Tom takes us through 1 Kings 18:1-15 in the next in our series 'Life in the Land of False Idols'. In this passage God calls Obidiah to serve him in his position as official to the idolatrous king Ahab. Tom shows us that we are also called to serve God where we find ourselves.
The modern use of the word ‘vocation’ puts it in the category of a ‘job’ or a ‘career’. Sadly, it has lost its original meaning of being a ‘calling’ i.e. God has called you to a certain life.
Tim Keller puts it this way:
“A job is a vocation only if someone else calls you to do it for them rather than for yourself. And so, our work can be a calling only if it is reimagined as a mission of service to something beyond merely our own interests. Thinking of work mainly as a means of self-fulfilment and self-realization slowly crushes a person.”
For a Christian, the word vocation means that the Lord has deliberately placed us somewhere in order to serve him and our neighbours. It is no longer about self-fulfilment or self-interest.
In 1 Kings 18 we meet 2 prophets with very different ‘callings’, because God uses his servants in very different ways.
We shall begin by looking at the Prophet Elijah
At this time in history there was a war waging for the heart of Israel. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel were determined to destroy the prophets of Yahweh and to make Baal supreme. But Yahweh had other ideas.
Elijah was told by God, in verse 1: “Go and present yourself to Ahab and I will send rain on the land.”
It is important to remember that there had been three years of crippling drought since they had last met, and Ahab had been searching everywhere for Elijah, presumably to kill him.
But God had decided that the time had come for them to meet. And there would inevitably be a clash.
This was Elijah’s calling. He had been learning how to trust God as preparation for this next vocation. He was to present himself to Ahab, as the Lord’s spokesman.
But after verse 1 we move to another servant and to a very different calling.
The unassuming agent – his times
Now we meet a man who had an altogether different life. He was a man employed both by Yahweh and by Ahab, and his name was Obadiah.
Obadiah was Ahab’s ‘palace administrator’ equivalent to the Prime Minister in Ahab’s court, and he had been commissioned by Ahab to “Go through the land to all the springs and valleys. Maybe we can find some grass to keep the horses and mules alive so we will not have to kill any of our animals.” [verse 5]
His concern about mules and horses was because he needed fighting animals to maintain his dominion. He had no interest in the lives of his people, and this shows that in the last three years of famine and drought, his evil heart had not changed at all.
Obadiah worked shoulder to shoulder with Ahab, but what was he like as a man?
The unassuming agent – his life.
In the Bible, names matter. Ethbaal in chapter 16 means Baal lives. Elijah means My God is Yahweh, and Obadiah means Servant of Yahweh.
Verse 3 tells us that Obadiah was a devout believer in the Lord. Moreover “I your servant have worshipped the Lord since my youth”
In verse 12 we learn that he had protected a hundred prophets in ten caves, so God had used him to take care of his people. He was not a servant of the Lord in name only. He had taken massive risks to keep the word of the Lord alive.
So how did he become Prime Minister to evil King Ahab?
He was a life-long servant of Yahweh, who in God’s providence had been called to this life in the palace. And we can think of others such as Joseph, Daniel and Esther.
God does not have one type of servant. For times such as this he needed his Elijahs, his Obadiahs and hundreds more who would not bow the knee to Baal.
The Callings Collide
In verse seven, as Obadiah was walking along, Elijah met him. Obadiah recognized him, bowed down to the ground, and said, “Is it really you, my lord Elijah?”
Suddenly Elijah was in front of him. It must have been quite a shock to see him after 3 years of famine and hardship.
“Yes,” he replied. “Go tell your master, ‘Elijah is here.’”
If seeing Elijah was a shock, that command was even more so.
In verse 9 we read: “What have I done wrong,” asked Obadiah, “that you are handing your servant over to Ahab to be put to death?”
If we remember last week’s sermon about the widow of Zarephath, she said to Elijah: ‘Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?’
Whenever Elijah appeared, people thought that it spelt some kind of judgement on them, and Obadiah was no different.
He protested strongly. He feared death at the hands of Ahab if he told his master that Elijah was back, only to have Elijah disappear again.
Three times he cried the same complaint, and it wasn’t an unreasonable one. This shows yet another moment where God stretched the faith of his people. But the Lord never asks people to step out in faith without a promise to trust.
In verse 15 Elijah pronounced:
As the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, I will surely present myself to Ahab today.”
So, Obadiah in verse 16 ‘went to meet Ahab’
So here we witness two different men with two very different vocations, but they both have the same purpose.
God has called us to many different places, and situations but in some ways, we are all in Ahab’s house. We live in a world of physical crisis, with the world’s idols on every corner. But this passage says: Child of God, wherever we have been called let’s be faithful to Yahweh.
It might not be easy. We are at great risk of serious opposition, but there is comfort because Obadiah, like us, was scared. That’s normal.
Whatever our situation, we are to step out in faith on the word of God and He will prove himself to be faithful.
We may not be able to say much; it may be unwise to do so; but let’s ask ourselves how we can use our vocation to seek first the kingdom of God?
This is not only a question but also the challenge of this story.
How can we use our vocation to seek first the kingdom of God?
If we’re struggling, where do we look? The Lord Jesus said, in John 6, ‘I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.’
He came as a servant.
In Mark 10 he says, “The Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Like Obadiah he found himself behind enemy lines. He went into the heart of darkness, into death, to demonstrate the love of God and the faithfulness of God to his people.
Every Obadiah points us to that servant of Yahweh. And every day, as you and I look to him, we will find the grace and the help, to serve in our vocations.
1 Kings 18:1 - 18:15
18:1 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.” 2 So Elijah went to show himself to Ahab. Now the famine was severe in Samaria. 3 And Ahab called Obadiah, who was over the household. (Now Obadiah feared the LORD greatly, 4 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.) 5 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.” 6 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.
7 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?” 8 And he answered him, “It is I. Go, tell your lord, ‘Behold, Elijah is here.’” 9 And he said, “How have I sinned, that you would give your servant into the hand of Ahab, to kill me? 10 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. 11 And now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord, “Behold, Elijah is here.”’ 12 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. 13 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? 14 And now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord, “Behold, Elijah is here”’; and he will kill me.” 15 And Elijah said, “As the LORD of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today.”