I have recently been reading through the book of Kings, and one of the consistent behaviour patterns of most of the kings after Solomon was their tendency to sin and turn away from serving God. Some of the kings of Israel who weren’t even of royal descent, meaning, they had no chance of becoming kings if not for God’s grace, still turned from serving Him after He made them kings. Jeroboam and Baasha were key examples who God had made kings in place of their sinful predecessors, and rather than honour God, they went on to commit greater sins.
And there was Ahab, the king who married Jezebel, the staunch worshipper of Baal during Elijah’s ministry. Elijah was a mighty prophet of God; however, he was careful to flee to the wilderness when Jezebel threatened to kill him. Elijah was depressed and had completely given up, as he felt he was fighting a losing battle for the Lord. He lamented, “…It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers” 1 Kings 19:4. He again said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” 1 Kings 19:10.
This lament of Elijah puts into perspective the spiritual and moral state of Israel at that time. It was a time when the true prophets were persecuted and silenced, while the voices of the prophets of Baal were given a hearing. It was a time when evil and all sorts of vile practice was common in Israel because they had forsaken the way of the Lord.
It was during this time that the Lord demonstrated such grace and mercy, even though he had declared judgement. King Ahab coveted a land belonging to a man named Naboth. He enquired of the land from Naboth, but Naboth refused to sell it to him at any price since it was his inheritance. Rather than be content with all he had, he shared his thoughts with Jezebel his wife, who then orchestrated the murder of Naboth in order for Ahab to take possession of the land. When Ahab went to claim the land, he was met by Elijah who pronounced the Lord’s judgement on him because of what he had done. The judgement was that he and his whole household will be wiped out and that he will be left with no heir to the throne after him.
Surprisingly, unlike most of the other kings, Ahab heard the judgement and humbled himself in repentance before the Lord. This was a king who had married a wicked queen who persecuted God’s prophets and led Israel in all sorts of spiritual corruption and sin. Yet, at the slightest sign of him humbling himself and repenting, God was moved to mercy. This was what the Lord said to Elijah in response to Ahab’s repentance.
“Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster upon his house.” 1 Kings 21:29.
Our God is tender-hearted and merciful. He has no joy or delight in judging where there is brokenness and repentance. David echoed this truth by saying, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” Psalm 103:8-13.
Even though Ahab’s sins were many, through humility and repentance, he moved God’s heart to mercy. Whatever weight of sin weighs you down, do not give up on confession and repentance. God is eager to show mercy rather than judgement, but just like Ahab, we must be willing to acknowledge our sins and repent of them. As a nation also faced with this pandemic of COVID-19, I believe that genuine repentance will move God’s heart to show mercy in the midst of judgment.