Don’t you just love ‘unsung heroes’? History dutifully records their exploits, but manages to exclude most of their personal profile. These heroes seem relegated to the shadowy places, away from adoring crowds, and removed from the lights, cameras, and red carpet treatment that other heroes get. They just step out of their obscurity unannounced and proceed to perform at a level that leaves us spellbound. That’s bothersome.
Leaving these heroes in the netherworld of the ‘unsung’ just doesn’t seem right. We would prefer to drag them out of their thoroughly unjust obscurity, grab a guitar, and belt out their story in a heart-rending new ballad, thereby fixing one of God’s obvious oversights. Ahh… there is such a sense of fulfillment in that. It’s even better if it seems that they might not be comfortable in the spotlight. We like finding humble people and helping them get over it. We like making them into celebrities and introducing them to the delectable elixir of applause. They’ll love us—God will be happy.
Sometimes things that feel good aren’t really as good as they feel. You may have noticed that. What if the hero’s obscurity is not as unjust as we might think? What if God had a purpose in it that would accomplish more than the spotlight ever could?
Meet an unsung hero. His name is, Obadiah—one of your favorite boy names, I’m sure. We find him in a brief intersection with another Biblical character that everybody recognizes, the prophet Elijah. In the midst of the story of Elijah’s famous declaration that it wouldn’t rain again until he said so, we run into Obadiah (I Kings 18:1-13). Elijah’s Obadiah is not the one from the Old Testament book bearing the same name. The Obadiah in Elijah’s story remains relatively unknown beyond his name, a brief reference to his job, and a comment or two about a very courageous thing he did.
Israel’s king in Obadiah’s day had the unique distinction of being more evil than any of the kings who preceded him. His choice of a bride (you remember Jezebel, don’t you?) offered no improvement. Theirs was definitely not one of those ‘opposites attract’ kinds of relationships. If the idea that a woman ‘completes’ a man applied to them, Jezebel’s contribution was that if there was any evil practice he might have overlooked, she took care of it. She was a fanatic promoter, practitioner, and supporter of idol worship, and the awful array of sins that were involved in it. In a frenzied attempt to rid the land of anything and everything that represented the God of Israel, she gave the order to seek out and destroy every one of His prophets. Enter Obadiah.
He lived and worked in a society and culture where the prevalent belief system, and the prevailing attitudes and opinions of the citizenry, were contrary and oppositional to his own. That’s hard. He faced unavoidable daily contact with those who believed and practiced things that he found repellant. That’s harder, but it gets even worse. The primary creators and promoters of the evil plaguing the nation were the reigning monarchs, and to add to this recipe for nightmares, the King was Obadiah’s boss. Obadiah was the guy in charge of King Ahab’s household staff — talk about a hostile work environment! He was deep in enemy territory every day. For most people in his situation, the primary objectives would be a) keep your head down, b) keep your mouth shut, and c) stay out of anything controversial. Obadiah didn’t do that.
While Queen Jezebel was indulging her blood lust and hunting God’s prophets like some voracious, salivating predator, Obadiah was working on a plan to save as many as he could. He explored the countryside and found a couple of large caves capable of hiding a sizeable group. But that was just a start. Then he had to figure out a way to find God’s prophets before Jezebel could get to them, and to do it without getting caught himself or exposing them—all without even a cell phone. And we can’t forget the food and water issue, without which they’d die anyway, not to mention the fact that there’s also famine going on. Let’s face it, this is a situation that would make Jack Bauer sweat.
We’re not told how he did it. We don’t know how many close calls and narrow escapes there were. We don’t know about Obadiah’s romantic interest, or if he had one—and if he did, did she play a role herself? There may have been deceitful double-agents, knife fights with false prophets, harrowing donkey chases, and pre-Kung Fu martial arts in play. We don’t know. And we don’t know how he took care of his own job, avoided detection, and delivered enough supplies to keep a hundred men alive during a famine. We just know that he did, and that we don’t have any ballads to sing about him.
On the surface that may not seem right, but if Obadiah is the only hero we see here, then we’re missing it. The real hero is the One who put Obadiah where he was, and who protected and provided for him so that he could protect and provide for those prophets. The real hero is the One who can pick a nobody out of the crowd, put him or her on stage with no introduction, and do courageous things with them that astound the world. That calls for a song, no doubt, but a song for the real hero.
I suspect that all of God’s ‘unsung heroes’ become singers of hero songs themselves. I think they lead every chorus, but their songs are not about themselves. They sing about the One who is eternally heroic, and willing to make heroes of any of us. Meanwhile, all of us ‘nobodies’ in the crowd can join in and sing along, as we await our turn.
© 2014 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
To follow this blog for more ‘Right Side Up Thinking ~ In an Upside Down World’, sign up just below the ‘Search box’ in the upper right sidebar for regular email notifications of new posts.