In God’s eyes, both the Arameans, whom Israel failed to drive out of the Promised Land despite direct orders from God to do so, and Israel under Ahab, are idolaters and sinners of the highest order. God would do well to wipe them both off the face of the earth.
But God has priorities, and the Cycle illuminates one that is often surprising in Israel’s continuous rebellion against God. It is God’s never-ending love for Israel, the love of a father for disobedient little children. God has promised earlier to judge Ahab harshly and wipe his family out. But under the threat from those who were never driven out of the Promised Land, God has an even greater wrath, and a higher priority for exercising his never-ending love for Israel.
So God sends a prophet without being asked, only because of the higher priority, but also to remind Israel: “…you shall know that I am the Lord” (20:13). With only 7,000 soldiers, Israel defeats the Arameans – not once, but twice, with a second message from a second prophet sent by God, nearly pleading with Ahab, “…know that I am God!” (20:28).
God’s priority here is to offer his children, no matter how disobedient, a way out of sin and decadence, driven only by his never-ending love for his children!
But Ahab still does not get it – and many times we do not, either.
Instead of finally obeying God’s long-standing priority to drive the Arameans out of the Promised Land, Ahab makes a covenant with Ben-hadad!
So at the end of Chapter 20, God sends one more prophet to give a clear warning to Ahab: freeing the Promised Land of idolatrous natives is his highest priority, but his next highest priority is the most severe form of judgment on those who fail to carry out his highest priority:
“Thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall go for his life, and your people for his people’” (20:42).
Instead of collapsing in repentance in hope of restoration under the warning and impending judgment of God, Ahab, like many of our leaders today, “doubles down” on his disobedience. In Chapter 21, Ahab, along with his treacherous wife Jezebel, murders an innocent man so that he can steal his vineyard by declaring “eminent domain.” (This term should be clear to modern readers, but today we use eviction rather than murder.)
Ahab’s behavior earns a special visit from the prophet Elijah:
“Behold, I will bring evil upon you and will utterly sweep you away, and will cut off Ahab…because…you have provoked me to anger; you made Israel sin” (21:21-22).
God waits three years. Please take time to read Chapter 22 right now and see the great lengths to which God goes to bring his warnings to judgment.
What is one of God highest priorities?
Sweeping away idolaters who provoke him to anger after many warnings and who cause God’s chosen children to sin.
Judgment may not come immediately.
But it will come.