Do you ever feel that you have sought to serve the Lord well, and you wonder why he has not been pleased to show more of his mighty power in your experience? And then, he tells you to sacrifice even more of yourself?
God did this to our friend Obadiah, as recorded in 1 Kings 18. You remember that the prophet Elijah had told wicked King Ahab that it would not rain, except by the word of the Lord (1 Kings 17:1). Then, the Lord had put Elijah in hiding, and it didn’t rain for three years. Obadiah was over Ahab’s household. God tells us that Obadiah “feared the Lord greatly” (1 Kings 18:3). Even though Ahab’s wife Jezebel sought to kill all of the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah had hid a hundred of them in caves and fed them (v. 4). He had taken no small risk in serving the Lord!
Then, the word of the Lord came to Elijah after these three years and told him to go confront Ahab (v. 1). Now, every Bible-familiar Christian knows what’s coming next in the larger storyline. There is going to be a showdown for the ages at Mount Carmel between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. God is preparing to show his glory and prove that he is the true God with miraculous lightning from heaven! In fact, if you read 1 Kings 18, you can omit verses 3-16 and the story would hold together very well. From verse 2 to verse 17, it would read: “So Elijah went to show himself to Ahab...When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?”
Verses 3-16 are all about Obadiah; but why? In these verses, Obadiah and Ahab had gone in different directions to look for green grass for the royal herds. Elijah met Obadiah and told him to go announce his arrival to Ahab. Obadiah, who feared the Lord greatly and had taken such great risks to preserve the Lord’s prophets, was incredulous! “How have I sinned,” he exclaimed in verse 9, “that you would give your servant into the hand of Ahab, to kill me?” Put yourself in Obadiah’s shoes. Wasn’t confronting Ahab Elijah’s job? Why did Obadiah have to do the heavy lifting after all he had already done? Obadiah pointed out that Ahab had been looking everywhere for Elijah (v. 10). But, after six verses of Obadiah’s arguing (v. 9-14) and three times implying that his life was on the line, Elijah didn’t budge. He simply affirmed that he would meet Ahab after Obadiah obeyed (v. 15).
Why does God ask those who have sacrificed so much for him to do more than they’ve already done? It seems that when the Lord is preparing to make his power known before his enemies in public on Mount Carmel, he makes sure to stage the battle of Mount Carmel in the hearts of his people first. Obadiah had to know and affirm again through sacrifice that the Lord is God.
The climax of the story is so interesting in verse 16. “So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him. And Ahab went to meet Elijah.” Did Obadiah die? No...but, yes. He did die to himself that day. He believed the Lord and bore witness to the fact that the Lord is the true God by his obedience. He died that day, but he was never more alive.
Obadiah anticipates the disciples of Jesus. Jesus called his disciples to take up their crosses daily and follow him (Mark 8:34-35). They had to learn that God’s greatest display of his glory would come through the triumph over sin at the cross of their Savior and not merely through a display of God’s raw power. And they would learn that the disciple is not above his teacher nor a servant above his master (Matthew 10:24). The disciples were still learning this lesson after the resurrection. They wondered, just before Jesus ascended, if this was the time Jesus was going to restore the kingdom to Israel; would this be when he really shows his power?! His response was, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses (martyrs)..." (Acts 1:6-8). God’s power would be seen on earth as they willingly bore witness that Jesus is Lord and that he is to be heard, believed, and obeyed.
The same pattern has held true ever since. God’s most powerful and convincing displays of his glory have come through the quiet faithfulness of his servants who have been willing to obey and sacrifice to the point of death.
So, if you’ve been faithful to the Lord, and you wonder why he is not yet showing you his power, take another look at Obadiah. If you wonder why your life circumstances seem to have you wandering through 1 Kings 3-16, when is seems so obvious that God should just get to the point and show his power in visible ways like he does in verse 17 and following (which you know he will, at least at the Jesus' return!), then take a moment to understand that the battle of Mount Carmel is just raging in your heart right now. And like Obadiah, just believe and obey. Your simple obedience moved by faith is a great display of the Lord’s power.