Nobody in the Old Testament chose to be a prophet. They didn’t grow up answering, “I want to be a prophet when I grow up,” and plan their education accordingly. Consider Moses’ reluctance to speak for God (Exodus 3) or Amos’ declaration, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet” (Amos 7:14). Then there’s the most well-known denial of God’s calling: Jonah, who heard from the Lord and ran the other way (Jonah 1:1-3). Speaking for the Lord was never one’s first choice and never accepted by others.
Jesus pointed his finger at the Pharisees and back through time, saying, “You testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute’” (Luke 11:48-49).
Being a prophet was never easy.
Perhaps there was no worse
time to be a prophet than
in the days of Elijah.
But perhaps there was no worse time to be a prophet than in the days of Elijah, when Ahab and Jezebel ruled the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Ahab “did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of [the kings] before him” (1 Kings 16:30), and Jezebel hunted down the prophets of God while 400 prophets of Asherah ate at her table (1 Kings 18:4, 19).
Surely no one thought God’s prophets of that day were “blessed.” But a cool thing happened—a tiny blurb in the Kings account, literally a parenthetical statement in my NIV, easily missed if you’re not looking for it.
A guy named Obadiah (not the author of the OT book by the same name) was Ahab’s palace administrator but also “a devout believer in the Lord” (1 Kings 18:3). Look what he did!
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 18:4
That’s all we know. I can’t find any other reference to this act of heroism anywhere else in the Bible.
He thought there were just a
few prophets remaining. Now he
learns there are at least fifty!
You reluctantly accepted God’s calling on your life to speak for Him in an evil and uncertain time. Now you think you are about to be killed, and maybe your family too. You can’t appeal to your king because the queen is the one behind the massacre. When a chief official from the palace appears at your door or hiding place, you resign yourself to certain death. But no! He sends you to a secret cave where you find many other true prophets. You had thought there were just a few prophets remaining, but now you learn you are one of at least fifty. (You probably don’t know about the fifty in the other cave.)
If it were me, I would count myself among the blessed—that’s for sure. And maybe that’s part of what Jesus meant when He said,
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. –Matthew 5:10
We’re Seeking the Beatitudes in the Old Testament, and this month we’ve discovered 100 people who were blessed with fellowship as a result of being persecuted for righteousness. Maybe, like Jesus later promised, they found a bit of the Kingdom of Heaven in those caves as well.
Sometimes “Kingdom of Heaven” means the literal Heaven where Christ-followers will one day dwell. We know those who are martyred—the ultimate persecution—have a special place there (Revelation 6:9-11). But often, Jesus uses “Kingdom of Heaven” more enigmatically. It means something like “the rule of God on earth,” not a place so much as a state-of-being.
Twenty or so Christ-followers, awed
by the sacrifices of those before
us and by the almost-tangible
presence of God in that hidden place.
During seminary, we spent a summer in southern Germany. One day, on a side trip to Switzerland, we trekked into the woods, without a trail, to a cave where it’s believed Anabaptists hid from their persecutors. We sat quietly for a few minutes, contemplating religious freedom and how history seeps into a place. Then one among our group began to sing, and most of us joined her: twenty or so Christ-followers, awed by the sacrifices of those before us and by the almost-tangible presence of God in that hidden place.
Such is the Kingdom of Heaven.
I’m confident our persecuted prophet, found by Obadiah, hiding in the cave with forty-nine others, knew the Kingdom of Heaven before the phrase was ever coined. And he knew he was blessed to be part of it.
Have you know persecution because of the righteous way God calls you to live in this world? How did you experience the Kingdom of Heaven through it? Thanks for sharing your blessings in the comments below. We will all be encouraged!