Our series of meditations on certain characters in the Bible whom we have named ‘Silent Generals’, because they are not the most popular, continues with this sixth episode.
- OBADIAH: THE LORD’S SERVANT IN PUBLIC SERVICE
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.” So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab.
Now the famine was severe in Samaria, and Ahab had summoned Obadiah, who was in charge of his palace. (Obadiah was a devout believer in the LORD. 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.) – 1 Kings 18:1-4.
Jezebel had corrupted her husband, King Ahab, and entrenched Baal worship in the land of Israel. She persecuted those who worshipped the one true God and put many to the sword. In fact, Elijah later told God that all the prophets had been put to death with the sword, only he was left (1 Ki. 19:10). It was in the midst of this chaos that Obadiah was introduced to us. He “was a devout believer in the LORD.” The Authorized Version says he “feared the LORD greatly.” What was the evidence of his devotion to the LORD? First, he had worshipped the LORD since his youth (v. 12) and remained faithful in such a perilous time. Second, even though the king and his household were idolaters, he reposed deep trust and confidence in Obadiah and made him in charge of his palace. He must have earned it. Joseph and Daniel also worked for heathen kings. What qualified them for the trust of public service was the fact that they brought their faith to bear on their work. You couldn’t hear them pray in their offices and also partake in shady deals. Third, working in the palace at such a time was in itself, an act of courage. Obadiah displayed courage on an even higher level: he took a hundred prophets, hid them in two caves and cared for them. How audacious! Imagine what the consequences would have been had Jezebel found out. Note that the famine in the land was so severe that the king himself went out to look for fodder for his animals (vv. 5-6). It was in the midst of such scarcity that this servant of God alone was feeding 100 men. When Elijah thought that everyone had been killed, right there in the palace, God had Obadiah as his man. Many prophets, out of fear for their lives or for the desire to get what to eat, compromised their stand for God and were on Jezebel’s payroll. Like Daniel who wouldn’t partake of the king’s bounty, Obadiah was fixed in his faith. He used his privileged position to advance the cause of the kingdom of God.
What about you? Are you a Christian and a public servant? How have you advanced the cause of the Kingdom? Today’s public service is a cesspool of corruption. Have you been swallowed up by it or like Obadiah, you have stood your ground for God? When the Bible talks of the glory of God filling the earth like the waters the sea, it includes every sphere of human endeavour. That depends on the availability of faithful men and women maintaining their stand for God everywhere he posts them. It requires faithful persons who will not bow to Baal. Can God send you as salt into a rotten place and reap the intended benefits? Obadiah feared God and was a dedicated and trusted public servant. He is gone but the public service is still here. Will you be an Obadiah?
- ABISHAI: RELIABLE THROUGH THICK AND THIN
Then David set out and went to the place where Saul had camped. He saw where Saul and Abner son of Ner, the commander of the army, had lain down. Saul was lying inside the camp, with the army encamped around him.
David asked Ahimelech the Hittite and Abishai son of Zeruiah, Joab’s brother, “Who will go down into the camp with me to Saul?”
“I’ll go with you,” said Abishai.
So David and Abishai went to the army by night, and there was Saul, lying asleep inside the camp with his spear stuck in the ground near his head. Abner and the soldiers were lying around him. – 1 Sam. 26:5-7.
Abishai was the eldest son of Zeruiah, David’s sister. His brothers were Joab, (the commander of David’s army) and Asahel (2 Sam. 2:18). He was himself a member of David’s army. On this occasion, Saul, who was pursuing David to take his life was told David was in Ziph. So Saul went down to the Desert of Ziph with his 3,000 chosen men to search for David. David learned of Saul’s whereabouts and asked who would accompany him to where Saul was camped for the night. Only Abishai was willing to run the risk. It was such a dangerous adventure: two men entering the camp of three thousand men. A guard for a king must be ready to lay down his life for his Principal; Abishai was one such. When David and Abishai got to where Saul had fallen into a God-induced deep sleep, Abisahi, obviously out of concern for David’s safety, offered to put an end to Saul’s life with one spear strike, but David restrained him and he listened.
Abishai had command over one of the three divisions of David’s army in the battle with Absalom. David had instructed his men to spare Absalom’s life but Joab disobeyed the order of his commander-in-chief and killed Absalom (2 Sam. 18:1-15). Contrast that with Abishai who held back from killing Saul, at David’s command. Whereas Abishai would later be named among David’s mighty men, Joab, the commander of the army, was not.
On another occasion, there was a battle between the Philistines and Israel and David accompanied his men to battle. He became exhausted and a Philistine soldier, Ishbi-Benob, threatened to kill David. But Abishai came to David’s rescue; he struck the Philistine and killed him (2 Sam. 21:15-17). Ishbi-Benob was no mean soldier (his spearhead weighed about 7.5 pounds) but Abishai risked his life to take him out.
On yet another occasion, Abishai raised his spear against 300 men and killed them. He rose to become a commander in the army, not because of his family ties to the king but by merit (2 Sam. 23:18-19).
No leader succeeds without being surrounded by able assistants; many leaders also fail because of the kind of aides they are surrounded by. Abishai was faithful in service to David. Have you ever attempted to run a business and put someone in charge? That is when you will discover that selfless service is a rare virtue. That you pay handsomely and incentivize the position is no guarantee for you to get faithful service; you can be sure of eye service though. To make matters worse, hire a relative to run your business and you will have tales to tell. Yet here was Abishai, David’s nephew, who was so loyal even when his own safety was on the line. He stuck faithfully close to the king and earned his rise to the top.
What about you? Are you employed by someone? Are you faithful to your duties? If this virtue were common, with the number of Christians in our land, corruption would be minimal. Everyone knows about the saying that whatever is worth doing is worth doing well, but how many keep it? Every day Abishai went to work, he faced the possibility of death, yet he remained true. You that no one has called to die, how do you approach your duties? If an enterprise is left in your hands, will it survive? As a believer the Bible says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Col. 3:23). Is that your attitude to work?
- EPAPHRAS: FAITHFUL MINISTER AND WRESTLER IN PRAYER
Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. – Colossians 4:12-13.
One theme that has recurred in the course of these series of meditations is the faithful people, who give up the limelight and serve God behind-the-scenes. Those whose ministry is very public owe their success in large part to these obscure persons.
Epaphras comes on stage in Col. 1:7. Paul describes him as a “dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ.” The Apostle commends the faith and love of the Colossian believers and the fruit they bore. He attributes their coming to the faith to the work of Epaphras. Epaphras was probably the founder of the Colossian church. He laboured and the fruits were evident. We don’t hear of him claiming to be the ‘Founder and President’ of the Colossian Church and all that comes with such appellations. It took Paul’s writing for his work there to be made public.
Next, Epaphras receives mention in Col. 4:12-13 as quoted above. He was said to be a servant of Christ Jesus. Even while absent from Colosse, he never stopped praying for the church there. Nay, he “wrestled in prayer” for them. He ‘wrestled’ means that he was constant, earnest, fervent and tireless in prayer. What a thing to be known for! Paul vouched for his hard work not only for the Colossian Church but also for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. He was what someone describes as a world-class Christian: one who sees the universal Church (not just their local assembly) as rightly comprising the body of Christ and has concerns for the church globally.
In his letter to Philemon, Paul describes Epaphras as his “fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus”. He could establish a Church, yet return and submit to Paul’s authority and be known as a fellow servant, faithful minister and fellow prisoner. Haven’t you heard stories of pastors who have been sent to oversee congregations and ended up breaking away to form theirs along with the sheep they were sent to watch? Epaphras wouldn’t break away to form his own thing. He was always wrestling in prayer.
What about you? What words can be used to summarily describe you in your church? Faithful? Selfless? Servant? Hardworking? Or would yours be snub, selfish, gossip? This brother founded a church yet it didn’t bear his name. You, you bought one ceiling fan for your church and all the blades of the fan bear your name and that of your family: “Donated by …” Anyone who ever gets into that church to worship must also recognize your contribution. You cannot afford not to be known. That’s not the example of Epaphras. He was known to “wrestle in prayer” for others. What is your own prayer life like? Do you easily give up when your requests are delayed or do you continue to wrestle? Are you a world-class Christian who remembers to pray for Christians the world over or your heart is narrow and local? Have the stories of Christians, missionaries and churches in difficult places in the world ever moved you to pray for them? Be inspired and challenged by the behind-the-scenes, yet effective life and work of this servant of Christ, Epaphras.