A Reflection on 1 Kings 18:1-16 for Sunday, July 12, 2020 at Mosaic Baptist Church.
After many days the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year of the drought, saying, ‘Go, present yourself to Ahab; I will send rain on the earth.’ So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab. The famine was severe in Samaria. Ahab summoned Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace. (Now Obadiah revered the Lord greatly; when Jezebel was killing off the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah took a hundred prophets, hid them fifty to a cave, and provided them with bread and water.) Then Ahab said to Obadiah, ‘Go through the land to all the springs of water and to all the wadis; perhaps we may find grass to keep the horses and mules alive, and not lose some of the animals.’ So they divided the land between them to pass through it; Ahab went in one direction by himself, and Obadiah went in another direction by himself.
As Obadiah was on the way, Elijah met him; Obadiah recognized him, fell on his face, and said, ‘Is it you, my lord Elijah?’ He answered him, ‘It is I. Go, tell your lord that Elijah is here.’ And he said, ‘How have I sinned, that you would hand your servant over to Ahab, to kill me? As the Lord your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom to which my lord has not sent to seek you; and when they would say, “He is not here”, he would require an oath of the kingdom or nation, that they had not found you. But now you say, “Go, tell your lord that Elijah is here.” As soon as I have gone from you, the spirit of the Lord will carry you I know not where; so, when I come and tell Ahab and he cannot find you, he will kill me, although I your servant have revered the Lord from my youth. Has it not been told my lord what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the Lord, how I hid a hundred of the Lord’s prophets fifty to a cave, and provided them with bread and water? Yet now you say, “Go, tell your lord that Elijah is here”; he will surely kill me.’ Elijah said, ‘As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today.’ So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him; and Ahab went to meet Elijah.
1 Kings 18:1-16 (NRSVA)
Obadiah is an interesting character.
A servant of Ahab, Obadiah was clearly capable enough to work directly for the king. Our story points to him as a trusted advisor – knowing the inner workings of Ahab’s dealings with the nations around him and being The only one trusted with the king’s search for Elijah.
This is an important task. After all, Elijah foretold the coming drought. It is now described as ‘severe’. Things are getting serious.
Twice in this story we also learn of Obadiah’s commitment and service to YHWH. It is an interesting emphasis – one that leads the reader to ponder the significance of this past event.
Jezebel is Ahab’s wife and queen of the land. Obadiah’s willingness to defy her by hiding the prophets of YHWH must have involved significant risk. His was more than a once off effort – we are expressly told that Obadiah regularly provided for these persecuted men.
Now, however, Obadiah is somewhat fearful of the unpredictability of God. It causes him to look back on his service to YHWH’s prophets and celebrate this past act of faith.
Obadiah, we might say, is resting on his laurels.
Somehow, God’s act of provision and protection from Jezebel did not inspired Obadiah to trust God more.
So when Elijah shows up – the very one Ahab has commanded him to find – Obadiah is afraid to tell Ahab of the discovery. Only after Elijah promises to present himself to the king does he agree to reveal his find. Obadiah needed encouragement and assurance before he would take this relatively small risk.
Perhaps this is a harsh assessment of Obadiah. After all he is celebrated here as a man of faith and service.
Yet Obadiah is a prophet in the close service of King Ahab who out of fear does not want to tell the king of prophet Elijah’s arrival. He has demonstrated significant faith in the past. Now, however, he seems compromised, stuck between the action of YHWH and his prophet, and the earthly King he serves. Obadiah seems to have two – or three – masters.
And that is never a good scenario.
Who do you most closely identify with in this passage? Elijah? Obadiah? Or Ahab?
Do you find yourself celebrating past acts of faith – or seeking to trust God with the less familiar future?
How do you respond to God’s faithfulness? Does it inspire you to trust God more – or to simply tell of what once was?