In our Reading we meet Obadiah, the household manager for King Ahab. Now Ahab was exceedingly wicked, but Obadiah feared the Lord and acted secretly to protect the prophets of the true God.
Obadiah is a secretive believer. We are not sure how he got into this precarious position of serving a king who did so much evil in God’s sight. Regardless, it put Obadiah in a dangerous spot. If Ahab’s wife Jezebel found out that Obadiah was faithful to the Lord and had hidden the prophets she was trying to put to death, then she would most certainly put him to death.
So Obadiah was hiding his faith. Was that a bad thing? It is hard to judge accurately since there is much that we do not know. Sometimes, a believer must keep his faith secret and that is no sin. But other times, a public confession is necessary, and he would sin by not revealing his faith.
Let us presume that Obadiah had good reason to remain secretive about his faithfulness to the Lord. We can reasonably assume that if he was killed, those one hundred prophets would be stuck without food, water, or other support. That seems like a pretty good reason to remain secretive.
When we are stuck in a difficult situation in which we are not sure whether it is time to remain silent or to confess Christ openly, then we must examine the Word of God and our conscience most carefully. Simply losing our life is not enough reason to keep our confession secret. But in the end, we must act on Scripture and conscience as best we can, and then confess that we are sinners who likely have made mistakes even while we do our best.
As Obadiah approaches Elijah, we see some behaviors in Obadiah that seem questionable, at the very least.
When Elijah tells Obadiah to tell Ahab where Elijah is, Obadiah immediately answers, “How have I sinned, that you would give your servant into the hand of Ahab, to kill me?” This is a frantic and immediate response that may point to the fearfulness of Obadiah. He seems so scared of death that he sees the possibility even in reporting the location of Elijah. Possibly because he fears that Ahab will suspect that Obadiah knew all along. Perhaps Ahab would suspect that there was some connection between Elijah and Obadiah. For whatever reason, he fears reporting the message to Ahab.
Perhaps the reason is the same as what he later says: “As soon as I have gone from you, the Spirit of Yahweh will carry you I know not where. And so, when I come and tell Ahab and he cannot find you, he will kill me.” Now this is not impossible. The Spirit sometimes did move people about from place to place, as for example Philip in the book of Acts. Perhaps this had happened to Elijah before, but we do not know this, and there is no report of it. More likely, therefore, Obadiah was scared of any possibility of suspicion falling on him that could lead to death.
Fear can be controlling. Fear can make you do all kinds of irrational things. Specifically, fear of death may make a believer shut his mouth and refuse to confess the truth of God, even if they have been otherwise faithful their entire life.
Obadiah is not exactly denying God. But he is protesting, frantically I would say, that he will die if he obeys the command of the prophet of God.
Elijah’s response to Obadiah’s fears is to say, “As Yahweh Sabaoth lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today.” To stand before the Lord is to serve Him, particularly as a prophet who hears the Word from God and then passes it on to the hearers. In his role as a prophet who speaks the Word, Elijah was to be respected and obeyed. To respect and obey him was to respect and obey God because God’s Word was on Elijah’s lips.
But Obadiah saw his faithfulness in hiding prophets and hiding himself, and he saw Elijah’s command as being in conflict with his hiding. Whether hiding at all was the right thing to do or not, he was at least placing himself in a dangerous position by resisting the Word of God.
Elijah seems to highlight the tension Obadiah is under at the beginning of their conversation. When Obadiah says, “Is it you, my lord Elijah?” then Elijah answers, “It is I. Go tell your lord, ‘Behold, Elijah is here.’” Since Elijah calls Ahab Obadiah’s lord, then he seems to be saying, “You call me lord out of respect for a prophet of God. Yet the lord you serve every day is a wicked king who rejects the true God. Who is your lord, really?”
Obadiah is conflicted, and out of that conflict comes fear.
Like Obadiah, we should be clear who our Lord is. Christians should respect their preacher, but only because he purely proclaims the Word of God, in which we hear God speak to us. In other words, the Lord of hosts is the true Lord of lords. Our priorities and convictions should be clear, not conflicted.
But often our convictions become muddied by conflicting influences and loyalties. I have my friends and family. I have my feelings. I have possible consequences if I act and speak in accord with God’s Word. So my conscience may become clouded by competing forces that want to control my actions.
If we truly fear the Lord above all things, then we should obey Him. Period.
To his credit, Obadiah obeyed eventually. He overcame his fears and did as Elijah commanded.
May we do the same.
Then we come to Ahab. What a piece of work! His greeting for Elijah is not, “Is it you, my lord Elijah?” Instead he says, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” Ahab sees Elijah as the source of Israel’s problems. About three years ago, Elijah had announced to Ahab that there would be neither rain nor dew until he said so. And it was so.
Now to the coarse, external mind, Elijah indeed appears to be a troubler of Israel. The drought caused incredible problems, famine and many deaths, as well as fear and despair. Wasn’t Elijah the source of all these serious problems?
But Elijah does not put up with Ahab’s stupid accusation. He turns it back on the king. “I have not troubled Israel. You have because you have abandoned the Lord’s commandments and worshiped Baal. You are the source of the trouble. Your disobedience and your leading others into disobedience, as well as allowing your wife Jezebel to lead you into greater and greater iniquity, is why Israel is suffering.”
Even if there had not been an obvious punishment from God like the drought, still the people would be suffering under Ahab. His leadership of the people into damnable beliefs and practices was destroying lives for eternity. That is a trouble far greater than an earthly drought.
Pastors may get this sort of thing, and other believers as well. We get accused of causing trouble if we insist on pure doctrine. We get accused of being divisive if we follow the Biblical practice of closed Communion. We get accused of being unloving if we warn people of the severity of God’s commandments. We get accused of being rabble rousers if we do not treat every denomination as if all were equally valid in God’s sight, when not all follow the Word of God equally.
If you family rejects you because you hold to the Word of God, they may blame you for the tension and division that you caused. But you could say with Elijah, “I did not cause the division, but you did, by not listening to the Word of God.”
But this is hard, because we love our families. We do not want tension. We want all things to be simply loving and easy. Yet that is not what this life is like.
The cause of all trouble is satan, who loves to fan the flames of every disobedient thought and action. The devil led Ahab on the sinful path of his fathers, and even caused Ahab to excel more than any of them in transgressions against God.
If we have been stuck on a path of sin set by our fathers, God give us the grace to break free of that path. If we have received a faithful heritage, we pray that He grant us to remain faithful instead of wandering away at satan’s urging.
What is at stake is life everlasting. While Ahab’s false gods led to everlasting torment, the true God leads to heaven and resurrection to life. This is not because our faith is so virtuous that God rewards us for it. No, it is because Christ Jesus is the Lord Yawheh Sabaoth who took human flesh to save us. This is the Lord that Elijah worshiped, whose name means, “My God is Yahweh.” Our God is Yahweh who saves us.
Christ was accused as a troubler of the Jewish nation, a rabble rouser and an insurrectionist. He could have answered them with fire, as the Lord did at Mount Carmel shortly after our Reading. But no. The Lord, although He rebuked them from time to time, in the end meekly submitted to the punishment that their judgments led Him to, even though the accusations were lies.
He could have hidden Himself. As the hundred prophets were hidden by God’s protective service through the person of Obadiah, so Christ could have been hidden by angels, or whisked away by His disciples, or even hidden Himself by His mighty power. But no, He let Himself be caught by wicked rulers and put to death.
Why? He was faithful in all ways since childhood. He did not deserve death. Yet He accepted it for you. He did not come to call fire upon the earth, but instead became the sacrifice upon whom the fire of God’s judgment fell, so that it would not fall upon us.
Therefore what should we fear? The Lord is risen, never to die again. For He is the Lord, our God, whom the grave cannot contain. Therefore the grave will not contain us either, as the Lord will call for us on the Last Day.
So abandon all fears. Your sinful flesh will still try to hold onto them, but scold your flesh. “How dare you be frightened, flesh! My Lord lives on high, and that is my place as well. My future is the new earth where no drought and no fire and no death will ever happen again. I am safe in Christ forever.” Amen.
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