Listen to the Pained Donkey Voice of God

Have you ever heard someone tell you to listen for “God’s still small voice”? Maybe you’ve heard this from your pastor or favorite daily devotional or blogger. It is usually put in the context of needing to take “time out for God” in our otherwise loud and busy days. Rick Warren’s sermon, God Wants to Talk to You, Part 3, is a perfect example of this common evangelical teaching. In it, he begins by saying that we can’t have a relationship with God if we can’t hear God. We need to silence the televisions, phones, and radios and listen for Him in silence. Now, the first thought that might enter our brains is that if Rick Warren is teaching this and the view is popular, then perhaps there’s truth there. But there are two major problems with this view. Let’s start with the second of these two problems by comparing this teaching to the Scripture. 

The source of this teaching can be found in 1 Kings 19, with the story of Elijah at Mt. Horeb. Elijah had just gone against the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel, slaughtered them afterwards, and ran away after being threatened with death by Jezebel as a result. Elijah was in great despair. God then provided Elijah with a meal before sending him on a 40 day and 40 night journey (while fasting) to Mt. Horeb. Then we come to this text:

Then he came there to a cave and lodged there; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 

10 He said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”

11 So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORDbut the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 

12 After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. 

13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 

14 Then he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”

1 Kings 19:9-14

After God passed by Elijah and there was a great wind, an earthquake, and fire, we are told God wasn’t in them. BUT, after a gentle blowing, God speaks. That is the evidence used to support the idea that God speaks to us like that. And so, we are told by many Bible teachers and pastors that we need to listen to God this way. But these verses don’t tell us to do that. They only describe a historical event that occurred in the life of Elijah. There are no teachings provided here for us to follow. Just a story about what happened to one of God’s prophets thousands of years ago. This verse is sometimes also coupled with Psalm 46:10. Often simply quoted, “Be still and know I am the Lord.” I’ve written about that elsewhere. You can check that out [here].

Anyhow In Rick Warren’s sermon that I’d mentioned earlier, he tells his congregation that God has never spoken to him in anything other than a whisper. And that is expected to offer validity to this teaching. The problem with this statement, among others, is that God HAS spoken in the past in ways other than a whisper. Amos 1:2, Jeremiah 25:30, Joel 3:16, Hosea 11:10, Isaiah 42:13, and Habakkuk 3:10 each describe God as “roaring.” After their exodus from Egypt, the children of Israel didn’t exactly hear the “gentle whisper of God.”

18 All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. 

19 Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.”

Exodus 20:18-19

If anything, God cranked up the volume. They were so afraid that they didn’t want to hear Him anymore. And in another instance, God spoke through a donkey to Balaam.

22 But God was angry because he was going, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as an adversary against him. Now he was riding on his donkey and his two servants were with him. 

23 When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand, the donkey turned off from the way and went into the field; but Balaam struck the donkey to turn her back into the way. 

24 Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path of the vineyards,with a wall on this side and a wall on that side. 

25 When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she pressed herself to the wall and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall, so he struck her again. 

26 The angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a narrow place where there was no way to turn to the right hand or the left. 

27 When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam; so Balaam was angry and struck the donkey with his stick. 

28 And the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 

29 Then Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a mockery of me! If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now.” 

30 The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?” And he said, “No.”

31 Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed all the way to the ground. 

32 The angel of the LORD said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out as an adversary, because your way was contrary to me. 

33 “But the donkey saw me and turned aside from me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, I would surely have killed you just now, and let her live.”

Numbers 22:22-33

Using the same standards of interpretation, should we teach each other to listen to the roar of God? Should we teach them to listen to the cacophonous voice of God? Should we teach them to listen to the pained donkey voice of God? Of course not. I think most people would easily see how ridiculous that is. In the same way, taking a historical narrative like the passage in 1 Kings 19 is just as foolish. This brings me to the first of the two problems with the entire message of quieting yourself to hear God’s small voice. No where, in Scripture, is the church told to listen for God’s voice. Rather, we are told this:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 

in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.

Hebrews 1:1-2

God has spoken finally in Christ to US. He once spoke through the prophets, but those prophets all foretold Jesus, the final prophet. It was then those followers of Christ, who were taught by Him, who sought to write down those things they were taught. And we carry those teachings with us today in the Bible. God has not promised to speak to us in any other way. He hasn’t promised to speak in impressions, burps, hiccups, or anything like that.

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 

17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

Simply put, if you want to hear God’s voice, read the Bible. Don’t sit in silence trying to discern which thoughts are your own and which thoughts are God’s voice. Paul tells Timothy that the Scriptures are “inspired by God.” In Greek, the term is literally “God-breathed.” That is why orthodoxy has historically maintained that the Scriptures alone are sufficient for instructing Christians. Let us be diligent in studying and rightly dividing these Scriptures (2 Timothy 2:15). If you are interested in viewing Rick Warren’s full teaching on this subject, here’s this video:

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