More than three years have passed since Elijah confronted king Ahab and stopped the rain. God says it’s time to confront him again and bring the rain.
God is ready for a showdown between Himself and the other gods Israel has been following. Time to see Who the REAL God is. But first Elijah has to get Ahab’s attention again. Ahab has been searching for Elijah far and wide without success. And that’s because God wasn’t ready for him to be found.
I find it interesting that Elijah has been ‘hiding in plain sight’ all this time. He is in Zarephath with the widow. This town must contain more than one household. But no one reports Elijah being there. Ahab is probably offering a HUGE reward for his capture. We are told that “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” (verse 10b). Yet Zarephath either wasn’t approached, didn’t know he was there, or chose not to turn him in. Did God shield his existence from the people of the town? The widow certainly had no reason to turn him in. Did he make sure the rest of the people had water so they would keep him secret? I don’t know, but his hiding is over. Let’s join our story, already in progress.
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Elijah, the widow and her son have rode out the drought in safety. They have had enough to eat and drink, thanks to God’s provision. The rest of the nation is feeling the sting of God’s punishment. Year after year the crops fail for lack of rain. The storehouses stand empty. Every stream and river is dried up.
As each day passed Ahab’s desperation and anger grew. Ahab called on every god he could think of, except One, to end the drought. His pride kept him from calling on the God of Israel. Ahab figured he probably wouldn’t listen anyway so why bother?
Even Jezebel had gotten in on the act. Her ‘contribution’ to ending the drought was to ordain more and more priests for her gods and to eliminate the Levites who served Israel’s God. She had the priests of God rounded up by the hundreds and slaughtered.
Obadiah, a servant over king Ahab’s household, watched in horror as groups of priests were paraded past the palace every day, headed for the altars of Baal and Asherah. He couldn’t stop Jezebel’s bloody rage but neither could he stand by and do nothing. He loved the Lord, the God of Israel. One day he hatched a plan. He stole away from the palace and went to a nearby town that had not yet been sacked by Jezebel’s soldiers. There he found more than a hundred priests in hiding. They had come from all around as a few here and there escaped the raids.
Obadiah had to act fast if he was to save this group. Jezebel’s soldiers could come at any moment. He sought out the priest who appeared to be the leader of this bunch.
“I have a plan to get you all to safety” stated Obadiah to the priest.
“That would be most welcome! Please tell me of it.”
“There are some caves nearby. Jezebel has already cleared these and the towns around them of the Levites who are loyal to the Lord. It would be safe to hide two groups there in different locations. I could smuggle out enough simple food to keep about 100 fed” he offered.
“The Lord has surely sent you on this errand my son. But there are quite a few of us. More than 100 I believe.”
“I realize that but I don’t know if I could sustain more than that.”
“It would probably raise suspicion if there were no priests in this town when the soldiers come. We will draw lots to see who will stay and who will go with you to safety.”
“Very wise words indeed.”
The announcement of the plan to secret two groups of 50 each in caves swept through the group like wildfire. Before things could get out of hand the ranking priest called for quiet. He then laid out the process.
“We put our fate in the hands of the Lord. We will draw lots. Those chosen will accompany Obadiah to safety. Those not chosen will act as decoy when Jezebel’s soldiers arrive. It would not do for Jezebel to find our own village empty of priests. It would raise too much suspicion. Any who wish may volunteer to remain behind, otherwise line up by town and we will begin selecting who goes with Obadiah.”
Those volunteering to stay and divert attention was overwhelming making the need for lots unnecessary. Within 15 minutes the three groups were established. The two groups to be hidden in the caves would be smuggled out under cover of darkness one group at a time. Obadiah couldn’t risk all of them being found together.
Because Obadiah’s absence would be noticed if he stayed too long, he showed the head priest the place of hiding and entrusted him with the task of getting the two groups to safety. He would return to the palace and invite Jezebel’s priests and soldiers to a banquet to celebrate their recent success. He would ensure this banquet lasted three days, giving the priest time to accomplish his task.
“Stay in hiding here until I send you word of the timing of the banquet. Then move swiftly those two nights. I will see to the banquet before the next Sabbath. If you do not hear from me by then, assume that I have been found out. I will NOT betray the plan or hiding place so you can still move the priests to safety, even if I am no longer among the living. The Lord will care for you my brother.”
“I await your message.”
The two men embraced and Obadiah returned to the palace to put their plan in motion. Two days later he dispatched a messenger to the priest to let him know that the next day the banquet would begin.
Obadiah’s plan worked perfectly and the two groups of priests were hidden among the caves. He sent food and water to them each week that they would ration until the next delivery. And Obadiah wept silently as he watched the soldiers parade the priests who remained behind past the palace on their way to the slaughter.
Ahab continued his search for Elijah. There wasn’t a country, kingdom, city, town, or village he didn’t search. But none produced Elijah or any clues to his whereabouts. Ahab made each one swear under penalty of death that they hadn’t seen Elijah nor rendered him aid. He became more and more desperate with each passing day. “I WILL see him dead for all the trouble he has caused!”
While Ahab searched, Jezebel slaughtered, and Obadiah snuck provisions to those he had hidden, the rest of the people struggled for survival. The brooks and small streams dried up in the first year. The second year saw the rivers turned to brooks. The third year saw even these dry and barren. No crops grew by the third year and even the grasses of the field died and withered. There was scant to eat even among the wild foraging animals.
The animals of the people were killed for food long ago and there were none to replace them. The only animals still held were Ahab’s horses. He refused to see them perish. He diverted water from the people to keep the last of his herd alive. Finally when there was no more to feed them or water to be found he called for Obadiah.
“Go throughout 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” (verse 5).
This was a big job so Obadiah and Ahab both set out on this mission; one going one way and the other the other. They each went alone on their quests as water was too scarce to support any sizable expedition.
The same day Ahab sent Obadiah and himself on this mission, God sent Elijah on a mission of his own. Before dawn Elijah was awakened by the voice of the Lord. “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth” (verse 1b). Elijah immediately rose, made himself something to take for the trip, filled a skin with water, gathered his staff and headed out the door. He was not worried about the widow and her son as he knew the Lord would watch over them and he had often gone off in the early mornings for some time alone.
Elijah walked in the direction the Spirit guided him until he saw someone familiar in the distance. It appeared to be Obadiah, the servant over Ahab’s house. As they drew nearer to one another Obadiah recognized Elijah too. He dismounted his donkey and he fell on his face at Elijah’s feet.
“Is it you, my lord Elijah?” (verse 7b).
“It is I.” Replied Elijah calmly. “Go, tell your lord, ‘Behold, Elijah is here’” (verse 8).
Obadiah drew back in fear. “How have I sinned, that you would give your servant into the hand of Ahab, to kill me?”
Elijah’s face took on a puzzled look as Obadiah continued his fearful plea.
“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. And now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord, “Behold, Elijah is here.”’ 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. Has it not been told my lord what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the Lord, how I had a hundred men of the Lord’s prophets by the fifties in a cave and fed them with bread and water? And NOW you say, ‘Go, tell your lord, “Behold, Elijah is here”’; and he will KILL ME” (verses 9-14; emphasis added by me).
Elijah heard the fear and anguish in Obadiah’s voice. He knew of Ahab’s cruelty and suspected Ahab wouldn’t hesitate to kill even his most trusted servant if crossed at this point; and especially on this subject. He had to assure Obadiah of his own safety.
“As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today” (verse 15).
With this assurance Obadiah rose from the ground, bowed once more to Elijah, mounted his donkey and turned back the way he had come. He knew which way Ahab had planned to go on his quest. He hurried to meet up with Ahab. When he finally caught up with Ahab he didn’t hesitate to tell him Elijah’s message.
“My lord, I met Elijah on the way and he told me, ‘Go, tell your lord, Elijah is here.’ He is on the road just beyond those hills.” Obadiah pointed in the direction he had just come to a nearby hill which the road circled.
Ahab set out immediately to meet up with Elijah. Obadiah hung back for followed. He wanted to hear what Elijah had to say to Ahab. Within an hour Ahab approached the place where Elijah waited. Obadiah was overjoyed that Elijah was found exactly where he said he would be. Obadiah trusted Elijah but a little fear still held his heart until the moment Ahab set eyes on him, dismounted his horse, and called out.
“Is it you, you troubler of Israel?”
Without missing a beat Elijah answered Ahab with the truth. “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals” (verse 18).
Obadiah could see from where he waits that Ahab was becoming angrier by the moment. He could also see that something restrained Ahab from reaching out and grabbing Elijah by the robe. Elijah stood even taller it appeared to Obadiah’s eyes as he issued a challenge.
“Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table” (verse 19).
“What can Elijah be planning?” wonders Obadiah. “He has called out ALL of Jezebel’s best prophets. He even knows how many there are! I can’t wait to see what the Lord has in store for this meeting” thinks Obadiah.
Ahab turns on his heels, mounts his horse and heads back the way he came pulling Obadiah in his wake. There is no conversation as they make their way back to the palace. The only sound besides horses hooves slapping hard earth is Ahab’s inaudible grumbling to himself. He is NOT happy about this turn of events but he is powerless to resist Elijah’s words.
Elijah smiles to himself as he watches the retreating backs of Ahab and Obadiah. “Let the ‘showdown’ begin.” Once the two men are out of sight, Elijah makes his way back to Zarephath. He needs to tell the widow of his whereabouts and the Lord’s plans. He will be leaving them for a time once he shares with them what lies ahead.
(to be continued)
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I LOVE THIS STORY! This is just the beginning of one of the greatest stories of God’s power. I hope you will join me for the REALLY exciting part tomorrow.
For today, what can we take from our reading? What just occurred to me is faithfulness. Obadiah couldn’t do a lot but what he could do, he did. Elijah faithfully waited until the day God called to him to go to Ahab. He didn’t tremble at this prospect or even ask God to wait a few more days. And he didn’t ask God to ‘hurry up’ so everyone could get back to ‘normal’. He faithfully waited, doing all he knew to do in the meantime. Neither of these men could do ‘everything’ but they could each do something. Even the widow who fed Elijah each day did what she could where she was. That is what I feel God is calling each of us to do. What we can with what He gives us for the time that He has us where He put us.
Father God, I don’t know if You have anything for me to do beyond sharing the stories that You give me. I will keep doing what I can with what You give me. I don’t know how much difference it makes in Your Kingdom plan but I trust You to tell me when it’s time to do something different. Thank You for opening this avenue for me to share Your stories and maybe touch someone’s heart for You. Thank You for faithfully carrying me through the ‘dry parts’ to the parts that spark my imagination. I LONG to see where You will take me next! But, like Elijah, I will wait patiently on the side of the road until YOU bring my opportunities to me. I won’t go blindly searching on my own again.