1 And it came to pass after many days that the word of the LORD came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, "Go, present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the earth." 2 So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab; and there was a severe famine in Samaria. 3 And Ahab had called Obadiah, who was in charge of his house. (Now Obadiah feared the LORD greatly. 4 For so it was, while Jezebel massacred the prophets of the LORD, that Obadiah had taken one hundred prophets and hidden them, fifty to a cave, and had fed them with bread and water.) 5 And Ahab had said to Obadiah, "Go into the land to all the springs of water and to all the brooks; perhaps we may find grass to keep the horses and mules alive, so that we will not have to kill any livestock. 6 So they divided the land between them to explore it; Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself.
7 Now as Obadiah was on his way, suddenly Elijah met him; and he recognized him, and fell on his face, and said, "Is that you, my lord Elijah?" 8 And he answered him, "It is I. Go, tell your master, 'Elijah is here.'" 9 So he said, "How have I sinned, that you are delivering your servant into the hand of Ahab, to kill me? 10 "As the LORD your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my master has not sent someone to hunt for you; and when they said, 'He is not here,' he took an oath from the kingdom or nation that they could not find you. 11 "And now you say, `Go, tell your master, "Elijah is here"'! 12 "And it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from you, that the Spirit of the LORD will carry you to a place I do not know; so when I go and tell Ahab, and he cannot find you, he will kill me. But I your servant have feared the LORD from my youth. 13 "Was it not reported to my lord what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the LORD, how I hid one hundred men of the LORD'S prophets, fifty to a cave, and fed them with bread and water? 14 "And now you say, `Go, tell your master, "Elijah is here."' He will kill me!" 15 Then Elijah said, "As the LORD of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely present myself to him today." 16 So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him; and Ahab went to meet Elijah.
Here we have the precursor to a most remarkable story. Colin will tell us that story next week. So, what can we make of the precursor. Everyone knows part two, how many of us know this section? I trust by the end of my time, we each will know and understand the story of Elijah, and his fellow servant of God - Obadiah a little better. I would like to call this sermon - Obadiah, the 'Christian' working in the World, noting that Obadiah was a Jew, but for the context of today, here and now, this is what the story is about.
Just a note of point, this is not the Obadiah who wrote the Old Testament book. But he is named for all eternity in this book, because he served God, with a "but"; despite working for the worst evil king of Israel's history to that time - here was a man who managed to keep himself for God. This was also despite working in the world. This is a tough gig indeed, for we ourselves, or me, find, that it is hard not to be tainted from working in the world. Obadiah appears to have hung in there, despite Ahab's evilness, despite his own weaknesses, and even though as we shall see, not all was great in his relationship with God.
The first point that immediately comes to mind is that he must have been a hard, trustworthy worker. It is amazing how much the world loves to employ such workers, and I know of cases, where a Christian worker was sought, for these characteristics. One would hope too, that a Christian would be well known to be able to work on a Monday without the weekend hangover, would not be chasing the office girls, and would be respectful, despite the unbelieving nature of the employer. But this appears to be the character of Obadiah. Verse 3 says that Ahab had called Obadiah, who was in charge of his house. He sent him off with valuable livestock, to be the boss as it were of his section, in order to keep the animals alive. Obadiah was trusted to get the job done; otherwise Ahab had plenty of excuses to have gotten rid of him. Obadiah held a position of great power in the land at the time, as we also see, that Ahab went one way, Obadiah the other, both with an equal task in keeping the livestock alive.
Is this a good thing? How high in the ranks of the world work order should a Christian go? We will see that it does cause problems in Obadiah's life. I know that it can cause problems in our lives. My personal experience shows that higher the rank, the more hours one must put into the work place. The higher the rank, the better the pay! The higher the rank, the more one has to play politics, the power, and the promote product of the company. Are these bad things? Well, God in his Word gives us many warnings about some of this stuff. As we head towards a few verses, a commentator states quite vehemently in his writings on Elijah, that Obadiah was a man of mixed principles. He states this because Ahab was a definitive worshiper of the Baal's, a man who disobeyed God in all things, and Obadiah was running his household. How could he remain untainted? We, who work in the world, may think that it does not taint us. But, for example, my own memories are full of stories about the evil in the world, especially the medical world. Bad memories displace the space that God could be using for his glorious ideas, theology, and Word. Trash takes up precious space.
So, where were we - hours in the work-place. God says in Mark 1:35 "Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed." We find in Psalm 90:10 this written: "The days of our lives are seventy years; And if by reason of strength they are eighty years, Yet their boast is only labour and sorrow; For it is soon cut off, and we fly away." You may think that these are two pretty disparate statements, but both talk of time. The first is what one can do for God with time, up early in the morning, to pray, not rush off to work to that breakfast meeting, the report due at 08:30. The second is the shortness of life, and if we spend large chunks in a non-Christian work place, despite doing the best of jobs, how much of those 70 years are put aside to prepare for eternity? Don't get me wrong, God also says in Proverbs 19:15 "Laziness casts one into a deep sleep, And an idle person will suffer hunger." Or 1 Timothy 5:13 "And besides they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not." Finally in Ecclesiastes 3, verses 9 and 10 we read: "What profit has the worker from that in which he labours? I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied." There is our key, God given tasks that we are to be occupied with. This would include secular work, but again, we need to be careful what that work is. Is working in a casino a good place? Plenty of sinners there! Maybe you could give out a text, offer some words of grace as the poor sinner has one last roll of the dice. But, in the sarcasm of this statement, the line has to be drawn in the sand. Where is that line? I have no doubt at all that long hours in the mission field, serving in the soup kitchen, visiting folks in the jail, or preparing sermons and Bible studies have no such limits placed on them, apart from ensuring one stays healthy and fit, for we are no good to God run down and feeble (when we don't have to be).
The better the pay was the next statement I made. God said in Luke chapter 12: 16-24 "Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. "And he thought within himself, saying, `What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?' "So he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. `And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry."' "But God said to him, `Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?' "So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." Then He said to His disciples, "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. "Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. "Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds?"
Of course there is the other verses that we can quote quite well: Matthew 6:24 "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." and the other I am thinking of is found in 1 Timothy chapter 6:10&11 "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness." Note how we are to spend our days, and that can occur in the workplace, but if our boss is an Ahab, how can it be?
My final point in this section of the discourse is that of being part of a worldly company's politics, power and product. Is the great car company in Elizabeth or some other car company worthy of worship? No, absolutely not, yet we will wear their logo's talk, eat sleep, and be the car company, if we are imbued into their structure. What does God have to say about embedding ourselves into the world's things? The verse that probably encapsulates it well enough is this one from 2 Corinthians 6: 14 & 15 "Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?"
What did God want from Obadiah? I think he wanted to make a point to Obadiah that he had to choose. He needed to choose between a cushy lifestyle as the boss for the King, a place at a table that would have had food, when the country was starving. He had four walls, and a soft warm bed, slaves, servants, power and privilege. So God needed to get His next stage set for Elijah, so he saw Obadiah and thought this is my man, my case study, a case in point for Craigmore on 24 October 2010. So let us back track a little and see what set this off, and why we need Obadiah, the faithful man who thought it OK to work for the world. Back in our verses, we opened with: And it came to pass after many days that the word of the LORD came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, "Go, present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the earth." So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab; and there was a severe famine in Samaria.
Elijah: three years, some in the desert, the rest in Sidon, learning his lessons to get him through the next phase of Gods work for him. Elijah did it tough. Sure, they had flour and oil in Zarephath's, the widow's house, but what else? Nothing like Obadiah's place of residence! What did Elijah do there? We don't know, but we know God had him there for a reason. One thing is for sure, he was not rising in the ranks, he was not chumming up with the nobles, he was serving God, and praying: always praying.
Elijah had told Ahab that it would not rain until God wanted it to. Elijah had to be part of the rain's coming, otherwise the connection would be lost. So he was being hidden, and with God's own sense of humour, hidden in Jezebel's own back yard; Elijah is to step out and show himself. The interesting, and God's own parallel, is of course John the Baptist. We find in Mark chapter 1: 4-8 "John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, "There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. "I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." John would have been in his 30's, and he too came out of the wilderness, and is a picture of a spiritual rain which was coming; the water of life needed to be proclaimed. Jesus too, waited in the wings, hidden from the people until the right time, and was able to stay hidden from those who wanted to kill him, until the right time. Elijah was instructed that this was the time, and to show himself. Maybe there is one in this room today for whom God has a plan, and the day will come when you will hear him say to you, "Show yourself, for I have a job for you to do". If you are tied up in the world, you may close your ears, the rewards of the world too great. Fortunately, Obadiah did not do this when he met with Elijah and discovered his role in the plan.
Let us move forward, and re-visit the passage that comes next.
7 Now as Obadiah was on his way, suddenly Elijah met him; and he recognized him, and fell on his face, and said, "Is that you, my lord Elijah?" 8 And he answered him, "It is I. Go, tell your master, `Elijah is here.'" 9 So he said, "How have I sinned, that you are delivering your servant into the hand of Ahab, to kill me? 10 "As the LORD your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my master has not sent someone to hunt for you; and when they said, `He is not here,' he took an oath from the kingdom or nation that they could not find you. 11 "And now you say, `Go, tell your master, "Elijah is here"'! 12 "And it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from you, that the Spirit of the LORD will carry you to a place I do not know; so when I go and tell Ahab, and he cannot find you, he will kill me.
What do these verses tell us? First, Obadiah, the number two in power in the country (after Jezebel of course, undoubtedly Ahab was third in power and influence), calls Elijah "my lord". Next he knows the evilness of Ahab, knowing that Ahab was out to kill Elijah. Thirdly, he knows the power of God; God may just whisk Elijah away, as only God can, and obviously, Elijah's ability to hide for three and a half years in the desert was testament to God's whisking away and hiding powers!! Therefore, there is a personal fear because he knows that Ahab's wickedness will fall upon Obadiah and he will die instead. Yet, I add here in parentheses, that despite knowing Ahab's evil character, he for some reason felt it OK to serve him all those years, otherwise he would have left.
What are in these verses for us in today's world? If you cannot go tell your boss that Elijah is here, then you have a problem. Your boss is not really the person you need in your life. Maybe that does not make too much sense. But here is my take on it. The Boss wants you to come to a work dinner, lunch time Sunday. The dinner is at a nice restaurant at Pt Elliot (yes I have one in mind). So overseas guests are going to be there, you are important to them. So, I ask you, is it church or dinner? If you say to your boss, sorry, church comes first for me on a Sunday, does John 17:14 come into play? "I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world." You have the wrong boss!
The other side to this story is the fear that Obadiah had. Last week we learned about not fearing. Some people state that the statement 'do not fear' or 'fear not' occurs 365 times in the Bible, one for every day of the year. I don't know if this is true, but here is someone's view that I think hits the nail on the head: "I guess it does not matter that there are or aren't 365 "fear nots" listed in the Bible [as such]. What we need to remember is that in many verses God commands us to fear (respect) only Him and to not fear (be scared of) the darkness around us because He reigns victorious. Be brave and courageous! Greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world. Those commands stand for not only every day of the year, but every day of our lives. Thus, you have 365...and I [am sure that] God includes Leap Year also!" But Obadiah had lived for too long in the company of an evil King and Queen. He no longer knew what it was to 'fear not'. Elijah had not only learned that lesson, but could teach it to the Gentile widow he stayed with for those two or so years.
The other interesting statement in the passage is: "How have I sinned, that you are delivering your servant into the hand of Ahab, to kill me?" Obadiah knows full well that the punishment for sin is death. The widow did as well in our previous passage. She said: "What have I to do with you, O man of God? Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to kill my son?" in verse 18 of the previous chapter. Both of these, a Baal worshiping Gentile (not confirmed but highly probable as she lived not too many miles from the main Baal worship centre), and a once God fearing Jew, not quite out of faith, but now at its lowest ebb; both see sin, remembering sin, as connected to death. Note though the contrast between the Jew and the Gentile. The widow knows she has sin, she states this; Obadiah denies that he has sins worthy of death. What does God say about sin? He does not keep sin in a hierarchical layer. Romans 6: 21-23 tells us: "What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." The Gentile woman knew this, she was just minutes from salvation, as the last couple of verses of chapter 17 shows us. The women when we first meet her states that the God that Elijah was talking of was, his God, had no personal connection for her (see verse 12). But the last verse shows the acceptance after all that time of that Elijah spent with her: that she owned God as her own, for the last words we hear from the widow are: "."Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is the truth."
Obadiah, on the other hand thought he had it right, but he had it all wrong. He looked to works for his salvation. Why do I say this? Because look at Obadiah's plea. "But I your servant have feared the LORD from my youth. 13 "Was it not reported to my lord what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the LORD, how I hid one hundred men of the LORD'S prophets, fifty to a cave, and fed them with bread and water?" Obadiah knew who God was, but I am not sure that his fear of God was one of loving respect, or cautious respect. Yes he knew enough not to switch to Baal worship, on the inside. We do not know what he did on the outside, but after all he was master of the Kings house, and surely therefore was present at Baal ceremonies, and other idol worship? But, he did a very brave thing. He hid some of the Lord's prophets. But he spoils it all by using his works as a bargaining chip for his salvation. What does God say about this? Matthew 6:1 tells us "Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven." Maybe I am being a little harsh on Obadiah, but his whole demeanour is of a man who takes the easy way out; it is easier to live and work for Ahab than starve as a follower of the one true God out on one's own; it is easier to offer Elijah an excuse - good works, instead of doing as Elijah asked, and risking his own head by doing it. Our lesson is this, and it comes from Colossians chapter 3: verse 1-4: "If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory." Do not seek food at a King's table, protection by serving an evil person, going with the crowd, being part of the movement (maybe retaining your faith in secret, as Obadiah did at least that). We need to be searching for the things above, and by doing so, we seek no reward at all here on earth. God directs, AND we say yes, without measuring up whether it will mean moments of pain here, for the rewards of heaven will far outweigh these, and then we will wonder why we ever hesitated. "Fear not" - a phrase for every moment of life, and Obadiah had lost this very basic principle.
But to his credit, Elijah told him to trust and obey and he did, he went to Ahab. Obadiah, with encouragement from a prophet of God, shakes the shackles of fear from him and he goes out to find Ahab. Even backsliders can have hope in being restored. How restored did Obadiah get? We don't know. He is not listed in Hebrew's hall of faith (chapter 11), and he is never mentioned again, but perhaps, with God's grace and mercy, we, who will reach heaven via that same route of grace and mercy, will meet and converse with both Obadiah and the widow of Sidon, without name.
One last bit in this chapter and it deserves a quick look as time runs out:
16 So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him; and Ahab went to meet Elijah.
Note what happened - fear not was rewarded with Obadiah's head staying on. No execution there. But, even more remarkable, note what happened next. The King goes to meet God's messenger, Elijah. He is the one that has to acknowledge Elijah's might, because of his (Elijah's) God who was the power inside the mere mortal. He had to greet Elijah, remembering that Elijah means: "Yahweh is my God"! Ahab is reaching the end of his road of doing whatever he wills. God makes him do the traveling. Elijah, who was sent running for his life, has now come back as God's triumphant messenger, no longer cowering, but ordering the King to come to him. Elijah had some stuff to say, some work to do, and the King was going to listen. How God works!
What have we learned to today? Well, I know what I have learned. I also know the huge gaps in my own living, and the fact that this learning needs to get into action. God sometimes takes us into the wilderness, sometimes for a long time. He may be preparing us for a big job. We may go cowering, but we will return bold, ready for the Lord's work. There is a trap of living well in the world, retaining the trappings of faith, but losing the substance of faith. We may be happy to stay with a boss who is nothing like us for the sake of peace, rewards, money and whatever else this materialistic world gives us for our loyalty. Or, some water out of a brook, meat brought by a raven, flour and oil as the main sustainer of life for two plus years in a hot, dry dusty desert, then moved to a life in Jezebel's back yard, in a town called Zarephath - smelting-shop, "a workshop for the refining and smelting of metals" being refined and ready for God's work. The latter may seem the worse option, but standing Elijah and Obadiah side by side, you can see which one has the hallmarks of Christian living, and which has the hallmarks of Laodicean living:
"So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. "Because you say, `I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing' --and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked--"I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent." (Rev 3:16-19)