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1 Kings 18:1-5 by Robert Dean
Series:Kings (2007)
Duration:1 hr 7 mins 15 secs

The Believer Under an Immoral Authority


At some point in life every one of us has experienced the fact that we have been told by someone in authority over us to do something that we don't agree with. These challenges to authority are some of the most significant issues that we face in our spiritual life, because the Bible is very clear to us on how we as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are to respond to authority—any sphere of authority, because the Bible says that all authority ultimately derives from God. The Bible speaks of different spheres of authority.


  1. We know that God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, even the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Christ from eternity past, was to submit to the authority of God the Father. Within the Godhead itself this authority relationship always existed. That means that authority is not something that God put into place in order to control creatures, it is not something He ordained or instituted in order to restrain sin, but that authority itself is something that is inherent in the very nature of the social structure of the Trinity.
  2. We see in Scripture that angels are to be subject to Christ. Angels also have an authority structure that is described in terms of principalities and powers and authorities, indicating that there is an authority structure and hierarchy within the angelic order itself; but all angels are to be subject or submitted to Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:22).
  3. We see that every church age believer is to be submitted to the authority of Jesus Christ. He is the head of the body—the term "head," the Greek word kephale [kefalh] in Scripture means authority, the one who is the leader, the one who is in charge or in control. Christ is the head of the church. That doesn't mean He is the source of the church, it means that He is the one in control, the leader.
  4. The Scriptures teach that servants are to submit to masters and slaves are to submit to their owners (1 Peter 2:18; Ephesians 6:5). One of the interesting observations we have to make when we look at the Scriptural commands to be obedient to various authorities is that the Bible never puts conditions on them. It never says children are to obey their parents when they are right, it never says wives be submissive to their husbands when they are loving and understanding, it never says believers be obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ when you think it is a good idea. There aren't any conditions placed on obedience to authority because authority is such a foundational issue in God's creation.
  5. Wives are to submit to their husbands (Colossians 3:18; Ephesians 5:22). Paul says, "as to the Lord," indicating that the authority relationship between a wife and her husband will mirror her response to the Lord Jesus Christ's authority in her own life. How anyone responds to authority says something about how they respond to the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ in their life.
  6. Children are to submit to their parents. How long for? As long as the parents are paying one cent for their upkeep, they are under parental authority.
  7. The young are to submit to their elders. That is, those who are more mature, wiser, and have been down the road a little longer (1 Peter 5:5).
  8. Church members are to submit to their leaders (Hebrews 13:7, 17).   


The problem that arises for all of us is that when someone or some group that is in authority tells us to do something that we believe or think is wrong. At that point what happens is that we, as the person under authority, are actually judging the person in authority. We are putting ourselves in a position where we are looking at them as if we are the ultimate determiner of what is right and we are the one who decides that issue. It is subjectivity, not objectivity. The real issue is who decides what is right. If a husband insists on doing something that seems unwise, wrong or foolish, or an employer has a policy that is unfair or over bearing, or a government imposes draconian or tyrannical laws, whenever the person under authority steps out from under that authority and disobeys that authority then what we are saying is that we are omniscient, that we can make a better decision, and that we are judging that authority as its superior.


There are times when authorities are wrong in an absolute sense, but we have to qualify that and we have to understand what those conditions are. The question we have to address as believers is how do we respond an authority that is indeed in violation of God's mandates? But before we get to that we have to understand why authority is so important within God's creation and within the Word of God.


  1. Authority is not simply a part of creation, it is part of the makeup of the creator. Therefore it is not something that is secondary; it is primary, and part of God's very structure and part of how God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit operate. So authority in and of itself is good. Ultimately every issue in life comes back to the Godhead, and that is why it is so important to think of things always in terms of who God is and His position as the creator separate and distinct from the creation.
  2. Authority is necessary for any social group, organization or order to function. Without authority there is lawlessness, anarchy, no order. 1 Corinthians 14 teaches that God is a God of order. So the very act of rebelling against an established authority carries with it certain theological implications, certain statements about God, so that by violating authority in any way that is wrong is ultimately a statement of blasphemy against God.
  3. At the very center of all authority is God who is the source of all authority. How we respond to any derivative authority says something about how we respond to God's authority. This goes ultimately back to the angelic conflict. Violation of authority is ultimately arrogance, the arrogance of an individual who believes they know more or can do it better than the person who is in authority. It may, in fact, be true that someone can do something better than a person in authority, and it is true in many areas; but if there was no principle of authority nothing would ever get done and order would dissipate. All of this goes back to the fall of Satan. In Isaiah 14:13, 14 we read the indictment on Satan: "in your heart": it is a mental attitude; "I will ascend to heaven, I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north… I will ascend about the heights of the clouds… will make myself like the Most High." It was a statement, a thought, of rebellion that Lucifer knew more than God did, and that he could run the universe better than God can. And that is at the core of every single act of rebellion against authority in human history—the idea that I can do it better than the authority can. We see this working itself out in human history from the very beginning in Genesis chapter three.


This whole issue of authority and authority orientation is at the heart of the first five verses of 1 Kings 18. Elijah is a prophet of God who was called by God to challenge the king of the northern kingdom of Israel. This shows that God's authority is over the king's authority, and the authority of the prophet when he is operating in obedience to God is over the authority of the king. Elijah has announced in 1 Kings 17:1 that there will be a judgment upon the nation and that there will be a famine. It would not rain again for a certain amount of time, until Elijah says so, and this is part of the discipline that God is bringing upon the northern kingdom because of their rebellion against Him, as per the Mosaic law. We see right away that when God is dealing with the northern kingdom He does so within a framework of authority and order and revelation, i.e. within the basis of the Mosaic law. At the time of Elijah, the king and his wife had given themselves completely over to the false religion of Baal worship and the fertility cult and had basically made it illegal for anyone who was a citizen of the northern kingdom to worship God. That was in direct violation of the Mosaic law. The Mosaic law was still the Constitution of the northern kingdom, their law code that had been given them by God. That was the covenant that God had made with them and so they had a Constitution that prescribed specific behavior on the part of the king and specific behavior on the part of the people; and this was exactly what God expected them to do, but the king had set himself up over the Mosaic law and had rejected the Mosaic law, and he had imposed upon the northern kingdom this tyranny of a false religious system to the degree that Jezebel was sending out her hit squads to search and destroy all of those who were believers and those who were not worshipping Baal and the Asherah, especially the prophets of God. So there was a situation of a government that has completely subverted by false teaching and false religion and was now engaged in the overt destruction and murder of believers in the kingdom.


We meet one of those who had to live in this context of a tyrannical government in the first part of 1 Kings 18. 1 Kings 18:1, 2 NASB "Now it happened {after} many days that the word of the LORD came to Elijah in the third year, saying, 'Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the face of the earth.' So Elijah went to show himself to Ahab. Now the famine {was} severe in Samaria."


Though the northern kingdom has been in rebellion against God and have rejected the Mosaic law, God has not rejected them. He is still prosecuting the nation according to the promises He made in the covenant; He is still seeking through discipline to bring them back into obedience to Him. Secondly, we should note that the text says this is in the third year since he went to Zarephath. This is consistent with the fact that the New Testament states that the duration of this famine was three years and six months. So Elijah responds. He doesn't say, well Lord, Ahab is probably going to want to kill me and I don't think it is a good idea for me to go back there right now; can't I just pray from here and it will start raining? He knows that he obeys God even though that puts him into a precarious, life-threatening situation because God is in control. When God is in control whatever happens is under His authority and we are to obey Him.


We have the note that there was a sever famine in Samaria. Samaria was a part of the northern kingdom. Then in verse 3 we shift away from Elijah to see what is going on with Ahab, what he has been doing in the last three and a half years. 1 Kings 18:3 NASB "Ahab called Obadiah who {was} over the household…." That tells us something about Obadiah. He was trusted by Ahab and he is in charge of his house, an official position. This would indicate that Obadiah has a position comparable to the president's chief of staff. He is over many elements of the government and so he has one of the highest positions in the northern kingdom. Then we are told by way of inspiration certain things about Obadiah. "… (Now Obadiah feared the LORD greatly;" Scripture uses the phrase "fearing the Lord" in many places and it indicates somebody who is under the authority of God, respects the authority of God, and is a believer. It has to do with respect for God's authority. Obadiah knows that ultimately he is accountable to God and not to Ahab. We also see from what he does that he has great courage. 1 Kings 18:4 NASB "for when Jezebel destroyed the prophets of the LORD, Obadiah took a hundred prophets and hid them by fifties in a cave, and provided them with bread and water.)" He didn't just get them out of harm's way but he continued at great personal risk to make sure that they had food and water, and it is no simple matter logistically to provide enough food and water for a hundred people. For the last three and a half years they had been protected.

But even though Obadiah had shown great courage in hiding these prophets we see that he still is scared to death, just like most of us would be. 1 Kings 18:7-10 NASB "Now as Obadiah was on the way, behold, Elijah met him, and he recognized him and fell on his face and said, 'Is this you, Elijah my master?' He said to him, 'It is I. Go, say to your master, 'Behold, Elijah {is here.}'' He said, 'What sin have I committed, that you are giving your servant into the hand of Ahab to put me to death? As the LORD your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my master has not sent to search for you; and when they said, 'He is not {here,}' he made the kingdom or nation swear that they could not find you." We see that he is fearful of his circumstances because he knows the power of the government, the power of Ahab, and that Ahab can still take his life, but nevertheless he has made the decision to disobey the mandates, the policies, the wishes of the king who is in authority over him.

What are the principles that should guide us in making such a decision? It is clear from Scripture that there are certain times and circumstances when it is legitimate for the believer to disobey the commands, the mandates of those who are in authority. We have to loom at several of these examples in order to be able to derive the principles that can guide us in those situations and circumstances.

The ethical challenge to the Hebrew midwives. Exodus 1:15-22 NASB "Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other was named Puah; and he said, 'When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see {them} upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.' But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live. So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, 'Why have you done this thing, and let the boys live?' The midwives said to Pharaoh, "Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them." So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty. Because the midwives feared God, He established households for them. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, 'Every son who is born you are to cast into the Nile, and every daughter you are to keep alive'."

The background to this is that it has become known to the Pharaoh this hope among the Jews that God is going to send them a deliverer who is going to free them from slavery in Egypt. He is fearful that they will have this deliverer and that they are growing to such a large extent and have so many males that their population is beginning to threaten perhaps the security of Egypt. He wants to limit the number of males. But the midwives don't obey him, they "fear the Lord." This is the same phraseology that we have with Obadiah, they understand that God's authority is over the authority of Pharaoh and that God's authority has clearly revealed that it was wrong in an absolute sense to commit murder. So the pattern that we have and will continue to see is that on the one hand we have an authority who gives an order to a subordinate. The subordinate recognizes that the order that has come directly to them is in violation of God's righteous standards and they make the decision that they will not obey that order. Notice that there was no third party here. This was a rationale that was intended to be used by some of the anti-abortion activists back during the late eighties and nineties where they saw passages like this and used it as the basis for civil disobedience. What they were doing was inserting themselves as a third party, coming in and saying you can't obey that authority. No matter what one thinks about abortion the law simply allowed for it. It wasn't mandated, the government wasn't telling anybody that they have to abort, and so it doesn't fit this pattern. There was no authority enforcing, mandating murder.

It is direct revelation that was being countered here, and that is what we have to understand. There are a lot of times when we are under authority, when we are working for somebody and they say, well, we need to do this. We might say we really don't think that is right, that somehow violates my principles as a believer. But is that principle clearly articulated in Scripture or is this just a secondarily derived principle from Scripture? If this is a secondarily derived principle from Scripture then we really don't have a case.

One other example that we should look at as to how we should make this discernment to obey God rather than man is from David and his circumstances with King Saul from 1 Samuel 16 almost to the end of 1 Samuel. We will look at 1 Samuel 24. The first thing we have to recognize is that earlier in 1 Samuel chapter nine God had had Samuel anoint Saul as the king of Israel. So Saul is the legitimate God-anointed king of Israel. Saul was a sort of mixed bag originally and about half way though his reign he goes into a full scale rebellion against God. He goes against God, for which God is going to discipline him. Part of that discipline entailed the fact that God was going to anoint someone else who would be king after Saul died. But God isn't replacing Saul at the point of his disobedience, He is simply going to have David anointed as king. But Saul is the authority, the king.

Saul is in rebellion against God and under divine discipline. In 1 Samuel 16:14ff we are told that the Spirit of the Lord was taken away from Saul by God and God sent a distressing or evil spirit to discipline Saul. Saul is going to become progressively more and more evil and progressively more and more rebellious toward God. So Saul is out of fellowship, under divine discipline, and not only that but he is committing crimes toward David personally as well as towards others. He is a king who is a criminal king. At least five times between 1 Samuel 18 and chapter 20 Saul attempts to kill David. Nevertheless when David has the opportunity to kill Saul, he doesn't do it.

1 Samuel 24:3-6, where David is hiding in a cave in the area of Engedi. NASB "He came to the sheepfolds on the way, where there {was} a cave; and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the inner recesses of the cave. The men of David said to him, "Behold, {this is} the day of which the LORD said to you, 'Behold; I am about to give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you.'" Then David arose and cut off the edge of Saul's robe secretly. It came about afterward that David's conscience bothered him because he had cut off the edge of Saul's {robe.} So he said to his men, 'Far be it from me because of the LORD that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD'S anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, since he is the LORD'S anointed'." So he recognizes that no matter how rebellious, no matter how out of bounds, no matter how criminal Saul has been it is not David's responsibility to take Saul's life and to remove him from a position of power. He has to remain in this position where he is under an unjust authority for the time being until God works out the circumstances for him to become the king.

This is parallel to what is fulfilled in the life of Christ. Jesus Christ comes to the earth, which is the domain of Satan, and He lived under the world domain which was under the authority of Satan. He was unjustly accused and unjustly punished by both the Sanhedrin, the legitimate authority in Israel, and the Roman authorities of Pontius Pilate, and is crucified. He shows humility in this (Philippians 2) because He is being obedient to God and ultimately His plan, but in going to the cross He is not asserting His authority—which He had every right to—over the authorities of both the Sanhedrin and Rome. He submits Himself to the authority of God and goes to the cross, humbling Himself to the point of death, even the death of the cross, in order to secure our salvation. And by going to the cross He is able to pay the penalty for sin.

The parallel for us is that often we may be in positions where we have an illegitimate authority over us, doing something wrong, and rather than rebel we have to realize that God has put us in that place for a ministry mission. We have to discern what that is and humble ourselves and operate authority but without violating God's authority in the process.