By J.R. Miller
1 Kings 18:5-16
There must have been a tender parting when the prophet ELIJAH went away from the widow's house. He had been there so long and his stay had been such a blessing to the little household, that his departure must have caused great sorrow. It is good for us to make ourselves so helpful and such a blessing, wherever we visit or tarry for a time, whether only for an hour, or a night, or for many days--that when we go away--we shall be missed and pleasantly remembered.
Not every one leaves fragrant memories, however, after such a stay; some fail to endear themselves to the household in which they are guests, and then their departure is a relief. It must have been a trial to the prophet, too, to go away from the quiet home where he had been so long, where he had been so kindly treated, especially since he was now to go into the presence of Ahab. However, he neither faltered nor hesitated in his obedience. Ease and comfort had no attraction to hold him back from duty. It required courage, too, to go and face the wicked king.
AHAB was a man of unscrupulous wickedness, and Jezebel, his wife, was one of the most dangerous women that ever lived. She had killed all the prophets of God she could lay her hands on. Elijah was especially obnoxious to the king and queen. They had been searching for him everywhere during the three and a half years of the famine, that they might destroy him. Yet there was no fear in the prophet. The divine commandments are always to be obeyed, and obeyed none the less promptly and cheerfully, when they take us out of the warmth--into the storm--than when they call us out of the storm--into the warmth.
OBADIAH, who appears in this part of the story, is an interesting character in his way. We are told that he "feared Jehovah greatly," and yet he was kept in a prominent position in the palace of Ahab. This certainly seems a strange place to find a godly man, a faithful servant of Jehovah. All were for Baal there. Baal's prophets swarmed about the royal residence. Jezebel was there--the wicked, vindictive, Jehovah-hating queen. Prophets of the Lord had been killed, every one who was opposed to Baal. Yet Obadiah was kept there. We are surprised that he was tolerated. Then we are surprised that he, being a godly man, stayed in such an ungodly place.
Probably it is a testimony to Obadiah's value and usefulness, that he was retained in the household of Ahab and Jezebel. We know that even wicked men, when they want trustworthy servants, prefer godly men. Obadiah may have been too valuable a person to be dispensed with, even though Ahab and Jezebel may have hated him. Yet ought Obadiah to have remained in that wicked court? The answer seems to be affirmative. That was the place where God wanted him to witness and shine as a light. Godly men are ofttimes needed in evil places. The godly are to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world. God needs them, too, as witnesses for Him.
The brief sketch of Obadiah given us here, suggests several lessons. One is that it is possible to live a true, godly life--even amid most ungodly influences and associations. We need only to make sure we are where God wants us to be. If so, and if only we are faithful, our religion will not be obscured or extinguished by any adverse influence. The stories of Joseph, Moses, and Daniel also illustrate this. Some men are even better in a hard environment, than in an easy one--just as some plants grow in the Arctic winter--that would die in an equatorial summer.
Obadiah seems to have been true to God--in a place where all was false. He maintained his faith and his worship. He was probably the only one there, who was not an idolator. We are told that he feared the Lord "greatly," which indicates a religion of a particularly positive and active kind. Yet we cannot help thinking that it must have been a secret faithfulness to God which he practiced. It is not likely that if he had been outspoken for Jehovah, he could have remained there.
Another suggestion from the story of Obadiah, is that God has different kinds of work--for different men. Elijah had his work--to flash like the lightning, to deliver his startling messages, and then vanish for years. The work of Obadiah was to witness for God, not in speech--but by a godly life in a corrupt court--and by his fidelity and courageous generosity to save alive a remnant of God's faithful ones. The only active service rendered by Obadiah to the cause of Jehovah, so far as we are told, was his saving a hundred prophets from the terrible persecution which Jezebel started. We may be sure that this was done secretly, for if Jezebel had known that a member of her own household was thus working against her, saving out of her hand a hundred of the men whom she wished to have destroyed, she would very soon have put an end to his life!
Still the service was a good one, however defective it may have been in its courage. It may have been that the divine providential reason why Obadiah was kept in the palace of Ahab, was that he might save these men. We may not know why God sometimes leaves us in an unpleasant place, where there is danger and where all is uncongenial and hard for us--but we may always be sure that He has some purpose in it--that we have an errand there for Him, that there is something, or there will be something, for us to do in that place.
We have a glimpse here of the great suffering which the famine brought upon the country. Famine is always terrible. In the three and a half years of this drought, there must have been very great suffering. Beasts as well as human beings were in distress. Ahab and Obadiah were both engaged in a search for grass to save the animals. They had gone all over the country, seeking out every little spot in which there might be a bit of pasture. There is no evidence of penitence in Ahab, at the close of the three years of famine. His heart had not been softened by it. There is not a word which indicates that he was bemoaning his sins, and crying to God for the removal of the judgment which these sins had brought upon the country. We find him still cursing Elijah as the cause of the trouble!
Nor is there any indication that the sufferings of the people had revealed anything humane and fatherly in the heart of their king. As he appears before us in this incident, he thinks only of his beasts--he does not want to lose his fine horses and mules! One writer says: "Strangely enough, Ahab at last begins to feel distressed and uneasy; but do you think it is for the myriads of his suffering people? No; but for the horses and mules, many of which have died; and the rest may soon perish, leaving him an impoverished king." There are men and women, even in these modern Christian days, who pet and stroke their dogs and cats--and revel in their luxuries--but who have no heart nor ear for the sufferings of their fellow-men!
It was as Obadiah was searching for pasture or for water for the animals, at the king's commandment, that Elijah, met him. Elijah needed the encouragement and comfort which Obadiah gave him in telling him of the saving of a hundred of God's prophets. He had thought that he was the only one in all the land who believed in Jehovah, and it must have given him great encouragement to find Obadiah still faithful to God--and to learn that there were at least a hundred others still living who were God's true followers. The meeting was, no doubt, a blessing to Obadiah also. It strengthened his faith and encouraged him in this time of distress--to stand face to face with the great prophet.
Obadiah, however, was not ready for the errand on which Elijah wished to send him. He knew the bitter resentment of Ahab, and was aware that for three and a half years he had been searching for Elijah that he might kill him. Therefore he feared the king's fury, when he should learn that Elijah was near. He feared, too, that the prophet would again disappear, and that when Ahab should fail to find him--he would kill Obadiah. Dr. Parker points out the inconsistency in Obadiah as shown in this incident. "Obadiah risked his life to save a hundred of the prophets of the Lord--yet dared not risk it without first receiving an oath for the greatest prophet of all."
At last, however, Elijah stood before Ahab. The king seemed glad, thinking that now, at last, he had the prophet in his power and could do with him what he chose. At once he charged him with being the troubler of Israel, the cause of all the distress which the people had suffered. That is the way always with such men as Ahab. They lay the blame of their sin, on somebody else. But Elijah was not awed by the king's charge. He answered, "I have not made trouble for Israel. But you and your father's family have. You have abandoned the LORD's commands and have followed the Baals!" It is the sinner who is the troubler, not the faithful messenger who comes with the warning. If Ahab had listened to God's warnings, his troubles never would have come. We can blame only ourselves, when our sins bring upon us woe and suffering.