Obadiah saves a hundred people by working within a corrupt system (1 Kings 18:1-4)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project

At least two episodes during this period deserve our attention. The first, Obadiah’s saving of a hundred prophets, may be of help to those facing the decision whether to quit a job in an organization that has become unethical, a decision that many face in the world of work.

Obadiah is the chief of staff in King Ahab’s palace. (Ahab is infamous even today as the most wicked of Israel’s kings.) Ahab’s queen, Jezebel, orders the prophets of the Lord to be killed. As a high official in Ahab’s court, Obadiah has advance word of the operation, as well as the means to circumvent it. He hides a hundred prophets in two caves and provides them bread and water until the crises abates. They are saved only because someone “who revered the Lord greatly” (1 Kings 18:3) is in a position of authority to protect them. A similar situation occurs in the Book of Esther, told in much greater detail, see “Working Within a Fallen System (Esther)” at www.theologyofwork.org.

It is demoralizing to work in a corrupt or evil organization. How much easier it might be to quit and find someplace holier to work. Often quitting is the only way to avoid doing evil ourselves. But no workplace on earth is purely good, and we will face ethical dilemmas wherever we work. Moreover, the more corrupt the workplace, the more it needs godly people. If there is any way to remain in place without adding to the evil ourselves, it may be that God wants us to stay. During World War II a group of officers opposed to Hitler remained in the Abwher (military intelligence) because it gave them a platform for trying to remove Hitler. Their plans failed, and most were executed, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the theologian. When explaining why he remained in Hitler’s army, he said, “The ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation is to live.”[1] Our responsibility to do what we can to help others seems to be more important to God than our desire to think of ourselves as morally pure.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (New York: Touchstone, 1997), 7.