truth to Win (Yet)

An ancient stone stairway leads up to the top of Jabal al-Madhbah in Jordan. On the peak is a rather eerie primeval stone altar, complete with a little channel for the blood to flow down. It may have been used for child sacrifice by the Nabateans. But the pagan altar is a relatively recent addition; it was on this same mountain, they say, perhaps a thousand years earlier, that Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.

When I first stood on Jabal al-Madhbah it was fairly easy to imagine myself to be in the days of the prophets, because the COVID-19 pandemic was underway, and the area was almost completely devoid of tourists. But even in the middle of the pandemic, to get to the base of the mountain I had to run the gauntlet of Bedouins hawking made-in-China “handmade” arabesque trinkets. (The opening scene of Disney’s 1992 Aladdin will give you a good idea of the vibe.)

It’s convenient having my own Mount Sinai here in Jordan. But really, anywhere you happen to live in this region, you can visit “Mount Sinai.” Ambiguities in the Scriptures leave the exact location of Mount Sinai up to interpretation. The most famous guess is Mount Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, but there actually are several plausible locations in Egypt. There are also several in Arabia. There’s even one claimant in Lebanon.

It makes sense. Spirituality sells; if you can pass your mountain off as a spiritual place, do it! Mount Sinai in particular has lasting tourist value. More than 3,000 years after God met with Moses in a blaze of fire atop that mountain, tourists and pilgrims are still flocking from all over the world to various “Mount Sinais” to try to get a little residual connection with God.

Sound and Fury

The first such person on record was the Prophet Elijah. While on the run from the threats of Queen Jezebel, Elijah fled for forty days and forty nights all the way to “the mountain of God,” where he went into a cave and spent the night.

And God asked him, perhaps in exasperation: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Elijah told him all his troubles: “The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

In reply, God said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

It was the same question as before, word for word. And Elijah answered it with the same complaint, word for word.

In reply, perhaps to Elijah’s surprise, God launched into a list of tasks for Elijah to complete. Only after issuing these instructions – asking for obedience – did God throw in this word of encouragement: “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”

A Still, Small Kingdom

Those 7,000 people were not visible to Elijah, so he considered himself alone. The false prophets, the false religion, the evil queen Jezebel – all those things were so much louder and more public than the steadfast remnant of the faithful. But the loudest voice, it turns out, is not always the voice that matters.  A gentle whisper can be much more powerful than a gale, fire, or earthquake.

The same lesson appears in the message to the Church in Thyatira in Revelation. Jesus tells that church:

I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, “I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.” (Revelation 2:19-25)

In the end “all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds.” But for a while, the faithful of Thyatira had to merely “hold on” in a world where even many of their fellow Christians were calling the spirit of Jezebel a prophet.

I would say we face a similar situation today. We, too, have to be content to live the truth in a world of shouted lies. Perhaps it has always been so, throughout all the intervening centuries since John received his Revelation, just as it was in the days of Elijah. The devil will rail, rant, and rage; God has allowed him that liberty. We cannot silence the devil or shout louder than him. If we think that is what constitutes victory in our culture wars, despair is inevitable. It simply won’t happen.

Folly May Be Loud, but Truth is More Powerful

“But,” St. Augustine said in City of God, “it must not be supposed that folly is as powerful as truth, just because it can, if it likes, shout louder and longer than truth.”

In all our apologetics, debate, and discourse, we need to keep that fact in mind. And define our goals accordingly. The war between truth and falsehood in our culture won’t be won by outshouting the false prophets and hawkers of man-made spirituality, or by arguing them into silence.

On the contrary, the war won’t be won at all. Not now. As long as the world is a place where people care primarily about themselves, no idea or movement will become dominant simply by being true and good and reasonable, but rather by being desirable, flattering, seductive, enticing, impressive, irresistible. Loud.

I would even go so far as to suggest, based on this logic, that any Christianity that has become the dominant face of a culture is likely to be a false Christianity. We therefore need to forget the goal of dominance entirely. To the world, the Kingdom of God may be unseen, unacknowledged, ignored – but not in the eyes of God, just as the still, small voice of God may be ignored by the world, but not by his children.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand,” Jesus said.

As it was in in the days of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, so it will be until the End. Then the Lord will stand once more upon the mountain, and the world will see his glory at last. Until then, we have been commanded, not to win, but simply to be obedient.

That’s one burden gone. Obedience is something we can do.

lives in Amman, Jordan, and has worked with asylum seekers and migrants from across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. He has a B.S. in Ecology and a B.A. in History and enjoys playing mandolin and foraging.

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