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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

1 Kings 18

Verses 1-46

Obadiah A Palm in the Desert

1 Kings 18:3

The name Obadiah means 'servant of Jehovah,' and it will appear that his life and character answer to his sacred name.

I. Obadiah is an Example of Early Piety. 'But I thy servant fear the Lord from my youth' was his meek avowal to Elijah, the stern Tishbite, as he confronted him in the way. It was a splendid thing to say. Yet a man who so speaks assumes an immense responsibility. I wish each youthful reader would take the words 'my youth' and ponder them. Begin the fear of the Lord in youth; it is the chosen season; and beginning early, as did Obadiah, like him you may achieve great spiritual prestige.

II. Obadiah Retained the Religion of His Youth. He was not a young man when he spoke these words to Elijah. Youth was gone, but not his godly fear. He entered the paths of righteousness in his boyhood and never forsook them.

III. Obadiah is a Pattern of Religious Intensity. In verse three we find the gladdening assurance, 'Obadiah feared the Lord greatly'. His piety was ardent, it glowed. How much force that 'greatly' carries. A very different adverb would characterize some people's religion. They fear the Lord faintly, lukewarmly, inadequately.

IV. Obadiah is an Illustration of Religion under Trying Conditions. He dwelt in Ahab's court. He stood alone in his splendid piety amid the idolatry and wickedness of the Israelitish palace. Learn from Obadiah's case that: ( a ) A character may be independent of circumstances. No Christian need be barren or unfruitful whatever his temporal condition. Obadiah kept a glowing piety in Ahab's palace. ( b ) We may be a blessing to godless homes wherein we may dwell. You cannot estimate how much an ungodly home, or house, or business may owe to some servant of God who dwells there. Obadiah is an embodied benediction to Ahab's house. ( c ) The faithful performance of duty may make us indispensable to bad masters. Obadiah had never scamped his work. He had done his duty loyally. So Ahab prized him. We further our religion by fidelity in earthly service.

V. Obadiah's Religion was Philanthropic. When Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah took an hundred of them and hid them by fifty in a cave and fed them with bread and water which was scarce in the kingdom. Obadiah's deed was as brave as it was benevolent, and as courageous as it was kind. Our religion must always prove itself by its philanthropy. True goodness demonstrates itself by doing good.

VI. Obadiah's Good Deeds were Matters of Common Report Expostulating with Elijah (18:13) he says, 'Was it not told my Lord what I did'. He does not speak boastfully. In the perilous circumstances in which he conceived himself to be placed he appealed to the report of his good deed as a reason why his life should be saved. He had done good by stealth and now found it widespread fame.

VII. Obadiah was Overshadowed by Fear. Elijah had bidden him tell Ahab that 'Elijah is here,' and it fills Obadiah with alarm. He dreads lest Ahab should slay him. But Obadiah was blessed beyond all his fears. No calamity overwhelmed him such as he dreaded.

VIII. The last thing I note concerning this faithful soul is that he unconsciously contributed to a glorious Triumph of Religion. His obedience to the monition of Elijah lead to the wondrous scene on Carmel. His work was fraught with grander issues than had ever entered his heart.

Dinsdale T. Young, Neglected People of the Bible, p. 113.

Fearing the Lord From One's Youth

1 Kings 18:12

There are two valuable lessons we are to carry away from these words of Obadiah.

I. The importance of early decision for God. Our subject was not a particularly young man at this time: that is plain from his language; but his religious earnestness had dated from early life. It is the bitter regret of many an old Christian, and will be so to his dying day, that he only began truly to fear the Lord when the best part of his life was gone. The Bible teaches us much by example as by precept, and it seems to me that the grand lesson of Obadiah's life and it is but a very brief biography we have is the unspeakable value to a man, all through his career, of starting with fixed religious principles, and sticking to them at all hazards.

II. The importance of courage in openly avowing our religious decision. The first thing is to have sound principles; and the second thing is not to be ashamed of them. The best way to get over the dread of opposition or ridicule is to have the constant feeling that God Himself is at your side, looking upon you, pleased when you confess Him, grieved when you disown Him. A man is none the worse a Christian for having occasionally to stand up for his principles. It makes your religion more real, and gives you greater confidence in its power. Oh, it is a grand thing to see a man taking his stand as a pronounced and thorough Christian and meeting all the solicitations of vice and assaults of ridicule with the manly declaration of Obadiah, 'I fear the Lord from my youth'.

J. Thain Davidson, The City Youth, p. 96.

References. XVIII. 12. J. C. Harrison, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xix. p. 209. XVIII. 13. J. W. Bunyan, The Servants of Scripture, p. 36.

Conflicting Forces

1 Kings 18:17

There are no Elijahs now. We are obliged to read about them when we wish to refresh the heroic sentiment. Think what a moment that was 'when Ahab saw Elijah'! The two great forces of the world met, the kingly and the prophetic. We should think of these sensitive moments in history; they would quicken us into better endeavour, and increase the force which belongs to the sons of God. It was a terrible and most memorable meeting.

I. When Ahab saw Elijah the two great forces of the world met, the forces that have always been in conflict, the kingly and the prophetic, the secular and the spiritual, this world and the next. God never made any king; when He gave the people a king in answer to their clamour, it was to punish them, and punished they were. The Lord is King, and he who would dispute His throne brings wrath on the land. 'When Ahab saw Elijah' the physically mighty and the morally strong were face to face. Ahab had great resources; Ahab was very careful about the horses and the mules, and anxious to keep them alive in the time of the water famine. That is right.

What other instance is there in which the two kingdoms met? The most notable case was when Judas and Jesus stood face to face, and Judas 'went backward and fell to the ground'. That is so; the nation that fears God will ultimately win.

II. Ahab had great resources, but the resources of a king are mere nothings when God arises to judge the earth. There are times when we are ashamed of our greatness, and when our glory is proved to be but a veering wind of vanity. It is well to have such moments in history; they ventilate history, they disinfect history, they bring in a new birthday of historic relations. Who are these men? The one, the pampered king; the other, the raven-fed prophet; and the raven-fed prophet was the stronger of the two. God will command the ravens. They eat weakness who eat luxuries. Take what God gives, the little simple meal, and you may be the strongest man in the world.

It is well that secular kings should look upon anointed prophets. How do these men live? They live in the wilderness, and are strong; they never sat at a king's table, and yet there is pith in their muscle and there is meaning in their voice.

III. The rebuke was turned upon the king. 'Art thou he that troubleth Israel? And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father's house.' He had a bad record. Men's record comes up against them again and again. 'When Ahab saw Elijah' he saw a man who was the king's superior, and the king knew it, owned it. Superiority has not to be proved by testimonials; superiority has to be tested by personality. When you come near the king you will know it. I mean the moral king, the spiritual king, the intellectual king, in any department of life whatever. You know the leader, you give place to him.

'When Ahab saw Elijah' he saw judgment. There was judgment in those gnarled, knitted eyebrows, and Ahab felt the scorching of the hidden lightning. 'When Ahab saw Elijah' he saw for the first time unconsciously an honest man a terrible sight to the wicked. There is no more terrible judgment upon an ungodly man than the presence of a man who is godly.

Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. VI. p. 262.

The Great Decision

1 Kings 18:21

The Old Testament is full of sharp, decisive phrases like this; the utterance of a spirit for which there is a very broad line of division drawn between good and evil, truth and falsehood, and which is almost more tolerant of the open enemy than of those who will not take their share in the conflict. To the strong and unhesitating spirit that sees the right on the one side as if it were written in letters of fire, and absolute wrong on the other, nothing is so uncomprehensible as the lukewarm temper, that will not be kindled either to love or hatred, and seeks rather to avoid any decisive choice.

I. In the present day there are many things which tend to modify such a temper of mind. Christianity itself has taught us to sympathize with men of all classes and nations, to see the same humanity manifesting itself in them all; and this sympathy and insight will not let us regard our national foes as essentially the servants of an evil principle. But there is a dark side to all this; for those very wider views of things which produce tolerance are apt to produce also a sceptical spirit, which weakens the springs of manly energy. We are not able to split life in two with a hatchet as our fathers did, or to see all white on one side and all black on the other; and therefore we are apt to lose the consciousness that there is a real battle between good and evil going on in the world; and find it hard to realize that we are called to take up arms on the one side or the other.

II. We cannot in our day have so much of the zeal that comes from a narrow and concentrated view of one aspect of things, from untroubled faith in unquestioned dogmas, and unhesitating subjection to fixed rules of conduct. But on the other hand, it is easier for us to escape an evil that went with such faith and obedience, namely, the tendency to identify what is essential with what is accidental, the ideas of truth and right with some particular form in which they are embodied; the cause of God with the cause of our party, our nation, or our Church. It is easier for us than it was formerly to learn to recognize good in all the different shapes in which it presents itself, and to avoid the error of fighting against it because it comes before us in some unfamiliar guise. And when we remember the awful calamities brought upon the human race in former times by men who honestly thought they were doing God service in forcing upon others the exact type of institution or belief with which, in their own minds, all goodness was identified, it cannot be regarded as a little thing that moral and religious principles have become, or are becoming disconnected from what were at best particular, and, it may be, transitory forms of their manifestation. The wider toleration of modern times may be regarded as due only to indifference and scepticism, and clever books have been written to show that it is so. But in reality there is always a positive behind every negative cause; and what the chilling of men's faith ultimately points to is that the great truths are separating themselves from the little ones, the eternal verities of the Divine life in man from the passing phases and adjuncts of human tradition.

E. Caird, Lay Sermons and Addresses, p. 181.

References. XVIII. 21. G. W. Brameld, Practiced Sermons (2nd Series), p. 224. T. H. Bell, Persuasions, p. 335. Bishop Gordon, Parish Sermons, p. 63. W. Anderson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi. p. 309. W. M. Taylor, Elijah the Prophet, p. 96.

An Answer By Fire

1 Kings 18:24

What is to us the value of this ordeal of the God that answereth by fire? It is an ordeal by which we can be convinced, our faith stands on the issue of whether ours is a God who answereth by fire.

I. What are the grounds of our belief? They are many; they are the Bible story, the history of the Christian Church, the reasonableness of the Christian faith; but there is a ground stronger than any, it is the ground of personal experience. We believe in one God because we know what He does in us. We know Him as the helper, the guide, the consoler, the deliverer. But most and best of all, we know Him as the God who makes our sacrifice to burn.

II. Our sacrifice, what is it? Everywhere and always sacrifice is the same thing, it is the giving something to God. The subjects of King Ahab gave a sheep or an ox from their herd. We give ourselves, our life. It is the beginning and the end of faith, it is giving of self. That is the reason why faith saves, why it unites us to Christ; faith is giving self to God.

III. How do we know our offer is not a mistake, there being no one who can receive it? We are sure because we find that God answers by fire; we find that God makes our altar flame to burn, God completes our sacrifice, God makes us to carry out the offering of ourself.

( a ) Perhaps it came about this way. In early life, quite early life, for a boy or girl, it happened that a vague, unshaped, wistful feeling of living for Christ, instead of for pleasure and honour, suddenly took shape; the spark had fallen from heaven, and the heart was aflame. God had offered the sacrifice; we knew He was God.

( b ) It does not always happen that way. The man or woman betrays the boy or girl, letting worldliness steal away the first love, but the fire of God falls to renew the sacrifice. It is God completing the sacrifice, God fanning again the flame.

( c ) God's fire can fall even to recover us. Our sacrifice is failing, worldliness has come on us like a flood, sin burst on us in a storm; the drenching water has soaked the wood upon the altar. It never can burn any more, we say. The fire of the Lord falls and licks up the water that was in the trench. The Lord who answereth by a fire that can inflame again our sin-sodden hearts, surely He is indeed the God.

IV. God's fire is with us to help us persevere, continue unto the end. Answer it to yourself, you who are halfway through a life-task, which you took up with joy, but are carrying on by patience only. There is a touch comes from somewhere and will not let go out the fire upon our heart. God answereth by fire, let Him be God.

J. H. Skrine, The Hearts Counsel, p. 111.

References. XVIII. 38. C. Cross, The Pulpit, vol. v. XVIII. 38, 39. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iii. p. 40. XVIII. 40, 46. W. M. Taylor, Elijah the Prophet, p. 112. XVIII. 42-44. J. Keble, Miscellaneous Sermons, p. 143. XIX. 1, 2, 3. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iii. p. 47. XIX. 4. H. Woodcock, Sermon Outlines, p. 195.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 Kings 18". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/1-kings-18.html. 1910.