Faith Like Obadiah's

Sermon by Billy Dempsey on Jun 11, 2017

1 Kings 18:1-19

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I’ll ask you to turn, if you would, in your Bibles to 1 Kings chapter 18. We want to spend some time looking at the faith of Obadiah. To get a good handle on the faith of Obadiah, we need to look at the faith of the other character represented in that passage as well. But we want to spend most of our time tonight looking at the faith and understanding something of the faith or the experience with God of Obadiah. Because my suspicion is, that our experience with God is a lot like Obadiah’s, and I think Obadiah has some things to teach us about our walk with the Lord as we see together his walk with the Lord.

Before we do that, let me bring you up to speed on the narrative. I’ve been blessed to teach through the Elijah narrative the last couple of Wednesday nights, and so we’re kind of plunking down almost in the middle of the narrative here as we pick up the events of chapter 18. So without spending too much time, let me take us back to the beginning. Ahab comes to the throne of Israel. Not the whole nation now, remember. This is after the civil war and the breaking of the nation following the death of Solomon. And so Jeroboam, son of Nebat, takes the ten northern tribes and they establish a different nation. They establish a different worship. Jeroboam makes it illegal for his people to travel south to the temple, and so he creates a different priesthood and a different worship. And it was a stench in God’s nostrils.

And then to make the stench worse, Ahab rises, years and years later. And if you go back and look at the end of 1 Kings chapter 16, the writer tells us that as though the sin of his fathers was a light thing, Ahab did more to provoke the Lord than any king before him. Principally because, as we learn, Ahab’s father, Omri, created a marriage alliance with the king of Sidon who sent his daughter Jezebel south to marry the crowned prince Ahab, who became the king. And it’s as though he turned the religious keys of the nation over to Jezebel and she had one agenda – everyone needed to worship Baal; nobody needed to worship Yahweh, the God of Israel. Everybody needed to worship Baal. And so she set out single-mindedly, and Ahab with her, to convert Israel, those ten northern tribes who still had a faith, into a Baal-worshipping nation. Yahweh was not welcome. It was all about Baal. And so in that way Ahab made himself so noxious in God’s sight. So his reign marks the worst of times for the people of God.

And when the worst of times arrived, you get to 1 Kings chapter 17 and here comes the man of God speaking the Word of God seemingly out of nowhere. The great encouragement of that appearance of Elijah the Tishbite is that even in the worst of times, God is preparing relief for His people. Even in the worst of times, God is preparing salvation for His people. Even in the worst of times, God is at work for the good of His people. There came Elijah; nobody knew who he was. Nobody knew where he was. Suddenly he came as the man of God speaking the Word of God and faced Ahab squarely with no introduction and no formalities and said, “It will not rain in Israel until I speak.” And then God takes him away. And he stays away for three-and-a-half years. And that’s where we find the narrative beginning here in chapter 18. Let me read. I’ll read this long section but it’s worth it because of the rich narrative that we find here.

Chapter 18 verse 1:

“After many days the word of the Lord came to” –

I’m sorry. I need to pray! I did all that long introduction; that doesn’t do us any good unless we pray! Let’s pray.

Father, we are needy of Your Word to speak to us and we have not the skill, any of us, to understand what the Spirit would say to the churches unless You unstop our ears and You open our eyes. Father, the lights of the world have been in our face this week and the den of the world has been in our face, even today, and we need now Your Spirit to be our teacher and to hone our hearts and open our minds that we might see the Word and hear the voice of our Savior speaking to His sheep. Feed us now, Father, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Now let’s go back to the beginning here:

 

“After many days the word of the LORD came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, ‘Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth.’ So Elijah went to show himself to Ahab. Now the famine was severe in Samaria. And Ahab called Obadiah, who was over the household. (Now 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.) And Ahab said to Obadiah, ‘Go through the land to all the springs of water and to all the valleys. Perhaps we may find grass and save the horses and mules alive, and not lose some of the animals.’ So they divided the land between them to pass through it. Ahab went in one direction by himself, and Obadiah went in another direction by himself.

 

And as Obadiah was on the way, behold, Elijah met him. And Obadiah recognized him and fell on his face and said, ‘Is it you, my lord Elijah?’ And he answered him, ‘It is I. Go, tell your lord, ‘Behold, Elijah is here.’’ And he said, ‘How have I sinned, that you would give your servant into the hand of Ahab, to kill me? As the Lord your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my lord has not sent to seek you. And when they would say, ‘He is not here,’ he would take an oath of the kingdom or nation, that they had not found you. And now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord, ‘Behold, Elijah is here.’’ And as soon as I have gone from you, the Spirit of the Lord will carry you I know not where. And so, when I come and tell Ahab and he cannot find you, he will kill me, although I your servant have feared the Lord from my youth. Has it not been told my lord what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the Lord, how I hid a hundred men of the Lord's prophets by fifties in a cave and fed them with bread and water? And now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord, ‘Behold, Elijah is here’’; and he will kill me.’ And Elijah said, ‘As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today.’ So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him. And Ahab went to meet Elijah."

 

When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, ‘Is it you, you troubler of Israel?’ And he answered, ‘I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father's house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals. Now, therefore, send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table.’”

The flower fades, the grass withers, but the Word of our God stands forever.

Ahab’s Faith

Let’s look briefly at Ahab’s faith because it does help us understand more clearly Obadiah’s faith. It provides a backdrop or a foil for it. Ahab’s faith is simple to understand. It’s faith in Ahab. It’s faith in Ahab. Ahab has been faced with the man of God speaking the Word of God, “There’s no more rain until I say,” and he knows why – because he has refused to follow the commandments of the Lord and instead he’s followed the Baals. And so what does he do? He does two things; three things. Two things right away we see. He goes and he seeks grass and he sends messengers all over that part of the world to seek Elijah. When does Ahab seek Yahweh? He doesn’t. He doesn’t. Because he doesn’t take Yahweh the God of Israel seriously. He’s more serious about Baal than he is about Yahweh. Even though it is by Yahweh’s word that rain will come, Ahab seeks grass. Ahab seeks Elijah to force him to speak the word for rain. Ahab doesn’t seek Yahweh.

A Dead, Selfish Faith

And when he meets Elijah, he says, “You’re the cause of the trouble! It’s your fault, Elijah!” Elijah clearly sets him straight. “You know why. You’re the troubler of Israel; not me.” Ahab’s faith is all about Ahab and what Ahab can do, what Ahab can accomplish, what’s good for Ahab. Ahab’s faith is all about Ahab. Ahab’s faith is a dead faith because it rises from a dead heart. Remember what Paul says in Ephesians chapter 2? “You were dead in your trespasses and sins.” Ahab’s heart is dead. How else can you understand suffering under the hand of God? The famine was severe in Samaria. Suffering under the hand of God as he was, and still unable to recognize that Yahweh was his solution – not more grass and not Elijah. He’s blind. He’s deaf. He’s dumb. He cannot understand the realities that are shaping his life as coming from the hand of the God of Elijah, the God of Israel. That famine can last for a hundred years, and Ahab will not turn to seek God.

It tells us something. If, in our family, are those likewise whose faith is in themselves. If, in the places we work, there are those that we work with day in and day out who have no thought of or no desire to seek the God of Israel. And they never will. And guess what. You cannot say the right word and I cannot perform the right action to turn their hearts toward God. That’s His work. And if He doesn’t do it, it can’t be done. That’s why we pray. That’s why we pray for co-workers and neighbors and friends and loved ones and family. That’s why we pray. That is what we can do. And yes, God uses means. Yes, God uses things that we might say or do, but that is God using a tool as surely as you use a hammer or a saw or a sewing machine. That’s God using someone to accomplish the goal that He has determined to accomplish. It’s Yahweh’s goal; it’s God’s work. And so let me just encourage you. Don’t fail to pray; don’t give up on praying. Don’t think that you’re doing nothing by praying for those that live around you and work around you about whose souls you’re concerned. Because their hearts are as dead as a hammer, surely as Ahab’s is – dead as a hammer! And only God can bring it to life. So pray.

We Were Like Ahab

But also recognize this. That was your heart, that was my heart, before we came to faith, before He brought our heart to life and we saw, as we’ll see Obadiah sees, and we know the truth of God and the joy of walking with God and knowing God and loving God. That was us. That’s who we were. Our hearts were dead as a hammer too. The writer of Hebrews says something very interesting. He says in chapter 2 verse 1, “Let us, therefore, pay more careful attention to what we’ve heard, lest we drift from it.” We’re drifters by nature. If we don’t keep our hearts stirred up with Gospel truth, if we don’t keep our hearts stirred up with the study and the reading and the preaching of the Word by prayer, by the sacraments, by fellowship in the church, we drift. And guess where we drift. Our heart’s home territory is exactly where Ahab is. We drift back towards spiritual deadness. I’m not saying we’re going to hell, but I’m saying we drift back towards spiritual deadness. We drift back towards Ahab.

And let’s just understand that. As we neglect the right use of the means of grace, as we stay out of God’s Word on our own, as we stay away from prayer, as we tend not to try to bring the truth of the Gospel and the realities of Christian grace and Christian life into our own lives every day, we drift away and we look more and more like Ahab and less like Obadiah. So let me encourage you, as the writer of Hebrews does. Let’s be careful. Let’s pay more careful attention to what we have heard because drifting is a reality for us. We tend to drift left to ourselves. That is why God has put us in fellowship with one another. That’s why God leaves us His Word. That’s why God sends His Spirit to stir us up from time to time.

Obadiah’s Faith

Let’s look at the faith of Obadiah. Ahab’s faith is not strange to us. We know that territory. His seeing it displayed here is helpful to us. But let’s look at the faith of Obadiah. And the first thing that I want us to see is that Obadiah’s faith is a faith that works. You recognize it in verse 3. Obadiah was over his household. “Obadiah feared the Lord greatly.” And what did he do because he feared the Lord? What work did faith work in him? Well, this whole business of hiding the hundred prophets of God when Jezebel was out to stifle the voice of God in the land and kill the prophets. There would be no more prophetic voice. There would be no more teaching about Yahweh. And so what did Obadiah do? He gathered those prophets and he hid them in those two caves and he fed them with bread and water. As the master of Ahab’s household, I think he fed them with Ahab’s bread and water! Obadiah’s faithful work, or work that sprang from faith, was Jezebel’s failure. There were a hundred voices that survived to make circuit of the cities and towns and villages of Israel and preach and teach the Word of God. A hundred voices that survived, in addition to Elijah’s. Obadiah’s faithful work is Jezebel’s failure.

Obadiah’s Faithfulness

I think one of the reasons we kind of look past this portion of the narrative is that we’re getting ourselves all ready for the big showdown at Mount Carmel. And that really gets our juices going. We like to think about that and we love to read about that. And that’s really a big deal. Here’s Elijah facing off against the nation! Here’s Elijah who’s taking a stand and the whole nation is before him and the king is before him! It’s dramatic. It’s loaded with, it’s fraught with tension. It excites us when we read it and when we think about it. Obadiah’s ministry is not like that. Obadiah’s opportunity is not like that. He’s not standing off against the king. He’s the king’s right hand in terms of keeping his household going. He’s serving the king as he’s serving Yahweh as well. Obadiah’s opportunities aren’t the same as Elijah’s but they’re critically important. Obadiah is called to be faithful on a much smaller scale than Elijah using the tools and opportunities available to him. He’s using the tools and opportunities available to him and being faithful, a faithful servant of Yahweh with those. What a marvelous image of real faith that we live and walk out if our trust is in Christ every day.

Our Call to Faithful Living

And so it begs us to ask the question, “What are the opportunities, what are the tools, what are the resources available to us? What might we do, what might I do because I fear Yahweh? What might I do at work, at home in my neighborhood, among my family and friends, what might I do? What are my opportunities as one who fears and serves the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? What might I do? What might be my opportunity? And what resources are at my command to serve Him?” Obadiah’s not called to stand before the king and the nation. Obadiah’s called to rescue some prophets and to use the resources available to him. What resources are available to us to enhance the life of the kingdom of God, to bring the values and the virtues of the kingdom of God to bear right where we are? Maybe God has called some of us to go to the far reaches of the world. Maybe He has. And maybe not. Maybe He’s calling some of us to go across the street. Maybe He’s calling some of us to go across the office. Maybe He’s calling us to be fully invested right where we are with the opportunities and the tools and the resources that He’s laid at our disposal.

You know, Jesus said, didn’t He, that the children of this world were more shrewd and wise about the things of this world than the children of the light. Remember that? The parable of the unjust steward. He was saying the children of the light need to be more shrewd about the things of this world in using them for eternal good and eternal value, for eternal investment. Are we missing something? Let’s take stock. Let’s take stock of our opportunities and our resources. Are we using them as we might to accomplish good in the kingdom of God? Let’s understand Obadiah’s doing no small thing here. I get that. But I think we miss his story because we compare that opportunity to Elijah’s greater opportunity. Let’s not miss opportunities that may be less than spectacular. Let’s not miss people who may not be the most easy to work with. Let’s not miss people that may provide us an opportunity to serve Yahweh, to serve the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ right where we are.

Well, there's another thing that we see about Obadiah’s faith. It’s a sweet faith because it’s real to him and it’s real to him – we see him really risking his life to serve the God he fears and the God he loves. Before I get to that, let me mention this. I want you to see how he meets Elijah. Do you recognize this? Do you recognize the difference between the way Obadiah meets Elijah and the way Ahab meets Elijah? He falls on his face. That’s not dread; that’s honor. He falls on his face. “Is it you, my lord, Elijah?” That’s gladness. He’s delighted to be in the presence of the man of God. He is delighted to encounter him. He is delighted to be with him. There’s honor for Elijah; there’s love for Elijah. Matthew Henry says something very interesting. He says, “You can gage or you can measure, you can understand the work of grace in a heart when you see the way they respond or the way one responds to the people of God or to the ministers of God’s Word.” You can gage; you can recognize that grace is active in a heart by the way they receive and respond to other believers and especially the ministers of God. Grace is active in Obadiah’s heart, isn’t it? He’s delighted to see Elijah. He’s honoring him.

Obadiah’s Fear

And then Elijah shakes him up pretty bad. And this is where I think we really need to spend a few minutes thinking about. See, Obadiah’s faith is a real faith. It’s a faith that works. And it’s a faith that God continues to prove. And we see it right here with this request. You and I might think of it as a simple request. “Go tell your lord, ‘Behold, Elijah is here.’” It’s interesting that Elijah’s not going to find Ahab. Elijah’s telling Ahab, “Come find me.” That’s very interesting. Who is the greater? The lesser goes to find the greater. Elijah is the greater because he serves the greater King. “Go tell your lord, ‘Behold, Elijah’s here.’ ‘How have I sinned that you would give your servant into the hand of Ahab to kill me?’” What a crisis is here. Here has the Lord helped Obadiah, he’s helped him up till now doing this marvelous work of saving the lives of the prophets of God from certain destruction. It makes us want to ask Obadiah, “Do you think God’s going to abandon you now after having helped you so far? Did God bring you to this place to do away with your life?”

Perhaps Obadiah is doing what you and I tend to do at times. Perhaps Obadiah is thinking more about Ahab than he is about Yahweh. Don’t we do that? Things frighten us, things unnerve us, things shake us, things undo us – whether they’re people or circumstances or trials. We think more about them than we think about the God who promises help and who’s helped us every time. Don’t we? That’s exactly what Obadiah is doing right here. God is continuing to prove his faith. God is pushing him beyond the steps he’s taken to take yet another step in faith. “That’s great, Obadiah. Here, take one more! Here Obadiah, take one more!” Does God do that to you? Do you find Him doing that in your life? He does it in my life. “That was great! Now take one more.” God is continuing to prove faith that is genuine and real. Here’s a real test. Here’s a real test for Obadiah because he serves a despot; he serves a desperate despot. He serves a man for whom human life is cheap. We know it. We’ll see it as we recognize what happens with Naboth’s vineyard. We see it, we know it, we understand it. Life is nothing to this guy. Everything is about him getting ahead, and if you’re in his way then you get chopped to smithereens. That’s how Ahab operates. That’s his reputation. That’s what he does.

Obadiah’s Assurance

And that's what Obadiah expects to receive from him because the assumption is that God has been snatching Elijah around all over the countryside. That would be an urban legend. That would be an ancient urban legend – the Spirit has been swooping Elijah up and moving from place to place and nobody can find him. We know where he's been. God has kept him, in one place, but kept him, concealed him. Obadiah is pushed to trust God beyond what he's had to trust God up to this point and he feels drastically unprepared to do that very thing. Until Elijah says something to him that gets his attention. Notice what he says, what Elijah says in verse 15. "As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today." I think as soon as Obadiah heard, "Yahweh Sabaoth," – the Lord of hosts – I think it put steel in his soul. The Lord of hosts. The God who has all power to protect because the hosts of heaven, the mighty hosts of heaven are His to command. The armies of heaven are His to command. That's what Obadiah heard when Elijah reminded him that Yahweh is also called Yahweh Sabaoth, the Lord of hosts. Nothing will harm you that He is not going to use for your good. "You're safe, Obadiah," is what he heard. "You're safe, Obadiah."

I don’t know that he quelled all of Obadiah’s fears with that truth, but that truth gave Obadiah what he needed to take that next step. And look at verse 16. “So Obadiah went to meet Ahab.” Obadiah obeyed. Yahweh – now catch this; this is very important. Yahweh did not relieve Obadiah of the necessity to trust Him and to act on that trust regardless of his fears. He helps. It’s not just a matter of Obadiah simply gathering himself up. It’s not just that. He does have to gather himself up but he does so with God’s help. He helps, but Obadiah is still called to put his trust in Yahweh, find Ahab, and bring him to Elijah. He’s frightening, he’s terrified; he’s reminded, “Yahweh helps” and Yahweh has all power to help and protect. He’s fortified with that, but he still has to go and do the thing that frightens him. God does not relieve him of the opportunity or the necessity of trusting Him, yet again, yet one more step and doing what he’s called to do.

The Proving of Our Faith

How is Obadiah’s experience with God different from ours? Not at all. Not at all. God doesn’t relieve us of the necessity to trust Him. We may be frightened by what we face. We may be frightened by what we feel like is coming at us or what’s happening in our families or what’s happening at work. We may be frightened about what’s happening in our health or in our bank account. There may be all kinds of things that frighten us, for good reason. God calls us, just like He calls Obadiah to trust Him and do what obedience requires. He’s Yahweh Sabaoth. He’s the Lord of hosts. And all the powers and armies of heaven are at His disposal for the good of His people. And Obadiah’s experience bears that out. He obeys, finds Ahab, and Ahab comes to find Elijah.

A genuine faith, a real faith, is a faith that Yahweh continues to prove. He’ll continue to prove your faith. He’ll continue to prove mine. And as He proves it, as we find Him meeting us in the midst of a painful and a scary obedience, what happens? We know Him better and we love Him more. We come through the experience knowing Him better and loving Him more. That’s what He’s doing. That’s His goal. In the way of obedience, we learn to know Yahweh better and to love Him more and trust Him more. That’s what He’s about. Because He’s not looking for our behavior; He’s looking for our hearts. He’s looking for our hearts. That’s what He’s gaining with Obadiah.

Before we close let me just ask the question tonight, some of you may be here as visitors, we’re glad you’re here. Maybe you’re here not ever having made a profession of faith in Christ. Maybe you don’t understand why we talk about these things this way. Understand you’re not here by accident. Your faith may be Ahab’s faith, but surely if you’re here, if you’re curious, if you’re investigating, if you have questions that won’t go away and that you continue to want to have answered and haven’t found an answer that satisfies you yet, understand something – Yahweh is at work. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is calling you to Himself. And any of our elders, our ministers, would be happy to sit down with you and explain to you more what the dynamics of the Gospel are. But the solution is very simple – trust the God who gave His only Son so that you can be restored to Him. Lay your confidence on that Son who lived perfectly and died sacrificially as our catechism questions talked about tonight. Lay your confidence on Him and your faith will be transferred to an Obadiah-like faith from an Ahab-like faith.

Let’s go to the Lord in prayer.

Father, thank You, thank You for faith that is genuine and real. It is Your gift. It is not Obadiah’s achievement. It is Your gift and as Your gift You continue to buff it and shine it and add to it and multiply it. And as You do so, Obadiah becomes more and more a man after Your own image. That is Your goal. That is what You have accomplished in his life. Father, that is what You have accomplished through the person and work of Christ for all who trust in You and all who lay their confidence in Him. So help us to appreciate those opportunities that You send to us and be faithful with resources. Father, help us anticipate those times where You’re pushing us and proving our faith and help us see the gold at the end of that process, as painful and scary as it might be, that we would love You more and more. Hear us, as we make our prayer and give our thanks to You in Jesus’ name and for His sake. Amen.

 

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