Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
And it came to pass after many days, that the word of the LORD came to Elijah in the third year, saying, Go, shew thyself unto Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth.Obadiah—A Palm in the Desert
1 Kings 18:3
The name Obadiah means 'servant of Jehovah,' and it will appear that his life and character answer to his sacred name.
I. Obadiah is an Example of Early Piety.—'But I thy servant fear the Lord from my youth' was his meek avowal to Elijah, the stern Tishbite, as he confronted him in the way. It was a splendid thing to say. Yet a man who so speaks assumes an immense responsibility. I wish each youthful reader would take the words 'my youth' and ponder them. Begin the fear of the Lord in youth; it is the chosen season; and beginning early, as did Obadiah, like him you may achieve great spiritual prestige.
II. Obadiah Retained the Religion of His Youth.— He was not a young man when he spoke these words to Elijah. Youth was gone, but not his godly fear. He entered the paths of righteousness in his boyhood and never forsook them.
III. Obadiah is a Pattern of Religious Intensity.— In verse three we find the gladdening assurance, 'Obadiah feared the Lord greatly'. His piety was ardent, it glowed. How much force that 'greatly' carries. A very different adverb would characterize some people's religion. They fear the Lord faintly, lukewarmly, inadequately.
IV. Obadiah is an Illustration of Religion under Trying Conditions.—He dwelt in Ahab's court. He stood alone in his splendid piety amid the idolatry and wickedness of the Israelitish palace. Learn from Obadiah's case that: (a) A character may be independent of circumstances. No Christian need be barren or unfruitful whatever his temporal condition. Obadiah kept a glowing piety in Ahab's palace. (b) We may be a blessing to godless homes wherein we may dwell. You cannot estimate how much an ungodly home, or house, or business may owe to some servant of God who dwells there. Obadiah is an embodied benediction to Ahab's house. (c) The faithful performance of duty may make us indispensable to bad masters. Obadiah had never scamped his work. He had done his duty loyally. So Ahab prized him. We further our religion by fidelity in earthly service.
V. Obadiah's Religion was Philanthropic.—When Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah took an hundred of them and hid them by fifty in a cave and fed them with bread and water—which was scarce in the kingdom. Obadiah's deed was as brave as it was benevolent, and as courageous as it was kind. Our religion must always prove itself by its philanthropy. True goodness demonstrates itself by doing good.
VI. Obadiah's Good Deeds were Matters of Common Report—Expostulating with Elijah (18:13) he says, 'Was it not told my Lord what I did'. He does not speak boastfully. In the perilous circumstances in which he conceived himself to be placed he appealed to the report of his good deed as a reason why his life should be saved. He had done good by stealth and now found it widespread fame.
VII. Obadiah was Overshadowed by Fear.—Elijah had bidden him tell Ahab that 'Elijah is here,' and it fills Obadiah with alarm. He dreads lest Ahab should slay him. But Obadiah was blessed beyond all his fears. No calamity overwhelmed him such as he dreaded.
VIII. The last thing I note concerning this faithful soul is that he unconsciously contributed to a glorious Triumph of Religion. His obedience to the monition of Elijah lead to the wondrous scene on Carmel. His work was fraught with grander issues than had ever entered his heart.
—Dinsdale T. Young, Neglected People of the Bible, p. 113.
Fearing the Lord From One's Youth
1 Kings 18:12
There are two valuable lessons we are to carry away from these words of Obadiah.
I. The importance of early decision for God. Our subject was not a particularly young man at this time: that is plain from his language; but his religious earnestness had dated from early life. It is the bitter regret of many an old Christian, and will be so to his dying day, that he only began truly to fear the Lord when the best part of his life was gone. The Bible teaches us much by example as by precept, and it seems to me that the grand lesson of Obadiah's life—and it is but a very brief biography we have—is the unspeakable value to a man, all through his career, of starting with fixed religious principles, and sticking to them at all hazards.
II. The importance of courage in openly avowing our religious decision. The first thing is to have sound principles; and the second thing is not to be ashamed of them. The best way to get over the dread of opposition or ridicule is to have the constant feeling that God Himself is at your side, looking upon you, pleased when you confess Him, grieved when you disown Him. A man is none the worse a Christian for having occasionally to stand up for his principles. It makes your religion more real, and gives you greater confidence in its power. Oh, it is a grand thing to see a man taking his stand as a pronounced and thorough Christian and meeting all the solicitations of vice and assaults of ridicule with the manly declaration of Obadiah, 'I fear the Lord from my youth'.
—J. Thain Davidson, The City Youth, p. 96.
References.—XVIII. 12.—J. C. Harrison, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xix. p. 209. XVIII. 13.—J. W. Bunyan, The Servants of Scripture, p. 36.
1 Kings 18:17
There are no Elijahs now. We are obliged to read about them when we wish to refresh the heroic sentiment. Think what a moment that was 'when Ahab saw Elijah'! The two great forces of the world met, the kingly and the prophetic. We should think of these sensitive moments in history; they would quicken us into better endeavour, and increase the force which belongs to the sons of God. It was a terrible and most memorable meeting.
I. When Ahab saw Elijah the two great forces of the world met, the forces that have always been in conflict, the kingly and the prophetic, the secular and the spiritual, this world and the next. God never made any king; when He gave the people a king in answer to their clamour, it was to punish them, and punished they were. The Lord is King, and he who would dispute His throne brings wrath on the land. 'When Ahab saw Elijah' the physically mighty and the morally strong were face to face. Ahab had great resources; Ahab was very careful about the horses and the mules, and anxious to keep them alive in the time of the water famine. That is right.
What other instance is there in which the two kingdoms met? The most notable case was when Judas and Jesus stood face to face, and Judas 'went backward and fell to the ground'. That is so; the nation that fears God will ultimately win.
II. Ahab had great resources, but the resources of a king are mere nothings when God arises to judge the earth. There are times when we are ashamed of our greatness, and when our glory is proved to be but a veering wind of vanity. It is well to have such moments in history; they ventilate history, they disinfect history, they bring in a new birthday of historic relations. Who are these men? The one, the pampered king; the other, the raven-fed prophet; and the raven-fed prophet was the stronger of the two. God will command the ravens. They eat weakness who eat luxuries. Take what God gives, the little simple meal, and you may be the strongest man in the world.
It is well that secular kings should look upon anointed prophets. How do these men live? They live in the wilderness, and are strong; they never sat at a king's table, and yet there is pith in their muscle and there is meaning in their voice.
III. The rebuke was turned upon the king. 'Art thou he that troubleth Israel? And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father's house.' He had a bad record. Men's record comes up against them again and again. 'When Ahab saw Elijah' he saw a man who was the king's superior, and the king knew it, owned it. Superiority has not to be proved by testimonials; superiority has to be tested by personality. When you come near the king you will know it. I mean the moral king, the spiritual king, the intellectual king, in any department of life whatever. You know the leader, you give place to him.
'When Ahab saw Elijah' he saw judgment. There was judgment in those gnarled, knitted eyebrows, and Ahab felt the scorching of the hidden lightning. 'When Ahab saw Elijah' he saw for the first time unconsciously an honest man—a terrible sight to the wicked. There is no more terrible judgment upon an ungodly man than the presence of a man who is godly.
—Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. VI. p. 262.
The Great Decision
1 Kings 18:21
The Old Testament is full of sharp, decisive phrases like this; the utterance of a spirit for which there is a very broad line of division drawn between good and evil, truth and falsehood, and which is almost more tolerant of the open enemy than of those who will not take their share in the conflict. To the strong and unhesitating spirit that sees the right on the one side as if it were written in letters of fire, and absolute wrong on the other, nothing is so uncomprehensible as the lukewarm temper, that will not be kindled either to love or hatred, and seeks rather to avoid any decisive choice.
I. In the present day there are many things which tend to modify such a temper of mind. Christianity itself has taught us to sympathize with men of all classes and nations, to see the same humanity manifesting itself in them all; and this sympathy and insight will not let us regard our national foes as essentially the servants of an evil principle. But there is a dark side to all this; for those very wider views of things which produce tolerance are apt to produce also a sceptical spirit, which weakens the springs of manly energy. We are not able to split life in two with a hatchet as our fathers did, or to see all white on one side and all black on the other; and therefore we are apt to lose the consciousness that there is a real battle between good and evil going on in the world; and find it hard to realize that we are called to take up arms on the one side or the other.
II. We cannot in our day have so much of the zeal that comes from a narrow and concentrated view of one aspect of things, from untroubled faith in unquestioned dogmas, and unhesitating subjection to fixed rules of conduct. But on the other hand, it is easier for us to escape an evil that went with such faith and obedience, namely, the tendency to identify what is essential with what is accidental, the ideas of truth and right with some particular form in which they are embodied; the cause of God with the cause of our party, our nation, or our Church. It is easier for us than it was formerly to learn to recognize good in all the different shapes in which it presents itself, and to avoid the error of fighting against it because it comes before us in some unfamiliar guise. And when we remember the awful calamities brought upon the human race in former times by men who honestly thought they were doing God service in forcing upon others the exact type of institution or belief with which, in their own minds, all goodness was identified, it cannot be regarded as a little thing that moral and religious principles have become, or are becoming disconnected from what were at best particular, and, it may be, transitory forms of their manifestation. The wider toleration of modern times may be regarded as due only to indifference and scepticism, and clever books have been written to show that it is so. But in reality there is always a positive behind every negative cause; and what the chilling of men's faith ultimately points to is that the great truths are separating themselves from the little ones, the eternal verities of the Divine life in man from the passing phases and adjuncts of human tradition.
—E. Caird, Lay Sermons and Addresses, p. 181.
References.—XVIII. 21.—G. W. Brameld, Practiced Sermons (2nd Series), p. 224. T. H. Bell, Persuasions, p. 335. Bishop Gordon, Parish Sermons, p. 63. W. Anderson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi. p. 309. W. M. Taylor, Elijah the Prophet, p. 96.
An Answer By Fire
1 Kings 18:24
What is to us the value of this ordeal of the God that answereth by fire? It is an ordeal by which we can be convinced, our faith stands on the issue of whether ours is a God who answereth by fire.
I. What are the grounds of our belief? They are many; they are the Bible story, the history of the Christian Church, the reasonableness of the Christian faith; but there is a ground stronger than any, it is the ground of personal experience. We believe in one God because we know what He does in us. We know Him as the helper, the guide, the consoler, the deliverer. But most and best of all, we know Him as the God who makes our sacrifice to burn.
II. Our sacrifice, what is it? Everywhere and always sacrifice is the same thing, it is the giving something to God. The subjects of King Ahab gave a sheep or an ox from their herd. We give ourselves, our life. It is the beginning and the end of faith, it is giving of self. That is the reason why faith saves, why it unites us to Christ; faith is giving self to God.
III. How do we know our offer is not a mistake, there being no one who can receive it? We are sure because we find that God answers by fire; we find that God makes our altar flame to burn, God completes our sacrifice, God makes us to carry out the offering of ourself.
(a) Perhaps it came about this way. In early life, quite early life, for a boy or girl, it happened that a vague, unshaped, wistful feeling of living for Christ, instead of for pleasure and honour, suddenly took shape; the spark had fallen from heaven, and the heart was aflame. God had offered the sacrifice; we knew He was God.
(b) It does not always happen that way. The man or woman betrays the boy or girl, letting worldliness steal away the first love, but the fire of God falls to renew the sacrifice. It is God completing the sacrifice, God fanning again the flame.
(c) God's fire can fall even to recover us. Our sacrifice is failing, worldliness has come on us like a flood, sin burst on us in a storm; the drenching water has soaked the wood upon the altar. It never can burn any more, we say. The fire of the Lord falls and licks up the water that was in the trench. The Lord who answereth by a fire that can inflame again our sin-sodden hearts, surely He is indeed the God.
IV. God's fire is with us to help us persevere, continue unto the end. Answer it to yourself, you who are halfway through a life-task, which you took up with joy, but are carrying on by patience only. There is a touch comes from somewhere and will not let go out the fire upon our heart. God answereth by fire, let Him be God.
—J. H. Skrine, The Hearts Counsel, p. 111.
References.—XVIII. 38.—C. Cross, The Pulpit, vol. v. XVIII. 38, 39.—J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iii. p. 40. XVIII. 40, 46.—W. M. Taylor, Elijah the Prophet, p. 112. XVIII. 42-44.—J. Keble, Miscellaneous Sermons, p. 143. XIX. 1, 2, 3.—J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iii. p. 47. XIX. 4.—H. Woodcock, Sermon Outlines, p. 195.
And Elijah went to shew himself unto Ahab. And there was a sore famine in Samaria.
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.)
And Ahab said unto Obadiah, Go into the land, unto all fountains of water, and unto all brooks: peradventure we may find grass to save the horses and mules alive, that we lose not all the beasts.
So they divided the land between them to pass throughout it: Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself.
And as Obadiah was in the way, behold, Elijah met him: and he knew him, and fell on his face, and said, Art thou that my lord Elijah?
And he answered him, I am: go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here.
And he said, What have I sinned, that thou wouldest deliver thy servant into the hand of Ahab, to slay me?
As the LORD thy God liveth, there is no nation or kingdom, whither my lord hath not sent to seek thee: and when they said, He is not there; he took an oath of the kingdom and nation, that they found thee not.
And now thou sayest, Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here.
And it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from thee, that the Spirit of the LORD shall carry thee whither I know not; and so when I come and tell Ahab, and he cannot find thee, he shall slay me: but I thy servant fear the LORD from my youth.
Was it not told my lord what I did when Jezebel slew the prophets of the LORD, how I hid an hundred men of the LORD'S prophets by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water?
And now thou sayest, Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here: and he shall slay me.
And Elijah said, As the LORD of hosts liveth, before whom I stand, I will surely shew myself unto him to day.
So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him: and Ahab went to meet Elijah.
And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel?
And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the LORD, and thou hast followed Baalim.
Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel's table.
So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel.
And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.
Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the LORD; but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men.
Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under:
And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.
And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under.
And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made.
And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.
And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.
And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.
And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down.
And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the LORD came, saying, Israel shall be thy name:
And with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed.
And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood.
And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time.
And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.
And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.
Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.
Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God.
And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.
And Elijah said unto Ahab, Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain.
So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees,
And said to his servant, Go up now, look toward the sea. And he went up, and looked, and said, There is nothing. And he said, Go again seven times.
And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man's hand. And he said, Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not.
And it came to pass in the mean while, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel.
And the hand of the LORD was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.