The not-so-small-voice

Jeffery J. Niehaus writes in Basics of Biblical Hebrew: Grammar (by Gary D. Pratico and Miles V. Van Pelt):

Whenever Yahweh appears in storm theophany in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word [qol] is properly and logically translated “thunder,” “thunderous voice,” or the like. The translation in 1 Kgs 19:12 should be the same. The storm theophany genre leads us to expect it, and a study by J. Lust vindicates this expectation. Lust has shown that the key terms of the phrase… translated “still small voice”… carry a very different meaning from that to which we are accustomed. [J. Lust, “A Gentle Breeze or a Roaring, Thunderous Sound?” Vetus Testamentum 25 (1975) 110-115.] The Hebrew [qol], of course, can mean “voice,” “sound,” “thunder,” “thunderous voice,” etc., depending on context. The theophanic context here would lead us to choose “thunderous voice.” But what about the other terms? Lust has argued that [dmmh] comes from the root [dmh] (to roar). Likewise, [dqh] comes from [dqq] (to crush, grind small). Traditionally, the adjective [dqh] was interpreted figuratively, i.e., “made small, gentle.” Lust, however, suggests the sense, “crushing.” So, instead of a “still, small voice,” Elijah hears a “roaring, crushing sound.” Or, I would suggest, a “roaring, crushing, thunderous voice.”

Here is a case in which either translation is possible. But genre considerations make the new translation preferable. If it is to be adopted, the quality of Yahweh’s voice makes perfect sense. His voice always sounds thunderous in storm theophany. But his voice is not merely thunder. God speaks words. And this one fact distinguishes him from Baal in a passage that is partly anti-Baal polemic. We read that Elijah encountered wind, earthquake and fire, but that Yahweh was not in any of these. We would translate, “not yet.” The Lord is not yet in any of these cosmic phenomena because they only precede and announce his coming, just as they did at Mt. Sinai (Ex 19:16-19). On the other hand, such phenomena are all that a Baal worshipper might ever expect of Baal, because Baal was himself the storm! What a difference: between worshipping the storm and the Maker of the storm – between worshipping the creature and the Creator! [412-413]