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The Fear of God

Date: Feb. 8, 2015

Author: Michael Mark

1 Kings 18:1-16

Key Verse: 1 Kings 18:3

“and Ahab had summoned Obadiah, his palace administrator. (Obadiah was a devout believer in the Lord.”

One of my favorite quotes when I was in high school was “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” This was a quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt, delivered in 1933 in his first presidential inaugural address. I was very much impressed by it, thinking, “That’s right – I don’t have to fear anything, just fear itself.” In the Bible we see something more profound. All over the Bible is this idea: “The only thing we have to fear is God himself.” The Bible says “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere him. (Ps 33:8)” The wisest man to ever live wrote, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Pr 1:7).” When we fear the Lord, we do not even have to fear fear. Pr 14:26 says, “Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.” The fear of the Lord is a secure fortress, and parents who fear the Lord will even provide a place for their children to be safe.

In the past few weeks, we sped quickly through the kings of Judah and Israel. In Judah, we saw how God preserved David’s dynasty, allowing his sons to rule though they sinned greatly, because of his promise to David. In Israel, we saw how God overthrew one dynasty after another because of their sins. Last week, 1 Kings slowed down to focus on how God dealt with King Ahab, one of the most wicked kings in Israel, through the prophet Elijah. God had caused a drought in the land of Israel that would last three years. Elijah was sent to give the message to King Ahab, and afterwards he went into hiding. In today’s passage, Elijah will come out of hiding to confront King Ahab, but before he does that, he will meet with Obadiah, a man who greatly feared the Lord.

Look at v.1, “After a long time, in the third year, the word of the Lord came to Elijah: ‘Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.’” This was God speaking, and he said, “I will send rain on the land.” In school, we learned that rain comes from water that evaporates from the ocean or the sea and turns into clouds in the sky. When the water vapor in the clouds become heavy, the water comes down as rain. This may be a great scientific discovery, but do you know who’s hand pulls the water up from the sea? Do you know who’s hand guides and directs the clouds in the sky? It is the hand of God which shuts the heavens and opens them up. God told King Ahab through Elijah that it will not rain, it will not even dew on the land for a few years, and guess what happened? It did not rain or dew on the land, just as God said. Now God says to Elijah, I will send rain on the land. When the ancestors of the Israelites crossed over the Jordan river into the land of Israel, God had parted the river, just like he parted the Red Sea. Joshua, the successor to Moses told the Israelites, “He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God. (Josh 4:24)” When you stop to think about what happened in just last week in Chicago, you will see that the hand of the Lord is powerful. One day it was 40 degrees. The next day a blizzard came, the 5th largest in Chicago’s history, and just like that, in one day, 19 inches of snow covered the city as far as the eye can see. Then yesterday, the 40 degree weather came back, and now most of the snow is gone. I hope you can see that the hand of the Lord is powerful, so that you might always fear the Lord your God.

So Elijah began on his way to present himself to Ahab. Elijah – the prophet who had been in hiding for three years, now sets out to confront the king of Israel. There was no hesitation, no resistance or questioning of the task God gave him. We see here Elijah with bold resolve, going to meet Ahab, whom God had rebuked through him by the drought. In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence (Pr 14:26, KJV). Last week in Sh. Bob’s message, we saw Elijah going through some tough times. He could no longer move about in public – but in hiding he witnessed God commanding ravens to feed him. He saw how a jar of flour in a poor widows home never became empty, even though she baked bread every day. He beheld the power of God when God resurrected a young boy who had died. When we hear the word “fear,” we think of it often in terms of being afraid. With respect to God, there is a sense where we are afraid, because he is the judge. But also with respect to God, to fear God means to be in awe of him. To fear God means to revere him, and to give honor to him. There is a scene in the movie, Shaolin Soccer, where some thugs were laughing at a scruffy group of martial arts soccer players – but when one guy kicks the ball with so much power it flies to the goal before anyone else can move, their jaws drop, and they stood in awe. To fear God is to stand in awe of him, because of his awesome power. But to be in awe of God, requires that you believe in God, and to believe that nothing is too hard or impossible for God to do.

Obadiah was a devout believer in God. Can we all please read v.3, “and Ahab had summoned Obadiah, his palace administrator. (Obadiah was a devout believer in the Lord.” In the original Hebrew, and translated into the King James, ESV and NASB versions, they say Obadiah “feared the Lord greatly.” In the NIV, feared the Lord greatly is translated as “a devout believer.” Here we can also learn more of what it means to fear the Lord, and to fear him greatly. To have the fear of the Lord is to be a devout believer. The word devout comes from the word devote, so a devout believer is a devoted believer. How can we understand what a devoted believer is? Perhaps Deut 10:12 can help shed some light on this. It says, “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” To devote yourself to something is to love it, and serve it with all your heart and soul. We can devote ourselves to many things. Some devote themselves to art, to painting, drawing, writing or making music, some devote themselves to sports or martial arts, still some devote themselves to science or engineering – but above all, we ought to devote ourselves to God. To devote yourself to God is do what he asks of you with all your heart and soul, and that includes fearing him, obeying him, loving and serving him.

Obadiah feared the Lord greatly. 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. Obadiah feared the Lord more than he feared Jezebel. What he was doing could cost him his life, but he lived to please God and to do his will. Jezebel may have wanted to rid Israel of the worship of God, or she may have been making human sacrifices to Baal – but in either case she wanted to kill the servants of the Lord. Jezebel wanted to plunge Israel into utter darkness, but thank God, he would not let this happen. In his mercy and by his power, it was his will to save the prophets in order to keep the light on to lead people to himself. God raised up someone like Obadiah, who may have had access to resources, and the power and influence to protect and provide for his people, even though Israel may not have deserved it. We can be assured that no matter how dark this world may seem, God will always have a people faithful to him that will lead others to him. Obadiah carried out God’s will at the risk of his life, and hid them from the queen, splitting them into two groups. This would reduce their size, so there would be less people walking around, less food to transport to each group, and they would be less likely to get caught. As many of you know, it takes a lot of work to feed a group of 25 every week. Imagine trying to feed 100 people every day. What’s even more impressive was that Obadiah was feeding these people during a severe drought and famine. God is able to provide.

Verses 5 and 6 tell us how bad the famine was: “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.” The famine was so bad that the king himself had to come out and search for food for his animals. You would think a king would send his servants, but the man himself was coming out. It was so bad that there was nothing for his animals to eat – not even grass. This just makes it more remarkable that Obadiah was able to do what he did, and feed 100 people with food and water every day. Ahab also seems to have his priorities mixed up. He was more concerned about his animals than he was about God’s people. He wanted to try to save his animals, but he allowed the prophets to be killed at the request of his wife. These prophets would know the way to end the drought – they would know the way back to God, but Ahab did not fear God. He allowed the servants of the Lord, men whom God worked through, to be killed. Without the fear of God, he had no wisdom or understanding of what was truly important.

So Obadiah and Ahab each went their separate directions and Obadiah bumps into the elusive Elijah. Look at v.7, “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?’” Obadiah showed reverence and respect to Elijah. It seems like they have not met before, or if they have, it was a very long time ago – at least as long as the 3 years Elijah has been in hiding. But somehow, his look was recognizable. 2 Kings 1:8 says, “He was a man with a garment of hair and with a leather belt around his waist.” John the Baptist was known for wearing camel hair and a leather belt around his waist. Perhaps this was not the common dress at the time – so Elijah may have been recognizable by what he wore. Obadiah recognized him, and he gave him confirmation, and answered, “Yes, go tell your master, ‘Elijah is here.’”

Now please look at Obadiah’s response in v.9, “‘What have I done wrong,’ asked Obadiah, ‘that you are handing your servant over to Ahab to be put to death?’” Obadiah’s response is a little bit shocking and surprising. Why would he react like that when Elijah just told him to tell Ahab he’s here? How come Obadiah didn’t just go, and do as he was asked? Or, how come Obadiah didn’t respond with, “Why don’t you go yourself?” Or, “Please, come with me?”

The rest of the verses, up to 14, give us some insight into why he reacted in such a way. Look at v.10-11, “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.’” Obadiah is recounting his experience here. He is telling Elijah that Ahab looked in every nation surrounding Israel – probably in Judah, and in Edom, Moab, Ammon, Aram, Sidon, maybe even Egypt, and no one could find Elijah anywhere. It was so serious that the other nations were forced to swear they could not find him. It’s interesting to note that Ahab does not seek the Lord to address this drought, but he looks for Elijah, thinking Elijah can put a stop to the famine apart from God. Also note now that Obadiah has no knowledge about God’s plan regarding the drought. Obadiah does not know that God told Elijah to go to Ahab. Elijah has been missing for so long, and in Obadiah’s experience, time and time again no one could find him. Obadiah does not know that the time to end the drought is near, so he might think that the Holy Spirit will take Elijah away again. How was he supposed to know that now was the time Elijah would present himself to Ahab?

Obadiah continues on, and attempts to justify himself in v.12b-14, “Yet I your servant have worshipped 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!” Obadiah says that he has worshipped the Lord since his youth. Again, in the original Hebrew, and in the KJV, ESV and NASB, worshipped the Lord is translated as “feared the Lord.” In the NIV, it is “worshipped the Lord.” Here again we can get a sense of the word fear through these translations. To fear the Lord means to worship the Lord. To give him honor, reverence and respect. To give him praise, and to serve him.   Obadiah has had the fear of the Lord in him since his youth. Then he appeals on the basis of what he’s done, and repeats the same story about harboring the 100 prophets. I believe the repetition of this story was intentional, and it shows that this was an awesome act that pleased God. Obadiah was not trying to be boastful, but he was having a hard time understanding why it seems that the Lord was sending him to die. He was having difficulty with the fact that he had done so much good, but the Lord was going to hand him over to be killed. He may have been hoping that Elijah would change his mind, or spare him somehow from this danger.

The fear of certain death was a shock and a trial for Obadiah. Up to this point he trusted the Lord, and he was finding success hiding and keeping the 100 prophets. He risked his life in this situation too, but this risk was not as dangerous as Elijah's request. Obadiah feels that the risk of death is higher, almost certain that he would die for this. To some extent he was able to hide from Jezebel, but in this situation, how could he hide from Ahab? Obadiah did take great risks, but even this was out of his comfort zone. Obadiah felt he was already doing a great and hazardous work for the Lord, so he was shocked to hear the Lord requiring him to go through something even harder, something that could mean certain death. So his first reaction is, “What have I done wrong?” He felt as if he suddenly did something wrong, and did not deserve this. Isn’t this our reaction when something bad happens to us, especially when we do not expect it? Last week, I took the day off on Friday. I thought I had had a great week at work, wanted to take a little break, and things had been going smooth. Then, a disaster happened – our system shut down on Thursday night, and I did not catch it. Friday morning, none of my nightly programs ran. In over 365 days, more than 1 year, this has never happened, and when it almost happened I caught it and recovered it the night before. All I could think Friday morning is, “Why God, why?” “Why today, why now?” “Am I being punished for something? But I didn’t do anything wrong.” I ended up working for most of my day off. I can say that after thinking that, I repented and trusted God, the rest of the day went smoothly and everything was fixed. But still, there was that initial thought. To me, it reveals my sinful heart. Almost immediately when something bad happens, and especially when I think I don’t deserve it, I question God. This is not right, it’s the sin and fear in my heart.

Sometimes what we fear may not be the issue at all, but a test that reveals our weakness, and shows us our need to put our trust back in God. Look at Elijah’s response in v.15, “Elijah said, ‘As surely as the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, I will surely present myself to Ahab today.’” Elijah reassured Obadiah, and calmed his fears. Elijah was probably not intentionally testing Obadiah, but in their interaction God exposed the fear in Obadiah’s heart – a fear that was not the fear of God, but the fear of death. Elijah reassured Obadiah though, that he will definitely show himself to Ahab, and that he wasn’t going to run away or be swept away, and it seems Obadiah’s confidence was restored. Look at v.16, “So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him, and Ahab went to meet Elijah.”   Reassured and restored, Obadiah did just as Elijah asked. Now after almost three years, Elijah and Ahab would meet. With renewed confidence in the Lord and Elijah's word, Obadiah went to Ahab and told him that Elijah was here. Even though our fears may cause us to doubt and question God, God is always faithful, and will work things out for his glory. Whenever we fear, we need to turn our hearts back to him and trust in him.

In today's passage, we met Obadiah, who feared God. Obadiah's fear of the Lord was mentioned twice in this passage – the first time in v.3, translated as “a devout believer” in the Lord, and a second time in v.12 where he “worshiped” the Lord from his youth. This gives us some insight into what it means to fear God: it means to be faithfully devoted to him, and to honor him, worshiping him above all things – giving him true reverence and heartfelt praise. You also know the word fear, means to be afraid. This is true too, because God is the highest authority in all the heavens and earth, his greatness is beyond words, and even angels must cover their faces and their feet before him (Isa 6:2). He is all-powerful, he is all-mighty, and he is the judge of all the earth. So in the fear of the Lord, of course we are afraid, just as we are afraid of lightning and thunder, but the fear is mixed with wonder, awe, respect and devotion. We cannot come near lightning or thunder, but we can come near to God, through Jesus Christ, and so fear takes on a whole new level. Imagine being able to stand next to a lightning bolt, or a raging fire, or a violent tornado – imagine being able to look directly into the sun: you would say, how great those things are, how wonderful, how awesome. God, who is holy, is brighter than the sun, more powerful than lightning, hotter than fire, and faster than a tornado – we simple would shrivel and burn up in his presence, like a dry leaf under the sun, because we are not holy. But Christ has made us holy, by dying for our sins: taking for us the wrath of God, so that we might receive his righteousness. In Christ, we can stand before the throne of God, we can come to God the Father Almighty, and see up close and personal the great and glorious God, creator of all the universe: and we fear him not only because he is awesome, fearsome and powerful, but since he has allowed us to come close to him and see his face, because he has called us each by name, our fear also becomes reverence, respect, devotion and worship.

We talked a little bit about what is the fear of God, now why is it important to fear God? First of all, it is commanded. As mentioned at the beginning of the message, Deut 10:12 says, “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” The Lord asks of us to fear him. Ecc 12:13 says, the end and conclusion of the book of Ecclesiastes says: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” The duty of all mankind is to fear God and keep his commandments. We may not like the sound of the word command, but these commands are for our good. God's commands are for our benefit. Look at what the fear of the Lord promises: Psa 111:10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.” The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. To fear the Lord is to start to have real wisdom. Prov 14:27 says, “The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death.” The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life – the source of true life begins with having the fear of the Lord.

Lastly, how can we fear the Lord? Fearing the Lord is a command, but as you know, our sins prevent us from keeping God's commands. But there is one who has kept all of God's commands, and loved and was devoted to God perfectly: and that is Jesus Christ his Son. We fear the Lord through faith in Jesus Christ. Just as Obadiah's fear of the Lord was expressed through devoted belief and worship of the Lord, our fear of God is also expressed through devoted belief and worship of Jesus Christ. Christ is the one who brings our fear of God to the next level. God is the burning sun that will scorch all that is unholy, but Christ is our shield that the wrath of God passes over. Jesus Christ is the one who enables us to come close to God, and see the fullness of his glory: because in Christ we see not only his immense power, but also his immense humility, his gentleness, his love and his patience toward us, each of us individually – so our fear is not only of his extraordinary might, but it is also reverence, and awe, wonder, praise and worship. Jesus said in Matt 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” If you read this verse by itself, it does make you afraid of God – but if you understand this in context, these words Jesus said himself, you will see that this is an encouragement he is giving to his disciples before sending them out to preach the kingdom of God. He is saying, do not be afraid of those who persecute you, do not be afraid of those who will kill you – be afraid instead of God who can throw both soul and body into hell. But here's the good news: by faith in Christ, God will not throw you into hell, but will prepare a place for you in heaven. So fear God: be devoted to him, serve him in faith, love and obedience, and worship him: revere him, praise him, give thanks to him, and glorify him above all things. FDR said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” but in Christ, we do not even have to fear fear. In Christ, the only thing we have to fear is God himself. Whenever fear arises, any fear that is not the fear of God, turn to Christ, and fear God instead.

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