The scorching sun beat down on Obadiah as he walked the arid path, each step sending a swirl of dust upward. It had been years since rain had fallen on the once-hush Samarian countryside-ever since Elijah the prophet had pronounced judgment on the land for King Ahab's despicable acts. Now the entire northern kingdom of Israel was suffering.
As Obadiah continued his trek under the relentless Middle Eastern sun, he thought of the king's order to search for well-watered areas for the livestock. Such foolishness! Ahab had disobeyed God's commands by marrying Jezebel, a Sidonian princess and evil-hearted woman who championed idolatry. The king worshiped at Baal's feet and even built a temple for the worthless idol. The drought and famine were the fruits of national sin.
Like all man-made deities, Baal was only as powerful as his followers. Queen Jezebel, the nation's chief worshiper of the chunk of stone, led the massacre of the faithful prophets who dared to speak out against Baal in the name of the Lord God of Israel. Their blood flowed like water in the streets, a poignant reminder of the price of discipleship.
Despite the withering heat, an icy chill ran down Obadiah's spine. He thought of those men, many of them his friends. He thought of his own life, hanging precariously in the balance. It seemed that Ahab still trusted Obadiah; but how long would it be before the king, or worse yet, the queen, discovered he had secretly hidden 100 prophets of Yahweh in wilderness caves and had been feeding them and taking them water?
Suddenly, there appeared next to him a man roughly dressed. A hairy garment hung on his sinewy frame, a leather belt around his waist. The man's hair and beard were long, scraggly, and dusty. His appearance was otherworldly. Trembling, Obadiah fell to the ground. "Is that you, my Lord Elijah?" he asked (1Ki 18:7). "It is I," the prophet replied." Go, tell your master, 'Elijah is here'" (v.8).
"How have I sinned," Obadiah asked, "that you are delivering your servant into the hand of Ahab, to kill me? As the Lord your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my master has not sent someone to hunt for you; and when they said, 'He is not here,' he took an oath from the kingdom or nation that they could not find you. And now you say, 'Go, tell your master, "Elijah is here'" (vv.9-11).
Obadiah lamented that the Spirit of the Lord would carry Elijah away so Ahab could not find him, and the king would think Obadiah a liar and kill him. But Elijah insisted he would see Ahab. The meeting between king and prophet was not cordial. Ahab called Elijah the "trouble of Israel" (v.17), to which Elijah replied, "I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father's house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and have followed the Baals. Now therefore, send and gather all Israel to me on Mount Carmel, the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table" (vv.18-19).
Ahab did as Elijah ordered. The nation, including the prophets of Baal and Asherah, gathered on Mount Carmel; and Elijah threw down the gauntlet. Looking at the crowd, he shouted, "How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him" (v.21). No one said a word. Elijah challenged all 450 prophets of Baal to demonstrate their god's power by sacrificing a bull on an altar and calling on Baal to consume the sacrifice by fire. They screamed and leaped about the altar that held their sacrifice of a dismembered bull; but nothing happened.