From a sermon series on 1 Kings by See Huang Lim, a missionary at IBF.
We are continuing 1 Kings chapter 20. Previously, we read about how God saved the helpless king Ahab from Ben-Hadad. Ben-Hadad, king of Aram, had a superior army and after failing to get tribute from Israel, decided to attack Israel. In today’s sequel, we will look at the Arameans misunderstanding of God, and also Ahab’s continuing disobedience.
We will reflect on two questions: 1) Do we have misconceptions about God?, and 2) Why do we disobey God sometimes? Let us pray.
[Read 1 Kings 20:23-43]
Do we have misconceptions about God?
In verse 23 Ben-Hadad’s people, the Arameans, think that God is only the God of the hills. The Arameans believed in many gods who had power in certain locations like hills, rivers, forests, and so on. They thought: “If we change the field of battle, we can win against the God of Israel.”
But God said to Ahab in verse 28, “Because the Arameans think the Lord is a god of the hills and not a god of the valleys, I will deliver this vast army into your hands, and you will know that I am the Lord.” This victory was not just to show God’s power to Aram, but also to remind Israel of who is supreme in this world. If you remember, Israel and her kings had been neglecting the worship of God and violating his laws.
For us today, what are some false ideas we have about God? Recently, my student shared his opinion that, looking at our world, he thinks surely a Creator God exists but it is not a loving God. Many may feel that there is essentially no difference between God and the other gods of different religions. Some people believe that God is so loving that surely God wants them to always be happy and receive what they want. Others feel God is not doing anything to help them, so God doesn’t care enough. Or we believe that God doesn’t care about our country. Or we say that God can change hearts, but we act like there’s no hope for some people.
For me, I really struggled to see God as my father. Because my own father was distant and mostly away from home, it affected how I saw my Heavenly Father. So at first, I could not enjoy a close relationship with God. Only after several years of being a Christian, my view of God began to change. As I talked to God and read the Bible regularly, I felt God gently whispering, “I’m not like your earthly father. I desire to be close to you, if only you will let Me.” Only after God challenged me was I able to develop a deeper relationship with Him.
How we view God is important because it has huge consequences for our life. So do we have a right view of God? Is it true, or is it just based on our feelings or people’s opinions?
One thing that we need to know about God is that He can be known and He wants to be known. The whole Bible is the story of God revealing himself throughout the history. That’s why we see God saying He will show His power, so that we will know who He is.
God’s most powerful revelation is through the person of Jesus. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, God performed his grand rescue of humanity. Through Jesus we have access to abundant life, to eternal life. It’s interesting what Jesus says about eternal life. In his prayer recorded in John 17:3, Jesus prayed for his disciples, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
Jesus gives us the clearest understanding of who God is. If you ever wished that you could hear God speak in a human voice, or see how God would act if he came to Earth, then you should study Jesus’ life and his words in the 4 books we call the Gospels.
Often, we have a theoretical understanding of who God is. But it hasn’t penetrated our hearts. The next time we face a challenge in life, it could be a good opportunity to examine our attitude towards God.
For example, let’s say we are so worried about something that we cannot sleep. We could ask ourselves, “What does my anxiety say about how I see God? Do I feel God is not with me in this problem?” Let’s compare our attitudes with what the Bible says about God. Finally, we may believe something, but we still need to act and put it into practice.
Why do we disobey God sometimes?
This brings me to my second point: Why do we disobey God sometimes? First, let’s recap Ahab’s encounter with God’s prophet that we read just now.
Basically, the prophet pronounces judgement on the king. Verse 42: “This is what the Lord says: ‘You have set free a man I had determined should die. Therefore it is your life for his life, your people for his people.’”
It is not safe to ignore God’s Word. Because of continual disobedience despite God’s mercy and guidance, Ahab and the nation of Israel chose a path that led to God’s judgment or disciplinary correction.
What did Ahab do wrong in this chapter? He broke two of God’s instructions for the nation of Israel. The first is found in Exodus 23:32: “Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods.” However, Ahab didn’t hesitate to give Ben Hadad a handshake by making a treaty with him.
The second command that Ahab broke is found in Deuteronomy 20:10-13. God commanded the Israelites regarding times of war, “When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it.” But Ahab failed to execute Ben Hadad.
Does that sounds harsh? What happened to “love your enemies”? Well, let’s remember that we should love our enemies, but that doesn’t change the fact that God is the judge of this world. Jesus said, in John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son [that is, Jesus] has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” In Old Testament history, God did not only judge Israel but surrounding nations as well, for the sins they committed.
Ahab’s act of mercy to Ben Hadad was probably not because he believed in loving his enemies. Rather, Ahab probably feared the expansion of the Assyrian Empire. He thought that by making Ben Hadad his ally, he could have be protected from Assyria. Rather than trust in God’s power—which he had seen at least 3 times now—he made his own plans which violated God’s instructions.
Even after being scolded by the prophet, he is not repentant. There is a difference between repentance and being remorseful. To be remorseful is to feel sad about one’s consequence. But to be repentant is to be sad about turning away from God. In verse 43, we see his reaction for being corrected is anger, which meant that he was remorseful but not necessarily repentant. But instead of looking down of Ahab, we should ask what is it that causes people to disobey God—even when they know God.
Like Ahab, sometimes we fail to obey God because we are afraid of something. Or maybe we believe that there is something better than pleasing God. I think all of us, even as Christians, struggle to let God be the Lord of our lives. There is always some area of life that we find difficult to release control.
As an example, the Bible frequently commands us to not be afraid or to worry. Yet, we tend to worry. We worry because we fail to let go and trust that God is in control of our lives and future.
One thing that I often worry about is finances. As an English teacher here, my salary isn’t regular, and sometimes, students stop theirs lessons for various reasons. And I wonder how I will be able to get new students. But I was encouraged by Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 verse 33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Jesus tells me that I don’t need to worry because He will provide me with what I need as long as I keep my focus on Him. When I started to put my attention on loving Him and loving others, I find that I start to worry less. A few weeks ago, we received a donation from somebody from Malaysia that we didn’t know. These are ways in which God reminds me that He cares for me
We suffer from anxieties when don’t shift our attention from our problems to God. I like the hymn, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” The chorus goes like this, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, /Look full in His wonderful face, /And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, /In the light of His glory and grace.” Jesus never promises that life will be easy and without problems. But He did promise that we would have the ability to face them if we turn to Him.
In life, God does ask us to make hard choices. The choices can be hard because we are being stretched to grow in our character. But God will also empower us to obey him and find joy in it. God will not ask you to do something impossible, without giving you the ability to do it.
For example, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
In conclusion, today we raised two questions: Do we have misconceptions of God? Why do we disobey God sometimes? At times we need to pause and ask if we are seeing God correctly, and this can impact how we live and how we face our problems. We need to regularly compare our beliefs and our actions with what the Bible says. Let us pray.