Wollen and Linen - Following the path of Christ - chapter 7 - Obadiah

Woollen and Linen - J G Bellet

But the garment which Obadiah wore in those days cannot be mistaken. It needs no close inspection to make out what it is. The “divers sorts” of woollen and linen are to be seen in it from head to foot. His life was of that texture. It was not that he was betrayed at times merely, nor was it that his way was stained at times, but his whole life evinces a man of mixed principles.
He was a godly man, but his ways were not according to the energy of the Spirit in that day. He had respect to the afflictions of the prophets, hiding them in caves from the persecution and feeding them there; but all the while he was the adviser, the companion, and the minister of king Ahab, in whose kingdom the iniquity was practised. The “linen and woollen” thus formed the garment that he wore all his days. It was not the leathern girdle of Elijah; and when they come together this difference is preserved and expressed most strikingly.
Obadiah is at some effort to conciliate the mind of Elijah. He reminds him of what he had done for the persecuted prophets of God in the day of their trouble and tells him that he feared the Lord; but Elijah moves but slowly and coldly towards him. Painful all this between two saints of God, but it is far from being rarely experienced; it is a common thing, I would say, but much more commonly felt than owned. 1 Kings 18.
There could have been no blending of the spirits of Abraham and Lot after Lot took the way of his eye and of his heart and continued in that direction – a citizen of Sodom. We are not told this, it is true, in the history; but we find from the history, as I observed before, that they never meet after that, and we may easily know why. Because such things are real and living things still. The Abrahams and the Lots of this day do not meet; or if they meet it is not communion. They do not enjoy refreshment in the bowels of Christ.
Abraham rescued Lot from the hands of the king Chedorlaomer, but this was no meeting of saints; they could not blend. And if the people of God cannot come together in character they had better be asunder. In spirit they are already severed.
So was it in a far more vivid expression of it in Elijah and Obadiah. The man with the leathern girdle – God’s stranger in the land in the days of Ahab – could not be found much in company with the governor of Ahab’s house. But they meet in an evil day, a day which may remind us of the day of the valley of the slime pits, the day of Lot ’s captivity.
Ahab his master had divided the land with Obadiah to search for water in the day of drought. The Lord his God had put the sword of His servant Elijah over the land to give it neither rain nor dew; and in an hour of Obadiah’s perplexity and of Elijah’s commission under God they meet. The occasion is one of interest and meaning and has lessons for our souls. There is effort on the part of Obadiah and reserve with Elijah. This is naturally and necessarily so. Obadiah seeks to combine with Elijah, but Elijah resents the effort. Obadiah calls Elijah his lord, but Elijah reminds him that Ahab is his lord.
For this will not do. We are not to be serving the world and going on in the course of it behind each other’s backs and then, when we come together, assume that we meet as saints. This will not do; but the attempt to have it so is very natural, nay, it is very common to this hour.
But Elijah acted in character, faithful to his brother now as he had been to his Lord before; and beautiful this is, and precious it ought to be whenever we get it. Obadiah had been walking with the world in Elijah’s absence, and Elijah cannot let him now assume that he was one with him though in his presence.
Obadiah pleads: “What have I sinned that …”. But why this? Elijah had not accused him of sinning. Why this alarm and perturbation of spirit? Elijah was not hazarding his life or safety, or any of his interests; he was disturbing nothing that belonged to him.
Why this alarm and taking refuge in the thought of finding his plea in the fact that he had not sinned? It is a poor, low state of soul when a saint has only the consciousness of this, that he has not sinned. Is that enough to enjoy the communion or understand the mind of an Elijah?
Had not Obadiah been in Ahab’s palace when Elijah was by the brook Cherith? That is the question, and not the question whether he had sinned or not. Had Obadiah been with him over the barrel of meal or the cruse of oil?
Elijah had not told him that he had been sinning; he need not shelter himself or commend himself thus. But Elijah cannot but let him know that their spirits were not blending; for they had met from different quarters.
“Was it not told my lord what I did when Jezebel slew the prophets?” What was all this to the point? Elijah had not been going over his past history; it was better to leave the most of it untold; and it is a miserable thing for a saint of God to be trading after this manner on his character or his past ways. This is no title, no sufficient title, for the present communion of the saints, nor competency for it either.
And these are Obadiah’s thoughts and refuges and pleadings now that he is in the presence of a faithful witness of Christ. He had not sinned, and in days past he had done service.
What a low sense of the common calling of the people of God the soul must have that can think it can be maintained and that saints can go on together on such a title and competency as this!
If the world be served when we are behind each other’s back, though we may not have sinned, as people speak, and though we may have had character and done services in past days, we are not fit for each other’s presence as saints of God.
Have we been in the heavenlies or in Ahab’s court? Have we been making provision for the flesh or desiring the things of Christ?
There are other things than pleading “we have not sinned”, or trading on established character and past services. These are what alone fit us for the true communion of saints.
Obadiah was governor over Ahab’s house; how could such a one as Elijah be comfortable or at ease with him? He felt reserve, and he expressed it in manner if not in words. Obadiah is the man of words on the occasion – that was natural also, and is the ordinary style of such occasions or of such intercourses between Elijahs and Obadiahs to this hour. For indeed it is not communion when there is effort on the one side and reserve on the other. This is surely not the communion of saints.
But it all has a voice in it, and is common enough now-a-days. They were not in company with each other; that was the fact. Their spirits could not blend. The garment of divers sorts, of woollen and of linen, which a saint of God could not but wear in Ahab’s court, ill-matched the leathern girdle of a separated, suffering witness of Christ. We see this saint of God thus in his party-coloured dress but once; but this voice is thus full of holy, serious meaning to us.
The poor widow of Zarephath, whom Elijah had lately left, enjoyed the full flow of Elijah’s sympathies; and that humble, distant homestead, with its barrel of meal and its cruse of oil, had witnessed living communion between kindred spirits, and presented a scene which had its spring and its reward with God.
But Elijah and Obadiah were not thus in company with each other. Elijah is too true to let Obadiah come near to him in spirit or to answer the effort he was making to conciliate him.
There is character in all this I am fully sure. Abraham and Lot never met, as we have said, after they parted on Lot ’s lifting up his eyes on the well-watered plains of Sodom . There was moral distance quite sufficient to keep them asunder, though a sabbath day’s journey might have brought them together. Very significant evidence that is!
And so Elijah and Obadiah: their meeting was no meeting. As well might Abraham’s rescue of Lot out of the hands of Chedorloamer be called a meeting. This was not “the communion of saints”. This was not refreshment of bowels in the Lord. But all this repeats for the heart an oft-told tale.