From a sermon series on 1 Kings by See Huang Lim, a missionary at IBF.
Today’s story in 1 Kings 20 is the beginning of King Ahab’s eventual demise. In spite of how he rebels against God, God shows Ahab mercy upon mercy. If anything, this chapter demonstrates 3 characteristics of God: 1) God helps the helpless, 2) God helps the undeserving, and 3) God helps to gain our attention and response. Let’s pray.
[Read 1 Kings 20:1-22]
Surrounded by the Syrian army, King Ahab of Israel has nowhere to run, and Ben-Hadad’s victory over Israel is guaranteed.
Suddenly, a prophet of the Lord appears out of nowhere, in verse 13. The passage doesn’t say if Ahab asked for help from the Lord, the God of Israel. And let’s not forget: Ahab does not worship the God of Israel, and his wife killed prophets of the Lord. Yet, God intervenes to help the helpless Ahab.
Verse 13 says, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Do you see this vast army? I will give it into your hand today, and then you will know that I am the Lord.” Ahab will overcome Ben-Hadad if he chooses to listen to God, and he does. As predicted by the prophet, Ahab gains victory.
Then a second instruction from God comes, in verse 22, “Strengthen your position and see what must be done, because next spring the king of Aram will attack you again.” This time, it’s a warning to the nation of Israel to be vigilant. They may have defeated the enemy, but they mustn’t let their guard down.
God helps the helpless
So, my first point is that God helps the helpless. When life is going well, it can be hard to recognize that we need God at all. Being helpless is a time we are most open to hearing God.
I would like to share the story of how one Malaysian pastor became a Christian, during his most helpless time.
When my wife was a teenager, her church had a youth pastor who made a strong impact on her life and the life of other youth there. My wife says it is because of Christians like Pastor R that she believes in God and that God is loving. His journey with Christ began in a drug rehab center.
Before becoming a Christian, R was a heroin addict. His life was a wreck and he wanted to quit using drugs. Because he couldn’t do it on his own, he joined a drug rehab run by Christians. Some people said the Christian rehab centers had higher success rates.
One of the first things R had to do was go “cold turkey” (completely stop using the drug). During that time, he had to stay inside a room and be monitored by rehab workers. You may have heard that the withdrawal process is very painful.
As expected, he was writhing in pain and suffering all day. A rehab worker told him, “Why don’t you call to Jesus for help? You’ve got nothing to lose, right, R?” He really didn’t want to do that. But after being unable to sleep for 2 days due to the pain, finally he asked Jesus for help. Right after praying, he fell asleep and slept soundly.
That was how Pastor R experienced God’s power for the first time, when he was most helpless. For the next 2 years, as part of the rehab program, he joined in regular Bible study and prayer. After becoming a Christian and graduating from the center, he decided to join seminary and become a pastor. For many years now, he has been running a drug rehab center in Malaysia, where he helps others to know Christ, find employment, and reintegrate with society.
Some of you may have heard about the 10-year-old girl in Noda city, who was abused by her father and died. You may ask, “If God helps the helpless, why didn’t God help her?”
This was a tragic event, and though we don’t know her, we are mourning her death. I cannot answer why God allowed her to suffer this fate. But here is what we do know:
First, the incident shows how broken we can be as human beings. It reminds us of our sins—the sins we actively commit against other people, and the sins of what we passively failed to do.
Second, it reminds us that we want the world to be a better place. And God promises us that our future is a place in which sin and suffering do not exist. God has already begun His invasion against the powers of darkness which control this world. Jesus came to break the power of sin over us, and bring us to the kingdom of God.
Third, we know that Jesus understands what it feels to suffer. He suffered the most painful, humiliating, and unfair death. What should shock us is why Jesus chose to die like that willingly. What encourages us is that Jesus shows proof of his power over sin and death. He rose from the dead, and every day in the world He is giving new life to someone.
Fourth, when he returns, He will renew our world completely. There will be no more tears and sorrow. Meanwhile, we live in an in-between time; the kingdom of God has come but has yet to fully transform the darkness of this world. There is still injustice. But God has put us to be His agents of change in this world. It is good that we feel pain for this girl and her family. May God have mercy and help us to repent of our own sins.
Let me end this point by saying that God often helps the helpless through ordinary people like you and me. God helped Pastor R through the rehab workers. God helped Israel through his prophets and those who were willing to obey him.
Can you think of someone who needs help this week? Does someone need a car ride or a listening ear or a friendly hello? If you can’t think of someone, why ask God to put someone in your heart? You can be sure that God will, because He wants you to be his hands and feet.
God helps undeserving people
Moving on, my second point is that God helps the undeserving.
Even though Ahab has been a terrible king of Israel, God continues to send his Word to him, to help the nation. This has been God’s unchanging character ever since the time of Adam and Eve.
God’s mercy is ultimately demonstrated through Jesus, who came to take upon Himself the punishment that we deserve for our rebellion against God. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
God saved us even when we didn’t deserve it, and that’s why we choose to love those who don’t deserve it. When we love only lovable people, the world will not be amazed, because that’s normal. But when we choose to be kind to people who make our lives difficult, then the world will see that there’s something different about Jesus Christ.
I think of the French novel Les Miserables, which became one of the world’s most famous musicals. In this story, the thief Jean Valjean stole silverware from a priest and was arrested. But the priest forgave Valjean and gave him the stolen item as a gift. The bewildered Valjean asked, “Why are you doing this?” The priest answered, “With this silver, I give you back to God.” That event completely changed Valjean’s life.
When we find it frustrating to love someone, let’s remember how God first loved us even when we don’t deserve it.
God helps in order to gain our attention and our response
My final point is: God reveals Himself because He desires our response.
Earlier we read in verse 13: God says, “Do you see this vast army? I will give it into your hand today, and then you will know that I am the LORD.” The key phrase is “then you will know that I am the LORD.”
Likewise, God reveals Himself to each of us. He wants us to see signs of His presence in the world. He wants us to know Him and invite Him into every part of life. He does not save us just so we can live a comfortable and self-centered life.
Many people come to church on Sundays but their lives remain unchanged. But being a Christian isn’t just saying that you believe in Jesus. It is a lifestyle of focusing on the person of God, shown through Jesus Christ, and obeying him. Such a life is not about “What do I want to do?” but “What does Jesus want me to do?”
Recently, Miharu and Asahi were baptized in our church. We praise God for allowing us to hear about how they recognized God and responded to Him.
Though most of us have already committed our lives to following Jesus, all of us are still in the ongoing process of change. We must continually allow God to examine our lives. And to transform our way of seeing everything in life—such as how we use our time; how we treat our family members; how we see God himself; or how we view people outside this church.
So, does God have your attention these days? Or do we only remember Him in times we need help?
In conclusion, let’s not wait until we are helpless before we seek to hear God. He loves us and has mercy on us, but He also wants us to obey Him day by day. Let me close by asking: What does God want to show you this week? Let us pray for His help to listen and pay attention to Him.