Beads of perspiration formed on his head as Obadiah hastened to meet his master, King Ahab, in the throne room. He quickly wiped it off with the back of his hand chiding himself silently for his obvious reaction to the king’s summons. It wasn’t that it was unusual for him to get summoned to appear before Ahab, but Obadiah knew he had a good reason to be wary these days. One misstep and he would end up dead like so many before him. Then, what would happen to The Hundred?
Making his way past the golden pillars made from the renowned cedars of Lebanon, Obadiah could not help the small smile that lifted the corners of his lips at the thought of The Hundred. He had given them that name himself. That way, he did not necessarily have to remember all their names. It was especially convenient to simply call them that when he had to quickly utter a desperate cry for help to the Almighty on their behalf.
As the doors to the throne room opened to him, Obadiah heard the king’s servant announce his presence. He could barely hide his relief when he saw King Ahab all alone on his throne. Everyone knew Ahab was more malleable when his queen was nowhere in sight. This, plus the fact that he knew the queen despised him for his faith in the Almighty doubled his relief. To her, he was simply the head of the palace; useful in carrying out his duties, yet posing no threat to the kingdom. If only she knew, Obadiah mused.
As he approached the throne, Obadiah saw that this was not one of those moments to be cheeky or unduly happy; the king looked troubled. He moved closer and knelt respectfully, “Oh, King live forever!” the words had barely left his lips when Ahab jumped down from his gold-emblazoned throne, “Not now, Obadiah”, Ahab said impatiently as he walked past Obadiah motioning him to follow. They walked quietly and quickly out of the throne room and towards the palace gate where a guard stood by the entrance holding two horses. Without another word, Ahab mounted and rode off. Though still curious, Obadiah did the same and followed Ahab silently muttering a prayer to the Almighty. From the corner of his eye, he saw some of the king’s guards following at a respectable distance.
They rode to the top of a hill before Ahab turned to face Obadiah, “This drought is getting the best of us,” he started. “The gods curse that wretched Elijah for this torture!” he exclaimed, clearly frustrated. Knowing his master, Obadiah thought it best to be quiet while he continued his tirade, “I got word today that the drought gets worse. Now, we have nothing to feed our livestock. I want us to go into the land, check out all the springs of water; perhaps we may find grass to keep the horses and mules alive so that we will not have to kill any livestock.”
Ahab was right; they needed to find more water and grass. In a way, he could see why the Almighty, by divine orchestration, would want him to be here. His fast dwindling supplies would not sustain The Hundred for very much longer. And if he could not hide them or feed them, was that not the equivalent of death for them all? Jezebel had been looking for these prophets to kill them, would she think twice about slaughtering them now and him along with them? He doubted that.
Peace, Be Still. The words floated to him on the wings of the gentle breeze. Peace. That was something he feared he wouldn’t have for a long time to come. At least, not while Israel was bound under the yoke of idolatry and Elijah seemed to have disappeared since he proclaimed there would be no rain three and a half years ago. Peace. The word was as elusive as the reality of it.
Under King Ahab’s command, Obadiah began his search for green pasture. His thoughts drifted to a psalm of King David that had been popular back in the days. The Lord is my Shepherd, the psalm went, I shall not want, he makes me lie down in green pastures. Green pastures. If he closed his eyes, he could picture the lush pastures of Israel before the drought. Obadiah could not help the wave of sadness that enveloped him. “Oh, Shepherd of Israel”, he cried, his eyes lifted to the sky, “Do not forsake Your people”. He heard it again, Peace, Be Still.
The sound of his name jolted him out of his thoughts. Obadiah turned to look at the man who stood by the cleft of a rock, his robe dancing to the rhythm of the wind that also toyed with his hair. He held a staff in his hand. Obadiah knew that staff. “Elijah!” he shouted jumping down from his horse to greet the prophet. “My master, Elijah! Is it really you?”
“Yes,” Elijah replied, a smirk on his face. “Now, go and tell King Ahab I’m here”. Obadiah looked at Elijah aghast. Did Elijah not know that Ahab had been looking for him these past three and a half years? That he made surrounding nations swear an oath that they did not grant Elijah asylum? “Master, what if the Spirit of the Lord carries you away when I leave you? Then, I won’t know where you are. If I go and tell Ahab and he doesn’t find you, he’ll kill me!” What Elijah asked was too much. If he died, what would happen to his family, to The Hundred? He decided to reason with God’s prophet.
Elijah smiled as he listened to Obadiah, patted him on the shoulder and told him again to go to Ahab. “Tell him I am here. You can be just as sure that I will speak to Ahab today.” Obadiah knew he had to obey. Peace. The Almighty had already prepared him for this moment. Yet, he couldn’t help glancing over his shoulder as he left to see if Elijah was still there.
Ahab’s reaction to the news of Elijah’s reappearance was expected. He and the men with him turned around and rode to the rock where Obadiah reported he had received word from the prophet. As they neared the place, Ahab slowed his horse down to a trot. Obadiah wondered if the king was afraid of the prophet. Could that be?
Elijah had seen them and raised his hand in greeting before bowing his head to acknowledge Ahab. “So, it is really you Mr Troublemaker! Have you come to cause more trouble in Israel?” Ahab said by way of returning Elijah’s greeting.
“King Ahab, I am not the one troubling Israel. That credit belongs to you and your family alone. You have turned away from the Lord’s commands and followed Baal. But today, things are about to change in Israel”, Elijah said as he moved towards the group. From the corner of his eye, Obadiah noticed some of the king’s men retreat in fear as the prophet inched closer.
“Now, send for the people of Israel and tell them to meet me on Mount Carmel. Bring along the so-called prophets of Baal, all 450 of them; the prophets of Asherah can come along too”, Elijah’s eyes twinkled as he spoke, “Today, we settle this matter once and for all,” he ended, striking his staff on the rock for emphasis.
Obadiah looked down at the sea of heads around Mount Carmel. Excitement buzzed in the air as the people waited for Prophet Elijah. Though Obadiah too anticipated a major showdown, what he felt at the moment was relief that Elijah had not disappeared again. As he stood behind the king, he looked around again. The prophets of Baal ascended the hill, their rotund bellies swaying beneath their flowing robes as they climbed slowly. Their bald heads glistened with sweat from the effort. Their leader did not seem pleased about being summoned. But what could he do when the king called apart from obey? Even Jezebel knew not to stand in Ahab’s way these days because of his obsession with Elijah and his anger about the drought.
As the first group of the 400 prophets got to the top of the mountain, Elijah appeared out of nowhere. He gave the prophets a sweeping glance and turned to face the people. Obadiah couldn’t help but notice the small smile the prophet fought hard to hide. Facing the people, Elijah raised his hands and a wave of silence swept across the mount.
“How long will it take you to make up your minds? If the Lord is the one and only God, worship him. But if Baal is the one and only God, worship him”, his voice thundered. Turning away from them, Elijah faced Obadiah. “Did the king do as I requested and bring two bulls?” he asked. Obadiah nodded motioning for the bulls to be brought forward.
“Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves. Let them cut it into pieces. Then let them put it on the wood. But don’t let them set fire to it. I’ll prepare the other bull. I’ll put it on the wood. But I won’t set fire to it. Then you pray to your god. And I will pray to the Lord. The god who answers by sending fire down is the one and only God.” The prophet instructed. It seemed to take a moment for his instruction to register, then all at once the people broke into a cheer. “What you have said is good”, Ahab responded on behalf of the people.
The prophets deliberated and then selected one of the bulls. After preparing it following the instructions given by Elijah, they formed circles around their altar and began their incantations. They prayed to Baal from morning until noon and nothing happened. At noon Elijah began to tease them. “Shout louder!” he said. “I’m sure Baal is a god! Perhaps he has too much to think about. Or maybe he has gone to the toilet. Or perhaps he’s away on a trip. Maybe he’s sleeping. You might have to wake him up.” So, they shouted louder. They cut themselves with swords and spears until their blood flowed. The prophets of Baal continued to prophesy with all their might. They did it until the time came to offer the evening sacrifice. But there wasn’t any reply from their god. The people watched in silence as the prophets, one by one slowly knelt, heads bowed in shame.
Then Elijah solemnly walked towards the centre and began to rebuild the altar of the Lord which had been torn down. He got twelve stones symbolising the tribes of Israel and rebuilt the altar to honour the Lord. After that, he dug a ditch around the altar, placed the wood on it and then cut the bull in pieces. “Fill four large jars with water. Pour it on the offering and the wood”, he said to Obadiah as the people watched on. “But Elijah, we have very little water because of the drought, I don’t think we should waste…” Obadiah stopped mid-sentence as he heard that voice again, Peace, Be Still. He took a deep breath and instructed his men to get the water. After pouring the water three times at Elijah’s insistence, the altar and ditch were flooded and overflowing with water.
Elijah raised his face to the sky, his eyes closed in silent prayer. After a moment, he looked towards the setting sun noting that it was time for the evening sacrifice, then he stepped forward towards the altar that had the sacrifice all drenched in water and prayed, “Lord, You are the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. Today, let everyone know that You are God in Israel. Let them know I am Your servant. Let them know I have done all these things because You commanded me to. Answer me from heaven today. Lord, answer me. Then these people will know that You are the one and only God. They will know that You are turning their hearts back to You again.”
Obadiah looked at Elijah who still had his hands raised to the heavens. The prophet’s face had an ethereal glow. His look was peaceful. Peace, Be Still. As Elijah’s eyes slowly opened, Obadiah felt the atmosphere change. The mountain shook beneath them and the skies thundered. The hair on his skin twitched and as he rubbed his arms vigorously, it happened. Fire like a lightning bolt struck from heaven and hit the sacrifice. The flames burst over the wood, the stones, even the soil, and licked up the water in the ditch, ferociously devouring everything. The people stared as the fire consumed the entire sacrifice leaving nothing. One by one, they fell to their knees in worship, “The Lord is the one and only God! The Lord is the one and only God!” they cried out in unison.
Obadiah looked around at the sea of bowed heads before turning his gaze to Elijah. He was surprised to see that the prophet had been staring at him. Elijah walked up to him, placed his hand on his shoulder, “When we are still, we experience His peace. Be at peace Obadiah, the Lord our God is with you”, he spoke in Obadiah’s ear. Before he could respond, Elijah had turned to Ahab, “Go. Eat and drink. I can hear the sound of heavy rain.”