Three ways

Obadiah

Facing your fears

Tags: courage faith

The story so far …

There are a number of ‘Obadiahs’ in the Bible, including the one whose prophecies fit between Amos & Jonah in the Old Testament. The Obadiah we are considering came much earlier than that – back in the bad old days when Ahab and Jezebel held power, waging war against God’s faithful; and Elijah, the mighty prophet, came and went, prophesying judgement on them for it.

This story starts as 3 years of drought has led to utter desperation on King Ahab’s part and Jezebel’s reign of terror against has left those faithful to the LORD in desperation too.  Elijah has been missing for all that time, sheltered in faraway places but now he’s back...

Read 1 Kings 18. 1-16

METHOD 1. Inductive study

What strikes you?

Key Principles?

Application to your circumstances

Action to take?

METHOD 2. Guided study

  • Make a list of the things you can deduce from the text about Obadiah
  • How would you describe his relationship with
    1. Ahab?
    2. God?
    3. Elijah?
  • What positive qualities can you identify in Obadiah’s character?
  • What would you describe as his negative qualities?
  • How far do you have sympathy with Obadiah for the difficult situation he has been put in?
  • In what situations are you often ‘caught’ with regards to your faith and other pressures/ values?  E.g. Work, relationships, family, societies/ clubs/ teams you belong to.
  • How far do you think Obadiah’s method of being secretly faithful, whilst pretending to obey Ahab is legitimate for followers of Jesus?  (Matthew 5.10-16 might help)

After a long explanation to Elijah about why he doesn’t want to obey him, Obadiah finally does as he’s asked. 

  • How often, when confronted with a difficult situation, do you EVENTUALLY do what God asks you to and how often do you ‘bottle out’?  Why do you think that is and how might Obadiah’s example encourage you to be braver?

METHOD 3. Reflections on Barak

I have a lot of sympathy for Obadiah. A secret follower of God, described as someone who ‘revered the Lord greatly’ (V3) in a time when that could cost you your life. Obadiah has used his position of authority to save 100 prophets, 

  • hiding them from his employer; risking his life,
  • feeding them; at considerable cost – especially in a famine,
  • and providing them with blue gold (water!) the most precious commodity in the land.

You can understand why Obadiah thought he’d done his bit for God.

However, there was more - Obadiah met the man Ahab had been searching for, for 3 years – the ‘troubler of Israel’, God’s prophet Elijah. It’s interesting to note that Obadiah recognised Elijah immediately, and fell on his face. (V7) Was it relief that he was back? Was it hope – that God was about to sort the mess out? Was it guilt – that he was working for Ahab and alive when so many other believers had been executed?  The phrase ‘Is it really you my lord Elijah?’ smacks of a mixture of emotions to me. Hope that the drought might be over;  relief that God has sent the cavalry;  hope that a friendly face might be here to back him up.

What Elijah asks him to do seems to tip him over the edge though.

He’s been as brave as he can, taken as many risks as he dare – now he’s terrified that Ahab will shoot the messenger (so to speak). Obadiah is a mixture of courage and cowardice. Prepared to take risks in secret – but scared for his own neck when push comes to shove.

Isn’t that like most of us? Brave sometimes but scared to speak about God in certain places, anxious to take a stand in case people think badly of us or it has consequences?

The root of Obadiah’s fear was that he wasn’t sure Elijah & God could be trusted.

What if Elijah went AWOL again and left Obadiah to face Ahab’s fury alone?

How often are we like that with God? When he asks us to do something we are scared of – is our reluctance that we are unsure whether he will come good on his part of the deal, or will he drop us and leave us in the lurch?

It’s a fair enough question from a human perspective, people often DO leave us in the lurch – but God NEVER does. The Bible is full of stories of God honouring those who obey him and take risks. Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Joshua, Rahab, Ruth, Mary, Peter, Paul... there isn’t a single story in the entire Bible where God is not faithful – and if you stop and think about it, he has been faithful to you – hasn’t he? Even in dark times he has never left, even when we don’t understand at the time so often we can look back and see him keeping the promise that,

Romans 8.28

In all things God works for the good of those who love him

The Cross is the ultimate proof that God can be trusted – but if he was prepared to die for us, what are we prepared to do for him?

The Consequences of Obadiah’s action are this:

  • Obadiah saw God be faithful; Elijah stuck around to meet Ahab – his fears were unfounded.
  • Elijah, who was also terrified, met a friendly face and heard the news that he wasn’t the only prophet left. This is partly what gave him the courage for the showdown that was to come – with 450 prophets of Ba’al for the sake of Israel’s salvation.  God used Obadiah to bless Elijah, whether he knew it or not.
  • Ahab came face to face with the power of God. In fire, in the sword and in a rainstorm that ended a drought of 3 years and countless suffering for the people. It never brought him to repentance – but it did show the nation that God is bigger than any king - particularly one who thinks he can persecute God’s people with impunity.

This story isn’t really about Obadiah, it’s about the consequences of his actions – he was a little cog in a much bigger plan. But God used him, and despite his protestations Obadiah did come good, he did obey, he took a deep breath and did what was asked of him – never realising what that would mean.  
As Jesus asked – is it better to say you’ll obey and not do it, or to refuse and yet later do what you were asked?  I’m encouraged that even if I throw all my toys out of the cot from time to time, tell God his demands on my life are too big, that it’s the deep breath we take, the quick “ahhh help God!” prayer that goes up and then the act of obedience that blesses God and other people. We never know what it might mean – that act of courage, of who it might bless, of how God might use it.

Let’s follow Obadiah’s example, take a deep breath and be brave – even if we’re afraid; God IS bigger!

© Ruth Perrin 2010. Last revised on 11 February 2010

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Cloud of Witnesses is a series of Bible studies on the men and women of scripture. You'll find everyone from Gideon and Andrew through to Tamar and Tabitha.

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Ruth Perrin, the author, is on staff at King's Church Durham and holds an MA in Theology and Ministry.

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