• January 2007

    • My Dear Friends,

      Obadiah, Ahab’s chief civil servant (not the prophet), was a remarkable man. We know very little about him, but what we know is deeply instructive and (hopefully!) deeply humbling.

      Obadiah lived at a time of wholesale national apostasy. Ahab, beguiled by his heathen, Baal-worshipping wife Jezebel, had sought systematically to destroy the Lord’s prophets. God had removed Elijah from Ahab and Jezebel’s wickedness and protected him, first in a desert fed by ravens, and then in the heartland of Baalism fed by a poor widow. God preserved and protected Elijah by separating him from Ahab and Jezebel, but Obadiah continued in their service, in charge of a palace where wickedness reigned. Some, perhaps even many (alas), would conclude that Obadiah was a compromiser, a man who stayed put when he should have shown solidarity with Elijah and separated himself from a King who “did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him” (1 Kings 16:33).

      It is significant, however, that when the writer of 1 Kings introduces us to Obadiah, he tells us at the outset that he “was a devout believer in the Lord” (18:3). Nowhere in the text is it even hinted that Obadiah was not where he should have been. On the contrary, it was because he was where he was, and doing what he did, that he was able to rescue 100 of the Lord’s prophets from Jezebel’s blood-soaked rampage.

      What can we learn from this brave, devout servant of the Lord? Perhaps above all this: We should be slow to judge fellow believers who do not separate themselves from national and ecclesiastical evil in precisely the way we may have ourselves. We can only too easily make ourselves the standard that everyone else should be guided by. Obadiah was a “devout believer”, not a closet compromiser. We can surely assume that because he was a “devout” believer, he refused to compromise his allegiance to Jehovah in the midst of national and ecclesiastical apostasy. And yet he remained in Ahab’s service. Yes, we no longer live in a church-state. But there is a principle here that we should ponder carefully: Not all good men and women are called by God to react in the same way to moral and theological evil. Of course, we must all, without exception, hate evil in all its forms and refuse to be party to it in any way. But God may call us to work out that rejection of evil in different ways. Elijah was separated from the evil. Obadiah was left in the midst of it to serve God and his church, quietly and yet faithfully.

      When 451 ministers “disrupted” (seceded) from the Church of Scotland in 1843 to form the Church of Scotland Free, it would be a huge folly to think that all the “good” (i.e. faithful) men came out, while all the “bad” (i.e. unfaithful men) stayed in. Perhaps most of the good men did come out, but undoubtedly faithful men chose to stay in. William Gurnall, minister of Lavenham, the author of “The Christian in Complete Armour”, chose to remain within the Church of England in 1662, when over 2000 of his Puritan colleagues were ejected for “non-conformity”. Gurnall’s theology was as evangelical and Calvinistic as theirs, but he chose to stay in and fight for gospel truth. Because Gurnall submitted to the Act of Uniformity he was the subject of a libellous attack, published in 1665, entitled Covenant-Renouncers Desperate Apostates. Perhaps. However, the judgement levelled against Gurnall may well have been too severe, even quite wrong. God has work for Obadiahs, as well as for Elijahs. To a watching world, Obadiah may have appeared a compromiser; to the Holy Spirit inspired Scriptures, he was a “devout believer.”

      Something to ponder?

      Yours in the fellowship of Christ

      Ian Hamilton