1 Kings chapter 18 contains one of my favorite Bible stories: Elijah versus the prophets of Baal. If you know the story, Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to a showdown between “gods” on Mt. Carmel (a candy mountain… awesome!). They build an altar to Baal, Elijah builds an altar to God… the prophets of Baal call out to their god for hours, nothing happens, Elijah calls out to God, instantly fire comes down and burns up the altar.
Elijah drops the mic, everyone recognizes that God is real, all is well.
Ok, that might be the flannelgraph “churched up” version… in reality the story is, not only awesome, but it’s also intense, raw, and brutal. Fire fell, people died, other people saw the light, and God was God.
But it was also reflective of the craziness of the times. To understand the showdown in 1 Kings 18, you also have to understand what was taking place at the time. At the end of Chapter 16, Ahab becomes king, takes Jezebel for a wife, adopts the worship of Baal, builds an Asherah pole, and begins to persecute the prophets of God.
Cut to Chapter 17, Elijah (another prophet of God), begins to counter everything Ahab does. Ahab is now out for blood, and Elijah should probably lay low if he wants to be safe… but will he?
For the sake of understanding, I’m going to clue you in on what happens just before the showdown on Mt. Carmel in Ch. 18, and, in the process, we are introduced to another character: Obadiah.
1 Kings 18:3-15
So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab. Now the famine was severe in Samaria, and Ahab had summoned Obadiah, his palace administrator. (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.) Ahab had said to Obadiah, “Go through the land to all the springs and valleys. Maybe we can find some grass to keep the horses and mules alive so we will not have to kill any of our animals.” So they divided the land they were to cover, Ahab going in one direction and Obadiah in another.
As Obadiah was walking along, Elijah met him. Obadiah recognized him, bowed down to the ground, and said, “Is it really you, my lord Elijah?”
“Yes,” he replied. “Go tell your master, ‘Elijah is here.’”
“What have I done wrong,” asked Obadiah, “that you are handing your servant over to Ahab to be put to death? 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. But now you tell me to go to my master and say, ‘Elijah is here.’ 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. 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. And now you tell me to go to my master and say, ‘Elijah is here.’ He will kill me!”
Elijah said, “As the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, I will surely present myself to Ahab today.”
Obadiah was a man of God. He was devout. He did good things.
But he was scared to confront the actual injustice that was taking place. Reading on, Elijah does indeed confront Ahab, calls him out to his face and sets up the showdown between gods.
What lesson can we learn from Elijah and Obadiah, and how does it apply to today?
Today we live in a time of great depravity. Christians are being silenced, told their belief systems are no longer valid (or worse, that they are bigoted and uneducated). Those who attempt to hold morals are marginalized, and what was once considered evil… is now openly celebrated.
This is no surprise to God. We are living in a time where people aren’t living for God… which means it’s going to look like a society NOT living for God. But what do we do with this knowledge?
Should we just be pleasant? Should we simply leave the teachings (that are now considered intolerant) behind and just embrace social justice and being good? Can a believer still follow God without having to fight everything all the time?
The Bible makes it clear time and time again that we should be light and that we should do good things to help people. We should be loving, and devout, and feed the homeless, visit the prisoner, care for the orphans and widows, etc. Any follower of God should include these things in their list of “to do” items if they want to be obedient to God and if they want to make a real difference in this world. Also, it needs to be said that Christians have gotten themselves into hot water by simply being “against” everything all the time without, in contrast, showing the world what we think good really looks like. “Let’s picket this thing here, and boycott this over there.” doesn’t do much for our witness if it isn’t backed with something better than what we are turning away from.
However, in today’s society (and in any society) we can’t let ourselves become Obadiah. He was a good, devout man… and (in his defense) he was doing what he thought could be done to help God’s people by protecting them and providing them with food. But we must also acknowledge that Obadiah was a man that wanted to follow God while not making waves. He was scared to confront the things that were against God lest he lose his position, his comfort, and (possibly) his life. Instead… he did noble, good things… and he did them quietly. Many could argue that what he did, was beneficial because of this position, and that he actually saved many lives by being discreet.
But there are two problems with this idea.
1. He reveals much when he is actually asked to confront Ahab by Elijah. Obadiah was scared to reveal himself to be a devout believer in a community that was now largely serving Baal.
2. Even if he had good motives and intentions, eventually he wouldn’t have had anyone left to care for, because he was treating symptoms, not the disease.
Did you ever hear the story about the man who saw many people treading water down a river?
A man sees a group of people floating down a river, each unsuccessfully trying to stay afloat. He jumps in and begins to pull people to the side one by one. Over and over again he rescues them and pushes them up on shore. But for every person he saves, more just keep floating down from upstream. He looks up, and sees another man walk up to the edge of the river to see what’s taking place. The man, then turns and begins to high tail it up the riverbank. The first man calls out “Hey, why don’t you get in here and help me save these people”?! The second man, now in full sprint, yells back “I’m going to go stop whoever is pushing all these people into the river”!
Maybe what Obadiah was doing was fine. He was, after all, saving people. But somebody needed to get to the root of the problem. Feeding the persecuted is needed, but it doesn’t stop the persecution.
It feels like we are surrounded by hits against godliness today. We are inundated with advertising, sitcoms, public education, churches, political agendas, etc. etc. and so many of them with messages contrary to God’s word.
It’s tiring to face the tidal wave of issues. Trying to fight them all sometimes feels more like a game of “Morality Whack-a-Mole.”
I don’t have all the answers on how to fight against injustice today. Sometimes I feel more like Obadiah… and I just want to go about my life, do good, provide food and shelter, and not make too many enemies in the process. Sometimes I feel like I can be Elijah, and I see something that stirs up righteous anger within me. I’m moved to fight, but not always sure how. Sometimes I feel more like those floating downstream and I’m just trying to figure out what happened and how we got into this predicament… all the while I’m trying to keep my head above water.
The question is… as Christians, are we called to feed or fight?
The Bibles answers that one = both
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”
Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Who will rise up for me against the wicked?
Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?
When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Of course, we could go on and on with verses that remind us to do good AND to confront evil.
My goal is not to divide us against the very ones we are reaching out to. Certainly we can find some ground somewhere between “take on everything the world says is good and adopt it as good” and “separate ourselves so much from those in the world that we judge from afar”. We are still called to be in this world, and to love those in it.
Elijah called out Ahab because, in addition to his zeal for God, Elijah loved the people that Ahab was leading astray. Why do you think Elijah set up a very public display that revealed to the people who God is?
We don’t just fight because we are annoyed at being silenced, we don’t fight out of revenge, and we don’t just fight because we hate to lose our way of life… we fight because we love people and are called to stand up for truth. We should never be ok with people being led astray.
Of course, we also have to define “fight.” This isn’t a call to take up arms or to start a revolution. We recognize that our battle today isn’t against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6) but rather it’s more spiritual than anything. The fight starts on our face before God.
But we also have to get up, and (led by that same God) start confronting the stuff that is taking us (and the coming generations) down a dark path. Let’s call it out for what it is. Not all truth is relative, not all roads lead to heaven, and not every teaching is good when it’s sincerely believed. There are bad things, there are deadly sins, and there are beliefs that separate us from God.
We must call these things out. We call them out with love. In turn, we must be willing to dialogue and must be willing to listen, but we must also be bold enough to unashamedly respond in truth.
We must be willing to stand up for what’s right.