Today’s reading: 1 Kings 21-22.
Repentance is a change of heart that leads to a change of direction. It’s a turn in the road, leading you away from the path you were taking. It involves the confession of guilt and the commitment to do what’s right rather than continuing in error. Repentance is foundational to our relationship with God. Without the possibility of repentance there could be no escape from sin and no return to a right relationship with the LORD.
But we struggle with the possibility of repentance for some. Can a serial killer repent? Could someone like Hitler change their heart and find God? We question the validity of deathbed confessions. We wonder if some sins aren’t too shameful to be forgiven.
King Ahab would come in high on the list of those whose sins seem too terrible. First Kings says “there was never a man like Ahab who sold himself to do evil” and “behaved in the vilest manner.” To drive home the point the Bible tells the story of Ahab’s treachery in dealing with his own neighbor, Naboth. Naboth owned a little piece of land near Ahab’s palace, and Ahab wanted it badly. Naboth wouldn’t sell no matter what the king offered because he knew the Law forbade him to sell it to someone from another tribe (Numbers 36:7). When his pouting prompted Jezebel to promise she’d take care of Naboth, Ahab did nothing to stop her. Naboth was soon falsely accused and executed, and Ahab was only too happy to take possession of his little piece of land.
Then Elijah shows up with the harshest condemnation and the promise of terrible retribution, the bread-and-butter message of any prophet, and Elijah had the chops to deliver it. From what we’ve learned about Ahab up until now, we would expect him to turn his armed men loose on the prophet, but something strange happened instead.
When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite: “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.” 1 Kings 21:27-29
Wicked and vile Ahab repented. You may doubt the sincerity of his change of heart, but God didn’t. The external evidence of his repentance was clear: fasting, lying down rather than performing his usual duties, and walking around softly with quiet steps. God could also see what men could not see: the interior condition of his heart.
As for me, I’m elated to see that God accepted Ahab’s repentance. If Ahab can be forgiven, anyone can be forgiven, and anyone includes me. I don’t know where you stand today, but take heart from the example of Ahab. If you have already repented and received forgiveness, rejoice in the confidence of your right standing with God. If you have never believed that God could forgive your terrible sins, be amazed at the limitless grace of the LORD who forgives all Ahabs who come to him with sincere sorrow. On this Good Friday, marvel at the wonderful efficacy of Jesus’ provision on the cross. God gave his only son that whosoever believes in him, whosoever repents, may have eternal life.
Image by Eddie~S on Flickr, CC by 2.0