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Obadiah - did and do

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Obadiah and Elijah: Did and Do!

13 Haven’t you heard, my lord, what I did while Jezebel was killing the prophets of the Lord? I hid a hundred of the Lord’s prophets in two caves, fifty in each, and supplied them with food and water. 14 And now you tell me to go to my master and say, ‘Elijah is here.’ He will kill me!”

                                                                                1 Kings 17 13 and 14

There are a number of ways[1] of approaching this little interlude before the great events on Mount Carmel – and they tend to focus on the different ways that Obadiah is regarded.  

The narrator could have missed out the reference to Obadiah altogether and we wouldn’t even have noticed it.  We could read from verse 2a to verse 17.  We would surely get to the big action shot on the mountain more quickly – yet the biblical historian has seen fit to include the paragraph about an otherwise unknown servant of God.   (Notice that this Obadiah is not the one who wrote a book.)

But we are told about Obadiah – because in God’s scheme of things there is a place for the ELIJAH and the OBADIAH: the man of action, and the man of compromise.

Elijah was a man who appeared from nowhere and just as soon diappeared. Obadiah was always there – working away in the court of wicked king Ahab. 

Sometimes God needs someone for a BIG MOMENT – just like Mount Carmel – and sometimes He needs someone to work away quietly behind the scenes.

It is worth remembering that Elijah was taught a very similar lesson to Obadiah in the story of the following chapter where a cowering Elijah is listening to the words of God on the sacred mountain:

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.”        19 vv 13-18

You see – it wasn’t only Obadiah that had to be told in the face of great personal danger to do as he had been told. 

Yes, these are two very different men of God.  One comes onto the scene of history in a dramatic way – living a life that is largely apart; the other has a life of duty to a Godless king in times of apostasy and danger.   One leaves behind a long record of great deeds done for the Lord – the other is consigned a footnote to the Biblical record – but both are men of God who learn a similar lesson: that God is in control and has followers who are also faithful, even if altogether unknown.

We may not aspire to the Carmel heights of triumph that Elijah experienced – but we are all encouraged to take up the opportunity of the moment and transform it into an act of singular obedience and devotion.

We examine Obadiah in particular in these ways:

1.     The background to his devotion         v12b  and vv 3 + 4

2.     The tests of his devotion                    v5 and v8

3.     The limits of his devotion                   v3a  v9  v12a and v 13

The background to his devotion     12b vv 3 and 4

12 I don’t know where the Spirit of the Lord may carry you when I leave you. If I go and tell Ahab and he doesn’t find you, he will kill me. Yet I your servant have worshipped the Lord since my youth. 

(Obadiah was a devout believer in the Lord. 4 While Jezebel was killing off the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water.)

When Obadiah is told by Elijah to tell Ahab – he responds by reminding the prophet of his devotion to the Lord.

This is borne out by the historian’s testimony that he was a “devout believer in the Lord”

Obadiah can testify to a life of devotion to God

His was a faith of lifelong standing

It had endured the difficulties of service at the court of Ahab and the consequences of the drought.

His was a position of prominence and service:

Obadiah, who was in charge of his palace.

The testimony of Obadiah is reflected in a lifelong devotion, a recognised and trusted character and a faithful servant of a godless King.

Who can tell what godly influences had first had their effect in his life?  What we do know is that he was consistent and steady under difficulty.

Unlike Elijah – his was a life exposed in close proximity to the royal court – whereas Elijah had this habit of coming and going!

The tests of his devotion    v4 & v13  v5  and v8

The most striking test was witnessed by the historian and by Obadiah’s own testimony:

 (Obadiah was a devout believer in the Lord. 4 While Jezebel was killing off the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water.)

13 Haven’t you heard, my lord, what I did while Jezebel was killing the prophets of the Lord? I hid a hundred of the Lord’s prophets in two caves, fifty in each, and supplied them with food and water.

This is a remarkable achievement – Obadiah had already demonstrated – and undoubtedly continued to do so throughout the drought – his care for the prophets of the Lord.

He was not just a private believer in those apostate days – but one who would take risks to demonstrate his faith. Not a Carmel type demonstration indeed – but a secret and sustained devotion.

He took risks for his faith

He CARED for the Lord’s people

This faith was FURTHER TESTED by the everyday demands of Ahab:

5 Ahab had said to Obadiah, “Go through the land to all the springs and valleys. Maybe we can find some grass to keep the horses and mules alive so we will not have to kill any of our animals.” 

And finally HE FACES THE IMMEDIATE TEST by the command of Elijah:

8 “Yes,” he replied. “Go tell your master, ‘Elijah is here.’ ”

It was that test that almost resulted in failure.

Obadiah had a dangerous but SETTLED MINISTRY – and Elijah’s challenge tests his devotion in  an altogether new way.

It was this challenge that, more than anything else, revealed the:

 

The Limits of his devotion  v3a  v9  v12a and v 13

3 and Ahab had summoned Obadiah, who was in charge of his palace.

9 “What have I done wrong,” asked Obadiah, “that you are handing your servant over to Ahab to be put to death? 

12 I don’t know where the Spirit of the Lord may carry you when I leave you. If I go and tell Ahab and he doesn’t find you, he will kill me.

13 Haven’t you heard, my lord, what I did while Jezebel was killing the prophets of the Lord? I hid a hundred of the Lord’s prophets in two caves, fifty in each, and supplied them with food and water. 14 And now you tell me to go to my master and say, ‘Elijah is here.’ He will kill me!”

1.                Obadiah’s devotion was limited by the responsibilities of his job

2.                Obadiah’s devotion is limited by his misunderstanding of Elijah’s command

3.                Obadiah’s devotion is limited by his sense of what he had done

Obadiah’s circumstances may not be as dramatic as Elijah’s – but they are such as limits what Obadiah can do.

“he was in charge of Ahab’s palace”

Not very many can have the unique position of an Elijah – where the lines of demarcation are clearly drawn – and Ahab concludes “he is his enemy” – most of us have to work against a background of misunderstanding and doubt and sometimes downright opposition.

We need to weigh up the limiting factors in our employment, or situation. We have to respond accordingly.

Secondly, he didn’t have a great deal of confidence in Elijah’s words. 

12 I don’t know where the Spirit of the Lord may carry you when I leave you. If I go and tell Ahab and he doesn’t find you, he will kill me.

He knows that Elijah is subject to the guidance, indeed direct intervention of God’s Spirit – and so he doubts that Elijah will be there when Ahab is brought back.

That is a by-product of a life lived in constant touch with the enemies of the Lord, or a life lived in service of a godless king.    Obadiah knows the Sprit is at work – but he doesn’t understand that that Spirit may be counted on to be faithful in these very difficult circumstances.

We too are influenced by the world in which we live

Obadiah – quite naturally – fears for his own life – for what Elijah is asking touches his basic security in a unique way.

Thirdly, Obadiah tends to dwell on what he HAS achieved – rather than what he may still achieve.

I have a good deal of sympathy for the man!

13 Haven’t you heard, my lord, what I did while Jezebel was killing the prophets of the Lord? I hid a hundred of the Lord’s prophets in two caves, fifty in each, and supplied them with food and water. 14 And now you tell me to go to my master and say, ‘Elijah is here.’ He will kill me!”

The key words in this passage are:

“what I DID

And  “NOW you tell me to go”   

That is a salutary lesson in attitudes

So often we live in the past. We celebrate the victories that were – but we jib at the challenges of now.

This was uniquely the problem that Obadiah had.

When Elijah challenged him to apply his faith to the here and now – he looked over his shoulder at what once was – and remained reluctant to move on in a present faith, a present devotion, a present obedience.

ELIJAH offers him not only a challenge but a promise:

15 Elijah said, “As the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, I will surely present myself to Ahab today.” 

And, of course, he delivers on that promise.

To his credit, Obadiah obeys and Ahab is confronted with his “enemy” and the stage is set for the magnificent triumph of Carmel.


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[1] http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=760

http://www.sbcrc.org/sermons/2000.07.09.html

http://www.ransomfellowship.org/Article_Work.html

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