Between Prophet and King
January 19 2001 by Ken Vandergriff , 1 Kings 18:1-18

Between Prophet and King | Friday, Jan. 19, 2001

Friday, Jan. 19, 2001

Between Prophet and King

By Ken Vandergriff 1 Kings 18:1-18 We've all been caught between the proverbial "rock and a hard place," where all our choices are less than desirable, or where choosing the right thing results in uncomfortable repercussions. Such occasions challenge our ethics, our determination, our faithfulness. We like to believe that faithfulness solves problems, producing calm and comfort. Sometimes it does. And other times faithfulness brings problems, as 1 Kings 18 shows. It will be helpful to set the historical and literary context of this narrative. King Ahab ruled the northern kingdom of Israel from 869-850 BC. Ahab was even more evil than his father, Omri, who had been more evil than all the kings preceding him (16:25, 30). Ahab's sin centered on his flagrant worship of the Canaanite god Baal(16:31-34).

Ahab's story is part of a lengthy historical work known as the Deuteronomistic History, stretching from Joshua through 2 Kings (excluding Ruth). The History was edited after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. to answer the question, "Why did God do this to us?" The historians found the key in the book of Deuteronomy: When Israel was faithful, God blessed them; when they were unfaithful, God cursed them (11:26-28; 30:11-20). Surveying the 700 years from Israel's settlement in Canaan under Joshua to 587, the historians found a repeated pattern of unfaithfulness; no wonder God had destroyed and exiled His people. Ahab's story is one element of this larger narrative. It is notable how much attention the historians give to this one king (chapters 16-22); likely he epitomizes how debased the religious and social life had become.

The story in 1 Kings 18 actually begins in 17:1. Elijah, introduced for the first time here, abruptly appears and announces that it will not rain again until he says so. Since Baal was worshiped as the storm god, who controlled life and fertility by sending rain, Elijah's word is a direct challenge to Canaanite religion. Following his announcement, Elijah went into hiding for three years. After three years of drought and famine, God sent Elijah back to confront Ahab (18:1-2).

Our lesson's text focuses on Obadiah (not to be identified with the prophet of the Book of Obadiah), an administrator in charge of Ahab's estate. Obadiah lived daily between the rock and a hard place. He served a Baal-worshiping king, yet he himself is loyal to Yahweh, the god of Israel, as his very name suggests (Obad-yahu means "servant of Yahweh"). When Jezebel, wife of Ahab, murdered Yahweh's prophets, Obadiah, endangering his own life, hid 100 other prophets in caves and supplied provisions to them (18:4, 13). While music, art, literature and preaching have extolled Elijah, Obadiah was an unsung hero of the faith, unobtrusively yet effectively risking for God.

As if negotiating the terrain between King Ahab and his own faith were not dangerous enough, Obadiah's predicament became even more perilous. Instructed to inform Ahab of Elijah's return, Obadiah resisted. He knew the king's rage; if Elijah disappeared again after Obadiah informed the king of his presence, Obadiah would be killed. When he protected the prophets of God from Jezebel, Obadiah's actions were clandestine and he was in control. Now he was instructed to perform a public action that placed his well-being in Elijah's hands. Not only that, Obadiah may have realized that Elijah's name might convey to Ahab something other than the fact of Elijah's reappearance. In Hebrew, the name Elijah means "my God (eli) is Yah" (abbreviated form of Yahweh). So, if Obadiah said, "Behold Elijah," the Baal-worshiping Ahab might have heard it as, "Behold, my God is Yahweh." Obadiah must have wondered if his rock and hard place could get any tighter.

Obadiah quickly passed from the scene. In verse 16, his faithfulness is reported - "so Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him." We hear no more of him; the action returns to the major figures, Elijah and Ahab.

Like Obadiah, most of our acts of faithfulness and quiet heroism are private, far from the limelight. Occasionally we are called to be faithful on a public stage. Paul wrote that "it is required of stewards that they be found faithful" (1 Cor. 4:2). No more than that is expected, and no less.

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1/19/2001 12:00:00 AM by Ken Vandergriff , 1 Kings 18:1-18 | with 0 comments
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