Obadiah: faithful work in an ungodly place

Obadiah: faithful work in an ungodly place

Obadiah is a little-known figure from the Old Testament, but he gives us a useful template for serving God in ungodly times. We meet Obadiah in 1 Kings 18, when the prophet Elijah returned from three years away from the kingdom of Israel. We are told that Obadiah was “over the household” of Ahab (v3), which means he was kind of like Ahab’s chief of staff. He was a senior public servant and a trusted man. What strikes us as unusual is that Obadiah, who is described as a man who “feared the LORD greatly”, works in such a role. Ahab is a terribly ungodly king. He has shown no interest in serving the true God and has actively encouraged the people to worship Baal. He has shown no repentance at any point. Yet, in the middle of such an ungodly administration, we find a man like Obadiah.

Obadiah wasn’t someone who just secretly trusted God. He acted in line with his convictions. When his boss tried to kill all of the prophets of the LORD, he saved one hundred of them by hiding them in caves and providing food and water for them. This was done at great personal risk. Obadiah was using his influence for the service of God.

This raises a question for us: was Obadiah wrong to work for a man like Ahab? Ahab was a tyrant and an evil man. All Ahab stood for was opposed to God’s purposes, and here is a faithful man who worked in his administration. I think we must be careful about criticising Obadiah here. Elijah never condemns him, and the text is very positive about his actions to save the prophets. Obadiah was not wrong in principle to work where he did. I am sure his role meant a great deal of temptation to turn from God, and a great deal of risk that his faithfulness might be discovered, but that doesn’t mean he was wrong to work there.

The presence of Obadiah in the senior management of Israel had some real advantages for the wider faithful people of God in Israel. He used his position to save lives. He would be on the lookout to use his influence where he could. And his presence in that place would send a powerful message: it is possible to be faithful, even amid the mess and ungodliness around him.

We need examples of that in our day as well. Faithful Christians need role models of faithfulness in dark places. We need senior managers who remain involved in their local churches and politicians who are prepared to speak against the party line. We need students in our classes who care for the struggling and disagree with identity politics. Don’t underestimate the importance of example.

I think Christians should be wary of withdrawing from all the institutions of the world in an attempt to not be polluted by the world. I understand the temptation. However, when all the Christians remove their children from public schools, there is no-one left to be salt and light in that environment. When well-meaning Christians decide they could never work for Qantas or some big bank due to their stance on social issues, they are abandoning an opportunity to be a force for positive change in a difficult place.

In our modern world, you are likely to work in non-ideal places. Most of us will have bosses who do not share our faith or our lifestyle. Some will work or study in places that are openly hostile to things we hold dear. Don’t despair. There are many, like Obadiah, who have done this before. There are many who do that now, even if you don’t know their names. There are faithful Christians sprinkled throughout even the most secular society. Pray for them. They have opportunities to serve Jesus, but they are always at risk of discovery or mistreatment like Obadiah was.

The truth is that you can be well used by God even if you work or study or live in a difficult place that is opposed to the truth of the gospel. Think how you can serve King Jesus well where you are right now. You might have far more influence than you think.