In this story, the high point of Elijah’s career had just passed by. The previous chapter (1 Kings 18) recounts his face-off against the prophets of Baal, where he proved to all Israel that Yahweh is the one true God. Despite this, the followers of Baal continued to persecute him, and Elijah complains that he is the only follower of the true God left (a claim which God corrects by saying in 1 Kings 19:18 that there are seven thousand prophets who have not bowed the knee to Baal).
In order to reassure Elijah that he is in safe hands, God makes a demonstration of His power through an earthquake, wind and fire. These three elements were traditional elements of theophanies in the Ancient Near East. God frequently makes use of them to announce His presence. For example, in the song of Deborah, it states:
Lord, when you went out from Seir,
when you marched from the region of Edom,
the earth trembled
and the heavens dropped,
yes, the clouds dropped water.
The mountains quaked before the Lord,
even Sinai before the Lord, the God of Israel. (Judges 5:4-5)
Likewise, David declares in the Psalms:
O God, when you went out before your people,
when you marched through the wilderness, Selah
the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain,
before God, the One of Sinai,
before God, the God of Israel. (Psalm 68:7-8)
Despite these demonstrations of power, however, the passage states that God is not in these things, but rather in the still small voice that whispers to Elijah. This shows that with His children, He deals with them in mercy and gentleness. The demonstrations of power are there to show that God is in control no matter what happens, and will prevail over the machinations of the rulers of the world. This is as true now as it was then, and should serve as our assurance and comfort in times of trial.
J. Luis Dizon