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Grown-Up Bible Stories

The Secret Agent

Jesus Christ said that it is impossible for anyone to serve two conflicting masters. Eventually, the nature of the relationships will lead to the servant siding with one master against the other. Jesus’ point in particular was that it is impossible to give oneself wholly to God and to the things of this world at the same time.

Yet, there have been people that God Himself placed in very trying circumstances. They have been people who’ve had to serve God by working for His enemies. I suppose you might call them the spiritual equivalent of spies or secret agents. As in earthly politics, the job is neither safe nor easy. It also leads to some very strange situations. For instance, the prophet Daniel was considered the leading occult practitioner in old Babylon. This title was obviously incorrect, but it’s easy to see the challenges faced by a God-fearing man in an evil environment.

But all spiritual secret agents weren’t big-timers like Daniel. I’m thinking in particular of a gentleman named Obadiah. Now just to set the record straight, he wasn’t the only Obadiah in the Bible. There is a book in the Old Testament written by a prophet named Obadiah, but that Obadiah was openly a minister of God. The Obadiah we’re thinking of had to serve God on the sly as it were. He worked for—and was loyal to--one of old Israel’s most famous bad men, King Ahab.

Obadiah served as the steward of Ahab’s house. While it fell short of sitting on the cabinet or a holding a noble title, his wasn’t exactly a small position. Obadiah took care of the king and his family personally. The palace budget would have been under Obadiah’s control. The supply of food on the royal table, the cleaning, and the maintenance would have come under his supervision. The people who watched over any household shrines owned by the religious Ahab might have answered to him also.

Unfortunately, religious and good aren’t always the same. Ahab and his foreign-born wife didn’t worship the God of Israel, at least not exclusively. Ahab’s heart likely belonged to a golden calf a previous king had set up as the image of God. But his heart had room for whatever gods seemed promising when he wanted something. Ahab’s religion was out of line to begin with, as God didn’t approve of golden calves or any idols. His marriage to Jezebel took him over the edge. Jezebel was a major fan of a regional deity named Baal.

You probably don’t want to know everything there is to know about Baal. The images made of him typically looked like a man with a tall, nearly conical hat. According to legend, he was the storm god. Legend also credited him with a role close to that of the chief deity. As such, he was deemed helpful to personal and national prosperity. In the agricultural society of the day, prosperity depended heavily on good farming conditions, and the storm god could send rain if he was happy. He was also part of a religious system that involved perversion and even human sacrifice.

Such was the religion of Jezebel and of much of what we now call the Middle East. It seemed to work, and kings like Ahab who cared about the well-being of their subjects took Baal seriously; although, Ahab seems not to have sacrificed any children. It wasn’t a matter of not believing in the God of Israel. It was a matter having too little faith to ignore the claims of God’s competition.

Obadiah, on the other hand, didn’t buy into the Baal thing. He was part of a religious minority in Israel who remained true to God alone. There were only about 7,000 such people in the whole nation, and they didn’t have it easy. Governmentally discouraged from worshiping at the temple of God, surrounded by people who thought Baal made the grass green, immersed in a culture that seeped with evil spirits, these people needed a lot of courage. Among them, of course, were God’s official spokespeople, the prophets. The prophets verbally confronted the followers of Baal and warned them of God’s judgment if they continued in idolatry. The prophets were remarkable people. You might call them commandos in a spiritual resistance movement. All too often they gave their lives for God and His cause.

Strangely, among this same spiritual resistance movement was one of the most trusted servants of the king and queen. Obadiah wasn’t a spiritual commando. He was a secret agent. He had to be. His bosses killed those who openly spoke out for God.

God didn’t put Obadiah in the palace for nothing, however. When Jezebel decided to kill the prophets of God, Obadiah was in the right place at the right time. He knew the plan. He had the resources to counter the plan. He managed to sneak 50 prophets into a cave and feed them until he could smuggle them to safety. When they were gone, he repeated the stunt with another fifty. While history doesn’t say, it is logical that the bread the prophets ate while in hiding came from the house of the very royals who sought to kill them. After all, Obadiah didn’t get his classy job by lacking executive ability. He was the kind of guy a secret agent is made of, somebody who can keep his cool in the home of the enemy and depend on his own skills to survive and work for his cause amidst constant danger.

Of course, secret agents do face difficulties. They aren’t always well understood, and they aren’t the kind of people who expect much help if they get in trouble. They’re also uncomfortably close to the wrong side of the action when their own side attacks. At least that’s where Obadiah found himself when God chose to address the spiritual conflict with a physical statement.

It started with one of the prophets. If the typical prophet was the spiritual equivalent of a commando, Elijah the Tishbite might rank as a superhero. He wasn’t a secret servant of God. He was outspoken. He wasn’t Ahab’s trusted friend. The king would one day call him his enemy. He rapidly became a living legend, a man too big for the scenes he acted upon. This somewhat mysterious individual operated on the frontier between earth and heaven. The results of his work were literally supernatural.

Elijah’s first appearance in recorded history began the incident where his life would intersect with Obadiah’s. The prophet announced that there wasn’t going to be rain until he said so. Then he went into hiding. After all, the royal family had that thing about killing prophets. Ahab sent to all his neighboring monarchs and demanded that they extradite the prophet of God. They all swore that they didn’t have him.

In any event, the prophetic announcement was that there would be no rain. Now it was in the hands of the divine. Was the God of Israel really in control of things as people like Obadiah believed, or was Baal the storm god big enough to make it rain? If Ahab and Jezebel were right, then their favorite god was bigger than the God of Israel. He could make rain, and that idiot prophet guy deserved to look like a fool--oh and to die too. If those seven thousand holdouts for the religion of Israel were right, there wasn’t any storm god in a tall pointed hat. There was one God who controlled more than just the weather. Baal was a nonentity, and it wouldn’t rain until God’s man gave the word.

The contest raged in the unseen world for three years. We don’t know if the evil spirits that hung out around the stone images tried to make it rain, or if the invisible only true God just sighed sadly as people begged Baal to give them enough rain to sustain their lives. In any event, the prophet of God had spoken, and God backed him up. It didn’t rain. It didn’t rain in Israel. It didn’t rain in the neighboring countries. Baal was an international god, and the God of the universe challenged him at the international level.

Elijah’s story is well known. God resorted to miracles to keep him alive and healthy. Wild birds brought him food as he hid in the country by a small stream. When the drought dried up the stream, God sent him to a family in a foreign country. Elijah challenged the widowed head of the household to feed him before she used the last of her flour for herself and her son. She had enough faith to do things the prophet’s way, and God kept her supplied with food when there wasn’t any food to be had. When her son died of unrelated causes, Elijah prayed and he came to life. Elijah’s experience during the three-year contest was so extraordinary that we still talk about it 2,500 years later.

Secret agent Obadiah didn’t get such adventures. He, after all, lived with the enemy. His lot was to cope with the problems God laid on his boss.

It’s hard to imagine three years with no precipitation. We aren’t talking about a dust bowl in one region of a large nation. We’re talking environmental disaster in several nations. How any plants survived, how any wild animals survived, and how there was seed left to replant when the rains finally came are almost overwhelming problems. All existing resources--natural, agricultural, and economic--must have been strained to the point of desperation. It is possible that some of Baal’s admirers died in front of their idols, their stomachs empty and their hearts confused.

As the one in charge of seeing that the palace got at least a fair share of the dwindling food supplies, Obadiah probably didn’t experience a whole lot of hunger. Still, he must have worried as he saw the trees shed their leaves and even the grass crumble away. He would have had to plan how to keep the king and his family in water when shallow, hand-dug wells began to dry up. He would have had to listen as the king ranted about that absurd prophet person who was ruining the country over mere religion. 

And through it all, Obadiah knew that his God was winning the contest. He knew that Ahab and the nation deserved their disaster. He may have felt like saying, “I told you so.” He might have, between his worries, wanted to reach into the Heavens and give God the equivalent of today’s high five. But Obadiah was a secret agent. He stayed alive because he could worship God inconspicuously. After all, he was still a trusted friend of the enemy.

Ahab did trust Obadiah. Obviously unaware of the prophet-hiding escapade, he called on Obadiah to help him with a very important mission. Ancient militaries depended heavily on warhorses. The chariots used instead of tanks were propelled by horses. The elite troops that would sweep in on helicopters today swept in on horses then. If Ahab was to maintain national security, he had to keep his horses alive. After three years of crop failure, saving the horses was getting downright hard. Apparently unwilling to trust such an important job to his Baal-worshiping supply experts, he took Obadiah out to help him hunt for green grass in person.

The two separated, intent on covering as much ground as possible. The king went one way. His trusted servant went the other, every bit of resourcefulness and ability on the alert to help pull the king through the disaster he’d brought on himself.

Remember that Obadiah and Ahab are literally ancient history. They didn’t drive around in armored SUV’s. They walked or used horses. Their travel was much more in the open, much more accessible to the public, and perhaps more vulnerable than the travel experienced by today’s heads of state. Obadiah didn’t have to roll down his window to talk to people he met on the road. As a result, he found himself face to face with Elijah the Tishbite.

The Bible doesn’t say why Elijah came to Obadiah rather than Ahab. It is possible, though, that God sent His spokesman to someone who was on speaking terms with both God and the enemy. After all, Ahab hadn’t learned his lesson yet. Israel still worshiped Baal, even after God had made him look like a very stupid stone doll. God’s spokesman came, not to the enemy king, but to God’s man in the enemy king’s house.

Obadiah said, “Are you my Lord Elijah?” [Note: quotations are not necessarily exact unless accompanied by a Scripture reference.]

I am. Go get your boss.”

The command bothered Obadiah. His well-known good judgment didn’t line up with it. Still, he was speaking with a spiritual superhero. He couldn’t just run. He couldn’t just refuse, but he could and did protest. In effect, he said, “Elijah, sir, the king has been hunting you throughout the whole region. Kings everywhere have tried to find you and failed. God obviously has been hiding you. Now you want me to go tell my king that you’re here. What if God decides to hide you again? When I bring him back and you’re gone, I’m a dead man. Hasn’t anybody told you how much respect I’ve always had for God? Haven’t you heard about the 100 prophets I rescued? Please, I’m on your side. Don’t ask me to commit suicide.”

But Elijah stood firm. “Go, because today God is going to send rain.”

At this point, Obadiah faced a personal crisis. He’d been pretty sharp in serving God among people who killed God’s servants. He’d shown great resourcefulness in rescuing the 100 prophets. He was a guy who could serve God on his own and do so remarkably. His own courageous way had always worked before. This time God asked him to abandon his own resources. Now he needed the courage to follow God’s way. Going after Ahab wasn’t just a routine part of a servant’s day. It was a step of faith.

If you were Obadiah, would you do what you knew was safe, or would you tell Ahab that Elijah was there? It’s your call. You’re Obadiah. What will you do?

The record is that Obadiah obeyed God and went for Ahab. The prophet and the king met. The result was an astonishing display of God’s power. The whole nation wound up shouting that God was God.

History tells us no more of Obadiah, but God’s secret agent had accomplished his mission. Obeying beyond his own wisdom placed him in a role big enough to be recorded in the most important history book of all time.


Now, what about you? You obviously aren’t going to get your story told in the Bible. You probably won’t even make secular history. Still, God knows, and God remembers. Whose judgment are you following today, His or yours?

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

This work is in the pubic domain and may be copied and distributed freely.


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