Elijah has pronounced a severe sentence on Ahab and Jezebel for their sins regarding Naboth. Ahab repents with tears and great fervor. God hears him.
Our writer starts off our reading with a ‘disclaimer’ of sorts regarding Ahab. I think it is more a testament to God’s love and mercy than anything else. Ahab was BAD in God’s sight.
“There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited. He acted abominably in going after idols, as he Amorites had done, whom the Lord cast out before the people of Israel” (verse 25-26).
I can’t think of a worse introduction to receive than that. Maybe being named as a “mass murderer” might do it. Who knows, Ahab might even fit that bill, but we don’t see that borne out in scripture. We do see Jezebel as a mass murderer as she killed the prophets of God. But I’m getting off point.
I believe the reason we are given this ‘introduction’ is because the acts we are about to see from Ahab are such a great contrast to his normal behavior that we need to sit up and take notice. God certainly did. And He listened to Ahab’s tears. It is a testament to God’s mercy, which we depend on EVERY DAY. So let’s join the story and see if he gets our attention too.
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Elijah’s words rip through Ahab’s heart. Elijah has pronounced an end to Ahab’s entire house, including Jezebel. Not only will they die but they will be disgraced in death. Ahab staggers and falls to his knees. Elijah turns his back and, without a single look back, walks out of the vineyard. Not even the ripping sound as Ahab tears his clothes nor his cries stop Elijah’s exit.
Elijah continues on his way and meets up again with Elisha. Naboth’s vineyard is near enough to Jezreel that his cries carry to where Elisha waits.
“Father, is that cry of anguish from Ahab?”
“It is my son. He is in the hands of the Lord.”
“What are we to do now?”
“We go home.”
Elisha nods and they begin their journey back towards Damascus.
While Elisha and Elijah begin their long journey Ahab rises from the ground. He has a long journey ahead of him too. One of repentance. Ahab, still shaking with fear and grief, makes his way back into the palace. He goes directly to his chambers and calls to his servant.
“Go to the stables and bring back for me sackcloth and rope.”
The servant is immediately concerned as to what his master may be in mourning over. His curiosity doesn’t keep him from completing his task though as he returns shortly with the requested item.
Ahab strips his royal robes from his shoulders, the ones he tore while in the vineyard, and takes the sackcloth from his servant. Ahab wraps his body with the cloth and ties it about his waist with a length of rope.
Ahab walked as slowly as possible to his throne room where he lay on the floor. He refused all food and if he had to rise for some reason he walked with his head down and again as slowly as possible. Not once for seven days did he lift his head or let food pass his lips. He drank only enough water to keep his body from perishing.
Elijah and Elisha continued their journey home. On the third day of their journey the Lord spoke to Elijah.
“Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me?” (verse 29a).
Elijah thinks back to Ahab’s reaction in the vineyard. Ahab did indeed appear humbled by the message the Lord told him to bring. He can hear the cries of Ahab ringing in his heart and the sound of the rending of fabric as he was leaving. He trusts that there was more to Ahab’s remorse for the Lord to have brought it to his attention. Elijah waits to see what more the Lord has to say.
“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” (verse 29b).
Elijah shakes his head in resignation. He knows that the Lord is merciful towards His children. Elijah is afraid that Ahab’s repentance won’t last long but that is for the Lord to deal with, not him. Elijah believes that he will probably be absent in body before Ahab’s son sees the justice the Lord has promised. He needs Elisha to know of the Lord’s decision.
“Elisha my son.”
“The judgment the Lord has decreed for Ahab will fall on his son instead of on him for he has humbled himself before the Lord and gained mercy.”
“The Lord is merciful to those who seek him and humble themselves before him.”
“He is. I only pray that this change in Ahab lasts.”
“Time will tell.”
“Will you be returning to Ahab to tell him of the Lord’s decision?”
“Time will tell on that one too my son. The Lord has not called me to do so today.”
“Time will tell.”
At the end of a week Ahab removed his sackcloth and resumed his daily routine. Then he started his week with a visit to his favorite high place. There he offered sacrifices to Jezebel’s gods.
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When I was reading our text I realized that we weren’t told if Elijah came back and told Ahab of God’s decision to postpone execution of His judgment. We don’t see mention of it anywhere else in scripture either. Ahab’s final battle and death come next in our reading and Elijah is not mentioned in that text either. I wrestled with how to handle this. ‘Time will tell’ if I handled it right.
This question brought back a story I heard on the radio today regarding a customer of a restaurant. The customer and his wife were dining out and ordered lunch at the counter. The wife ordered a burger and the husband ordered a salad. When the meal was brought the waitress put the salad in front of the woman and the burger in front of the man. The husband corrected her and the waitress switched them and remarked that the women were the ones who usually ordered salads and apologized for her mistake. When the customer left, he ‘docked’ the waitress’ tip because of her error. He felt just in doing so. He stated that she would learn from this experience and not repeat the same mistake.
As the discussion continued the question was asked if the customer told the waitress why he reduced her tip. He said he had not. “Then how was the waitress to know that her mistake caused the reduction in her tip” was the follow up question asked. Maybe the waitress assumed the customer was a lousy tipper instead of knowing she had offended the customer and ‘learn from her mistake.’
This brings me back to the question of Elijah revisiting Ahab. How was Ahab to know that he had gained God’s favor? How would he know that the Lord was postponing execution of judgment without Elijah telling him? Ahab certainly didn’t have a close relationship with God so that he would hear when the Lord spoke.
I talked this over with my parents and we came to the same conclusion; we don’t know if Elijah ever told Ahab but Ahab’s behavior went right back to how it was before. I personally believe Ahab was repenting of his actions with Naboth instead of his whole lifestyle.
This brought another topic of conversation up. It had to do with God changing His mind on timing. When God pronounces a strong judgment then later postpones it because of a behavior change, He doesn’t reinstate the original timeline when/if the behavior reverts back to its previous state. I likened it to the death penalty and changes in its legal enforcement.
If a person is found guilty of a capital crime and given the death penalty and, while on death row, the state changes its view on the death penalty, the person’s sentence is then changed to life in prison. If later on, while that same prisoner is still serving his/her sentence, the state decides to re-enact the death penalty the prisoner who received life instead is NOT returned to death row. They continue with the lesser sentence, regardless of their original sentence or their actions while in prison.
God doesn’t remove the mercy He bestows on us. Even though Ahab went right back to his old ways, God still kept His word; even if Ahab never heard those words from Him or Elijah. Ahab will be judged for his actions before the Lord and will receive his due ‘reward’ but the sins that God granted him mercy for will NOT be among those he pays for.
God’s forgiveness and mercy are forever. He remembers our sins no more. But we have to bring those sins to Him and truly repent. Not repent for being found out but for hurting our relationship with the Father AND our fellow man. Sin doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Someone is always hurt, even if it is only yourself. And the GREATEST testament to repentance is NOT repeating the actions; turning from your ways instead of returning to the same patterns.
Father God, THANK YOU for Your forgiveness. THANK YOU Lord Jesus for purchasing that forgiveness for me on the cross. I’m SO GLAD I’m on this side of the promise! I can’t imagine not having a personal relationship with you but having to rely on someone else to stand between us. I marvel at the people who were so close to You under the old covenant. David, Elijah, Elisha, Moses, Isaiah,… The list could go on and on. How was it that they were so close to You while those around them were so far? I know that the same ‘problem’ exists under the new covenant too but I am just as confused by the ‘how.’
‘How’ can people be so blind to the love that You are holding out to them? ‘How’ can they not see Your majesty in all You have created? ‘How’ can I help them see? ‘How’ can I show them Jesus’ love in ways they can’t ignore or refute?
Fill my heart Lord with Your love and Your presence to the point that it overflows on ALL those around me. Let Your love be what people see when they look at me. The child that YOU saved by that same love. The one You showed mercy to when she didn’t deserve it. The one who is prone to going back to the same messes too. Thank You for NEVER taking Your love from me!