Thursday, September 22, 2022

1 Kings 18:1-15

1 Kings 18:1–15 (NIV)✞: Elijah and Obadiah


In the last passage God sent Elijah away from Israel to wait out a drought He had sent on the land. (The drought extended beyond Israel—Elijah was still in the drought—but God seemed to want Elijah away from Ahab and Jezebel.) He was living with a widow and her son in Phoenicia. Now God is sending Elijah back to Israel to announce to King Ahab that He is going to send rain on the land again.

As Elijah is on his way to Israel the king and his palace administrator, Obadiah, are separately searching the land, looking for any place they can find springs and valleys to keep the horses and mules alive so they don’t have to kill them.

In a side note, in verses 3-4 (NIV)✞ we’re told about some of the good work Obadiah has been doing during the drought: “Obadiah was a devout believer in the LORD. While Jezebel was killing off the LORD'S prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water.”

When Elijah arrives Obadiah recognizes him but also asks, “Is it really you?” Elijah confirms that yes, it’s really him, and tells Obadiah to tell Ahab about Elijah’s arrival. Obadiah’s response is not one of joy:

9 “What have I done wrong,” asked Obadiah, “that you are handing your servant over to Ahab to be put to death? 10 As surely as the LORD your God lives, there is not a nation or kingdom where my master has not sent someone to look for you. And whenever a nation or kingdom claimed you were not there, he made them swear they could not find you. 11 But now you tell me to go to my master and say, ‘Elijah is here.’ 12 I don’t know where the Spirit of the LORD may carry you when I leave you. If I go and tell Ahab and he doesn’t find you, he will kill me. Yet I your servant have worshiped the LORD since my youth. 13 Haven’t you heard, my lord, what I did while Jezebel was killing the prophets of the LORD? I hid a hundred of the LORD'S prophets in two caves, fifty in each, and supplied them with food and water. 14 And now you tell me to go to my master and say, ‘Elijah is here.’ He will kill me!”

verses 9–14 (NIV)✞

Elijah reassures him, however, that he really well present himself to Ahab that very day.


This passage feels like a prologue, leading up to Elijah facing off against the prophets of Baal (spoiler alert), but there are some interesting things going on.

Was the Drought a Punishment?

I didn’t mention it in the last passage, but I’m not actually sure if the drought is being specifically sent as a punishment for Ahab’s/Israel’s sins or if it’s just a “natural” disaster. God is definitely in control of it—He tells Elijah in 17:1 (NIV)✞ that there will be no rain on the land until He says so—but it doesn’t give any reason why He is doing it. It could be that it’s just assumed: we all know that King Ahab was an evil king so we can assume that the drought is a punishment. Or it could be that the author(s) didn’t need to articulate further because we all know that natural disasters happen, and, if we believe in God, we also know that they’re all in His control.

I have a feeling this wouldn’t be such an important point for the Hebrews who read this text when it was first published; it’s only for modern readers in the 21st Century West that we get flustered by it. When bad things happen we want to know why, and how it can be prevented in the future, and who’s to blame (or sue)… Our ancestors—even fairly recent ones—understood that bad things happen all the time, and weren’t so surprised/shocked at hardships.

I’m not arguing against trying to understand the Scriptures, but I am saying that our shocked, “How could this ever HAPPEN???” reaction to the Scriptures sometimes gets in the way of our understanding them.


In a previous post I seem to recall making a comment about the fact that it isn’t just King Ahab who’s evil, the Scriptures call out his wife Jezebel as being even more evil. This passage is an example of it.

Why was Obadiah having to hide prophets of the LORD? In a casual, offhand remark, the author(s) say it’s because Jezebel was killing them off.

So it’s not just evil that’s happening, it’s a perverse stubborn kind of evil! As I’m reading the overall story across 1 Kings 17—19 (NIV)✞ it seems to me that Ahab and Jezebel fully recognize that this drought is under God’s control, and that He could stop it. However, instead of seeking His help, or submitting to Him, Jezebel seems to be getting revenge on Him by killing His prophets.

Obadiah’s Response

To me the heart of this passage is Obadiah’s response to Elijah’s arrival. He’s initially happy to see him, but as soon as Elijah mentions going to see Ahab Obadiah panics. By his response he obviously holds Elijah in high regard, and yet, at the same time, he seems to have an irrational fear that Elijah will make an appointment to see Ahab and then suddenly change his mind—or be carried off by the LORD somewhere else. And I purposely use the word “irrational,” because I think it is: I think Obadiah is so scared of King Ahab that he’s afraid of incurring his wrath with false promises, and is immediately thinking in terms of worst-case scenarios.

It could be that Obadiah is so afraid of Ahab that he’s even projecting that onto God, thinking that God would also be afraid of putting Elijah in Ahab’s hands, and so therefore suddenly change His mind and whip Elijah away somewhere else to protect him from Ahab. Which would mean that I’m accusing Obadiah of a lack of faith, but not in a judgemental way; we’ve all been in situations where we have faith in God but only to a certain extent. When our situations overwhelm us it can seem like there are certain things that are outside even God’s control. We think things like, “I have to keep my job, because otherwise how will God provide for me?” and then we lose our job and He still continues to provide for us.

God protected Elijah from Ahab, but He didn’t have to cower before Ahab to do it. He simply put Elijah right in front of Ahab, knowing that the man could do nothing to Elijah unless God Himself allowed it. Nothing is outside His control.

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