In our latest book Fearless by Faith, Brother Andrew and I examine the life of Elijah and how God used him to confront an evil politician and a corrupt culture.
There’s another character in this story that is worth examining—Obadiah, a trusted member of King Ahab’s staff. The following didn’t make it into our book—and I admit some will consider Brother Andrew’s thinking controversial. But it’s worth taking a couple of minutes to consider whether this servant of God compromised his witness.
“Obadiah feared the Lord greatly, and when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah took a hundred prophets and hid them by fifties in a cave and fed them with bread and water” (I Kings 18:3-4).
How does one resist the manipulation, power and influence of wicked Queen Jezebel? There was someone among Ahab’s inner circle who could make a difference. Obadiah is a key player in this palace intrigue.
Obadiah’s name means “servant of God.” God-fearing citizens in Israel probably rejoiced to have a true servant of Yahweh embedded in Ahab’s inner circle. We don’t know how Obadiah landed in the service of this king. He kept his true allegiance a secret from the queen or she would certainly have run him out of the palace.
This member of Ahab’s inner circle tried to make the best of an impossible situation. Ahab’s wife hated Israel’s God and drove their prophets—those she couldn’t arrest and murder—into hiding. Meanwhile the favored prophets of Baal and Asherah, 850 in all, feasted at the royal table.
The scene must have sickened Obadiah. He hid one hundred of God’s servants and took scraps from the royal kitchen to feed them. So far, so good. However, I consider Obadiah a compromiser because he tried to serve God while also serving the evil king Ahab. When good and evil are in conflict, guess which side wins when evil pays your salary? To protect his paycheck Obadiah was a secret believer.
This is not to say that followers of the one True God can’t hold positions of influence in pagan governments. Nehemiah and Daniel are two powerful examples of leaders who faithfully served their kings while refusing to hide their faith in God. It can be done, but it is risky.
After three years of drought, Ahab called upon Obadiah to go with him throughout the land—Ahab in one direction, Obadiah in the opposite direction—to seek grass for the royal horses and mules. It seems that Ahab was more concerned with his animals than the needs of his citizens. Shouldn’t he have focused on how to end the drought and make sure his people had food on their tables? If Ahab trusted Obadiah, did “servant of God” try to influence the monarch to do what was right? Or was he afraid that he might be fired. Or worse, that he might be executed.
Obadiah’s motives may have been good but his methods were based on fear. He knew little of the power of God. Then he met Elijah, summoned out of seclusion by God to confront Ahab. Elijah ordered Obadiah to fetch his master: “Go tell your lord, ‘Behold Elijah is here.’” A simple enough request. And good news—maybe that meant rain was in the forecast! After all Ahab had heard Elijah declare there would be no rain “except by my word.” Obadiah didn’t view it that way. His boss has been searching for Elijah in surrounding nations. Now here you are and as soon as I leave, you’ll vanish, and then Ahab will kill me.
In a long groveling speech Obadiah wanted Elijah to understand what he’d done for God. Surely, Elijah, you can’t expect more of me. I’ve resisted the wicked queen and protected one hundred prophets. Surely that’s enough. You can’t expect me to risk my life!
Actually, Obadiah may actually have thwarted God’s work. Did he consider that when prophets go underground, they don’t speak anymore? So God’s word was silenced. Therefore, the population was deprived of God’s word that they desperately needed to hear.
Here’s the problem: Obadiah believed God but hadn’t seen any answers to his prayers. At least, none he recognized. The drought was getting worse. Jezebel was growing ever more cruel. Ahab was more concerned about saving animals than people. What could one person do?
I consider Obadiah a coward. True he served the one true God. Yet He gave evil a free pass. His priority was safety first. He determined where the political wind was blowing and how he could stay in Ahab’s good graces. Had he truly served God, he would have recognized that God had placed him in a position of power and influence. If he’d stood before God like Elijah, listening for God’s Word, he could have prayed and God would have given him wisdom. Then he could speak to the king and his word would be God’s word. Yes, there was a price to pay. Yes, it was dangerous. That’s what spiritual battle is all about.
P.S. I’d love to get your reaction to Brother Andrew’s perspective on Obadiah. I invite you to leave a comment.