Elijah had spent three years quietly in Zarephath. He had seen God’s daily provision in that ‘the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail’, 1 Kgs. 17. 16, and God’s response to his cry in the restoration of the life of the widow’s son, vv. 17-24. Beyond this, there does not seem to have been any major interlude to the mundane daily round of life. The servant of God should always be ready to respond to the call of God, however, and as soon as ‘the word of the Lord came to Elijah’, ‘Elijah went’, v. 2. May we never become comfortable or complacent, but always have the attitude of our Lord as described by Isaiah, ‘The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back’, 50. 5.
Verse 1 describes a remarkable display of the grace of God. There has been no hint of repentance from Ahab and yet God moves out to bring an end to the judgement Israel was under. It is a reminder that this is the way grace works and, by definition, none of us merit it. Although Elijah was stern and blunt with Ahab when he met him, there was no hesitation to move out to fulfil this mission to such a hard-hearted sinner. Are we ever tempted to get angry or frustrated with those who do not respond to the gospel? We need to remember that we are going to a people whose mind ‘the god of this world hath blinded’, 2 Cor. 4. 4, and that we were once in that position, so patience and perseverance are required. But for ‘sovereign grace o’er sin abounding’1 we too would still be in darkness.
This pattern of God’s dealings with Elijah continues. Previously, in chapter 17 verse 1, Elijah spoke on the basis of the word of God. In chapter 17 verses 2 to 4 and then 8 and 9, God then gave further instructions, followed by a promise of what would happen upon obedience. Now, the instruction, ‘Go, shew thyself unto Ahab’, is followed by the promise, ‘I will send rain upon the earth’. What a lovely and consistent display of the life of faith, ever moving upon the word of God towards the enjoyment of the promises of God.
The condition of the country was desperate, ‘there was a sore famine in Samaria’, v. 2. How sad to see the attitude of the king of that land in his instruction to his steward, ‘Go into the land … peradventure we may find grass to save the horses and mules alive, that we lose not all the beasts’, v. 5. Psalm 78 verse 71 says concerning the king of Israel, ‘[God] brought him to feed Jacob his people’. David was taken from following the sheep so that he might care for the people. Ahab is more concerned about his livestock than the people he is supposed to care for. If God has called us to care for His people, may this be our priority rather than material or positional gain, 1 Pet. 5. 1-4; cp. Ezek. 34.
The extremity of circumstance had created a sense of need with Ahab but his priorities were wrong and he sought to meet that need by his own wisdom and activity. Far better the response of the psalmist, ‘In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God’, 18. 6. We may rightly criticize Ahab, but which attitude characterizes me when the ‘sore famine’ comes?
In contrast, Obadiah - meaning ‘servant of Jehovah’ - has a warm commendation from the Spirit of God. Would that over our lives could be written that we ‘feared the Lord greatly’, v. 3. Whatever failures may be noted of him in the rest of the passage, God first records the deep reverence that Obadiah had for Him. God takes note of the degree of things, e.g., Rom. 16. 12, and Obadiah’s reverence was great.
It was an attitude that led to action. Hiding the threatened prophets was a courageous act, but for one in Obadiah’s position to feed them with bread and water meant risking his life over a sustained period. The writer to the Hebrews exhorted his readers to keep serving despite the hostility around them, because they had received ‘a kingdom which cannot be moved’, 12. 28. What was the attitude that was to characterize and sustain them? ‘Serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear’. As we remember that ‘our God is a consuming fire’, v. 29, all others will be reduced in their ability to intimidate or silence.
Should Obadiah have remained at the palace? Should believers serve in high places within ungodly governments? I suggest that each must be before God in his own conscience. We cannot deny that God used Obadiah in this position, as He has others through the years. However, those whom God calls must remember that they must fear God greatly in order to serve Him acceptably. For those who are not, we must pray that our fellow believers are sustained so that they are not just faithful for a little while, but continually.
Obadiah ‘was in the way’, v. 7, the way that Ahab had appointed for him, v. 6. How much better to be like the servant of Abraham who could say, ‘I being in the way, the Lord led me’, Gen. 24. 27. There, the servant had committed his way to the Lord, and the Lord had directed his path, Prov. 3. 6. In this passage we see, again, the sovereignty of God as He breaks into the path of His servant, who is occupied in the sad affairs of his earthly master, to entrust him with a message of good tidings.
That Obadiah is trustworthy is noted through this passage:
As Obadiah met Elijah, there was an immediate recognition of him personally, but also of the authority he had as the servant of God, ‘he knew him, and fell on his face, and said, Art thou that my lord Elijah?’ v. 7. Although ‘the governor of his [Ahab’s] house’, v. 3, he had no problem in acknowledging the place that Elijah, a man from the village of Tishbe, should have. In spiritual things, earthly standing is no substitute for standing before the Lord of hosts, v. 15; 17. 1.
Obadiah did have some objections to the request that God made through Elijah. How many do we recognize in ourselves?
Ahab met Elijah with the age-old trick of seeking to pass the blame. Despite the three-and-a-half years of drought, his heart was hard and unwilling to confess his sin. Elijah, directly but respectfully, simply and sternly, states that Ahab and his father’s house are the ones guilty of troubling (disturbing/afflicting) Israel. There are two brief lessons:
The prophet who stood before his God was bold in his stand against the wicked king. ‘In the enervating atmosphere of a palace, it is granted to very few to retain the spirit and power of Elijah or of the Baptist’. However, wherever God has placed us, ‘Let us dare to stand for God, though we stand alone!’2
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