I Kings 20-22
I am really bad at playing video games. A few seconds into the game and zap, I have used up all my lives and the game is over. For me this is frustrating, for those of you who are good at these games, you take this as a challenge. There is no mercy or margin of error in a video game. You either play right and keep going, or play wrong and the game is over. The rules are very clear and very clearly defined. There is no middle road, there is no lee-way. You know right away if you have done it right or wrong. What if it was like that in life?
Do you remember the story of Ananias & Sapphira? The early church was growing and people were really catching on to what it meant to walk with Christ. One of the things they were doing was unloading a lot of investments in order to share all things with each other. Everyone was doing it. Ananias and Sapphira wanted to participate and so they also sold some land. When they brought the proceeds to the apostles for distribution, they were trying to make a good impression and said that the money they were bringing was what they sold the land for. In reality, they had kept some back. Their wrong was not that they kept some back, but that they lied in order to make themselves look good. Ananias was the first one who came with his portion of the money and as soon as his lie was uncovered, he fell down dead. A little while later, Sapphira came and gave her portion and she also immediately died. There was no lee-way. They had played the game wrong and God’s judgement on their sin was immediate, their life was over.
What if that happened all the time? It is a good thing that it does not because there would be few of us left standing. However, because God is gracious and gives us lots of time to change and is very patient with us, we sometimes become a little careless about how we live and we may even begin to think that just because God’s judgement is not immediate, that it is not going to come.
As we come to the conclusion of our study of I Kings, we will learn that God does not ignore our disobedience and we will learn that He judges sin.
There are three stories we will look at today from I Kings 20-22. They tell us about what happened to Ahab. We have seen in the past messages, that Ahab was a wicked king with an even more wicked wife, Jezebel. We learned about the contest that Elijah proposed which would bring Israel back to God. Did they return? What happened to Ahab? As we look at these stories, we will notice that they are difficult in some ways. It is hard to understand some of the things that are happening here. I will not be able to answer every question, nor will I attempt to. In spite of these challenges, the main point is quite clear and I will focus on that.
The message of this passage is clear, but not pleasant and in many ways, I would prefer not to preach this message, but it is the Word of God and so it is necessary to examine it and apply it to our life. It will challenge us to live in a right relationship with God.
The first story concerns Ben-Hadad who was the king of Aram. Aram was North East of Israel and also known as Syria. Ben-Hadad was more powerful than Israel and instead of attacking Israel, offered terms in which Aram would be in charge of Israel and get tribute from her and would defend her but not attack her. The terms of peace are found in 20:3(read). Ahab agreed to these terms even though they seem rather harsh because he understood them to be simply a figure of speech. It was like saying, “you are my master, but I will keep on ruling in my land, under you. You own me, but will leave me alone.”
But then Ben-Hadad violated this understanding. He actually sent to Ahab and demanded that all these things be given to him. It was a clearly attempt to provoke Ahab to war. When Ahab heard this demand, he responded that it was asking too much and refused to pay up. Instead, he prepared for war.
We see a lot of good in Ahab. A prophet came and told him that he would win the battle. Ahab inquired of the Lord about how he should go into battle. God told him to go against the vast armies of Ben-Hadad with a small force of merely 7000 men led by young officers. It was clear that he defeated the Arameans by the power of God. When they returned the next spring, reasoning that the God of Israel was a god of the hills and the next time they would attack them on the plains, God again provided victory to demonstrate that he was God over all.
After this second defeat, Ben-Hadad went to Ahab to ask for terms of peace. He offered to make a treaty and Ahab granted it and set him free. There was only one problem with this. God had wanted Ben-Hadad put to death.
A prophet enacted a story in which he asked someone to beat him up. In that beat up state, he went to meet Ahab and told him the story that he had been guarding a prisoner at the cost of his life and the prisoner had escaped. When Ahab pronounced his sentence, the prophet pointed out that Ahab had done this very thing. We read of the wrong of Ahab in 20:42.
It is a little hard for us to understand this. We may wonder why God would want him put to death and how that fits with the character of God. The idea of things devoted to destruction is found in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 20:16-18 where we read, “However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them…as the LORD your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God.”
Ahab must have known that God had determined that Ben-Hadad had done enough evil in this world and that the time for his destruction had come. Although we see that Ahab did many good things, yet the main point of the story is that he failed to obey God completely. He knew what God’s will was and he was held accountable for failing to live up to it.
The application for us is equally clear and that is that God does not ignore disobedience. He did not in the case of Ahab, but held him accountable. He did not in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, but held them accountable. He will also hold us accountable for the things that we do wrong. We may think that our sin is no serious thing. We don’t know what Ahab thought when he let Ben-Hadad go free. He might have been belittling the seriousness of disobedience to God, he may have had a greater fear of future conflicts with the Arameans than of God. Whatever the case, I doubt if he thought that he would be so quickly held accountable for his wrongdoing.
We need to understand and be very sure that we know that we are not getting away with anything. God always will hold us accountable for the things that we do wrong.
A number of years ago we heard about a young girl who wanted to go to a party with her boyfriend. Her parents had gone away for the weekend, but had told her that she should not go. While they were gone, she borrowed her father’s truck and went to the party. On the way home, she rolled the truck and was severely injured. She was in a coma for a few weeks and then died.
Whether it is immediate or takes many years, Numbers 32:23 warns us, “you may be sure that your sin will find you out.”
The story in the next chapter takes this warning one step further. God does not ignore our disobedience and if we continue in disobedience, His judgement will be pronounced on us.
Ahab had a home in Jezreel, which was about 20 miles north of Samaria in the hills. Near his property, there was a vineyard owned by Naboth. Ahab wanted this vineyard and made an offer to Naboth. It was a fair offer, but for reasons that appear to have a religious component to them, Naboth was unwilling to sell. He speaks about not selling the inheritance of his fathers and it may be that he was referring to the law in Leviticus 25:23 which said, “‘The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.” Whatever the case, Naboth was not willing to sell and Ahab was mad.
Ahab went home and sulked and when Jezebel found out about this, she was quick to suggest an evil plot to make sure he got the land. She wrote, in Ahab’s name, that the elders of Jezreel should proclaim a fast, which involved an assembly. In that assembly, they should seat Naboth between two worthless men who would both swear that Naboth had cursed God and the king. Jezebel used the law in Deuteronomy 17:6 of having two witnesses to make sure that she did everything legally. She used the law which required the death sentence for blasphemy (Deuteronomy 13:10). The plot worked perfectly and Naboth was stoned to death by the people of Jezreel. Then Ahab went and acquired the land.
It was a horrible act of injustice carried out for a very selfish reason. But, Ahab did not get away with it. God had seen what had happened and sent Elijah to him to pronounce judgement on him. We read the horrible punishment of God which was pronounced on Ahab in 21:20-26.
Once again the point that we need to hear in this story is very clear. The judgement of God comes on all who insist on going their own way. God pronounces judgement on all wickedness. If anyone on this earth thinks that he is getting away with injustice or any other kind of evil, they are wrong. God sees all the wrong things that are being done and He does not ignore that disobedience but pronounces his judgement on it. Ahab had broken two commandments. He had broken the commandment not to murder and not to covet and God judged him for his sin.
The New Testament teaches us the same thing. In Galatians 6:7,8, it says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction…”
We also read in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death…”
The final story takes this one step further. Not only does God not ignore sin, but declare his judgement on it, he also carries out the judgement he makes.
The final story in I Kings is a difficult one. It has some things in it that are hard to understand. I have to admit that I do not entirely understand why God would sent lying prophets. But once again the story’s main point is very clear.
Three years after the wars mentioned in chapter 20, Ahab linked up with Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. They went through a long process of trying to determine if God would have them go to war against the Arameans. About 400 prophets all prophesied the same thing. They all agreed that Ahab and Jehoshaphat should go to war against Aram. For some reason, Jehoshaphat recognized that they were not speaking the word of the Lord and asked if there was not another prophet of the Lord who would speak the truth.
Ahab admitted that there was. Surprisingly, it was not Elijah, but Micaiah. When Micaiah came, he patronized Ahab and told him what he wanted to hear. Perhaps he knew that Ahab was not going to listen anyway. When pressed to tell the truth, Micaiah said in 22:17, “I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the LORD said, ‘These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace.’” It was a pronouncement of the death of Ahab and a prophecy that Israel would nevertheless live in peace.
The little scene that follows demonstrates that the lying of the prophets was for the purpose of provoking Ahab to go to war so he would die. In the presence of Ahab, it is revealed that God asked the spirits to provoke Ahab to war and so to his death. One spirit proposed that it be done by sending a lying spirit to the prophets. What is amazing is that Ahab is fully aware of how God intends to work and he still does exactly what he wants. He does not really believe that this is the word of God and so goes to war, but, he isn’t quite sure and so takes the precaution of disguising himself. All of the Arameans are given instructions to focus their fighting on the king of Israel. The only problem is that the king of Israel has disguised himself and they can’t find him. After fighting with the King of Judah for a while, they realize that he is not the King of Israel and stop chasing him. In spite of the fact that he hides himself among the men in disguise, the judgement of God cannot be thwarted. The time for God’s judgement on Ahab has come and there is no avoiding it. A stray arrow pierces Ahab’s armour and after watching the battle all through the day, he dies. When the time for God’s judgement comes, there is no escaping it.
The further fulfillment of the prophecy made in chapter 21 regarding the house of Ahab takes place later. In II Kings 9, there is the gruesome story of the death of Jezebel and the indication that this was in fulfillment of God’s judgement. In II Kings 10 we have a further indication of the death of the sons of Ahab, also in fulfillment of the prophecy of chapter 21, that none of his family would survive.
The point of the story is clear. God‘s judgement comes on those who disobey Him. He does not ignore wrongs done, he pronounces judgement on all wickedness and he carries out that judgement.
We have the same message in the New Testament. In Revelation 20:11-15 we read, “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
In 1982, "ABC Evening News" reported on an unusual work of modern art: a chair affixed to a shotgun. It was to be viewed by sitting in the chair and looking directly into the gun barrel. The gun was loaded and set on a timer to fire at a undetermined moment within the next hundred years.
The amazing thing was that people waited in lines to sit and stare into the shell's path! They all knew that the gun could go off at point-blank range at any moment, but they were gambling that the fatal blast wouldn't happen during their minute in the chair.
Yes, it was foolhardy, yet many people who wouldn't dream of sitting in that chair live a lifetime gambling that they can get away with sin. Foolishly they ignore the risk until the inevitable destruction. -- Jeffrey D. King, Parma, Ohio. Leadership, Vol. 4, no. 4.
Is there any way to avoid the certain judgement on all the wrong things that we do?
If you remember when Ron read the story before, you will notice that I missed a small part of the previous story. When Elijah pronounced judgement on Ahab and proclaimed the destruction of his entire family, Ahab realized his wrongdoing. We read with interest in 21:27-29, “When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. 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.” God’s judgement was tempered with mercy. Although Ahab died, the full disaster did not come in Ahab’s day, but as his sons and Jezebel continued in their own wickedness, the full judgement came later. Ahab’s repentance was genuine and resulted in a change in God’s judgement. Later we see that he was still not fully obedient and so still met with judgement. What we see in these verses is the truth, which is evident everywhere in the Bible, that God responds with mercy to those who humble themselves before him by confessing their sin and looking to him for forgiveness.
When Jesus came to earth, this truth was even more clearly presented. Although we all stand condemned under the judgement of God, the possibility of forgiveness and life are offered to all of us. Jesus’ death on the cross has made it possible to receive forgiveness in place of condemnation and eternal life in place of eternal death.
When I was nine years old, I went forward at a meeting and made a decision to follow Jesus. I accepted the words of Romans 6:23 which promise that although “…the wages of sin is death” “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Since that time, I have lived with the assurance that my sins are forgiven, and that when I die, I will not die eternally, but will have eternal life.
After that, whenever I have sinned and have recognized the guilt of my sin, I have relied on I John 1:9 which assures, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
I know I deserve eternal death, because of all the things I have done wrong. I am thankful to God for his forgiveness and the life he has given me. What about you?
The stories of the Old Testament, including those in I Kings, are for our instruction. The beginning of Israel’s slide away from God began when Solomon ended poorly, and moved into a gradual decline from that time on. We have heard the repeated call to change. The most powerful call to change comes in these last three chapters where we have seen in narrative form that God does not ignore the things we do wrong, he judges sin and will carry out that judgement.
The purpose of preaching on these things is to call us to examine our life. Are there things in your life and my life that will come under the judgement of God? I invite you to think about your life for a moment or two. Are you under God’s condemnation because you have never received the gift of life from Jesus? Are you a Christian who is living with sin in your life? God knows all our deeds and will hold you accountable for them. If you know that you have sin in your life and if you fear the judgement of God, then the invitation also comes from God. Confess your sins and you will receive forgiveness and you will avoid the punishment of God.
If you have never accepted Jesus as your saviour from sin, and want to make sure today that you will not spend eternity in hell, then I want to invite you to come to the front of the church in a moment or two and accept God’s offer of forgiveness.
If you have received Christ in the past, but now recognize that you are allowing sin to enter into your life and if you want to avoid the judgement of God that will come upon that sin, then I also invite you to come to the front in order to receive the forgiveness of God.
I could ask you to silently make a commitment in your heart, but I believe that when we make a public confession of our sin, we place ourselves under the accountability of all those who have seen us make this commitment and it is much easier to continue to walk in this way.
So if it is decision time for you, I invite you to come. Young or old, this is an opportunity to respond to God. Please come and kneel or stand at the front and we will pray together.
If you are making a recommitment today, then I would encourage you to find a brother or sister who is a spiritual example and whom you trust and share with them some of the details of the decision you have made today. Let them pray with you, encourage you and help you to keep the commitment you have made.
If this is your first time commitment to Christ, then please tell me or Amos so that we can help you in your walk with Christ. Please be seated.