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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
 www.edmontonimmanuel.ca
 
Title:The Lord commands His prophets Elijah and Obadiah to proclaim the Truth in spite of the danger at the hands of Ahab and Jezebel
Text:1 Kings 18:1-16 (View)
Occasion:Ordination (Elder/Deacon)
Topic:Obedience
 
Preached:2010-06-20
Added:2010-09-24
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Sing:  Psalm 84: 1, 3, 5

Sing: Psalm 18:  7, 9, 10

Read: 1 Kings 18: 1-16

Sing: Psalm 56:1, 4, 5

Text: 1 Kings 18: 1-16

Sing: Psalm 76: 3, 4, 5

Sing: Psalm 134: 1, 2, 3

Sing: Hymn 9: 1-5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters,

       Children, I want to begin by asking you a question: "Are you sometimes afraid to tell the truth?" Be honest. Suppose you took a cookie and your mother asks you whether or not you are the one who did this. You think that she has no proof. Would you in such a case tell the truth? Or suppose you broke something and you think that nobody saw it. Would you tell your parents or your teacher that you are the one that did it? Perhaps sometimes you would. But, there is a good possibility that you won't. Why? Well, because you are afraid. You don't want your parents or anyone else angry at you and you don't want to be punished. And you know what you did is wrong.

        Don't think that the adults are much different. We don't always tell the truth either. That is what we are like as human beings. We don't like punishment, and we don't like people to be angry at us.

        But now think about getting into trouble about telling truth. That can happen too. That is the position the prophets of the Lord, Elijah and Obadiah, find themselves in. By telling the truth they can really get themselves into trouble. For you see, they had to deal with a very wicked king, King Ahab, and his even more wicked wife, Jezebel.

        Ahab and Jezebel are not like your mother or your father who usually only punish you for something that you have done wrong. No, King Ahab will punish anyone who dares to stand up to him. The problem is that this king does not like the truth. He only thinks about himself. He doesn't care about God or about other people. He doesn't really care about who gets hurt either.

        But now the Lord says that Elijah must go to that wicked king and tell him the truth. Obadiah had to help him in this. For the Lord also puts Obadiah on Elijah's path. And so both these prophets have to deal with an angry king. It could even cost them their life.

        We see, however, that the one prophet deals with it differently than the other. It is true that both do the right thing in the end, but Elijah appears to be fearless, whereas Obadiah is shaking in his boots. He is really scared. Why would that be? Why would the one prophet be so different from the other? Well, that's one of the things we will learn this morning. The theme for the sermon is as follows:

The Lord Commands His Prophets Elijah and Obadiah to Proclaim the Truth In Spite Of the Danger at the Hands of Ahab and Jezebel. We will see:

1. The Lord’s command;

2. Obadiah's fear;

3. Elijah’s obedience.

 

          Elijah had been to see the King before. At that time he told him some very bad news, namely that the Lord God would not send any rain on the land until Elijah would decide to send it. The Lord is very disappointed with him and the people Israel. And therefore there is going to be a severe drought. The crops will not grow. The people will go hungry. It is a warning and a call to repentance.

         As soon as he told him that message Elijah leaves. For the king was very angry. He did not like that message at all. But the Lord God protected Elijah from falling into the hands of this angry king Ahab. The Lord sends him to an isolated place where the ravens feed him, and where he can drink from the brook. When the water runs dry in the brook, the Lord sends him outside of the country to a widow. And there he miraculously feeds him with the replenishing flour and the oil of the widow.

        But now the Lord tells Elijah once again to go and present himself to King Ahab. This time, however, it will be with a good message, namely that the Lord God will finally send the rain.

        It is surprising that the Lord God sends him with that message. For Ahab had not repented from his sin nor had the people of Israel. Why would the Lord now send the rain? Does that now mean that Ahab had won? Does that mean that Elijah had to go to Ahab with his tail between his legs, conceding defeat?

       No, it doesn't mean that at all. But you have to understand how the Lord God works. The Lord takes away but he also gives. And he does these things in his own good time and in accordance with his own good pleasure. He has a definite purpose in mind. The Lord God wanted to show who is in control. He wanted to show that he is not like the gods of the heathens who can be manipulated at will. For that's how those gods functioned.

       The gods of the heathens were the fiction of the imagination of the people. They acted just like people. In the ancient writings you can read the stories about these heathen gods. They married each other and had fights with one another and were jealous of one another and they pouted and acted just like people. That is because these gods are made up by people. And therefore you could also manipulate them through the prophets. The prophets of these heathen gods did not actually speak the words of those gods, but their own words. And therefore it was easy to influence those gods as well.

        And now Ahab thought about the God of Israel in the same way. He identified the prophet Elijah with the Lord God himself. He thought that if he could silence the prophet, that then he could also silence God, Yahweh.

        That is where he went wrong, terribly wrong. Ahab and the people have to understand that the Lord God is the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth and that no one can manipulate him. They also have to understand that when a true prophet of the Lord speaks, that then he speaks the word of the Lord. He doesn't speak the words on his own authority, but on God's authority.

        And now, by having Elijah come with the message that the drought is over, the Lord once again shows that he is the one who decides these things. For the Lord uses various means to bring people on their knees. He withholds the necessities of life to remind us that he is the giver of life, and he gives us good things to remind us of his kindness. Listen to what Paul says in Romans 2:4, "Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?"

        That is what the Lord God is doing right now. He wants it to be clear to Ahab and the people that it is all his doing.

       Often we attribute the forces of nature to chance. We don't necessarily see God's hand in all these things. Yet, we confess, that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, come to us not by chance but by God's fatherly hands.

        That this came by God's fatherly hand is doubly clear. For the Lord specifically said so through the mouth of the prophet Elijah. But Ahab and the people were still not listening. They hardened their hearts.

 

2. On the way to the king, Elijah meets Obadiah. Again, looking at this from a human perspective only, you would think that this is a chance encounter. But the Lord's hand is in this as well. He wanted Elijah to meet him on the way and he wanted Obadiah involved in this. For Obadiah was an important man in the palace of King Ahab. He was in charge of the palace and was responsible for the good order and for the maintenance of movable goods and other property.

         Most importantly, Obadiah was in a position of leadership in Israel, God's people, God's church. He was an office bearer in the Church of God. And the Lord God uses his office bearers to come with his word. The Lord wants to use him in his important position as office bearer to come with the truth of God’s word to the rebellious king. That is what office bearers are for.

         Once again today we are ordaining an office bearer, an elder. And that is how we have to see him as well, as we do all the other office bearers, including the minister. Office bearers are ordained to bring God's word. An office bearer comes to you, not only with the blessings of God, but also with his curses on those who do not want to be obedient. An office bearer has a very important task in God's kingdom. And he may not be taken lightly.

         As we will see in a moment, Obadiah was a weak man. But, the Lord God nevertheless wants to use him in spite of his sinfulness. The Lord God wants his purposes to be shown through him.

        That is the case with today's office bearers as well. As long as they want to serve God in truth, we have to honour them in their office. We do not dismiss them because of their sinfulness. No, we embrace them because of their office; because of the fact that they come with the words of life. That has nothing to do with their personalities, or with the way they look, or anything outward, but it has everything to do with God's word. It is a matter of life and death.

         Elijah meets Obadiah when he is on the way to see King Ahab. Obadiah was out and about because Ahab wanted Obadiah to go through the land to find water and food for his horses and mules. These animals are dying. Ahab himself would go in one direction and Obadiah in another.

         This would appear to be a good political move for Ahab. By going out into the country looking for water and food he indicates to the people that he himself is also severely affected by the drought. He is one with them in their misery. It's a good thing for a leader to show that, not just in words, but also in deeds.

          Recently we saw the same thing with President Obama when he went out to the beaches where the oil spill was evident. He did not just stay in the Oval Office. No, he went to where the damage was being done. And thereby he hoped to show that he cared; that it affects him as much as it affects the people. It is a good political move.

          No doubt, Ahab was a good politician. By and large the people were with him. They held the same values that he did. And he knew how to exploit and manipulate the masses. But don't think that Ahab went out among them because he wanted to be one with the people, or that he cared about them. The truth is that he was a lot more concerned about his animals than he was about the people.

         For you see, in those days horses represented military power. With them you could pull chariots and other military vehicles. And you could ride the horses into battle. The more horses you had, the more powerful you were. Mules are also useful in the theatre of war. Mules could carry your supplies.

        But horses and mules were scarce. It took years to build up your supply. Now, when these events took place, there was peace in the land. The other nations could not stand up to the power of Israel. And it was especially during peacetime that the king could add to his strength by increasing horsepower. And that's what Ahab did. He acted in the same way as the nations around him.

         But in this he went against what the Lord says in his word. For example he says in Psalm 33:17, "A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save." Ahab was to depend on the Lord.

        Ahab was not a good shepherd. A good shepherd looks after his sheep and is concerned about them. He especially looks after the weak and the vulnerable. If Ahab had been a good shepherd than he would've said to Obadiah, "Let's see how the people are faring. I'm concerned about them.” No, instead his concern is about his own military strength. He looks after himself first.

        An office bearer, if he is to be a good shepherd, has to look after the weak. That is the case today as well. It is not always easy to take care of the weak for they are so needy. They can be a nuisance. They require a lot of your energy and time. And it's easy to ignore them. For the weak have no clout; they have no voice of their own. For that reason people in general tend to push them aside, or to dismiss them.

       In the church of the Lord Jesus Christ that may not happen. It is especially in the church that an office bearer has to be concerned about the weak members of the church, about those who are on the sidelines and who need to be strengthened and encouraged. We may not dismiss them. They have to be helped and cared for. Think about the Lord Jesus. He was drawn to the weak and the vulnerable. He especially became their champion. He sought them out, and ministered to them.

       It is our tendency to look after those who are most powerful and who make their presence known. Looking after them is much easier. As long as you please them, they will carry the torch for you and you will reap the benefit. But an office bearer is a poor one if that is the way he conducts himself. Office bearers: look after the weak, after those who have no voice, and who need your help.

       Obadiah presents himself as a good office bearer, for he says to Elijah that he has worshiped the Lord since his youth. Yet we wonder about that, for Obadiah has one of the highest positions in the kingdom of Ahab. How is that possible? How could someone who wants to serve the Lord God, at the same time serve a king such as Ahab? Why would Ahab put him in a high position?

       The Scriptures do not give us a direct answer. So we have to be careful as to how we answer that. But we do have quite a bit of information about Obadiah. It is clear that Obadiah is not a man of strong character. For when Elijah meets Obadiah and he tells him that he must tell his master that Elijah is here, then Obadiah protests most vehemently. He has a long speech to try to convince Elijah not to send him on that mission. Obadiah is deathly afraid. He is afraid for his life for he knows how the Lord God has protected Elijah. And he fears that if he were to tell king Ahab that Elijah has made his presence known, that then the Lord God would once again protect him and have him disappear. Just like he did before when Elijah had disappeared into the Kerith Ravine. He is afraid that Ahab would be so angry that he would kill him.

       Obadiah proved himself to be somewhat of a coward. It would appear that for that reason he could survive as well at the court of King Ahab. He walked a fine line. He was not upfront with regard to his service to the Lord. He kept it hidden as much as possible. He was afraid to rock the boat.

       What about the fact that he hid 100 prophets? Does that not show strength of character, you would say? He surely put his life in danger in doing that, didn't he? Indeed, Obadiah did a great deed there. However, it is highly unlikely that he would have been able to hide those 100 prophets without King Ahab knowing about it. It is not something that you can keep hidden. These men had to be supplied with the basic necessities of life, including food and water. Taking care of a hundred men is no easy task. He would've needed help with that. And it would've been noticed by others what he was doing.

         This also will have come into the ears of King Ahab. For some reason, however, Ahab did not stop him. He did let Jezebel have her way with regard to the other prophets of the Lord, for as it says in verse 4 Jezebel was intent on killing all the prophets of the Lord. But Ahab still somehow wanted to keep some of the prophets alive. After all, he was trying to serve both the God of Israel and Baal at the same time.

        And so he gave Obadiah his tacit approval to keep those prophets alive. As long as nobody talked about it and made a big point of it, that is something he could still tolerate.

       But now with the encounter of Elijah, we see that Elijah forces Obadiah to make his allegiance to Yahweh public. He forces him to take sides, and to declare his allegiance to the Lord God.

        Elijah orders him to tell his master that Elijah is coming. In so doing he comes with the Word of God. Elijah could have sent someone else with that message. For no doubt Obadiah did not travel alone. He will have had servants with him as he spied out the land. He could have sent one of them. But no, Elijah wants Obadiah to bring that message. He did that on purpose.

        The Lord God hates neutrality. He hates those who want the best of both worlds, serving both the gods of the world and the only true God who is the Maker of heaven and earth and who controls all things. He is forcing Obadiah to publicly take sides and declare himself as a servant of the true God. He is forcing Obadiah to put his trust in the Lord God, and to be faithful to him. Obadiah had to come into the insight that he was a servant of the living God. And that as God's servant he will also protect you, even if he sends you on a dangerous journey, even if it means that you have to compromise your own security.

        This is something good for all of us, and especially for the office bearers, to remember. It is sometimes difficult to go the right route. At times it is easier to let things slide. Why upset the apple cart? It is easier not to get involved in something that will put you in somewhat of a bad light with those who have a position of power.

        But the Lord God wants you to follow the way of truth. His truth. You have to be absolutely clear, however, that you are doing God's will. That is not something you decide for yourself. And you have to make sure that the issue you are concerning yourself about is important enough to take a stand on. The Lord God hates quarrelsome people, who make big deals out of little things. Therefore about such a person Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:4-5 that "He is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind."

       The Lord wants us to listen carefully. He wants us to hear before we speak. You should not make up your mind until you have heard the whole story. And then you have to do that in the light of God's word. But if you are convinced that whatever path you have to follow is the way of truth, then you must be willing to stand alone. Then you must be willing to make yourself vulnerable. And then the Lord will bless you as well.

 

3. That is what he certainly did with regard to Elijah. We come to the third point. Elijah is not afraid. He knows that he stands in the service of God. He knows that God will protect him. Even in the midst of difficult circumstances, he knows that the Lord his God will see to it that in the end he will not come to harm. It may even be that king Ahab does take his life. But also in death God is with you. For we know that nothing can separate us from God's love, not even death.

          By sending Obadiah to King Ahab, Elijah takes things up a notch. He is forcing a response from the king. And that's what God's Word always does, brothers and sisters. God's Word always puts you before a choice. "Am I going to do God's will, or am I going to go the way of least resistance?" "Am I going to be obedient to him and serve him, or am I going to try to serve myself?" We are put before those choices every day. Sadly, often we make the wrong choices.

         It is a wonderful thing that we have such a forgiving God, and that he keeps trying to get us back on the right path. It is a wonderful thing also that he gives us office bearers to keep us on the right path, to come to us with the word of God when we are straying. God’s love then speaks through them.

        Elijah was a forerunner of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was a type of Christ. In the Scriptures Elijah represents all prophecy. Elijah pointed to the Lord Jesus Christ, the greatest prophet that ever lived. He came with the truth. But most people did not want his truth. They rejected the words that he spoke, and therefore they also rejected the Lord God, the maker of heaven and earth.

        It is important to note that in addressing Obadiah he uses a different form of the oath than when he met with King Ahab the first time. At that time he prefaced his remarks to King Ahab, "As the LORD, the God of Israel lives." He wanted to remind Ahab that he is a messenger of the living God.

       Obadiah did not have to be convinced of that. He knows that. Obadiah, however, did have to be reminded of the power of God. And that is why he now says to him, "As the Lord Almighty lives." He uses the word "Sabaoth". Originally that word meant that he is the Lord of the stars, indicating that he even holds the stars in his hand. That name pictures him as the king full of glory, ruling the entire world. It indicates that he is the one who gives orders to all creative powers, all over the world. He does not restrict himself just to Israel, no he is the God of everything. And he holds everything in his hands.

       Obadiah had to be reminded of that. And so do we, all of us, also the office bearers. That is the God whom we are serving. He is the Almighty God. He is the God who holds all things in his hands. Him we serve. And if we do that, no matter what happens to us, he will bless us. He will bless our ministry.

        Like a good office bearer, Elijah told the truth. He did what he said he would do. He was not afraid. He knew that the Lord was with him. He had every intention to meet with Ahab, no matter how dangerous that was. He loved the truth more than anything. He lived for the truth.

       That is what we must be like as well. We should never be afraid to tell the truth, no matter what the consequences. And if you do, the Lord will bless you. Amen

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2010, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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