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Town and Country Sermons, 9 - OBADIAH

By Charles Kingsley

      1 Kings, xviii. 3, 4. And Ahab called Obadiah, which was the governor of his house. (Now Obadiah feared the Lord greatly: for it was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord, that Obadiah took an hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water.)

      This is the first and last time throughout the Bible, that we find this Obadiah mentioned. We find the same name elsewhere, but not the same person. It is a common Jewish name, Obadiah, and means, I believe, the servant of the Lord.

      All we know of the man is contained in this chapter. We do not read what became of him afterwards. He vanishes out of the story as quickly as he came into it, and, as we go on through the chapter and read of that grand judgment at Carmel between Elijah and the priests of Baal, and the fire of God which came down from heaven, to shew that the Lord was God, we forget Obadiah, and care to hear of him no more.

      And yet Obadiah was a great man in his day. He was, it seems, King Ahab's vizier, or prime minister; the second man in the country after the king; and a prime minister in those eastern kingdoms had, and has now, far greater power than he has in a free country like this. Yes, Obadiah was a great man in his day, I doubt not; and people bowed before him when he went out, and looked up to him, in that lawless country, for life or death, for ruin or prosperity. Their money, and their land, their very lives might depend on his taking a liking toward them, or a spite against them. And he had wealth, no doubt, and his fair and great house there among the beautiful hills of Samaria, ceiled with cedar and painted with vermilion, with its olive groves and vineyards, and rich gardens full of gay flowers and sweet spices, figs and peaches, and pomegranates, and all the lovely vegetation which makes those Eastern gardens like Paradise itself. And he had his great household of slaves, men-servants and maidservants, guards and footmen, singing men and singing women--perhaps a hundred souls and more eating and drinking in his house day by day for many a year. A great man; full of wealth, and pomp, and power. We know that it must have been so, because we know well in what luxury those great men in the East lived. But where is it now?

      Where is it now? Vanished and forgotten. Be not thou afraid, though one be made rich, or if the glory of his house be increased. For he shall carry nothing away with him when he dieth; neither shall his pomp follow him.

      See--of all Obadiah's wealth and glory, the Bible does not say one word. It is actually not worth mentioning. People admired Obadiah, I doubt not, while he was alive; envied him too, tried to thrust him out of his place, slander him to King Ahab, drive him out of favour, and step into his place, that they might enjoy his wealth and his power instead of him. The fine outside of Obadiah was what they saw, and coveted, and envied--as we are tempted now to say in our hearts, 'Ah, if I was rich like that man. Ah, if I could buy what I liked, go where I liked, do what I liked, like that great Lord!'-- and yet, that is but the outside, the shell, the gay clothing, not the persons themselves. The day must come, when they must put off all that; when nothing shall remain but themselves; and they themselves, naked as they were born, shall appear before the judgment-seat of God.

      And did Obadiah, then, carry away nothing with him when he died? Yes; and yet again, No. His wealth and his power he left behind him: but one thing he took with him into the grave, better than all wealth and power; and he keeps it now, and will keep it for ever; and that is, a good, and just, and merciful action--concerning which it is written, 'Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord; for they rest from their labours, and their works do follow them.' Yes, though a man's wealth will not follow him beyond the grave, his works will; and so Obadiah's one good deed has followed him. 'He feared the Lord greatly, and when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah took a hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water.'

      That has followed Obadiah; for by it we know him, now two thousand years and more after his death, here in a distant land of the name of which he never heard. By that good deed he lives. He lives in the pages of the Holy Bible; he lives in our minds and memories; and more than all, by that good deed he lives for ever in God's sight; he is rewarded for it, and the happier for it, doubt it not, at this very moment, and will be the happier for it for ever.

      Oh blessed thought! that there is something of which death cannot rob us! That when we have to leave this pleasant world, wife and child, home and business, and all that has grown up round us here on earth, till it has become like a part of ourselves, yet still we are not destitute. We can turn round on death and say--'Though I die, yet canst thou not take my righteousness from me!' Blessed thought! that we cannot do a good deed, not even give a cup of cold water in Christ's name, but what it shall rise again, like a guardian angel, to smooth our death-bed pillow, and make our bed for us in our sickness, and follow us into the next world, to bless us for ever and ever!

      And blessed thought, too, that what you do well and lovingly, for God's sake, will bless you here in this world before you die! Yes, my friends, in the dark day of sorrow and loneliness, and fear and perplexity, you will find old good deeds, which you perhaps have forgotten, coming to look after you, as it were, and help you in the hour of need. Those whom you have helped, will help you in return: and if they will not, God will; for he is not unrighteous, to forget any work and labour of love, which you have showed for his name's sake, in ministering to his saints. So found Obadiah in that sad day, when he met Elijah.

      For he was in evil case that day, as were all souls, rich and poor, throughout that hapless land. For three weary years, there had been no drop of rain: the earth beneath their feet had been like iron, and the heavens above them brass; and Obadiah had found poverty, want, and misery, come on him in the midst of all his riches: he had seen his fair gardens wither, and his olives and his vines burnt up with drought;--his cattle had perished on the hills, and his servants, too, perhaps, in his house. Perhaps his children at home were even then crying for food and water, and crying in vain, in spite of all their father's greatness.

      What was the use of wealth? He could not eat gold, nor drink jewels. What was the use of his power? He could not command the smallest cloud to rise up off the sea, and pour down one drop of water to quench their thirst. Yes, Obadiah was in bitter misery that day, no doubt; and all the more, because he felt that all was God's judgment on the people's sins. They had served Baalim and Ashtaroth, the sun and moon and stars, and prayed to them for rain and fruitful seasons, as if they were the rulers of the weather and the soil, instead of serving the true God who made heaven and earth, and all therein: and now God had judged them: he had given his sentence and verdict about that matter, and told them, by a sign which could not be mistaken, that he, and not the sun and moon, was master of the sky and the sea, and the rain and the soil. They had prayed to the sun and moon; and this was the fruit of their prayers-- that their prayers had not been heard: but instead of rain and plenty, was drought and barrenness;--carcasses of cattle scattered over the pastures--every village full of living skeletons, too weak to work (though what use in working, when the ground would yield no crop?)--crawling about, their tongues cleaving to the roof of their mouths, in vain searching after a drop of water. Fearful and sickening sights must Obadiah have seen that day, as he rode wearily on upon his pitiful errand. And the thought of what a pitiful errand he was going on, and what a pitiful king he served, must have made him all the more miserable; for, instead of turning and repenting, and going back to the true God, which was the plain and the only way of escaping out of that misery, that wretched King Ahab seems to have cared for nothing but his horses.

      We do not read that he tried to save one of his wretched people alive. All his cry was, 'Go into the land, to all fountains of water and all brooks; perhaps we shall find grass enough to save the horses and mules alive: that we lose not all the beasts.' The horses were what he cared for more than the human beings, as many of those bad kings of Israel did. Moses had expressly commanded them not to multiply horses to themselves; but they persisted always in doing so, nevertheless. And why? Because they wanted horses to mount their guards; to keep up a strong force of cavalry and chariots, in order to oppress the poor country people, whom they had brought down to slavery, from having been free yeomen, as they were in the days of Moses and Joshua. And what hope could he have for his wretched country? The people shewed no signs of coming to their senses; the king still less. His wicked Queen Jezebel was as devoted as ever to her idols; the false prophets of Baal were four hundred and fifty men, and the prophets of the groves (where the stars were worshipped) four hundred; and these cheats contrived (as such false teachers generally do) to take good care of themselves, and to eat at Jezebel's table, while all the rest of the people were perishing. What could be before the country, and him, too, but utter starvation, and hopeless ruin? And all this while his life was in the hands of a weak and capricious tyrant, who might murder him any moment, and of a wicked and spiteful queen, who certainly would murder him, if she found out that he had helped and saved the prophets of the Lord. Who so miserable as he? But on that day, Obadiah found that his alms and prayers had gone up before God, and were safe with God, and not to be forgotten for ever. When he fell on his face before Elijah, in fear for his life, he found that he was safe in God's hands; that God would not betray him or forsake him. Elijah promised him, with a solemn oath, that he would keep his word with him; he kept it, and before many days were past, Obadiah had an answer to all his prayers, and a relief from all his fears; and the Lord sent a gracious rain on his inheritance, and refreshed it when it was weary. Yes, my friends, though well-doing seems for a while not to profit you, persevere: in due time you shall reap, if you faint not. Though the Lord sometimes waits to be gracious, he only waits, he does not forget; and it is to be gracious that he waits, not ungracious. Cast, therefore, thy bread upon the waters, and thou shall find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, and also to eight, for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth. Do thy diligence to give of what thou hast; for so gatherest thou thyself in the day of necessity, in which, with what measure you have measured to others, God will measure to you again.

      This is true, for the Scripture says so; this must be true, for reason and conscience--the voice of God within us--tell us that God is just; that God must be true, though every man be a liar. 'Hear,' says our Lord, 'what the unjust judge says: And shall not God (the just judge), avenge his own elect, who cry day and night to him, though he bear long with them?' Yes, my friends, God's promise stands sure, now and for ever. 'Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.'

      But now comes in a doubt--and it ought to come in--What are our works at best? What have we which is fit to offer to God? Full of selfishness, vanity, self-conceit, the best of them; and not half done either. What have we ever done right, but what we might have done more rightly, and done more of it, also? Bad in quality our good works are, and bad in quantity, too. How shall we have courage to carry them in our hand to that God who charges his very angels with folly; and the very heavens are not clean in his sight?

      Too true, if we had to offer our own works to God. But, thanks be to his holy name, we have not to offer them ourselves; for there is one who offers them for us--Jesus Christ the Lord. He it is who takes these imperfect, clumsy works of ours, all soiled and stained with our sin and selfishness, and washes them clean in his most precious blood, which was shed to take away the sin of the world: he it is who, in some wonderful and unspeakable way, cleanses our works from sin, by the merit of his death and sufferings, so that nothing may be left in them but what is the fruit of God's own spirit; and that God may see in them only the good which he himself put into them, and not the stains and soils which they get from our foolish and sinful hearts.

      Oh, my friends, bear this in mind. Whensoever you do a thing which you know to be right and good, instead of priding yourself on it, as if the good in it came from you, offer it up to the Lord Jesus Christ, and to your Heavenly Father, from whom all good things come, and say, 'Oh Lord, the good in this is thine, and not mine; the bad in it is mine, and not thine. I thank thee for having made me do right, for without thy help I should have done nothing but wrong; for mine is the laziness, and the weakness, and the selfishness, and the self-conceit; and thine is the kingdom, for thou rulest all things; and the power, for thou doest all things; and the glory, for thou doest all things well, for ever and ever. Amen.'

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