Mount Horeb was an awesome place,
Where God refused to show his face
To Moses lest he die, but hid
Him in a mountain cave, and bid
Him live by watching from the back,
As through a bright and slender crack
In space, the glory of the Lord.
It was a place where lions roared,
And jackals howled, and eagles soared,
And snakes would banquet on the hoard
Of lizards under rocks that broke
In pieces when the tempest spoke.
No fountain there, nor bread to eat
No wine, no oil, no holy meat,
But wind and fire and fasting in
The sacred heights where clouds begin.
And each four-hundred years the Lord
Of hosts comes down to be adored.
Two-hundred miles northeast there lay
Beersheba where the travellers stay.
Another hundred miles northeast
Jezreel, where Ahab makes his feast,
And learns from Jezebel that kings
Can kill the righteous for the things
They want to have.
This was the way
Elijah ran. There was no stay
To feast with Ahab for the rain.
His thanks was that he would be slain
Before the morning light. And so
One secret visit, though,
He made that night outside Jezreel.
It was behind the potter’s wheel,
As secret as a place could be.
At midnight in the rain, these three
Took leave, and bade themselves farewell,
While Obadiah watched to tell
If anyone should come. “You will
Be missed, Elijah. How long till
You come again? You know you are
The apple of his eye, the star
In his night sky, the peak among
His little hills, the song we’ve sung
For these three years, and most of all,
The father that he never had, as tall
As any man he’ll ever know,
However tall that man may grow.
You will be missed.” The child held tight
Elijah’s leg and tried to fight
Back tears, “Elijah, can we go
with you? I want to come, and so
Does Mommy too.” The widow bowed
Her head. “I know I’m not endowed
With wealth, and I am not a Jew.
But I would rather flee with you
And your great God, and have one cup
Of meal, one cruse of oil, and sup
In simple rooms or on the ground,
Than live in mansions and be found
Like Jezebel. Have I not prized
Your God? The boy is circumcised.
We do not bow before the shrines
Of Zarephath, nor sip the wines
Of Baal. Elijah, what must I
Do more than this to qualify?”
“No more. The great impediment
Is not in you, nor is dissent
Found in my soul for such desire:
Come witness now a thousand dreams
That I have dreamt by empty streams
And inside mountain caves. The bar
Comes not from you nor me, but far
Above us God has made decree:
The Lord has not allowed to me
That I should take a wife or sons.
But if he had, you’d be the ones.”
“They’re coming!” Obadiah called,
“Make haste! They will be stalled.”
Elijah knelt down in the rain,
“I love you, son, but can’t explain
Just now.” He stood and took the hood
From off the widow’s brow, “I would,
If I were free. Fear not my flight.
Remember ravens fly at night.”
Elijah fled to Judah, then
Beyond Beersheba’s well full ten
More miles, and fell exhausted there
Beneath a spreading broom tree where
He sat and asked the Lord that he
Might die. Instead he slept. The tree
God made to give him shade, then sent
An angel down with food, who went
And woke the prophet thus: “Awake!
Instead of death, God gives you cake.
By this you will walk forty days
And forty nights until you gaze
Like Moses on the majesty
Of God. Nor am I sure that He
Will ever grant your wish to die.
Come now, Elijah, eat and fly.”
For forty days and forty nights
Elijah walked the plains and heights
Between Beersheba and the place
Upon Mount Horeb where the face
Of God would shine. The angel led
Him to an ancient cave, a dread
And awesome place not far below
The clouds, and left him there to know
“What are you doing here
Elijah?” asked the Lord. “None fear
The Lord but me. The people break
Your statutes every day, forsake
Your holy covenant, destroy
Your sacred altars, and with joy
Have killed the prophets with the sword,
While I am jealous for the Lord.
And my reward? They seek my life.
What’s more, I might have had a wife.
And so I’m here to pray that you
Reveal your wrath, far overdue,
Upon your people Israel
With quakes that open fires of hell
And mighty winds to spread the flame
And wipe out wicked Israel’s name.”
“Elijah, is that all?” the Lord
Inquired. “That’s all, unsheathe your sword,
And show the nation all your might.”
“Elijah, rise and stand this night
Upon the Mount of God and see
The might and glory that will be.”
And as Elijah stood, a blast
Of wind so strong that as it passed
The boulders broke and fell like crumbs
Between the fingers and the thumbs.
But look for glory deep and vast?
God was not present in the blast.
And then an earthquake ripped the shell
Of Sinai and gave vent to hell
And molten fire flowed to reveal
What boiling floods around Jezreel
Would be. But is it for God’s sake?
God was not present in the quake.
And then a bolt of lightning hit
The cliff beside the cave and split
The mountain like a blade would cleave
A melon rind and then bereave
Ten thousand hearts. Come look and see.
Is this the sum of majesty?
What is the God of glory like?
He was not present in the strike.
And then a still small voice at last,
When wind and quake and fire had passed.
At this Elijah wrapped his face,
And saw, as through a crack in space,
The glory of the Lord. “My son,
There is a danger when you run
With too much zeal, and lose the path
Out of the wilderness of wrath.
I know you prize the widow’s life.
Consider then: I love my wife,
And though you cry her down to hell,
I will not disown Israel.
My first desire is not to damn,
This is the heart of who I am.”
And so today in candle three
Behold what fire and zeal can be:
It can destroy the devil’s gate,
But also melt the ice of hate.
It can explode in forest flames
And speak with quiet advent names.
The God who calls himself “I AM”
Is both a Lion and a Lamb.