Ravens and the Prophet

Interfacing with the World - Chapter Nine

As Obadiah was walking along, Elijah met him.
Obadiah recognised him, bowed down to the ground and said, ‘Is it really you, my lord Elijah?’
‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘Go tell your master, “Elijah is here” . . .
‘Haven’t you heard, my lord, what I did while Jezebel was killing the prophets of the Lord?
I hid a hundred of the Lord’s prophets in two caves,
fifty in each, and supplied them with food and water.’
(1 Kings 18:7-8,13)(1)

Torn between gratitude for the way the Lord had preserved him, and his longing to return to Israel, it must have been hard for Elijah to dwell peacefully in Zarephath, knowing the suffering that was even then befalling his fellow believers in Israel.

Suddenly, Elijah’s prolonged retreat in the safe, if cloistered, township of Zarephath came to an end. The time had come for Elijah to move beyond the world of private devotion to a public demonstration of his faith. On his way to confront the tyrant king a second time, Elijah met another servant of the Lord, who was, as we shall see, a most unusual person.

Obadiah: Stool-Pigeon or Faithful Servant?

It is a sign of God’s favour that He raises certain of His servants to key positions. Like Joseph, who rose to prominence in Pharaoh’s court, Obadiah was placed in charge of Ahab’s palace.(2) Obadiah not only kept his faith in that most alien of environments, but used his position to protect other followers of Yahweh. At the risk of his life, he first hid and then supplied the prophets of God, while famine and persecution raged in the land.

Our hearts rise as we see Elijah coming across this man, whose very name means ‘servant of the Lord’. Have we not longed for him during his lonely life to find a worthy companion? Surely in Obadiah he would find a suitable partner?

Yet there is a strange ambiguity in the way Obadiah responded to meeting Israel’s most wanted man. Eager though he may have been to relate what he had done to protect the Lord’s prophets, the truth was that Elijah’s unexpected reappearance had put him in a predicament. If he reported to Ahab that he had sighted him, might the capricious king not accuse him of having known all along where the prophet had been hiding? And suppose that Elijah had disappeared by the time he returned? You can never be too careful with prophets! Before returning to Ahab’s presence, Obadiah extracted from Elijah the promise that he would present himself to the king that very day.

The praise and fame that come our way in life test us just as thoroughly as the more distressing situations.(3) Bribed by pleasure, and frightened at the thought of losing face, many who rise to positions of leadership and power soon become preoccupied with their own survival. It is hard not to wonder whether Obadiah had come to look a little too much at his own self-interest. His timidity stands in sharp contrast with Elijah’s dauntless courage.(4)

Reaching out to Others

A question we must all face is how we can translate a devotional life of some beauty and excellence into a telling presence for the Lord. Of the many in the nation who still adhered to the God of Israel, only Elijah had the courage to speak out, and call its leaders to repentance.

As friends of Jesus, we must never lose our concern to introduce people to the Saviour of the World. The Lord has placed each one of us in a unique position to reach out to particular people with the love of God. Our place of work is the most visible demonstration by which people can observe how real God is to us. Most of us, after all, devote more than fifty per cent of our waking hours to our jobs, and it is right to pray that our presence may make some difference there. Yet all too many of us tone down our witness to the point where we succeed neither in challenging, nor in converting anyone.

It is easy to justify our compromise.

‘It would be foolish to rock the boat,’ we argue.

‘Nobody accepts the Christian point of view anyway, so why bother speaking out?’

Thus institutions, which are already fallen, risk becoming genuine outposts of the devil’s empire, as the ways of godlessness go from strength to strength, unchallenged.

Concerning our witness, it is true that character speaks louder than words.

Yet few, if any, will take the step of asking the Lord Jesus into their hearts without clear explanation. When I first saw my future wife at work as a nurse, the love and care that shone from her was a delight to witness. Because she did not speak openly about her faith, however, her patients were left with the impression that she was simply an exceptionally lovely person. Quite unintentionally the ‘glory’ went to her.

It was far from easy for her to be able to find the words with which to express her faith. It took a considerable amount of time and courage before she was able to do so with any degree of confidence. I praise God that she battled to overcome her embarrassment, because she is able now to witness freely about the Lord Jesus. There have even been numerous occasions when she has felt prompted to pray with non Christians. Many have then been able to experience the reality of God’s love for themselves.

May the Lord challenge our complacency, and bring us face to face with people who, like Elijah, walk so closely to the Lord that their purity exposes the hidden motivations of our hearts. Their wisdom and enthusiasm will inspire us to fresh endeavours for the Kingdom, and we will experience the truth of Paul’s prayer: ‘I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.’ (5)

Modern-Day Obadiahs

None of us find it easy to work in a society which holds steeply contrasting views to our own. Nevertheless, it has always been God’s will to prosper His people, and to win them favour, even in the eyes of those whose guiding principles differ sharply from our own.

By contrast, those who divide life artificially into the spiritual and the secular, are left with a fragmented and splintered world view. There is nothing biblical about the concept of a ‘secular’ job, for everything becomes sacred when it is offered to God. The more fully we believe this, the more faithfully we will work and pray for the power of God to move in the place of our employment.

Why is it that we only see the photographs of missionaries serving overseas pinned up at the back of the church? Would it not be a good idea to recognize the value of every member who is seeking to be a witness for the Lord? Rosalind and I love to visit people at their place of work because it helps us to identify more fully with them. Sometimes this leads to them developing a strategy for impacting it more effectively for the Kingdom.

It is not only conventional missionaries who need our prayer support: it is doctors, nurses, teachers, housewives, businessmen anyone, in short, who has a heart to share the love of Christ with others. Theirs is a mission field which takes them right onto the front line in the battle against secularism.

To pray for our schools, hospitals and workplaces is to invite the Lord to impact the life of communities with His power. Since we can only give ourselves wholeheartedly to a limited number of causes, it is important for us to know which people, professions, regions or nations the Lord would have us be involved with.

The example of Obadiah reminds us of the need to pray for Christians who have acquired high standing in life. All too often, such people either lack vision for what they are doing, or the prayer support which would make their work fruitful. Rather than pressing them to attend more meetings, or to assume greater responsibilities within the Church, it is for us to make the effort to find out more about their activities.

These are the Obadiahs of our own generation, who must serve in the world, yet remain free of its harmful influences. May we pray, serve and support these people, as they take their stand for Jesus, and live out the greater part of their life in a public arena, in the fear of the Lord.(6)

Reflections

It is wonderful how the Lord raises some of His people to prominent positions – but they need our prayers, not least that they may continue to serve the Lord, rather than their own self-interests. Bring a number of modern-day ‘Obadiahs’ to the Lord now. Perhaps He will give you an ongoing burden for some of them.

Pray for courage to overcome your natural fear of man, and to have many opportunities to tell them of all the Lord means to you. Ask the Lord, too, if there are any specific steps you can take to be more effective in sharing the love of God with those for whom you have a particular burden.

Selah

We ask Your richest blessings,
Lord,
on those You have raised to prominence;
that their hearts be pure,
and their fruitfulness be great.

Grant us,
too,
both courage and wisdom,
as we reach out to others
with Your love.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Previous chapter – The Stature of Waiting
Next Chapter – Fire on Mount Carmel

References

1 It would be helpful to read verses 3-15 as well.
2 In his epistle to the Philippians, Paul writes of the believers who belong to Caesar’s household. (Philippians 3:22) There, in the midst of a way of life that was completely opposed to the Christian ideal, God still had His faithful servants. ‘When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, He makes even his enemies live at peace with him.‘ (Proverbs 16:7)
3 Proverbs 27:21
4 Nevertheless, it is recorded that Obadiah feared the Lord greatly. (1 Kings 18:3 KJV). It is greatly to his credit that he overcame his fears, and became a vital link in the run-up to the mighty conflict on Mount Carmel. What does the fear of the Lord mean? The simplest definition I can give is that it means we love Him so much, and have such a strong desire to please Him, that we literally fear to do anything that will grieve or displease Him. Eg, Psalm 5:7, 19:9,111:10; Proverbs 8:13, 14:27, 15:16, 19:23, 23:17, 29:25; Isaiah{ 11:3, 33:6; 2 Corinthians 5:11, 7:1
5 Philemon 4-6
6 Cf Nehemiah 1:3-11; Daniel 9:15-20; Exodus 32:11-14; 33:13-17.

Chapter Index

Chapter Eighteen - Symbols of His Power
Chapter Nineteen - The Dark Speech of God
Chapter Twenty - The Judgements of God
Chapter Twenty One - When My People are one
Chapter Twenty Two - A Heart of Mourning
Chapter Twenty Three - Three pdfs

The Prophetic Ministry
Part One - May our Hearts be free from idols
Part Two - The Prophetic Calling
Part Three - Prophets and Pastors
Chapter Twenty Four - The Challenging Counterfeit
Chapter Twenty Five - The Schools of the Prophets
Part One
Part Two
Chapter Twenty Six - Translated to Eternity