But when Ahab heard Elijah’s message of impending judgment, he tore his clothing, dressed in burlap, and fasted. He even slept in burlap and went about in deep mourning. Then another message from the Lord came to Elijah: “Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has done this, I will not do what I promised during his lifetime…” (I Kings 21:27-29)
Food For Thought: No one deserved judgment more than King Ahab. He raised the bar on wickedness (I Kings 21:25). Among many other things, he followed the evil advice of his nefarious wife, Jezebel, he threw a tantrum over a piece of property he wanted and murdered to get it, and if that weren’t bad enough, he personally raised idolatry to an art form in Israel! Ahab was one bad dude!
Yet when Elijah pronounced judgment on him, he humbled himself to the point that God relented and withheld Ahab’s much deserved punishment. Now make no mistake, we should not take God’s patience with Ahab to mean that he winks at sin. As someone has said, “there is a payday, someday” for wickedness. And Ahab will get his!
But what is most interesting about this story is what it reveals about God. What a patient and merciful God we serve! And the same God who would delay much deserved judgment for evil Ahab in order to give him time to change his ways will also be patient and merciful with you and me—hallelujah—and also with a sinful world that God doesn’t want to perish. Now again, let’s not equate God’s longsuffering with tolerance for sin. There is a payday, someday—and we need to take that most seriously. This reality of a day of reckoning ought to be one of the things that prods us to a life of purity and motivates us to share the Good News with those who are bound for a Christless eternity.
And likewise, the fact that we have obtained a “redemptive pass” on Judgment Day through Christ’s substitutionary death ought to inspire us to greater gratitude to God for his grace and mercy. How fortunate are we that as much, if not more, than any other attribute of God, his longsuffering heart and willingness to forgive defines our relationship with him. Not only is he willing to put up with our waywardness, but amazingly, he actually goes out of his way to show us his love. Think about these words from Micah 7:18,
“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.”
Let me suggest that you reframe this Ahab story. Try reading yourself into Ahab’s character, because in truth, you and I are the ones to whom God has extended such amazing and undeserved grace. As you do that, it would then be approapriate to take some time today to offer heartfelt thanks to God for what he has done for you…and for what he has not done to you.
And by the way, don’t make Ahab’s mistake: He didn’t recognize that God’s patience and mercy was meant to transform his character. So offer God your heart, and allow him to remold it.
Prayer: Holy Father, you are a gracious and merciful God. You have extended your patience to me well beyond what I deserve. I deserve punishment, but you offer forgiveness. I don’t deserve heaven, but you’ve given me eternal life. How I thank you for who you are—a God of grace and mercy; how I praise you for what you’ve done—you’ve pardoned all of my sins and granted salvation. I stand in awe of you, and throughout time and all the way through eternity, I will proclaim your greatness to all creation. I owe you an un-payable debt of love, and as just a small token of what I will give to you for the rest of my existence, I offer you this prayer of praise and thanksgiving. It is in your gracious and merciful name I pray, amen!
Great Cloud of Witnesses: Martin Luther, speaking of God’s grace, said, “Although out of pure grace God does not impute our sins to us, He nonetheless did not want to do this until complete and ample satisfaction of His law and His righteousness had been made. Since this was impossible for us, God ordained for us, in our place, One who took upon Himself all the punishment we deserve. He fulfilled the law for us. He averted the judgment of God from us and appeased God’s wrath. Grace, therefore, costs us nothing, but is cost Another much to get it for us. Grace was purchased with an incalculable, infinite treasure, the Son of God Himself.”