Word Study:Who Do You Think You Are



I Kings 19:9-10: “The Word of the Lord (came) to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah?” And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown thine altars, and slain they prophets with the sword; and I , even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”

I was reading in some Jewish literature a curious thing about this passage of Scripture. The Rabbi commenting on this passage pointed out two things which opens the door to a very powerful spiritual lesson.

The first was that God did not ask Elijah a question when He said: “What are you doing here.” I wondered about this but all the Christian commentators seemed to ignore the fact that the Hebrew word for said is ‘amar which means to say, it is not sha’al which means to ask, yet every translation gives God’s statement as a question. If it were a question why use the word say rather than ask? Well, that is the second point made by this rabbi. The word what is ma’ which is an interrogative for who, what, where, when or how. Only the context will tell you which word to us. It is still an interrogative so no matter how you render either as “What are you doing here” or “Who are you doing here,” they are both a question which creates a problem because the Bible says that God said, it does not say God asked.

The answer is simple, this was a rhetorical question. A rhetorical question is a statement given as a question where no answer is expected. The answer is obvious and needs no response. God is constantly asking rhetorical questions throughout the Bible. Rabbis continually taught using rhetorical questions. They would often answer a question with a question and many times the answer was so obvious, the student gave no response, nor was one expected. Student: “Rabbi, why does God allow so much trouble?” Rabbi: “How can we appreciate deliverance from trouble if we never have trouble?” No answer is expected from that question, it is really a statement.

Thus God was not asking Elijah a question but making a statement. That is not to say the English rendering in our Bibles is incorrect. But: “What doest thou here, Elijah?” does not sound like a rhetorical question, it is a perfectly legitimate question that would expect an answer. Yet God knew full well what Elijah was doing there. Why ask?

The rabbi I read and I completely agree rendered this as “And the Word of the Lord was made a part of Him and said: “Who do you think you are, are you not Elijah?” God spoke Elijah’s name for a purpose because right after this what happens?

Elijah goes outside the cave and there God sent a great wind but God’s voice was not in the wind. There was an earthquake, but God’s voice was not in the earthquake and then there was a fire but God’s message was not in the fire. Then there was a still small voice. God was in that.

Jezebel was on Elijah’s case and wanted him dead. Elijah fled to Beersheba where he left his servant and then went alone to Mt. Choerb. It is this very mountain that Moses met the Lord alone. Not only that God spoke to Moses in a fire, a wind and in an earthquake. But God did not speak to Elijah in this way. Why did God send a wind, earthquake and fire to Elijah if God was not speaking to Elijah in that way? The answer is simple. Elijah knew the whole story of Moses and how God led Moses. Now he, and he alone is like Moses before all Israel. All have forsaken God but like Moses, Elijah stands alone for God. No doubt Elijah envisioned himself another Moses, Moses was most likely his hero and like his hero he expected God to speak to him like Moses. So God gave him a wind, fire and earthquake, but no message. No message because God chose to speak to Elijah differently. In other words God said to Elijah: “Who to you think you are? Moses? No you are Elijah. You are special in another way.”

There is a very powerful message here if we translate it the way this rabbi and I would translate it. It is a message for all of us today. Especially in this day of Christian Super Heroes. As soon as we see how successful someone is in their Christian walk or their ministry we do we do? We try to copy them. We expect that if we preach like they do, wear clothes and style our hair like they do then God will also speak through us. But God is telling us like He told Elijah, “Who do you think you are? Billy Graham?” You are Chaim Bentorah. I speak to you in my own special way, I use you in my own special way. If I wanted you to be Billy Graham I would have given you a Southern accent.”

God has designed each one of us special, with our own special calling, gifts and way of speaking to us. You must discover that way for yourself, no one can teach it to you. For Elijah God spoke to Him in a way more special that He did for Moses, a still small voice. But Elijah was too bent on trying to be something he was not to hear that still small voice.

Gilda Radner wrote in her book It’ Always Something the story of a family down the street where she grew up. They had a dog that was pregnant and got hit by a car. They rushed the dog to the Vet who examined the dog and said; “I am afraid your dog’s hind legs will be paralyzed, but the puppies are ok. The family asked the Vet to care for their dog and so he patched her up and sent her home. In a few days that dog learned to walk all over again. She would take two steps with her front legs and then swing her rear body around, take two more steps and swing her rear body around. In this way she got around. Well before long the puppies were born, six perfectly healthy, normal puppies. She cared for them, fed them, weaned them and when those puppies learned to walk —– they all walked just like her.