Struggles of Israel Meditations: 15. Ongoing Sin, Grace & Mercy
1 Kings 16:30 Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.
1 Kings 22:41,43 Jehoshaphat … followed the ways of his father Asa and did not stray from them; he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.
Focus: Two kings running in parallel, sometimes working together but mostly working on completely different ways of life, two kings who further show us the struggles – both spiritual and physical – that the divided nation went through. The activities of Ahab are spelled out from 1 Kings 16:29 to 1 Kings 22:40 and they are interwoven with the activities of the prophet Elijah. Jehoshaphat’s reign is summarized in 1 Kings 22:41-50 but only after we have seen him dragged into a war alongside Israel against the king of Aram (see 1 Kings 22:1-29). That’s all that 1 Kings records of him and we’ll consider him when we look in detail at the southern kingdom. For now we have to face Ahab.
Ahab? It is a strange thing but sometimes the Lord simply allowed Israel, as they pursued their foolish ways of turning from Him, to go their own way and then suffer enemy attack after He has clearly lifted off His hand of protection from over them. At other times, and they are not infrequent, He sends a prophet to rebuke and challenge the king in question. Elijah is one such prophet and a number of chapters are given over to the interaction between Elijah and Ahab.
- At the beginning of 1 Kings 17 we see that Elijah warns Ahab that there will be a lengthy (“few years”) drought (1 Kings 17:1).
- After three years of hard drought the Lord sends Elijah to Ahab (18:1,2). When he meets him Elijah challenges Ahab, challenges him to bring all his false prophets to Mount Carmel for a contest (see 18:16-40) – which he wins – and then declares rain is coming (18:41).
- The kings wife, Queen Jezebel, is angry at the death of her prophets and threatens Elijah’s life and he flees (19:1-3).
- Moving on, in chapter 20 we see Israel coming under threat from Aram (20:1-12). Amazingly the Lord sends another prophet to direct Ahab to victory (see 20:13-21). The prophet then warns there will be a repeat of this (20:22) but the superstitious advisors to Ahab fear the Arameans (20:23-27).
- God’s prophetic messenger comes again and promises victory (20:28) which follows, but Ahab spares the opposing king (20:29-34) for which he is rebuked by the Lord (20:35-43).
- When he further kills Naboth to obtain his vineyard, Elijah is sent with a death sentence for Ahab and his wife (21:1-25, esp. v.21,23).
- Amazingly Ahab repents and the Lord lessens the sentence (21:27-29).
- A while later we see the episode involving Jehoshaphat going and fighting alongside Ahab, but not before Micaiah prophesies disaster for Ahab (22:23).
- When they go to battle Ahab is killed despite going in disguise (22:30,34-37) after ruling 22 years.
God’s Grace: What is amazing about all this is that although Ahab is clearly written off as one of the worst kings of Israel, the record shows that the Lord spoke to him through Elijah, another prophet, and Micaiah, a number of times. Through Elijah he performed a miracle on Mount Carmel resulting in the deaths in the so-called prophets of Baal. Was it that despite all this the Lord knew that it was possible to bring Ahab to repentance, as we’ve seen in 21:27-29? Nevertheless he still shows the foolishness of his unrighteous and ungodly nature which results in him being killed in battle. He hadn’t learned!
Battles: This series is essentially, on the surface at least, about the struggles of Israel, the battles in which they were involved, and yet again and again we see that physical battles may be one thing but the bigger battle raging in the background, is a spiritual battle. Will this particular king heed their history, heed their calling, heed the Law, heed the words of the prophets and hold fast to God? It was a battle that raged and which can be observed in the lives and reigns of both Jehoshaphat in the south and Ahab in the north, and it is still as real today in your life and mine and in the Church at large.
Face the Truth: Foolish crusading atheists rant on about God being hasty and hostile and uncaring but if they would only read these chapters and think intelligently about them they would have to wonder about their previous assessments when they look at Ahab. This king follows a bunch of evil and ungodly other kings who all reject God’s overtures of love and grace. He reigns for 22 year, this king, and is described as doing, “more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him,” (1 Kings 16:30) so it comes as a surprise that a ‘holy God’ does not wipe him off the face of the earth to prevent this ongoing situation to deteriorate any more. But He doesn’t. He sends Elijah to confront him and in fact two more mouth-pieces to confront him. Come on, he’s the most ungodly king so far! What is going on? What’s the point? The point is that God knows even this ungodly and evil king can come to repentance. That won’t make him perfect and, yes, he will still try to outsmart the Lord, but the offer of salvation is always there for the hardest of sinners. This is grace and mercy at its utmost!
And Us: If there is something in the Lord’s behaviour that we can allow ourselves to be deceived by, it is the Lord’s grace that holds back on discipline or judgment and keeps on encouraging and being there for us, despite our half-heartedness, or even our failures. People come across our paths, leaders fall from grace, public personalities that we call ‘celebrities’ live lives that are ungodly and unrighteous and we are left wondering, perhaps like Habakkuk (Hab 1) why God isn’t acting against them.
I believe the apostle Peter focused it perfectly when he declared, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9) If God holds back, it is not because He approves what we are doing, or what these various people above are doing, but because He is giving us – and them – additional time to put it right. If we don’t, the words of the apostle Paul that we’ve seen before will ring loud and clear: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows,” (Gal 6:7) and if we expect the Lord’s judgment to come on the world, we need to realize (with Peter again) that, “it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household.” (1 Pet 4:17) God will clean up His church before He cleans up the world so that we will yet be a further testimony to the world that He means business. Amen? Amen! Let’s learn from these things.