Elijah and Obadiah.

1 Kings 18:1-16.

Christian Friend vol. 19, 1892, p. 255.

It is necessary once again to turn to the epistle of James in order to understand the significance of the command which Elijah here received. In a former paper we saw that the rain had been withholden in answer to the prophet's prayer; and we now learn that he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit. "A man subject to like passions as we are," he yet had such power with God that both judgment and blessing were sent in response to his cry. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much"; but this can only be the outcome and result of long previous exercises of soul, of much secret communion, and of a close walk with God. All are not called to be Elijahs, but all may seek grace to become diligent in prayer and intercession.

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Nearly three years had elapsed since Elijah had announced to Ahab the coming drought; and at the same time he had told the king that there should be neither dew nor rain "but according to my word." This explains the command in verse 1 of our chapter, "Go, shew thyself unto Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth." No loophole should be left for the apostate king to escape from the conclusion that the God who had inflicted the chastisement upon him and his people, was He who at length intervened for their succour. Elijah therefore must first see Ahab; and God in this way would uphold His servant and vindicate His word. Whenever, indeed, God entrusts a message to His servants, He so fully identifies Himself with them that, as the Lord Jesus said, "He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth Me; and he that receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent Me." (John 13:20.) John could thus, as His servant, say, "We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us." (1 John 4:6.)

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An unfailing mark of a true servant is unquestioning obedience. Elijah had, at the word of the Lord, sojourned by the brook Cherith, and then at Zarephath; and now, acting under the same authority, he comes out of his solitude to "shew himself" to the guilty monarch of Israel. This explained to us, a parenthesis, extending from the middle of verse 2 to the end of verse 6, interrupts the narrative; and the object of the parenthetical passage is the introduction to our notice of Obadiah and of his position. The curtain is, so to speak, lifted to show us, first., the sufferings of Samaria through the famine, and, then, the measures taken by Ahab to save, if possible, some of his cattle. But it is to Obadiah that our attention is mainly directed, in order to impress upon us some solemn lessons.

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The first thing mentioned is that Obadiah was the governor of Ahab's house; and then, in a parenthesis within the parenthesis, the Spirit of God turns aside to describe Obadiah and the service he had rendered to a hundred of the Lord's prophets in the moment of their peril, when Jezebel, in her idolatrous zeal, sought their destruction. Wherefore is this account given? Evidently that we might know that he was really a servant of Jehovah - one, as his very name signifies, who worshipped the Lord. It is true that he himself tells the fact to Elijah, and also speaks of his meritorious service to the prophets; but had we not divine and authentic testimony borne to him, we might have thought that it was impossible for one who "feared the Lord greatly" to occupy such a post in the house of the apostate and idolatrous monarch. We might have concluded that he was only a professor; and in truth it is a bad sign when we have to appeal to the past to prove what we are, and when we have to seek to convince others that we are believers. Alas! Obadiah is a type of that large class who, while truly Christians, are yet found in positions of ease and influence in the world, a type of those who delude themselves with the thought that they can use their position to favour the people of God. They, like Obadiah, have not yet learned that there can be no communion between light and darkness, and no concord between Christ and Belial. (2 Cor. 6:14-18.)

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It was while searching for grass, in obedience to Ahab's command, in order to preserve the horses and mules, that Elijah met him. (v. 7.) Obadiah knew the prophet, and, as if troubled at the encounter, fell on his face, and said, "Art thou that my lord Elijah?" He exhibited no signs of gladness in seeing Jehovah's faithful messenger, one who also feared the Lord greatly, and proved it in holy obedience. Fear rather seems to have possessed his soul, as if he anticipated warning or rebuke. Elijah, moreover, did not betray any pleasure in meeting one who had not bowed his knees to Baal. Was this because the associations of Obadiah, and his lack of separation, had destroyed his testimony? Be this as it may, there was certainly no warmth in Elijah's greeting, but rather coldness and reserve; for he contented himself with answering Obadiah's question in the affirmative, and with commanding him to go and tell his lord that he, the prophet, had come. The command was couched in words given him by the Spirit of God, and hence it was designedly that he said of Ahab to Obadiah, "thy lord." What severer rebuke could have been administered? For what had one who feared the Lord from his youth (v. 12), to do in the house of a king who had become an apostate and an open enemy of Jehovah? The incongruity is at once perceived when it is remembered that, while Jehovah's prophet was proscribed and sought after with unconcealed and determined enmity (v. 10), Obadiah enjoyed the confidence and the favour of the persecutor.

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Obadiah's reply (vv. 9-14) reveals to us his state of soul. Having through his inconsistency of walk lost confidence in God, and obtained, at the same time, a bad conscience, he is filled with abject fear - with the fear of the consequences of delivering Elijah's simple message. Three times over he expresses his apprehension that Ahab would surely slay him. He therefore. pleaded with Elijah to excuse him from so perilous a mission; and he adduces a threefold argument in support of his plea. First, however, he enquires wherein he has sinned that Elijah should thus seek to deliver him into the hands of Ahab to be slain. A strange question surely as coining from the governor of the king's house. Did it spring from his fear of being now publicly identified with Elijah as Jehovah's prophet?

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Obadiah then proceeded with his reasons. The first was his master's known hostility to Elijah, and he reveals the fact, in connection with it, that for a loll,, time past Ahab had been seeking the prophet, even sending messengers to all the surrounding kingdoms and nations to discover where he was concealed. Ahab's object, as Obadiah well knew, was to put the faithful messenger of Jehovah to death, to rid himself of this true and incorruptible witness; and knowing nothing now of the secret of Elijah's strength, Obadiah was afraid for himself, and marvelled at the prophet's temerity. Then, secondly, he was apprehensive lest he should seem to be a liar to Ahab, as he would if the Spirit of God rapt away the prophet while he was doing his errand to the king and then, when "he cannot find thee, he shall slay me." Lastly, Obadiah reminds Elijah that he also is a servant of Jehovah, and he recounts his good deeds in the past as a reason why his life should not be endangered. "And now," he said to the prophet, notwithstanding all this, "thou sayest, Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here: and he shall slay me."

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It is very humbling to read all this eloquence, the object of which was only to secure himself from danger, and to prove that he must not be judged of by his circumstances. He seems to admit that present appearances were against him, but there was a deed in the past that would incontestably testify to his character. In other words self, and self alone, was the burden of his speech. Of zeal for the Lord God of Israel in a day of ruin and apostasy there was none; nor was there even a trace of confidence in the protection of Him whom he professed to serve. That he feared Jehovah, we know on the authority of the Holy Ghost; but he seems to have feared Ahab even more. The secret of it all lay in the fact that he was in a false position, and consequently had a divided heart; and nothing so completely enervates the soul as the endeavour to reconcile the service of God with the service of the world. Altogether it is a sad and pitiable spectacle, and one which contains a solemn warning against the attempt to subordinate the claims of God to those of man. How often is it forgotten that we cannot serve God and mammon!

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Elijah did not reply to the arguments of poor, trembling Obadiah; but in so far pacified his fears by the assurance that, "As the Lord of hosts liveth, before whom I stand, I will surely show my self unto him [Ahab] today." (v. 15.) These were solemn words, and meant to be solemn for the conscience of Obadiah. Before whom did he stand? Before Ahab, as every word he had uttered abundantly testified; but to Elijah, who stood before Jehovah, Ahab was nothing but the enemy of God. What a contrast is thus presented between these two servants of Jehovah! And what a condemnation upon Obadiah's whole position do Elijah's words imply! Whether Obadiah felt this we are not told; but he was silenced, and went and told Ahab the message of the prophet. The lesson of the narrative is surely that which is rehearsed by Paul, and to which allusion has been made, "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty" (2 Cor. 6:17, 18); or again, that enunciated by our Lord, "He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad." (Matt. 12:30.) For when it becomes a question between God and Satan, even neutrality is unfaithfulness, and to be identified in any way, as Obadiah was, with the followers of Satan, is to take the ground of open hostility to God.