1 KINGS 21:17-29
17Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying: 18Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. 19You shall say to him, “Thus says the LORD: Have you killed, and also taken possession?” You shall say to him, “Thus says the LORD: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.”
20Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” He answered, “I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the LORD, 21I will bring disaster on you; I will consume you, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel; 22and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have provoked me to anger and have caused Israel to sin. 23Also concerning Jezebel the LORD said, ‘The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the bounds of Jezreel.’ 24Anyone belonging to Ahab who dies in the city the dogs shall eat; and anyone of his who dies in the open country the birds of the air shall eat.”
25(Indeed, there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the LORD, urged on by his wife Jezebel. 26He acted most abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the LORD drove out before the Israelites.)
27When Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth over his bare flesh; he fasted, lay in the sackcloth, and went about dejectedly. 28Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite: 29“Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? 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 on his house.”
Our sense of justice is often disturbed when we see innocent people get harmed without retribution on those who harmed them. We want "justice" meted out on the perpetrators of the crime. Murderers, ISIS, despots, rapists, molesters, etc. -- we want all these folks either jailed for life or get executed. Only then do we feel justice has been carried out.
To let off the perpetrator with a pardon or for a nation to give a criminal asylum seems downright unjust.
These same feelings may attach to our reading of the passage above.
Ahab was a bad man. He did bad things. Ahab "sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord." He condoned his wife Jezebel's murder of the prophets of the Lord. Ahab led Israel astray spiritually.
Such a man deserves justice in our eyes. And we know what that means -- a just end to his life, with a bit of agony and pain added in so much the better.
But when Elijah comes to him and tells him about the judgment of the Lord that will come, Ahab "tore his clothes and put sackcloth over his bare flesh; he fasted, lay in sackcloth, and went about dejectedly." He repented and humbled himself in other words.
The Lord's response? He forgives!
How infuriating! A bad man deserves a bad end!
The Lord's mercy does not seem just!
Of course, if we were Ahab, we would be most grateful, we would be overwhelmed with the Lord's mercy, we wouldn't be able to believe that we are forgiven given all the bad things we had done.
The mercy of the Lord looks different depending on which side you're on. Surely our enemies deserve justice and we and our friends mercy. Our love is indeed partial. Hence our understanding of mercy is partial too. We do not truly understand the mercy and love of the Lord.
Let's pray: O God, we thank you for your great mercy and compassion that extends to all, including our enemies. Forgive us for our stingy, distorted, partial view of your justice and mercy. We remember, O God, that while we were sinners Christ died for us. That is the standard of your mercy: you love your enemies and you sent your Son to die on our behalf. Teach us to love mercy -- your mercy -- in our lives as we deal with an assortment of haters, enemies, competitors, and no-gooders. In Jesus' name, amen.