Continuing on in the Old Testament brings us to a section of two of the “history” books, 1st and 2nd Kings. In them we discover a powerful attribute of God: mercy! God is merciful, and we find in these books that the mercy of God has certain characteristics, but always brings us to a point of decision. Will we respond to His mercy or despise it?
I Kings 17 – 2 Kings for 6.4.17 Mercy
“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” A.W. Tozer
Mercy: The attribute of God that is actively compassionate, so that we don’t receive the well deserved results of our wrongs. We get something wonderful instead.
As a young man back in the tree work, arborist days, I was sent out in a truck, with a chipper trailer, and a fellow crew member, maybe Lary Zale, to do some work in Brighton. I realized that I had gone the wrong way and needed to turn around. Did a U-turn.
The accuser of the brethren. The judge. The one with the power to issue me a ticket or not. Me.
I received mercy. Did I do wrong? Yes. Did I receive compassion and something wonderful instead? Yes.
That’s how God deals with man. Mercy is just one of His attributes. He is just, eternal, everlasting, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, among others. But thank God, He is merciful.
In this section of the Bible we’re talking about today, the mercy of God is one of the themes, maybe the main theme.
Last week, PM ended by saying that the prophet Elijah is coming. Elijah is one of those larger-than-life figures of the Old Testament, respected and revered by the Jews and in the rest of the Scriptures. He represented the Prophets when he met with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. So he is important. And he just “appears.”
1 Kings 17.1
And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.”
Elijah pops up at a time of great ungodliness. The poster couple was the king and queen of Israel at the time, Ahab and his wife Jezebel. They were the heads of state in Israel, but they set up an altar to Baal, a false god, in the temple of Baal that they had built. We’re talking major idolatry here.
1 Kings 16.33b
Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.
Israel, Ahab and Jezebel, deserved God’s immediate judgment. He was provoked to anger. The idolatry, the immorality, the refusal of God and His ways, demanded it.
But God sent Elijah.
From this, we can begin to see what mercy is often like when it comes.
1. The first manifestation of mercy is a voice.
God, instead of acting out of His righteous anger, speaks. Sometimes through a prophet. Sometimes in your heart. Sometimes over a long period of time, through many voices. But He speaks.
But then, it’s the eye opening circumstance.
It’s not going to rain until I say enough.
No dew, no rain these years unless I say and pray so.
Remember last summer’s drought? Mmm, yes, it’s hard to remember when this Spring’s floods and high water are still a problem. But think back and imagine there’s nothing. For years. All the farmer’s crops, fruit trees and all, just dried up sticks. People searching for water and food. It would be so bad. But how eye opening is something like that? People who have stubbornly clung to the notion that everything’s going to just work out fine are now desperate for an answer. Wondering why this has happened. And that brings us to the second manifestation of mercy.
2. God sends eye opening circumstances.
He didn’t have to. But He spent years dealing with the corporate heart of Israel here. This was actually mercy. Judgment would have been more like Sodom and Gomorrah. But this was eye opening and constructive.
So here’s a thought. When difficulties come into a life, is it God’s judgment? Or is it His mercy?
So what happened here with Israel, Elijah and Ahab and Jezebel? After a really long time of eye opening circumstances, God tells Elijah what to do.
Here’s 2 Kings 18.1-2
1 And it came to pass after many days that the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, “Go, present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the earth.”2 So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab; and there was a severe famine in Samaria.
Here’s the third manifestation of mercy
3. God sends a message of hope and clarity.
Here Elijah is told by the Lord that enough is enough, as far as difficult circumstances go. It’s the “third year”, so sometime after two full years passed with zero water, in the third year, God spoke hope. Present yourself to Ahab and I will send rain on the earth. That was the hope part.
1 Kings 18.17-20
17 Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?” 18 And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and have followed the Baals. 19 Now therefore, send and gather all Israel to me on Mount Carmel, the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table. 20 So Ahab sent for all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together on Mount Carmel. 21 And Elijah came to all the people, and said, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people answered him not a word.
Here’s the clarity. Elijah, on God’s behalf, identifies the problem. It’s Ahab’s family and fault, for their idolatry and immorality and what it led the nation into. And in the process of clarity, Elijah gets everyone together and says, “Look, if the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” And he sets up the most clear demonstration of who actually is the Lord of Heaven and earth.
The test. After getting the false prophets to set up an altar and put sacrifices on it and beg Baal to burn the sacrifice, of course, nothing happens. Then Elijah sets up his own altar, and sacrifice and asks God to show up. And He does.
1 Kings 18.36-38
36 And it came to pass, at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near and said, “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. 37 Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench.
And that’s the fourth part of mercy.
4. Mercy brings you to a line of decision.
Do I let go of the false and hold to the true? If so, you’ll have some “ending” to do. Here the prophets of Baal and Astoreth were killed, removed from the earth. It’s mercy that you get to let go of something false to embrace what’s true.
And so some more questions: when does judgment come? Does mercy have an end? Isn’t God as just as He is merciful?
Here’s some of the answer.
“He has always dealt in mercy with mankind and will always deal in justice when His mercy is despised.” Tozer
If you despise God’s mercy and keep on doing what you’re doing, sooner or later the justice of God comes. And that’s not pretty to be on the wrong side of.
As for the rest of 1 and 2 Kings? God speaks, there’s eye opening circumstances, God sends a message of hope and clarity and then a decision needs to be made, a line is drawn and they either respond to the mercy of God or harden themselves, despise God’s mercy, which brings judgment.
There are prophets, good kings and evil kings, days of ungodliness and days of revival and godliness. And yet, in general, the nation refuses God and His mercy. So we find in the end of 2 Kings that foreign kings have come, taken the nation into captivity, burned the temple, the city, and pulled down the walls around Jerusalem. Judgment.
But then, at the end of the last chapter of the book of 2 Kings, we find mercy again. The last king of Judah, Jehoiachin, who was taken into captivity and assigned to the dungeons of Babylon, is brought out of prison, given a prominent place in the king’s court, given a seat at the king’s table, all the rest of the days of his life.
Can you receive His mercy? Can you be set free of your guilt and shame? Can you live in joy even though you have done so much wrong?
God’s nature includes eternal, limitless and very real, mercy. Grasp it today and believe.