In these verses we find,
I. The sad state of Israel at this time, upon two accounts:—
1. Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord (1 Kgs. 18:4), slew them, 1 Kgs. 18:13. Being an idolater, she was a persecutor, and made Ahab one. Even in those bad times, when the calves were worshipped and the temple at Jerusalem deserted, yet there were some good people that feared God and served him, and some good prophets that instructed them in the knowledge of him and assisted them in their devotions. The priests and the Levites had all gone to Judah and Jerusalem (2 Chron. 11:13, 14), but, instead of them, God raised up these prophets, who read and expounded the law in private meetings, or in the families that retained their integrity, for we read not of any synagogues at this time; they had not the spirit of prophecy as Elijah, nor did they offer sacrifice, or burn incense, but taught people to live well, and keep close to the God of Israel. These Jezebel aimed to extirpate, and put many of them to death, which was as much a public calamity as a public iniquity, and threatened the utter ruin of religion’s poor remains in Israel. Those few that escaped the sword were forced to abscond, and hide themselves in caves, where they were buried alive and cut off, though not from life, yet from usefulness, which is the end and comfort of life; and, when the prophets were persecuted and driven into corners, no doubt their friends, those few good people that were in the land, were treated in like manner. Yet, bad as things were,
(1.) There was one very good man, who was a great man at court, Obadiah, who answered his name—a servant of the Lord, one who feared God and was faithful to him, and yet was steward of the household to Ahab. Observe his character: He feared the Lord greatly (1 Kgs. 18:3), was not only a good man, but zealously and eminently good; his great place put a lustre upon his goodness, and gave him great opportunities of doing good; and he feared the Lord from his youth (1 Kgs. 18:12), he began betimes to be religious and had continued long. Note, Early piety, it is to be hoped, will be eminent piety; those that are good betimes are likely to be very good; he that feared God from his youth came to fear him greatly. He that will thrive must rise betimes. But it is strange to find such an eminently good man governor of Ahab’s house, an office of great honour, power, and trust. [1.] It was strange that so wicked a man as Ahab would prefer him to it and continue him in it; certainly it was because he was a man of celebrated honesty, industry, and ingenuity, and one in whom he could repose a confidence, whose eyes he could trust as much as his own, as appears here, 1 Kgs. 18:5. Joseph and Daniel were preferred because there were none so fit as they for the places they were preferred to. Note, Those who profess religion should study to recommend themselves to the esteem even of those that are without by their integrity, fidelity, and application to business. [2.] It was strange that so good a man as Obadiah would accept of preferment in a court so addicted to idolatry and all manner of wickedness. We may be sure it was not made necessary to qualify him for preferment that he should be of the king’s religion, that he should conform to the statues of Omri, or the law of the house of Ahab. Obadiah would not have accepted the place if he could not have had it without bowing the knee to Baal, nor was Ahab so impolitic as to exclude those from offices that were fit to serve him, merely because they would not join with him in his devotions. That man that is true to his God will be faithful to his prince. Obadiah therefore could with a good conscience enjoy the place, and therefore would not decline it, nor give it up, though he foresaw he could not do the good he desired to do in it. Those that fear God need not go out of the world, bad as it is. [3.] It was strange that either he did not reform Ahab or Ahab corrupt him; but it seems they were both fixed; he that was filthy would be filthy still, and he that was holy would be holy still. Those fear God greatly that keep up the fear of him in bad times and places; thus Obadiah did. God has his remnant among all sorts, high and low; there were saints in Nero’s household, and in Ahab’s.
(2.) This great good man used his power for the protection of God’s prophets. He hid 100 of them in two caves, when the persecution was hot, and fed them with bread and water, 1 Kgs. 18:4. He did not think it enough to fear God himself, but, having wealth and power wherewith to do it, he thought himself obliged to assist and countenance others that feared God; nor did he think his being kind to them would excuse him from being good himself, but he did both, he both feared God greatly himself and patronised those that feared him likewise. See how wonderfully God raises up friends for his ministers and people, for their shelter in difficult times, even where one would least expect them. Bread and water were now scarce commodities, yet Obadiah will find a competence of both for God’s prophets, to keep them alive for service hereafter, though now they were laid aside.
2. When Jezebel cut off God’s prophets God cut off the necessary provisions by the extremity of the drought. Perhaps Jezebel persecuted God’s prophets under pretence that they were the cause of the judgment, because Elijah had foretold it. Christianos ad leones—Away with Christians to the lions. But God made them know the contrary, for the famine continued till Baal’s prophets were sacrificed, and so great a scarcity of water there was that the king himself and Obadiah went in person throughout the land to seek for grass for the cattle, 1 Kgs. 18:5, 6. Providence ordered it so, that Ahab might, with his own eyes, see how bad the consequences of this judgment were, that so he might be the better inclined to hearken to Elijah, who would direct him into the only way to put an end to it. Ahab’s care was not to lose all the beasts, many being already lost; but he took no care about his soul, not to lose that; he took a deal of pains to seek grass, but none to seek the favour of God, fencing against the effect, but not enquiring how to remove the cause. The land of Judah lay close to the land of Israel, yet we find no complaint there of the want of rain; for Judah yet ruled with God, and was faithful with the saints and prophets (Hos. 11:12), by which distinction Israel might plainly have seen the ground of God’s controversy, when God caused it to rain upon one city and not upon another (Amos 4:7, 8); but they blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts, and would not see.
II. The steps taken towards redressing the grievance, by Elijah’s appearing again upon the stage, to act as a Tishbite, a converter or reformer of Israel, for so (some think) that title of his signifies. Turn them again to the Lord God of hosts, from whom they have revolted, and all will be well quickly; this must be Elijah’s doing. See Luke 1:16, 17.
1. Ahab had made diligent search for him (1 Kgs. 18:10), had offered rewards to any one that would discover him, sent spies into every tribe and lordship of his own dominions, as some understand it, or, as others, into all the neighbouring nations and kingdoms that were in alliance with him; and, when they denied that they knew any thing of him, he would not believe them unless they swore it, and, as should seem, promised likewise upon oath that, if ever they found him among them, they would discover him and deliver him up. It should seem, he made this diligent search for him, not so much that he might punish him for what he had done in denouncing the judgment as that he might oblige him to undo it again, by recalling the sentence, because he had said it should be according to his word, having such an opinion of him as men foolishly conceive of witches (that, if they can but compel them to bless that which they have bewitched, it will be well again), or such as the king of Moab had of Balaam. I incline to this because we find, when they came together, Elijah, knowing what Ahab wanted him for, appointed him to meet him on Mount Carmel, and Ahab complied with the appointment, though Elijah took such a way to revoke the sentence and bless the land as perhaps he little thought of.
2. God, at length, ordered Elijah to present himself to Ahab, because the time had now come when he would send rain upon the earth (1 Kgs. 18:1), or rather upon the land. Above two years he had lain hid with the widow at Zarephath, after he had been concealed one year by the brook Cherith; so that the third year of his sojourning there, here spoken of (1 Kgs. 18:1), was the fourth of the famine, which lasted in all three years and six months, as we find, Luke 4:25; Jas. 5:17. Such was Elijah’s zeal, no doubt, against the idolatry of Baal, and such his compassion to his people, that he thought it long to be thus confined to a corner; yet he appeared not till God bade him: “Go and show thyself to Ahab, for now thy hour has come, even the time to favour Israel.” Note, It bodes well to any people when God calls his ministers out of their corners, and bids them show themselves—a sign that he will give rain on the earth; at least we may the better be content with the bread of affliction while our eyes see our teachers, Isa. 30:20, 21.
3. Elijah first surrendered, or rather discovered, himself to Obadiah. He knew, by the Spirit, where to meet him, and we are here told what passed between them.
(1.) Obadiah saluted him with great respect, fell on his face, and humbly asked, Art thou that my lord Elijah? 1 Kgs. 18:7. As he had shown the tenderness of a father to the sons of the prophets, so he showed the reverence of a son to this father of the prophets; and by this made it appear that he did indeed fear God greatly, that he did honour to one that was his extraordinary ambassador and had a great interest in heaven.
(2.) Elijah, in answer to him, [1.] Transfers the title of honour he gave him to Ahab: “Call him thy lord, not me;” that is a fitter title for a prince than for a prophet, who seeks not honour from men. Prophets should be called seers, and shepherds, and watchmen, and ministers, rather than lords, as those that mind duty more than dominion. [2.] He bids Obadiah go and tell the king that he is there to speak with him: Tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is forth-coming, 1 Kgs. 18:8. He would have the king know before, that it might not be a surprise to him and that he might be sure it was the prophet’s own act to present himself to him.
(3.) Obadiah begs to be excused from carrying this message to Ahab, for it might prove as much as his life was worth. [1.] He tells Elijah what great search Ahab had made for him and how much his heart was upon it to find him out, 1 Kgs. 18:10. [2.] He takes it for granted that Elijah would again withdraw (1 Kgs. 18:12): The Spirit of the Lord shall carry thee (as it is likely he had done sometimes, when Ahab thought he had been sure of him) whither I know not. See 2 Kgs. 2:16. He thought Elijah was not in good earnest when he bade him tell Ahab where he was, but intended only to expose the impotency of his malice; for he knew Ahab was not worthy to receive any kindness from the prophet and it was not fit that the prophet should receive any mischief from him. [3.] He is sure Ahab would be so enraged at the disappointment that he would put him to death for making a fool of him, or for not laying hands on Elijah himself, when he had him in his reach, 1 Kgs. 18:12. Tyrants and persecutors, in their passion, are often unreasonably outrageous, even towards their friends and confidants. [4.] He pleads that he did not deserve to be thus exposed, and put in peril of his life: What have I said amiss? 1 Kgs. 18:9. Nay (1 Kgs. 18:13), Was it not told my lord how I hid the prophets? He mentions this, not in pride or ostentation, but to convince Elijah that though he was Ahab’s servant he was not in his interest, and therefore deserved not to be bantered as one of the tools of his persecution. He that had protected so many prophets, he hoped, should not have his own life hazarded by so great a prophet.
(4.) Elijah satisfied him that he might with safety deliver this message to Ahab, by assuring him, with an oath, that he would, this very day, present himself to Ahab, 1 Kgs. 18:15. Let but Obadiah know that he spoke seriously and really intended it, and he will make no scruple to carry the message to Ahab. Elijah swears by the Lord of hosts, who has all power in his hands, and is therefore able to protect his servants against all the powers of hell and earth.
(5.) Notice is hereby soon brought to Ahab that Elijah had sent him a challenge to meet him immediately at such a place, and Ahab accepts the challenge: He went to meet Elijah, 1 Kgs. 18:16. We may suppose it was a great surprise to Ahab to hear that Elijah, whom he had so long sought and not found, was now found without seeking. He went in quest of grass, and found him from whose word, at God’s mouth, he must expect rain. Yet his guilty conscience gave him little reason to hope for it, but, rather, to fear some other more dreadful judgment. Had he, by his spies, surprised Elijah, he would have triumphed over him; but, now that he was thus surprised by him, we may suppose he even trembled to look him in the face, hated him, and yet feared him, as Herod did John.