We read of an unnamed man of God entering the page of Scripture to deliver a message, the content of which is very different from what we have previously considered. His message is neither one of shame nor of sanction: instead, he brings a message of salvation. The emphasis seems to be that despite weakness in leadership, failure among the people of God, and wandering hearts God will act to vindicate His name and ensure His purpose will be fulfilled. Praise God, He still works to that end today!
On this occasion the man of God speaks when days had rarely been darker, or spiritual conditions so poor. The northern tribes were being ruled by Ahab, an apostate king, who, influenced by his evil wife, would rather worship Baal than Jehovah. The glory and power of God had been demonstrated at Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18). However, now Elijah had been commissioned to flight before Jezebel.
Chapter 20 begins with northern oppression from Syria as Ben-hadad and his connected confederate armies besieged Samaria. Can we kindly suggest that the oppressing arm of the world wants to do the same to believers today? Whether the saint appreciates it or not, we are engaged in spiritual warfare (Eph 6.12). Each day of service is pictured by the Scriptures as a day of battle when we are at war with the world as a system, and with the flesh and the devil. It therefore seems legitimate to draw lessons from the way God instructed Israel to do battle, when we consider the manner in which we ought to fight.
Ben-hadad sent messengers to Ahab requesting his wealth, wives, and young people as a means of avoiding battle. The enemy will still rob us of our spiritual wealth, our family relationships, and our young people if we surrender to him. The ultimate victory for the Christian has been won at Calvary, and with the help of God we can know practical success against the enemy on a day-to-day basis. However, that comes from Spirit controlled and dependent lives. If the people of God, individually and collectively, reject the servants and word of God in an Ahab like fashion then we may expect to be oppressed by the enemy in the way that Ahab was.
He had had a solution: it was one of pragmatism and compromise. He would sacrifice his treasure, love and future (v.4) to the enemy. However, he was surprised to find that, having been offered these appeasements, the enemy wanted more! So it is today. It is correct that we ought to pursue peace (Heb 12.14, JND), and much damage has been inflicted on testimony because of those who have failed to follow that injunction. The pursuit of peace is different, though, from a truce based on compromise of truth and spiritual condition which can lead to long-term damage for the young in the faith. Ahab wanted to sacrifice what God had blessed him with in order to have peace and, in twenty-first century language, an easy life. Is that our attitude?
It became clear that a battle for Israel was inevitable. The enemy boasted of how the people of God would be crushed. It was at that moment of crisis that an unnamed prophet of God stepped forward to bring the word of God to bear. Surely that is what the nation needed then, and the saints need today. Unsolicited, the leadership having no moral right to seek help, God moved to deliver the nation. He would act, not primarily through Ahab, but through the next generation (v.14).
This is a message of hope for assemblies of the saints today. Conditions may be poor in many places, but God is not restricted in how He can help. The enemy can still be defeated practically if we live in the power of the spirit, put the flesh to death in our lives, and live separately from the world. Like then, God can also include the younger generation to bring the victory. The spiritual condition of collective testimony can improve despite the oppression of the enemy. However, just like all those years ago, that will happen through the hand of God being allowed to move among the saints, and younger saints particularly being willing to engage in battle to deliver assemblies from lack of fruitfulness (fruitfulness of course in a New Testament sense is not a numeric thing, but is evidenced in likeness to Christ, Gal 5.22).
The victory assured, the young men bore the brunt of the battle in the heat of the day, and Syria was defeated. Notice that the enemy's identified weakness was an intoxicated leader (v.16); a twenty-first century lesson in itself. However, the prophet immediately cautioned against complacency: Syria would return to do battle at the turn of the year. The people of God were to use the period of peace productively and "strengthen" themselves. Should God grant an assembly a period of peace then it is imperative that the time is not wasted. Each saint has a responsibility to ensure that the time is used profitably to improve spiritual condition. May we be preserved from looking for increased spirituality in others when our own spiritual health is poor.
The enemy misunderstood the nature of their defeat. They thought the reason was simply that Jehovah was a God of the hills rather than of the plains, and therefore calculated that if they did battle in the flat plains around Samaria at the turn of the year they would be successful. The turn of the year came and the situation was even more critical. The Israelites were not only outnumbered but, from their description, seemed naturally inferior (v.27).
Unannounced, the man of God arrived. We too take heart from his message: God would deliver the nation from the vast armies of Syria, demonstrating that He was God and there was none else. He was and is a God of the hills and a God of the valleys! The message was one of salvation. Whatever the circumstance, whatever the place and mode of attack, God was able to deliver the nation. Sometimes circumstance and conflict concern us. Let us be confident that God is not restricted in that He can only help in certain circumstances. Whatever our need, it can be met by His provision.
Once again Syria was put to flight before Israel. We serve in a day where we are quick, often rightly, to realise the strength of the enemy. However, let us never forget that God is in control, is all powerful, and is still well able to deliver his people. It would be a mistake to miss the consequences of the message delivered for Ahab. He experienced the deliverance that God gave, but then failed to obey the word of God and put the enemy to death (contrast this with, for example, Joshua 10.24). As a result he came under the judgment of God, continued in his path away from the divine will, and led the nation toward further failure.
That remains a risk for the people of God today: we may experience blessing and deliverance, but fail to put the enemy to death (see, for example, Colossians 3.5). To lift that application, just as a resurgent enemy would cause difficulty for the people of God then, so it is with us if the flesh is not fully put to death.
As we consider this message from a man of God, let us know the encouragement of God who delivered, and does deliver, however the enemy attacks, and the challenge of obedience to God thereafter.
To be continued.