Mercy After Judgment

1 Kings 18:41-46

Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful (Luke 6:36 CSB).

God’s prophet Elijah acted boldly for the cause of God and truth, in the face of strong opposition. Hundreds of false prophets had opposed him. Yet the Lord vindicated Elijah’s stand for him and that he was a true prophet. Then Elijah led the people to carry out the doom of the law covenant upon the teachers of error (1 Kings 18:40; cf. Deuteronomy 13). Was it time for the Lord to pour out judgment on the people who had also worshiped false gods?

God had the right, the authority, and the power to do that. Yes, the people deserved wrath. But God is also merciful. Sometimes we hear of people asking God to judge his enemies in our time, like the disciples wanted Jesus to judge the Samaritan village (Luke 9:51-56). Anger and hatred reside in the human heart, and their preferred objects are people that cause us problems. This makes us forget the character of God. The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made (Psalm 145:8-9 NIV).

The mercy of God is seen in the sending of rain for the good of his people. What caused the rain to come?

It was not due to a change of direction in Israel’s leadership. There wasn’t any positive change. We read no record of repentance, thanksgiving or prayer on Ahab’s part. As we will see, Ahab was not softened by wrath or mercy. He steadily became worse. The evil king’s chief concern was for eating and drinking (18:42). Ahab was a materially-minded man, like those Paul later described. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things (Philippians 3:19 ESV). Elijah grants him liberty to pursue his pleasures. To be given material benefits without spiritual blessings is slippery ground (cf. Psalm 73:18). History is filled with many examples of this preference for partying over praying. Consider Belshazzar (Daniel 5); or those in London during World War II who partied during the air raids.

Sending rain was an act of the kindness of God. The covenant Lord had taken the initiative (18:1) in this entire event. It pleased him to do this. God is in control of the weather (Psalm 148:8; Matthew 5:45). He had withheld rain for three years and six months, and then he chose to send it. Yet at the same time, rain came because of the prayers of Elijah. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit (James 5:18 ESV). The God who ordered the end also ordered the means to that end. Prayer is part of God’s plan.

How did Elijah pray?

  • With a posture of humility (18:42). Though Elijah had experienced great blessings from the Lord, he did not lose a high regard for God’s majesty.
  • With persistence (18:43-44. cf. Luke 18:1-8). Notice the difference in the length of this prayer with his prayer in 18:36-37. God does not always answer when we expect. Even Elijah did not always receive an immediate answer to prayer.
  • With faith. (James 5:15-18). By faith Elijah heard the sound of heavy rain (18:41). Faith looks at things future, at things not yet seen, and reasons that God will bring them to be, and so acts as if they already were.
  • With fervency (James 5:17).
  • With a definite request (James 5:17-18). For example, every follower of Christ should always pray for the salvation of five people. Your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers form a fine place to start your list.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to pray as Elijah did. Let us have faith in God. With him all things are possible! Read Jeremiah 32:17, 26-27; 33:3.

Grace and peace, David

The Attributes of God (Part Eighteen)

For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath (Deuteronomy 4:31 NIV).

God is merciful. The living God is merciful (Deuteronomy 4:31; Daniel 9:9). But how is God’s mercy to be distinguished from God’s grace? Both are closely related, springing from God’s love and goodness, so we should not draw sharp distinctions between mercy and grace. For example, the repentant sinner is encouraged to return to God and receive a free pardon because God will have mercy. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon (Isaiah 55:7 NIV), and God’s forgiveness of his old covenant people is traced to his mercy (Psalm 78:3). Perhaps we can safely say this. Grace is God’s attitude and action toward sinners as undeserving, while mercy is his attitude and action toward sinners in misery. We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy (James 5:11). In the instance of Job, his suffering did not come from his sin, yet he needed God’s mercy.

“It is the great design of the Scripture to represent God as merciful. This is a loadstone [magnet] to draw sinners to him… God is represented as a king, with a rainbow about his throne (Revelation 4:3). The rainbow was an emblem of mercy. The Scripture represents God in white robes of mercy more often than with garments rolled in blood; with his golden scepter more often than his iron rod” (Watson, A Body of Divinity, p. 93).

Here are characteristics of God’s mercy:

  • Like God’s love and grace, his mercy is sovereign and free. God extends mercy to people in misery because he chooses to do so (Exodus 33:19). God’s mercy causes him to extend mercy because he is “a gracious and merciful God” (Nehemiah 9:31).
  • God’s mercy is the source of his redeeming activity, both regarding the old covenant nation (Isaiah 63:9), and the spiritual redemption of God’s chosen ones (Romans 9:15-16). From his mercy comes our rebirth into a living hope. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).
  • God delights in extending his mercy to sinners in their misery (Micah 7:18). Being rich in mercy (Ephesians 2:4), he has drawn up a plan of showing mercy to all—to both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 11:30-32).
  • God’s mercy involves powerful action on God’s part. He is able to relieve the suffering (Philippians 2:27) and to give us actual help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16), as we see many times in the earthly ministry of our Lord (Matthew 17:15; Luke 17:13; 18:38-39).

“One act of mercy engages God to another. Men argue thus, I have shown you kindness already, therefore trouble me no more; but, because God has shown mercy, he is more ready still to show mercy; his mercy in election makes him justify, adopt, glorify; one act of mercy engages God to more. A parent’s love to his child makes him always giving” (Watson, p. 94).

How should we respond to God’s mercy? Since we have been born again because of his mercy, God expects us to exhibit his quality of mercy to others. But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High. For he is gracious to the ungrateful and evil. Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful (Luke 6:35-36 CSB; cf. Matthew 5:7; 18:33; Jude 1:22) with an attitude corresponding to God’s delight in mercy (Romans 12:8). God wants us to develop endurance in (2 Corinthians 4:1) and explanation of (1 Timothy 1:12-16) ministry that comes from recognizing that we are recipients of mercy. We are to face the future confidently expecting mercy from God (Jude 1:21). “Go to God for mercy. ‘Have mercy upon me, O God!’ (Psalm 51:1)… Give me not only mercy to feed and clothe me, but mercy to save me; give me the cream of thy mercies; Lord! Let me have mercy and lovingkindness… Though God may refuse us when we come for mercy in our own name, yet he will not when we come in Christ’s name. Plead Christ’s satisfaction, and this is an argument that God cannot deny” (Watson, p. 98).

Grace and peace, David

Twice Spared

When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions. Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple. You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength… (Psalm 65:3-6 NIV)

Today I am sixty-five. Now I’m halfway through the new middle age of fifty to eighty. It just seems like I turned fifty in a way, but so much has happened since then. I definitely would not want to walk through many days of that part of my journey. However, I praise God for his overflowing grace that he has shown me constantly. Truly, his mercies are new every morning and his faithfulness is great. He has been with me through the dark days, refreshing me with the light of his joy. Now, I want to remember two of those times.

A couple weeks after I turned sixty, my wife Sharon and one of our friends went away to make cards with another friend. The next day, a Saturday morning, I woke up feeling a strange pressure in my back. I had read years before that if you have pain or pressure around your heart or stomach and if it doesn’t go away when you change positions to call for help immediately. Since Sharon wasn’t there, I did, or I wouldn’t be writing this. I called around six and the ambulance arrived at six ten. By seven ten, I was on a table in the hospital having a heart catherization. As I was lying there, I remember praying, “Lord, I know you could end my life now, but I trust you for your grace.” God was merciful, and a cardiologist put three stents an artery, nicknamed “the widow maker”. Yes, it had been a close call. Later, when I told my pre-heart attack symptoms to an ICU, nurse, he said, “It’s a wonder you’re here. Men never come in with mild pressure.” I thanked the Lord repeatedly for sparing my life.

My cardiologist ordered me to start walking in a couple weeks. I figured that if God had used the man to rescue me from death that I ought to listen to him. One bright October day, I crossed the street to walk in the Ellis Preserve. It is relatively flat (everything in Pennsylvania is on a hill!) and a good place to build up my strength. I had not walked far, when I remembered an article that I had read many years previously in the Sword & Trowel magazine, edited at that time by a friend of mine. It was about a pastor with inoperable heart problems. The pastors in his area had gathered around him and prayed that the Lord would grow a new artery for his heart. And the Lord did.

I stopped and prayed, “Lord, if I need new arteries, please grow some for me.” I resumed my walk, and perhaps I prayed that prayer the next day also. I did not make it a regular prayer request. About a year later, my cardiologist had me take a stress test, “just to be sure everything is all right.” I did, and a couple days later, while I was out on a file-mile walk with Sharon, he called. The news wasn’t good. He said that I should have another heart catherization. “Maybe you need another stent or roto-rooter,” he joked.

A heart catherization takes about two and a half hours: one hour to take pictures and the remainder of the time to do the work. He was done after one hour. “Why so fast?” I asked. He replied, “Do you want the good news first or the bad news?” I answered, “You know I’m a pastor. I always give people the bad news first, so that I can finish with the good news (the gospel).” He said very professionally, “The bad news is that you need a triple bypass.” I agreed that was bad news and questioned, “Then what’s the good news?”

He said, “The good news is that hasn’t been any damage to your heart, and that your heart grew three new arteries from the right side to the left. That’s the only reason you’re talking with me right now.” God had answered my prayer. My life had been spared twice!

God does answer prayer. While we ought to ask others to pray for us and we can pray in faith repeatedly (Matthew 7:7-8), God doesn’t require that. The prayer of one person declared right with God is sufficient to present a request to Almighty God. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16 NIV). God is holy, wise, sovereign, all-powerful, and good. Be encouraged to present your requests to him. The Lord answers prayer! You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior. Amen.

Grace and peace, David