1 Kings 18v1-15
Upright living in a crooked world.
The story of Elijah is dramatic and heroic. Here is a great man of faith through whom God works mighty miracles. It is an exciting story – one man standing alone against the corrupt govt. of his day and winning. From the human perspective it is the classic little man taking on the big corporation or govt. It is the stuff of Hollywood movies.
I was going to look at Elijah’s confrontation with the 450 Prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel BUT reading 1st half of ch.18 I was struck by this man Obadiah.
You see it is all to easy for us when we read a story like Elijah to say to ourselves, “It is all very well for Elijah – he was a spiritual giant – but God doesn’t expect me to be like that! When I pray the rain doesn’t stop for 3 ½ years and people don’t come back to life!!”
BUT then in the midst of these epic stories we find characters like Obadiah. An upright man living his day-to-day life in a crooked world.
ILLUS.: Who has been watching ITV’s programme “SURVIVOR” – come on be honest! 16 (?) people taken to a remote tropical island, put through various challenges and their fellow competitors vote one off per week. They are currently down to about 6.
Pete was recently voted off – Pete is Christian and he was openly so – not pushy, just openly stating his beliefs. It was refreshing in the midst of all the scheming and conniving to see Pete being upright. He wasn’t perfect – but all his competitors, even if they didn’t like him, considered him to be honest.
Upright living in a crooked world! The challenge of this is not that it is a one-off flash-in-the-pan episode BUT a consistent, daily-under-the-spotlight way of life.
Let’s pick up the story from last time….
Elijah had confronted Ahab – 3 ½ years ago now – told him God was not happy with Israel because they had turn away from God to worship idols. Then Elijah had been removed from the scene – a year living alone by the Cherith Brook with ravens bring his food morning and evening. Then God sent him to live with a pagan widow right in the territory of the god Baal. There God supplied a never-ending supply of oil and flour. An object lesson that God and not Baal was in control of crops and rain. Then the widow’s son died and God, in response to Elijah’s prayer raised him from the dead – another object lesson that God and not Baal and his cohorts had power over life and death.
NOW after 3 ½ years without rain God instructs Elijah to go and confront Ahab again!
- 1. God uses a variety of strategies to achieve his purposes.
Contrast God command to Elijah in 17v2 to “hide yourself” and his command in 18v1 to “present himself”. The prophet is now to return to public life after 3 ½ years and soon the rains will return and the drought will end.
I find it interesting how God uses different approaches at different times. For Elijah there were times when it was appropriate to hide and there were times when it was appropriate to have a higher profile.
We do God a disservice and ourselves no good when we think that there is only one way to serve God. I am not talking about changing God’s message or God’s Truth. I am talking about the methods we employ to do God’s work.
God is a dynamic God – a God of variety and we try to box him in at our peril.
We serve an unchanging God but that doesn’t mean we serve a static God – God is active and moving and at work in our contemporary world – AND he works through his people in a variety of ways. And ways of serving him here today are different to other places and other times.
As we have already seen in Elijah’s life so far God’s methods are often unorthodox and very surprising – God doesn’t conform to our liturgy.
Who would use ceremonially unclean scavengers birds to feed a prophet .. God did! Who would send a prophet of God to live with a pagan widow .. God did! Who would ask a prophet of God, Hosea, to marry a prostitute? .. God did!
Jesus’ methods were very unorthodox .. he didn’t fit in the religious establishment. He accommodated himself to our world for the sake of His kingdom .. we cannot do less.
Moving on …
What was King Ahab doing during the 3 ½ years since he last set eyes on Elijah.
- 2. Ahab: A crooked king in a crooked world.
I expect that Ahab may not initially have taken Elijah’s prediction about ‘no rain’ very seriously but as the weeks and months went by and the wet season came BUT no rain fell, Ahab became more worried and very angry. He had scoured the country and the neighbouring nations, looking for Elijah. No doubt threatening, bribing and begging – but when God conceals something / one nobody will find it.
Ahab was a miserable selfish king.
Kings in the Ancient Near East were often portrayed as shepherds. King David of Israel was the classic example – foreshadowing Jesus the greatest of all Shepherd-kings.
A good king was a shepherd to his people, protecting and caring for them, providing for their needs and seeking their well-being.
As someone has said, “A benevolent and wise autocrat is better than a corrupt democracy!”
Ahab was a corrupt autocrat who used his position and his power for his own ends. When the famine was severe instead of worrying about and caring for his people he was more concerned about finding food and water for his horses and mules [v.5]. His people were starving but heaven forbid that he should loose any of his livestock!
Ahab was worried about the grass when he should have been worried about the wrath of God.
It is NOT that difficult to understand why. Look at the society in which we live – maybe we need also to look into our own hearts – everyday people set out set out in pursuit of their personal goals and the almighty ‘£’ – there is a denying or ignoring of Almighty God and his wrath. Generally speaking people are far more concerned about making a living than they are about meeting our maker!
Now, of course, we tend to think that this applies to the profit hungry corporate director and shareholders.
BUT here is an exercise to examine ourselves.
On a A4 sheet make two columns: #1 list what you think should be your priorities. #2 Use your diary and your bank statement to see how you actually spend your time and money! DO the two columns agree or are changes necessary!!!
Contrasted with Ahab the crooked king is Obadiah his servant.
- 3. Obadiah: An upright man in a crooked world.
Here is a man who is in a key position even though he does not have the power – at least not humanly speaking.
In contrast to Ahab who should have cared for the people here is Obadiah managing to hide and feed 100 prophets of God. Certainly he is risking his life – but at the same time he is obviously respected and trusted by the king and very good at his job.
There is a huge irony here – we know that Ahab, and Jezebel his wife, have killed many of God’s people and have scoured the nation for Elijah. YET under their very noses God places one of his people, Obadiah, no only to hide these 100 prophets but to supply their needs from the storehouse of the very king who is trying to kill them. God definitely has a sense of humour!!
Obadiah: An upright man who is very human.
When he meets Elijah – and Elijah gives him a message for King Ahab, Obadiah is fearful and understandably so. He has seen the ruthlessness of his boss. He also knows Elijah is rather elusive – yet in spite of his fear and apprehension – he trusts Elijah to keeps his word and tells the king. [v16]
I am hugely impressed with Obadiah – a godly man working in an ungodly environment. I guess many of you can identify with his position.
Some of you work for / with people who don’t believe what you do. Who do unethical things – who treat you and those around them in a selfish and abusive way. Yet in the midst of such a position God calls his people to do a good job with integrity and honesty. I doubt very much if Obadiah had opportunity to “preach the gospel” to the King and Queen!!
BUT he is not a compromiser – he is described as a devout believer! Like Daniel after him, called to serve the pagan king Nebuchadnezzar. Like Esther a godly woman in the courts of the King of Persia – all of these and more, devout believers willing to serve in ungodly places and when necessary – at the right time – willing to risk all for the sake of God’s glory!
There are many of God’s people – many like you – who are not called by God to so called ‘full-time ministry’ but are called to be workers in the everyday, work-a-day world. Willing to work with integrity and be available to be used for God’s kingdom when the opportunities arise!!
Obadiah was not a prophet like Elijah but was willing to be used by God for his purposes.
Obadiah hadn’t heard the Lord’s prayer but he certainly lived by the principle “May your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”
What lessons for Us!
There are occasion when like Elijah Christians need to ‘hide’ but it is usually only for a time – for protection to save lives or for spiritual refreshing.
Elijah was thrust back into the fray – as was Obadiah who was there all that time.
Wholehearted engagement with the world, with the political and economic process, is for most of us the way in which we can and should bear witness before a watching world. Jesus never pray that we be removed from the world.
John 17:15 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.
When Christians and the churches disengag from the world and form a ‘holy-huddle’ we are out of God’s will. John 17:18 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. (NIV)
Obadiah was fearful and asks Elijah for assurances – HOWEVER his fears did not stop him from obeying the request from God’s man.
Do we have fears that keep us from obeying God, as we ought?
Few of us will face life-threatening situations like Obadiah and Elijah. They had the whole political and religious system against them. And God did preserve their lives.
Like Elijah Jesus would face single-handed combat against the forces of evil. In both cases God would vindicate himself – in Elijah’s case by preserving his life – and in Jesus case by accepting his death. When Jesus was heading for the cross he taught his disciples this – Mark 8:35 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. (NIV)
Elijah was not ashamed of God’s Word – nor was Obadiah ashamed to risk his life to obey either – SO the true Man of God, Jesus, will not be ashamed of them – or us if we do the same. Mark 8:38 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (NIV)
When the Apostle John in Revelation describes the people of God through history he refers to them as having overcome. Revelation 12:11 11 They overcame him [the devil] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. (NIV)
There have, of course, been many who have lost their lives – and still do today!!
As in Elijah’s time, so today God’s people are engaged in a spiritual battle. The forces of Evil do all in their power to destroy God’s work.
Few of us will ever have to face loss of life for the sake of the gospel – but are we being faithful in the small things – living uprightly in a crooked world!
God’s power over the forces of evil was seen in him stopping the rain, providing the flour and oil, raising the dead – right there in the territory of the god Baal you supposedly provided all these things. BUT God’s power was also seen in the life of Obadiah, and the 100’s of other people of God at the time who did not bow the knee to Baal and succumb to the idolatrous influences of the day.
So too when we, like Obadiah, live upright lives is a crooked world – day in day out – resisting the ungodly influences of our day striving to live by God’s principles, THEN God’s power is being demonstrated in us and God is glorified.
Upright living in a crooked world.
1. God uses a variety of strategies to
achieve his purposes.
Contrast God’s commands to Elijah –
“hide yourself” – 17v2
“present yourself” – 18v1
A crooked king in a crooked world
More concerned about his possessions
than his people
An upright man in a crooked world
- A God-fearing man
- A man of honesty and integrity
- A very human man – fearful but obedient
- A man of faith willing to risk life for his God
- A man willing to engage with his world