Throughout August we have been following the life of Elijah in our sermon series at church. There was a particular comment at the end of 1 Kings chapter 21 that caught my attention. Throughout the preceding chapters, we’d read of the various exploits of Ahab, King of Israel, and his wife Jezebel, some stupid, others chilling in their callousness. So it was no surprise when God laid down his judgment against Ahab and Jezebel. This was good triumphing over evil, just as we expected to see, a God-hater getting what he deserved. Even the narrator comments in Verse 25 “There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab” I rubbed my hands together, waiting for justice to be served…
But instead we read: V.27-29. When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly.
28 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite:29 “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.”
I’d read this before, but this time it really struck me. God’s great and undeserved mercy towards an evil man like Ahab. It felt too merciful! I felt a bit like Jonah, whining at God “I knew this would happen! I knew you’d show mercy! They don’t deserve it God – Not like I do!” (My Paraphrase!)
I decided to look more deeply at God’s mercy and how we witness it in the Bible. I needed my own miserly mercy redefined by God’s definition!
Mercy is one of the key traits that God uses to describe his character to us.
When Moses asks to behold God’s glory – little knowing what he asks, God agrees to walk before him, and we read:
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, Exodus 34:6
What does God choose to proclaim to sinful man about himself? His mercy and grace, that he is slow to become angry, that he is full of unchanging love and faithfulness. Wow!
His declaration of mercy is made all the more powerful and freeing because we know how much we are in need of it. How unqualified we are to meet his just standards or earn his perfect favour. For us, everything depends on this mercy. Without it, we have no access to his love or faithfulness.
Again and again as God speaks to the people of Israel, we see how key this is:
Deuteronomy 4:31 says For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.
2 Chronicles 30:9 reminds them If you return to the LORD, your brothers and your children will find compassion with their captors and return to this land. For the LORD your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.”
God is the faithful one in this relationship, it is his mercy which upholds the promises he has made to his people despite their constant betrayal and sin.
Though they leave him, and forget him, and turn their faces away. His mercy provides a way back time after time!
Of course this is a part of God’s character that we see just as powerfully demonstrated in Jesus Christ!
In his willingness to be made in human likeness, to live and die for sinners like you and I.
It’s a staggering and vast mercy that led him to the cross, to suffer and die for all the Ahabs and Jezebels throughout history who committed their endless evils against him.
Hebrews 2:17 tells us that Christ had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
But God’s mercy to us does not end at the cross.
Lamentations 3 reminds us of this precious truth:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
What does God’s vast mercy mean for you and I?
I hope it fills our hearts with worship and love for our God and King. He is so good! I hope it encourages us to approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.(Hebrews 4:16)
But it also means that we have no excuse for our miserly mercy to one another! God’s gracious and underserved mercy towards us should equip us to be abundantly merciful too, especially when someone doesn’t deserve it. After all, we don’t deserve the mercy that has been shown to us!
Let us rejoice in the mercy that we receive, seeking with the help of God’s Spirit to show it to others in return.