Obadiah, the governor of Ahab’s house, was one who, in the secret of his own spirit, feared the Lord, but who was planted in a most unhallowed atmosphere. The house of the wicked Ahab, and his still more wicked consort, must have been a painful school for the righteous soul of Obadiah; and greatly hindered his service and testimony. What he did for the Lord, was done by stealth, for he was afraid to act openly and unashamedly. Yet he did quite enough to show what he would have done, had he been planted in a more agreeable soil, and cherished by a healthier atmosphere: he “took an hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and maintained them with bread and water” (v4). This was a most precious token of devotedness of heart to the Lord—a blessed triumph of divine principle over the most untoward circumstances.
As with Obadiah, so with Jonathan in the house of Saul. He, too, was sadly hindered in his service to God and to Israel. He should have stood forth in more entire separation from the evil in which his father lived - his seat at Saul’s table should have been vacant as well as David’s. The cave of Adullam was his proper place, where, in holy companionship with the rejected David and his despised band of followers, he would have found a wider and a more suited range in which to manifest his affectionate devotedness to God and to David His anointed.
Human expediency, however, would doubtless have recommended Jonathan to remain in Saul’s house, and Obadiah to remain in Ahab’s house, as being the sphere in which Providence had placed them. Expediency, however, is not faith, nor will it aid a man in his path of service. Faith will always lead a man to break through the freezing rules of human expediency, in order that it may express itself in a way not to be mistaken. Jonathan felt constrained, at times, to leave the table of Saul in order that he might embrace David: but he should have abandoned it altogether—he should have cast in his lot entirely with David. He ought not to have rested satisfied with speaking for his brother, he should have identified himself with him. Tragically, Jonathan remained with Saul, and so died with him on Mount Gilboa at the hand of the Philistines. Thus, in his life, he was harassed and hindered by the unrighteous principle of rule which Saul had set up to entangle and bind the consciences of the faithful, and, in his death, he was ingloriously mingled with the uncircumcised.
Sadly this same blight affected the testimony of Obadiah. It was his lot to stand in connection with the man who occupied the lowest step of that ladder of apostasy whereby the kings of Israel had descended from original principle, and hence, he was obliged to act stealthily for God and His servants. He was afraid of Ahab and Jezebel and he lacked boldness and energy to stand out in decided testimony against all their abominations. Neither had he room for the development of his renewed energies or affections—his soul was withered by the noxious vapours around him - and he could therefore exert but little influence on his day and generation. Hence, while Elijah was boldly confronting Ahab, and openly serving the Lord, Obadiah was openly serving Ahab, and stealthily serving the Lord. Whilst Elijah was breathing the holy atmosphere of Jehovah’s presence, Obadiah was breathing the polluted atmosphere of Ahab’s wicked court. Whilst Elijah was receiving his daily supplies from the hand of the God of Israel, Obadiah was ranging the country in search of grass for Ahab’s horses.
Truly a striking contrast! And is there not, at this moment, many an Obadiah similarly occupied? Is there not many a God-fearing man sharing, in common with the children of this world, its death and misery, and working in co-operation with them to avert its impending ruin? Doubtless there is. Is this fit work for such? Should “the horses and mules” (v5) of an ungodly world engross the thoughts and energies of the Christian, to the exclusion of the interests of the Church of God? No, it should not be. The Christian should have a nobler end in view—a higher and more heavenly sphere in which to use his energies. God, and not Ahab, demands and deserves our devotion. How much better to be an Elijah serving God than an Obadiah engaged in furthering the schemes of the men of this world!
This is a very wide question, and there are few amongst us that may not learn a lesson from it. Let us ask ourselves honestly, as before the Great Searcher of hearts, what are we doing? What object are we carrying out? What end have we in view? Are we sowing to the flesh? Are we working for merely earthly objects? Have we no higher end in view than self or this present world?
Oh! these are searching questions! The tendency of the human heart and affections is ever downward - ever toward earth and the things of earth. The palace of Ahab holds out far more powerful attractions to our fallen nature than the lonely banks of Cherith, or the house of the starving widow of Zarephath (see 1 Kings 17), but let us think of the end. The end alone is the true criterion by which to judge in such matters. “Until I went into the sanctuaries of God; [then] understood I their end” (Ps. 73: 17)
Elijah knew, by being in the sanctuary, that Ahab stood in a slippery place; that his house would speedily crumble in the dust; that all his pomp and glory was about to end in the lonely tomb, and that his immortal spirit was soon to be summoned to render its final account. These things Elijah thoroughly understood, and he was therefore quite content to stand apart from it all. His simple manner of life and his lonely path were far better, he felt, than all the pleasures of Ahab’s court. Such was his judgement, and his judgement was sound. “And the world is passing, and its lust, but he that does the will of God abides for eternity”, (1 John 2: 17). Would that all who love the name of the Lord Jesus were more uncompromising and energetic in their testimony for Him! The time is rapidly approaching when we would give worlds to have been more true and real in our ways here below. We are too lukewarm—too much inclined to make terms with the world and the flesh—too ready to exchange the leathern girdle for the robe in which Ahab and Jezebel are most willing to array us.