In my private times with the Lord, I have been reading about the kings of Judah and Israel over the last few weeks. Studying their lives has unexpectedly encouraged me, even when I’ve looked read about the wicked ones (and most of them “did evil in the eyes of the Lord”).
Just this morning I was amazed to see how God granted King Ahab mercy, who was one of the vilest kings in all of Israel’s history, after he humbled himself before God by tearing his clothes, putting on sackcloth, and fasting.
Wait.....what? King Ahab?
I have never noticed these verses before.
Elijah had just prophesied to Ahab a horrid, but just and deserved judgment due to him and his wife colluding to kill a man for his vineyard (plus everything else they had proudly done to further plunge the Israelites into heinous idolatry, perversion, and child-sacrifice). And yet, King Ahab’s dramatic self-humbling caused our holy God to take note: “Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: ‘Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.” 1 Kings 21:28 - 29
God literally postponed judgment when a king humbled himself before His mighty hand. Did Ahab actually repent? I know that tearing one’s robes is symbolic of tearing one’s heart and that donning sackcloth happens when people are choosing to repent. But, we don’t necessarily see evidence that Ahab confessed his sin to God or chose to make things right on behalf of Naboth’s family, or destroy the idols and pagan altars that polluted the countryside. So, I want to be careful to not assume to know the extent of Ahab's repentence.
However, Ahab did display humility before God. Enough that the Lord noticed, mentioned it to his prophet, and postponed some of the prophesied judgments.
This story immediately reminded me of Jonah and the wicked city of Nineveh. From the king to the least in the city, the people repented after hearing the word of the Lord through Jonah. And once again, God postponed judgment for many years. In His justice, judgment still needed to come, but in His mercy, the generation living in the city would not see it.
Some reading this may say, “But this is old covenant. How does this affect us today now that we are a part of the new covenant?”
I think we need to understand that God judges cities and nations. Not just thousands of years ago in the hills of Samaria, but today. Jesus mentioned judgment coming to the cities of Korazin and Bethsaida (Matt. 11:21) because they did not receive Him in their hour of visitation. Plus, we see judgment meted out to the nations in the book of Revelation. Thus, I don’t think we can relegate the judgment of nations to B.C.
These pre-Calvary stories should encourage us that even in the days when the blood of a spotless lamb could atone for sin only one year at a time, God was moved when people, even wicked people, humbled themselves before Him. His mercy is not bestowed to only believers. God is moved even when wicked kings humble themselves before Him. A simple definition of mercy is “not getting what we deserve.”
Are you grieved by your local, state, or national leaders? Are you grieved by leaders in the Church? Pray for God to “remove their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” (Ez. 36:26) And then pray that same prayer over yourself and your family. One of my rules of thumb I have is to pray for people as I would want someone to pray for me if I were the one caught in error and sin.
"Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh." Ez. 36:26
Here’s the takeaway - Don’t give up hope for your household, city, or nation. God’s judgment must come eventually and I heartily believe we are on the threshold of some serious consequences for our actions as a nation here in the U.S.. But I am not one to simply buckle my safety belt, throw my hands up in the air, hold my breath, close my eyes, and just wait for the deluge. I also believe that through prayer, humbling ourselves, and repentance, we can perhaps mitigate, postpone, and sometimes even (with full repentance and fasting as described in Joel 2 or 2 Chron 4:17), stop the tsunami of judgment rushing towards our city or nation. And I am not saying this because of listening to another internet prophet or my satisfaction or fear based on who wins the presidency. I am stating this based on the stunning examples of God’s gift of mercy as detailed in scripture. If Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8), and we know He is, then what He has done for other nations, He can do for ours. That knowledge should both sober and encourage us.
If the Body of Christ rises up in fasting, repentance, and prayer, I believe we will see unexpected and undeserved miracles of mercy released in our day.
“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:13 - 14